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In a single, swift movement, Chance and I transformed, he into a great silver drake, and myself into an even larger bronze dragon. We immediately leapt off the edge of the cliff and began spreading fire over the encampment. Agents and partners scattered everywhere to avoid the flames, and some of them were unsuccessful.
But I suddenly saw Chance revert back into humanoid form in midair and start falling to the ground. It took a quick maneuver to correct my course and catch him. I brought him up to the ledge and transformed again as the Southwind began regrouping to make a land attack. “You okay?”
“Lead,” he muttered, almost choking on his own voice. “Someone down there has lead.”
Great. Just what I need to hear, I thought to myself sarcastically. I immediately took out my handheld and began entering complex lines of code. Finally, I pressed the enter key, telling ONSET to search for anything that reflected the same wavelength as lead. A match was indeed found, but the source was near to the figure highlighted in red.
“Frost has lead?”
We were in trouble. Frost had lead, and it was more than merely a few grams. After I thought about it, though, I realized what I would have to do. Nobody else would be able to attack her, not with her swordplay skill. I would need to challenge her myself.
Darwin landed below me and waited for instructions. “Go with the aerial units. Help however you can!” He flew off in an instant with a hoot.
I inhaled slowly. “I have to get Frost.”
Chance’s eyes widened. “You can’t take out Frost, not without sho!”
“I need to take her out. You can’t, not with the lead down there, and I don’t know anyone else who could fence her! You stay and command from the clifftop. I’ll move most of the enemy to the north edge of the cliff, then I’ll engage her.”
I guess he saw it in my eyes. He knew he couldn’t stop me. He was defeated. “Be careful,” is all he could manage, but before I could leave, he threw his arms around me.
“I love you.”
Love was something I had been very careful for years not to feel, but I couldn’t keep it out this time. It flowed through me, almost making me regret what I was going to do. I savored the feeling of my light markings glowing warmly. It could very well be the last time.
I sighed guiltily. “I love you too.”
I turned away with a sense of self-hatred. Why? Why was I doing this to myself? To him? I couldn’t explain it, but some unseen force drove me forward. Maybe I was just stubborn, but maybe… Maybe I was loyal.
I was driving myself towards something that could only injure me, but I was still doing it, and when I look back now, I don’t think I should have done anything differently.
I jumped over the edge of the cliff and transformed again. Once again, I rounded the south side of the enemy position, filling it with fire. Sure enough, the flames drove the survivors farther to the north, where they began to regroup and plan an assault from the north side. Frost began to move to join them, but I cut her off by drawing a ring of fire around her. I transformed and landed smoothly on my feet, adding to the effect of the flames. I drew my swords and flipped them almost artistically.
If anyone was playing mind games, I would make sure it would be me.
Frost stared, her face not betraying any nervousness or fear, despite the flaming ring around us. I stared right back, drawing my saber in my left hand and my sword in my right. I set my face fearlessly, but I knew the truth. I was terrified.
Frost drew her sword slowly. “So it has come to this, then.”
I made no motion. “You really have come far, just to destroy an old friend. I only wonder… why.”
“You wouldn’t understand,” she quickly wrote it off. “You can’t understand.”
I was shocked to see how Frost was so determined, yet so emotional. I guess it showed in my eyes, because she noted, “I really don’t want to do this to you. You were just something that happened to me on the way. And now you’re my biggest obstacle.”
I blinked. I couldn’t believe what I was doing.
She stepped towards me. I mirrored her movement. We were within steps of each other when she made the first move. I blocked expertly with my saber.
The fence had begun.
She stabbed towards my shoulder, but I raised my metal arm to block. I weaseled through her defenses with my saber and managed to **** her sleeve, but did not draw blood.
We continued our elaborate dance of blades for what seemed like hours, but it was apparent that I was much better equipped, especially with the use of my metal hand and my resistance to the heat of the burnt embers around us, which continued to glow.
But Frost’s lead began to take a toll on me. I was exhausting far faster than I should have. Frost defended powerfully, and even gained some ground on me before I saw what became my final opportunity.
I sheathed my saber quickly and caught her sword in my metal hand, gripping it. I grinned slyly and stabbed my sword down through her foot, and while she shouted in pain, I sliced off her hand and disarmed her. The hand and the sword tumbled to the right.
Frost was breathing heavily. She glanced at her missing hand and took a knee to remove weight from the foot. Tears of pain ran down her cheeks. She gasped calmly for breath. Finally she managed, “Kill me… kill me quickly.”
Holding my sword in front of me, I approached her and held her forehead.
I didn’t know back then what made me touch Frost’s forehead. Maybe it was to steady her so I could effectively run her through. But looking back, I know.
Suddenly, through the blood and sweat on her forehead, ornate markings of light glimmered, although dimly.
I blinked a couple times. It couldn’t be. It couldn’t be true. But… the lead…
I picked up my handheld, scanning again for the lead. The precision in the system showed that the lead was six feet to my right.
Where her severed hand was.
I pushed the ONSET sensors to their maximum sensitivity. The imaging displayed a wide metal band, spiraling around the bones in her hand. “How did…”
Frost held her bleeding wrist against her jacket to hopefully slow the bleeding. She inhaled slowly and calmly. “I… I feel… different…” She finally passed out from blood loss.
I picked up my handheld and sent a quick message to Chance, who immediately came to land at a cautious distance from me. “What’s going on?”
I demonstrated my mistake by touching her again and lighting up her forehead. “She’s Marnolian.”
Chance blinked a few times in disbelief, but after a short while, he recognized what needed to be done. “Here. We can heal her together.”
“Not here…” I told him. “I cut off her hand, and the lead was in it. I’m too close to heal, and you probably are as well.”
He came to help me drag her away from the hand, but he swooned, fainted, and fell on his knees. His ultrasensitivity to the lead had weakened him too far.
I lifted Frost over my shoulder, the warm smell of blood reaching my nose, and walked away from the lead. All the while, I strained myself to transform, and finally I succeeded. I picked her up in my claws, along with Chance, and flew to the top of the cliff.
I took Chance’s limp hand, lighting up our faces. I thought of some commands that were not out of sho range, but I could not decide. What would work the best? “Um… baramaga resto– no… no, that’ll just make her bleed faster… uh… mortali reveris.”
The wound closed over with scarred skin, and the bleeding stopped. I moved her onto her back. I had to do something to restore her consciousness. She was still really pale, so I chose the other command. “Baramaga restora.”
Her blood replenished and flushed her face to a normal color, but she did not wake. Chance was also still unconscious. I had to do one more… but did I have enough sho? I rubbed my finger on the sho scanner on my handheld. I had 8 sho remaining, not enough.
I realized that I had made Chance and myself vulnerable. If we were attacked, I only had 8 sho to defend with.
Anxious to revive them, I decided to try manually. I shook Chance’s shoulder. “Chance… Chance, come back, please…” I grabbed Frost’s arm.
Her light markings lit up.
I had forgotten. I could bond with her as well.
I held her hand and scanned again. I now had 40 sho to use, but I stayed somewhat cautious. “Dua vi!”
A white spark passed between my hand and both of my targets. Frost revived almost instantly, gasping painfully for breath. She rolled onto her side and began to cough up a bloody liquid.
Chance’s eyes fluttered open. He pulled himself up slowly without a word, a dazed expression on his face.
Suddenly, though, I felt a sharp, piercing pain in my shoulder blade. I fell on my knees with a cry. Chance shouted, “No!”
I knew it would happen when I was off guard. Looking behind me, I could see the shaft of an arrow lodged in my shoulder. It was painful, but it was by no means fatal.
I heard a screech. Darwin the owl had seen me being shot. He flew as if he were coming in for a landing. He had been trained to remove arrows like this. He landed on my back, gripped the arrow with his talons, and extended his wings for balance.
I heard the twang of another bow, and as Darwin yanked, the muffled sound of another arrow hitting feathers resonated in my ears.
Darwin fell to the ground, an arrow gripped in his talons, another in his chest. He was already dead.
Everything happened so fast. Frost was able to convince the Southwind forces to retreat, and the battle was won, with minimal losses to our side.
Chance stood at my side the entire time, holding my wound to stop the bleeding. Without his support, I would have surely died of heartbreak or blood loss. To this day I don’t know which death I would have preferred.
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