The tlayagi was lumpy. Pepisa gripped the metal whip and beat at the oily mixture until her hand cramped. With a groan, she pried her fingers from the handle and stood back. Finally. No sign of a single lump.
“Why are you playing with my good ingredients?” The cook materialized behind her, a bulk of scorn.
“I’m making a flat cake for the Dillypoot Fair.” But the cook was already gone and Pepisa’s voice echoed to an empty room.
Her hand shook as she poured in the spices. It was a stupid name for a delicious cake. Who cared if the top was perfectly flat?
Everyone did, though. It would be judged just as much on that as on the taste. But—Pepisa’s heart stuttered—if she won, the whole county would notice Pepisa Garlwer.
The cook slammed into her back. The woman grunted. “Do something useful or get out of the way.”
Pepisa squeezed away and glided her knife over the batter. It looked smooth as ice. For now. Any jostle could make it burp into a lump.
Why did she even try?
At last the timer chimed, and she stared toward the oven. Finally Pepisa stumbled forward and looked.
It was still flat.
She pulled it out, daring to breathe, daring to almost hope. She drizzled glaze over the top, her confidence strengthening as the topping hardened.
No one heard her squeak a request to be excused for the afternoon. Outside she gave a squeal. Did she really have a chance to win? The path to town was bumpy and long, but she floated over it with eyes only for the cake box.
A scream ripped through the air. The deep guttural bellow of an animal, followed by the sharp cry of a man.
Pepisa’s senses widened. There. A mountain of green scales reared to her right, full of writhing coils and furled wings. Rumors flashed through her head, stories of a wounded dragon living in the Taqipolt Flatlands.
The creature was focused on the only shelter in the flat field. The man crouched behind a rock, watching the monster of death stalk closer.
Pepisa set the cake box down and drew out her dagger. She eased closer, noticing the dragon’s chest swell. “Watch out!”
Too late. Flame roared from the dragon’s mouth, engulfing the rock and the grass around it.
But there! The man staggered out of the smoke, still alive.
The girl gasped for breath. Already the beast would be ready to send another blast.
The man stumbled. He fumbled at his waist for a weapon.
No time. The dragon’s belly puffed again. Pepisa’s brain yelled at her to flee. She let it scream. Scream to give her adrenalin, courage. Her dagger flew through the air, finding its mark in the dragon’s scales.
The beast flipped his head. A stream of acid poured from the hole in its throat. It lunged toward the man, seeming unbothered by the wound. It sucked in another gust of air.
It coughed, smoke fluttering from its mouth. Steam sizzled from its neck.
Pepisa laughed. “I hit its fire gland!”
Her voice drew the beast’s gaze. It snorted.
Great. First time all day she got noticed, and it was by a dragon.
The man yelled. A whip snaked out, wrapping around the dragon’s thin neck, razor-sharp.
The green head rolled, fighting hard. But it was fighting for air, not against the man. Its eyes lolled back and it crashed to the ground.
Pepisa moved forward, her legs wobbly “Are you all right?”
The man turned toward her. His whiskers looked singed and red blisters showed through, but it didn’t look severe. Mostly it looked… handsome.
She looked away.
“I’m okay.” He began cleaning and coiling his whip. “It cornered me. But you,” he met her gaze, “you came out of nowhere. Saved my life.”
Pepisa shrugged. She had already spent enough of her life standing back, doing nothing much.
He lept to his feet. “Where were you headed, my lady? May I escort you?”
My lady? Her cheeks flushed. “I was going to the Dillypoot fair.” She found the box and eased off the top. The cake was still flat. Not a single bubble. A dim reminder of her desire for the whole county to know her name, her skill.
She set the box between them. “Let’s rest and have a snack first.”
What was a county of strangers, after all, when one had the attention of a kind dragon slayer?
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