Authors: Devri Walls
Tags: #Fantasy, #Young Adult, #Adventure, #magic, #YA, #dragons, #shapeshifters, #angels
A horrible laugh bellowed out, reverberating off the rocks. “You don’t know? You march into Dralazar’s land and you don’t even know why?”
“This is Dralazar’s land?”
Dralazar couldn’t help but notice the hope in her voice.
The dragon raised an eyebrow. “You seem glad. That is . . . curious.”
“Can you show me how to find him?”
The dragon took a step to Layla’s right, walking around her in a slow, purposeful circle. “You are an interesting human, that is true, but still a human. My answer is—” Soolan lunged at her. Darting his neck out he snapped his teeth inches from her face. “No.”
He reared his giant head and puffed up his chest. Layla turned away, covering her head in what she had to know was a useless defense.
“Now, Raynor,” Dralazar said.
Raynor obediently flew out of the bubble and landed between Layla and Soolan, flaring his wings behind him. Soolan’s mouth was already open—but seeing Raynor, the dragon jerked his head to the side, spraying fire across the rocks and boulders.
Layla blinked, slowly lowering a quivering arm. The rocks to her right glowed red from the inside out.
“Raynor,” Soolan roared. “Move.”
Raynor took a step back, spreading his wings to further shield Layla from view.
“She mine, Raynor. She’s a human, a filthy human. I will not let another human live, not on my land.”
Although this was terribly entertaining, intervention was necessary. Dragons were so blasted unpredictable. Dralazar dropped his bubble. “I am afraid you will, Soolan.”
Layla whirled around and her eyes lit with excitement. “Dralazar!”
Dralazar ignored her. “This human is with me, and you will not harm her. Are we clear?”
Soolan’s eyes narrowed. Refusing to answer, he spread his wings and pushed himself into the sky.
Dralazar watched him fly away, trying to determine whether he should punish his insolence or not. Instead he turned his attention to Layla and said, “Dragons have terrible tempers, especially where humans are concerned.” Walking nearer he asked, “Tell me, Layla, why have you come?”
“I—I was lost,” she murmured.
Dralazar’s mouth turned up into a half smile. Stepping closer he put his finger under Layla’s chin, pulling her eyes up to meet his. “Let’s drop our pretenses shall we?” He lowered his hand but kept the smile. “You didn’t wander into this barren wasteland on accident. You know I lied to you and yet here you are, happy to see me. And since you must know that Kiora is indeed the Solus—” Layla flinched at the phrase, “that makes me . . .” Dralazar’s voice trailed off, waiting for Layla to audibly put together the pieces. He wanted to hear her say it.
“Evil,” Layla murmured, dropping her eyes as she wrapped her arms around herself.
“Yes. And if you choose to side with me—” He stuck his fingers back under her chin, pulling her eyes up to meet his more forcefully this time. “Everything will change.”
“Why are you telling me this?” she whispered, swallowing hard.
“Because,” he said, wrapping his thumb and finger around her chin, dragging her face closer to his until their lips nearly touched. “You already knew what I was and . . . you came anyway.” He pronounced the last words purposefully. Layla shivered as his breath came in short bursts across her lips.
“What if—what if I don’t want to side with evil?” Layla’s voice halted, her eyes looking down. “What if I just want . . .”
Dralazar abruptly dropped his hand, taking a step back. His voice changed from the soft coo he had been using to a clipped one. “Then you should go back to your charred village and find whatever survivors you can. After that you should crawl to your sister and beg her forgiveness.”
Layla’s anger flared. “Never.”
Leaning forward, Dralazar dropped his voice into a more seductive cadence. “Then work with me, let me teach you what you are capable of. Together, we can teach Kiora a lesson.”
“Why would you want me?”
“You have power, Layla. Can’t you feel it? How do you think you got yourself here?” Dralazar’s eyebrows rose in question. “You followed my thread. I can train you, teach you how to use your magic.”
“Magic?” Layla took a startled step backwards.
“Yes, magic. You can finally be on equal footing with Kiora.” That was a lie. Leaning forward, Dralazar laid his cheek against hers and whispered in her ear. “You are a beautiful girl, Layla.”
Layla let out a tiny gasp.
“I noticed it the first time I saw you,” he murmured, running his finger down her cheek. “Beautiful . . . smart.”
Layla blushed furiously, her eyes darting to the ground before looking back at his face. “Really?” she said weakly.
“So much prettier than Kiora,” Dralazar said, turning his head to the side as he brushed Layla’s hair back over her shoulder.
Her lips parted before breaking into a shy smile.
“So, my lovely Layla, are you with me?”
* * *
EMANE WOKE TO SOMETHING tugging at his neck. Groaning, he swatted—and hit something fuzzy. Shoving himself backwards with a grunt, Emane blinked furiously. A ball of grey fur was tugging and growling at the amulet hanging from his neck.
When Aleric gifted Emane with the amulet, he said it would glow amber for a friend but red for an enemy. It was amber, which meant this little guy wasn’t trying to eat him. “What are you?” he mumbled, rubbing his burning eyes.
The creature was the size of a cantaloupe. A small nose protruded from its face, surrounded by whiskers and large blue eyes. Its ears were enormous and hung nearly to the ground.
Emane sat up on his elbow. “Hey,” he whispered, trying not to wake the others as he reached for his amulet. The creature jerked again and the cord snapped. With the amulet clenched in its teeth the creature scampered off, giving a happy squawk as it left the magical barrier and headed into the forest.
“No, no, no!” Emane jumped up, leaping over a sleeping Drustan before stopping at the edge of the barrier. He growled, leaping back over Drustan to grab his sword before taking off after the creature. He could not lose the amulet. It was the closest he would ever get to feeling threads, and he was already at a disadvantage in this world.
The fur ball scampered just ahead of him, the amber light bobbing up and down, the leather cord dragging behind it. Further and further into the forest Emane chased it, until the furry thief stopped suddenly in front of a wide pine and turned to regard him with large eyes.
Emane skidded to a stop, not wanting to spook the little guy into running again. Cautiously he crouched down, laying his sword beside him before stretching out his hand. “Come on,” he cooed. “Just—hold still.” He inched closer, his hand out in front of him. “Just a little closer,” he murmured, carefully placing his foot to avoid snapping any fallen twigs. The creature just blinked, its nose wiggling. After taking one more step, Emane sprang forward. The fur ball nimbly scooted out of the way at the last second, and Emane found himself with a face full of dirt and pine needles. Turning his head to the side he spat, eyeing the animal that sat just out of reach—happily nibbling on his amulet.
“No,” Emane groaned. “You’re going to break it.” He pushed up to his hands and knees and launched himself forward. Just as before, the animal moved out of his way, leaving Emane with another face full of dirt. Spitting out what he could, he tried again.
The two played this game for several minutes before Emane leaned back on his knees and stared at the furball. As usual, it sat just out of reach, rolling the amulet around in its paws.
“I don’t suppose it would work if I just said please?” Emane sighed, wiping his arm across his mouth. The animal gave one large blink before turning his attention, and his teeth, back to the amulet. Emane had an idea. He slowly began unbuttoning his shirt, trying not to startle his prey. The blue eyes looked up from the amulet to evaluate, then went back to nibbling. Pulling his arms out of the sleeves, Emane held his shirt out in front of him like a net.
“Does that taste good little guy?” Emane murmured. “That’s right, you little thief, just keep on nibbling . . .” Emane threw the shirt over the animal and jumped on top of it. The glittering magical snake wrapped around his arm shone in the moonlight.
The animal twisted and turned, grunting as Emane gingerly placed his knees on either side of it. Using one hand to pin it down, Emane’s free hand peeled back the top corner of the shirt. The furball’s eyes were wide as it tossed its head back and forth, the amulet still firmly clasped between its teeth.
Emane reached down, but jerked his fingers back when the animal growled. Carefully, Emane reached down again, grabbing the end of the leather cord and tugging on it to avoid being bitten. It didn’t budge.
Wrapping the leather around his hand, he gave it one more good pull and the amulet popped out with a squeak of protest. Emane’s head dropped forward in relief. “
,” he breathed.
Standing up slowly he released the animal, pulling his shirt back on as the little grey furball turned and chirped at him indignantly. “Hey, I’m sorry, little guy, but this is mine,” Emane said, holding the amulet up. In the dark, red light spilled down his arm. “What the . . . ” The amulet was no longer amber.
The furball chided him with a few more squeaks and chirps before turning tail and running. Emane looked warily around the area before tying a knot in the broken cord and sliding the blood red amulet around his neck. The forest was quiet and eerie. Emane didn’t need threads or an amulet to know something was wrong.
Grabbing his sword, Emane held it out in front of him as he moved slowly back in the direction of the magical barrier, turning circles as he went.
A snap from behind sent him whirling around, sword at the ready.
A dark looming shape materialized and rushed him. Something hard connected with his wrist, sending his sword clattering to the ground. The shape slammed into his head. Emane hit the ground, spots swimming before his eyes.
He didn’t even have time to groan before something jumped on him, clawing. Emane struggled, fighting something he could not see. He felt legs—only too many to be human—wrap around his waist. Two hands grabbed his face, digging into his skin with sharp, thin nails. He twisted and pulled but the hands pried open his mouth, while a third hand poured something bitter down his throat. Emane sputtered and spat as much out as he could.
The thing on top of him hissed its displeasure before prying his mouth back open and pouring more liquid in. This time the hands forced Emane’s mouth closed, plugging his nose. Thrashing, Emane tried to free himself of the thing’s grasp, but it was no use. He had to swallow.
The liquid burned all the way down. The creature released its grip, crawling off him. Free, Emane tried to get back to his feet, but something was wrong. His legs felt heavy and weighted. Emane looked down to his feet, grunting as he tried once more to jerk them forward. Nothing. The weight spread quickly to the rest of his body, his limbs refusing to obey his commands. Against his will his eyes closed, and his body collapsed to the forest floor. Emane could not move or make a sound. The only thing on his body still working were his ears, allowing him to hear whatever had just drugged him cackle in delight. Icy, cold fingers explored the snake wrapped around his arm.
“Nice, very nice,” it chattered. “Very interesting. They will like it, they will like it very much. I will take it. Yes.” It nodded. “Yes, I will take it. Mmmmm, nice-very nice.” Having come to its conclusion it picked Emane up, throwing him like a sack of potatoes over its shoulder.
“No magic, you,” it told him, poking Emane harshly in the side with the same sharp, pointy finger. “My potion make it so you no work!” It cackled again. “No work. Don’t try.”
Emane’s captor hauled him through the forest, muttering incessantly about “No magic,” and “They would like it.”
Emane hung there helplessly. He had left the barrier without telling Kiora or Drustan where he was going. How could he have been so stupid?
* * *
“KIORA, WAKE UP!” WHERE’S Emane?”
She woke to find Drustan shaking her. “What are you talking about?” she muttered groggily, running the back of her arm across her eyes. The sun was just poking through the trees, sending harsh rays of light through the camp.
“Where’s Emane?” Drustan repeated.
She pushed up onto her elbows and looked around. Emane was nowhere in sight, his thread conspicuously absent. She jerked all the way up. “How long has he been gone?”
“I don’t know. I woke up and he wasn’t here. I can’t feel his thread—you need to try. You can feel farther than I can.”
Kiora nodded, ignoring the rising panic as she reached out for Emane’s thread. Nothing. Trying again, she pushed out as far as she could, searching for any sign of him. “I can’t feel him.” She huffed in frustration.
she mentally called to him.
Rolling to her feet, she searched the camp. “His sword is gone.” Dread tightened her throat.
Drustan strode up next to her. “What was he thinking?” he spat, scanning the forest. “We have no idea what’s out there.”
They had to find him. What if he was hurt or—Kiora jolted. “A vision,” she said. “I can ask for a vision.” Providing Emane hadn’t been bubbled, it should work. Kiora settled down on her bedroll, asking for a vision of the moment Emane left camp. It came quickly as requested, and Kiora pushed it outwards to watch.
A furry, grey animal bumbled its way into camp. Finding Emane’s amulet it chirped happily, biting down and pulling at the cord before running off, dragging along the amulet. Emane chased after it.
Kiora followed him through the forest, desperately trying to watch the surroundings.
He wrestled the amulet free and then gasped at the blood-red amulet swinging in his hands.
“Oh no!” Kiora whispered.
“What is it?” Drustan asked.
Waving him off, she kept watching.
Emane turned his head, scanning the area.
Then the vision changed. It went fuzzy and dark, beginning to falter. She held tight to it, refusing to let go
. Emane spun around, fighting with something she couldn’t see. He fell face first into the dirt, attacked by something—
Kiora couldn’t tell what it was.
Emane struggled and thrashed before going limp. And then, even stranger, he was lifted off the ground and moved through the forest. He looked like a rag doll floating through the air, moving farther and farther away. The vision darkened with each second before finally fading into nothing.