The votes are in and the readers’ choice for this week’s scene of the month is Dragon Stones. Randomly flipping through the book, I stopped here, towards the end, where the dragon has finally cut loose on her enemies. Burn, baby, burn!
When the town was satisfactorily aflame, T’Sian landed in the square near the inn where they had spent the night. Fires burned all around her; under other circumstances she might have curled up here and slept for a while, letting the soothing heat soak into her body, breathing deep the pleasing smell of smoke and ashes. But now she could only pause for a little while; pause, and reflect, and give the burning pain in her chest some time to cool.
When she had spotted the eagle, her first thought had been that she would find the wizard on its back; but no, he had not been astride his mount. She’d realized at once that the giant bird’s flight had been a diversion. The crafty man had perhaps cut partway through its tether and then fled, so that when the creature broke free it would attract her attention. That the ploy had worked made her even angrier than she had been before. Three times now, he had tricked and humiliated her.
She would kill him. She would burn his flesh to ashes; she would chew on his cracked and blackened bones.
But first she had to catch him.
She spread her wings and took to the air, rising on the thermals from the burning buildings. She tilted forward and, with several great beats, sped toward where she had left the others. The firelight formed a patchwork of light and shadow on the ground as it swept by beneath her.
She stopped outside of town, holding steady, looking for her companions. She spotted them near the river. They had withdrawn from the forest, driven back by the flames. She set down nearby and lumbered toward them. Diasa, of course, was the first to notice her approach.
“Well, this is certainly an impressive forest fire that you’ve started,” she said.
“It will burn itself out,” T’Sian said. “The forest thins to the west and south.”
“And you’ve made good on your threat to destroy the town.”
“I was provoked.”
“As we all were,” Diasa said. “And the wizard?”
T’Sian said nothing.
“He escaped?” Diasa did not seem surprised. “The eagle was a diversion?”
“Yes.” Galling, being forced to admit it. “He escaped.”
“He’ll try to make his way back to the twins.”
“You think they’re still alive?” Ponn asked.
“Of course,” Diasa said. “Unless I have completely misjudged them, they will have bolted at the first sign of a serious attack.”
“Where would they go?” T’Sian said.
“Who knows? A secret cave, a camp in the woods, an outlying village. They’ll have soldiers with them.”
“Most of their soldiers are in Barbareth, or burned up and buried in the castle,” Ponn said.
“I’m sure they kept a few in reserve.”
“A few. A hundred,” T’Sian said. “Soldiers cannot protect them from my revenge.” Then, recalling unfinished business, she raised her head, moved it from side to side, lifted it up high. She spotted Tolaria lying on the ground near the others, but Adaran was not there. She could see, faintly, a warm, man-sized depression in the grass; but if this was where Adaran had lain, he was no longer there.
She poked her head forward, arching her neck over Ponn and Diasa, sniffing the grass. Yes, this was where the sly one had been; she recognized his odor, a combination of infection and sewage and the herbs Tolaria had used to treat his wounds. He had crawled away, toward the river, slipping down the bank and into the water. She could see the route he had taken, the bent grass, the lingering traces of warmth. The current was lazy here, quite unlike the torrent that rushed through the rocks near the castle. Even with his injuries, the thief would likely be able to paddle a small distance.
She twisted her neck around, bringing her head up to Ponn and Diasa. “You let him escape,” she hissed.
“What?” Ponn turned to look at the spot where Adaran had been. T’Sian had already moved back a few paces. She leaped into the air, catching herself with her great wings, hauling herself upward. Adaran might be in the river, but she could find him from the air.
And when she did, she would boil him alive.
The downdraft of the dragon’s wings nearly knocked Ponn over, but Diasa caught him and set him back on his feet; she, of course, had braced herself and not been unbalanced by T’Sian’s departure. Prehn locked her arms around Ponn’s neck and held on tightly, as if afraid that the dragon might pluck her from his grasp and fly away with her.
Diasa watched the sky over the river as the dragon moved up and down it, searching for Adaran. “That’s the angriest creature I’ve ever seen,” she murmured. “She reminds me of my mother.”
“You should have seen her when I first met her,” Ponn said.
“Will she find him, do you think?”
“I don’t know. He seems to be good at escaping.”
Prehn kept trying to look where the dragon had gone; Ponn kept turning her so that she couldn’t see. If T’Sian was going to kill Adaran, his daughter didn’t need to watch.
Diasa went to the water’s edge, ruddy in the reflected light of the forest fire. “We should find a way across the river before the fire
gets any closer.”
“It wants to burn uphill,” Ponn said. “Besides, the wind is blowing it toward the village.”
“Wind tends to change.”
“We can hardly swim, not with Tolaria in this condition. We should stay here. We can move into the water if the fire comes closer. If we cover ourselves with mud it will help keep us cool.”
“I suppose,” Diasa said, studying the river as if hoping to find Dunshandrin’s twins drifting by. “How far do you think Adaran will have gotten?”
“I suppose it depends on the current, and how well he can swim with his injuries. It’s not easy to paddle when your hands and feet are wrapped up in cloth.”
“What if he didn’t really swim away at all?” Diasa said. She pulled out her sword. “What if he’s hiding in the reeds, say, right about here?” She gently poked her blade into the cattails and rushes; Ponn heard a small exclamation from the tall weeds. Diasa lunged forward and hauled Adaran to his feet. He was covered in mud and duckweed, like some sort of swamp-dwelling apparition. She tossed him to the roadside, where he fell on his back in a splatter of muck and slime. Ponn, startled, took a step back as Adaran pushed himself to a sitting position. Diasa glared down at him. “Hiding in the brush,” she said. “Just like a highwayman.”
“I’m not a highwayman,” Adaran said. “Why didn’t you just leave me hidden? You don’t want me in your group, and the dragon wants me dead.”
“I’m sure she’s at the end of a long, long list,” Diasa said.
Prehn started to cry. “Hush,” Ponn said, trying to soothe her. Plenn was better at calming the children than he was. He wished they were back at the inn, this odyssey nothing but a horrid memory, like a nightmare from long ago. Gradually her whimpers subsided, although she still stared at Adaran with wide eyes, her cheeks glistening with tears. “Really, Diasa, why not let him hide?”
“We can’t have T’Sian spending all her time trying to find him,” Diasa said. “We have more important things to worry about.”
“You want her to kill me. You’ve hated me since Flaurent.”
“You don’t rate hatred, only contempt.”
“I know you don’t like Adaran, and I know you blame him for what happened at Flaurent,” Ponn said. “That doesn’t matter now. Put aside your personal feelings, and when this is over, walk away and never look at his face again.”
“Put aside my personal feelings?” She sounded incredulous. “You can stand there and tell me that after you, because of your personal feelings, invaded the castle to rescue him?”
“I owed him a debt,” Ponn said.
Diasa stared at him for a moment, then turned away, looking into the fire. “So do I.”
“Your debt is vengeance,” Ponn said. “Mine was gratitude.”
“All of us owe a debt of vengeance.”
“There’s vengeance, and then there’s justice,” Ponn said. “You have the two confused.”
She stood very still; then, in a single fluid motion, she drew a small blade, spun, and threw it at Adaran. The dagger stuck into the ground between his feet, eliciting a startled yelp.
By the time Ponn realized what Diasa had done, she had already returned to her earlier position by the fire. He knelt and picked up the weapon; it took more effort than he had expected, as it had gotten stuck in some roots. “This is not helping,” he said.
“It made me feel a little better.”
From behind him, Ponn heard T’Sian say: “Well, I remain unsatisfied.”