“So, what kind of quest are we doing?”
“I think I’ll keep that a secret for now. Though, are you sure you’re okay without any equipment?”
Lily, Iris and Tate were casually strolling down the street in the direction of the guild, chatting as they walked. Tate had exchanged her craftsman’s overall for a simple tunic and pants, and she carried no weapon of any sort. Lily had expected her to show up toting a shield of some sort, but instead the girl was lightly dressed, without anything resembling combat equipment.
“I do have equipment. Just… not on me at the moment. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine, you’ll see.”
Lily sighed and conceded the discussion. If Tate ended up getting herself into danger, she could just turn herself into a shield, so Lily supposed armor was rather moot.
When they finally reached the guild, the girls were halted at the entrance to the dungeon transfer rooms, where several guards requested for identification. Lily and Iris quietly handed their IDs over, but were surprised to see Tate retrieve a golden ID from her pockets. As they got past the initial checkpoint, Lily turned to Tate.
“Wait, how do you have an Adventurer ID? You’re like, fourteen.”
“I’m thirteen, actually. And I got special permission to enter the dungeon to gather materials for dad, as long as I’m accompanied by a Silver-ranked or higher adventurer.”
Lily said nothing and entered the transfer room which led to the 25th Floor. Seated in the corner of the room, legs crossed, tapping his finger against the bench, was a certain Kaine Hyssop. Upon seeing her, he lazily stood up, eyes lingering Tate.
“Took you long enough. And now you brought another kid.”
“Mr. Hyssop. This is a surprise. Are you going to accompany us?”
Lily, not missing a beat, responded to Hyssop’s opener.
“Please, drop the prefix. It’s just Kaine. And yeah, I’m accompanying you this time. Death toll for this mission is a little too high for the administration’s comfort, wanted me to do something about it. Not that I think there’s much I can do against a Plated Dragon, though.”
At this information, provided in a deadpan voice, Tate could only gape. She quickly recovered, however, and confronted Lily in a shrill voice.
“A Black Plated Dragon!?!?! That’s what we’re fighting?! Are you insane!?”
“Uhhhh… no? I thought it would be a good chance to test your skills.”
“Testing my ability is one thing, but did you really have to choose the most dangerous monster known to man?!”
“Well, then, it’s a good thing we’re all girls, no?”
Kaine cleared his throat at the side, but was handily ignored. Meanwhile, Tate stomped the ground in frustration as she glared at Lily.
“You- Ugh! Fine! I don’t care anymore! It’s on you if you die because I wasn’t strong enough to protect you!”
“…That’s some very strange logic there. But I can see where you’re coming from.”
“If we’re fighting something like that, I should probably wear this…”
As the rest of the people in the room watched – with Kaine especially surprised – Tate’s body began to glow, and light began to materialise and condense around her, dispersing to reveal a full set of plate armor, less the helmet. It was rather standard as far as plate armor went; completely black, with a smooth surface and gaps for the joints to move. The trimming around the edges of the armor were identical to those on Tate’s shield form. Now strapped to Tate’s right hand was an enormous round shield constructed out of some black stone-metal alloy, its diameter almost as long as Tate was tall. It looked reminiscent of Tate’s own buckler form, but larger. It looked to be extraordinarily heavy by any regular standards, but Tate hefted and moved it around effortlessly, as if it had no weight at all.
“Well then, shall we go?”
“Ehm; before you ladies step on that circle, I should probably warn you that the Dragon’s right in front of where it exits.”
Lily flashed Kaine a wink.
“Good. Then we won’t have to walk.”
Kaine couldn’t seem to decide on whether to blush or be flabbergasted, and hence settled on something in between, blinking rapidly with his mouth open in disbelief while his cheeks coloured a vivid red. He continued watching as they stepped on the transfer circle, then quickly shut his jaw and ran over to join them.
A white light shone from the circle, enveloping the party, and all the party members felt a momentary sensation of flight, before the light dissipated and deposited them on the 25th Floor.
Right in front of a Black Plated Dragon that was now regarding them with unblinking eyes.
Lily took a fraction of a second to note just how disappointed she was.
Comparing it to the image of the majestic White Plated Dragon seared into her memory, it was wholly unimpressive.
Not only was it barely three quarters the size of its White cousin, its coat was dull. All the stories Lily had read described the Black Plated Dragons as having glossy black coats with a texture and shine reminiscent of polished Onyx, but when she recalled the pristine majesty and otherworldly gleam of the White Plated Dragon’s scales, Lily could not see the scales of the beast before her as anything but dull, plain, and boring. This was supposed to be a legendary monster? Lily shook her head in disappointment.
In the time she had spent evaluating exactly how underwhelming the beast was, it had reared its head upwards, and now released a scorching torrent of fire. Reacting immediately, Tate stepped to the fore of the party and held her enormous shield at an angle, whereupon it expanded even further in size, catching and redirecting the flames to the side, leaving the party unharmed.
“Stop sighing and start attacking! I’m a shield, I can’t attack!”
Lily raised an eyebrow. There was an error in that statement. But she could correct that later. She bent down to whisper in Iris’ ear.
“Don’t take it out. Just harrass it and attack if you think either of us is in serious danger.”
Iris nodded her understanding. Lily turned over to Kaine.
“And you. This is supposed to be a test for her and for me. Just stand and watch.”
Not waiting for his reply, Lily lunged forth, stopping under the Dragon’s massive claw, which it had raised in preparation to strike. As the claw swung down, Lily jumped high, causing it to swing wide. Without delay, she struck out with her leg in a kick to the creature’s head, delivering a force equal to 75% of her maximal single leg output. The strike sent the Dragon flying off the ground and crashing into a wall, leaving a large crater.
“You can’t be serious…”
Kaine was the first person to react to Lily’s display of force, with Tate following shortly after.
Lily silently chastised herself for using too much force. Based on how slowly the Dragon was moving compared to its white counterpart, she likely could have defeated it on her own, but that would not give her the chance to test Tate’s abilities at all…
She stood her ground, waiting for the dragon to attack her. As expected, the dragon slowly removed itself from the rubble and shook its head fiercely, glaring at her. It tensed up, then launched itself rapidly at Lily, jaws snapping.
“Oh no! Tate, save me!”
As the Dragon wound up, Lily shouted a plea to Tate, unsuccessfully attempting to hide the amusement in her voice.
Despite formulating the start of a retort, Tate dashed forward and planted her shield firmly in the ground between Lily and the Dragon. The beast’s maw struck the shield, and was repelled, while Tate was pushed back several steps by the impact, but she kept her shield in alert position.
Lily made an indistinguishable sound of admiration. To be able to withstand a tackle with that much weight behind it, and not get blown away…
It was promising. Lily would test this further.
As the dragon recovered from being repelled, Lily dashed to the side of the shield, leaving herself open. The dragon’s tail immediately struck out, and was repelled by Tate’s shield, who had shifted herself to accomodate Lily’s position. Lily began to run back and forth in front of the dragon, who launched tail strikes and claw strikes all along her path. These were all repelled by Tate, running alongside Lily, matching her inhuman speed.
Finally, the Dragon reared its head again, and Lily stopped moving. She stood, directly in front of the Dragon, leaving herself unprotected. As expected, the Dragon breathed forth a great stream of fire, and Tate, also as expected, rushed between Lily and the Dragon, deflecting the fire with her shield. As the fire continued to lick at the edges of the shield, Tate finally had the time and opportunity to raise a complaint.
“You’re doing this on purpose!”
“Stop playing around and kill the thing already!’
“I wish I could, but I can’t seem to find an opening… if only someone else who wasn’t Iris or Kaine could attack the dragon for me…”
“There’s something fundamentally wrong with that sentence, isn’t there!?”
“Ara? Is there? I don’t know~”
“You…! I’m a shield, I can’t attack!”
“Yes you can. That shield of yours looks awfully heavy~”
Tate glared daggers at Lily just as the torrent of fire dissipated.
“Ugh, you- you- fine!”
As the dragon panted heavily, catching its breath after its attack, Tate pushed off against the floor, launching herself high into the air, before slamming her shield into the Dragon’s face. The force of the blow sent the Dragon reeling, swaying in disorientation. Seizing the opportunity, Lily released her wires and quickly wrapped them around the Dragon’s body, pulling on them to restrain the creature.
“Finish it, Tate!”
“I can’t hit with enough force to kill it, you kill it!”
“You have a ceiling; use it!”
The dragon was starting to regain its strength, and it was straining against Lily’s hold. A single drop of sweat beaded her brow. Tate was staring at the ceiling, face scrunched up in thought. Then a soft “oh” escaped her mouth. Wasting no time, she crouched and launched herself at the ceiling, turning herself around midair so that her feet touched it first. Riding on the momentum from her ascent, she stayed in contact with the ceiling for a full second, before pushing off against it hard, sending her hurtling, shield in front of her, at the Dragon.
As her shield impacted the Dragon, a large cracking sound resounded. The Dragon convulsed, then went limp.
As the dust cleared, Kaine and Iris could see Tate, crouching on top of where the Dragon’s head used to be, a bloody mess of bone and brain all that remained of the creature’s crushed skull. As the Dragon slowly dissolved into dust, Tate stood up, covered in freshly reaped blood, planting her shield firmly in the ground next to her. She looked at Lily, who returned her an approving gaze. Then she looked at the dissolving dragon, then her bloodstained shield. Then she laughed while jumping up and down.
“I did it! I beat a Plated Dragon! Me!”
Lily watched Tate’s exuberant display of childish exhilaration with a contented smile. Tate had proven herself. Lily had gained a strong ally.
A/N: The biggest difference between White and Black Plated Dragons: The White ones are highly intelligent. Black ones are driven by instinct.