Chapter Twenty Three
Most of the village was beyond saving, but there were a few buildings near the ruined village square that could be repaired if the fire was put out soon. Kyle deliberately chose the closest one to the square so that he could see what was happening and go help in the unlikely event that it was needed.
Heart friends were equal in strength to each other, so Kyle was not surprised when Nerezza’s first attack hit the fire dwarf like a tsunami of darkness and threw him backwards into a nearby wall. She stormed in behind the wave and slashed the throat of one of the soldiers before he could react. He collapsed to the floor, releasing the captive nymph and clutching his throat in a vain attempt to stem the blood flow. The other soldier leapt back and reached for his sword.
Then the dragons swept in, flying deliberately low and landed at various points around the troops Plamen had left in the village. Not unpredictably, they panicked and began fleeing in all directions, leaving their prisoners behind.
They’re probably assuming that we’ll gorge on the prisoners first giving them time to escape. Alaryia was still in her dragon form. They’re in for a surprise. She jerked her head and the two kedri flew off after the two largest groups of soldiers.
I think the prisoners are thinking that as well. Kyle nodded to where several of the chained nymphs were clinging to each other while others struggled against their chains, trying to escape.
Yes, she said sadly. It’s not surprising.
Do you want me to try and calm them down?
No, they won’t listen to you and they’ll calm down on their own once they realise we’re not hurting them – eventually anyway. You keep putting their houses out. That’ll engender more good will than talking. She looked up the hill to where Ian and the two goblin healers were waiting. You can come down now. I’m afraid it looks like there’s a lot of work for you.
She turned away from Nerezza, who was trying to calm the nymph Plamen’s son had been about to murder, and stalked to where he was trying to crawl away. She reached out with one of her huge clawed front feet and plucked him off the ground. The fire dwarf thrashed around a bit, then collapsed into unconsciousness. Kyle wasn’t sure if he’d fainted from fright or Alaryia had fed on him to stop his struggles and he couldn’t bring himself to care.
Alaryia dropped the unconscious dwarf to the ground and finally sank down into her human form as the two kedri returned, herding most of the soldiers who had tried to escape. A moment later, Ian and the two goblins came running into the square. Ian ran straight past everyone and into a totally ruined and still smouldering building.
“It’s okay, you can come out now!” he said. There was a long pause then a creaking noise as a trapdoor opened and two teenage nymphs looked out. Both of them looked nervously at the dragons but then one of them spotted Ian and scrambled out – all thoughts of the dragons obviously swept away by the excitement of meeting her heart friend. Kyle would have taken her for a storm nymph except for the fact that instead of lightning crackling through her translucent white hair, there was something else. Knowing Ian’s technopathic talent, Kyle rather thought it might be some sort of mental representation of data. An odd thought since she couldn’t possibly have any idea what a computer was.
“Pensura! Tondra!” The injured storm nymph tried to get to her feet when she saw her daughters emerge from the cellar but Fazina stopped her.
“Hush, your daughters are safe, I promise. We’re not going to hurt them when we came all this way to save them.” Fazina stroked the nymph’s hair. “You should sleep. You need it to heal.” She must have backed it up with some sort of mental command because the nymph stopped trying to get up and collapsed unconscious into the goblin’s lap.
“Mother!” Pensura turned from Ian to stare at Fazina. “What did you do to her?”
“She’s just sleep–”
â€œTraitor!â€ One of the captured soldiers screamed. â€œIf I have to die, you’re dying too!â€ Fire exploded from him in a desperate burst and flew towards the ruined structure. Ian grabbed Pensura and her sister and threw up a shield, but Kyle could tell it wouldn’t be enough.
Before anyone else could react, the wave of fire smashed home â€“ not into Ian and the nymphs, but into the building itself. Kyle watched in horror as stones and flaming wood crashed down, shutting his eyes to avoid seeing them crushed.
The sound of wings made him open them again to see that one of the dragons had managed to get there in time to shield the three with his body. He screamed as burning debris scorched his hide but held fast, even when a beam stabbed into his side. Only when the debris stopped falling did he move away and return to human form.
Kyle held his breath and waited for him to frenzy, even though he was sure Nerezza and Alaryia could hold him until Estara arrived. But it seemed his injuries were worse than Kyle had thought. Instead of frenzying, he collapsed to the ground and started convulsing.