A Hasty Decision
Aaron Stowe, head mage of Artimé, stared hard at Drock as the small group of mages and dragons flew toward the castle Grimere in the land of the dragons. The dark purple dragon was known to be troubled. He was the least reliable by far of all of Pan’s brood. Yet he was the only one making sense right now.
“You must listen to me,” said Drock in a low voice. He dropped back in flight so his face was next to his mother’s flank, near where Aaron and the other humans rode. “You and your party should leave my mother’s back and climb onto mine. I will take you home.” He glanced around at Pan and
his siblings. All of them had glazed eyes and were intent on heading toward the Revinir and the castle. “It’s a dragon curse. She’s calling to us with her roar. They’re all being controlled by the Revinir, but I . . . So far I have resisted it. I’m the only one.”
“But—” said Aaron. A moment ago he’d urged Pan to turn around, and she’d ignored him. And . . . this was Drock. If Drock was making sense, did that mean that Aaron might be the confused one? He turned to watch as hundreds of dragons flew toward the castle Grimere, coming from all directions. Drock was right. The Revinir had to be controlling them with her roar. Calling to them, as Drock said. It seemed clear by the way the dragons in their party were all acting, and had been acting lately.
Aaron thought it through again: The Revinir was controlling Pan, the ruler of the sea, and her children. Most of them, at least. Was it possible that Drock could be somehow unaffected? Or . . . could the difficult young dragon be leading them into a trap?
Getting away from hundreds of fire-breathing dragons didn’t seem like a trap.
But switching dragons in midair wasn’t exactly an easy task. At least they weren’t flying over the gorge between the worlds anymore, but a fall to the rocky ground from this height would be just as deadly.
Aaron’s face shone with sweat. His lips were pressed tightly into a gray line. “I don’t know what to do,” he muttered, and turned to Henry. “What do you think?”
“I don’t know either.” Henry was anxious too. He glanced at Sean and Scarlet and two of his children, Ibrahim and Clementi, who rounded out their party. They all seemed uneasy. Uncertain. And they all desperately wanted to find their fellow Artiméans on the rescue team, who were seemingly lost in the land of the dragons, and bring them to safety. They’d been traveling days to do so! Turning back now seemed like a lost opportunity, a waste of precious time. But there was nothing that felt safe about moving forward into this situation.
Sean leaned in. “This doesn’t look promising at all. I know we want to find our loved ones, but we won’t last more than a minute against the Revinir and her new dragon army.”
“I agree,” said Scarlet, then lowered her voice to a whisper. “But how do we know Drock is trustworthy?”
“Hurry!” said Drock, trying to fly steadily close to his mother without knocking into her. Pan seemed not to notice him or what he was attempting to do. She and Ivis and Hux and Yarbeck soared straight and true toward the castle, like all the other dragons. Right into the heart of danger.
Aaron’s blood pounded in his ears. He felt light-headed. Dragons were not something to mess around with. And the six mages, no matter how powerful they might be, wouldn’t have a chance against this mob. He ripped his fingers through his hair, agonizing over the options, then absently checked his pockets, feeling for heart attack spells. He had plenty of them and was prepared to fight. What if the Revinir was holding the rescue team captive? What if they were in that castle somewhere? What if they were so close to them—could they really turn around now? Kaylee was among the ones they sought. What would she think if she knew he’d done that?
Aaron regarded Drock again. The dragon’s eyes were clear. He was the only one engaging with the Artiméans, responding to them. And despite the young dragon’s salty disposition, he was the only one Aaron felt like he could trust in this moment. Instinctively Aaron knew something was wrong here, and it
was obvious Pan wasn’t acting like an ally. Their missing loved ones might be nearby, but there was no way this group could take on the army of dragons without being killed. Most of them anyway. Aaron had to be wise in his role. The people of Artimé were counting on him to make good decisions. To bring this rescue team home alive. To be a good, smart leader, even if he didn’t want this job. Besides, he couldn’t stand the thought of Frieda Stubbs and the other dissenters having even more ammunition against him—they’d made his life miserable enough without that.
The head mage swallowed hard. Holding on to Pan’s neck, he crawled along the dragon’s back and beckoned to his team to follow. “Let’s go with Drock,” he said. “Back home. Before it’s too late.”