The Dragon's Kiss
Chapter 4 - FOUR: I’m Sorry

Kel lept to her feet in an instant. The first thing she noticed was the empty blankets around the fire. She was completely alone.

"Leif!! Barclay!!" she called out desperately, ducking into the nearest thicket. The sounds of armored figures advancing behind her sent fear pulsing through her body. Panic began swirling around her mind, making it difficult to think rationally. All she knew was that she had to find the others. But where had they gone?

"Leif!" she cried again. She put a hand to her ear, hoping to pick up the boy's high-pitched voice, but the noise of cracking foliage and clanking metal filled her ears. As she crashed blindly through the trees, she gradually became aware of a familiar baritone call.


Kel rushed toward Barclay's voice. She finally caught sight of the tall man seated on his horse with his hands cupped around his mouth.

"Keliyah!" His deep voice echoed through the trees.

"Barclay!" she responded, "I'm here!"

Without missing a beat, he reared his horse around to face her.

"Hurry!" he yelled, extending his hand. Kel grabbed ahold and allowed herself to be hoisted into the saddle behind him. His usually neatly tied ebony hair whipped against her face as they rode.

"Where is everyone?" Kel called. Barclay grunted and shook his head in response. She wasn't sure if it meant he didn't know or he just didn't want to explain.

They rode directly through the thick trees at light speed. Barclay's horse handled the rugged terrain with impeccable agility. After a quick check behind them, he let go of the reigns with one hand and began fumbling with the pouch at his belt.

"What are you looking for?" Kel shouted. Again, she received a grunt and head shake in response. She slumped back, feeling useless.

Finally, Barclay pulled out a small tube-like object. Kel recognized it as the flute he'd been carving earlier. She opened her mouth to ask what he was doing, but realized it was futile. With no idea what was going on and enemy soldiers closing in, her only option was to rely entirely on the burly man in front of her.

A shrill whistle cut through the air. Kel looked up to see Barclay blowing wildly on the small flute. Was it a signal?

She didn't have long to wonder about the whistle's purpose. In moments, the caws of dozens of miscellaneous birds echoed through the air. Their calls rippled through the trees, and soon the entire forest was filled with the deafening screeches of birds. The chaos was enough to disorient even the most seasoned soldier.

Barclay paused to wink at Kel before shoving the flute back into his pouch and spurring the horse faster.

"You're amazing, Barclay!" Kel exclaimed, hugging the man tightly and burying her face in his back as they whipped through the forest.

Several minutes passed before the sounds of the birds began to die out. Barclay slowed the horse to a trot. Finally lifting her head to look around, Kel noticed they hadn't gone toward Pandreia or back toward the capital. Instead, they had traveled northwest in the direction of the desolate lands above the Serin Empire.

"We'll never find backup out here," Kel unconsciously voiced her thoughts aloud.

Barclay brought his steed to a halt and slid to the ground. He put his finger to his lips, signaling Kel to be silent.

She hopped down next to the man, feeling uneasy. She had so many questions about their situation. Where were the others? Why had he taken her this way? Knowing Barclay wouldn't give out any answers, she kept her mouth closed obediently.

As they stood in silence, her mind wandered back to the promise Dash had made days ago. Here they were in serious trouble, and he was nowhere to be found.

Liar, Kel huffed to herself.

She knew that Dash's being there would make no difference considering the number of enemy soldiers, but she still felt bitter. Perhaps he really had come and warned the others of the incoming attack. That would explain the deserted campsite, but why did they leave Kel behind? Things weren't adding up. She must be missing some important piece of the puzzle.

A rustle from the forest disrupted the silence. Before Kel could react, Barclay's heavy body slammed against her. They both tumbled to the ground.

Kel could hardly breathe with the massive man on top of her. She pushed him lightly, indicating her discomfort, but he didn't move.

"Barclay," she whispered, attempting to wriggle out from underneath. Barclay didn't respond. Instead, a whoosh zipped above them, and the horse let out an anguished neigh. Kel knew what happened even with her vision entirely blocked. An enemy archer had found them.

"Barclay!" she hissed urgently as the rustling increased. She struggled, trying to worm her way to freedom. Footsteps soon accompanied the rustling, and she counted at least a dozen people approaching.

Barclay finally began to move, shifting himself so that his face was next to Kel's ear.

"Run," he croaked faintly, rolling to the side. Looking up, she discovered the reason Barclay was so sluggish. The black feathered shaft of a Serin arrow protruded from his left shoulder blade.


"Run! You idiot!" he groaned. An arrow whizzed past her ear as she hesitantly got to her feet. The horse had disappeared, and soldiers were closing in.

Kel bit her lip and dug her fingernails into her palms. She knew there was no choice but to leave Barclay behind. There must always be at least one survivor, and Barclay wouldn't have urged her to retreat if he was sure someone else was alive.

Swallowing the knot in her throat, Kel ducked her head down and dashed off into the trees. She grabbed at the straps around her shoulder as she ran, ensuring she still had her bow and quiver. To her dismay, most of the arrows had fallen out when Barclay knocked her to the ground.

She contemplated turning around to go recover her arrows, but the soldiers had already swarmed the area. It looked like some of them stopped to restrain Barclay, but most of them tore through the foliage after her. It was impossible to go back now. Her only option was to keep running.

Kel focused on orienting herself and heading back toward the capital. If Dash was on his way to join them, hopefully she'd run into him.

Please, she begged silently.

Leafy branches nicked her skin and tugged at her clothes as she shot past. She wasn't as agile as Barclay's steed, so she tried to avoid the thickest brush. Her escape was going smoothly until a wall of dense brambles blocking her path came into view. There was no time to find a way around, so she scrunched her eyes shut and pushed off her feet into the air.

As she soared over the bushes, the vicious thorns caught one of her feet, sending her flailing down face first. The barbs tore through her pants and underlying skin as she jerked her leg free, pushing herself to her hands and knees. She had landed in a small clearing, surrounded entirely by the sharp brambles. On the opposite side, she could make out a figure standing with his back to her. Her heart skipped a beat at the familiar shoulder-length sandy hair, half tied back.

"Dash!! Dash!" she shouted, bounding across the grass.

The figure turned around to face her. Relief surged through her as their eyes met. Dash really had kept his promise.

"They're right on my tail," she panted, stopping just in front of him to catch her breath. "You watch my back, and I'll take them down."

Dash said nothing but nodded slowly, his eyes still locked with Kel's.

"Hurry and draw your sword, Dash!" Kel commanded, quickly turning to face the direction she'd come from. The bright glimmer of armor was already visible against the dark tree line. She took a deep breath, reaching for her bow. Her fire ability was the only chance of survival they had left, and those cursed thorny brambles guarding the clearing were the perfect fuel.

"Looks like I can't hide anymore, Uncle," she whispered. She reached back to retrieve her final arrow.

Suddenly, Dash's strong arm gripped her waist, and his hand flew over her mouth. A pungent smell clouded her senses.


Her tongue instantly became fat and sluggish.

"I'm sorry, Kel," Dash hissed into her ear.

And then the world turned black.

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The Dragon's Kiss Chapter 4 - FOUR: I’m Sorry