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20.4 Ash

# 2169 11 - 14 mins. 8

They had been up there for about half an hour when we finally saw wyverns coming down toward us. I was nervous that it wasn't them and wild wyverns were coming down to devour us while our group was split up, but we weren't that unlucky today.

Tigala was the first to arrive, a loan wyvern recognizable by the scar across its face and the favored right wing. She was trailed closely behind by two other wyverns of equal size. They landed behind her, one with Sparr on its back, and the other with Kesq. When they saw us, the two of them began to snarl and raise their tails in the air.

"Growl at them," said Kesq.

Tigala turned and growled back, louder than the two of them combined. The two wild wyverns sunk back, lowering their tails.

"You're the alpha," said Kesq, "they'll follow your lead, but sometimes you need to remind them that you're in charge."

Tigala nodded.

"Keep your eyes on them while the rest of us mount. Make sure they don't try anything," said Kesq.

Tigala obeyed, staring at the wyverns with a hard expression and teeth bared.

Klaus joined Sparr, and Lolan and I climbed onto Tigala's back. That left Sillius with Kesq. The grumpy Gnome slinked toward the lizard, giving its head a wide berth, and grabbed Kesq's arm as she pulled him up in front of her.

"Everyone ready?" I said.

There were nods all around, though Sillius was slower to respond, keeping his attention on the wyvern's head and tail instead.

I patted Tigala's shoulder. "Let's go. Head toward the doom drake's nest. It should be beyond that."

Tigala didn't waste any time. She flapped her wings and jumped to the air. With a scream, the other wyverns joined, launching from the ground with their riders.

We stayed low at first, winding through the mountainous cliffs well below the frenzy of wild wyverns above us. Once the mountains broke away, Tigala soared higher in the sky, like I had when I rode on Malcolm's dragon. It was beautiful, seeing the land from so high up. I had spent so much time wandering around this island, but this was the first time I got to see so much of it at once with my own eyes. It was like the map in my pocket had come to life.

I could see Birdsbane, not far behind us. The people there were just dots. There was a muddy trail marking everywhere the wandering forest had been, including where it started out. Ahead of us, the valley of the dead shambled like an eerie pale sea. North of it, I found the spot where the Gnomes had landed and had been mostly destroyed by the animated trees.

"This is so cool," said Lolan.

"I was thinking the same thing," I said.

"Look," he said, pointing behind us, "I can see the tower from here."

I twisted around, following his finger to a grey dot sticking out of the forest. Beyond it, the trees stood higher than the rest. It was the cliff where I had first met Lolan that day when he saved me from the ogre.

We had come so far together. We had been through so much in such a short amount of time. And seeing it all from so high up made it feel so far away and small. We had risen above the traditions that kept us segregated and hating one another, and for a moment, the anxiety about the doom drake disappeared. I was safe, and I was with the people I cared about the most. Zef was gone, but I knew he died with purpose, and that has to be the best way anyone can die. As for the rest of us, we were still together. We had each other.

Just then, we reached the end of the valley of the dead and would have reached the church where Malcolm had holed up, but that church was no longer there. Instead, there was a giant hole marking the place where the doom drake once slept and then climbed out of the earth. It was enormous—even bigger than I had expected it to be from a bird's eye view. It brought our situation right back into the forefront of my mind. I was still glad to have Lolan and Tigala with me, but it was no longer just because I cared about them. It was because I was scared. Scared of that monster that left a lake-sized crater in the island. I was afraid of what it would do to us, and what it was no doubt doing this very moment. The doom drake was out there ending lives, breaking up loved ones, and there was so little we could do.

I looked up, focusing on the horizon instead. The wind blew my hair all over the place.

"You okay?" asked Lolan.

"I don't know," I said. "I don't know how we're going to do this."

Lolan sighed, "I don't know either," he said. "One step at a time I guess."

"Yeah," I said.

The other wyverns flew next to us, slightly behind Tigala. Maybe they were taking advantage of the windbreak that Tigala provided like birds sometimes do, or maybe they were waiting for a chance to attack. They seemed to be doing well, not trying to eat their riders yet. So that was good. Would it last though? Were they safe enough to keep around? How long would Kesq's quick-taming hold up?

I glanced at Kesq. She looked back with no expression I could make out. She seemed confident, unafraid of the wyvern she rode. Sillius, on the other hand, hugged the neck of the monster with wide eyes.

That must be it," said Klaus, pointing ahead of us. His grey and white feathers flicked in the wind and pressed against his front, make him look more skeletal and old.

I looked to where he was pointing and found the landscape riddled with structures. They were small and made out of wood or stones. There was ample room around each one with what looked like fences made out of stacked stones. It must have been a small farm town overrun and falling apart from age and nature. The buildings only formed a small cluster though, and looking at them, none stood out in particular. The purple glow of magic veins was also absent.

"Where?" I asked, yelling over the wind.

"Up the hill," Klaus yelled back.

I looked back at the village and followed a faint path out of the town and up a grassy hill. There, I began to see the purple veins. They were faint from the distance, but it was definitely them. The veins stretched down the hill, spreading out the further down they traveled down the hill. The central point of the magical veins was directly beneath an old run down mansion that sat at the tallest point of the hill.

That was it then.

Tigala dipped down, and let out a monstrous howl as she did, signaling for the others to do the same.

We circled around the mansion, with the purple veins becoming more and more clear as we descended. The mansion was enormous as far as buildings went. It almost looked like a small castle if it weren't for the wood plank siding, wooden trimmed windows, and iron rails on balconies. It stretched across the hill casting its shadow on the town below.

Tigala circled around one more time and then landed hard on the ground. Lolan and I were launched from her back and sent skidding in the dirt.

"Sorry," she said, with a wet growl to the words.

"It's okay," I said dusting myself off. "We made it."

The other two wyverns touched down much more smoothly than Tigala had just in front of the mansion on the grassy hill. The veins that stretched around us looked a lot like the ones we had seen in the cave under the tower, just with more purple than blue this time around.

Kesq, Klaus, and Sparr got off of their wyverns without a problem, but the wyverns stood there eyeing us all up. They clearly were not tamed well, but I wouldn't expect them to be with only a half-hour of teaching.

Sillius slid off of the wyvern slowly and then ran away from it as soon as he hit the ground. Once he was further than everyone else from the flying lizards, he sat down in the grass panting.

"Everyone alright?" I said.

"Good here," said Klaus.

Kesq nodded as well.

The wild wyverns were not looking as okay as before though. The one that carried the Avians began snapping its jaws and raising its tail once more. The other followed suit, cornering the Avians and Kesq. The three of them took fighting stances as the wyverns closed in.

Tigala roared at the creatures, but they didn't seem to care this time around.

"What do we do?" I asked as I ran toward the others.

"They're hungry," said Kesq. "The flight must have worn them out. Do you have any more fruit?"

"Yeah, hang on," I said.

I started growing another banana tree as quickly as I could while the wyverns continued to close in. Tigala ran forward, slamming a shoulder into one of the lizards. It jumped on her wrestling her to the ground.

"Does this usually happen?" I asked as the tree reached about the height of my waist.

"Yes," said Kesq. "They're not tame, they were just intimidated. That only lasts as long as they think they are weaker. I think Tigala's landing might have shown them otherwise."

Great.

Tigala and the one wyvern were tangled up, pinning each other to the ground and throwing barbed poisonous tails at each other. Neither was able to land a hit. The other wyvern was stared menacingly at the group. It stalked forward, and then, charged. The group scattered, but in the fray, Klaus tripped on one of the veins. It sent the crane Avian sprawling and his book rolling out of reach. He tried to right himself, but the wyvern was already on him. It grabbed him with its two hind claws and took to the air.

"Klaus!" shouted Sparr, and he took to the air as well, flapping his dark brown wings. He was nowhere near as maneuverable as the wyvern though. He flew up, readied his spear, and charged after the monster.

I didn't know what to do. We couldn't lose Klaus. He was our only real connection to what Zef was up to, and he knew so much. Plus, I wouldn't wish getting devoured by a wyvern on anyone.

"Lolan," I said. Before I finished saying his name he had an arrow nocked.

He followed the wyvern with his bow and let loose. The arrow sailed through the sky, but it looked like it was going to be off its mark. Just before it sailed past, Klaus's eyes went white. Then, he jerked his body, sending the wyvern right into the path of the arrow. It struck the lizard in the shoulder. The lizard screamed.

I had finally finished growing a few bananas. I peeled one and yelled, "Kesq!" as I threw it to her. She the banana and ran over to the wyvern Tigala was facing off against. She held it up, but the monster barely noticed the fruit. Instead, it turned on Kesq and threw a tail strike at her.

Then, Kesq disappeared. Or, rather, a faux ground appeared between the wyvern and Kesq, hiding her in illusion. Sillius stood nearby with his hands raised and a purple glow pouring from them. Tigala took the chance to pounce on the monster and stab it with her tail. The creature screamed and kicked her away. It then took to the sky and bolted after Klaus, who was still in the clutches of the other wyvern.

The lizard carrying Klaus now had several arrows sticking out of it, but it still flew. However, it did slow it down, allowing Sparr to close in. He swooped down and stabbed the creature between the shoulders. It screamed and lost its grip on Klaus who spread his own wings as soon as he was free. Lolan fired one more arrow at the wyverns, and both chose to escape with their lives over fighting us.

The Avians reached us safely and Klaus walked over to pick up the book he had dropped. "That was eventful," he said as he dusted off the tome.

"Is everyone okay?" I asked.

"We'll be alright," said Klaus, "but it looks like we won't be able to return so easily."

"I guess not," said Kesq. "Sorry. I thought they were dumber than they are."

We all turned to look at the mansion in front of us. "I guess it's time," said Sillius.

"Yeah," I said. And we began our climb toward the mansion.

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