“Hold on, let me try it again,” Paige said. She jiggled the huge bronze padlock on the wooden door. It still didn’t budge. “I thought this magic of yours was supposed to work!” she shouted.

“I need complete silence in order to achieve an appropriate level of concentration,” the magician muttered from the adjacent shadows.” Previously I was distracted by an errant breeze. Allow me to try again.” The magician readjusted his shabby purple coat, which was studded with embroidered silver stars. The rest of him was equally threadbare.

“Seriously, what century did you dig this guy up from?” Alistair whispered to Paige. For the past thirty minutes, Alistair had been standing beside Paige, decked head-to-toe in shiny armor, waiting to strike his sword at whatever monstrosities lurked beyond the door. The sun beat down heavily on the subterranean trench in which they were standing. “I just hope that the treasure in there will be worth the trouble.”

“Believe me, it will be,” Paige whispered back. “It will be enough to lift the ransom on our lady the Queen, which will return order to the realm, and likewise restore the honor of your knight’s guild.”

“Ahem, ahaw, ahoo–”

Paige and Alistair stared with unbridled fascination as the magician first contorted himself in all manner of strange positions, then proceeded to hold his breath until his face turned blue.

“Surely there must have been some other eligible wizard in the realm?” Alistair mused.

“Yes, but not on such short notice,” Paige insisted. Alistair slumped in his armor, sweat dripping down his face.

At that moment, the magician’s eyes flashed open, shining an unearthly yellow in hue. “AHA!” he shouted at the door, flinging his right hand in a throwing motion.


The padlock fell off, and the door swung open. Paige and Alistair froze. Mountains of emeralds, gold, rubies, and other precious stones fell at their feet. An endless pile of gold and jewels extended far back into the tunnel. The magician scurried over and began filling his hat and pockets with as much treasure as he could carry.

Sunlight only illuminated the tunnel for a few feet, at which point everything was draped in shadows. Alistair grabbed his sword, imagining that he’d heard a low rumble. Paige reached out a hand to reassure him.

“I think we’re safe. Here there be no dragons,” she said mockingly.

A gust of air and a flash of light was all the warning that they had. Just moments before Alistair pushed both of them to the ground, he caught a glimpse of two orange, glowing eyes. Waves of flames licked over Paige and Alistair as they clung to the Earth. Fortunately they’d remembered to put on their anti-fire talismans this morning.

The magician was not quite so lucky. He himself survived the physical onslaught, but the same could not be said for his clothing and hair. Everything on his upper half was completely singed off in an instant.

“Not again,” he said wearily, huddling against the tunnel as he clutched a handful of singed jewels.

The dragon roared, an earth-shattering bellow that made Alistair’s armor vibrate. Pound pound pound went its feet as it slithered through the tunnel and out into the trench, ignoring the three trespassers. The dragon breathed in a large gust of air, flapped its wings, and hurtled off into the sky’s blue expanse.

And just like that, Alistair and Paige had simultaneously saved and imperiled the kingdom.