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Before the Dragon - Chapter 14 (LMS IV)

by ShadowVyper

Jerica walked slowly, grumbling to herself as she patrolled the mountain leading up to the castle. Her task was simple: find and execute any enemy scouts looking for weaknesses in their defense, and to do it in such a way as to discourage any further attempts.

“Patrol the mountain, Jerica,” she muttered, kicking a small rock out of her way. She watched as it rolled down the rocky outcrop below her. “Clean up my messes, Jerica.”

She turned and looked back the direction she had come. The roar of the battle was still loud, despite the many hundreds of meters between her and the main battle. She could barely even make out distinct people in the crowd for how far away it was. Rather, she saw a seething, bleeding mass that cried out in pain as individual men fell in the fighting.

“I’m such a terrible king that my own subjects want to kill me,” she continued complaining as she resumed walking. “Thank the gods I’ve got a niece I can hide behind.”

Jerica huffed a sigh and clamped her mouth shut. It didn’t much matter what she said out here, all alone on the side of a mountain, but she never could be too careful. A surprising amount of what she said and did got back to Lord Biryn, and she didn’t want to risk adding the label of ‘traitor’ to her growing list of descriptors.

She jerked her cloak straight, mentally cursing at having to wear it in the first place. All of the other soldiers were dressed in the standard Atraian soldier garb; but not her. No, Lord Biryn had insisted that her most important contribution to the war was her public image. She barely had armor at all – only a breastplate and wrist-braces – and was forced to wear a flowing black cloak that got in her way.

Thankfully this morning had been rather slow – she’d only killed two or three scouts in the many hours she’d been wandering around the back side of the mountain. Then her eye landed on the prize. Barely a hundred meters in front of her was a man crouched behind a boulder, peering in the opposite direction. She sighed softly.

Here we go again, she thought. Silent as the wind, Jerica closed the distance separating them without the man so much as glancing in her direction. She extended the tip of her blade towards his neck. “Stand up slowly and turn around.”

The man’s body stiffened, and he was still for a long moment, before he finally sighed and stood. He flipped the hood of his cloak off his head before he turned to face her. Jerica scoffed when she saw who stood in front of her.

He was nothing more than a boy, probably twelve or thirteen. He stood a few inches taller than she did herself and had shaggy brown hair and mischievous green eyes. She looked him for a long moment curiously. He didn’t wear the crest of any duke. He also didn’t look particularly scared. “You’re just a boy.”

“You’re just a girl,” he countered.

“A girl who can kill you.”

“You can try,” he answered, smirking.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

She’d only held the title of King’s Assassin for a year, but already she’d established a reputation and was used to people cowering and showering her in flattery. She hadn’t had anyone dismiss her ability to kill them since she’d first began the executions and proved her prowess.

“It means I’ve been wanting to fight you for the past year, Princess,” he said. “I’ve heard grand things about you, and I hope they’re true. It sounds like a fun match.”

“Fun?” Jerica was intrigued. “Who are you?”

“Oh, I’m just a no-one right now. A father’s disappointment, if you will,” he answered. She lifted an eyebrow. He shrugged, meeting her gaze evenly. “But one day I’ll be a Dragon Keeper, and then I’ll keep you from hurting anyone else.”

“Is that so?” she snarled. “And just where do you plan on finding a dragon?”

“I’m heading to Crevon soon,” he answered. “You’ve heard of Crevon, right? All the fantastic beasts that are there? You should come with me. It would be more fun than being your uncle’s assassin.”

“Maybe I enjoy it.”

“Maybe you don’t, either,” he said. “It seems dreadfully boring.”

“Well I guess it’s a good thing I’ve got a fun match now, then,” she said sarcastically, tightening her grip on her sword as she prepared to launch an attack. She didn’t want to kill the boy. He was an enigma that she would much rather argue with for a bit and possibly befriend, if time allowed. But if she didn’t continue her patrol soon Lord Biryn would find out, and then terrible things would happen to her.

The boy grinned as he took his sword from its scabbard and evaluated her stance. Then, suddenly, he launched an attack, bringing an over-handed blow down on her head. She blocked and threw his blade off, swinging her sword around on his right side. He blocked her blade and reached out to give her shoulders a push.

She stumbled backwards and came at him again with a hasty combo – bringing her sword down over his head, then at his left side, at his right side, a jab towards the middle, a pass at his knees. He blocked or dodged each of the blows, grinning like a maniac. He advanced on her with an equally skilled set of attacks.

The force of his blows drove her backward, forcing her to give some ground as he advanced on her with an expertise she hadn’t seen in anyone but her Uncle Derik. She took another step backward as he brought down another over-handed blow, then tripped over a large rock just behind her feet.

She fell onto her back heavily, sword flying to the side. She scrambled to her feet, lunging for her sword, but his hand clamped down on her arm and threw her back to the ground. The tip of his sword landed on her collarbone before she could move again.

Jerica froze, her eyes snapping up towards the boy’s face as her heart leapt into her own throat.

He wasn’t smiling now.

This was just the reason she hadn’t wanted to be a part of this stupid war in the first place. Panic surged through her body as she took a shaky breath, trying to wonder if she still had time to talk her way out of the mess. “That was… fun.”

“It was.” The smirk came back. He pulled his sword away and leaned down, offering her a hand up. She looked at his hand incredulously for a long moment, before she slowly placed her own in his and allowed him to pull her to her feet. He stepped away and gestured at her sword. “Again?”

“Of course.” Jerica swooped swiftly to grab her sword. She rubbed her neck with her left hand, unsettled by the feel of his sword resting on it.

He watched her with the same smirk playing at his lips. “Not used to being on that end of the sword, eh?”

“Not really,” she agreed.

“Then let me give you more practice.” He lunged forward again with another quick volley of blows. She dodged each, the intensity of his attacks making her sweat.

The battle raged on for much longer than the first one had, each party having solid footing this time. They were evenly matched. No matter how fast one attacked, the other was just fast enough to block the blow before it could make contact.

Jerica tried to stay serious, to remember that this boy was nothing more than an enemy to be eliminated, but deep down she was enjoying herself. She hadn’t had an evenly matched opponent in months. Uncle Derik could still best her, and her cousin Rekard usually didn’t lose as quickly as her other sparring partners did, but this boy was at the same level as herself and she savored every moment of it.

Finally, a stab combo that ended with an overhanded blow sent the boy’s sword flying from his hands. She hooked her toe behind his ankle and sent him tumbling to the ground, then brought the tip of her sword down on his neck.

“Bravo.” He was smirking again.

Jerica smirked despite herself as she stood over him, panting. She slowly removed the sword from his neck and offered him a hand up, reciprocating the kindness. He recovered his sword and sheathed it, then bowed to her. “Good day, Princess. I’ll likely kill you the next time I see you.”

“You can try.”

Jerica trailed off as her story ended, realizing that she had yet again failed to come up with an impactful ending. She looked towards Aerik. He was silent for several long moments, staring at the far wall with his eyes misty and unseeing.

Jerica looked at him curiously, wondering what he was thinking about. She didn’t press him. Instead, she took the opportunity to examine the machines more closely, though she didn’t dare get up from the bench. Regardless of how kindly he treated her, she was still a prisoner, and didn’t want to test her luck quite yet. Her side still hurt terribly.

The training machines were fantastically simple, yet they looked like they’d be quite painful if one of the branches came around to whack you. She wondered how many times Aerik had been whacked before he was able to fight them as swiftly as she’d seen. She wanted to know how well she’d do against them.

Suddenly Aerik roused, as if he’d just noticed she stopped speaking. He cleared his throat and locked his eyes on Jerica. “Right. That’s… quite the story. Ever figure out who he was?”

Jerica hesitated, then shrugged. “I’m afraid not.”

“That’s unfortunate. I’d like to know if there was another Dragon Keeper out there to worry about.” Aerik stood and moved towards Jerica again. “Are you feeling better from your ankle being healed?”

“Um.” Jerica hesitated again, recognizing the loaded question. Her breathing had returned to normal and she felt much stronger than she had, but part of her was afraid to tell him as much. “Slightly.”

He grinned knowingly at her hesitation. “I need to heal your ribs, you know.”

“Well… those will heal themselves, eventually.” She put her hand over her abdomen protectively. The last bit of healing had taken a considerable amount out of her, and she wasn’t too keen to go through it again. Especially not for an area as sensitive as her ribs.

“I’m healing them,” he stated firmly.

“They’re really fine.”

“They’re really not.”

She snorted. “Why are you being so stubborn?”

“Pot kettle, eh?”


“I believe the expression goes,” Aerik said. “That’s a little like the pot calling the kettle black.”

“Which means?”

“Which means that the most stubborn girl in all the kingdoms isn’t allowed to call anyone else stubborn,” he said, kneeling in front of her. “It’s hypocritical. Now lie down.”

Jerica hesitated, looking at him resentfully. “I really don’t think—”

“I’m sorry, did that sound like I was asking? Let me try again. Lie. Down.”

Jerica glowered at him. He lifted an eyebrow challengingly, daring her to resist. She took a deep breath, then sighed reluctantly and carefully lowered herself onto the bench. She swallowed hard, fighting against the sense of vulnerability that enveloped her, and locked eyes with Aerik, aware that she was completely at his mercy.

“There’s a good lass.”

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Wed Sep 09, 2020 7:14 am
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Vincian wrote a review...

Heya Shady! Happy RevMo XD time for more backstory ayyyy

I like how you started the civil war with childish thoughts. A perfect comparison, if you do ask me, because I definitely think most civil wars, or wars in general, usually boil down to childish leaders who refuse to budge.

I do like how you describe the battle, to a point. Here:

She turned and looked back the direction she had come. The roar of the battle was still loud, despite the many hundreds of meters between her and the main battle.

The description is weak, where she “turned” and then “looked” and you repeated battle right after each other. But, the line after about the bleeding mass is such a good description and provides such raw emotion that I’ll let it slide.. a bit, at least.

So, what are you trying to accomplish with this backstory here? I, well, I wanted to save my commentary for the end here, because I did enjoy the backstory, but the fighting is a bit the same-y, like, blow to the left side, blow to the right side, blow that went backwards. Trust me, I have the same hard time figuring out how to make my fight scenes feel more impactful with different words, but it is possible. Your descriptions here make it feel like they were fencing? If that makes sense. Like, it felt a bit static, even though they were moving, but like one person fought then the other did. It’s quite difficult to make fighting work in writing, so you did well, but I think there’s stuff to improve there. But, other than the fight scene, how is this story talking about the civil war besides the bloody description in the beginning? What does this story accomplish, in, well, in the long run, besides introducing a boy who may or may not be important later on? For one, I’d imagine it’s not particularly interesting to tell, just, I fought a boyscout (lol) and he almost beat me, and told me the next time he would beat me. But this also took basically an entire chapter part to tell, which slows the story down. Filler is good, filler has its place in everything, yknow, but filler this early on (especially filler that lasts more than one chapter) is more harmful to your pace than good, in my opinion. I wonder if this next chapter will be a better story :P onto the next one!!

ShadowVyper says...

Thanks so much for all of your incredible reviews, Omni! I really appreciate it! <3

The point of the flashback was to give a little snippet back into her early childhood, being bullied into doing dangerous things, and also f o r e s h a d o w i n g because that boy does become important later on in the plot. But also I think since I am changing the start of this story in my revamp I'll likely change some of these stories because I'll be introducing the backstory sooner.

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Wed May 29, 2019 11:44 am
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JabberHut wrote a review...

Ohhh, I loved this chapter. I liked this memory.

So she knows about Dragon Keepers already. I should probably go back instead of ask this, but my coffee hasn't kicked in yet. How much does she know about Dragon Keepers during this memory? It seemed like when she was asking Aerik about it earlier, she didn't know the title even existed.

Okay, I lied, I looked back. It was in chapter 11, and she thought he was a dragon's master, but he corrected her with Dragon Keeper, and she didn't know what that was. She immediately inquired about the role. Wouldn't she, instead, inquire about it in this memory? And, therefore, know a thing or two about Dragon Keepers by the time she meets Aerik?

I like this boy. There seems to be some inconsistency with his opinions about her, though. He seemed adamant to kill her, but then he was quick to offer her a route to Crevon. I wonder why he was crouching so obviously behind a rock, though. I guess he's not much of an assassin if he's not very sneaky. Why is a boy of 13 looking to fight and kill her? And why DOESN'T he? I like the idea that the two of them learn to enjoy their sword fight and beforehand are like 'ohh this could be fun!!' but they don't KNOW each other, only the boy knows she's a deadly assassin that must die. And he has this exact opinion about her. So it seems like a conflict of interest gone unexplained, and I'd be happier with it if Jerica was equally confused by it, but it made sense to Jerica, and that's what's confusing about it all. It doesn't make sense to me but it makes sense to her, therefore I'm not in her head like I want to be.

Also kinda strange she's used as a public image, yet she's sent off alone for sneaky scouting things. Plus, she's unwanted, so why show off something you don't want when you could continue to keep her on the sidelines and no one would bat an eye? Sounds like a conflict of duties. Also, if she's not wearing armor on the battlefield... what is she wearing? A dress? with, of course, a breastplate and cloak on top as descripted? She has to wear armor if he's going to send her out on scouting duty, public image or no, unless... UNLESS HE WANTS HER TO DIE? BECAUSE SHE'S UNWANTED? oh that would make sense...

OMG IS IT AERIK? How old is Aerik again?! How old was she in the memory? was it 10 ?? I can't remember. oh no i don't know what to think but omg it's aerik isn't it. i thought he was so much older than her though so it can't be aerik but it must be MAYBE SOMEONE PUT AN AGING CURSE ON HIM ??

Oh, I don't think I realized healing magic took a lot out of her. Maybe we stopped referring to her feeling of exhaustion or something. It has been a few days since I read that part, so I probably just forgot where I left off on that front.

I really love the banter between these two in this chapter. It felt so much more natural, and because of my suspicions that Aerik was in that flashback, I'm liking him a little more again. I don't like bouncing back and forth over this guy. BUT I LIKED THE DIALOGUE!

By the way, I liked the flashback sequence here more. It felt so much more like a flashback sequence than the previous chapter. Also, an interesting choice of story about the Atraian civil war, but I quite like it! It shows her side of the coin, an assassin's side, scouting the area. She's scouting a bit more obviously than I'd have liked, but I'm still learning the definition of an assassin. Seems like it's less rogue-like than my brain wants it to be. Also very interesting that this particular story isn't something she's secretive about. What would be her motivation for sharing this particular story? Maybe she has a deep desire to find this boy again?

That is one thing, though. We never really get a peak into her motivation or any sort of goal for her. She's just an assassin on duty, following orders, getting whisked around everywhere. We had a little crumb trail for her squire, but he just seems to get shoved to the sidelines a lot. But something must motivate her to stay alive and keep fighting, and she never really goes into that. The whole "i'm a prisoner thrust to and fro, what's the point of going back to a palace where i'm unwanted anyway? maybe I should die here and now, but I can't 'cause I must find that boy. I want to fight him again and kill him this time before my death day." or "i can't die because my squire needs me. i'm the only one that believes in his success, so I must live for his sake so that he becomes a mighty warrior before my death day." Just, like, SOMETHING that drives her to make the decisions she makes. Motivation can be excellent tools to describe unreasonable decision-making, which she has kind of been doing anyway.

Oof, can you tell I've been studying character arcs? XD WHOOPS.

ANYWAY. I ENJOYED THIS CHAPTER. I imagine we'll get a third story soon. I'm a little worried this story-telling session is stalling the plot, but I do like we at least get intermission with healing the ribs. Those were kind of left forgotten, which is unfortunate 'cause I'm sure Jerica was feeling it the whole time she told her two stories and talked with Aerik.

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Mon Oct 22, 2018 3:22 am
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mellifera wrote a review...

Hey Shady! Long time no see, but I'm finally back <3 I've been waiting for more, so let's get right into it!

catching herself a moment too late.

I mean, I don't know if there is anyone out here with her, but this makes it sound like somebody did already catch her? I was expecting her to have seen someone watching or something. I don't think you have to emphasise on this with the explanation you give after.

Lord Biryn had insisted that her most important contribution to the war was her public image.

because you want to flaunt your most prized assassin around everywhere and make sure people know how long her legs are.

Wait why did this boy say he wants to kill her and then offer her a spot to be his travelling companion?

Also why does he not kill her now? Why does he have to be a Dragon's Keeper to kill her? Also what is a Dragon's Keeper? I have so many questions??
Also as a slight addition, Jerica seems to be...almost lenient with him? Like, she's fine with admitting she wasn't used to being on that end of sword when I would have expected her to retort back? But maybe that's not her personality! I just thought I'd point that out.

I feel like Aerik's too old but it'd be kinda funny if it was him.

I'm also suspicious of this boy and being evenly matched with her. I mean, I guess the serum they injected her with didn't give her supernatural instincts because she's been overpowered already quite a few times (granted she was injured some of the time). Still. I am Suspicious.

"They're really fine."

"They're really not."

I lOVE this?? Like, this little piece of banter specifically. I'm not really sure why I just love it.

Okay I'm not sure I have a lot to say for this chapter? I'm actually kinda liking the whole "three stories" thing because we get to really experience more of Jerica's character when she's a) not injured and b) in a different head space. We haven't gotten to explore her personality as much and seeing her in the past is pretty cool? I think I would like to see a little more difference between past and present Jerica just because, y'know, people change and they can't stay the same for a long time (or at least no exactly the same). I don't know how much she has changed, but she seems pretty similar? I just thought I'd mention that.

Also SHADY SHADY I might just need to read further on (which I can't do right now but HOPEFULLY SOON rip) but WHEN DO WE GET TO MEET KAIDREN??? I want some dragon action!! (sorry I'm,,, Listen I love dragons)

That's all I've got for you today! I'll be back around hopefully soon <3 Keep up the good work!

I hope you're having a wonderful time!! :D

ShadowVyper says...

Ahhh, scribs! Thanks so much for the review! <3

Those are some excellent questions that I will... think of an answer to lol. Technically he said he wanted to fight her, not kill her, so I think when I was writing this I was thinking he wanted to spar with her just to see if he could win -- but I do see the logical issue with him beating her, and then not actually killing her, but threatening to do it once he was older and grown up. I will try to think of a resolution to that.

Hehehe on the suspicion. The boy was not Aerik -- as you said, there is too much of an age difference. Aerik would already have been an adult by the time Jerica was fighting with the boy. BUT the boy becomes an important plot point later on, and it pleases me that the foreshadowing is enough to draw your attention but not so obvious that it gave it away yet lol.

What sort of difference would you like too see between past Jerica and present Jerica? I totally agree that people change as they get older, but aside from the leniency she showed the boy I didn't really have much difference between her character then and her character now. Was there something specific you wanted to see there?

SCRIBS, I knowwww. I promise you get to meet Kaidren eventually. I actually didn't have that worked into my first draft and my initial beta readers all said that they felt cheated that they read a book with the word dragon in the title but then they never actually got to meet the dragon. So I am definitely 100% fixing that this draft, and the dragon WILL be introduced, and I even have an idea for the scene in which that's going to happen -- but I'm still trying to work on the timing and where in the plot to slide that in. But keep heart, it will come eventually -- pinky promise.

Thanks again so much for the review! I appreciate it <33333

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Sat Oct 06, 2018 9:49 am
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FlamingPhoenix wrote a review...

Hi Shikora here with a review.

What I like

I really how you start this chapter it got me hooked right away.

Jerica walked slowly, grumbling to herself as she patrolled the mountain leading up to the castle. Her task was simple: find and execute any enemy scouts looking for weaknesses in their defense, and to do it in such a way as to discourage any further attempts.
When you write you have this way of just hooking the reader right from the start. And that is what you did here. I also like it that this chapter was nice and long. I don't no why but I like long chapters. I guess it's because it hives me longer to remain in the world you have built us.

The characters

I really like how I'm getting to know more about Jerica. I'm starting to feel how she does when she's feeling upset. Mad and so on. But with this chapter the part the I liked the most was this.
“Patrol the mountain, Jerica,” she muttered, kicking a small rock out of her way. She watched as it rolled down the rocky outcrop below her. “Clean up my messes, Jerica.”

I like it how she talked to herself. It lets us the reader know how she is feel, but also it's funny in away. And If you don't remember what happened in the other chapter then this kind of reminds us.

The plot

With every passing chapter i'm finding out a more. Also I really like the action your putting into your book. It doesn't make the chapter boring and it makes us the reader want to keep reading. It also means that your moving the plot along. So keep up the great work.

The setting

Not only are you keeping the setting in mind when you write but your also keeping what the characters are doing. It's something I'm really bad at. And reading your chapter is giving me a good idea what my writing should be like. But just encase you don't know I'm going to tell you something that helps me write my story, and it could make your story a lot better, not that it is already really good. But here are the things i keep in mind when I write. Sound, sight, smell and feel, there are lots of others but those or the main ones. So keep up the the good work.


Now this I'm not sure is you meant to say what you did so I could be wrong.
“I’m such a terrible king that my own subjects want to kill me,”

I'm not sure you meant to say queen. But if not then I'm very sorry.

So that's all from me. I hope to see more of your great work soon. Never stop writing because it's really good, and have a great day/night.

Your friend
Shikora. :D

ShadowVyper says...

Thanks so much for the review! I appreciate it! :)

Just to clear up the whole king/queen thing... in that sentence Jerica is mocking her uncle the king (which is why her next statement after that is talking about having a niece to hide behind, which is her). I probably could have made that clearer, so thank you for bringing that potential confusion to my attention, but I thought I'd clear it up here.

Thanks again for the review!

Your welcome.

That makes a lot more seance now that you've told me what you meant by saying that. I hope your next chapter is up soon! :D

"It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves."
— William Shakespeare