Ebona carried her into the clearing where Daniel was fighting,â€ â€¬coming to a halt near him.â€ Seeing his opponent, Mela realized she would have recognized him even if the situation hadnâ€™t made his identity obvious. â€¬Aunt Lori had been quite taken with the water warrior before his fall, much to Melaâ€™s motherâ€™s disgust. Sheâ€™d described his long blonde hair, tall, slim frame and sapphire eyes to the clan several times.
â€œThereâ€™s a dragon on our tail!â€ Ebonaâ€™s words broke Melaâ€™s reverie.
â€œDarya called Talira for back up?â€ Kyle said. â€œYou must have impressed him, unicorn.â€
Daniel scowled at Kyle and then stared back the way theyâ€™d come from with an intense expression.
Kyle took advantage of his distraction and swung the blades of his weapon at him.
â€â€œDaniel! Look out!â€ Ebona cried a warning, but too late for Daniel to avoid the blow. He gave a muted cry as he was knocked to the ground. Kyle struck at him again but this time he managed to roll out of the way, blood seeping from his back.
Daniel regained his feet and turned his back to Ebona.â€ â€œâ€¬Eb,â€ â€¬watch for the dragon and Melaâ€™s cousin.â€â€
From her seat on Ebona’s back Mela could see he was trembling with effort as Ebona circled around to face the way they’d come.
â€œYou know, Dark Warrior,â€ Kyle said in a reasonable tone. â€œIf you just give us the mergirl weâ€™ll leave. I donâ€™t think youâ€™ll be able to stand up for much longer, let alone fight.â€
Daniel raised his spear and lunged at Kyle,â€ â€¬who dodged just a fraction too slowly.â€ â€¬The spear point pierced his sword arm,â€ â€¬and he screamed as Daniel twisted the spear and yanked it out,â€ â€¬bringing a chunk of flesh with it.â€ â€¬Kyle dropped to his knees,â€ â€¬clutching at the spurting wound.
â€â€œThen I guess Iâ€™ll just have to finish you before I collapse.â€ Daniel thrust the spear at Kyle’s heart.
The spear stopped mid-thrust as Darya leapt in from above and grabbed the spear.â€ â€¬The dragon from earlier landed in the clearing as the merman swung the spear shaft violently,â€ â€¬sending Daniel smashing into a tree and leaving Darya holding the spear.
Darya looked at the spear in his handâ€Â â€¬in mock surprise.â€ â€¬â€œOh,â€ â€¬does this belong to you,â€ â€¬Dark Warriorâ€? â€¬Allow me to return it.â€” â€¬He thrust the weapon through his shoulder,â€ â€¬embedding the point into the tree.â€ â€¬Darya smirked as Daniel screamed in pain.â€ â€œâ€¬Thatâ€™s for what you did to my mother.â€â€
Ebona reared,â€ â€¬screaming,â€ â€¬and Mela was thrown from her back as the unicorn galloped towards Darya,â€ â€¬horn lowered to run him through.â€ â€¬There was a brilliant flash of blue light as the dragon appeared between them,â€ â€¬once again in human form.â€ â€¬Ebona was forced to come to a halt and shield herself as the dragon shot a stream of blue flame at her.
â€œCareful, Talira,â€ Kyle said. â€œYstelyan-miran wants to make sure his message gets back to the dragon lord. Thatâ€™s not likely if you kill the messenger.â€
â€œI know.â€ Her jade green eyes sparkled with amusement. â€œBut the unicorn was about to impale Darya. What was I supposed-â€ she broke off with a cry as a wave of darkness hit her from behind and pivoted to face Daniel. Somehow,â€ â€¬he had pulled himself together enough to attack her.â€ â€œâ€¬Youâ€™re insane,â€ â€¬Dark Warrior.â€ â€¬Canâ€™t you tell when youâ€™re defeatedâ€?â€
Danielâ€™s only response was another,â€ â€¬stronger bolt.â€ â€¬Talira threw up a shield,â€ â€¬but the darkness broke through and she was blasted backwards.â€ â€¬When she picked herself up,â€ â€¬Mela could see azure blood seeping from several cuts. The sensation of hunger the dragon was giving off became sharper and harsher, and all the amusement drained from her face to be replaced by shock and something deadly.
Claws erupted from her fingers and she stalked towards Daniel. Kyle took up position between them – obviously intent on keeping her away from his opponent. Talira made a curt gesture with her hand and he was swept gently to one side. â€œKeep out of my way, Kyle. I donâ€™t want to hurt you.â€
â€œTalira?â€ Darya grabbed her from behind. She shook him off but he grabbed her again. â€œTalira, donâ€™t! If you feed here you wonâ€™t be able to stop and Ystelyan doesnâ€™t want him dead – let alone the whole of Waldhafen. Get a grip!â€
â€œI…â€ TaliraÂ paused and shuddered. He let her go slowly and she swayed and grabbed onto a tree for support. She turned to look at him and Mela recoiled from the desperate hunger in her eyes.
â€œYou can do this, Tal.â€ Darya reached out and squeezed her hands.
She shook her head. â€œNo, I canâ€™t. Ystelyan-miran should have sent someone stronger.” She pulled her still clawed hands from his and clenched them so tightly that blood leaked between her fingers. â€œCan you two finish this without me? I am so hungry. I canâ€™t hold on much longer.â€
â€œGo!â€ â€ Kyle â€¬had his hand clapped over his own wound,â€ â€¬which seemed to have miraculously stopped bleeding already. â€œWeâ€™ll be fine.â€
â€œThank you!â€Â She vanished in another blue flash.
â€œWhat just happened?â€ Daniel asked.
Kyle gave him a contemptuous look. â€œYou just nearly killed everyone within ten miles is what happened. Youâ€™re lucky Talira has more self-control than most dragons.â€ He turned back to his heart friend. â€œGrab your cousin, Darya,â€ Kyle said. â€œAnd letâ€™s get out of here.â€
Mela whimpered and began to back away as Ebona moved to block Darya from reaching her.
â€œMela!” Daniel tugged on the spear with his free hand, trying to dislodge it from his shoulder but failing. â€œStop him, Eb!â€ He dropped his hand from the spear and threw another bolt at Darya, sending her cousin sprawling.
Darya started to pull himself to his feet, only to be kicked in the chest by Ebonaâ€™s hooves and sent flying again.
â€œDarya!â€Â Kyle ran over and dropped to his knees by him. â€œAre you okay?â€
â€œIâ€™ll live,â€ Darya said. â€œBut these two are stubborn. The Dark Warrior should have passed out already.â€
â€œI noticed,â€ Kyle said sourly. â€œI think heâ€™s abusing his secondary life affinity to stay conscious.â€ He ducked as another bolt of darkness flew over his head.
Mela took advantage of their distraction to run over to Daniel and start tugging on the spear, trying to free him.
â€œMela, you should run.â€ Daniel looked up at her with pain filled eyes.
â€œTheyâ€™d only catch up with me,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™m safer with you.â€
Daniel was quiet for a moment and Mela thought heâ€˜d passed out, but then he looked up at her again. â€œYouâ€™re right.â€ He grabbed her hand with his good one as Ebona stood between them and the traitors.Â â€œDonâ€™t let go.â€
Kyle narrowed his eyes atâ€ â€¬him and muttered something under his breath before turning his attention back to Darya.
â€œCan you still fight?â€ he asked.
Darya shook his head. â€œNot well enough to drag her away from him.â€
â€œThatâ€™s what I was afraid youâ€™d say. Weâ€™d better abort to the secondary objective.â€ For just a moment Kyle seemed to blur and become transparent, as if he were actually made of water. Then there was another blue flash and he appeared in front of her and roughly ripped the Seekerâ€™s pendant from her neck. â€œWeâ€™ll be back to get you soon, Melusine,â€ he said and then he and Darya vanished.
Mela sank to her knees by Daniel and began trying to pull the spear loose again.
Daniel looked up at Ebona. â€œKeep watch in case they come back. I donâ€™t trust this retreat.â€ He passed out.