Leah’s stomach dropped and her heart began to pound. She clung harder to Sam as she felt a sudden absence, something she’d never even noticed was there to begin with. She knew instantly what was missing. “Kevin,” she whispered in that one calm moment before the rush of her emotions swept through her. “Kevin!” she screamed, her head jerking up, Sam’s flight wobbling as he flinched at her voice, almost running into the first of the red mountains.
Turn around! She shouted into Sam’s head. We have to go back. Something’s happened to Kevin. We have to help him. Right now!
I can’t. I’d never make it. We’re almost to the Anguis mountain and I’m not sure my wings’ll hold up until then. I can sense the magic ahead. You can get the others to help. I’m sorry, he whispered back, his exhaustion coming through even his mind voice.
He ignored her screech and the fists she pounded into his back, his scales protecting him from her fury. Sam was relieved when he saw the lights in the mouth of the mountain, gratefully folding his wings and diving into the opening. The landing, something he hadn’t really practiced, was more of a crash than anything else. He ignored the hisses and growls of those around him, letting his exhaustion overpower him and passing out on the floor.
Leah slid off Sam’s back, leaving the dragons to take care of him as she swivelled her head in both directions, looking for anyone familiar. Her backpack fell unheeded from her arms. She saw the dark grey dragon at the same time as he saw her. She raced towards him as he did the same, his tail snapping out to wrap around her wrist. Where is KAnguis?
“Behind us. He made us go ahead. Said he’d catch up but something happened J. We need to go to him, now! Sam couldn’t go any farther. You need to take me,” she said, shifting her weight back and forth as her hands clenched and unclenched rapidly. Her eyes were wide and bright, flicking towards the slightest bit of movement that entered her field of vision.
He didn’t argue, just turned his head and began hissing rapidly at the other dragons. Then he inclined his head towards Sam. Is that SArad?
She nodded. “Can we go now?”
J hesitated for a moment then hissed something else at his clan members. Get on. The others will follow.
Leah practically threw herself onto his back, ignoring the protesting muscles as she again wrapped arms and legs around a dragon. As soon as she was settled, he took off for the edge at a run. His tail was already swinging by the time they were in the air, the wind blowing by faster and faster as he picked up speed.
It wasn’t until they were over the border plain that he asked What happened?
She trembled, but not from cold or exhaustion. They…they were following us. Kevin made Sam take me on ahead. Said I’d fall if it came to a fight in the air. Also said Sam’s the last of his line and has to survive. I tried to argue but he got Sam to leave. He promised he’d meet up with us later after he was done his magic and...Kevin can’t lie. He’s never been able to as long as I’ve known him so he must be really hurt to not be right behind us.
JAnguis flew faster, his tail a blur behind them. KAnguis hasn’t ever lied. Not that I know of at least. He’s always been odd like that.
Leah nodded, her legs clenching more tightly around him. Then we need to hurry. I’m sure that idiot needs help.
They didn’t speak again as they raced over the plain, both of their thoughts locked onto Kevin and what lay ahead of them. J was forced to slow as they entered Ehesh territory, the mountains shooting up in their path.
Sensing the fading signature of his cousin’s magic, JAnguis turned slightly, arrowing in on the feeling of Kedem. They flew around the edge of another mountain and came face to face with the results of the spell.
The valley floor and mountain sides were littered with dragon corpses, most of them half melted as was all the vegetation in the area. Leah felt her gorge rise and fought to keep her stomach down. Then she felt a wave of shock, horror, and despair roll into her from J.
She swallowed hard. “What…?”
His mind voice shaking, he replied It’s a spell. We always used to laugh at Kedem for having memorized it. It’s a horrible spell, one that turns water into a caustic that will eat through anything. But the price of it…it’s a spell that can only be performed by one dragon and the amount of power it takes is beyond even the mages with the deepest reservoirs of magic. I’ve never heard of anyone actually using it. That’s why we thought it was stupid that Kedem memorized it. We…we never thought he’d actually use it.
Leah shook her head. “So he’s exhausted. Where is he?”
J didn’t answer, only tilted his nose, aiming them at the very edge of the destruction. They dropped down, the air whistling past them, thick with the scent of burnt flesh and blood. Leah ignored it, concentrating on staring at the dark ground for any hint of white scales.
It was JAnguis who spotted him first, slowing their ground skimming rush by the rocky foot of one of the green mountains. He touched lightly down, then bent his head and shivered. Leah slid off his back, glancing at him only once before scanning the ground.
She saw a lighter patch among the dark green rocks and ran forward, ready to yell at Kevin for scaring her. But as she got closer, she realized that something was wrong. His body was lying in an unnatural crumpled position that she hadn’t thought he could get himself into. With a few more steps, she realized that he was only lying that way because his body was broken.
Leah covered the last few feet in a stumbling walk while behind her J threw his head back and let out a keening cry that ripped through her. Her knees buckled as she stared at him, reaching one shaking had out to poke his side.
He was cold, his flesh hard and unmoving. She prodded him harder, as if that would make him move. “Kevin,” she whispered. “You can’t…You promised! You promised you’d meet up with us. You…” Her voice broke as the tears began to fall, sliding down her cheeks as the reality of his death set in.
Sobs began to shake her whole body as she stared at his white scales through the veil of tears. She’d known. She’d known since she first felt his absence what she was going to find but she’d deluded herself into hoping for a different outcome.
More piercing cries joined J’s as more of Kevin’s family arrived though none of them approached any closer than JAnguis had. Leah was left by herself to cry broken heartedly over his corpse, a thousand regrets running through her head.
The rising sun lit her up hours later, laid out unconscious beside Kevin, the tears on her cheeks only now drying.