Amaris was rolled back and forth like dough being worked, while she slung into consciousness. She slapped the unseen speaker, and the noise and nauseating movement stopped, but only for a moment.
“Amaris, we need you. Get yourself up.” It was Sion.
Amaris dared to peek into reality, when her eyes focused she remembered the destruction. Ashy gray air penetrated her weakened lungs, sickening her stomach and reminding her of the compressed feeling in her head. Dead soldiers with singed flesh laid around Amaris. She closed her eyes, but could not block out the image of charred faces with half-burned off painful expressions. Any medicinal aid she could offer would be worthless in this refuse. She laid still and watched the smoldering scene. Sion’s hand rested on Amaris’s arm. His voice just a whisper, “I am glad you are sound.” Amaris started nodding, but then turned away and wretched her stomach which felt full of ash. She stopped and blinked the tears from smoke and the force of her vomit. She wiped her mouth and sat turning her face from the mess toward Sion. “Who is left?” Her voice had no emotion.
Sion shook his head. “I have not counted those who survived. I needed to see if you were alive.”
Amaris just nodded.
Sion lowered his voice, and grasped Amaris’s arm, his voice lower than before. “We are not yet safe.”
Amaris’s eyes widened. The dragon, was it still there? She glanced from one destroyed scene to another, until a massive, dark beast obscured her view; it sat right behind her and Sion. It leaned down, and Amaris shied away, planting one hand in her puke as she slid back. The dragon’s head moved closer, and then knocked her onto her back, blocking her from Sion. She heard a smack of steel on something hard. The dragon jerked to the side, and snapped its jaw. “Sion, stop!” Then the dragon’s head swung back to hovering over Amaris. “He will kill us if he wants . . . he already could have.” Amaris narrowed her eyes. The dragon’s large nostrils sniffed Amaris several times, and then exhaled a small, hot breath over her. Amaris closed her eyes and froze. When she heard nothing, she turned her gaze back to the beast above her. He did not move. No. She could not trust her mental fitness after such horror as had just happened, especially not to discern deadly dragons from an odd domesticated hybrid. The thing’s interest in Amaris did not waiver though, so she considered . . . considered what. “I know one dragon,” Amaris whispered. “You cannot be him.” When last she saw the dragon she knew, Emirrol, it still crawled about like an overgrown reptile with blazing red, soft scales and a long, wiry tail. This beast did not resemble her mercenary friend’s little pet in the least. “How would you recognize me?” She asked louder. No answer. If there was such a thing as a dumb dragon, perhaps Amaris had found him.
Amaris heard an arrow’s twain and then a quiet thump. The dragon backed its head and roared. “Emirrol! Please listen—” Amaris froze because the dragon stopped the instant the name left Amaris’s lips. “Do not shoot him.” Adreaga, who walked into view, lowered her bow, looking scared still from the fighting, and the terror now before her. Amaris exhaled and laid still, till the dragon drew close again. Amaris moaned. She lifted her hand and laid it on the massive cheek beyond the monster’s closed mouth. “You are Emirrol, right? Tell me I am not losing my senses. . . or dead.”
“You are not dead, Amaris.” Sion answered.
“If you are Emirrol, move back.” The dragon obeyed, and Amaris stood, and walked toward the body of the large dragon. She touched it’s massive flank.
“Tell me you actually know this dragon?” Sion threw up his hands.
“I might know this dragon.” Just then the dragon swung his head toward Amaris, and now she could see his face, his dark green eyes, and bright red scales. “Thank you.” Amaris looked around, and recognized how much this creature had done to save her and what remained of her company. The dragon — perhaps Emerrol after all — nudged Amaris. “Debt repaid, Emirrol, plenty.” Amaris leaned her cheek against the grown dragon, so strong and intelligent to have distinguish Amaris from such a mass of chaos. The dragon bumped lightly against Amaris’s chest. “Ow!” She touched the spot and realized the broach had gone missing — she threw it! She scurried around, hand over her mouth, holding in vomit as she — and the others after they realized what she was at — searched for the broach. Sion called her name. Amaris looked up, and Sion held the piece of jewelry. Amaris sighed, stood and held out her hand. Sion tossed the broach, and Amaris untied her cape and clipped it back in place.
“Did you call it by a name?” Sion asked.
Amaris walked around the dragon to where Adreaga’s shot had landed. She winced, the arrow stuck, just pinched beneath a scale. “His name’s Emirrol. I think.” Before telling Emirrol to stay still. She climbed up the scaly leg, but then was tipped off when the dragon figured out her purpose. Amaris sat on her bottom, and looked up. “Fine. Keep it there.” But Emirrol laid on his arm and rolled back a little, and Amaris could reach the arrow with ease. She sat one hand on his back, and with the other she pulled loose the arrow, and then patted him. She tossed Adreaga’s arrow toward the girl.
“Sorry, Amaris.” Adreaga said.
“Forget it. You had no idea it was safe.” Amaris rubbed her head. “I would be frustrated if you did not react,” she finished under her breath.
“I would not have.” Sion sounded displeased.
Amaris nodded, and looked at Sion. Scraps made up the last bits of shirt clinging to burnt flesh.“Oh, no, your shoulder . . .” and his back, and arm. She walked behind him, but he turned so she could not see the damage. “Sion, please, you can trust me with healing matters.”
“Of that I am sure. But not now.” He sounded more serious than Amaris could understand.
“Where are they?” Amaris could not blame smoke for her watery eyes now.
“I think they have her.”
“Which one?” Amaris panicked, unsure who to worry for more.
Amaris bit her lip until the pain detracted from the tears she held in. “What about Waylen?”
Sion looked frustrated. “I know nothing of Waylen’s condition.”
Amaris already knew Illuma’s fate had slipped out of her reach. But Waylen . . . Amaris saw Briair standing near Adreaga, no others endangered, and Waylen had the greatest strength of the company. “Maybe she passed out from smoke.” Amaris started walking around, eyes on the ground where body after body lay damaged from blade or flame.
“Doubtful.” Sion said as he began searching the ground, and Adreaga and Briair joined him. Amaris wanted Waylen back, but not among the dead, and if her friend had been captured because of Amaris’s foolish attack . . . no, anything but that. She flipped over corpses, half-hoping, and dreading Waylen could be lying beneath one such victim, and yet —
Amaris turned to answer the call. Briair stood with his arm around his sister. Adreaga’s hand covered her mouth, eyes staring down, near losing her breath from shock of whatever held her gaze. Amaris rushed to the two siblings, stumbling as she ran, but Sion reached them first; even though he seemed more concerned than she about whose body was stepped on. Then Amaris saw Waylen, lying on the ground, face down. Adreaga grew pale, and Amaris told Briair to remove her. Amaris stood and stared for a moment, fearing what she would discover when she touched Waylen. Amaris knelt down and set her hand on Waylen’s back, pinching her eyes shut against the impending despair. “Please, no.” When Waylen’s back rose and fell the slightest bit, Amaris breathed again, but only until she slid her hand across her friend’s back. She gasped, and her mind lagged.
“Amaris, is she alright?”
Amaris could not answer. She raised her right hand from Waylen’s shoulder, soaked in blood.
“What do we do?” Sion asked, sounding as panicked as Adreaga.
Amaris pulled off her satchel, so tight it had stayed through the fighting, and slung it at Sion. “Bandages, get all of them.” Amaris pressed her hand against the gash and slid her other beneath Waylen and then squeezed the shoulder between. Amaris’s hands filled with blood, and she fought going numb, realizing a blade had pierced all the way through. So much blood had already drained. Amaris pushed Waylen onto her sound shoulder and pressed hard against both gashes, hoping the fluids would flow back to Waylen’s heart, but Amaris saw the red stain on the grass which began soaking into the knee of her skirt, and feared Waylen might be a casualty already. Sion held out the bandages, but Amaris shook her head. It would do nothing for this mess. “Get over here,” Amaris instructed. Sion obeyed. “I need you to hold her . . .” Amaris let go a second before Sion had his strong hands clamping Waylen from either side. Amaris started rummaging through her medical supplies, and ended up dumping the whole bag.
Amaris tore a knife through Waylen’s sleeve and tried to undo the cape, but Waylen wore her sword on her back, and it fit through a slit in the cape. Amaris struggled with the aparatas, but managed to release it, and then spilled water over Sion’s hands and the wound. Clean enough. If only she could see a little better, but the blood spilled too fast to keep up with. She yanked a cork, almost smacking it into her face with the force, from a brown vile and moved Sion’s hands one at a time and poured liquid sap onto Waylen’s shoulder, soaking Sion’s hands and Waylen’s dress. If Waylen survived the next hour, the medicine might be the only thing between her and a death sentence. Amaris willed her hands to stop shaking, while she threaded a needle, and then pushed and pulled the thick, black thread through Waylen’s skin. She laced up Waylen’s flesh as much as possible, stitching more than the normal amount to compensate for the red liquid now covering her own hands. She wiped her fingers on her skirt repeatedly and started on Waylen’s back. She finished soon, but scorned herself for not moving faster.
She scooted back to see Waylen better. The maroon stain had spread over Waylen’s chest and back and splattered onto Sion who still had the woman’s wound smashed between his hands. “This might be over.” Amaris covered her eyes with the back of her palm, and blocked out the scene.
“Amaris. You need to pay attention. I do not know what to do.” Sion said.
Amaris removed her hands, revealing the tears riding down her cheeks. She scooted closer to Waylen and shifted the woman’s weight from Sioin to herself. Waylen’s dark hair laid across her face, and every limb lay limp. Amaris touched Waylen’s cheek, still warm. “Get me the bandages.”
When the wound had been wrapped tight, and the injured propped up on packs and blankets, Amaris washed some of the blood from Waylen. She had sticks piled beside Waylen, and made Emirrol understand he should start a fire. She scrubbed her hands of the scarlet that stained every crease in her skin; the ruby color even found its way beneath her finger nails. Amaris dried her half clean hands and then watched Waylen. A grey pallor dulled Waylen’s dark skin. Shallow breaths gave no movement to the fallen woman whose, eyes, closed and serene, unnerved Amaris. Amaris moved the black hair off Waylen’s face. Amaris’s hand trembled before she laid it on the cold cheek. Sion’s hand gripped Amaris’s shoulder.
“Now what do we do?”
Amaris shook her head.
“Amaris, what do we do?”
She sighed. He sounded as anxious as a child. “Nothing. We cannot do anything more for her.”
Sion’s fingers uncurled from Amaris’s arm. Amaris leaned over and kissed Waylen’s cheek, then whispered an apology. Sion dragged the dead soldiers away from the wounded victim, and then watched over the fire. And Amaris, exhausted, laid beside Waylen, praying she might make it to the dawn. But before she let herself rest, Amaris realized she had not seen to any other but Waylen, and now Sion stared at her from behind the small fire Emirrol had lit. She sighed and sat up. She gestured for Sion to come near, but he shook his head. Then she demanded such, and he listened. She picked though the contents of her satchel she left strewn about.
“What?” Sion had his arms crossed.
Sion squatted instead.
Sion obeyed without emotion.
“Turn around and let me see what’s become of your back.”
“Amaris, I will be fine, but thank you.”
Amaris grabbed the man’s sleeve before he could escape. She could not very well leave Waylen. “Please, give me permission to help make amends where I can.”
“I doubt you can amend what you have done this time.”
Amaris turned her eyes to the ground before glaring. “Just, come here. What else am I going to accomplish for us right now?” Amaris swept her hand across the small plot of dead bodies where her company had done their best to make camp.
Sion said nothing, but removed his jacket and pulled off his shirt — what remained of it after Emirrol’s flame had burnt holes around Sion’s shoulder — and sat in front of Amaris with his back to her. Amaris examined the burned flesh and sifted through a mental list of medicinal aides she had on hand. She made an ointment from yellow pollen and oil, limiting her use so she could ration the supplies which had begun to dwindle. She had applied more medicines in two hours than all the rest of their trip to the present.
“If you put anything on me that Waylen needs, I will not forgive your kindness.” Sion protested as Amaris opened the vial of medicine she had just closed from treating Waylen.
“These are just to ease the burn.”
“She will need your help managing the pain.”
“I am uncertain if she will ever wake to want these medicines.”
“We cannot afford your speaking like that, Amaris. Do you understand me.”
“Scolding me does nothing.”
“If you lack confidence you cannot treat her.” Sion glanced over his shoulder.
“I only need skill, not hope, which for some is a luxury already over used. I want her to live, Sion, much more than you do. I cannot lose her.” Amaris clamped her jaw to slow emotion, “but I should not harbor the idea of my being able to keep a hold of her. I could die inside, fail completely, and then,” Amaris’s voice grew almost too quiet to hear, “her death would have purchased nothing worth saving.” Amaris pulled the cork from the vile of sap, most of which she had poured onto Waylen’s injuries. She poured a small dosage onto the cloth Sion’s skin had dirtied with puss while she cleaned his back — she would have to beg someone to wash her used rags, nothing clean remained— and smoothed it over the burned surface covering near half Sion’s torso. Only seconds after application, Sion twisted his back away from Amaris; most people reacted such to the medicine they needed most. Amaris had long since developed a sturdy constitution against pain she inflicted to bring healing. She would have informed Sion of how much improved he would be from the sap, but he would then call her out on her word given to only use what Waylen did not need. She corked the vile and placed it behind herself before Sion could see.
“Are you finished?” Sion asked.
“I am through.”
Sion picked up his shirt and started working it back over his wound. “Am I supposed to thank you for that?”
“Later, if ever. I never expect gratitude from my medicinal help. I know it creates great pain, but it is necessary. Trust me.”
Sion nodded to Amaris. “Thank you then.”
Amaris’s stiff joints made movement difficult. She slid out from under the blanket and sat on her knees. Under the light of dawn Waylen seemed sicker still. Amaris hoped her condition would better with the sunlight. She held her breath and set her hand on Waylen’s chilled cheek; a little warmth remained. She held her breath and slid her fingers to Waylen’s neck to feel for real signs of life. Amaris exhaled; Waylen’s heart beat on, for now. She pulled the blanket up to Waylen’s chin. Waylen seemed warm, but not feverish, and she remained so for two days before Amaris decided to redress the wound, and see if she might do anything else.
Amaris bit her lip and deliberated between the two small jars in her hands, the vile from the previous night, and a different medicine. She peered over her options at Waylen; Amaris doubted either choice would bring much benefit. She set down the new medicine and went with repetition, which felt foolish. But Amairs would risk it. Amaris set up her supplies according to need, and then made herself take a deep breath. Her hands seemed steady, so she began peeling back the white and splotchy red strips covering Waylen. Each unravel uncovered thicker layers of blood. Were the stitches making any difference? The closer Amaris’s hands came to Waylen’s actual skin, the more warmth she felt. The last bandage fell on the linen Amaris had spread beneath the gashed shoulder. Black, thick threads mingled with both congealed and running scarlet puddles on the swollen skin. Amaris picked up her cleaned rag, thanks to Sion, and dabbed a glob of sap onto its surface. Amaris smeared the medicinal ointment across Waylen’s injury. She lifted her hand, leaving a sheen over the injury. Waylen’s arms twitched. Amaris scrunched her eyes and watched, but no movement followed. Amaris poured more medicine onto her rag and let it rest on the wound, but she removed her hand when Waylen started jerking.
Waylen jolted into her black panther form and began a roar cut short by a rapid relapse into human. “Waylen, stop!” Amaris screamed.Waylen cried out and squeezed her own arm until the skin around her fingers turned white. Tears slid down her face, as she braced against the pain, arching her back away from the earth. Amaris pushed Waylen down. “Waylen, listen to me. You’ll tear out the stitches. Lie still!” Waylen’s back slammed on the ground, smashing Amaris’s hand which stopped the injury from hitting. Waylen looked at Amaris, and managed a small nod, and then her eyes rolled back into her head before closing. “No!”
Blood seeped out from under Waylen’s right arm. The top stitches were visibly damaged. Amaris did a quick pack of sap on Waylen’s cuts, then turned her efforts to tourniquet the bleeding with tight bandages. She pushed Waylen onto her other shoulder to drain the blood toward her heart. Waylen’s reflexes undid the little Amaris had done to help.
“At we know she can react.”
Amaris glared at Sion. “She better not do it again.” Amaris put gentle pressure on Waylen’s two wounds, hoping she would neither bleed out or wake up again.
The sun heated Amaris like an oven, but she tried to ignore its rising higher, arching over her like a predator over its helpless prey. Since Waylen’s quick reaction to Lunamaya sap, only small noises or movements eeked out, and those winces, flinches, or twitches were not regular. Most of the time was filled with hard to notice breathing and motionless moments that kept Amaris holding her breath. Amaris vaguely registered Sion’s attempt at coaxing her to eat. He set a plate beside her. She nibbled a couple bites, and turned back to Waylen, buried under threatening wounds. When a large shadow fell over her and Waylen, blocking the sun, Amaris didn’t question the source. She craned her neck and saw a massive scarlet form covered in scales and decorated at the top with metallic spikes. Amaris turned back to Waylen and slid her thumb back and forth over her cheek.
Amaris almost fell atop Waylen as the ground jolted. She grabbed the ground and waited for the pounding to stop. When the tremor subsided, Amaris yanked her head around and screamed. What a heartless gesture, bringing pain to a dying woman. A red foot slammed the ground in reply.
“Don’t you see I am losing her? How can you act like that!? My friend could die before I turn around, and you want to make a racket?” Then she mumbled. “You are not a child anymore.” Hot breath swept her skin; she could feel the dragon near her. He lifted her arm with his snout. Amaris didn’t know why, but she clung to the beast. Her shaky hands almost slipped from the horns, and then the dragon lowered his head while Amaris’s tears turned to steam on Emirrol’s hot scales. Amaris’s body shuttered and her arms grew numb from the hands down. She lost her hold on the horns, but the dragon laid down his head, and on it she rested. Her eyes shut to the travesty behind her back. Why watch Waylen die? Her face tingled from crying and her breaths eased in the lengthening distance between sobs. “Thank you.”
She rested for some time, her heartbeat eased into rhythm with Emirro’s breathing. When Emirrol left — not from camp, but from Amaris — the latter felt more at ease. She neglected her physical need for nourishment, and sat emotionless in the middle of the deteriorating battle field.
Sion took a seat beside Amaris. “How do you know the dragon?”
Amaris felt Sion’s eyes on her. “What?”
“I thought I had started to understand you, but . . .” He lowered his voice, “a dragon?”
“I am so sorry you do not understand me. Perhaps if you had perceived my demons sooner, you would have left me in that shack in the woods.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Sion sat next to Amaris.
Amaris huffed and scanned the carnage around her, “this is what happens when I am around.”
“I think that dragon would have blown these people to ashes regardless. Your being with us is the only reason he stopped.”
“Not true, Sion.”
“I . . .” Amaris rolled her eyes. “Fine. I will let you have that one.” That should please. “I had not planned to see him again.”
“You did something for him, I know it. He acts like you are bosom friends.”
Amaris huffed. A little fire lizard running around a room at an in, that is what Amaris remembered. The last she had been with Emirrrol, he had been draped about his owner’s neck, an over sized pet of sorts. “Just a favor he does not remember. He will recall my traveling with his mother, that is all.”
Sion’s eyes widened. “You know more dragons, do you?”
“Oh, no. He was adopted by an unworthy friend, but she did good by him.”
“He is domesticated?”
Amaris shrugged. “There is a reason we are not all dead. Years ago he was being peddled, a caged infant. This woman . . .” Amaris considered her words, “stole him, and I, in my unwise, youthful thinking, fought off opposition so she could flee.”
“Is that a joke?”
Amaris did not have a disposition for making fun right now.
“You are serious, then?”
“Absolutely.” Amaris smiled, thinking of her stupid blunders decades ago. “And then the pirate, your father, and I, plus a couple lesser known companions, trooped around together on a great and simple scheme which secured each of us enough financial means to go our own ways.”
Sion’s jaw dropped.
“Do not wear that stupid expression. It is all true, and I do not care if you believe me.”
Sion patted Amaris’s hand, “I believe you.” He still looked shocked.
Amaris shrugged. It was all over now anyway. Amaris’s companions dwindled daily; with luck, she would soon follow. Sion left Amaris alone after that, and she slept.