Chapter 5: Dead Men Tell No Tales

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Jane screamed. Her wyvern shrieked and reared back, almost unseating her; she lunged for the reins just in time. Still bellowing, the wyvern dipped into a precarious dive as the dragon passed inches above. The dragon looped back around, raised its head toward the sky-

-and blinked out of existence in a puff of green sparkles.

The wyvern stopped short, almost unseating Jane for the second time that day. Jane glanced around frantically, half-expecting the dragon to reappear. It was only when Drazan flew up next to her, looking smug, that she realized what had happened.

"I thought that would get your attention." Drazan's green eyes twinkled, his shoulders near shaking with mirth. "I've been calling your name for the last fifteen minutes, but your mind was clearly on something other than my fine person. I hope you're ready for another lesson in illusion-casting?"

Jane shot him a dignified glare, ignoring the sniggering of the nearby Riders. Her heart still pounded, and her hands were clammy with fright. Curse Nikolay, she thought. Curse Nikolay and that stupid dragon he set after me!

"Can't we practice somewhere that isn't ten thousand feet in the air?" She tried to make her voice sound reasonable and sunny, instead of exhausted and pleading.

"The more you practice under suboptimal conditions-" Drazan began.

Fine, fine, fine!

Letting out a huff through her nostrils, Jane held out her palm. She fixed her eyes on a point just above her fingers and glared at the space, furrowing her brow as she willed the illusion into existence. Green, green, boring green, with slight hairy texture and I think serrated edges, however leaves are supposed to look, and maybe a stem and some veins-

The leaf materialized half-heartedly in her hand. It was certainly very green, but unnervingly amorphous. It seemed torn between deciding if it wanted to be a beech leaf or a palm frond or merely a blade of grass, and its edges rippled as it hovered between the different options, until at last it settled on none of them, becoming instead a massive, splendidly-furnished Balsam fir, which twinkled merrily for a moment before vanishing in a blaze of garlands and Christmas lights.

Drazan seemed to be struggling very hard not to laugh.

"Again," he said. "You're not seeing the leaf well enough in your mind."

"What's the obsession with leaves, anyway? Why can't I practice conjuring dragons? They seem far more useful."

"Leaves," said Drazan reprovingly, "are an extremely important all-purpose form of illusory camouflage. Suppose you are being pursued and attempting to hide yourself in the undergrowth? A leaf screen is the simplest and the most useful disguise."

Jane bit back a sigh.

By the time Olesya called a halt, she would have been ecstatic if she never saw another leaf for the rest of her life. Partly out of fear that Drazan would force her to practice through lunch, she made a point of sitting next to Kir during their lunch break.

This turned out to be a mistake. Kir-predictably-was still not faring well. He kept missing his mouth with his sandwich, and when Olesya's scouts returned, bearing news of Dalnushka, he nearly spilled half his water flask down his shirt. Jane, who was beginning to get exasperated, hopped up behind him on his wyvern as they prepared for takeoff.

"You have to pull yourself together," she hissed at him in an undertone. "People are staring. If you keep this up, they'll find out what you did."

"What I did?" His voice was high. "I don't know what you're talking about! What did I do?"

Jane sighed. "Your brother told me everything. And, much as I hate his methods"-

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