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I pushed the door open and paused for a moment, looking up at the clouds. A snowflake landed on the tip of my nose, making it tingle. The sky was dark with night, but the streetlight illuminated the falling snow.
“Finally,” I muttered, adjusting the grip on my phone. “Elita Ray, signing in. First snow of the season, Lacy.”
“You’re already getting snow there?” Lacy made a sound of disgust over the phone. “I’m glad I chose a school in Texas.”
“I like snow,” I said. “It’s so fun.”
“Right. Tell me that after you’ve had some time to freeze to death.”
I laughed and started walking. “It’s not that cold. At least there isn’t any wind right now. It’s been pretty breezy for the last week.”
“Wait,” Lacy said. “You’re headed outside? Isn’t it dark there?”
“Yeah.” I pulled my scarf tighter. “I just left the dance.”
“And you’re walking home? Alone?” she said. “Are you insane?”
I scoffed. “Not everyone has a car like you. I have two legs. Home isn’t far.”
“But it isn’t safe,” she said. “Didn’t your parents teach you anything?”
“There’s no one out,” I said. “Relax. I’ll keep my eyes open.”
Lacy sighed. “You always were the daredevil, Elita.”
“Walking home in the snow is hardly a daredevil stunt,” I said. “It’s fine.”
“Sure. Whatever you say.”
I rolled my eyes. “How’s Nick?”
I moved my phone away from my ear as Lacy let out a loud squeal. “Oh, he’s great,” she said. “We’re both great. He’s the best boyfriend ever.”
“I knew you would say that,” I said, smirking. “Sasha owes me ice cream.”
“You’ve been betting on me?” Lacy cried.
“I can’t help it. You’re so predictable. She bet you would immediately start talking about how great he is, but I bet you would scream in my ear first. I won.”
Lacy groaned. “Elitaaaaa.”
I laughed. “I know you too we—”
I stepped on a patch of black ice. Before I knew it, I was on the ground, banging my elbow against the sidewalk. I yelped, dropping my phone and grabbing my arm.
I moved to reach my phone when I froze. I was lying on the sidewalk next to a narrow side street that passed between two of the campus buildings. A single streetlight illuminated a portion of the street, and the man standing at the corner of the building, watching me.
I stared at the man for a moment. How long had he been there? I could have sworn he wasn’t there a moment ago before I slipped.
“Elita?” Lacy’s voice rose in pitch.
The man smirked and stepped forward, offering his hand to help me up. “You must be Elita Ray.”
I snatched up my phone and scrambled back, standing up on my own. I braced myself to run. “Who are you?” I said.
“Elita?” Lacy was practically screaming, but I could just barely hear her voice from the phone speaker.
“Your friend is calling your name,” the man said. “Perhaps you should answer.”
“Who are you?” I said again.
He smiled. “I’m your captor.” He closed his eyes and his skin started to ripple.
The transformation happened quicker than my eyes could process what was happening. In the blink of an eye, the tall man had turned into a large black dragon, at least twenty feet long. I gasped and stumbled back. “Shapeshifter.”
“That’s right,” the dragon said. “One of the last of my kind. I’m surprised you recognized my magic. Your aura tells me you possess no magical abilities yourself.”
“I’ve seen a few strange things in my time,” I said.
The dragon turned his head toward the figure up the street, running toward us. “What’s this?”
I smiled. “This is an old friend who’s been dying to meet you, Waldemar VI, Shapeshifter.”
The dragon’s eyes narrowed. “You do know of me.”
“I didn’t recognize you until you transformed,” I said. I jerked my head toward the approaching figure. “And neither did he.”
Reid slowed to a trot and then came to a stop once he was standing next to me. “Elita, get back,” he warned. “This is a dangerous one.”
“I wouldn’t have agreed to this mission if I didn’t think it was dangerous,” I said, taking another step back. “Say hello to Waldemar, Reid.”
Waldemar hissed. “Reid the Shapeslayer. I should have known you would come out eventually. Apparently, I walked into a trap.”
“I’m glad you finally noticed,” I said. “This is why you shouldn’t set out traps. You may get caught yourself.”
Reid sighed. “Are you done gloating?” he said.
I nodded. “He’s all yours.”
“Thank you,” Reid said sarcastically. He pulled a twig out of his pocket, and it transformed into an enormous sword as easily as the man had transformed into a dragon.
Waldemar started to pace, glaring at Reid. “So you used a damsel in distress to draw me out. Very clever, Reid. I never saw it coming.”
“I thought I’d give you a taste of your own medicine,” Reid said. He glanced over at me. “Uh, well, she thought she’d give you a taste of your own medicine. It was her idea.”
“Thank you for attributing me correctly,” I said.
He rolled his eyes. “Yes, yes, you’re very clever. Now step back a little more, Elita. It’s my turn.”
I took a few more steps back and slid my phone out of my pocket. Lacy had stopped screaming my name, but it appeared she had switched to a video call while I was busy. She stared at me. “What are you doing, Elita?”
“Watching the show,” I said, smiling. I held up the phone, switching the camera around so she could see Reid standing in front of the dragon. “Say hi, Reid.”
Reid stepped forward, swinging his sword. The dragon recoiled and transformed back into a man. He raised a long dagger to block Reid’s swing. They started fighting, Reid taking calculated, sweeping moves as if he were at a dance instead of a swordfight, and Waldemar taking more vicious, almost desperate swings and blocks.
Reid thrust forward, but Waldemar dodged, smacking the sword to the side with his dagger. Reid caught Waldemar’s hilt with his blade and twisted, sending the black dagger spinning through the air.
I leaned against the wall and yawned. Lacy’s face was unimpressed as she watched the fight continue. “Really?” she said. “You’re letting Reid handle this one?”
“He’s a better fighter than I am,” I said. “Besides, he has enough magic to summon his sword at will. I’d have to carry mine around everywhere if I wanted to fight shapeshifters and it’s really heavy.”
“And I’m guessing you don’t have any weapons on you,” Lacy said. “So Waldemar wouldn’t sense you as a threat.”
“Bingo,” I said.
“Have you thought about what might happen if Waldemar overpowered Reid?”
“Reid will win this one,” I said. “I’m certain of it.”
The tip of Reid’s sword was at Waldemar’s throat. “Don’t move,” Reid warned. “If you come peacefully, I will spare your life.”
Waldemar snarled and transformed again. A lizard dropped to the ground and scurried toward the street. Reid uncurled his left fist and blew on the palm of his hand, sending a shimmering spell toward the lizard. A wooden cage started to spring up from the ground around it and the lizard transformed again, turning back into the dragon.
The cage continued to grow to accommodate the size of the dragon, but Waldemar opened his mouth. A stream of fire erupted from his throat, spraying the wooden cage with hot flames. The cage crumpled. Reid dashed forward, rummaging around in his pocket. He pulled out another spell and threw it.
The dragon roared and lashed out. Its wing hit the spell and it flew back at Reid. He cried out as the spell collided with him. The spell knocked him off his feet and he rolled to a stop in the snow gathering on the sidewalk.
I winced. “That didn’t look good.”
“Waldemar’s defenses must have improved since our last encounter,” Lacy said.
The dragon shifted, turning to look at Reid’s motionless body.
“Come on, Reid,” I muttered. “Get up.”
Reid didn’t move.
“Reid?” I said, a little louder. “Reid?”
The dragon’s lips curled back in a grin. He started to move toward Reid.
“Reid!” I sprinted forward, dropping the phone in my haste.
“Elita, no!” Lacy’s voice echoed from my phone, but I wasn’t listening. I dashed toward Reid’s body, hoping I could make it there before the dragon did.
I crouched and rolled Reid over. He groaned, his eyelids fluttering. Smoke curled up from his chest where a part of his jacket had burned away. The spell had hit him hard.
I heard a chuckle behind me and I spun. Waldemar was only a few feet away, shaking his enormous head. “You humans are so predictable. You may have nearly caught me, but once I hit one of your own, you moved toward him like a moth to light. You can’t resist helping other humans when they are fallen.”
“Stay back,” I warned, blinking tears away. “Don’t come a step closer.”
“What will you do to me?” Waldemar said, letting out another chuckle. “You are weaponless, magicless. You no longer have a knight to save you.”
“I’m not entirely defenseless,” I said, slowly moving away from Reid’s body. Maybe I could lead Waldemar away from him enough that he could escape once he regained consciousness.
Waldemar laughed. “Oh really. What weapon do you have hiding in that satchel of yours that could possibly hurt me?”
“It’s not a weapon,” I said. “At least, not in the traditional sense. What I have is far more deadly to you than Reid’s sword. I chose to not take it out until now.” My mind spun. What could I possibly use against a shapeshifter? I didn’t have any weapons. I did have my purse, but it only had some makeup and a few dollars and coupons. Nothing I could use against a dragon.
I started playing with the end of my scarf, nervously going through my options.
“What is this secret weapon you have?” Waldemar hissed.
“It’s wit,” I said. My throat was dry. “Cleverness.”
My eyes strayed to Waldemar’s feet. Was that a puddle of water or black ice? I tugged on my scarf again, pulling it just a little tighter.
Waldemar burst out laughing. As a dragon, it came out sounding more like a roar. “Cleverness,” he said. “Ha! Even you can’t come up with something out of nothing to save yourself. Cleverness alone cannot save you.” The dragon snarled and started to pace. I paced with him, guiding him farther away from Reid as I tugged on my scarf.
“Well, it’s saved me so far,” I said. “I mean, I’m not dead yet and you’ve been talking with me for about a minute. If I hadn’t started talking, I would probably already be dead.”
“This is true,” Waldemar said. The back of his throat started to glow. “I suppose it’s time I ended this silly conversation.” He opened his mouth and the glow in his throat grew brighter.
I ran forward and crouched, sliding on the ice. I whipped my scarf out and the end wrapped around the dragon’s foreleg. I kept sliding, going underneath the dragon’s body. I yanked on the scarf and the dragon slipped on the ice, letting out a roar as his left foreleg was pulled underneath his belly, towards his right hind leg. I wrapped my scarf around the end of his tail and hooked it on the claws on Waldemar’s hind leg.
He roared and struggled, trying to pull free of the scarf. “How dare you,” he bellowed. “Coward girl.”
I stepped up to the dragon’s head and pulled a small bottle of perfume out of my purse. “I guess I’m not as defenseless as you thought,” I said. “You ever seen this before? It’s called perfume. Human girls use it to make themselves smell pretty, but I guess since you’re a dragon right now, your sense of smell is much more enhanced than a human’s nose.” I held it up.
“I don’t fear your human weapons,” Waldemar hissed.
“Oh, this isn’t a weapon,” I said. I sprayed it in his left eye. He roared, shutting both eyes. I sprayed around his nostrils and mouth until he was gagging on a cloud of perfume. He wouldn’t be able to shapeshift until he could open both eyes.
“The scarf wasn’t a weapon either,” I said. “But I brought you down with it much easier than Reid could do with a sword and the ability to use magic. Here’s a lesson for you, Waldemar the Shapeshifter. Never underestimate the powerless.”
Waldemar was still coughing, so I gave him one more spray of perfume before I turned and hurried over to Reid.
Reid was propped up on one elbow and staring at me. “Elita?” he said. “Did you just defeat the shapeshifter?”
I knelt down. “Don’t move. That spell hit you pretty hard. Let me see where it hit.”
Reid waved me away. “I’m alright. The spell was just meant to daze. It knocked me out there for a few moments.”
“It burned away part of your jacket,” I said.
Reid nodded. “Yeah, I know. It’s freezing here. I’m just glad my sweater is still intact.” He winced, looking down at the crumbling remains of his shirt. “Well, mostly intact. You have Lacy on the phone?”
“Oh yeah.” I scooped up my phone from the ground.
“You’re alive,” Lacy said. “I’m glad to see that.”
“Not only that,” I said, grinning. “Have a look at this.” I held the phone up to show her the dragon.
Lacy beamed. “Well done. I’m impressed. Elita that was a foolish move, running to Reid, but it paid off.”
“I told you I can handle myself,” I said. “Waldemar isn’t dead, but I put enough perfume on his face to keep him from opening his eyes. I assume you want to send someone to get him.”
“My special operative is on her way,” Lacy said. “Reid, turn Waldemar over to her. She will deal with the rest.”
Reid nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Good.” Lacy smiled. “And Elita, well done. I may have to include you in more missions after this.”
I beamed, a warm feeling spreading through me. “Thank you,” I said.
She smiled. “No. Thank you. This is Lacy Travers, signing off.”