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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Clockwork Dragon #28: The Traitor's Mark


The gryphon's engine was groaning so fiercely that Valin knew he should decreased his speed, but half a day had already passed and he'd had to stop four times. He looked down and readjusted his farviewer goggles, focusing on what he thought might be the Wheelteeth's sentries settled around the borders of their territory. There. Yes, sentries. But he was farther into the Wheelteeth's lands than he expected. He was almost to the clearing, near the Exile Post and the pits. The sentry, on horseback—a mountain-bred flesh and blood horse—lifted his or her hand in a fist and then pumped it three times.

Valin hoped he wouldn't have to respond in kind, for he didn't know the passcode gesture. A moment later Valin flew over the last of the forest's trees and saw the Wheelteeth's mountain and—

A flurry of gryphon activity. There were at least three squadrons he could see in the air, and all of them seemed in pursuit of one figure flying ahead of them. A sleek, long-winged figure darting through the masses of the last Wheelteeth squad, flying toward him.

Innari?

His squad was escaping!

He pushed his gryphon to its utmost, turning off all of the warning sirens; he ignored the gauges, and the steam hissing from the flyer's belly. Valin watched as Innari pumped her huge wings, and the closest gryphon made a maddening dive toward her, its clamp-feet within a breath of her. He heard flechette fire coming from—Jarre? And closer now he could see a speck of a figure that must be Ferrei clinging to the little dragon's back.

Where is Zefir? Nyru?

The little dragon was fast. Faster than he'd ever seen a flyer move. And in comparison to the gryphons, she should've outflown them all. But there were too many, and yet another V formation flew toward her to cut her off.

He lifted his hand and made the flight-signal: Down the gullet.

He hoped that Ferrei would understand his intentions, praying that she wouldn't think this an enemy trick. Please let her know it's me.

But he saw her hand raise: Acknowledged.

Innari put on a burst of speed, her gleaming brass sides heaving. She flew right for him on a collision course; the closest gryphons were less than a hundred meters from her, their clamp feet almost on her lengthy sail-foil tail. Valin gritted his teeth as his own gryphon let out a broken-sounding scream of gears, and he hoped that Innari was quick enough for this maneuver.

When she got to within a hundred meters, he could see Ferrei slap the dragon's side and heard her wind-blown cry, "Now!"

Innari pulled her wings into her side and immediately dropped into an astonishing dive. But Valin kept on his heading. Too late the Wheelteeth gryphs realized their mistake. Valin soared into their midst, and with quick movements he began desperately trying to avoid colliding with them. He overrode the warnings to bring his gryphon wings in tight, knowing that he'd drop like a stone thrown from the sky, but he wouldn't clip his fraying wings with another flyer. The V formation broke, either climbing at a desperate angle, or diving from the threat he represented. They scattered from his path.

And he fell.

Now out of the middle of the formation, he pulled the lever and slammed the wings open. Pseudo-metallic feathers sheered from the body of the wing. The flight braces snapped in half, but the wings still pumped; the engine roared louder, grinding. The ground grew closer. Fast. Too fast. And he pulled up, throwing the last bit of cool air into the engine and—the nose lifted just enough. The feet touched the ground, running, but they let out a metal-shriek as they broke; he braced his hands on the panel as the gryphon made furrows in the ground, sliding, still sliding.

It came to a stop.

Valin sat there, breathing hard. Disbelieving. He lifted his goggles from his face and stood in the seat, looking up into the clear blue sky. Innari was well beyond them, beyond anyone, flying so quickly that she became no more than a speck in a matter of breaths. He lifted his hands and pumped them. "Yes, yes, yes!"

Valin was laughing. Full throated sounds of sheer glee. They made it!

He cupped his hands and whooped. "Go, Innari! Go, go, go!"

The soaring sensation in his chest decreased when a small team of Riders came toward him on their muscled steeds. The man at the head of the team aimed a pistol at Valin, and nudged his flesh-and-blood horse forward, holding the reins to massive black beast void of a passenger. The Rider growled, "Get on the horse."

He gave the Rider a smug smile until the man pulled on the trigger. The flechette speared through the arm of his flight jacket, missing his flesh to burrow in the grass to his side. Valin shrugged nonchalantly, and said, "I'm certain, Rider, that your Leader would be very displeased if you shot me dead."

The Rider smiled darkly. "I don't have to shoot you dead to shoot you."

Valin matched the smile. "Fair point."

He grabbed for the horse's saddle—thank the gods there was a blood-ridden saddle—and launched himself awkwardly into the seat, hooking his feet in the stirrups. "Now, let's ride and ride fast. I've an offer for your Leader."  

Seated now, the Riders pulled his horse along with them at an astonishing gallop; it was all Valin could do to hold on while the Riders barreled across the field, beyond the gryphon's landing, and into the heart of the Wheelteeth mountain.


#


Valin's Rider guards marched with him toward the prison. He could see ground forces running with rifles, watched as they hid behind a hastily made...barricade. Did this mean that Nryu was inside? Was she trading shots with the Wheelteeth somehow? A flechette pinged against the wood and metal shields, which the next woman held as she lock-connected it to the shield next to her. A sturdy wall. Valin hunkered down as he saw a shot skim the top of the barricade.

Now closer, he could see Kirwen wearing a pistol on her hip, barking orders. Hunkered down, the lines of her face appeared almost gaunt. And she wasn't returning fire.

"Is Nyru inside?" he asked, crouching next to her.

"I'm uncertain," she answered. "Kerlan may not even be alive. There was an explosion. Whether from your squad or from the dissenters—"

"Zareth?"

She nodded, her eyes alight with a fierce rage. "And others. There are at least a dozen armed men and women. And they won't relent. They say they won't listen to orders from a traitor. Damn it to the ten fucking hells, I have to wait until they've exhausted their ammunition until we can move in without casualty to any of us." Her eyes grew darker. "But Zefir's in there...and I heard his scream. In my head. There's something wrong with him...I can't hear his voice, and I can't reach his mind."

The firebomb. Zefir had offered to rip himself open, and now...

"He's in his deepest rest mode." Valin clenched his teeth to feel the strangely comforting sting at his cheek. "If he remains too long that way, he'll never awaken. And we need a key...a code to reawaken him."

Kirwen's sour smile was familiar. "I'm no Inventrix, but I work well with codes and keys."

"Like grandmere, like grandson," Valin muttered, knowing now Kirwen had been the one to install the impossible lock on the hangar door. "You can trade me to the dissenters. It's what they want. Revenge on one of the Cog scum."

Her mouth firmed in a line. "Don't be a fool. I give you over to them and there's no negotiating. Zareth will shoot you the moment he sees you."

Valin snarled, "Then make a bedamned decision, Leader. I know your possessive sense leads you to see the dissenters as your own children to protect. But they turned against you. And—"

"She told you the truth of the Breaking of our Clan. Didn't she?" This close he could see the careworn lines time and experience had wrought across the plains of her face. The sharp angles had become sharper, her eyes darker, glinting with that inner fire. "You wouldn't argue for me to kill them, Valin, I know you." She paused as a single bolt flew over her head. "And I won't choose as she did. I won't murder them to secure myself as some vile goddess who rules them with a fist."

The man next to him moved behind the shield wall and a barrage of flechette fire hailed against the barricade. Valin waited for the shots to die down before speaking again. "And yet you've made that decision over the last two hundred years. To continue this war. To kill your own. I know, Kirwen. I'm no longer blind. You're exactly like Mirena, and you've torn our whole world apart. That's what you've given us all—hatred. Just look at how Lyth Zareth hates."

Valin expected her to rail against his claims. Kirwen nodded, her expression solemn; her brass hands trembled, before she curled them into fists. "And now the end of such hate is near. When we're united as one once more, we can begin. The Sevens will be Lyths, and the Lyths will be Sevens. We will be as one Clan, as it was meant to be."

"Through more violence, Kirwen."   

"You know," she said into the sudden quiet, "your dragon said the same thing. I can't decide if you children are unbearably wise, or if you simply can't see what I see, your naivety giving you hope of a simple, easy way. But Valin, one way or another—"

More flechettes burst through the barricade, and one seared across her cheek down over her chin at an angle. She barely flinched and didn't bother to wipe away the thin line of blood that trickled down her chin.

"—this fight will end," she continued as if never interrupted. "This war will end."

He reached into his inner jacket pocket and took out Mayra's handkerchief. His blood on it had turned into rust-brown splotches. She studied him as he pressed the cloth against her bleeding cheek and he watched as the linen drew the blood into its fibers as if drinking it in. Slowly, her mechanical hand came up, and she shook her head as she grasped his wrist and pulled it away.

Forgive me, Zefir. I may not be able to save you. But he knew his friend would understand; he could even imagine Zefir's nod.

"It will, Leader Kirwen," he said so quietly that he didn't know if she could hear. But he realized the others around him were listening. Maybe even Zareth was listening. "Mirena's last creation will end the war."

Her dark eyes searched his face.

"It's the largest bomber dragon I've ever seen. And within its belly..." he swallowed the bile at remembering the sight. "Within is the largest firebomb ever created. I've seen it with my own eyes, grandmere. She plans to launch it, to bathe your mountain home in flame, to turn the sky itself to hellsfire."

Kirwen swallowed. "Why would you tell me this?" Her brass hand lifted to hover over the traitor's mark on his cheek. "Why?"

She doesn't understand me at all.

He reached for her mechanical fingers, and gently pried them open; he placed the blood soaked handkerchief within. Valin wondered what the cloth would look like if the stain of his tears were as easy to see as the blood now bound to the fibers.

"You need to begin evacuation procedures," he said.

She curled her hands around Mayra's handkerchief and twisted at it. "This is a trick. Mirena wants me to believe that you'd become a traitor, so I'll send my people away. So I'll send more forces with them, so we'll be weak when her forces come—"

"The mark is real, gandmere. I tried to end her life. I thought it would stop...would stop...all of this. But it wouldn't. Just as killing Zareth won't stop the anger." Valin grasped at her hand with his wounded one, and tightened it until it would pain her. He wanted her to cling to the cloth as he had on the Post. "I'm not lying to you, Kirwen. Not about this. You have to try to send your wounded, your ill, your old and—and your children away. And you have to give them time."

"There's no more time," she whispered. "I have to protect them. Our people will fight to the last to keep them safe. We can stop it...somehow. We...we have to. There must be a way..."

"There is, Leader." Valin's grip on her hand squeezed even harder. "Mirena challenges you to a duel. One-on-one, and to the victor goes the fate of both Clans. Tomorrow on the Burned Stone as the Innari moon rises. If you win, she will surrender. If you win, Kirwen, there will be time to get your children to safety."

"If I fail..." he could barely hear the sound of her voice. "No, I can't. I won't."

He reached into his pocket once more, and withdrew the blood stained dagger. Hilt first, he set it within reach of her.

"Her challenge to you, grandmere."

Kirwen gave him the handkerchief back, and lifted the dagger. She took it, holding it in her brass fingers; she met his eye, the obsidian depths shinning.

A new hail of bolts buried in the weakening wood and metal of the barricade. And when he looked behind him, Valin saw the shadow of figures rounding the bend. The Wheelteeth's Council of Elders were walking toward them, wearing black judge's regalia. At the head of the Council was Elder Lyth, leaning heavily on her cane, mouth in a firm line.

One of the dissenters cried out, "Cease fire!" But the last shot speared through an Elder's foot. One of the men ran to the grandfere's side. But the rest of the Council continued forward, expressions as stone.

When Elder Lyth reached the barricade, she looked down at Kirwen. "Open a pathway for me."

Kirwen shook her head. "Orenna, you can't—"

"With all due respect, Kirwen," said the Elder sternly, "I'm no longer the child you dandled on your knee and fed sweets to. I'm an Elder. Open me a path."

Slowly, Kirwen nodded, and Valin helped the Leader unlock one of the shields to open a pathway for the Elder. He watched as Elder Lyth walked through, and she tapped her cane to gather the attention of the men and women holding their rifles. Many lowered them, though a few kept them half-trained on her, looking uncomfortable. From the prison door, Zareth showed himself, his face a mask of blood from a scalp cut.

"Lyth Zareth," rang the Elder's voice, sharp and clear. "Air your grievances."

The boy barked a cynical laugh. "I already did, grandmere. Before all of you old fools. But you did as your Leader told you and denied—"

"No, dear boy," she snapped. "Your Elders came to a consensus. And we did so because we know. We've known your anger, your fury for ourselves. And for much longer. Do you think I don't miss your mother with every beat of my heart? Do you think her loss hasn't driven me? As a young woman, I lost my father. My sister, nieces, and nephews. My...my mate. We know your loss, Zareth, because we've felt it too. And we understand all too well your fury."

Zareth gritted his teeth. "Then why wouldn't you let me kill the scum?"

Elder Lyth leaned heavily on her cane. "There are some among the Council who agreed with your vengeance. It was almost voted in your favor, boy. Because even your Elders are capable of vengeance. But we decided against it."

"Why?" Zareth demanded.

Echoes of agreement from the white-clad dissenters.

"Because as much as we may believe they deserve to die for what they've done to us," said Elder Lyth, raising her chin, "they believe that we deserve to die for what we've done to them." Zareth looked about to protest, when Elder Lyth raised her wrinkled, gnarled hand. "Did you listen to our Clan's hurts when the Cog boy was on the Post? Or did you only vent your own?"

The boy looked away.

"I sat," she continued. "And I listened. And I realized that as many people who came to share their loss with the enemy, so too must they have if the roles were reversed. If I were on the Post, listening to the Cog's losses...I would hear the same."

"I don't care," said Zareth, his teeth clenched.

"So said some of the Elders as well."

Elder Lyth truly looked old in a way that Valin didn't like to think on. At home, Elders weren't called 'old,' and their deaths were celebrated as they went to join whichever deity they belonged to, for their wisdom would join with others in the afterlife. He'd wondered briefly if veneration for his Elders was bred into the blood, but realized that the Elders of his bloodline were truly loved. But to look 'old' as Valin realized, meant to look weary. Then perhaps they were all old.
  
Even Zareth.

"We denied you, Zareth," said Elder Lyth, "because it wouldn't change anything. It wouldn't bring your mother back. It wouldn't soothe our hurts."

"It would, damn you," Zareth snarled. "It would."

Elder Lyth's eyes sharpened, her mouth in a disapproving grimace as she walked forward into their midst. "And did it soothe your hurt to shoot Elder Atsuke?" She gestured to the Elder and his ruined foot. "And where, boy, is his grandson Renzu?"

One of the dissenters threw down her rifle, and knelt. Two more followed her lead, throwing down their weapons, to kneel on the stone floor. The silence hovered, heavy. The sound of more rifles clattering to the floor echoed like shots themselves. All but one person knelt in respect for Elder Lyth, and she watched her family member with weighing eyes. Sad and weary eyes. Valin recognized almost all of the men and women in mourning white from his time on the Post, though he couldn't remember who they'd lost or even their names. But he remembered their faces.

Elder Lyth squared her shoulders, the black coat of her judges regalia looking heavy and unkempt. "Is Atsuke Renzu alive?"

Zareth marched forward, defiant, still holding his rifle. "No. I shot him."

Kirwen stiffened next to Valin, holding the dagger tight in her mechanical hand. She shivered, but looked ready to pounce like a wolf trembling to be released on the hunt.

Elder Lyth held out one gnarled hand, and slowly, Zareth lowered his rifle into it, stepping back with his chin raised.

"Lyth Zareth," said Elder Lyth in a powerful voice. So all could hear. "As the Elder of Elders, the Council hereby finds you guilty of killing one of our own Clan. By your own admission you've killed Atsuke Renzu. I sentence you to—"

"I'll weather the Posts, grandmere." Renzu leaned toward her. "Someone, even from our family, will give me water."

Elder Lyth's mouth quirked in a not quite grimace. "The sentence of killing one of your own comes with two options, boy: the Exile Post, or a firing squad."

Fear lighted in Zareth's eye. "You...can't."

"It is up to the Council to decide your fate," she said without mercy. "By a vote, my fellow Elders, call to me your decision."

Valin looked behind him to see the Elders firm their stance before passing judgment, and Elder Atsuke, shook his head, tears in his eyes. Valin was surprised to hear Atsuke call for the Post, and Valin wasn't certain if that was supposed to be a mercy, knowing someone would give the boy water, or in anger.

In all, the vote was cast for the Post.

Zareth perceptibly sagged in relief, until Elder Lyth shook her head. "Know, Zareth, that no one of our family will help you, not when I tell them what you did. And as you go to the Post, know that your mother would not be proud of your actions. Know, Zareth, that as the eldest living member of the Lyth family, that I renounce you as one of ours. You're no longer a Lyth. And as a member of the Council, I renounced you from our Clan. You're no longer of the Wheelteeth."

"No..." Fear turned the boy's expression into something twisted. The blood masking his face, the snarl on his lips. And he reached for the rifle in Elder Lyth's hands, pulling it from her grip with ease. He took a single step back, raising it, finger on the trigger.

Kirwen let fly with the dagger.

The dagger pierced through the boy's throat, its end sticking out of his neck. Zareth gurgled, or tried to, and fell limp to the ground; blood poured from his neck in a great round puddle on the stone floor, and twitching, his eyes grew dark.

The dissenters kneeling on the floor rose to their feet; some in shock, others shaking their head. Kirwen marched forward, and pointed at them. "All of you must prove yourselves now. Go below and begin evacuation procedures. Go to your families and take the children, flee with your sick and those too elderly to walk. The Council will be with you. Go, children. Go now."

The dissenters in their mourning white, splotched with soot and some with blood, rose to attend to the Elders. As Valin watched, Kirwen went to Elder Lyth's side, and the Elder let out a wounded howl, her hand to her mouth, eyes bearing tears.

"Dear Forge Gods, have mercy on him," Elder Lyth croaked. "Kirwen...it...he can't...I swaddled the damned boy. He always tried to wriggle out of my grasp, and now..."

"Go, Orenna," Kirwen said softly. "The Clan needs you. Be the leader I know you are and help save them. You couldn't save Zareth. He was gone to us long before now."

Valin stepped passed the barricade, wanting to run to the prison. But he waited, staring down at Zareth's glassy, empty gaze; he saw only the boy who'd tried to kill him. A man of my own blood. And then he shook his head. Not any longer. But what had Zareth been like before?

"I should've seen, Kirwen," Elder Lyth said, voice breaking. "I could've helped him..."

Kirwen cupped Elder Lyth's face in her hands and gently kissed the old woman's forehead as if she were the child. "Some people can't be helped. It's over now, Orenna." She turned Elder Lyth about, so the woman wouldn't have to stare at Zareth's prone form. "There are more that need you now. Mourn the death of Zareth, his true death, not the one at your feet, but do so later."

The Elder nodded firmly, and tottered away after the Council.

#

Free now, Valin ran for the open prison doors. He saw the guard's form slumped at the prison door, this Renzu, and the bolt spearing through his chest. Valin didn't hesitate, but when he entered the prison—

"Holy metal an' Forge." He staggered, nearly stepped back into the hall. His gorge rose, and he leaned over to wretch. The blood...no, not just blood. There were other parts cemented by the blast against the wall. And in shock, Valin staggered in, seeing the debris strewn everywhere—rock and blood and—but there was Zefir's prone form in the corner. He raced for the dragon, and saw Zefir's eyes open, staring blankly out at the debris.

"Zef?" His voice trembled. He didn't know if his dragon could hear him, so he patted Zefir's eyelids, and smoothed them closed. So his friend couldn't see the—the remains against the wall.

Valin could only surmise what remains were in among the debris, and his gorge rose again, but he swallowed it down. Kirwen raced in, saw the result of the blast, and hesitated, quivering. A moment later she was kneeling at Zefir's side, and she placed a hand on his still brass neck. Her eyes widened and she let out a stifled scream, teeth clenched closed.

Valin worried that it was Zefir's scream she echoed.

She wrenched her hand away, and leaped to her feet. "I need Seren's equipment to awaken him. Talk to him, Valin. He can still hear. Just...keep talking." With that she raced out of the door with a speed no one could match.

Valin leaned himself over Zefir's neck, and laid his cheek against the too cold brass flesh. He tried to listen for the whirr-hum of his dragon's heart-mind, but he couldn't hear it. "Zef, they escaped. Innari and Jarre and Ferrei made it. They made it, Zef. They did. And I'm here. I came back. For them. For you. For us..." His throat closed, and he felt his tears slide against his friend's cold neck. "I know what she did, Zef. Our First. She did it for you, for all of us. You did the same, I know you did." His voice thinned, but his heart still hammered inside. "Remember when we joined her squad? And she frowned at us, and you were nervous, and I was too. But then she said, 'I think I can do something with you two. Maybe one day even make real squad members out of you.' And then she grinned at us. Or maybe she was frowning at how hard it would be to actually make us one of her squad. You asked me if she was happy or sad or angry, and she heard, saying, 'Sometimes you can be all three.' And you laughed, because you didn't understand. But you do now."

Kirwen's rapid footfalls echoed behind him, until she knelt next to him. He knew he was in her way, but he didn't want to move. Gently, she touched his shoulder, and Valin pried himself away from the expanse of his friend's neck. He watched numbly as Kirwen placed on the Inventrix's goggles, and used the thin needle-like tools on Zefir's heart.

"Talk to him, Valin," she said.

He shook his head. The tears stung against his wounded cheek. "I don't know what to say."

Kirwen didn't look up from her work, but she turned her chin slightly in his direction. "Yes, you do."

Valin placed his hand on Zefir's cheek. His breaths were shuddering from him, and he squeezed his eyes closed. "I'm so sorry, Zef. I never should've opened that locked door. I never should've found you. Then you'd still be at home, sitting in your Mother's lab. You'd be safe. From all of this. I tried to tell you I wasn't worthy to be your Navigator. I tried to give you up to someone else..."

Kirwen made a small noise of irritation at her work, but she said to Valin, "That's not what you want to say. Not truly. That's the guilt coming from you."

"What the hells do you know of it?" he demanded.

She didn't answer, this ancient creature. Her hands made delicate motions, but she paused, stilling the slight trembling of her hands. "I can't enter the lock key. Mirena has tested you for years now. You're more familiar with her work than I am." She snatched the goggles from her face and held the microfyer out to him. "The code will be something simple. Probably familiar to you."

He held his hands away. He couldn't do this. "I'm no Inventrix."

"Neither am I," she said, pressing the delicate tools into his hands. "But you're the only chance he has. Mirena deliberately made the code with me in mind. She wanted to keep me from him, so she will have made it in a way so I wouldn't devise it. But you...I think maybe she gave you the key long ago and you never realized it."

I never should've opened that locked door.

And he knew. He nodded firmly, and Kirwen stepped aside, still kneeling next to Zefir's nose.

He snapped the goggles over his eyes and his sight blurred as it was rendered in micro size. There...Zefir's microcogs, rotating in tandem, but just barely. And he saw the sequence, and a sound came from him: half a bark of a laugh, and partially a relieved sob. He took the tools to task, and entered the same sequence of code locks that he had so long ago to break into his Inventrix's lab to find Zefir.

Then he heard Zefir inhale, and that tiny bit of hope soared inside of him. "Zef?"

Zefir gasped, his eyes flying open. His dragon friend stayed like that, simply breathing and not moving, his eyes wide and barely blinking. But his breath puffed from him, too cold but slowly warming as Valin stared at him in disbelief. Slowly, those large quicksilver eyes rested on him, and Zefir moved his head.

"Valin...?" came Zefir's baritone.

"Yes..." Valin inhaled to steady himself.

Still lying on his side, Zefir raised one of his wings and used it to press Valin against his neck. The dragon's voice was gaining strength, "You said you wished you never found me. I heard you. But I know that's not true." His other wing came up to shield them from the sight of the carnage around them. "Besides, I chose you as Navigator. And I wouldn't have it any other way."

Valin listened to the steady whirr-hum of Zefir's heart-mind, and he was certain the dragon was listening to the steady human thud of Valin's fleshborn heart. Valin began counting his own beats, timing his breaths to follow along with them—four beats in, four beats out—when he heard Zefir's whirr-whirr-hum begin to fall in time with his own, before the large device-organ returned to its normal cadence.

Hesitantly, Valin asked, "Are you...well?"

"No," Zefir answered, his voice deeper as he unabashedly spoke the truth. "And neither are you. But one day we might be." Zefir breathed in and out for the span of ten heartbeats, before he said, "I love you, Valin."

Gods...Valin found enough breath to respond in kind. "I love you too, my friend."

After another few breaths, Zefir said, "There's still more we have to do." Slowly, the dragon released him, and rose to his feet. He exhaled noisily, probably keeping the smell of the carnage from his sensitive nose. Zefir kept his eyes down and away from the hole...and the blood. "Nyru's with Denaru now. Watching from the sundisk."

Valin swallowed. He knew Zefir didn't quite believe such things. But maybe he hoped it was true for their First.

The dragon studied Valin's face with intensity, those quicksilver eyes lingering for but a moment over the traitor's mark. "No more, Valin. We must end this. Somehow."

Zefir's eyes flickered over Kirwen, and just as quickly dismissed her. Valin followed Zefir's gesture for fly now, and for the first time in ages, leaped up to settle in his accustomed seat. He touched the Navigator's panel reverently, before he input the upslide angle to take—through the blast hole, through the blood and death. He wanted nothing more than to flee far away from the Cog Clan, the Wheelteeth Clan, and the war. And everything...even the children and ill fleeing from the mountain.

But they wouldn't.

Zefir launched himself through the hole and out into the mid-day sun.

Read Part 29: Searching for the True Enemy

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