• By the time they'd reached the village, afternoon shadows were beginning to lengthen. Traint could see Ellie standing outside the house, along with the worry on her face. As he emerged from the trees, she ran over to him, the worry turning to relief when she saw Jenna.

    "She's alright, Miss Ellie," Traint said. "She's merely sleeping."

    "Bring her inside," Ellie said, holding the door open for him. Traint followed Ellie to Jenna's room, and Ellie watched as the young man went to lay Jenna on her bed. When she felt him shifting her, however, Jenna gripped his shirt tighter in her sleep, a slight frown on her face. At a bit of a loss, Traint looked at Ellie to see her smiling a bit.

    "It would seem my daughter doesn't want to let go," she said. "She's been like that since she was little. If someone she trusts is carrying her while she's asleep, she has a habit of clinging and not wanting to let go, even in her sleep."

    "What do I do, then?" he asked.

    "The only thing you can do for now is just sit with her until she wakes up," Ellie said. "It shouldn't take too long for her to wake."

    "Alright, I'll just sit here, then," Traint said, and sat on Jenna's bed with his back against the wall and Jenna on his lap. Ellie nodded and left the room, leaving Traint to think back on what had brought him to this area in the first place. His family's lands were still some distance away, and Traint needed to get there before the changing of the seasons. If he failed to make it before then, he could very well lose the chance to reclaim his heritage.

    As he thought about leaving the village, he began to realize that he didn't want to leave Jenna, and this thought scared him. He didn't understand what was happening, but he knew he had to get away. So he made up his mind that he would leave in the early morning hours, so that no one would be awake to stop him. Jenna woke about an hour later, and when she turned her head and saw him sitting there, she blushed and jumped up, a look of confusion on her face.

    "What are you doing here?" she asked.

    "Ye fell asleep, so I carried ye back here," he answered. "I've been waiting for ye to wake."


    "Yer mother needs to see ye," he said quietly. "She's in the living room."

    "Oh, thank you," Jenna said, and he nodded. She left the room and headed for the living room to see what Ellie wanted. She returned a few minutes later with a lost look on her face.

    "Jenna, what's—" Traint began, but she cut him off.

    "His body isn't there," she said, her voice devoid of emotion. "So they can't prove he's dead."

    "I'm sorry, Jenna," he said quietly.

    "Could you give me some time alone, please?" she asked. Traint nodded, rising from the bed and leaving the room. Sighing softly, he approached Ellie at the dining room table.

    "She didn't take it well, did she?" he asked.

    "No," Ellie said. "But at least one good thing will come from this."

    "What's that?" he asked.

    "Steve is to be executed tomorrow morning," she said. "The evidence against him is too great to ignore."

    "What has the Elder decided as the means of execution?" Traint asked quietly.

    "Sacrifice," Ellie answered.

    "'Sacrifice'?" he echoed. "Wait, does that mean—"

    "Yes," Ellie said. "He will be sacrificed to the dragon that lives to the north as his execution."

    "How could the Elder choose that?" Traint asked. "Steve's death will be long and painful, and he will beg for death before the dragon will grant it to him. That is an end I would not wish on any man, even my greatest enemy." Ellie was surprised by this, and she spoke quietly.

    "How do you know this, Traint?" she asked.

    "That dragon took my heritage, and slaughtered my entire family in front of me," Traint answered, pain obvious in his voice as he turned to look out the window. "I was very young at the time, and thus, helpless to do anything."

    "Traint, that dragon has been terrorizing our village, and many others, for over a century," Ellie said. "The legend said that when the dragon took over, it killed everyone in the place it chose for its nest, and they were powerless against the assault. The dragon is a huge, dark-scaled beast that's said to have lived for years beyond counting."

    "Even one who has lived for so long has weakness," Traint said, turning to look at her again. "And I aim to make use of that weakness to destroy that vile beast."

    "Please, don’t do anything reckless, Traint," Ellie said.

    "I don't plan to, Miss Ellie," he said. "I know exactly what I'm up against. Will the dragon come to take Steve, or will he be sent to the beast?"

    "The dragon will come to get him, at a clearing overlooking a rather large lake that isn't far from the village," Ellie said.

    "Good," Traint said. "Then I must be ready when it arrives."

    "Traint, how will you do this?" Ellie asked. "This beast is far too powerful for even the king to try and slay. It will not go down easily."

    "I don't want it to go down easily," he said, shaking his head. "I will show this beast the pain and suffering I have lived with since it killed my family. I must leave for now, but I will be back on the morrow to confront my enemy once again." Having said this, Traint left the house and headed into the forest again. Jenna watched him from her bedroom window.

    All evening, Traint meditated, clearing his mind of all stray thoughts before beginning to train. He trained for several hours before falling into a deep sleep. He woke early the next morning, giving himself enough time to reach the clearing just as the villagers did the same. A short time before, Steve had been tied to a post that had been driven into the ground.

    "Hear me, my people!" Elbert said, raising his voice so that everyone could clearly hear him. "This hunter, Steve, has been found guilty of multiple murders, as well as selling weapons and armor on the black market. Does the accused have anything to say in his defense?" Steve remained silent, though there was a hint of fear in his eyes. Elbert continued.

    "Then in accordance with his sins, Steve is hereby sentenced as a sacrifice to the dragon from the north," the elder said. "Hear me, dragon, and claim what is now yours!"