Ayen jumped out of the way just in time to avoid a boulder as it came flying at him. He nocked an arrow and held his bow steady as none other than a dragon crawled its way out from the chamber beneath the hill.
It wasn't the biggest dragon Ayen had ever seen, but he wasn't especially well equipped to take a dragon on in the first place. Green-gray scales shone iridescent in the sunlight. Its foreclaws tore ruts in the ground as it crawled. It snorted and black smoke came puffing out of its nose. There would be no running from it now that the thing was enraged.
"Keyleth, can you keep it distracted?"
"Not for long," she answered, then she began to play. The dragon paused and turned its head toward the sound. It was a gentle, lulling, tune. The dragon's eyelids drooped and it wobbled on its thick legs as its body grew heavy.
Ayen knelt down and reached into his bag. He found a small pot inside. Taking the lid off, he dipped his arrow in the deadly white power it contained. Then for good measure, he dipped three more. When he stood again, the dragon was already starting to come around. It crawled slowly toward Keyleth as she and the duck backed away.
Ayen again nocked his arrow and took aim. Keyleth changed her tune. It was just as gentle, but less of a lullaby. It sharpened his focus and with confidence he released his arrow. It cut through the air with a soft hiss and made its home in the dragon's belly. Another arrow swiftly followed, this one went straight into the creature's eye.
The dragon roared. It reared up, crushing rocks and fragmented boulders beneath it, and turned toward Ayen. Then it charged.
Ayen jumped up, catching a tree branch and swinging himself out of harm's way. When the dragon turned around, it was unsteady from the poison. It shook its head, trying to focus its good eye on Ayen. Ayen aimed another arrow, but before he could release it the dragon yelped like a wounded dog. Staring in bewilderment, Ayen spotted the little duck at the dragon's side. It had taken the shaft of the arrow into its mouth and was flapping its wings, pushing it deeper. It must have pierced something vital as the dragon roared and thrashed. Smudge was thrown through the air and went crashing into the dirt.
"Smudge!" Keyleth ran to the bird's side.
Ayen fired another arrow into the dragon to keep its attention, but there was no need. With a tired groan the beast fell over and was finally dead.
"Oh no." Keyleth cradled the bird against her chest. She looked up at Ayen with tears in her eyes. "We need a healer," she sobbed.
Ayen slung his bow across his back and hurried to her side. Smudge was conscious, but the bird struggled to breathe. It likely had a few broken ribs. He couldn't say that he was fond of the duck, but it had risked its life to help defeat the dragon. Which was something Ayen had certainly never considered a duck to be capable of.
"I know a healer on the edge of town. If we're quick we can make it."
Keyleth nodded and Ayen led the way. They ran back down the road, passing the farmer who called after them in question. They reached the city, panting to catch their breath, but there was no time to stop. They hurried on until Ayen found the house, a modest but tidy place, he was looking for and let himself in.
Margot was a healer skilled in healing chants, but horrid at mixing poultices and potions. She looked at Ayen in surprise as they entered, but she never got the chance to ask the question on her tongue.
"Can you heal my duck?" Keyleth asked. She ran up to the healer who was taken aback and momentarily speechless.
"I- uh," she looked at Ayen, then at Keyleth, then at Smudge. "Well, I can give it a try. Bring it here." Tying her blonde hair up on top of her head, she led them into the next room.
Keyleth laid poor Smudge down on the table. The little duck didn’t even move. Ayen wasn’t sure that he was still breathing. Margot lit a lamp and illuminated a room full of sigils and markings, things that would help to channel her healing magic into whatever lay on the table. She laid a hand over the duck and let her eyes close. Keyleth fiddled with her braids. Ayen watched silently. Then Margot began to chant.
The sound was gravely and rhythmic. It went on for some time without change. Smudge began to stir, flapping his wing. Then his breath grew even and steady. When Margot lifted her hand, the duck stood and shook himself off. He turned to Keyleth with a quack.
The young woman squealed with joy and pulled the duck into her arms, kissing its feathery face. "Oh thank you miss healer lady!"
Margot chuckled. "It's no trouble," she said. Then she raised an eyebrow at Ayen. "Though I expect my usual fee."
"What? But it's a duck. There's no way it took as much out of you as healing a man." He crossed his arms over his chest. "Half," he declared.
Margot shook her head. "My usual fee or don't come back, elf."
He rolled his eyes. Could his luck get any worse today?
An hour later, Ayen was at the bar with Keyleth on one side, the farmer, his name was Phildur, on the other side, and Smudge sitting on the bar. The two of them recounted the tail of their great battle with the salamanders and the dragon. As a crowd formed around them, the story grew increasingly epic until, upon its forth retelling, there were two dragons. In the fifth version, Smudge killed the second dragon entirely on his own by dive bombing the dragon from the top of a rock and pecking out its eyes.
"You're not half bad, elf archer guy," Keyleth teased, so drunk that Ayen had no idea how she remained in her seat.
"You're pretty great yourself, Keyleth," he said. "The bird, though, he's the real hero."
Keyleth hiccuped and smiled proudly. "That's my Smudge."
Ayen Fenfir is no common elf, but that won't stop him from pretending to be one as he tries to hide from his past. Life as a criminal isn't easy, but when Ayen sees the bounty for turning in an assassin, known as 'The Angel', he finds himself caught between romance and a chance to retire from his life of crime. 'Don't try your luck in West Catoig' is what they always say, but Ayen has yet to discover just how unlucky West Catoig is for its more humble citizens.