Ultimately, it always came down to one single question: why was this her burden to carry? Surely someone else in the kingdom was more skilled in the art of swordsmanship and general heroics and could deliver this land from evil instead. Truth be told, she was tiring. It could have been minutes or hours since their encounter had commenced; one's perception of time grew more and more distorted with each passing hit and slash. There was no time to think of a decent replacement for her persona as a ball of liquid fire emerged from the shadow and missed her by an inch, courtesy of a clumsy but reliable maneuver. Emma grunted and her fingers coiled around the hilt of the sword, thirsty for revenge. She had come here a well equipped, rested, determined young woman, but her willpower and physical strength were dwindling by the minute. A bolt of icy lightning shot through her as she realized that if this continued on for much longer, she might not leave.
But she couldn't afford to lose faith now; she had come this far. This was her duty, one she owed to her parents, friends, family. She would yet tell stories of this battle, that she swore, taking a fierce swipe at the tip of the tail that slithered by. She wasn't immune to fear, no; but she been taught that a true hero's strength lies in facing their fears. The dragon screeched, thrashing around for any valid target, leaving the stone cold tiles and columns to cringe and crack under its rage.
This was her chance. Her size was her weakness but at the same time a tool of great advantage if used correctly. The beast hadn't seen her there, crouching behind a mossy stump of a former architectonic wonder; its back was turned to her, presenting her with the perfect opportunity. It was risky, she knew. But if this didn't end soon, she would run out of options. This was her best chance. Inhale… clutch sword… run for it… jump!
"Emma! What in the world do you think you're doing, young lady?"
She tried to hold onto her mother's neck, but she didn't want to end up toppling her over, so she loosened her grip and fell down on the floor, her feet entirely incapable of supporting her. The wooden toy sword in her hand clicked against the tiles as she stumbled over backwards and landed none too elegantly on her butt. Dang, butt first in lava. With a frown she was forced to begrudgingly admit she needed to practice more. "I was killing a dragon, mom. You got in the way!"
Her mother was beautiful. She had long glossy hair and her wardrobe was full of dresses possessing the same qualities. In fact, they said wherever she walked, she shone so brightly the sun couldn't compare and would sometimes hide in shame. "Oh, sweetie. Why don't you come have dinner with me and your father and leave the dragons to the men, hmm?" she chuckled, wrapping her arm around the child's back and picking her up to provide the conversation-wise necessary elevation. She pinched Emma's nose, eliciting a scowl.
"Aw phooey, you don't get it! I almost had it! If you leave all the saving the world to boys, they'll just make a mess."
"Tough talk for someone who I'm pretty sure broke three pieces of furniture just last week," her mother raised a skeptic eyebrow at her. "Come on, let's go grab a bite. I'm sure the dragons will wait until tomorrow."
Emma rested her head on the woman's shoulder. Why not, she figured; after all, her pegasus Applejack could fend off the forces of evil until her return. She closed her eyes and sent her friend a message in her mind, informing it of her upcoming absence in the siege. In return, she received a knowing neigh and a reassuring tap of horseshoe on solid ground. Emma smiled. The fate of the world was in good hands. (Or hooves, you could say.)
"There's only one dragon, mom. Will you let me kill it and save the princess tomorrow? She must be so lonely up there in that ivory tower," Emma mumbled the last words almost inaudibly into auburn locks, her eyes shining with newfound tears for the princess' unfortunate destiny. But she would free her soon, that she pinky promised. And pinky promises are unbreakable promises.
"She must be, Emma, she must be. But also, I'm sure she's heard that you were on your way to save her. She knows you'll be there soon."
As silly as it sounded (Where would the princess have gotten this message?), this did actually help quell the fires in Emma's heart. She would be there soon. "Yeah."
There was a loud banging at the door. "For fuck's sake, Emma, it's already eight! Quit talking to yourself and go to sleep or I swear I'll go in there and put you to it myself!"
Emma's head shot straight for the source of this thunderous sound. Her heart was racing; she could feel it pounding in her head. There, under the door, creeping towards her bed was a shadow larger and more muscular than any beast she had ever defeated. The chain on the doorknob on the other side rattled vigorously, sending sharp pins flying straight for the girl's stomach. She dared not breathe. Her hands flew to her mouth the instant it allowed a panicked whimper to escape. The shadow stepped from side to side, eager to claim the girl for its victim, and Emma pressed down hard on her jaw and cheeks to keep it at bay. Screams attracted the shadows, she knew.
Finally the shadow relented, but Emma lay deadly still for several minutes until the light in the hallway dimmed and disappeared altogether.
Soon, princess. I'll come for you soon.