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A Season Of Dragons

by P L Nunn


Chapter Thirteen


When Ryo said 'we', Sai was almost absolutely certain that he meant 'me' with an undertone of 'Sai, go away and let me vent my frustration all by my lonesome."' That's what Sai thought.

Of course, Sai had no intention of being so cooperative, not when Ryo was so clearly distraught and obviously stalking off towards something that ought not be tackled with less than the five of them as a whole. Two of them attempting it was sheer insanity. Not that a great deal of what had been going on since they'd gotten here was particularly reasonable. They'd fallen down the rabbit hole good and proper and Sai despaired finding the way back out of it. He despaired ever getting back home to his comfortable house and his tidy little garden and his cushy new mattress that was not too soft and not too hard and ever so much better than the hard ground or the lumpy feather stuffed things that served as beds here. Really, if he'd wanted to go camping, Rowan would have happily trekked out with him each and every weekend to rough it in the wilderness not so very far from their home. And he was missing all of his shows, the VCR only having been set for the week they were supposed to be gone on vacation, no one having taken into account being swept away into an alternate universe or whatever one wanted to classify this realm as.

Just thinking about all the things he was missing got his ire up, and he stalked up to Ryo just as his very determined friend found the entry to a balcony overlooking a rather frightening drop down the mountainside. He caught Ryo's arm as Ryo was no doubt contemplating the best armor assisted route down and gave him a narrow eyed, disapproving glare.

"You are being foolish and not thinking things through. We couldn't take the thing in the ravine down without Sarag'sa's help, so what makes you think you can deal with something that even has him worried."

"I was dead on my feet." Ryo ground the words through his teeth, jerking his arm from Sai's grip. "And I could have taken the thing without his help even so . . . I just didn't have the chance."

"We." Sai corrected him. "We could have taken it. You, me and Kento. Three of us. Not Two. Certainly not one. Listen, I know you're in a snit about Seiji - - but you need to get over it."

Ryo's eyes narrowed. The normal clear blue gone dark and murky with emotion. Seiji was the cause of this, that was as clear as day, which was too bad since Seiji was really the only one that could talk Ryo out of these fits of impulsive recklessness when they struck.

Sai was about to open his mouth to remark on that, when part of the panoramic view they were getting from this balcony window moved. At first he thought it was part of the mountain side shifting, but then he realized that it was something moving along the rocky ridge of one of the closer peaks. It was a very large something, rust red and sinuous and God . . . emanating undulating little ripples in the air that were a good indication of a very high internal heat.

The firedrake. In its wake were little patches of burning brush, ignited by the heat of its passage. Thank god there was little foliage on the rocky expanse or the whole of the mountain would be ablaze. No wonder it traveled separate from the mass of the ne'gal army. It would be the height of bad moral to have the infantry burnt to embers by close association to their master's big gun.

"That looks really, really . . . big. And hot." Sai said softly, thinking that a nice water based dragon would have suited him much better.

"Yeah, it does, doesn't it." Ryo shimmered with a heat of his own, the armor coalescing around him like a finely fitted gauntlet. Before Sai could utter another word he vaulted over the edge of the stone balcony rail and plummeted towards the ravine below.

Rowan and Kento found themselves crowded in amongst a group of hurrying Ne'gal also intent for the battlements atop the great wall. Rowan had only been this way once, and doubted he would have recalled the twisting turns of the stone passage himself, so allowing himself to be bumped and crushed amidst heavy reptilian bodies for the sake of not getting lost seemed a small price to pay.

The Ne'gal were not particularly happy with their presence though, rightly blaming them for the approach of the army down the pass towards them. There were many growling comments about simply tossing the hun'ra scum out to the approaching Ne'gal and ridding themselves of the problem once and for all.

Of course Sarag'sa had given his word that he would not do that and despite what Rowan personally thought of the bastard, he thought Seiji's sacrifice to him had not been a vain one. Whether Sarag'sa had really thought it would come to this, facing down his kinsman's rather large army in exchange for a chance with a romp with Seiji - - well, that was anyone's guess. Rowan had to wonder if the dragon prince was regretting that bargain. Seiji was in that top, top percentage of finest of fine pieces of ass, of any sex, but nobody was that good.

They reached the clean, fresh air of outside and met with a sky darkening with night. The pass below undulated with bodies illuminated by the lurid glow of a thousand torches. The rocky walls of the canyon flickered orange, the rock itself seeming to writhe from the effect of so many dancing flames.

"That's a lot of lizards." Rowan said softly, for Kento's ears alone as they squeezed into a spot along the battlements to look down upon the gathered force within the pass.

"That it is." Kento whistled. "And I thought there were a lot of them at the camp where they had the hun'ra . . . this is a lot more. And what are those . . . ?" Kento pointed towards the left flank where there seemed to be a gathering of long bodied, hulking creatures in spiked harnesses under the control of groups of the bulkier ne'gal.

"Battle iguana's?" Rowan theorized, since the creatures did vaguely resemble a reptile or two he'd seen at pet shops. "Don't they sort of look like that thing I wanted to take home that time you were bitching over the feeder goldfish, Sai? Sai?"

Rowan looked over his shoulder for Sai, but Sai was nowhere to be seen.

"What the fuck now?" he huffed and elbowed Kento to address the lack of Sai in their company.

"I dunno." Kento offered helpfully. "I thought he was following."

"Who was following?" Seiji shifted through the press of ne'gal bodies and the ne'gal moved, the pricklier points of Seiji's armor getting through even tough lizard hide.

"Sai. But, maybe he stayed to keep Ryo company." Rowan said. Seiji looked around warily, lips pressed tight. His eyes were very pale and bright within the shadow of his helm. You could just see the thoughts whirring behind them, figuring out why Sai might be keeping company with Ryo and why Ryo wasn't up here rubbing shoulders with Sarag'sa.

"So now, I guess its just a matter of seeing whether Sarag'sa keeps his word or wusses out and throws the hun'ra to the dogs . . . . so to speak?" Rowan turned back to stare down at the threatening army.

"They aren't that many hun'ra," Kento said. "Why send so many after them? It doesn't make sense."

"Its not just the escaped slaves." Seiji said quietly. "Its all hun'ra that the ne'gal king hates."

"How do you know that?" Kento asked, but Rowan figured Seiji had heard it from the ne'gal king's outcast brother first hand. Pillow talk.

"When the hun'ra first rebelled and fled across the mountains, the former king was killed. His sons disagreed about whether to wipe all the hun'ra out, which eventually led to Sarag'sa ending up here - - a buffer between the hun'ra and the ne'gal. He won't easily give in. He would loose all position of power and leverage if he did."

"That's what we hope." Rowan grumbled, leaning past the rim of the battlements to look down the impressive distance to the ground at the foot of the wall. The encroaching ne'gal had not advanced that far, stopping their retreat a healthy distance from possible spills of burning oil or falling heavy objects. There was a mulling about at the center of the mass of ne'gal though, and finally a dividing of the ranks making a path for a troop of the winged ne'gal who seemed to be the escort to an decoratively armored officer of some sort.

"Prince Sarag'sa. Greetings from your most esteemed, most fiercesom brother." The ne'gal on the ground boomed with a voice that easily reached the heights of the battlement where Sarag'sa stood amidst his own guard.

"Kan'tara Okamat'sa."

From where Rowan stood, he could just see Sarag'sa leaning palms down on the stone lip of the battlement, his great wings furled neatly behind him, hastily donned golden armor gleaming in the flickering torch light.

"What brings you to such a barren pass as mine? On an errand for Tvak'sa?" Sarag'sa inquired with patently false politeness.

"Tvak'sa?" Kento whispered.

"Sarag'sa's brother. The ne'gal king, I guess." Rowan answered back, having picked up that much himself from earlier conversation.

"Escaped hun'ra slaves have fled this way. Murderers and criminals who are responsible for the deaths of many honorable ne'gal sent to bring them back to rightful servitude."

"Puny hun'ra slaves murdered the mighty warriors of Tvak'sa's army?" Sarag'sa asked.

Rowan had the feeling it hadn't been hun'ra who had done the deed, but more likely Ryo, Kento and Sai, who according to Sai's account had very busily gone about reducing the number of the ne'gal army during their raid on the camp where the hun'ra had been kept as well as on the trip here to Sarag'sa's pass.

"If he does cave," Kento leaned close to Seiji, drawing Rowan in with a hand on the neck of his armor. "What are we gonna do? Shouldn't we warn the hun'ra that the shit's about to hit the fan?"

Which wasn't a bad notion, other than the fact that it bordered on pointless considering that one ne'gal army to fight was bad enough, much less two. The hun'ra and captured humans would more than likely be picked off while the fight raged. They really, really needed Sarag'sa's cooperation.

"Can't hurt." Rowan agreed finally, for lack of any other constructive suggestion. "If you want to run down and talk to them, go for it."

"Don't stay long." Seiji warned. "We may need you back up here."

Kento nodded, turning to push his way through the ranks of Sarag'sa's ne'gal. He paused, as a great murmur of unrest shivered through the gathered reptilian soldiers. A great many hands lifted, pointing to the dark silhouette of the mountain to the east. Whatever conversation Sarag'sa had been carrying on with the warlord on the ground came to a loaded pause as even Sarag'sa craned his neck and peered with the rest of his men at some indefinable spot in the distance.

Rowan narrowed his eyes and scanned the night. The night moved. Or the mountain did. Something huge slithered around the side of the mountain, making its way towards the rocky perch of Sarag'sa fortress.

"You dare!" Sarag'sa cried out in offense. "You dare to bring a firedrake down upon me. Would Tvak'sa break all pretense of the concord of my estrangement?"

"Would you dare to shelter the enemies of your brother?" The warlord Okamat'sa cried back with no small degree of smugness in his voice. Not only did he have the superior force down there on the ground, but he had something that had Sarag'sa men's fluttering with nervous concern. Sarag'sa himself stood tense and silent, wings twitching as he stared balefully down at the enemy at his gates.

"He's pissed." Rowan observed.

"He's scared." Seiji corrected.

"So that's the big dragon they're all so worried about? Kento had wormed his way back and was leaning over the edge of the battlements.

"I believe he called it a firedrake." Seiji said.

"This is very, very bad." Rowan murmured. The thing wasn't that far away as subway train sized dragons slithering over mountain's went. It was on the ridge just beyond Sarag'sa's fortress.

Quite suddenly the dark silhouette of the mountain side flared with orange light, illuminating a small portion of the rocky, barren slopes upon which the firedrake traveled, but not much of the firedrake itself. The distance was too far to get that detail.

"What's it doing?" Kento asked.

"How the hell should I know." Rowan snapped back, his nerves starting to get the better of him.

Another flare of light and through the distance they heard the tinny roar of the firedrake. The ne'gal shifted and hissed among themselves. The ne'gal in the pass tensed as a group, all their gazes swinging up to the heights where their firedrake approached. Surprised. Very much surprised.

"Fool." Seiji's said very softly from behind him. "You fool"

Rowan turned, a tremor of wariness vibrating in his belly and stared at Seiji's white face under the shadow of his helm. Seiji was staring into the distance with wide, haunted eyes.


Seiji blinked and his eyes shifted to Rowan, expression hardening with anger. And Rowan knew. Just knew of a sudden that the queasiness in his gut wasn't all apprehension, but a intrinsic reaction to the outpouring of their unique blend of magic. The power of all their armors was linked so very closely after all, that when Wildfire went on a spree the rest of them damn well knew it. And Torrent. Damned if he didn't sense the echo of Sai in the aftermath of Ryo's molten downpour.

"Well - - - fuck."

What they thought they were doing was beyond him. Sai at least had more sense, even if Ryo's tended to get lost in the wash of his emotions. Of course stopping Ryo from doing a thing once he had his mind set was no easy task and sometimes a body just had to go along for the ride and hope for the best.

"We need to get over there." Rowan said.

"Yes." Seiji agreed simply.

"Uh - - guys . . ." Kento's attention had been drawn back to the gorge below the gates.

Rowan barely had time to step close the battlements and peer over before the first volley of spear sized bolts flew up from row upon row of hulking ne'gal archers. Sarag'sa's men ducked for cover with a undulating hiss and rustling of wings and scales. There were still casualties, which the screams of the wounded attested. Sarag'sa himself was crying out orders as his men rushed for position, the one's that were capable of airborne flight launching themselves from the battlements to meet the onslaught of winged enemy warriors that sailed in from the darkness of the cliffs, no doubt having gained higher ground during the night and laid in wait for the command to attack from below.

Rowan cursed, leaping up onto the battlement ledge and batting away an oversized cross bow bolt that whizzed his way. There was a conglomeration of enemy below around a mammoth battering ram making their way towards the gates. Sarag'sa's men were firing down upon them, but doing little to impede the progress.

"If they get through those gates, the hun'ra inside are easy targets, and then all of this will have been for nothing."

He willed his bow and it coalesced with a glittering haze of focused energy in his hand. "Despite all Sarag'sa's big talk, he doesn't have the manpower to deal with this many invaders."

"No. He doesn't." Seiji agreed quietly. "But unless Kento and I go down there, we won't be of much use for distance attacks."

"That would be me." Rowan smiled grimly and drew a bolt of pure energy. "Go find out what Ryo and Sai have gotten into. I'll help them hold the fort here."

Sai hit the rocky earth with a bone rattling impact and rolled, desperately summoning the power he needed to initiate another of Torrent's namesake attacks. Well, more of a defense really, against the sheet of fire that was rushing his way, straight from the mouth of the pissed off, giant dragon Ryo had insisted on irritating. Not only did it spew fire but it was faster than it looked and its long sinuous body whipped this way and that in its agitation and had slammed Sai for the third time into the rocky cliffs upon which it perched.

How he drew water from the dry, heated air, Sai could only wonder, but the magic possessed by the armor of Torrent worked at his bidding yet again and with a hasty sweep of his trident, a blast of water coalesced, intercepting the wall of fire, evaporating into so much hissing steam at contact, but effectively keeping Sai from roasting in his armor like a nut in a shell. It didn't mean he didn't come close. He could barely see from the sweat in his eyes and the steam only made matters worse. His trident was only making the barest dents in the dragon's scaly hide, and his water based attacks were only pissing it off. Besides which, he only had so much raw material to play with, up here on a mountain top, only so much water to draw from the atmosphere in general. He'd be so much better off if they could take this fight down to a sizable body of water, where his fuel would be limitless.

Ryo was doing marginally better. Ryo's swords were making deeper slices if he got under the scales at the right angle, but they weren't killing strokes. At least Ryo wasn't suffering from the heat. The fire did nothing so much as recharge him, and Sai had to wonder if Ryo's fire attacks were doing the same thing for the dragon. He hoped not. He hoped the old adage of fighting fire with fire had some meaning here, because fighting it with water seemed a loosing cause.

It was just a matter of who had the bigger fire. And right now, Sai seriously doubted that was Ryo. At least not as he was, in the red armor of Wildfire. Maybe with the white . . .

And very possibly Ryo had the same idea at the same moment, because on one of his leaping bounds away from lunging coils, he clung to a rocky outcrop and met Sai's eyes across smoke filled distance.

"Find some cover." He cried out. "Get some distance, Sai."

Sai knew, oh, he knew very well what that meant and what it might mean if he didn't have enough shelter from the firestorm if it was unleashed with him effectively powerless, all his energies pouring into the fueling of Ryo's white armor. Of course, such a thing wouldn't very well work if Rowan, Kento and Seiji weren't armored up right now as well . . .

"How do you know . . " he started to voice that concern even as he searched along that thin, surprisingly strong ethereal link he had with Rowan and to a lesser degree with the others.

"They are. Move!!" Ryo cut him off, having already deduced the conclusion that Sai came to a moment later. That the others had summoned their own armors somewhere in the not too far distance.

Sai drew in a hissing breath of frustration and bounded backwards, over the edge of the cliff. Caught his fall on an outcropping of rock and leapt towards another lower one. He came to a rest two hundred feet down on a ledge wide enough to sit down upon with his legs stretched out before him and waited . . .

Rowan got a half dozen more shots off before the dizziness hit him. It didn't really occur to him what it was at first, just a wave of faintness that made his knees a little weak and sent his aim off by a yard. He had to pause, hand on the cold stone of the battlement before reaching for another arrow, he got it halfway drawn before the energy just dissipated, pouring out of him like someone had punched holes in the mystic shell of his armor.

No, pouring was too gentle a term. Once it started it felt like someone had hooked a vacuum hose up to that place where the energies of the armor and his own internal resources melded and had the thing on at full tilt. He figured out what was happening by the time his legs started trembling under him and he had to hang on to the battlement to keep from crumpling outright.

When Ryo wanted the White armor to come, it was hardly ever a group decision. Ryo just 'needed' and the armors as a whole responded, lending all their combined powers to the source that had spawned them all. Rowan doubted seriously Seiji and Kento had gotten even close to the fireworks show on the mountain side before the powerdrain had begun, which meant it was still just Ryo and Sai and Sai wouldn't be feeling particularly spry at the moment. But then again, Ryo in the White armor tended to not need a lot of outside help. If he got Sai crispy fried in the process there was going to be hell to pay.

Now that he was doing more leaning than standing and fighting, the large ne'gal bodies on the battlement jostled him aside in their efforts to gain more strategic positioning of their own. In the grayness of pre-dawn the airborne fighters were dark shapes against the sky. But the sound of blades and talons ripping flesh was tell tale sign enough of what was happening. They were fast and they were brutal and if had been fragile human flesh clashing with them . . . well the human flesh would have come off much worse for the wear. He saw a great bronze winged form that sported Sarag'sa's unique color but not the human features of the ne'gal prince, launch itself from the heights and slice through two winged adversaries with the razor sharp tips of long, curved talons.

There was so much going on that it was hard to keep track of, the fireworks on the mountainside not least among the entertainment. If there had been bursts of light before, it was like someone had dropped napalm now. The sky burned orange with it and fire had started spreading down the side of the mountain, grasping at the scant fuel the rocky landscape offered.

Rowan sank down, wedged in a corner, and drew his knees up close to his body to avoid getting trampled by the ne'gal. He couldn't see the mountainside anymore, but he could feel the gathering and release of energy as Ryo did his thing. He could feel on a deeper, more personal level Sai's distress. Rowan shut his eyes and cursed.

The fire rolled down the cliff face like it was being driven, which Sai supposed in a way, it was. It didn't make it any more comfortable for a person that did not thrive in the element fire to endure. Sai hissed and covered his head with his arms and hoped the armor of Torrent would protect him from the heat.

He found it momentarily hard to breath as the fire ravenously consumed the oxygen before it dissipated. Whether that blast had come from Ryo or the firedrake, he had no idea, the bursts of Ryo's energy were coming so hard and fast that it was hard to differentiate. There was a tinge of fury and frustration to the flavor of that power. Sai was sensitive enough to the bond that they all shared to catch those simmering, red emotions. Fury, frustration and . . . jealousy. Not surprising that last one. This whole thing was Seiji-fueled after all. Anger at Seiji. Protectiveness over Seiji. Vengeance for Seiji. If Ryo cooled down even a little bit, he'd probably even admit it. He never lied, not even to himself. It was just a matter of seeing things for how they were. Seiji would be a different story. Seiji lied all the time, not least of all to himself and if Seiji and Ryo were going to straighten this mess out there needed to be honesty on both sides. Stubborn bastards.

Sai huddled on his ledge and promised himself that would be the first thing he saw to, if he managed to survive this little escapade he'd followed Ryo upon.

For a moment, the air went quiet, with only the faint crackling sounds of fire here and there disturbing the silence. Silence could only mean one thing. One or the other of the combatants had stopped fighting. Sai didn't feel his energy returning, so he had to assume that Ryo was still up there and in one piece. He pulled himself up, needing to see what had happened and climbed back up the cliff with considerably more effort than it had taken to bound down.

When he got to the top, he stared in dismay at the heaving, steaming coils of the great dragon. There was no sign of Ryo. The firedrake was torn and battered in places, but very much alive and if an oversized reptile could look smug, it managed it. Sai couldn't be certain, but he thought the thing's forked tongue snaked out and licked its lips.

No . . it couldn't have . . . could it? Had Ryo been eaten?

As Sai was contemplating that horrible turn of events the firedrake's thick body began to twitch, then convulse. It screamed, high pitched and deafening, a mere moment before a section of its body some ten feet down from its head exploded in a reign of blood, flesh and ballooning fire. Sai went backwards from the blast tumbling over the cliff side and down the side of the mountain. He hardly had the strength to stop the fall. He caught an outcrop of rock here, but it was torn out of his grasp. Hit another with his shoulder with enough force that it felt like the armor was dented and his shoulder wrenched out of it socket. Another rebounding thump off a chunk of rock and he came to an abruptly painful stop wedged between two upthrust fingers of rock.

He lay there, stunned, gradually coming to the realization that not only did he feel like he'd just fallen down a mountainside, but that he was covered from head to toe in the most disgusting film of blood and charred bits of flesh, not the least of which were bits and pieces of internal organs.

Sai hardly ever cursed. At least not fluently or in mixed company, but the words bubbled to the surface now. Most of his curse words tended to be of a mild nature so he borrowed some of Rowan's more colorful phrases as he twisted and tried to wriggle out of the space he was wedged into. God, but his shoulder hurt. His head was ringing. He was still weak as a kitten which meant Ryo was still armored up in the white armor. And he had bits of stomach and intestines and blood all over him. It was even on his face and god help him . . . he could taste the bitter, acrid flavor of blood in his mouth and he knew it wasn't his because it burned just a little, as one would imagine a firedrake's blood would.

And where was Ryo? If that had been some awful, morbid ploy on his part to destroy the firedrake from within by allowing himself to be swallowed . . . well then he needed to be seriously slapped. And if it had worked and the firedrake was dead, which from the collection of its body parts coating Sai, was a very good assumption, then why hadn't Ryo come and checked up on Sai, who he knew very well wasn't functioning at 100 percent due to the fact that he was helping to fuel the bloody white armor?

"Sai, are you talking to yourself?"

Sai blinked and glared up at the dark cliff face above him, just barely making out the gleam of dawn off the dirty shell of Ryo's pale armor.

"No, I'm not talking to myself. I'm having a bloody conversation with the mountain. That was just stupid. Moronic. If you did that on purpose . . . oww, careful I think my shoulder's dislocated."

"Sorry." Ryo straddled the rocks and pulled Sai up by the neck of his armor, then got an arm around his waist and launched himself up, effortlessly taking the both of them back up the side of the mountain to the carnage that had been wrought on the top. It was even worse than Sai had imagined. There were bloody dragon bits everywhere. The stench of cooked flesh was terrible. Ryo was covered in more goo than Sai, a bloody, awful apparition.

"Can you move the arm?" Ryo asked softly, a little hoarse.

Sai tried and could. It hurt, but it was mobile, which meant it wasn't dislocated after all.

"I'm okay, I suppose." Sai admitted grumpily. "You do realize how utterly stupid this was?"

"Its dead." Ryo waved an arm, then let it drop to his side as if the weight of the armor was too much for him. It probably was. If the white armor took a lot from the rest of them, it practically devoured Ryo. It took everything he had and left him drained afterwards. Once he let it go, there would be no more battles for him today. So it wasn't surprising when he refused to let it dissapate, instead walking over the head of the firedrake on its ragged stump of a neck and heaving it up.

"Lets go back." He said. "We'll go in through the front door."

The van sized head of the firedrake flew out of the dawn shadows from above. It hit the ground with a sloppy 'thump' in the middle of the conflict taking place before the gates that kept the majority of the ground bound ne'gal army from pouring through the pass. It was quite the startling specter and no small number of massive, dangerous ne'gal cried out and scattered away from it in what must have been an embarrassing display of fright from such fearsome creatures.

It was just light enough now with dawn creeping up over the mountains to see. Rowan leaned over the battlement and blinked at the battle, frozen in mid-conflict, staring with every other set of eyes at the gruesome dragon dead at the gates. It was a damned big head and he could only come up with vague estimations on how large the body must have been up close and personal.

The ne'gal were impressed into continuing silence, but the mass of them on the ground parted as two figures bounded down the cliffs after the dragon cliff and started walking towards the gates. Sai and Ryo, the colors of their armors almost indistinguishable they were both so dirty. Sai had his trident out, but not at guard and both Ryo's swords were sheathed, as if neither one of them really felt the surrounding ne'gal were a threat. Hell, after dealing with the body that dragon head had once been attached to, all these little lizard men probably weren't looking too tough.

Regardless of how reckless it was in his present state, Rowan wanted down at ground level. He vaulted over the edge of the battlement and hit the ledge midway down with a solid thump that sent a little puff of dust up from the spidery cracks his landing had created. He made the second leap down and landed with an embarrassing lack of grace, rolling a little ways before regaining his feet and moving through the ranks of ne'gal towards where Ryo and Sai were.

They'd stopped by the firedrake head and Ryo stood facing the ne'gal in the pass, grim faced and silent and just emanating a 'don't fuck with me' aura that the ne'gal must have felt to their very bones.

With a fluttering of wings, the big bronze ne'gal came to the ground and despite its reptilian face, Rowan could swear it was wearing the same armor that Sarag'sa had been. When it spoke it was damn sure Sarag'sa's voice. He was a shape changer. Rowan remembered hearing that somewhere. And the shape he could change too was that of the hun'ra that fascinated him so.

"So it seems your advantage has had its legs cut out from under it, Okamat'sa." The dragon faced Sarag'sa said smugly, as if he'd been the one to perform the feat.

The enemy general was still staring in shock at the firedrake, very obviously impressed beyond easy words. Rowan slid up next to Sai, who glanced his way with a weary, blood smeared smile. He wanted very badly to lay hands on him, to make sure he was okay, but he dared not do it here in front of so many hostile witnesses. Rowan hoped none of the blood was his.

"Without your beast, you can sit this pass until the rocks grow old and you'll not advance through my gates. Take your army back to my brother and tell him not to try my patience again."

"Fool." Okamat'sa hissed, finally tearing his gaze away from the head. "Tvak'sa will not take this insult lightly."

"It was not his insult." Ryo said softly. "It was mine. I killed your dragon and I'm a human, just like the hun'ra are humans your people stole from their rightful homes generations ago. If you mess with them . . . any of you . . . there will be retaliation. We will cut you down just like we cut your monster down. I don't care what argument you have with each other, rip each other to shreds as far as I care, but leave the hun'ra alone."

He turned a narrow eyed glare to Sarag'sa and added. "All bargains are done. No more deals, no more negotiations."

Sarag'sa knew very well what he meant and that it had nothing to do with the hun'ra and everything to do with Seiji. With a shifting of flesh and bone, the dragon face melted back into a human one and Sarag'sa smiled a blunt toothed human smile. "So it seems. Back off from my gates, Okamat'sa or we will move you back from them by force."

The firedrake head did it. The ne'gal were freaked out enough by its gruesome, glassy eyed stare and by Ryo and Sai's bloody selves standing beside it to practice a little practical retreat. If they'd know what Rowan did, that Ryo was only not swaying with exhaustion by sheer stubborn willpower alone, they might not have given in so easily.

"Let the hun'ra go. Now." Ryo hissed at Sarag'sa when the enemy had given them a little room.

The ne'gal prince shrugged. "It matters not to me. They are free to go back to their arid lands."

"Give the order now."

Sarag'sa waved a hand and one of his ne'gal scurried towards the closed gates, calling up and a moment later the smaller portal opened, allowing them all passage inside the thick walls.

"How long can you hold this?" Rowan whispered to Ryo as they moved along the dark passage.

"Long enough to get out of here. Where's Seiji and Kento?"

"They were going after your stupid ass, but I guess they got bushwhacked by you calling the white armor somewhere along the way. They'll be back."

"They better."















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