-Defiance, Dragon, Door
"Damaris and The Dragon"
Freedom, that's what he felt. Freedom and power.
"That's it, Damaris! Faster!"
The young Phoenix soaring through the sky squawked and dodged at apparently nothing.
If only he could be free of the Shadow's voice in his head.
Even from that height he could hear people below gasping in awe and fright. Damaris would have loved to stop and light a bonfire or two, but Troy had changed his form, and Troy controlled him now, pushing him farther and faster. He could see the spires of the White Castle. Was the Shadow planning to strike the castle a second time?
The brilliant purple of dusk unfolded across the horizon, but the deepest shadows couldn't touch the brilliant flames over Damaris' body. He wanted to keep flying, to just chase that last glimmer of the sun till he was far away from the Realm. As much as he would rather be here in the sky than buried under the building, left for dead by the only people in his life who actually cared about him—he wished with all of his might that his rescuer was anyone in the Realm except Troy, the meddlesome troublemaker. Being a true Phoenix felt dramatically different than merely existing as a “fireproof boy”—but Damaris wasn’t sure he enjoyed it one bit.
All too soon, the walls of the White Castle came into view. Damaris could see the drawbridge wide open, and a small group of figures heading across it. One of them was small and grey, blending well into the weathered wood of the drawbridge.
"Light it up!" Troy commanded.
Damaris dearly wanted to light him up, although he knew that would be impossible. The Phoenix screeched, and a jet of flame from his beak chased the figures across the bridge. Damaris swooped down and would have followed them through the gate itself, but the clatter of chains over cogs warned him away. He watched—not without some measure of satisfaction—as the drawbridge swung closed at a furious rate.
“Well,” Troy remarked beside him, “I suppose if we’re not going through it,” he gestured upward, and a thrust of force shoved Damaris toward the sky, “we’ll just have to go up and over!” They cleared the topmost turrets and Damaris spread his wings to adjust his flight.
The young Phoenix just about tumbled backward when a roar ten times more powerful than his screech thundered at him from the courtyard. A dragon, this time with glistening red scales, charged at him, spreading her wings wide in defense of the castle.
Damaris, the calm, quiet voice of Erlis reached his mind, in spite of Troy's presence. What are you doing? Stop this! She spat an angry plume of fire at him, but it just washed over him like a wave on the beach. Damaris hardly felt more than just pressure on his flaming feathers.
I can't! Damaris squawked back. He’s too strong for me! He’s in my head and he won’t stop!
Looking down at the courtyard as he flew, Damaris saw Beren ducking into an alcove, while Zayra remained in the doorway. Jaran lay crumpled on the ground—but from that distance, Damaris couldn’t tell if he was dead or just unconscious. The deranged Queen held in her hand a blue orb that looked like Jaran’s lightning power—had she somehow taken it away from him? Damaris let another jet of fire well up in his throat. If Troy wanted him to burn things, why not aim for the person who caused so much damage?
He sent the fireball racing toward her, enjoying the way she flailed her arms to dive out of the way. A sudden pull on his neck diverted the trajectory of the fireball to ignite the doors around her instead.
"Ah-ah!" Troy chided him. "Wouldn't do that if I were you!"
The dragon swooped in behind Damaris, driving him closer to the courtyard, where Denahlia, Edri, and someone Damaris didn't recognize stood braced to defeat him. Troy used a tether made of shadow to jerk Damaris around to face the dragon and fight her, but the Phoenix knew his odds of survival were dramatically shrinking.
In the courtyard, Denahlia spread her hands before her face. In between her outstretched palms, her vision darkened and shifted color, allowing her to see the winged avian body amid the hot flames.
“All right, Lizeth,” she said, “We need to take down the Phoenix. I’ll tell you where to aim, and you can—“
Denahlia nearly blinked her vision back to normal. She glanced at Lizeth, maintaining the dark-shaded coloring in spite of how bizarre it looked. “Are you kidding me right now?” she seethed.
Lizeth clenched her fists at her sides, and the blue flame unfolded. “He needs our help, not our enmity. If anything, we should figure out the best way of taking out Him.” She pointed to the flickering, incorporeal black shape wafting across the sky.
“Believe me,” Denahlia spat with an oath, “he’s untouchable! I’ve tried about three times, and failed every one!”
Lizeth smiled. “They said the same thing about a lot of the patients I treated.” She held her flaming blue hands in front of her. “This fire is about more than healing or activating herbs; with this flame, I can touch the untouchable.” She glanced at Edri. “The same way I touched you.”
Edri frowned and grunted, returning to directing the palace archers in launching arrows at the two beasts fighting in midair.
Zayra, meanwhile, had found servants to douse the flames blocking the doorway.
“Oh no you don’t!” she screamed at the Phoenix diving and swooping above. “That’s MY DRAGON!” She lifted her hands, and arcs of lighting streamed out of the crown on her head. Gritting her teeth, she thrust her open, crackling palms toward the pair.
A massive branch as big around as she was split across the space in front of her, crackling and absorbing the energy from the bolts. It burst into flame, but thickened and spread, covering over the burned areas with fresh, new bark. Zayra couldn’t so much as turn to defend herself before a thick tree root sprouted from between the flagstones and wrapped around her body.
More roots seemed to emerge from down below the castle, from the dungeons. Two figures calmly walked among the winding, rending wood: Kaidan and Javira Clissander. Javira twirled her hand with a casual air, sending tree roots spiraling in all directions.
Her brother had other plans. He marched straight up to the trapped Queen Zayra.
She blinked in disbelief. “I don’t… I don’t understand,” she whimpered. “How did you get more power?”
Kaidan shrugged. “We are only as powerful as we ever were—but now we have our original abilities back, rather than the ones our father forced on the two of us.”
“Original?” Zayra hated being this close to anyone over whom she had no control—but she was far too disoriented to try and exert her will over the man before her.
Kaidan smiled. “Tree roots is Javira’s capability. Mine is, of course, much different.” He slid his hand along the smooth bark of the root gripping Zayra tight. “My touch can read memories.”
“Memories?” Zayra echoed in a tiny voice.
“Memories,” Kaidan confirmed. “Something you don’t seem to have a lot of—so let me help you see what you really are!”
He clapped his hands over Zayra’s ears and the young queen screamed.
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