Ember saw Ean’s shoulders stiffen.
She looked around for Trin, but Trin was nowhere in sight. The Commander was, but he wasn’t looking her way. Good. Tala was as well and she was… she was looking right at Ember.
Her gaze was very cold.
Ember looked away, back to Ean, and fought to remain still.
What would he do?
He would… would he protect her still?
“I know no one by that name,” Ean said. “Though I seem to recall that Rehksskari was the name of the ruling family of Tenkreille, before it fell to your Emperor. Why would you be searching for a member of that family?”
The Lieutenant narrowed his eyes at Ean.
“Emperor Vohrskrain wants her. That is all you need to know.” He paused. “You are hiding something, Princeling, and I am certain it has to do with Ember Rehksskari. We already know she is here. Give her to us and we will leave. Hide her and your country will be next.”
Ean kept the megaphone at his mouth but raised his right arm, straight up, fist closed. A signal to his soldiers.
“Salshira will turn over no one to the Empire without just cause. And you have given me no such thing. If you truly know this woman to be here and have a case against her, then file a petition with a crown representative at one of our border towns. Until then, please leave.”
Oh Ean, you brave little idiot. Why do you keep protecting me?
Ember looked at the Lieutenant to see his response and saw the moment the smile left his eyes. He had had enough of playing games with the human. She scanned his stance and saw his hindquarters tensing, his wings loosening, his claws peeking.
Then the protective lenses snapped over his eyes.
Ember was moving before she realized she had made a decision.
Wings out, snap back, lunge.
She slammed into the Lieutenant midair, before he was halfway to Ean.
They crashed to the ground together.
Legs found her middle and threw her across the clearing.
Roll. Up. Move!
Fire glassed the ground where she had been.
Ember charged her own fire, ran in a circle with her eyes on the Lieutenant. He knew exactly who he was fighting.
Teeth and claws came for her neck.
Drop. Aim. Fire.
He was fast.
It was like a training session with Bethania, only with less grace and more vicious.
She dodged a tail, but took a wing buffet to the head.
The world went sideways, but she blocked the next hit with her own wings and grabbed hold before he could retrieve. He dragged her in.
She swung up and planted both hind feet full-force on the side of his head.
Fell back. Twist-rolled upright.
Yes, old woman.
Ember leapt forward and to the side. The Lieutenant crashed down behind her. Fire split the air and seared along her shoulder.
She ducked before it did damage, spun and hopped back.
He was open.
She lunged to catch the base of his neck.
He was expecting it.
Ember caught an open hand slap with claws to the side of her head. A scale tore off.
Now she was really dizzy.
Jaws grabbed the back of her neck. A wing slammed her in the chest, hard. Then again.
Then pushed her over.
The jaws released, came back, found her throat.
She immediately felt lightheaded.
She kicked at him with her hind legs. Beat at him with wings and claws.
He was too big.
The world started going black.
Thek. Now I’ll never find out how Sahrah made it to the Stony Heart.
The Lieutenant released her with a roar that rose into a scream. One of his eye lenses was blazing with white fire.
Oh good. Serves him right.
Ember watched him thrash his head from side to side. He really looked like he was in a lot of pain.
Somebody planted a boot in her eye. It bounced off the protective lens, but still…
She looked for the boot’s owner.
“Get up and run!” Trin screamed at her.
Ember shook her head, rolled over, and pushed up. When she looked for Trin, the woman was already at the trees, waving her over.
How had she moved that fast?
Ember ran toward Trin, weaving from side to side.
Ember fell down.
She looked back and saw the Lieutenant getting up off the ground. Smoke was pouring out of the burned eye socket and he had a small crater in one of his heavy pectoral scales.
Ember scanned the clearing. Ean was nowhere to be seen.
The Lieutenant inhaled and shot flame across the clearing, lighting the pine trees in a long swath.
Halfway through his arc something cracked through the air. A ballista bolt.
The world convulsed and split again.
The Lieutenant rocked back, lost his fire, and roared.
Then he regained his balance and inhaled again.
Arrows poured down on him from every direction, igniting into sticky white fire when they hit. More ballista bolts cracked across the clearing, shattering the world again and again like the worst thunderstorm that had ever existed.
The Lieutenant disappeared under fire and smoke and explosions.
Until there was nothing left.
It was terrible.
Thoughts, comments, and critique greatly appreciated. If you can’t think of anything, then I would especially love to hear your answers to these questions: Is there anything you don’t understand? Anything that threw you out of the story? Places where it moved too fast? Too slow? What do you think of the characters?