Dria sat at the edge of her bed, staring into the mirror on the wall. “You are a poor excuse for a magician,” she whispered to herself. “Why are you letting yourself be pampered by your sworn enemies?”
A month ago, she had ruled the world. She was the most powerful person in the world. Then of course, the little hero, Tad, had come along and pretty much wiped her memory with a spell. She had been defeated, even if it only lasted a few days. Tad was a skilled magician, but memory spells were not his forte. Her memories had returned slowly. They stopped yesterday, which she assumed meant that she’d regained them all.
She should use this opportunity to rise up, to strike Tad down once and for all and regain her rightful place as ruler of the kingdom. Instead, she remained where she was, not as Tad’s enemy, but as his victim. She hid the fact that her memories had returned. As much as she disliked the hero, he was kind to her and a part of her didn’t want that to end. No one had ever been that kind to her. Her allies and servants had respected her, but they had also resented her. She had no doubt that if she returned to her old home in the state she was in, they would tear her apart.
So she remained, staring into the mirror, almost not believing what she saw.
“You are pathetic,” she whispered. “You held all the power of the world, but now that you’ve lost it, you do nothing to reclaim it. You remain a guest of the man who defeated you, powerless to do anything but stay where you are.”
Tad’s partner, Jace, didn’t trust her. Neither did any of his other friends or any of the servants. She was surprised that Tad was kind enough to swallow his pride and let her stay there. Of course, he had no idea she remembered everything now. He thought she was incapacitated. And he was right. Her memories had returned, but the spell reduced her, making her sickly, a ghost of the woman she once was.
A knock came at the door and Dria tore her eyes away from the mirror. “Come in,” she called.
The door opened and the hero, Tad stepped in, looking nervous and a bit frazzled. He managed a tight smile. “Hello, Dria. Did you sleep well?”
She nodded, giving him a reassuring smile of her own. “Well enough. Is something wrong?”
Tad shook his head. “Oh, it’s nothing really. I just have a question to ask you.”
She smiled again. “Okay. Ask your question.” Her cheerful voice burned in her throat. Why was she being so nice to him? She usually replied to whatever he said with sarcasm, but since the end of the war, she’d changed. It was as if his spell had not only stolen her memories, but also changed her personality.
Tad sat down on her bed next to her. “Do you remember anything from before a month ago when you woke up? Anything at all?”
Her mouth tasted like rubber. He knew! He had to know that she had regained her memory. “Like what?” she said, trying to sound innocent.
Tad paused. “Like, where you came from? Where you lived before you lost your memory? You see, you were a great hero before, and the loss of your memory is unfortunate, but we are looking for your old hideout, to see if we can find anything useful to keep the peace over this kingdom stable. Do you remember?”
Dria wasn’t sure what to say. Was he pretending to be ignorant of the return of her memory? Was he trying to trap her in her words? Maybe he didn’t know she remembered everything yet. She decided to take her chances.
“I do remember something,” she admitted. “There was a cave in a mountain, somewhere I used to be all the time.” She frowned. “That’s all I remember. I don’t know what was inside or anything like that. Even the memory of the cave is so wispy it could almost be a dream.”
“A cave?” Tad said. “Do you know which mountain it was in? Could you lead me there?”
She nodded. “I think so. If you let me come into the cave with you.”
Tad seemed hesitant. “Dria, you must understand that the cave might be dangerous. It’s possible that a dragon claimed it or something like that. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
How sweet. Even in her thoughts, she wasn’t sure whether she was being sarcastic or not. Why was Tad protecting her like this? Did he just keep her around for useful information? Was he waiting for her to spill her guts before he cast her out? He couldn’t possibly expect her to remember everything she did. After all, Tad was a renowned magician, confident in his abilities. He likely suspected her memory was slowly returning or he wouldn’t have asked that question, but he probably didn’t know how much she had really gained.
“Alright,” Tad said. “We’ll leave at noon. You know where the stables are, right? Meet me there preferably before noon so we can be absolutely ready.”
Dria’s spine tingled. She nodded. Tad stood up and left the room. They were going to return to her hideout! She wasn’t sure if she should be excited or horrified. Maybe her apprentice and soldiers had died in the war. Maybe the cave was abandoned. But they might still be there. If she ran into them, would they welcome her or hurt her? Was she helping Tad out, or leading him into a trap? She pulled her knees up against her chest as all the possible scenarios raced through her mind, making her heart race with both excitement and nervousness.
The mountain loomed high above its surrounding neighbors. The trees ended abruptly about halfway up. The rest of the mountain rose higher with craggy rocks that looked like castle towers. A cloud rested around the summit. Tad landed his dragon on a nearby cliff and waved back. Dria looked over at Jace, who steered his dragon down to join Tad without hesitation. She followed as well and landed gently.
“Is this it?” Tad asked, gesturing to the enormous mountain.
Dria nodded. “The cave is among the trees. I think, from the little I can remember, that it’s on the western side of the mountain.”
“Alright.” Tad drew his sword. “Be ready for anything,” he said to Jace. “Dria, if we are attacked, I want you to run back to the dragons and fly back to the castle as fast as you can. Got it?”
Dria bristled. “I can help,” she said. “I remember being very good at the sword.”
Jace grunted. Dria notice him give a warning look to Tad and he shifted his shoulder. Tad winced, almost imperceptibly, but Dria caught it. On a dark night, just over a year ago, she had trapped Tad, Jace, and some of their other friends in an abandoned fortress. She’d wounded Tad, striking him on the shoulder with a poisoned blade, and left them to deal with that while she claimed the prize under the fortress. Somehow, Tad had survived, and she suspected that Jace was referring to that. She bit her tongue to keep her mouth closed. She had to get a weapon from them somehow. She wasn’t entirely sure whose side she was on at the moment, for her own sake, she had to get a weapon.
“You can trust me,” she reassured them again. “I can help.”
Tad shook his head. “You might have done that once, but it’s also possible that you don’t fully remember enough to fight. Believe me, it’s best if you go back for help.”
Jace rolled his eyes. Dria sighed. “Fine,” she said. Perhaps if one of them fell, she could steal their sword and make a run for it.
Tad’s dragon lifted off the ground and he swooped toward the mountain. Jace and Dria followed. Tad jumped off his dragon and onto a tree. “Hide and wait for us,” he said to his dragon. “Lead the others.”
Dria jumped off her dragon and into a tree branch. Jace looked a little hesitant, but he finally consented. The dragons flew away, led by Tad’s dragon. They climbed down from their trees. Dria remembered this landscape well. “Follow me,” she said. “I know the way.” They were close to the entrance. Close enough that any spies might have seen the dragons, but it was better to fly there than hike. The terrain was rough and unkind to any hikers or climbers.
Dria paused at the edge of the trees. She could see the mouth of the cave from where she was. She motioned for Tad and Jace to crouch down and out of sight as she slipped behind a tree. Tad’s eyes glittered as he saw the cave. He wanted to explore the cave, probably discover all her old secrets. He pulled the hood of his cloak over his head and started to creep toward the entrance, as silent as a shadow.
Dria crawled over to the bush Jace was hiding behind. He shot a dirty look in her direction before he turned to focus on Tad. They waited silently as Tad moved toward the entrance. He stood up with his back to the rocks, his sword drawn, as he moved closer to the entrance. With a loud shout, he jumped forward and turned toward the entrance.
Nothing happened at first. Tad took a step forward. One last memory spiked through Dria’s mind. There was a spell protecting the cave entrance. She stood up. “Tad, wait,” she shouted.
A loud, blaring noise split the air. Tad flew back and hit a tree. Jace cried out and drew his sword as he leapt up. “A protection spell,” he shouted at Dria. “Why didn’t you mention it before?”
“I forgot,” she shouted back. “You guys took my memory, remember?”
A dragon stepped out of the cave entrance. Dria recognized him. He was a shapeshifter, her apprentice, Ardruc, probably the most dangerous villain now that she was out of the way. She felt a stab of envy. It wasn’t her fault that her memory was wiped. Now was her chance. She could run to the dragon, surrender, and become his apprentice. Or she could keep staying with Tad and Jace until the opportune moment to become greater than her old apprentice.
The dragon rushed toward Tad, who was slowly starting to get to his feet. Jace intercepted the dragon with a scream and started to fight. The dragon transformed into a griffin, losing the ability to breathe fire, but gaining the ability to fly, since a full sized dragon couldn’t use that in such a small space.
Jace fought hard, his back to Tad, who still looked groggy and disoriented. Dria looked down at his sword, a few paces away from him. She rushed forward.
Tad opened his eyes. “Dria,” he shouted. “Retreat. Go get help!”
“No,” she muttered under her breath. “Not this time.” If Ardruc destroyed Jace and Tad, she would lose her chance to rise up and become a more powerful villain than him. She needed them for now. Besides, Tad had been kind to her. The least she could do was defend him.
Ardruc flew around Jace and attacked Tad. Weaponless and still dizzy, Tad was defenseless to the attacks. Jace quickly intercepted him, but not before Ardruc got Tad. Tad didn’t move from where he was and she didn’t have to be a healer to know that Ardruc had hurt him enough for him to lose consciousness.
Dria picked up the sword and joined the fight. The griffin turned back into the dragon and lashed out, finally getting past Jace’s defenses. Jace flew through the air before he hit a tree as well. Ardruc moved toward Jace, but Dria stepped forward.
Ardruc paused. “Dria,” he hissed in the dragon language. “I didn’t expect to see you again.”
“Get back, Ardruc,” Dria snarled, also in dragon tongue. “Go back to your pitiful cave.”
Ardruc chuckled. “Looks like little Dria found herself from new friends.” His mouth started to fill with fire. “Come to kill your old apprentice, traitor?”
“We both know you are no longer my apprentice,” Dria said.
Ardruc turned into a man, but he still spoke in the dragon’s language. “I know my place, Dria. You abandoned us. You don’t belong among the evil anymore.”
“We’ll see about that.” Dria closed her eyes and started to chant.
Ardruc recoiled. “Oh no you don’t. I’ll leave you and your friends alone for now, but I will be back. You can count on that.”
He retreated into the cave hastily. Dria grinned. Ardruc may have taken her place, but he still feared her magic. He was a skilled fighter and shapeshifter, but she had only taught him the basics of magic. She turned back and her smile faded. Jace knelt on the ground, sword in hand, staring at her in disgust and terror. She hadn’t known he was still conscious, but there he was, staring at her. He’d seen it all, the dragon language, the threats, the starting chant of a spell.
He knew that she had regained her memory.