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Before the Dragon - Chapter 26

by ShadowVyper

The Transport did nothing to calm the inner turmoil that shook Jerica to her very core. She felt the jolt of her body being thrown together a moment before she landed heavily on the ground. Her stomach twisted into an even tighter knot and she stumbled to her hands and knees a moment before throwing her meager breakfast up.

She staggered to her feet, sword in hand, and scanned the area. Her stomach sank as she realized they were at the top of the mountain once again. Kaidren's cave was off to her right, though the dragon himself was nowhere to be seen. Aerik was standing a little ways off to her left, sword drawn, watching her warily. 

No. This was all wrong. No, no, no -- she her rubbed her eyes, frustration surging through her body. She had been so close to escaping. And now she was back here. On this godsforsaken mountain. She felt her skin flush hot, rage bubbling up inside her, a spasm spreading throughout her entire body with the intensity of the emotion she couldn't control. 

"You need to calm down." 

"I need to go home," she shouted through clenched teeth, advancing on him with her sword raised. 

"You do not want to fight me, Princess," Aerik warned, raising his sword in a defensive stance. 

Jerica's eyes flicked across a patch of blood on his left shoulder, the fabric of his tunic sliced open to reveal a narrow but long wound. She looked at her own blade and saw it coated with fresh blood -- evidence that his transporting her here didn't come without consequences. 

She didn't answer him -- she didn't need to. He didn't know her nearly as well as he seemed to think, if he believed that to be true. She did want to fight him. She needed it. If she didn't find some release for all of the emotions bubbling up inside her she might implode. She attacked with an over-handed blow. 

The swords clashed together with a deafening clang that echoed throughout the valley below them. Specks of the blood flew off Jerica's sword, splattering each of them with flecks of crimson.

Jerica rubbed her face and then launched a combination attack on him half a moment later, throwing a strike towards his shoulder, his knee, a thrust towards his neck. He blocked or dodged each blow, stumbling backward under the intensity of her attacks. 

Typically, Jerica was good at metering herself. She kept herself cool and collected, approaching duels like a scientist -- carefully watching and analyzing each movement of her opponent, leveraging her observational ability to keep from having to win a skirmish using brute strength alone. 

She often found that the matches she tried to muscle her way victory, especially in hand-to-hand combat, were the ones that she came much closer to losing. Strategy was every bit as needed as footwork and strength, when you were frequently half the size of your adversary. 

And yet, as she launched her volley of attacks on Aerik, she couldn't care less. 

Jerica slammed her blade into his over and over again, her arms trembling with the force of the swords colliding with such a heated ferocity. Aerik spent the first several minutes solely on the defensive, trying to anticipate her next move and get his blade between them before she could strike. She was as quick as she was fierce.

Finally, he caught one of her over-handed blows in mid-air and quickly stepped under it, forcing her to take a step backward. He launched his own volley of attacks, trying to take a break from the exhausting role of trying to anticipate her next move. 

Rather, he made a pass towards her shoulder. A swipe towards her side. A thrust towards her abdomen, forcing her to leap backward in a last-minute move to avoid getting skewered on the end of his blade. Her right foot landed in the puddle she'd created minutes before and slipped from under her, making her slide. 

Aerik thrust his palm out and struck her on the shoulder, hard, making her topple the rest of the way over. His blade came down on her neck a moment later, and she looked up into his hard expression as he stood over her. 

Her heart was racing, blood throbbing in her ears so loudly she could barely think, much less hear anything. She swallowed hard, still unable to process the emotions pounding through her. Fear was predominant now, certainly. But the anger and frustration were only magnified by her mistake, making each emotion that much harder to control. 

Jerica swallowed hard, trying to read his face, but it was in vain. It was impossible to tell what he might be thinking behind his drawn eyebrows and set jaw. She couldn't tell whether he planned on lecturing her on her brashness or running his sword all the way through her neck -- both seemed equally likely in that moment. 

She also didn't know what to hope for. 

Good sense said that she ought to talk her way out of this mess that she had, yet again, created for herself. And yet, a small voice argued that better sense would be to rile Aerik up until he finally finished her off for good. Good-bye and good riddance; no more emotions for her to work through, no more escapes for her to fail. 

Jerica started sitting up, Aerik's sword slicing the skin on her neck and making warm blood mix with the sweat dripping down her neck. She clenched her teeth, bracing herself to keep going -- to drive his sword into her own neck. 

He put a foot on her shoulder and forced her back to the ground. "Stop it." 

"You need to man up and finish me." 

"You need to calm down," he repeated. 

"You first," she snarled, attempting to sit up once again. 

Suddenly the same invisible force as the first day she'd been there wrapped around her entire body, immobilizing her completely. Jerica tried fighting, jerking against the un-moving force in an attempt to break free -- but to no avail. 

"Calm. Down," Aerik said. "You're going to go to your room until you can cool off. We'll talk about what happened, later." 

Jerica growled, a fresh wave of indignation washing across her as she fought against the invisible force. "You can't do this!" 

"Watch me."

With that, the invisible force lifted her in the air and carried straight over the edge of the cliff -- tossing her into her room and shutting the door after her. Jerica landed heavily, outraged at being tossed around like a rag doll, and leapt to her feet. She stormed towards the door angrily and tried to rip it open, but it was shut tight. 

She tried once more, then growled in frustration and slammed her fist against the hard stone. She turned to the nearby table and threw it into the door as hard as she could, watching as the already-frail wood splintered into hundreds of pieces. She grabbed one of the larger legs of the table and slammed it into the door again, the blow sending a jolt up her hands and arms. 

Jerica stormed around the room in a fit of passion, throwing anything that would come loose in her sparsely furnished room. She threw the small pitcher of water next to her cot -- which, she discovered, was a stone slab still connected to the wall -- and watched it shatter against the far wall, showering the floor around it. 

She took one of the fire pokers and threw it as hard as she could, watching as it bounced off the door without leaving any more than a scuff against the thick stone that sealed her in the makeshift prison. Jerica stomped back over to the door and tried it again, slamming her fist into it again when it still didn't open. 

Her hand screamed in protest, but it almost seemed like it made her feel better. Yes, her knuckles suffered at the abuse and every joint in her fingers felt a sharp pain stab through them, but that was a small price to pay for the release of emotion that she felt, as marginal as it was. 

She punched the door over and over again, until her adrenaline had subsided enough for her to feel the pain that her self-abuse left behind. She looked down at her right hand to find her knuckles bloodied and jutting out at unnatural angles -- clearly broken by her own inability to control her temper. 

Jerica clutched the hand close to her chest and stalked away from the door, pacing like a caged animal, trying to release the wound up tension deep inside her. She couldn't get the village girl out of her mind. Or Kieran. Or Aerik's stupid, infuriating smirk.

She kicked the carnage she'd left in her wake, stomping back and forth along the wall next to the door. It was hard to say how long she continued on like that. It could have been minutes, or hours -- it felt like years had passed, before she finally ran out of energy. 

Eventually she sank down on her cot, utterly exhausted. Now that her anger had subsided there was nothing left to replace it but sheer, in-your-face weariness that would not be ignored no matter how hard she tried. 

She looked towards the window and saw that it was starting to grow dark outside.

Jerica grunted and cradled her hand close to her chest, regretting the abuse she'd meted out and yet still too stubborn and prideful to admit it. She laid, completely still, for a long while more. The daylight soon disappeared entirely and was replaced with an eerie blackness that filled her room.

If she'd had more motivation she would have gotten up and tried to light a fire, to give her a little bit of light to see by. As it was, she laid in the darkness until she eventually drifted off into a fitful sleep.

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— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe