In the Shadows

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Chapter 21

The flight brought a sense of freedom that was overwhelmingly exhilarating. Iselora ignored the coughs that tightened in her chest as she stretched her arms out from her sides, intimidating Calnonern. Asmodeus maintained a firm grip on Iselora’s waist. He was not a fan of her outgoingness on the back of a dragon. He was happy that she was coming out of her shell, but thought that she could have at least waited until they were secure on the ground. He watched her as her giggles mixed with her coughs. She had transformed so quickly that he was not sure he would be able to keep up. A small smile spread across his face as he wrapped his arms around her waist. His heart was swelling with happiness.

Iselora brought her arms in and leaned against his chest. The coughs were dying down. She felt whole for the first time in her life. Calnonern grumpily interrupted her elation, “The camp is still twenty kilometers north. I will land in it.” Iselora shot up straight, “Why would you do that? They probably think that you killed us or something. I cannot stand to see you get hurt.” Iselora found herself yelling mentally and physically. Asmodeus looked towards her with a puzzled expression. Then it suddenly clicked at what the context of the conversation was. Iselora could feel her emotions working up as she thought of her friends blindly attacking each other. Asmodeus pulled Iselora down sensing her change in emotions. He began thinking about a solution, the only choice was for him to fly ahead and alert the camp of the approaching dragon. With a heavy sigh, Asmodeus told Iselora of his plan. In response she clung to his hands. He smiled as he quickly kissed her cheek.

Asmodeus tilted his body to one side, allowing himself to slip from Calnonern’s back. The change was seamless, shadows surrounded his body, shielding his true form from view. Leather like wings branching out from his shoulder blades. He hated his wings. He always thought they were too heavy and awkward to manage anywhere but in the air. Iselora watched wide eyed her mouth gaping open. The last thing she saw as Asmodeus plummeted towards the ground was a sharp, menacing smile.

Asmodeus allowed himself to fall several hundred meters before fully extending his wings. They caught air almost immediately, jerking him upwards. He did not remember the last time he had flown, but the movements came naturally. With one beat of his wings he shot forward. The camp was fast approaching, Asmodeus tucked his wings to his body and began to dive towards them. He could not afford to waste a second. He was aiming for a blank patch in the middle of the camp and hoped that no one walked in front of him as he landed, that would hurt. He had spoken too soon. As he broke the tree line, Cerberus came into view, clearly fixated on something in his hand. Their trajectory gave all signs of a collison. Asmodeus’ speed was too great to be able to stop in time. He attempted to call out to Cerberus but that only seemed to halt his movements. Asmodeus braced for impact. Cerberus had just enough time to register what was happening before the impact knocked him backwards. The two men barrel rolled to a stop and a groan escaped from Asmodeus. He had collided with the one person he wished he hadn’t.

Cerberus was just as dazed as Asmodeus. A crowd cautiously gathered to see what had just happened. Asmodeus realized that he was still cloaked in shadows, with a deep exhale the shadows dissipated leaving his human form in its place. With a heavy grunt Asmodeus rose to his feet ready to address the crowd. Cerberus followed suit but his eyes trained on the ground. “Now I know how a bird feels when it tries to fly through glass.” A nervous chuckle rippled through the crowd, Asmodeus cleared his throat. He quickly explained the situation at hand, scanning the crowd, looking for acknowledgment. “With that said, begin preparations for their arrival. Dismissed.” The crowd dispersed, working on their tasks immediately. He noticed that Svila was not among them, he wondered where she was.

Asmodeus looked towards the sky, then behind him towards Cerberus who was still searching the ground. Cerberus did not look up until he felt a hand on his shoulder. His expression was of distraught and sadness. Amodeus formed a mind link with Cerberus, a rough voice springing to life. “I lost it. I lost the ring.” Asmodeus stared at Cerberus as the words made connections to what he was referring to. Asmodeus turned away, training his eyes towards the ground. He looked for anything that reflected in the sunlight. They stood there for several minutes. Cerberus bent down and began combing through the grass, desperation building in his movements. A voice halted his movements, it was innocence with a touch of music. “Did you lose something?”

Both men shot their gazes towards Svila who was hovering just behind Cerberus’ shoulder. Cerberus lost all color in his face as he dropped his gaze to the ground. His hands were dirty from his search. Asmodeus saw Cerberus’ heart crumble piece by piece. Svila’s expression developed into panic. She took his face in her hands, trying to decipher what had happened. Asmodeus took a deep breath as he took in the scene before him. He felt sorry for Cerberus and made a mental note to replace the ring as soon as they returned to the castle.

Asmodeus opened his mouth to explain everything to Svila. As he began to speak the wind stole his voice. The wind whipped violently around them. Asmodeus turned to see the dragon landing in the clearing. Asmodeus also caught sight of something reflective in the tall grass. Before he lost sight of it he picked it up. The ring was simple. The silvery metal hosted a single diamond in its center. Asmodeus turned back towards the couple huddled on the ground. ‘Cerberus.” Asmodeus called. He was met with hopeful eyes. Svila watched in confusion as the ring was passed to Cerberus’ palm. Cerberus shot straight up and gathered Asmodeus in a rough hug. Then turned to the still crouched Svila. He took her hand pulling her to stand in front of him. Her purple eyes grew wide as Cerberus revealed the ring. With a squeal Svila began to jump and rapidly clapped her hands. She held out her shaking hand as an equally shaky Cerberus slid the ring in place. They both stared at the ring for a second, taking in its beautiful shimmering. A small hand slid into Asmodeus’. Iselora looked towards the love struck couple in confusion. Asmodeus shot her a smile as he laced his fingers in with hers. Svila let out another squeal as she jumped into Cerberus arms, taking his lips hostage. Iselora and Asmodeus laughed at the surprised expression that covered Cerberus’ face. The initial shock quickly faded as he pulled Svila closer.

Svila broke the kiss in a giggling fit. Her eyes fell to the figures watching them. Blood rushed to her face in embarrassment; she buried her face into Cerberus’ shirt. Laughter erupted from the couple at her reaction. Iselora ran to her friend’s side, pulling her into a tight hug. It was then Svila realized who it was.

Svila pulled away, grasping Iselora’s face in hers. “You- you… you are alive!” Iselora found herself pressed against Svila’s sobbing chest. Iselora tried to position her face in a direction that could allow her to breath but Svila held a firm grasp on her. Cerberus placed a hand on Svila to gain her attention, Asmodeus reached for Iselora. Svila released Iselora “I saw you. You looked as if you were made of stone. You died.” Svila allowed happiness and disbelief to consume her. Iselora embraced her friend. Everything was falling into place. Her happiness was short-lived, Calnonern cut into her mind, “We need to talk”.

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