Chapter 11



andon stared out at the grassy expanse that spread out seemingly forever, trying to banish his regret, and his confusion at feeling such a thing. He'd known all along that they were going to reach the end of the forest, but the actuality had seemed so far away until now. Stepping out of the woods was like stepping out of Landon Bren and into Landon Evers. He was shedding his farm boy past and taking on the legend that stalked him. The legend he was.

            But the confusing part was that he no longer dreaded it. He welcomed it. He'd pried his fingers, one by one, off of the false comfort that everything was going to go back to normal as soon as he did what he had to. He had a responsibility, and he wasn't going to mope around, wishing he could crawl back into the comfort of ignorance. It was time he accepted who he was.

            And stranger yet was the fact that he thought he might actually miss Winterleaf. Somewhere during the awkward conversations and meaningful silences, they had made a connection. They both had a common enemy, and they both were willing to do whatever it took to make sure that enemy would cease to be a problem as soon as they were done with them. Sometimes common enemies made uncommon friends.

            "Well, this is it," Winterleaf stated, as stoic as ever. But Landon knew that his emotions never failed to express themselves in his eyes. They were tight, as if he was containing some kind of strong emotion he wanted desperately to let out. Sadness shone in his eyes as he stared straight into Landon's. Though his face remained composed, his eyes spoke volumes. He was sad at parting, but he didn't want to show weakness. He was glad to go back to his home. He didn't know what to feel.

            "Yeah," was all Mark could think to say. He gazed with mild interest at the field. The forest cut off abruptly and gave way to an endless stretch of grass that reached up to his chest. Deeper into the heart of the field struck lighting, though there was not a cloud to be seen.

            "You know, you could come with us if you wanted to. We wouldn't mind having you along," Chelsea offered to Winterleaf.

            "About that—" Mark started, but Jeaine spared them by throwing him a sharp look.

            Winterleaf shifted his weight from foot to foot, considering her proposal. "I can't. Starlight will be waiting for me. Besides, I wouldn't go in there until mid-autumn. Personally, I would go around, through the desert, if I had to get to the capitol." He looked a little worried as he warily examined the seemingly harmless field. What was he talking about? Landon voiced his question, and Winterleaf looked mildly surprised, as if he'd remembered they weren't in on the little secret.

            "No elf comes out alive. Well, one did. But he was seriously injured and died later that night. All they could get out of him was a stupid poem:

Lightning lights the warning path,

Thunder follows in his wrath.

If you see him you'll find sorrow,

For you'll not live to see tomorrow."

He frowned dubiously. "I don't know what's out there, but I think it hibernates or something during fall and winter, but when it's awake, it's lethal."

            "How can you tell when it's awake?" Mark asked, appearing as distracted as always.

            "When there is lightning." Another distant flash and a rumbling thunder echoed as if to punctuate the sentence. Jeaine jumped and clutched tighter onto Mark's arm.

            Chelsea voiced what everyone was thinking, "We don't have enough time. Plus, we don't have enough supplies to make it all the way around. We'll have to take our chances."

            The elf nodded as if that was the answer he had expected. "If you reach the Lenise River then you should be safe. A boat will be there. And take this." He shoved a small wooden whistle hanging from a string into Landon's hands. "If you live, blow this whistle in a time of need. The elves will always be at your aid." Landon slung it around his neck and held out his hand for him to shake. He didn't know if elves did that or not, but he never found out because Winterleaf ignored his hand and pulled him into a hug. He patted him on the back and whispered, "Remember; emotion is not always a weakness."

            Pulling away, Winterleaf smiled. "I'll remember." He touched his hand to his heart and then touched it to Landon's. Landon did the same. He had done this ritual with many elves, but with Winterleaf it was something more. It was the act of a true friend.

            Winterleaf nodded to the others and then his green friend disappeared into the forest where he belonged.

            Swallowing back a tide of emotions that were caught up in his throat, Landon turned to face the flashing fields. "I wouldn't take Winterleaf's warning lightly. Be on alert." He strode into the grass before they could say anything. They followed without question. His new instincts immediately scanned the area, sending a breeze through the field to analyze any strange forms. He frowned. Something was definitely resisting the wind. Something large. Slowing down so Mark could catch up, he leaned in to tell him what he felt. Or rather, what the wind felt. Was there even a difference anymore?

            "There's something out there. Whatever it is it's big. It could be a boulder or something. More like a rock pile, I don't know. But there is definitely something huge out there," Landon warned, making sure the women didn't hear. They were too busy whispering amongst themselves. Mark nodded slowly, taking in this information. His fingers tinkered with the hilt of his sword. He was already anticipating a fight. Typical Mark.

            After a while of wading through the grass, the landscape became eerie. The forest became smaller and smaller until they had to rely on the falling sun for direction. It was hard not to think about what was in there with them. Trying to act casual while keeping his eyes peeled, Landon messed with the wind, flattening patches of grass and swirling it about. It was very entertaining, especially as he became better at it.

            Kodan growled.

            He had become so immersed in the wind that he was surprised to find that they were entering the center of the lightning. The thunder was much louder here. Now that he was more aware of his surroundings, he realized that the object he had felt earlier was in the dead center. The lightning seemed to be striking around it. He was about to relate this to Mark when a strike of lightning landed a few feet from where he was standing. The force of the strike blew him back. For a moment he just sat there, trying to blink away the afterimages of light from his vision. Looking around, he spotted the others recovering from the blast. No one appeared to be hurt, though Mark looked a little hysterical.

            Landon opened his mouth to say something, but his jaw went slack. Rising out of the grass was a huge glittering sun. As it continued to rise, it began to form a shape. No, not a sun;

            A dragon.  

            Its glittering scales were gold, its eyes yellow with slits like a cat. The beast stood on four legs, its wings stretching and flapping slightly. Its long tale thrashed back and forth as it sniffed the air. Laying down it must have been the size of a small hill. Landon shivered as he caught a glimpse of razor sharp teeth protruding from a mouth big enough to swallow him whole. Lightning flashed nearby and the dragon roared. A sonic boom of thunder emitted from its mouth. At first he thought that the thunder had overridden the roar, but when it did it again, he realized that the dragon's roar was the thunder. Thunder follows in his wrath. Thunder. That was the name of the dragon.

            He was brought back to earth by Jeaine's high pitched scream. Thunder whipped his head around and narrowed his eyes, spotting them lying there like sitting ducks. "Run!" Landon yelled, and they didn't need to be asked twice. The tall grass made it difficult to run, but he used the wind to subtly blow a path for them to escape. His breath seemed to get harder and harder as the energy drained out of him. Running and using his power at the same time was making him more and more exhausted. He wasn't sure if he was going to make it. All hopes dropped when he saw that Thunder was flapping his wings, preparing for takeoff. He flew up over them and circled a few times.

            "Drop your packs!" he ordered, flinging his on the ground.

            "But what about the food?" Chelsea called back breathlessly.

            "It's only a dead weight. The capitol is on the other side of the river anyway!" She nodded and dropped her pack. Without the provisions he was able to preserve some more energy. The Lenise River rose into view, but it was still too far. Thunder was preparing to swoop down like a hawk and snatch them in his claws. They weren't going to make it.

            "Landon! Do something!" Mark shouted. Landon didn't know what he could possibly do. If he did do anything, he would expose who he really is. "Don't be stupid! We are going to die if you don't do it now!"

            "Do what?" Chelsea panted, glancing over her shoulder at him.

            "DO IT!" Mark bellowed, and Landon decided not to argue. He stopped dead, drawing on his power. They stopped to wait for him, but he told them to go.

            "But—" Chelsea protested, not wanting to leave him.

            "Just go! I'll—I'll be right behind you," he promised, not knowing if he would live to fulfill it. She paused, but Mark pulled her along. Landon summoned all the power he could handle, then more. Wind swirled around him, creating dust devils that danced around, confusing Thunder and buying them some time. He pushed to the limit and then further over and over. Just when he thought he couldn't handle any more he would draw on more. He fell to his knees, then to his hands as his strength was drained out of him. Fingers digging into the dirt, he felt the force of the wind flattening the grass all around him and the violent currents that blew Thunder off his course. Forcing his eyes open, he saw that Chelsea had stopped, almost to the river, and was staring at him in horror. He didn't know if she was afraid of him or if she was worried for him, but at that moment it didn't matter. To make her safe, he would exceed the limit a thousand times over, even if it killed him. He would do whatever it took to save her. In one, terrible scream he unleashed the full force of his power and slammed it all downward. Thunder roared as he was crashed back down to earth, landing with a loud thud on one of his wings. Landon stayed crouched down, fingers gripping the earth as if that would hold him down. He only moved when Mark came back to help him up, his reddish-brown hair still funky from the static.

            "Holy windstorm! That was amazing! But it's getting back up, so we have to go. Get up." He held out a hand and Landon took it, staggering a little as he tried to steady himself. His muscles felt like water as if he had just run a marathon. He'd never felt so tired in his entire life. Mark had to stay close to support him when he stumbled.

            Jeaine and Chelsea were waiting for him near the river, looking unsure what they thought about what had just happened.

            "What just happened?" Chelsea demanded. "What is going on?"

            Mark ignored them and went to search for the boat. Their eyes turned to him. "I'll explain later," he said, sounding a little brusquer than he'd intended. Jeaine wouldn't take no for an answer.

            "How did you do that? Why can't you tell us now?" she pressed, her hands on her hips. Landon's patience had run dry along with his energy.

            "I just saved your life! Will you please be quiet?" he snapped. She flushed, but Chelsea was persistent.

            "Landon, I deserve to know the truth." Normally he would have told her, but he was in no mood for explanations. In fact, he wasn't in the mood for anything other than sleeping.

            He sat down, trying to preserve whatever strength he had left, and tried to block out their voices. Unfortunately, he couldn't block out the roar that boomed from nearby. Thunder was back and ready for more. He opened his eyes to see that Chelsea had an arrow poised to shoot. He had no idea if an arrow could get through his scales, but this was the perfect opportunity to find out. Except she didn't shoot at the scales, she shot it straight in the eye. The beast roared when the arrow found its target, thrashing about as if that would help. She wasted no time as she nocked another arrow and pierced the other eye. Thunder was blind, but he recovered faster than they had hoped. Now relying on his other senses, he sniffed the air for their scent. Sure enough, he found it and continued his advance. Did he ever give up?

            "I found it!" Mark called somewhere to his right. Landon slowly stood and stormed over to where Mark had found the boat. It was a rowboat, barely big enough to hold all four of them, plus Kodan. It would have to do.

            The women followed behind him, still nagging him about what he could explain much better when they weren't being chased by a dragon. He stubbornly kept his mouth shut.

            Mark stepped in first to help them in. "Get in," Landon commanded. Jeaine complied, Kodan jumping in with her, but Chelsea stayed put. "Get in," he repeated, waiting. She got that stubborn look that she used to get her way.

            "I'm not getting in until I get an answer," she said in a matter-of-fact voice.

            "I told you; I'll tell you later," he replied impatiently. She quirked an eyebrow.

            Glancing at the dragon, he decided to get it over with. "I'm a Windsinger, okay? Are you happy now? Because I'm not. Now get in the boat." She just stood there and gaped at him, so he just picked her up and tossed her into the boat. Pushing with all his might, he launched it into the current. Then he jumped in, too, swimming toward the boat with every last ounce of power he could manage. The water was ten times colder than that of the smaller river he'd saved Chelsea from, and the current ten times stronger. His vision became blurry, threatening his chances of making it back to the others. He was about ready to give up when he felt hands grab him and pull him into the boat. As soon as he was safely out of the water, he passed out.


We woke to someone shaking him. Someone was shouting his name, but he was too exhausted to respond. Finally, he opened his eyes. Chelsea was inches from his face, more than close enough to see the relief flood into her eyes.

            Then she slapped him.

            "That's for not telling me," she informed him.

            "I guess I deserved that...."

            His words faded into nothing as her lips found his. When she had gotten her fill of kissing him, she said, "And that was for saving my life." He smiled and kissed her again before filling in on his surroundings. He was lying down in a puddle at the bottom of the boat with Chelsea leaning over him, like the day they first met.

            They had left Thunder behind, floating down the Lenise River in a rowboat. There were no oars, just the current to carry them along.

            "Listen, Chelsea—" he started, but she laid a finger on his lips to silence him.

            "No, you listen, Landon. I know who you are, but I still have a secret that I should have told you ages ago. Landon, I'm—"

            "Landon!" Mark called. Actually, it was more of a squeak. Chelsea turned to give him an annoyed look, but his expression said that it was important.


            "We're about to go off a waterfall!" Even after everything that had occurred in the last twenty-four hours, that was the worst news he'd heard all day. There was no way they could make it to shore in time, even if they did have oars. He didn't even have enough strength in him to use his power. He could hear the roaring of falling water grow louder. They were in a very serious pickle. But then, he was always in a pickle these days. My life is a pickle, he thought bitterly. It was the sad truth.

            "Well, that's just wonderful," was all Landon had the heart to say. The roaring became unbearably loud, even compared to the thunder. The boat tipped and for a split second he could see the drop off, and then he was falling. He moved into diving position and hoped the water was deep. The landing was painful, even with his hands to break his fall. One moment he was in the air, the next he was drowning. It was nearly impossible to tell what direction was up, and he was beginning to have flashbacks of the day he fell from the tree. They weren't pleasant memories.

            Forcing himself to relax, he let himself float to the top. As soon as his head broke the surface, someone pulled him up and roughly tossed him onto the deck of a ship. At first he thought that a passing fishing ship had rescued him, but it wasn't at all that pleasant.

            Staring maliciously down at him were the masked faces of his enemies.

            He passed out for the second time that day.  


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