“NO!” Laelia screamed. “NO!”
She shook Gideon, but Dan knew he would never wake. He couldn’t wake. Gideon had left them. He looked at Gideon’s face, nothing but shock registering in his mind. Gideon was dead. His lifeless eyes stared in front of him, reflecting nothing but the destruction they looked at. The wounds in his chest still leaked blood, the flow now slowing. Gideon was dead. How could he be dead? How? Why?
“Gideon!” Laelia sobbed. “Gideon!” She screamed his name, her sorrow choking her voice. “Gideon!” The word descended into an uncontrolled cry of rage, sorrow, fear, and complete despair. Laelia fell to the road, sobs shaking her whole frame.
Dan knelt beside her, not knowing what to do. They stayed that way for nearly a minute, Laelia crying uncontrollably, gripping Gideon’s body with one arm. Eventually she lifted her head. “I couldn’t save you,” she whispered, watching Gideon. His face was turned away from her. “I couldn’t kill Caius, and now I couldn’t save you.” She looked at him in silence for a moment. “I can’t,” she whispered. “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t”
“You already did.” Dan’s words surprised him. He hadn’t meant to speak out loud.
Laelia turned to him, her expression lost in tears. “What do you mean?” she asked in a hard voice, anger and sorrow mixing in her tone.
“You already saved him,” Dan said, choosing his words carefully. “You can, Laelia, and you did. You saved him when you were fighting Caius. You saved that family just now from the deathreavers. Don’t tell yourself you can’t, Laelia.”
Laelia turned away. “Gideon’s dead,” she said to herself.
Dan lowered himself to one knee so that he was closer to her. “You’re strong, Laelia,” he said gently. “Stronger than I ever will be. I know it. The others knew it. Gideon knew it.” He glanced at her. “And I think you know it too, somewhere deep inside.”
Laelia looked at him.
Dan didn’t look away. “You can save anyone, Laelia,” he said. “The only person you need to convince… is yourself.”
Laelia watched him steadily for several seconds, her brown eyes showing absolutely nothing. Then she turned back to Gideon, laid her head on his torn chest, and closed her eyes.
She didn’t move. She didn’t respond when Dan called her name.
Nearby, Dan heard a thunderous roar, followed by screams and cries of pain. He looked down the street. The dragon was back, whipping around, its tail smashing into houses. It was cornered by several kyrie, but it was more than a match for them, swiping at them with massive claws and spitting flame at those who got too close.
“They need you, Laelia,” Dan said, turning back to her.
Laelia, however, showed no indication of going anywhere. So, reluctant as he was to leave her, Dan stood, and ran towards the dragon. He stopped a short distance away, drew his gun, aimed, and fired. Again, a bolt of energy struck the dragon in the head. This one went low however, and merely hit the beast’s lower jaw, angering it. The dragon turned one gleaming red eye on Dan, and then reared up.
“Fire line!” the kyrie yelled, scattering. “Fire line! Scatter!”
Dan leapt to the side just in time. The massive dragon, gold-brown scales gleaming in the red sunlight, green belly swollen with air, opened its great mouth and spewed a line of fire straight at Dan. The flames missed Dan, but their heat slammed into him, washing over him like a sea of molten metal.
Dan’s armor instantly felt white-hot. His whole body broke into a sweat, his exposed skin burning on contact with the ground. His face struck the street, and he cried out in pain as the stone seared his forehead, his nose, and his chin. He rolled to the side, trying desperately to escape the heat which was rapidly cooking him alive.
Something leapt over him. A figure dashed for the dragon, sword held aloft. Dan looked harder, trying to see through the tears of pain. It was Laelia.
Black hair streaming behind her, sword gleaming in the bloody light, her mouth locked open in a battlecry, she charged straight at the dragon, and swung with all of her might at one of its rear legs. The dragon let out a shriek of pain as her blade cut deep, and swatted at her with its front foot as it landed back on all fours. Laelia dodged the blow.
The kyrie pressed in. The dragon tried to take to the air, but Dan saw Laelia leap high, grab ahold of its wing-joint, and bring her sword down on the bone. The dragon fell back to earth, crying in agony, flame spurting from its mouth. It struggled to its feet, batting at the kyrie about it, and turned glaring eyes on Laelia. She rolled to the side just as the dragon unleashed a line of fire.
The fire missed. Laelia ran up and stabbed the dragon directly in the chest. She pulled her sword out, and stabbed again. Roaring with pain, the dragon reared up, blood pouring from its wounds, and sprayed fire everywhere. The fire shot out in a straight line, but the dragon shook its head from side to side, causing the line to sway back and forth.
Dan saw Laelia tackle a kyrie to the ground a second before he would have been burnt. She saved another similarly. And then, yelling her warcry, she stabbed her sword one last time into the dragon’s green belly. The dragon lurched. The fire stopped coming. It let out one shaken cry, and then began to topple. Laelia and the kyrie cheered as it fell.
However, the dragon was not yet dead. As the last glimmer of life left its eye, it turned in midair as it fell, and swiped one massive foot at Laelia. She wasn’t ready. The claws caught her, sank deep, and then tore as the dragon fell to the ground. Laelia fell beside it a moment later.
“NO!” Dan yelled. Despite the feeling that his skin was melting, despite the fact that he could barely stand through the pain, he struggled to his feet and staggered to where Laelia lay.
She was even worse off than Gideon had been. Her eyes found Dan’s as he fell beside her. Her face was locked into a grimace of agony, but her eyes were shining, not with pain, but with something else.
“Thank you,” she whispered to Dan. She looked at him for a moment longer, and Dan realized what was radiating from her eyes, from her face, from her very body. It was something he had never seen in her before, but he recognized it all the same. He had seen it in Jaseff a few short moments ago. He had seen it in Gideon. And as Laelia let out her breath one last time, he saw it in her too: victory. She had won. Laelia was home.
Dan watched Laelia’s body. She had learned that she could save anyone. Jaseff had learned that he could be brave. Even Caela had learned that there was always hope.
They had been like Dan, trapped, lost, unable to see what awaited them. He had shown them the light. Like Darren, he had broken into the cell surrounding them, and shown them the horizon they never knew existed. Dan looked down at Laelia’s body, now peaceful, and suddenly, in a flash of realization, he knew.
This was why he was summoned. This is what he was meant to do: to help other people see. To help them know. To show them the horizons they could have, if they but fought for them. And that… that was his horizon.
Dan looked a moment longer at Laelia, and then surged to his feet. No one deserved to be deprived of their horizon. No one.
The kyrie who had fought the dragon had been ambushed by a group of orcs. They were now running, scattering as the Gruts chased them, laughing with bloodthirst.
Dan turned on the spot, raised his gun, and fired. An orc dropped dead. Dan fired again. Another orc fell. Then another. And another. Finally realizing what was happening, the orcs turned towards Dan, but dropping his gun to the street, Dan raised a single glove, and pushed it outwards. Instantly, the street cracked as a wave of force blasted from Dan’s palm. The orcs were sent flying, and not one got up when they hit the street.
Another dragon, this one black, landed on a building above Dan. Dan turned to face it. Glaring at him with green eyes, the dragon opened its mouth and bellowed, the sound ripping at Dan’s hair and torn armor. He yelled right back. And then he raised his hand, and blasted the dragon apart. Quite literally.
“Hold!” Dan shouted to the retreating kyrie. “Hold! We can still win this! Don’t give up! Don’t let Utgar win! Make him fight for every inch!”
A few stopped running. Most did not. “Come on!” Dan yelled to those who had stopped. “We need to help Einar! We need to get to the keep!”
“That way!” One of the kyrie called, pointing down a narrow road. Dan charged down it, followed by the ten or so kyrie. The entire road was on fire, carts overturned in the middle of it, buildings burning on either side. Black smoke blasted up it, striking Dan and the kyrie with heat and ash. He covered his mouth and continued to run, charging through the dust and flame.
The street ended in a great open area, which Dan guessed had once been a market square. Carts and wooden booths were overturned, on fire or already charred to blackened ash. The flagstones of the street were split, cracks running along them like black fingers. And in the middle of the great square, standing taller than any of the buildings, smoke and ash billowing from it as if from the crater of a volcano, stood a massive demon.
No one was trying to stand up to the demon. Everyone was running away from it. However, the demon, tracing arcane figures in the air, seemed to be causing the stones of the square to rupture, penning people in, keeping them trapped. Flame burst from the demon at regular intervals, incinerating those closest to it.
The kyrie behind Dan faltered at the sight. But Dan, knowing what he must do, planted his feet, raised his already aching arms, and unleashed a torrent of energy at the demon.
The blast struck. The demon staggered backwards as Dan continued to pour wave after wave of energy onto it. A building shattered as the demon fell sideways into it. But then the demon threw out its arm, pushed off of the burning ground, and stood.
Through the pulsating air between them, Dan saw the demon turn burning eyes on him, its scaly skin still being torn by the energy from his gloves. It bellowed, red light spilling from its jaws. And then it stamped one foot.
Heat and dust exploded outwards from where it struck the stones, sending everyone flying backwards. The blast hit Dan a moment later, and he was slammed into the ground, his arms searing with pain. A burning cart, which had been much closer to the demon, landed next to him, pinning his left arm.
At first Dan struggled. His arm was pinned securely, and wouldn’t budge. He saw the demon take a step towards him, raising its hand like a pronouncement of fate. But then Dan saw something else.
Far behind the demon, sitting atop a cliff overlooking the city, was Einar’s keep. Dan could see smoke pouring from it, and as he watched, an entire tower crumbled to dust. But then, speeding from the highest parapet, wreathed in orange flame like a meteor, a single kyrie flew with dizzying speed towards the demon. The demon didn’t see the kyrie. It raised its foot, preparing to stomp the life from Dan. And then the kyrie arrived.
Swinging his sword as he rocketed by, the kyrie sliced right across the side of the demon’s head. The force of the blow was far greater than the weapon which had delivered it. The demon was knocked to the ground as if it were one of the carts it had just blasted. The kyrie circled back, orange lightning crackling around his whole body. His face burned with a furious light as he dropped the point of its sword, and then dropped, like a lightning bolt from above, straight onto the demon’s head.
The sword went deep. The demon let out an unearthly shriek. A great cheer went up from the square, and Dan was able to hear some of the words:
“Einar! Einar has come! We’re saved!”