Last week readers voted for Defrin to get both Karista and Shirrin into the city, so the story continues…
Karista’s roar changes to a high-pitched moan that freezes Shirrin’s blood. She twists round to see an arrow plunge into his shoulder beside two others. His blood spurts, hot drops scalding her arm.
“No!” She screams and tries to pull free but the tall man is far stronger. Tears burn her face as more arrows find their mark. Too late she remembers the magic and the blood on her skin. She pulls on it, hard.
Everything disappears as dust is stripped from the ground in a maelstrom of air, fuelled by Shirrin’s fear and her dragon’s pain. Karista’s roar builds, then she hears the whoompf of fire, followed by screams of human agony.
“Stop it!” The man shakes her. “Stop the wind. Call off the dragon!”
“Why?” She yells, over the wind and more screams. “Your men attacked him! He has the right to defend himself!”
Shirrin is scared. Karista is beyond reason but his fire and her magic are all that protect him now and he will not leave without her.
“Let me go,” she pleas. “We’ll leave and the rest of your men will be fine.”
“No.” The man’s grip on her arms tightens painfully and the wind shrieks.
“If I might suggest something?” Defrin’s voice is strangely calm. “There is a possible solution.”
Shirrin feels, rather than sees, the tall man’s glare.
“What do you suggest, earthworm?”
Shirrin is so shocked by the word that the wind drops and the dust starts to settle.
“Allow the dragon into the city. It will obviously not be separated from her and if you kill it, the girl’s magic dies also.”
“Hold fire!” The order carries in the silence. Shirrin realises the city men now have a clear line of fire to Karista but Defrin’s quick words have saved him.
She twists round to see him. His sides heave, stained green where his brilliant blue blood has streamed across his golden hide. But he is alive. She sighs with relief, then turns back to the man holding her.
“Are we going?”
They walk along a broad avenue lined with trees, the tall man ahead and Defrin and the soldiers behind. The road runs straight from the main gate to a huge fort, looming on the other side of the city. Her belt holds the arrows that hit Karista. Dragon blood, besides allowing her to channel her magic without touching a dragon, has other properties that these people don’t need to know about. She suspects Defrin knows. She saw him gather up the bloody sand and earth while she pulled out the arrows.
From above, the city is easily seven or eight times the size of a skyland, but she had not realised the height of the buildings. To someone raised in the sky, houses rising three or four levels is just dangerous. On a skyland they never build higher than one storey for fear of overbalancing the skyland and causing it to flip over. Shirrin has seen a skyland where this happened, the ancient buildings reaching for the earth below.
The streets are full of smells and tastes as well as people. She can smell roasting meat and the sweet aroma of freshly baked cake. The warm yeast-smell of fresh bread assaults her and her stomach rumbles. She and Karista have not eaten today. She has a feeling they won’t for a while yet.
People are gathered in the streets to watch them pass, but they stand strangely silent. Only the occasional gasp or child’s cry punctuates their progress. These people do not love dragon riders. She puts a hand on Karista’s shoulder, drawing comfort from his heat, and he purrs. Onlookers draw away as he walks by, his chest rumbling. Shirrin starts to smile but remembers what happened the last time she underestimated these city folk.
They reach the fort, passing through a heavily guarded archway into a courtyard large enough for Karista with room to spare. Even he looks surprised. They both look round. There is plenty of space to take off, if necessary.
“Why is there a dragon in the courtyard?”
Shirrin looks up to see a man standing halfway down a staircase. He wears a crimson cloak lined with white fur, sparkling with jewels. His golden skin and black eyes give her the impression of a temple image of a god, but he looks at Karista with cold, empty eyes. Then his face reminds her of the viper that lived in the skyland temple and she shivers.
The tall man drops to one knee.
“My lord, I have brought you Shirrin.” The city lord’s expression changes in an instant, from bored to hungry.
“Indeed,” he murmurs and moves closer.
“Your man lies,” Shirrin snaps. She will not forgive the tall man for provoking Karista and causing him to be hurt. “We came of our own accord. We wish to offer you a service in return for accommodation.”
Karista’s blood on her hand is nearly dry, but it is enough. A light breeze rises and cools the sweat on every brow in the courtyard.
The moons have risen, the merest sliver of the large one and nearly half the smaller one casting their gentle light over the fort. Shirrin is high up in the largest tower. Karista sleeps on the roof above her. There is a knock at the door of the chamber and at the same time shouts and the clashing of steel erupt in the main courtyard below. She rushes to the balcony to see a knot of men struggling, but cannot identify individual faces.
She runs back to the door and finds a note outside.
“Come to the Great Hall.” It is signed, A Friend.
Her first thought is that it is a trap. Maybe someone wants to separate her from Karista. On the other hand, she needs all the friends she can get. Her ears catch something, a familiar voice. Is that Defrin crying out in the courtyard below?
What should I do?
Excellent question! You decide!
1/ Go to the Great Hall
2/ Go to the courtyard
3/ Go to Karista
Voting ends Saturday midnight (US Pacific Coast time)