~ The Underground Network ~

Maximilian had no idea where he was or where he needed to go when he stumbled upon a large chamber full of crates, barrels, and mining equipment. The body of a male dwarf lay face-down among them, a smoldering hole gaping in his back. Another dwarf could be seen further in, this one missing his head.

“Just my luck. More trouble,” mumbled Maximilian and drew Elegnis. He then listened for a moment, but everything seemed calm. Still no reason to let his guard down, so he advanced very carefully, letting his eyes wander around.

Judging by how far the corpses were scattered around, none of them must have been able to put up much of a fight. Most of them actually seemed to have died in the middle of work, their pickaxes still lying next to them. Only a handful were equipped for battle, yet their weapons showed no sign of having drawn blood. Whoever was responsible was nowhere to be seen, but the massacre must have happened recently as the bodies were still warm.

A sudden shuffling noise caused Maximilian to freeze in his steps. His eyes jumped to a massive furnace in the back of the room, where a large dog-like creature with an odd-looking rectangular head was backing out feet first. Its deadly fangs were buried in the leg of a dwarf whose body seemed relatively unscathed.

“Hey!” yelled Maximilian and started walking, his blade raised high.

The beast freed its fangs and spun around, mustering Maximilian with shining eyes. Then, without wasting a second, it dashed toward him, using its head like a battering ram. Maximilian stepped aside at the last moment and the beast crashed into a series of crates, all of which were blown to pieces, their contents spilling out. Maximilian backed away to avoid the torrent of ore, and then the beast came charging once again, apparently unfazed by the weight crushing its body.

Having no time to swing his blade, Maximilian leapt sideways and rolled over the moment he landed. That's how he saw that the beast didn't even have to turn around. Its body simply rippled, reversing back and front. So it only took a moment for it to charge once more.

Maximilian scrambled out of the way, then spun around and blasted the beast before it could ripple once more. Its body shuddered and slithered backward, and then came charging once again.

Another beam of light simply bounced off, forcing Maximilian to run away. He swerved past crates and pillars, jumped over corpses, flung barrels behind his back, and finally dashed through a doorway and slammed it shut. Convinced it wouldn't hold, he quickly dashed into a corner and shifted Elegnis' to its fiery form. Then he waited and waited, hoping that a concentrated blast of fire would accomplish what the beams of light had failed to do.

He did not expect the wall behind him to burst open and his body to be sent flying, however. Next thing he knew, he crashed down hard, his head taking the brunt of the damage. He had to bite his lips to keep himself from blacking out. Then the beast was upon him and all he could do was raise his blade with both hands and jam them in-between the creature's fangs.

“Get away from me!”

He jabbed his right knee straight up and howled instantly. The creature's body was like rock, almost breaking his instead. Shouldn't have surprised him as the creature's eyes were made of crystal, hinting at its artificial nature. Its hunger for flesh seemed perfectly natural, however, as hot saliva sprayed on Maximilian's face every time the beast pushed closer, desperately trying to snap Elegnis in half.

“I said get away from me!”

Elegnis flared up despite Maximilian still holding on, its heat rising so quickly that both the creature's fangs as well as its face began to melt away. It let go quickly and backed away, howling like a genuine dog. Its body then rippled back and forth, perhaps trying to undo the damage. Maximilian used that chance to rise to his feet, blasting the monster with another stream of fire. It quickly rippled backward and raced down the tunnel, soon vanishing from sight.

“And don't come back!” yelled Maximilian after it. He watched the tunnel for a little longer, not wanting to be attacked from behind again. Then he lowered his eyes to his left hand. It was badly burned from holding Elegnis. And now that he was aware of it, the pain came surging forth. “Great. I just had to go poking around.”

He stepped through the hole behind his back, instantly aware of another injury somewhere near his waist. Must have happened when he fell, but it didn't feel broken. So he simply walked a little slower, which caused the stinging pain to turn into a dull throbbing sensation.

Crossing the room, he returned to the body the beast had been trying to drag away. Said body was now sitting by the furnace, eyes wide open and following Maximilian's every move.

“You the one who saved me from the golem?” grumbled the dwarf.

“Yeah, but don't golems usually have a humanoid shape?”

“Usually, yes. But someone must have been experimenting down here, as golems of all shapes and sized have been sighted for some time now. Them being hostile is a first, though.”

Maximilian grabbed himself a crate and turned it over before sitting down. A sting of pain surged through his back, so he grit his teeth and let it pass. “So they're the ones who did this?”

“Oh no. That was a darkelf with a missing hand. He waltzed in here and waved his other hand around, killing everyone he saw with a single strike. None of the guards could even get close.”

“So how are you still alive?”

He jabbed his left hand behind his back. “I crawled behind the furnace and hoped he wouldn't find me. But he didn't even look. He just passed through, jumped into a mine cart, and then drove off. And he didn't even steal a thing. Fucking darkelves!” He slammed his fist against the surface and spit upon the ground. “I'm sure they've got a portal around here somewhere, so why use our network? And why kill everyone of us if that was all he wanted?”

“Said darkelf tried to destroy the world not long ago. So this doesn't surprise me.”

“Destroy the world? Is that supposed to be a joke?”

“Not at all. And to accomplish that, he wanted to become a god. Which he almost did. So whatever he's doing now can't be good. Any idea where he went?”

“Those tracks go only one way: to the Bellator Valley, the last bastion of our kind.”

Maximilian furrowed his brow. “But … that's all the way on the other side of the globe.”

“We had a long time to expand our network and make sure it could withstand almost anything. The only thing we didn't account for was entire landmasses being wiped from the face of Meceruun, which cost us half the tracks and thousands of lives.”

“No one could have accounted for that. But do you have any idea what Ri'zzar, the darkelf, would want in the Bellator valley?”

“How should I know what a darkelf wants? Even one bent on destroying the world. It's not like we have any weapons that would be capable of that.”

“Really? Not even long-forgotten artifacts?”

“If they were long forgotten, how would I know?”

“Right. But thanks anyway.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Now if only the others were here. I can't just follow him alone.”

“You don't seem to be in any condition to chase after anyone,” said the dwarf and nodded toward Maximilian's burned hand.

“Nothing a potion can't fix. I don't you suppose you got any lying around?”

“The guards should have had some. Just take 'em. And bring me one too”—he patted his bleeding leg—“so I can fix this.”

Maximilian nodded and rose to his feet, then stopped for a moment. “And what about the bodies?”

“What about them?”

“Should I help you bury them?”

The dwarf chortled. “We don't do burials down here. The ground's too hard. And even if we did, something would just dig 'em up and eat 'em for dinner. Or worse, reanimate the corpses and turn them into slaves.”

Maximilian cocked his head. “Sounds like a story parents tell their kids so they behave.”

“It's not. I've seen them with my own two eyes. Whole colonies inhabited by the living dead. We burn them to the ground whenever we find them, but we've never caught the one responsible, even after following a shipment into the middle of nowhere. Which turned out to be a trap.” The dwarf scratched a scar running down his face and gazed far into the distance. Then he turned back to Maximilian. “So that's why every corpse is thrown in here.” He slapped his left hand against the furnace. “Supposedly cleans their essence too, so they don't come back to seek revenge, but that's just bullshit if you ask me.”

Maximilian nodded and looked around. “Well … guess I better gather the corpses then.”

A few minutes later, Feyadal came dashing through the corridor the dog golem had escaped through. With his bow raised high, he honed in on Maximilian, who had just emerged from a row of crates with another corpse in tow.

Maximilian spun around, dropping the corpse and unsheathing Elegnis. Then he relaxed. “Oh, so you did actually survive. How—“

“Later.” Feyadal lowered his bow. “Just tell me if it's save up here so I can call the others.”

“For now. But there's no one left to guard this place, as almost everyone has been massacred.”

“Seems good enough for now. Certainly better than the lower levels, where everything seems hellbent on killing us. Be right back.” And so he dashed away again.

Hours later, when all the bodies had finally been disposed of, a large fire was burning at the edge of the mining camp. Feyadal sat in front of it, his eyes scouring their immediate surroundings. They had blocked the tunnels by stacking crates upon another, but as the golem had proven, that alone couldn't save them from being attacked. That's why the rest of them were sitting with their backs to the wall, the fire burning in-between.

Duval, the last surviving dwarf, joined them moments later. “Reinforcements should be here in about half a day. So it would be nice of you to stay until then.”

“Sure, why not?” said Drake. “We deserve a little rest.”

“Maybe, but I'm not sure we can afford to,” said Maximilian. “Because the one who killed the dwarves was none other than Ri'zzar.”

“So what? Feyadal destroyed the splinter of Arronax's heart.”

“No I didn't,” interjected Feyadal, his own splinter throbbing painfully. “All I managed was to break it even further. And I'm sure Ri'zzar still owns a piece of it. Might not be as powerful as the whole thing, but it still makes him a threat.”

Drake turned toward Duval. “Is he right? Did this darkelf have crystal embedded in his flesh?”

“I didn't really stick around to have a closer look. So maybe, maybe not. But did you just say Arronax? The demon king of Golgotha?”

“The very same,” replied Alyssa. “So be glad Ri'zzar only got a fragment of his power. I'm not sure we could have stopped him otherwise.” Her gaze bore itself into Feyadal's back, feeling to him like a dagger being pressed against his throat. So he kept on looking far away, hoping for his secret to stay hidden.

Meanwhile, Drake unrolled the map he had taken so long ago, the one pointing to him, Maximilian, Ri'zzar, and apparently two more people.

Well, I guess Alyssa can take Ri'zzar's place. But what about the others? Are they like Ri'zzar … or are they like us?

More like Alyssa, hopefully. We need more delicious, female flesh.

I don't care about their flesh! Or their blood! I just need their help.

Why not both? Let them help, then suck them dry! Or at least turn one of them. Would be boring to have no company for all of eternity. Too bad Emily—

“Shut up!” yelled Drake out loud.

“Who's he talking to?” wondered Duval.

“Just a voice inside his head,” said Maximilian quickly. “Don't worry about it.” Then his eyes fell upon Drake's map and something clicked inside his head. “Oh! The map! That's perfect.”

Drake raised an eyebrow in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“Duval here told me that the mine carts go all the way to the Bellator Valley. So we can chase Ri'zzar while looking for … whoever Modera planned to meet. Or abduct.”

Drake's face lit up for a moment. “Oh yeah, that truly does sound perfect. But it really goes all the way—“

“It's a large network,” interjected Duval. “But relatively stable. Still takes a while to cross the ocean. About a day or so. So I wouldn't advice going without food or water.” A wide grin suddenly spread across his face. “Also, if either one of you has a sensitive stomach … good luck!”

“I'm sure we'll manage,” said Alyssa. “Fey, how about we go—“

“Don't bother!” spluttered Feyadal and shot to his feet. “You can rest here for a while. Me and Maximilian will gather supplies.”

Alyssa scowled and bit her lips while Maximilian smiled apologetically. They were gone within a minute. Only the crackling of the fire and the rustling of the map remained as Drake stashed it again. Duval opened his mouth, then thought better of it and got himself a mug of beer. Drake shook his head when he was offered one too and Alyssa didn't even notice.

As time passed by, some rats scurried around, maybe searching for remnants of the massacre. Their bodies were bigger than usual, almost half the size of grown man's legs, but they still steered clear of the fire. A deep growl echoing from far away scared them off soon after. Alyssa cocked her head and listened closely, but then relaxed. Catching Drake's curious gaze, she smiled softly.

“Shouldn't pose a threat to us. Sounded like it came from deep below.”

“Yeah, happens sometimes,” added Duval. “But most creatures stay in their usual habitat unless they're hungry. Or really pissed.”

Silence fell once more and lasted for a good ten minutes. Then Drake remembered something crucial that had almost gotten lost in all the mess.

“Alyssa?” he asked carefully.


“Do you think Ri'zzar spoke the truth? When he claimed that Assar is one of the Asen?”

Alyssa shrugged. “He tried to kill us afterward, so I see no reason to believe him. I don't know all the Asen, though. Just Mimeidr, Aquoleth, and Amb-Urbat. But I do know that none of them ever appeared in human form. Or moved of their own accord. So it would seem strange for Assar to be one of them.”

“But let's assume he is: would there truly have been a way to corrupt him? To make him abandon his original purpose?”

Alyssa crossed her arms and peered into the flickering flames. “I guess … if a being with enough power knew where to find him, and had enough patience to corrupt his mind … why not? The Asen are living beings after all. Powerful, holy beings, sure, but that just makes corrupting them more difficult.”

“Any being come to mind?”

“Arronax, but he never left Golgotha as far as I'm aware. Or Dorr'n Selkesch, who we know for certain was trying to unearth the Asen. To destroy them, not corrupt them. Apart from them … Arcem de Nileth, perhaps.”


“Old history. And I don't think a guy like him even knew about the Asen.”

“Anyone who's still alive?”

“No. The War was devastating for everyone. Which doesn't mean there can't be any powerful creatures left. But in that case, they must have hidden themselves away from prying eyes.”

Drake sighed and leaned against the wall. “Guess we won't find out until we meet again … unless the Alp tells us what he knows.”

Alyssa's head snapped around. “I'm not going back into the Void to ask him. Once was more than enough. Who knows what else he might summon otherwise?”

“Yeah, well...”

Silence threatened them once more, so Duval chugged down his newest mug of beer, then slammed it down and slurred, “You seem to be quite the adventurers. Anyone mind filling me in?”

“We still have time to waste, so … why not?” And so Drake told him everything, leaving out only a scant few details. Alyssa clung to his every word despite not showing any obvious interest. Any questions she might have had, Duval already asked for her.

Many hours later, the group finally departed to chase down Ri'zzar and to find whoever it was that Modera had been looking for. They loaded two bags of supplies into an equal amount of mine carts, then regarded the first leg of their journey, which promised to carry them above a large, open void before swerving back into a distant tunnel.

“I'm sorry for asking,” started Drake, “but how have these tracks not collapsed already?”

“Good craftsmanship!” bellowed Duval. “So don't get your panties in a bunch. They've been standing and delivering for more than a thousand years. I'm sure they'll last a few more days. Of course, if you don't trust me, you're welcome to walk. All that's standing in your way are countless horrors lurking in the darkest reaches of Meceruun.”

Drake frowned. “And what's going to stop them from attacking our mine carts?”

“Except for the speed you'll be traveling at? Nothing, really. But what would you rather chase down, a slow vulnerable tortoise or a bird soaring through the sky?”

“Depends on what tastes better, right?”

Duval smirked. “Sure. So don't look too tasty. But enough with the questions, lest I decide to make your journey more … interesting.”

“You can do that?”

“What did I just say?”

Drake raised his hands defensively and backed away. “Okay, okay, we're going already. But if this comes crashing down, I swear I will haunt you until the end of days!”

“Can vampires even become ghosts?”

“I … have no idea. And I'd prefer not to find out.”

So they clambered into the mine carts—Drake with Alyssa and Maximilian with Feyadal—and waited for Duval to launch them halfway round the globe. He did so by walking to a set of levers that Drake had seen earlier without being able to make sense of them. There were certainly far more than there were tracks.

A few shoves and pulls later and the carts began to move. Gradually at first, then swiftly picking up speed. So it came as a real surprise to Drake, whose eyes had been focused on the void below, that they entered the tunnel that should have been so far away in less than a minute. The walls were rushing past at that point, nothing but a blur to even the eyes of a vampire. The carts themselves rattled as expected, shaking up the stomach of each passenger. Neither of them seemed fazed by it, though. Therefore, Drake turned his eyes straight ahead, one hand resting on Carrazon at all times.

A few oversized lizards and hordes of bats were all they saw during the first few hours, most of whom paid the mine carts no attention. Only one of the lizards actually gave chase, but it never made a move to take them down. Perhaps it was just playing. Or maybe it felt the magic sizzling in those carts, just waiting to be unleashed in its direction. About twenty minutes later, it finally slipped into a different tunnel, never to be seen again.

Some time later, the dreary cave walls gave way to a vast chamber made entirely of crystals. They sparkled in a myriad of colors and reflected the mine carts a thousand times over, making it seem like the cave was snatching images from past, present, and future. And maybe even alternate dimensions, given how distorted some of those images appeared.

One of them showed Maximilian as a round, squashed figure who might have passed for a dwarf, while another depicted Alyssa as a towering god whose beautiful body was about to snap in half. Even then she called it beautiful, which no one—not even herself—managed to hear at the speeds they were traveling at.

None of the other places they passed through ever came close, so they're hardly worth describing. But one of them was certainly … odd, to put it lightly. At first, it seemed like an ordinary underground lake, albeit with water as black as oil. Then suddenly, darkness was all that remained. Even the tracks appeared to have vanished. And the edges of the mine carts were flickering, sometimes there, sometimes not.

“What is—“ began Drake, and then his voice was gone. The others experienced the same phenomenon. It's like they had crossed over into a different dimensions that was flickering in and out of existence, threatening to consume everything within.

Maximilian swung Elegnis to lighten up the cave, but even the brightest of beams fizzled out of existence after only a few feet. Alyssa also tried her best, accomplishing about the same.

And then they were free for no apparent reason, just chugging along through another dreary tunnel.

“What the hell just happened?” yelled Maximilian to make himself heard.

No one had an answer to offer, so they simply drove on, all the while hoping to reach their destination without encountering any other surprises.

The fungal forest appearing within the hour gave them another chance to bask in the eerie beauty of the World Below, what with giant luminescent mushrooms stretching far into the darkness like only trees were known to do. Insects of comparable size clung to their massive stems, some of whom followed the mine carts with their eyes as if they were some kind of curiosity. A monstrous spider with a body like fire even dangled so close that the group feared it might be planning to derail them. Then a ghastly moth slammed into its web and distracted the beast long enough for the carts to pass by.

A small ape-like creature with the face of a cat suddenly leapt into Feyadal's and Drake's cart. It wore a fluttering blue cape fastened underneath a billowing white mane and tried to make off with their bag of supplies. Drake wrapped his arms around the bag and forced it down, catapulting the creature onto its back. It bounced back wholly unfazed and launched itself into the second cart.

Alyssa grabbed it by the throat before it had the chance to land and swerved its body beyond the edge, dangling it many feet above the rocky surface. “Leave, or I will make you leave!” she bellowed. The creature squeaked and flung its legs around her arm, holding on tight. “Hey, let go!” She tried to shake it off, but that only made things worse, as the creature wrapped itself around her arm with all its strength, eventually looking like an oversized and oddly-designed sleeve.

Maximilian came to her aid and tried to pry it loose. That's when the creature suddenly let go and dropped down next to their supplies. It grabbed them faster than the eye could see and was about to jump when it slammed into a shield erected by Alyssa at the very last second. It sent the creature bouncing back and left it dazed on the bottom of the cart.

By the time it had recovered, it was floating in a bubble slowly drifting to the ground—a nice attempt to spare its life that backfired the moment a giant elongated tongue snatched it from the sky.

Back by the carts, the group had started to dig into their supplies, just in case another thief got more lucky than the first. They left the forest soon after and returned to a normal series of winding caves.

An hour later, the carts suddenly slowed down, now moving at comparable speeds to a horse-drawn carriage.

“What's happening?” said Drake. “Are we almost there?”

“Can't be,” answered Feyadal. “There's at least half a day left to the Bellator Valley.”

“Maybe we're supposed to transfer here somewhere?” assumed Maximilian.

Drake shook his head. “Can't be. Duval would have mentioned it, I suppose.”

Alyssa shushed them suddenly. “Shut up! I think I see the reason.” She pointed far ahead, where the body of a giant creature was poking from a cave. A creature eerily reminiscent of one that Drake had fought in the Battle of Arlington: a dragon! Gold spilled from between its claws and fire burst from its nostrils every time it snored. Charred skeletons lined the wall in front of it, one of which must have belonged a giant, judging by its massive skull.

“Did they really have to build their tracks above a dragon's lair?” whispered Maximilian.

“Perhaps it moved in later?” offered Alyssa. “Not that it matters. Just keep quiet until we're past. And maybe duck down, just to make sure it doesn't see us.”

So everyone ducked out of sight … except for Feyadal, who couldn't take his eyes off the beast. Something about it seemed oddly fascinating, but he couldn't explain why. Nor pull himself away.

“What are you doing?” whispered Drake and pulled on Feyadal's sleeves. “Get down!”

Yet Feyadal could not be moved, even by an outside force. His body flickered and multiplied, wiggling on the spot like a distant mirage. His eyes then turned a muddy gray as though he had gone blind. But he wasn't. Not at all. How else would he have seen the dragon's star-shaped iris staring into his? Its crimson color flared up like a fire and burned itself into his mind.

And then he saw a different place: a dark chamber whose walls were made of smooth obsidian. Something was resting in its center, a creature whose body resembled the dragon's, yet couldn't be more different. Explaining why would have been impossible as Feyadal's eyes began to hurt the moment he tried to focus. A headache followed when he tried again. And then he was assaulted by a booming voice that forced him to his knees, both in reality and inside his vision.

“You have not been invited to join me, fool! So turn around and enjoy your new-found power for what little time you have left. Otherwise, I will rip that shard from within your flesh so that Alyssa can see you turn to dust! And then I will tear her into pieces until there's nothing left of her beauty!”

Reality snapped back and Feyadal realized he was screaming at the top of his lungs. A different noise then drowned out his own: the roar of a dragon.

“Can't these things move a little faster?” yelled Drake while spinning all around and leaning over every side.

“There's just a brake,” said Maximilian and pointed to a lever on the right-hand side of his own cart, “but nothing else.”

Feyadal rose to his feet like someone waking from a dream and peered into the depths beneath. The dragon was clambering from inside his hoard, its eyes already focused on the carts above. Flames flickered at the corners of its snout and its belly was slowly turning crimson, building up the blaze that would annihilate everything in reach.

“Alyssa, can't you erect a shield to protect us from the flames?” said Drake.

“Sure. But not long enough to get out of here. And it won't protect us if the dragon decides to pounce us personally.”

“But the cave's too narrow for it to fly!”

“And narrow enough for it to climb around. It's a lizard after all. Just a really big and fearsome one.”

The dragon's tail popped free and its body started turning, aligning itself with the tracks above. At that point, the carts were still like two miles away, giving the beast ample opportunity to charge up its flames before burning them to cinders.

For a moment, Feyadal played with the thought of plunging an arrow deep into the creature's throat. But he wasn't sure if his magic could overcome the beast's flames. And with only the mine carts as a target, he couldn't possibly launch a surprise attack.

The Splinter of Desolation throbbed all throughout, urging him to use its power, to shred the dragon from the inside out. He saw it happen in front of his eyes, could feel the power swell within him. But still, he didn't succumb. He couldn't. Not until there was no other choice. Which could have been soon, if not for a brilliant idea manifesting inside his head.

“I think I've got it!” he yelled all of a sudden.

“Oh, finally come to your senses?” said Alyssa with a grim expression. “What the hell happened? Why'd you scream like someone was trying to rip your head off?”

“I'm not sure. And there's really no time.”

“So what's your plan?”

Feyadal smirked and slapped his legs. “I run!”

“Which is going to help us … how?”

“Well, I'm not going to run alone, obviously. I simply jump onto the tracks and push the cart so far away that the dragon won't follow lest he risk his hoard being plundered.”

“But you can't push both carts at once.”

“I know. So do your best to not be burned.”

Without waiting for an answer, Feyadal leapt onto the tracks while holding on really tight. He then spun around, grabbed the cart with his free hand, and started pushing. It didn't work quite as well as he had hoped, as the tracks weren't meant to be traversed on foot, but after picking up some speed, the magic in his boots did the rest and the cart raced away even faster than before they came upon the dragon's hoard.

The dragon's fire dimmed for a moment, perhaps a sign of confusion. Then it roared and its flames burst forth, enveloping the remaining cart in less than a second. A bubble of energy flared up around it, but even that couldn't stop the heat from seeping through. Rivers of sweat ran down Alyssa's and Maximilian's flesh, and then their skin threatened to blister and burn, quickly turning red. Alyssa fell to her knees when it happened, breathing deliriously and hardly able to keep the shield going. It flickered and crackled, allowing more and more heat to penetrate the cart's interior.

The heat ceased all of a sudden, giving way to rushing winds cooling Alyssa's skin. She raised her gaze and saw Feyadal pushing the cart, his clothes now aflame. Alyssa shot to her feet, planning to douse the flames. Then the dragon came running from the side, its claws tearing through the rocks and flames bursting from its throat.

“Faster!” yelled Alyssa and conjured another barrier behind them.

Feyadal's legs were cramping up, yet he pushed and pushed, straining his boots to their absolute limit. There was just one problem: they too were on fire and their magic was fading. Feyadal could feel it fizzle out, barely able to keep up the pace. His only glimmer of hope was a cramped tunnel opening ahead, where Drake's cart was already waiting for the others.

So he ran and ran, unaware that the dragon was quickly closing in. Small elven feet just couldn't compare to the massive legs of a dragon. But then, as if through a miracle, the wall collapsed, robbing the dragon of its foothold. A tremor rocked the cave as its body slammed down and the cart jumped in response, almost leaping off the tracks. Feyadal forced it back down, then stumbled, his speed fading at last.

Alyssa finally had time to douse his clothes, but it was far too late. Their magic was gone. All Feyadal had left were his bow and quiver waiting for him in Drake's cart. But at least they were alive.