Daniel leapt down from the tree and crashed into two of the alfs, knocking them to the ground. Grabbing a rock from the stream bank, he cracked them both hard over the head. That should keep them down, he thought as he rolled to his feet. He spun to face the other two just in time to duck as they both lunged at him. As they went by, he took the opportunity to sweep the legs out from under one and knock him out as well.Â
There was only one left now, but he ached all over. His skin felt like it was being shredded from the inside and the effort of focusing on the fight was making his head pound. He couldn’t fight like this. Unfortunately, the last alf was still between him and the possibility of flight.
He backed up staggered back and shook his head, trying to clear the fog and pain. He had to get rid of this one, and quickly. He had no choice but to take out the last alf before finding Ebona and those kids. But things were getting harder by the second. What could he do when he was rapidly losing the ability to stand?
The final alf drew a sword and lunged at him – thank goodness the other three hadn’t done that. Daniel ducked out of the way and swung wildly at his opponent as pain suddenly ripped through his chest. He looked down and saw the alf’s sword embedded in his ribs. But instead of blood, silvery darkness leaked out around it. He tried to swear but could only manage a groan â€“ and even that left him gasping for breath. He screamed as the alf ripped the sword free and struck at Daniel a second time.
The blade never hit. Instead, the clearing was engulfed in a silvery darkness and the pain faded completely. This must be what happened to Karen and Lydia earlier, he thought. He lashed out at the alf and heard him give a strangled cry, followed by a loud thud. He hoped he hadn’t hurt him too badly, but what wonderful timing.
The last thing he Daniel was aware of was someone catching him as he returned to human form and collapsed.
“Damn! We were too late!” Kyle lowered the injured boy to the ground. “I thought my maturity was messy. I’m amazed he made it through without slipping into transition.” He looked up at the healer Estara had sent with her troops. The dragon’s human form was blonde and athletic and he looked in his twenties but he had a demeanor that spoke of centuries. He looked up from the alf Daniel had lashed out at during his maturity.
“This one will live, but it was close. If we’d arrived a moment later I wouldn’t have been able to shield him from that blast.” he said. “But yes, a kedan would have – if they didn’t die, a good chunk of alrari as well.” The dragon knelt down by Daniel and began to work on his injury. “But this boy’s matured to idan level like his father. It’ll take more than a punctured lung to drive one of the idri into transition, especially one with such a decent life affinity.” He smiled down at the unconscious boy. “He’ll be okay. I’ll stabilise him for now – I’m sure the large warrior presence in Waldhafen will be responding to the breeching of their wards soon. Have the others located the attackers yet?”
Kyle closed his eyes and reached for Darya, who was with the strike force searching for the invaders and asked.
No. His heart friend sounded upset. But we found the village they attacked. It’s… The verbal thought broke off but the image of shattered trees and homes and the mangled bodies of a couple of dozen children and younger teens lying in a discarded heap reached Kyle. From the furious hiss the healer made, he’d caught it as well.
Kyle clenched his fists and forced himself to breathe. He needed his head clear. The bodies were all young, which meant… They took the adults? So this was a slaving run?
Most of them, yes. Looks like a few went down in the fight. Darya hesitated. A few of these people aren’t quite dead. We need that healer here quickly; both of the ones with us areÂ already spent. But there’s worse.
Worse? Kyle’s stomach sank. How can it get worse?
This wasn’t a normal slaving run. One of the kids they left for dead was faking and he heard what they said. They’re planning to use them as an army against Waldhafen. That’s why they chose here.
Kyle looked up at the dragon, who nodded before he could speak.
“I was listening,” he said. “This boy’s stable now, so I’ll head to the village. But someone should stay with him until help arrives in case that Leshy comes back.”
“I’ll do it,” Kyle said. “We didn’t get off to the best of starts-”
“Your heart friend stabbed him in the shoulder.” The dragon sounded amused. “That’s possibly the worst of starts.”
Kyle rolled his eyes. “Yes, but he got himself in this mess trying to help, so there may be room for improvement.”
“Yes,” the dragon said. “Are you okay, though? You look exhausted. I could give you a boost before I go.”
“Save your energy for those who need it,” Kyle replied. “I’ll be fine.”
“I hope so.”Â The dragon frowned at him but rose to his feet. “Could you ask Darya to give me a beacon to lock onto, please?”
“Of course.” Kyle relayed the request and felt his friend comply. “I never caught your name.”
“Yaltarian,” he replied then shifted into the form of a sleek, almost asian-looking dragon and shot off in the direction of Darya’s mental beacon.
Kyle took off his goblin silk cloak and wrapped it around Daniel. In spite of Yaltarian’s attentions, the boy did not look well. Then again he had been stabbed in the chest. Even stabilised, how well could he look?
Kyle rubbed at his eyes tiredly and tried to feel around for any sign of the Leshy or other attackers approaching. It was very quiet. In fact, it was too quiet, quiet enough to make his skin crawl. Someone must be blanketing the area with some kind of shield to hide themselves. He shifted uncomfortably and looked towards Estara’s territory. This was bad; he wouldn’t sense them until he could see them with this in place.
Adrenaline should have been keeping him awake, but combined with the lack of sleep it was just conspiring to make him feel drunk. He should have taken the dragon up on his offer of an energy boost. He shook his head and tried to focus.
A crashing noise from the undergrowth shook him out of his reverie. He leapt to his feet and grabbed the hilt of his Urumi as the Leshy emerged with several more circleted alfs. An uncircleted Hippocephalus was racing after him yelling about sticking to the plan but the Leshy was clearly not listening. They crashed to a halt when they saw Kyle standing there, his urumi in his hand. Before he could react, the cracking sound of an emergency teleportation came behind him.
He didn’t dare glance over his shoulder to see who was there. The entire forest seemed to be filled with brilliant lilac light, forcing him to close his eyes. When it faded, whatever had been hiding the attack had been brushed aside and he could sense the area again. He blinked, trying to clear the spots from his vision as Karen brushed past him.
“Hello, Kyle,” she said blandly. “I’d say I was here to kick your arse, but these guys need it much more.” She shot him a radiant smile and cocked her head towards the still stunned speakers on the other bank. “Shall we?”