Will they meet the dragons?
Will they escape from their pursuers?
Will they make it to Liphaeum?
The Cost of Escape
The repetitive thumping sound was now directly overhead. Marianna slowly opened the door, and Mark spotted a large winged figure flying in the direction of the forest. “He’s coming back this way,” he muttered, and his aunt nodded, taking his hand.
“When I say go, run,” she whispered. “I’ll be right behind you.”
Mark started to nod, then Marianna hissed, “Now!”
Mark bolted, and was surprised to see that his aunt easily kept up with him. In the light of the full moon, he saw the figures of Adam and Mara racing towards them through the tall marsh grasses by the lakeshore. They met halfway between the two houses, and Marianna hissed out an order. “Down! Hide in the grass!”
Without question, Mark dropped to the ground, his tall form instantly hidden by the grasses. Curled up in the fetal position, he listened as the others did likewise.
Thump, thump, came the sound again, and Mark realized he was hearing the dragon’s powerful wings beating the air.
His aunt nudged his shoulder. “Up again, all of you. Run.”
They rose, and clutching his sister’s hand, Mark ran faster than he had ever run before for the woods. He heard the thump, thump of Anduin’s wings behind them, and a deep, throaty roar from the dragon’s throat. A rush of wind just above him- Anduin had passed low over them.
The trees were just ahead of them now; perhaps ten yards before them.
Eight yards- Anduin swept over their heads again, and Mara screamed as she dodged narrowly.
Five yards. Anduin roared in fury and shot straight up into the sky. Mark and Mara stumbled into the shelter of the trees, followed closely by Adam and Marianna. The four of them gasped for breath. Mark remembered his sister’s earlier cry of terror and wheeled to face her. “What… happened?” he asked breathlessly. “Did he… hurt you?”
“Just a scratch,” she replied, cradling her shoulder. Mark saw that the sleeve of her tunic was torn, and a thin line of blood marked the place where Anduin’s razor-sharp claw had scraped across her skin. “It’s… not bad,” she said in a hoarse whisper. “I’ll be fine.”
“Oh Father, I came so close to losing you,” he said quietly, holding her close with his good arm.
“Come on,” said Marianna. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
They gradually made their way deeper into the woods, moving as quickly as they could. Strangely, Mark could no longer hear Anduin, and he almost wondered if the dragon was even still there. He leaned wearily against the trunk of a nearby tree. “Why aren’t they still chasing us?” he asked no one in particular. “Did they let us go?”
“No,” said Marianna grimly.
“Then where did they go?” Adam whispered.
“I don’t know,” his mother snapped, then sighed. “I’m sorry, Adam. Let’s just… keep moving.”
They walked slowly through the silent forest. Mark’s nerves were on edge, and he flinched at every snap of a twig. Finally, after they had walked for about ten minutes, they came to a small clearing. Mark sighed heavily, fingering the string of the bow slung across his shoulders. Marianna stopped, glancing around. “We can rest for a few minutes,” she consented, but didn’t relax.
Mark shifted restlessly. Something seemed…wrong, somehow. He wasn’t sure how to describe it- just a tingling at the back of his consciousness, warning him. Then he realized what it was.
He was being watched.
Slowly, he raised his eyes, and what he saw turned his blood to ice in his veins. There, crouched in the shadows of the forest, was a huge, green reptilian beast. The yellow slit eyes met his own, and Mark saw them narrow.
In that moment, his instincts kicked in. He screamed a warning, throwing himself into Mara and Adam and slamming them both to the ground. Seconds later he felt a burst of blistering heat above them; he opened his eyes to see the flames leaping over their heads. A few nearby trees ignited, but the four Farlanders were unharmed. Marianna, reacting quickly, had dropped to the ground.
“Tamar,” Mara hissed in Mark’s ear as they slowly stood. Mark nodded, and drew his sword. The emerald dragon emerged from the shadows, crouched close to the ground, watching.
Mark heard the ominous sound of steel on leather as Adam drew his own blade. Mara silently pulled out one of her knives. The four of them stood facing the dragon for a long moment.
Then Tamar charged. With a roar of fury, she sprang forward towards them. Mark leapt out of the dragon’s path, lashing out with his blade at the beast’s side. The sword connected and sank a few inches into the flesh of Tamar’s left flank. Momentarily, Mark felt a surge of triumph, which quickly faded as one of Tamar’s powerful wings slammed into his back, slamming him to the ground. He tasted earth as his face hit the dirt, and felt a tiny prick of pain as something sharp, maybe a stick or rock, dug into his cheek. He touched the place and felt warm, sticky blood.
He pushed himself gingerly to a kneeling position and grabbed his sword up from the ground. Turning, he saw a second winged figure landing in the clearing, and he recognized Anduin. The scarlet beast turned and saw Marianna and Adam fighting Tamar-then his eyes fell on Mark. “Farlander,” he hissed. “The little warrior. Let us see if you are as good of a fighter as your father.” He charged.
Before, Mark hadn’t been able to appreciate Anduin’s size completely. Now, fighting the beast head-on, he realized just how huge the dragon was. He dodged one of Anduin’s flailing wings and stabbed towards the dragon’ side with his blade. Anduin growled in anger as the sword dug a long, shallow gash in his shoulder, and turned his head blindingly fast towards the boy.
Mark barely avoided the jet of flames that shot out from Anduin’s throat, and he now used the dragon’s bulk as protection from the blistering heat. Anduin, enraged, turned on him, and Mark scrambled out of the reach of those deadly sharp talons. He hit the ground, and, disoriented, he reached for his sword. His hand had just closed around the hilt when he looked up and saw a huge, scaly, barbed appendage swinging towards him.
As Anduin’s tail slammed into Mark’s body, he felt all the air leave his lungs at once. As if in slow motion, he flew across the clearing, his sword thrown from his hand and falling to the ground in a gleaming arc. He heard his ribs crack as he hit a tree, and as he fell limply to the forest floor, he screamed in agony as the ends of the broken bones ground against each other. He felt blood on his chest; the wickedly sharp spines of Anduin’s tail had dug deep into his flesh.
He felt the ground vibrate beneath him, heard Anduin coming for him. He tried to push himself up but every movement caused him excruciating pain; he panted for breath and his body trembled violently. He managed to raise his head, and scanned the clearing to find Mara, but she was nowhere in sight.
He closed his eyes, and in that moment, something happened.
It felt almost like his hand touching another’s, almost like physical contact- but somehow deeper, like he was thinking two sets of thoughts, feeling another consciousness brush up against his own. He heard words echo in his mind- Where’s Mark? I need his help- oh good Father, no! For a brief instant an image flickered through his mind, and he saw himself sprawled helplessly on the ground, Anduin pounding towards him. He wondered if this was what Mara had experienced, hearing his thoughts- and even as he had the thought, he knew that his guess was correct. He was experiencing the mental connection that the Farlander line had possessed for more than a century. But it wasn’t with Mara, surprisingly.
He sensed Adam’s mind.
Experimentally, knowing he had little time left, he called to his cousin, thinking the words because he couldn’t draw in the breath to speak them. Adam. Adam, I… need you. Please.
He sensed Adam’s attention turn to him, felt his cousin’s momentary surge of satisfaction as he drove his blade deep into Tamar’s shoulder, then his worried thoughts as he turned to where Mark lay, helpless. But Mark knew his cousin wouldn’t, couldn’t make it in time- just as Adam knew, though he ran anyway. Mark lifted his head and met his cousin’s eyes, then his strength left him and he collapsed backward in the dirt.
Mara could hear the noises of battle behind her as she slipped quietly through the woods. A few times, out of the corner of her eye, she saw bursts of orange light- dragon fire.
She wondered what the others would think when they noticed that she had left. They might wonder if she had abandoned them, or had been captured. But she hadn’t abandoned them. She had left for an important reason- and she believed that she would do her family more good this way than by fighting the dragons.
She had remembered as they fled that she had forgotten to share an important part of her dream- the fact that William Swiftviper was coming too, along with his finest warriors. She knew that the other three had to stay behind to battle the dragons, but she had a plan- and she constantly prayed as she walked that it would work. In her hands, she clutched a length of rope.
She could sense William’s men just ahead- ten people including himself. They were intent on their purpose- sneaking up on the Farlanders as they fought the dragons and taking them captive. They were confident that their four targets, distracted by the larger enemy, would be fairly easy to handle.
What they didn’t know was that not all four Farlanders were in the clearing.
Mara moved quickly, her feet making almost no noise on the soft ground. She remembered everything she had learned from her years of hunting with her father and Mark- eventually, she had taken over the job completely, as Mark wasn’t exactly the most subtle or quiet of people. Quick. Silent. If it looks your way, freeze and don’t move a muscle. Mara slipped silently through the trees, knowing that she had to wait for the right moment to show herself.
She quickly caught up to the small group, and none of them heard or saw her. Once she was around two hundred feet away from the men, she stopped and straightened. I want them to see me, she told herself. Once they do, I’ll need to be quick to avoid them.
She began walking once more, this time purposely stepping on piles of leaves or sometimes a twig, dragging her feet through the various debris that littered the forest floor. She saw the light from several torches in front of her, heard the warriors speaking in low voices- then the voices went silent, and the light of the torches flickered. Mara ducked behind a tree to listen.
“What was that?” asked the deep voice of a man.
“What do you mean, ‘what was that?’ asked a second voice, this time that of a woman, who sounded mildly annoyed. “I didn’t hear anything.”
“I heard something, I swear!” said the first voice, a little irritably. “Raoul believes me- don’t you, Raoul?”
“Er… began a thin, higher-pitched yet still obviously masculine voice. “I dunno, Stefan.”
“I know I heard something,” said the first man grumpily.
A fourth person entered the conversation, as Mara heard another man say, “Of course you heard something, Stefan. There’s a battle going on. Them dragons are a little noisy.”
“Shut up, you blithering idiots.” The words were quiet, but a chill went down Mara’s spine as she recognized the low, menacing voice of William Swiftviper.
The three men and the woman went silent as William continued. “How you four got on my father’s good side is beyond me. I’ve never seen any as stupid as you lot.” His voice dripped with contempt. “Now shut your mouth, Raoul- before your foul breath smothers us- and listen, all of you.”
They went quiet, and Mara began moving again, darting from tree to tree and making rather feeble attempts to remain silent. She heard William’s curse, and saw the torches move closer. “There’s someone out there,” William said softly, then Mara heard the sound of steel on leather as he drew his sword.
She drew nearer, and at last she could see the ten dark figures. They all wore black, and had weapons drawn. William stepped forward, and Mara saw the blade of his sword glint in the torchlight. “Show yourself,” he called out.
Mara silently moved closer, then stepped into the light. She stared at them with a stunned expression, but inwardly she smiled. It was all going according to plan.
William stepped closer. “Who are you?”
She felt a surge of anger towards him as she remembered how close he had come to killing Mark. She smiled and threw back the hood of her cloak. “My name is Mara Farlander,” she said. “You tried to kill my brother.”
William froze. Then he regained his composure. “I’ve heard much about you,” he replied. Then he glanced at his men. “Go get her,” he said quietly.
Mara turned and ran, not so fast that she lost them, but quickly enough to keep out of their reach. She heard the deep twang of a bow, and an arrow whizzes past. She began crisscrossing the path, darting from one side to the other, from tree to tree. Now they couldn’t possibly aim true. She saw the bend in the trail up ahead, and knew the time must be soon. She sped up and rounded the bend, then ducked behind a tree.
She heard them run past her, and nodded, satisfied. She would have to move quickly. She went back around the bend to a place where the road forked. There, she tied one end of her rope around a tree on one side of the trail, close to the ground. The other end of the rope was tied around a tree on the path’s opposite side in a similar fashion, creating a trip wire of sorts that was strung across the path about six inches off the ground.
She nodded in satisfaction as she glanced at the muddy trench on the other side of the trip wire. She vaguely remembered digging it with Mark when they were young, pretending that it was a moat for a castle. Of course, they had quickly discovered that just across the foot-wide trench lay an enormous underground yellow jackets’ nest that stretched across the path. She grinned wickedly at the thought as she skirted around the nest.
She heard the pounding of footsteps nearby and took a deep breath as she made her way to a place well away from the wasps’ nest. She would need to move quickly in order to avoid the yellow jackets herself.
The ten warriors rounded the bend, and William held up a hand, stopping them, as he saw Mara. “What’re you up to?” he asked, halfway to himself.
“What do you mean?” she asked, with an innocent expression. “I’m just running for my life. I just happen to be very good at cutting corners.” She grinned wickedly.
Predictably, Raoul and Stefan, whom Mara had already judged to be the stupidest two of the group, charged. Emboldened by their companions’ initiative, several more of the warriors rushed forward as well. Their cries of triumph quickly turned to yells of agony as they tripped and fell headlong into the yellow jackets’ nest.
Mara bolted, cutting through the woods to the path she had taken earlier. She could still hear her pursuers’ cries of pain as she ran for the clearing where her family fought the dragons. She heard the footsteps of William and at least one more person far behind her, but she didn’t look back. She heard the roar of one of the dragons close by, and saw the light of its fire.
She burst into the clearing, her daggers already in her hands, and was greeted by utter chaos. Adam and Marianna were fighting Tamar; in fact, it looked rather like they were taunting the dragon instead. They stayed just out of the reach of Tamar’s talons and wings, and every so often one of them would dart in and score a hit.
Mara glanced around, looking for Mark, then her blood seemed to freeze in her veins. He lay sprawled on the forest floor, his shirt torn and soaked in blood, his eyes closed. For a moment Mara thought he was dead, then she sighed with momentary relief as she saw the slight rise and fall of his chest as he breathed.
Then her heart skipped a beat as she saw the scarlet dragon Anduin stalking towards her brother’s still form.
I'm truly sorry for the cliffhanger, guys.
Haha! Just kidding! I feel no guilt.
Have fun waiting until I finish another thousand words....
This next chapter should hit most of you like this:
Now have fun waiting in fearful anticipation!