9 - Dominion

When a young warrior sets out to slay the dragon demanding tribute from the surrounding realm, she's shocked and slightly terrified to discover that the dragon is using the tribute to defend the realm from an invading draconic army… and the dragon needs her help.

Paloma is the daughter of the chief of a village of farmers and shepherds. She personally is a shepherdess, and has surprising skill at combat due to having to fight off wolves and bears. Her village lives in the shadow of Valencia, a massive dragon that lives in the nearby mountains. Valencia is viewed as a tyrant, but a distant one; while her demands are backed by lethal force, they do come infrequently.

Strange things frequently happen around Paloma - things blowing when there’s no breeze, rain not falling near her when it is everywhere else - and she and her family are wigged out about them. Stuff like that is often - but not always - a sign of latent magical talent, and Valencia demands that anyone with any magical talent be given to her as a sacrifice.

Paloma starts trying to make strange things happen, and succeeds - she’s definitely magical. When she tells her family that she wants to use her powers to hunt down and kill Valencia, freeing them from her tyranny, her family warns her against it; if she tries, Valencia will kill all of them. Maybe even the entire village.

Paloma accidentally starts a fire in her house while everyone’s sleeping. After making sure everyone gets out safely, she runs back inside, then sneaks away, faking her own death. She lingers around the outskirts of town; once she’s sure that she’s thought to be dead, she leaves to go kill Valencia.

Paloma finds life in the wilderness difficult, but not impossible. She befriends a hunter and huntress who live deep in the woods; they agree to help her with her quest. As they travel, they encounter a merchant caravan. One of the caravan guards lost his son to Valencia, and he joins them, too. Finally, they meet another young sorceress who fled her village upon discovering her magical abilities.

They prepare for the hunt as they travel to the mountains. The hunter and huntress train them all in stalking and hiding, and the guard trains them in combat. Paloma and the sorceress teach each other what they know about magic.

When they reach the mountain, they find it swarming with drakes - young dragons. They fight through half a dozen, but the hunter dies before Valencia arrives, spooking all the drakes off.

Paloma and her gang attack Valencia immediately, but without the element of surprise, they’re beaten quickly. Valencia doesn’t kill them, though; in fact, she secrets them back to her lair, hiding them from the drakes. She even brings the hunter’s body for a proper burial.

She explains to them why she’s been taking anyone with magical talent: they’re under attack by dragons from the north. And they’re losing the war. Valencia needs all the soldiers she can get. And frankly, it takes magic to stand a chance against a full dragon. Valencia wants to recruit them - especially Paloma and the sorceress.

Paloma absolutely refuses, though she’s unclear as to whether it’s because she doesn’t believe Valencia, doesn’t trust her motives, or maybe just hates her anyway. Everyone else varies in their opinions, but Paloma’s staunch refusal keeps any of them from joining Valencia outright.

Valencia, though, tells them all they can’t leave; now that the drakes know they’re there, they’ll be swarmed as soon as they’re spotted.

So, as they’re trapped there for a while, Paloma talks with Valencia, and slowly warms to her side of things. Eventually, after weeks of Valencia doing all she can to help them, Paloma caves and agrees to help.

First, though, they need to just get out of the cave they’re hiding in now. The very thing that makes the lair secure - the fact that it has only one entrance - now means that the drakes know exactly where they’ll be leaving from.

They discuss plans, and eventually decide on Valencia making like she’s running away, then turning around to come back once the other dragons have all revealed themselves. However, that means that Paloma and the others will have to hold out on their own for an extended period.

Valencia leaves, and sure enough, while some drakes go after her, the others all swarm into the cave to look for loot and Paloma. They hold them off as long as they can, but eventually the battle turns against them. One of the drakes rips off Paloma’s arm and tosses her aside, crippling one of her legs. She’s only saved by the Sorceress’s quick thinking and healing magic. Soon after, Valencia returns and saves them all.

Valencia tells them that, while they’re good for a while, the enemy knows her lair is there, now, and they’ll be back. Paloma asks about her sorcerers, and Valencia takes her to an isolated valley to see them. She has about a hundred of them.

Paloma asks about the size of the enemy’s army, and Valencia says they don’t have any sorcerers, only drakes and dragons. They discuss whether now is the time to use their army, and decide to stage an ambush for the enemy leader - Caratacos.

They prepare defenses, and train. Paloma and the sorceress get instructions from veteran mages on how to use their spells. When the enemy army arrives, Paloma rides Valencia into battle, while most of the rest of the sorcerers ride carpets and broomsticks alongside them.

The battle is chaos, but in the chaos, Paloma’s allies manage to clip Caratacos’s wings, leaving him landlocked - though still formidable. Valencia squares off against him while everyone else keeps the drakes away from the two warring dragons.

Things turn against Valencia. She sees the flow of battle, and signals Paloma. She leaves a deliberate opening, but when Caratacos takes it, he leaves himself open to Paloma’s attack. She slays him even as he slays Valencia.

In the aftermath, Paloma decides not to return home, but instead to ascend to the mountains, taking Valencia’s role as protector of the area.