Kyle wasn’t surprised to find Matthias Morgan waiting when he got Karen back to where they’d left Daniel.Â The presence of the woman with him didn’t surprise him either. From the way sheÂ kneeling by Daniel looking worried and the strong resemblence to the Keefe’s she had to be Sonia Keefe. Halia was still there. She and another of Matthias’s collared dragons – a green, by the colour of her goblin silk tunic – were working on removing the circlet from on of the alfs. The other dragon’s human form was short and looked vaguely mediterranean. She alsoÂ looked much less content than Halia did.
But he was surprised to see two of Waldhafen’s Council there as well – the unicorn Darya had injured and a Hercian Bird. He frowned at them but keeping Karen walking was taking too much of his attention for him to worry about it.
He’d tried to comfort her as he walked her back but she was disconsolate. Sonia hurried across the stream and took Karen from him. The girl clung to her mother, still sobbing.
“Mummy! I- I-”
“Hush, Kaz.” Sonia stroked her hair. “We saw. It’s okay, it would have done the same to you.”
“But- but I don’t understand what happened.” Karen took some sawing deep breaths. “I’ve always had a temper when I see people being hurt, but this felt different, wrong. Like a switch flipped.” She gave her mother a frightened look. “What if it happens again?”
“Hush,” Sonia repeated. “We’ll figure out. Let’s go back to Waldhafen. You need some sleep.” She led Karen back towards a gate to Waldhafen opened nearby.
“I should get back to Darya.” Kyle turned and headed back towards the ruined village, hoping no one would stop him. He didn’t want a fight here. He’d gone barely two steps when a hand came down on his shoulder.
“Wait, please,” Matthias said. He didn’t sound angry and, when Kyle looked around at him, he didn’t look it either. He must have been broadcasting his anxiety because Matthias gave a half-smile. “I’m not mad at you, kid. I think you’re mad at me but that’s a different matter. I think we need to talk, don’t you?”
“What do we have to talk about?” Kyle asked sharply.
“Quite a bit, I think, and so do you if you’re honest about it. The Council have agreed to extend the truce to you and Darya if you agree.” He glanced over at the two Councillors nodded in confirmation.
“It’s true,” the unicorn said.
Kyle gave him a long look, then sighed. “I think we will. Ystelyan wants us to stay around, anyway. But right now I need to get back to Darya and help find the rest of the invading troops.”
“Hmm, yes. That is kind of important,” Matthias said. “Would you thank the dragon who stabilised Daniel for me? And if you find the parents of those children alive, tell them their kids are safe.”
“Yes, on both counts,” Kyle said and headed back towards the village.
When Kyle got back to the ruined village, he found Yaltarian treating a female dragon who was somehow stuck in an improbable mixture of her human and dragon forms. Half her face was covered in purple scales, a useless wing was half emerged from her shoulder and her right arm was a dragonic leg cripplingly attached at the shoulder. Below the waist it got worse. Dragon legs and tail on a human pelvis didn’t work.
Estara was kneeling on the other side of her and whispering soothingly – probably stopping her from frenzying, given the agony she must be in. Two goblins and another dragon who was already in his giant lizard form were standing guard over them.
Kyle tried not to stare at the hurt dragon in horror as his mind recoiled from how she had ended up in that state. Dragons could take partial forms – such as manifesting wings or claws – but never anything like this. And when they shifted form completely, they generally moved via their energy form because it was safer and quicker. He cleared his throat to announce his presence as they were so distracted by caring for their patient and waited patiently.
Estara looked up at him after a moment, her purple eyes rimmed red with tears. “They only reached this village, thanks to the young haltia’s courage,” she said. “Darya and my warriors have located the remains of the infiltration. They’re holed up not far away.” She gave a satisfied smirk. “Someone tried to teleport them out, but once your girlfriend broke their concealment I was able to locate and stop that. They’re just flushing them out now.” She clenched her fists. “I might just let the Dragon Lord have the uncircleted ones if he’ll give me Gendalian back. I don’t trust my self-control around these creatures.”
“Karen isn’t my girlfriend any more,” Kyle said absently. Then looked down at the injured dragon. “What the hell happened to her?”
“We’re not entirely sure. Kelaria isn’t very coherent at the moment – not surprising, given the mess she’s in and the fact that he’s her husband.”Â Yaltarian pointed to a nearby shattered tree and the decapitated body of a male wood haltia. He had been impaled upside down and his head placed on one of the few remaining branches, just above his feet. “Apparently he was too strong for their circlets to subdue so they killed him. But as near as we can tell, she was in her resonance form intending to rematerialise in dragon form and they hit with some sort of weapon which forced her to rematerilise prematurely. She was halfway between human and dragon in her head and… this happened.” He shuddered convulsively.
“She’ll be fine. Physically, at least.” Estara was stroking Kelaria’s hair. “Though she’s in flux and won’t be able to shift and restore herself for several days. I’m not sure how she’ll be mentally.” She sighed heavily. “If Ivina hadn’t got her siblings to safety, I may not have been able to talk her out of suiciding.”
“Ivina?” Kyle said. “Oh, the haltia girl is her step-daughter?”
“She is, and you should take the people of Waldhafen up on extending the truce to you and Darya. It makes more sense for you to be there when Gerian’s attack comes. My people have things well in hand now so you don’t need to worry. And you can tell the children their mother survived.”