Durazno walked between Sim and Tansy. Timmons and Petunia flanked him. They were walking in front of Castana’s healers with the other foot soldiers. Naranja’s archers guarded the healers from behind.
They’d been walking non-stop since dawn. They hoped to find and kill a few dragons, or at least find a farmhouse before nightfall. Sim froze.
“Wha-?” Durazno started. Sim yanked him to the ground. An arrow whistled over his head, narrowly missing Tansy. Durazno cursed and looked towards the boulders ahead of them. A large group of archers stood there. Three dragons rose from behind it.
“Petunia! Get several more archers and at least ten soldiers swordsmen and protect the healers!” Durazno ordered. “Sim, Tansy, with me! Timmons, get to Naranja!”
They nodded, and Sim and Tansy ran full-tilt across the field with him. “Zig-zag as you run, it’ll make you harder to hit!” He shouted. Naranja’s archers fired, killing to of the Dragonfriend archers. Durazno yanked Sim and Tansy flat on the ground with him, their archers’ arrows flying over them.
Their archers’ aim proved to be better, and soon most of the Dragonfriend archers lay dead on the ground. The three continued their zig-zagging charge across the field. A copper-colored dragon swooped low and swung its tail at them. Durazno lunged for the tail as it went by, clinging to it with all four limbs.
Durazno moved carefully up the moving tail, injured arm burning. He heard the dragon scream in pain, and a spray of blood blew past him. The dragon swung its tail to swat whichever person had stabbed its wing. Durazno leaped from the tail and onto the wing. He landed on his side, the air going out of him. He dug his dagger into the wing membrane to keep from falling off. The dragon screamed again as blood welled around the dagger.
Durazno looked over and saw that it was Sim who had stabbed the dragon. Sim had been lucky enough to avoid getting hit by the dragon’s tail. Sim grinned at him and scrambled up the dragon’s back. This dragon had no rider, so Sim was easily able to get to it’s head and put a knife through its ribs. The dragon corpse fell, Sim and Durazno jumping clear at the last moment.
Meanwhile, the other two dragons were terrorizing the rest of the force. One was so peppered with arrows that it looked more like a porcupine with wings. A final arrow struck it, and it fell, scattering all the nearby soldiers. He saw Naranja leap onto the final dragon’s back and kill its rider. Then she sliced its wings off in two sweeping motions of her sword. The dragon fell, breaking its neck as it fell. Then the rest of their force surged forwards to deal with the rest of the small company of Dragonfriends.
Durazno fell back, and he and Sim found Tansy. She cleaned out the scrapes Sim had picked up while injuring the dragon. Then she examined Durazno’s hand. The wound had reopened when he had climbed up the dragon’s tail and was oozing olive colored pus.
Tansy winced and repeated her original treatment. She gasped. Durazno looked up and saw an old man surrounded by gray-clad mages rise over the top of the hill. The group of mages descended. Durazno drew his sword. Beside him, Sim did the same.
“We come in peace!” The leader bellowed. “We demand that the woman Tansy be turned over to us!”
The crowd parted, leaving a clear path to Tansy, Sim and Durazno. Timmons, Castana, Petunia, and Naranja materialized from the crowd to stand with them. Fear showed itself plain and clear on Tansy’s face. Durazno squeezed her hand reassuringly.
The group of mages advanced. “What do you want with Tansy?” Durazno growled, glaring at them from beneath his hair.
“I think you know, lad.” The old man said, smiling slightly.
Naranja gripped his shoulder. “And who are you to demand one of my soldiers?”
“I am the Pyromancer, guardian of the element of fire.” The old man said.
Naranja stepped back reluctantly. “There isn’t anything we can do against him, Durazno.” She said through her teeth.
Durazno addressed the Pyromancer. “If you want one of my soldiers, you’ll have to fight me, old man.”
“And me.” Sim growled. Petunia said nothing, only reloaded her crossbow. Timmons drew his sword.
Tansy shook her head. “I thank you, but you don’t stand a chance against him.” She whispered. “I’ll go with him.”
The Pyromancer grabbed her wrist, and they disappeared. The rest of the soldiers turned and went back to work burning corpses.
“We need to get her back, Naranja.” Durazno said.
“It might be better this way.” Naranja said regretfully.
“No. She isn’t a normal person, they might be trying to kill her.” Durazno said urgently.
“Durazno, you’ll just get yourself killed!” Naranja exclaimed.
“Tansy might be the key to winning this war, if she can learn how to control her power. What is my life compared to the hundreds of men, women and children whose lives could be spared?”
Naranja sighed. “I know I won’t be able to talk you out of this, but please! We do not need to make an enemy of the Pyromancer!”
“I won’t. Sim and I will have a plan to get Tansy out. If we’re careful, they may never see us.” Durazno promised. Naranja smiled sadly and embraced him.
“Be careful.” She whispered in his ear. “I love you.”
“I’m sorry.” He whispered back. “Tell Castana that I love her. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”