Ozandris dropped away from the cliff-face, his wounds completely healed by the combined effects of the Scryer-marks and the spell of creation. He tucked his wings in tight, gaining speed in the dive. In the conjoined mind within the Dragon’s skull Cinome and the Inoxit were silent; the silence of the hunt.
The Dragon’s wings snapped out, catching the air. It swooped low over the village, spotted the Shonri running towards the shattered houses and ignored them. They were not Felice, they were not the Shonri who could sense his mind. The Dragon knew this from the mind of Cinome, from the hunting senses of the Inoxit. Ozandris and the others were beginning to merge, to become a single mind, in the heat of battle.
It spiralled upwards with tremendous speed, its ascent almost vertical, skimming over the cliff-face it had clung to only a moment before. It would burst over the top of the mountain, high above the mountain, and then it would drop down upon Felice in the stoop of an eagle, fast and vicious with its flame blazing a path before it.
The Shonri had magic.
The Dragon did not care.
It had magic of its own.
Orris found the first group of refugees from the Dragon’s breath huddled in a cellar. Four young children and a boy of about twelve keeping them quiet.
‘What is your name?’ Orris asked the boy.
‘Petri,’ the boy answered. He had a shortsword in his hand, though it was obvious he did not really know how to use it. ‘This is Marie, Ellen, Hanna, and Davin,’ Petri said.
‘You can’t stay here,’ Jaks said.
‘The dragon’s out there,’ Petri said.
‘We are Shonri.’
‘It’s a dragon.’
Sera squatted beside the girl named as Marie. ‘How old are you?’
‘Five and three-quarters,’ Marie answered.
‘You have pretty hair.’
Marie studied Sera’s short hair, tufted up with sweat and dirt, ‘You don’t.’
‘Hush, Marie,’ Petri said. He nodded suddenly, convulsively. ‘We can’t stay here.’
‘That’s what—’ Jaks stopped speaking when Orris touched his arm.
‘No,’ Sera said, ‘You can’t. Come along. We need to be quiet now.’ She took command of the children, coaxing them out of the hole in the ground. ‘Hold hands,’ she said, taking Marie’s hand, ‘and don’t let go for anything.’
Lorak swarmed up the rocks. The others were already out on the slope above, but the Salands were free of the ice, and they chased him. He could not outrun them. Quila could not cast that spell of freezing again.
A rope dropped down beside him. Lorak grabbed it and swung away from the rocks, where the Salands could grab hold of him.
Above him, Haram, Trant, Zaj and Kuli hauled away on the rope as fast as they could, yanking the heavy bulk of Lorak upwards. Hand over hand, timing his movements to the pull of the rope, Lorak climbed upwards.
The Salands roared their frustration at missing their prey. Lorak frowned as he climbed. Salands were supposed to be mute. A new wrinkle to work out. When the Shonri had time to stop and think.
He clambered out of the hole in the mountainside. Scooped up the rope. Followed the others as they sprinted away from the hole.
Haram triggered the vibration detonator. The charges packed into the cliff-face above the hole detonated. Slowly at first the cliff bulged, then cracked, then thousands of tons of rubble cascaded down to cover the hole.
‘Won’t hold them long,’ said Haram, for the benefit of the young-Shonri, who were not part of the connection.
‘Long enough,’ Lorak replied.
Jaks found a baby, gurgling happily to itself, under the body of its mother. He picked it up and handed it to Sera. No way of knowing whether it was a boy or a girl.
‘That’s baby Batran,’ Marie said. ‘He’s a big boy now, like his dada, my mama said so.’ She looked puzzled for a moment. ‘My mama told me to go with Petri, he’s my big brother, she said he would keep us safe. What happened to the house?’
‘It’s all right, ‘ Sera said. She wrinkled her nose. ‘It smells like Batran needs a change. Would you like to help me.’
Jaks rolled his eyes at her, but Orris jerked his head to one side. The two Shonri walked out of the ruined house and into the dark.
‘She’s keeping the children calm,’ Orris said. ‘Doing what she has to do, to keep them calm.’
‘We don’t have time for this.’
‘We have to make time. They have to trust us. We are all they have left.’
‘Our parents are dead,’ Petri said from the shadows. ‘Aren’t they?’
Orris studied him for a moment. ‘Yes, they probably are.’
‘Why did this happen?’
‘The dragon…’ Orris stopped unable to go on. Haram had placed the soul of a Lamia inside the skull of a dead dragon. That is why this had happened.
‘We made a mistake,’ Jaks said.
‘We did. The Shonri did.’
‘We thought we could kill a Lamia.’
‘You can’t kill a Lamia,’ Petri scoffed. ‘Everybody knows that.’
‘We thought we had found a way.’
Petri looked out over the ruined town. ‘You were wrong.’
He scuffed his foot in the ash of the ground. ‘My mama always worried about Lamia, what with Marie being so pretty and all. It was why she made dada bring us here, after Marie was born. Dada works…’ he stopped, hunched his head down into his chest. ‘Dada worked with metals. He was clever. Korm said he was the best metalworker in all the world. He were teaching me.’ Petri lifted his head, his eyes fierce. ‘It was good to try to kill a Lamia. But you shouldn’t have made a mistake. Not here. Where dada and mama thought we were safe. There wasn’t right.’
‘No,’ Jaks said. ‘It wasn’t.’
‘But I want to ask the dragon for a light,’ Zaj said, holding up the cigar.
Anria looked at him for a moment. Her hand blurred towards his face. He swayed backwards away from the blow and again away from the returning backhand.
‘Go down to the village and help with the evacuation,’ Anria said. ‘Crazy may make you quick. But angry makes me quicker.’
Kuli tugged at Zaj’s arm. ‘Look.’
Zaj asked, ‘What?’
Kuli pointed. ‘In the town.’
‘But it ain’t dragon fire.’
Kuli dragged his head around. ‘Focus, Zaj. We need crazy when we need crazy. But they,’ she pointed at the village, ‘need us now. They need our crazy to survive.’
Zaj turned to Trant. ‘What do you think?’
Trant said, ‘I ain’t crazy.’
‘Sure you are,’ Kuli said, ‘I saw you what you done in there.’
Trant grinned slowly. ‘I think Anria is real pretty and we should do as she says.’
Zaj glanced at Anria. ‘You think she’s pretty?’
‘And that is what you’re basing your decision on?’
Zaj spent an insultingly long time looking Anria up and down. He nodded. ‘Crazy enough for me.’ The three young-Shonri raced down the slope towards the village.
Lorak laughed. Quila punched him in the arm. Anria ignored them both.
The Salands found the blockage in the tunnel and dissolved into the rock, preparing a way through for the cleansing lava.
On the over side of the rubble that blocked the tunnel, in a cave hewn from the rock with diamond-clay, Jakob and Hanetta cared for the younger children by the light of a flickering candle. They held hands when they could, and touched when they could, a soft stroke of the back or arm, but they mostly kept Cai and Cilla quiet with soft words and games to pass the time.
And the Salands slid ever closer through the rubble.
Terin rolled over onto her back as the Dragon flashed upwards behind her. The connection opened between the Shonri and they prepared for battle.
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