Valeria’s mouth went dry as the dragon lunged at Karen. The girl barely dodged out of the way in time. She quickly spun around behind him and struck at his back with her axes while Alban fired off a pair of arrows in quick succession.
The dragonâ€™s long, red-tipped, white hair whipped around him as he whirled out of the way. He flipped his hand negligently and deflected one of the arrows, but his casualness betrayed him and the other grazed his upper arm. The wound, however, just made his red eyes sparkle with anticipatory amusement.
Red eyes? Valeria scowled in confusion. She didnâ€™t realise that sheâ€™d broadcast the thought until Karen responded.
Yeah, IÂ noticed that. Itâ€™s weird. She dived under his claws again and then kicked at his legs. Iâ€™ve only ever seen one other dragon who didnâ€™t have green eyes, but heâ€™s definitely a dragon. Her foot connected with the back of his knees and he staggered forward. She dove after him and struck again with her axes, which had started to glow. He spun round just before they connected, grabbing one of her axes by the blade, and using it as a lever, swung her over his head and sent her crashing into the cliff. She slid down the rock and lay there, gasping.
â€œYouâ€™re quite good for a child, girl. No wonder you and your friends cut such a swath through my Alrari two years ago.â€ The dragon shook his head in wonderment and summoned a long jagged shard of blood-red metal into his hand. â€œAnd you arenâ€™t even mature yet. Iâ€™m glad I came myself when I realised you were here. A shame I didnâ€™t find you years ago. You might have been of some use to me, but itâ€™s far too late for that.â€ He stabbed down with the shard, aiming for her heart.
Karen rolled out of the way and threw a blast of lilac light into his eyes, blinding him temporarily as she scrambled away.
Valeria blinked. Was your light that colour two years ago?
It wasnâ€™t this colour two days ago, Karen replied tersely as she regained her ax from where the dragon had tossed it. But I donâ€™t have time to worry about it right now. This oneâ€™s very strong.
Too strong? Valeria swallowed convulsively.
Iâ€™m not sure. I guess weâ€™ll find out, Karen replied. But what he said about wishing heâ€™d found me years ago. Heâ€™s definitely after Salia. Alban and I will distract him; try and get her out of here.
Alban leapt out from his hiding place and began to pepper the dragon with glowing arrows. His hands were moving faster than Valeria could see but his quiver seemed untouched.
The dragon, whoâ€™d been advancing on Karen, cried out as the first arrows hit. He spun towards Alban, a whirling shield of metallic shards appeared around him and shredded the rest of the attack.
Valeria took advantage of the dragonâ€™s distraction and handed Salia back to Ignifer. She gestured to one of the thunderbirds whoâ€™d brought her and Alban from the palace, who flew over to her and landed on her shoulder. â€œTake Salia to Caerdu,â€ she whispered. â€œI know Dariad wonâ€™t turn her away.â€Â It bowed and hopped onto Igniferâ€™s shoulder. Valeria looked down at her daughter, who was watching the fight with big, scared eyes. â€œGo with Ignifer, little one. Iâ€™ll come and get you once Iâ€™m sure Albanâ€™s safe.â€
Her daughter stared at where Alban was standing his ground as the dragon advanced on him and nodded. Ignifer picked her up and snuck out of the door, trying to stay out of sight of the dragon. Valeria watched them go for a moment before looking back at the fight, just in time to see Alban hurl a ball of light at the dragon. It shattered on his shield, but he still growled.
â€œI really donâ€™t know why she didnâ€™t block heart friends as well.” He hurled a storm of metal shards at Alban, forcing him to dive back behind the boulder. The dragon started towards his hiding place but Karen slammed into him from behind, sending him sprawling. She landed on his back and brought down her axes, intent on smashing his skull. He tossed her to one side not before one of the axes grazed his shoulder. He yelled in anger and a tornado of metal shards appeared where he’d been moments before.
â€œShit! He discorporated!â€ Karen leapt to Albanâ€™s side and they stood back to back scanning the area. A moment later, then he reformed not far from them – this time in his dragon form.
â€œYouâ€™re really quite the troublesome child.â€ His voice was now a rumbling hiss that hurt Valeriaâ€™s ears. She covered them, but it didnâ€™t help and from the whimpers behind her, the others were affected as well. Alban and Karen, however, seemed fine. From the corner of her eye she saw Ignifer stagger and realised Salia looked unphased as well.
Igniferâ€™s groan attracted the dragonâ€™s attention and his head swang towards them. â€œAha!” His eyes focused on Salia. â€œThere you are, little princess.â€ Valeria had the feeling he would have been smirking if he could in this form. He looked back at Karen and Alban as Ignifer and the thunderbird discarded any pretence of stealth. The thunderbird shed its resting form as Ignifer scrambled aboard and they shot off towards Caerdu. â€œTrying to escape while you keep me distracted, hmm? Clever. Iâ€™d love to play more, but Iâ€™ve found what Iâ€™ve come for.â€ He gave a roar and a storm of razor sharp shards flew at them. Karen leapt between the dragon and Alban and threw up her shield of lilac light.
The first wave of shards popped out of existence in flashes of red light as they struck it, but the girl sank to her knees. The second waves was likewise stopped but the shield flickered ominously and then winked out. She pushed Alban down and shielded him with her body as the third wave hit. Most of it passed over her now prone form but the back of her cloak and tunic were shredded. Blood was seeping everywhere.
The dragon gave a roar of triumph and flew off in the direction Ignifer, Salia and the thunderbird had fled.
Valeria waited until she was sure heâ€™d really gone and then ran to her foster sonâ€™s side, trying to swallow her fear for her daughter. He crawled out from under his heart friend and turned her over. Her goblin silk clothing was already repairing itself and would stop her from bleeding to death, but she was pale and shivering violently.
â€œD-dragon v-venom,â€ she whispered weakly.
Valeria gasped in a couple of breaths to stop herself from being sick and then knelt down by them. She looked at Alban. â€œHow do you feel?â€
â€œIâ€™m alright for now, mother. But if we donâ€™t get the antidote for her…â€
â€œI know,â€ she said. â€œWe need to find some non-hostile goblins then, and quickly.â€Â She looked around as Rai landed on her shoulder.
â€œWhat about the ones at Caerdu?â€ he asked.
Karenâ€™s gaze flicked to him and she gave a wan smile. â€œYes, I think the ambassador will help.â€ Her eyes became unfocused for a moment and she looked at Alban and Valeria frantically. â€œDonâ€™t let me lose consciousness, please. Itâ€™s all over if I do.â€