â€œWhy?â€ Daniel eyed Kyle as the two of them circled each other. Ebonaâ€™s warning was ringing in his mind and he wasnâ€™t eager to start a fight with the traitor until he was sure of the otherâ€™s strength. Fortunately, Kyle seemed just as cautious. Theyâ€™d exchanged a few bolts but neither had been able to penetrate the otherâ€™s shield.
Kyle smirked again and twirled his sword-whip with casual skill. â€œWhy what?â€
â€œWhy did you betray the Core?â€ He tried to slip a probe past the traitorâ€™s mental screen but couldnâ€™t. â€œHow can you side with the dragons?â€
â€Oh, that.â€ The amusement drained from Kyleâ€™s face. â€Quite easily really, though it was hard at the time. Ystelyan saved my life and has treated me and Darya with nothing but respect. The Core lied repeatedly to us and worse. It didnâ€™t deserve my loyalty. It doesnâ€™t deserve the reverence Speakers give it!â€ His voice rose slightly. â€œLook what it did to Karen and the others to cover its tracks.â€
â€œWhat?â€ Confusion made Daniel lower his guard and the blades of Kyleâ€™s weapon slipped through the gap, wrapping around his spear arm. Blood oozed from his arm as Kyle jerked him towards him. Daniel cried out and tried to pull free but just made it worse.
â€œIâ€™m not sure why you, of all people, care. But you canâ€™t trust the Core, Dark Warrior.â€
â€œReally?â€ Daniel spotted a brief opening and punched Kyle in the face, taking advantage of his opponent’s brief recovery to untangle his arm from the blades. He stepped back and lunged at the traitor with his spear, but Kyle had recovered enough to skip out of the way.
â€œNice! Youâ€™re not bad at all.â€ Kyle grinned. â€œWhere did you learn to fight?â€
â€œNone of your business, traitor.â€
â€œPot, kettle, black! Youâ€™re the one working for the guy who seems set on emulating the mistakes of our ancestors.â€
Shadavar was still lying where Mela had left him when they reached the trail. He was still breathing and she racked her brain for a way to distract Darya from that fact before he decided to remedy it.
“W-where are you taking me?” she asked.
“To Kyle. I told you that,” he replied.
â€œAfter that, I mean.”
â€œYou probably donâ€™t want to know that,” he replied.
Mela swallowed and shook her head. “I want to know.”
There was a long pause and then a sigh. “We’re taking you to Ystelyan-miran. You should feel honoured, one of the first twelve dragons is asking for you personally.”
“No!” Mela gave a strangled sob and her legs buckled. She sank towards the ground but Darya grabbed her by the waist to stop her falling.
“I told you you didn’t want to know,” he said.
She twisted round and looked up at him frantically. “Please, no! Cousin, if you ever loved me donâ€™t do this. Kill me here if you have to, but please donâ€™t…” she trailed off into heaving sobs.
Darya gave another sigh and his eyes softened. “I knew you’d react like this. Don’t worry, Melusine, he’s not going to eat you. He promised me that.”
“And you believed him?” Mela asked between sobs.
“Of course,” he replied. “I have no reason not to. He hasn’t broken his word to either of us yet.”
“He’s a dragon. They can’t be trusted.”
“Ystelyan-miran has proved more trustworthy than the Core,” he said flatly. “Can you walk, or do I need to carry you?”
Mela didn’t have chance to reply before she heard the sound of hoofbeats approaching. Darya growled quietly and pushed her to the ground.
“Stay there!” He turned towards the sound just as Ebona appeared from among the trees.
The unicorn took in the scene in an instant and fired a bolt of darkness from her horn. Darya wrapped himself in waterspout, but the darkness still blinded him long enough for Ebona to gallop over to Mela and kneel down for her to mount.
“Come on!” she said.
Mela pulled herself onto Ebonaâ€™s back and the unicorn took off in the direction sheâ€™d come from.Â Mela felt something woosh over her head and the edges of an implacable hunger tore at her – a sensation every speaker knew instinctively. She looked back and saw a sinuous dragon land by her cousin and shifted to the form of a slender, black-haired, coffee-skinned human woman. She leaned over and whispered â€œdragonâ€ in Ebonaâ€™s ear.
â€œI know. Take a breath and hold on!â€ Ebona said. Mela gasped in a breath and clung on as the forest blurred around them.