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9.6 Anemone

# 2310 12 - 15 mins. 8

The wyvern slumped on top of me. It had to be as heavy as a horse. It was a wonder that these things could fly. I struggled to sluff the body off, twisting and shimmying this way and that to make the smallest bit of progress. But I was making progress. After a few minutes of inching my way towards freedom, I managed to slink my way under the creature's wing and out from under its body. It was much lighter, and I was free of it in a few more seconds. Still, when I finally stood, my muscles ached from everything I had been through that day. I stood with shaky legs and a strong desire to just lay back down.

I looked down at the body of the wyvern. It was a shame I had to fight it. I wish it could have just been my pet. An upgrade after letting Chipry free. But it wasn't that easy. Still, I was amazed that I won against something that big.

I skimmed the sky above in search of our pursuer and found no other wyverns circling close by. The one must have either lost us when we dove into the forest, or it didn't want to risk coming closer to the dragon. It was a good thing too because I wasn't so sure I could face another one.

I turned toward the ongoing battle behind me. Fire still burned all around the top of the mountain, and it was hard to tell where they were with the lightning and firey blasts currently at a halt. Maybe the fight is over, I thought. I wonder who won. I bet it was the dragon.

I crept forward in the small forest toward where I had last seen the dueling pair. I could see the dragon now on the ground with fire glinting off of its metallic scales. I crept closer to see more detail. It was either dead or resting after it had eaten that storm mage. I walked slowly, dodging patches of smoldering grass and bushes still alight with dragon fire. Maybe it was just me expecting the worst, but it felt hotter than a typical fire even from a distance. I gave the flames a wide berth and continued as far as the trees would take me.

I reached the edge of the forest closest to the battle and saw the dragon's head now. It was laying down, eyes closed, but I was sure I could see the rise and fall of its body as it breathed.

Called it, I thought. That'll make Daegal a little safer for Lolan at least.

Then I saw something move behind the head. It moved around the jaws of the dragon, jaws big enough to swallow the shadow whole. It was the storm mage. He reached a spot just behind the creature's eyes and put his hands on its head. Out of his hands came a pink glow. The same color pink that I had seen on Abigail, and the same color of pink that I had seen on the Dwarven guards. He was using mind-control.

The storm mage stood there for a few more minutes, pumping energy into the creature's temples. The pink glow grew brighter and brighter. Then, once the glow lit the dark mountain top like a beacon, he walked back to the monster's shoulder, climbed up it, and sat with his legs straddling its neck.

I saw the storm mage look my way, then move his head forward, as if squinting, but his actual facial features were hidden behind the metal plate of his mask. I ducked behind the tree hoping that he hadn't seen me. I don't know how he could with the dark skies and flames all around, but he did just take down a dragon and use illusion magic... I think.

He grabbed onto two spikes on the ridge of the dragons back and then the dragon began to rouse. It snorted smoke from its nose and blinked its massive eyes. I half expected it to turn its head and eat the Elf whole, but it didn't. It lifted its heavy neck and shook it as if shaking off the previous fight. Then it roared and stretched its wings.

One flap sent all of the dirt and dust on top of the mountain flying. It pelted against my skin. Another beat of its wings and the creature was rising off the ground, with the storm mage still sitting on top of its shoulders. A third flap made it fully airborne and looking angry. I heard the Elf shouting commands and the dragon flew in a tight circle lining itself up with the strip of forest where I stood. I ran, as the dragon took a deep breath, and let out a torrent of flame. The Elf knew I was there.

I ran as fast as I could with a pillar of fire raining down behind me. The torrent stopped, but the dragon moved forward faster than I could on my feet. There was another deep breath followed by tremendous heat at my back. It was getting closer. One more blast and the flame would land directly on me. I had to think fast.

I saw the wyvern's dead body. Behind me, wing beats grew nearer, forcing my thoughts to race. That wyvern might just save my life, I thought. I ran to it and dove under its wing. Then, just like before, I began to wiggle beneath it, to put as much of its mass between me and the fire breathing monster above.

Next, I focused on my plants. I began growing the wettest and thickest plans I could think of... banana trees. With thick wet trunks and their leaves are like leather, they would have to work. I grew one, and then another, stretching over the wyvern's carcass. I went to grow a third, but then I heard a deep breath from above. With one final jerk, I ducked under the beast's body and hoped it would be enough.

The fire ripped through the trees. Heat washed over me for a moment and the fire was so bright that I could see it through the wyvern's corpse. It was hot. I was unable to breathe as I watched the trunk of a banana tree turn to ash. Then, all at once, I heard the fire blast stop.

I stayed there, smushed under the burning wyvern corpse and sweating puddles. I waited and listened. After the final fire blast had stopped there were just wing beats, and then another screech of the monstrous slave. I waited until the wingbeats were distant.

Then I felt the heat again, close to my forehead. I looked up and found the front of my hair on fire. I screamed and wriggled to get a hand free as the fire crept closer to my face. I wrenched a hand free and slapped furiously at my forehead, longer than was probably necessary. When I was sure I had doused the fire, I continued for the third time to worm around beneath the wyvern. It was easier this time at least, due to the amount of flesh that had already been burned from the creature's back side.

As I pulled myself to my feet, I took a look around. There was no longer plant life around me. There were no trees, no canopy of leaves. Instead, there were just flames. Blackened husks remained of the banana trees. The actual wooden trees were worse off. They were pillars with flames climbing them.

Luckily, the forest wasn't very big. I looked to the sky through heavy smoke and saw no sign of the dragon and its master. So I ran to the clearing where the fight had taken place. The sky still swirled in a storm, but it was beginning to calm. I reached the clearing and stared at the burning forest that wrapped around the perimeter of the mountaintop. It was terrifying what that creature was capable of.

I sat, staring. I didn't know what else to do. I was at the top of a mountainous pillar with no way down, and I just survived flying a wyvern and even dragon's fire. I just sat and stared. If this is what we were up against if the Elves were the ones to orchestrate this whole disappearance, how were we supposed to win? Even the biggest armies, what could they do against a dragon?

Even aside from the dragon, these people knew mind-controlling magic. That's not even a thing. How do they have a new type of magic, and know so much about this island that popped out of the sea? I continued to sit there, in the middle of the field, with my jaw dropped. It didn't make sense. Why would they even do this?

I sat there for a while thinking about all of the possibilities. But none of my ideas were worth anything. In the end, that storm mage got away with what he wanted, and we were still left in the dark. I stood up and headed to the area where I had dropped my dagger. I looked around, kicking aside black charcoal everywhere I went. I traced my path from the wyvern and eventually found a red hot dagger sticking out of the husk of a nearby tree. I tried to grow a vine to pull it free, but I couldn't get any plant to sprout in this kind of heat. Instead, I opted for using my shirt to grab the dagger with my hand and pluck it out, at which point, I got out of that burning forest.

I wasn't sure what to do next. I looked over the edge and I was terrified of how high up I was. Wyverns flew about in the distance, soaring from one column to the next, or having aerial skirmishes. I didn't want to be spotted by one of them again. Once was hard enough. So instead, I sat on the edge and began growing thick vines, hanging down the cliffside.

It was weird to be alone now. I had spent so much of my life alone, but I always at least had Chipry. I was glad he wasn't here with me today, but I wish I could at least talk to him while I sat on that mountain by myself.

And since I got to the colony, to Daegal, I had my search party. Maybe we should name ourselves like the Grandsome Glories, I thought. An idea for later. But I missed the others. I hoped they were okay. Chances were that they were alright based on previous situations we had gotten through. But still, I couldn't know. The last I had seen them, they were specks beneath me—so far away they probably didn't even know where I was. Maybe they were looking for me right now, or maybe they were attacked by wyverns as well. Whatever the case, I hoped they were safe. I hoped they weren't risking their lives just to find me, but I also kind of hoped they were. I was lonely and sad.

I had grown enough hanging vine to be comparable to Zef's invisible rope by the time I heard something.

Wingbeats.

I turned, ready to dodge an incoming wyvern, but I saw an owl instead. It was Tigala!

I ran up to her and hugged her, still in owl form. She squawked at me as she transformed back into a Beastfolk. By then, I was hanging off of her. She let out a sigh and then hugged me back.

After a few moments, she let me go. "You okay? You look like you just went through hell."

I nodded. "Yeah, I didn't see where the dragon went when it left though. I was hiding under a wyvern corpse to try and survive the flames."

"A wyvern corpse?" she asked. "It died? How?" She looked concerned. It was a new look for her.

"I fought it and won," I said smiling. "I've got a couple tricks up my sleeve." I mockingly brushed the dust from my shoulders.

"Well, I guess you've gotten better at fighting since we first met," she said, teasing me.

"Hey, I held my own longer than I thought I could," I said. She only laughed in response.

"I'm glad you're alright," she said. "You rode that thing up here?"

"Yeah, it wasn't happy about it though," I said. "I don't plan on doing that again anytime soon."

"Yeah," said Tigala. "Where's the corpse? Maybe I can learn the form."

I led her to the burning husk of the wyvern. The fire still burned around us, but most of the quick-lighting brush had already burnt through. My banana trees were crisps. The wyvern itself still had some meat on its belly and head. The wings were reduced to bone though.

"I think this will work," she said. "Just give me some time, and I can fly you down the mountain."

I nodded, but she was already digging into the wyvern's body.

"I didn't see where the storm mage went," I said. "I was hiding for my life at the time."

"What do you mean?" said Tigala. "We thought the dragon ate him. We saw the dragon fly over in that direction." I followed her pointed finger to find a valley in the distance. The sky was dark there like it was in perpetual storm.

"Oh, yeah. About that," I said. They were probably relieved, thinking that Lolan's number one enemy and someone cocky enough to face a dragon had gotten eaten. If only it were true.

"The dragon didn't eat the storm mage," I said. "That storm mage used pink magic and controlled the dragon. He flew away on its back."

A note from houston

You may have noticed this chapter came out a bit later in the day than usual. That's because I recently added scheduled releases to my website and I figure many of you are still sleeping when I usually release at 5 AM. So, don't worry. That was intentional.

Future chapters will be released closer to noon (EST) most days, but they will always be out by 9 PM, at the latest.

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