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Her Elemental Dragons: Stroke the Flame: Chapter 29

KIRA

My stomach dropped out from under me at Reven’s words. As I stared at the platform, I noticed something I’d first missed—a large pyre. They were going to burn someone alive. But who were they executing and why?

Jasin’s eyes darted around, his hand resting on his sword. “We should get out of here.”

“I agree,” Slade said. “Kira shouldn’t be here for this.”

A huge man stepped onto the platform and loomed over the crowd in his shining armor, the large dragon wings on his helmet flashing under the sun. Unlike the other soldiers, his armor and helmet were blood red.

Jasin swore under his breath. “That’s General Voor.”

“You know him?” I asked.

“I served under him for two years.” He gripped my arm. “We really need to go. Now.”

Auric glanced at the soldiers around the edges of the crowd. “It’s too late. If we run out of here now it will be suspicious.”

On the platform soldiers began dragging out a row of people who were all tied together in a line. They stumbled forward, at least ten of them, both men and women, young and old. One of them couldn’t be more than twelve or thirteen, while another looked closer to her sixties.

“These people have all been found guilty of being part of the Resistance,” General Voor called out, his voice oddly metallic from behind his helmet. “By order of the Black Dragon they will pay for their crimes. With fire.”

I watched in horror as each prisoner was moved toward the pyre and tied to stakes rising out of it. The young boy stumbled and fell, and a woman I assumed was his mother jerked toward him to help. A soldier pushed her back hard, while another one roughly shoved the child toward the fire pit. The crowd remained hushed the entire time, although I caught a few people silently crying into their hands, while others nodded in support at the General. The soldiers glared at us from the sidelines the entire time, ready to step in if anyone got out of line.

“We have to help them,” I blurted out, surprising even myself.

“We can’t,” Jasin set, his jaw clenched. “I don’t like this any more than you do, but if we get involved we’ll only put ourselves in danger.”

“But we have to do something!”

“We can’t. We’ll expose who we are and likely get ourselves killed in the process.”

“I’m with Jasin,” Reven said. “We need to stay out of this and lay low. Besides, it’s not our fight.”

“Of course it is!” I turned to Slade and Auric. “Surely you don’t also think we should just stand here and watch these people die?”

Slade stroked his beard slowly as he considered. “I agree we should help them, but only if we can get you out safely first.”

I huffed. “I’m not going anywhere.”

His green eyes met mine. “Kira, I don’t like this any more than you do, but my responsibility is to protect you first.”

“I’m going to help them whether you join me or not. So if you want to protect me, I suggest you stick by my side.”

Auric eyed the platform as if it were a puzzle to solve. “Is there a way to rescue them while making sure we all get out alive and don’t reveal our powers?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “But this is why we were given these powers. To stop the Black Dragon and her followers.”

Jasin ran a ragged hand through his short, damp hair. “Maybe so, but we’re not strong enough yet, and there are too many soldiers. And trust me, we do not want to get General Voor’s attention. ”

“We need to create a diversion,” Auric said. “Jasin can set something on fire to distract the soldiers, and then we’ll go in.”

“This is a really bad idea,” Reven muttered.

I gave him a sharp look. “Then come up with a better one, because we’re doing this with or without your help.”

“Fine.” Jasin glanced around, as if checking where we were. “This city has underground tunnels that the Resistance use to get around. There’s an entrance behind that shop over there.”

“Where do the tunnels go?” Reven asked.

“To different parts of the city, but also beyond the walls.”

“How do you know all this?” Auric asked.

Jasin hesitated. “That doesn’t matter right now.”

Determination crackled within me as the plan came together in my head. “So we distract the guards, free the prisoners, and get them to the tunnels, where we should be able to escape?”

“Exactly,” Jasin said.

“Oh, is that all?” Reven asked sardonically, shaking his head.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Slade asked me.

I swallowed and glanced at the prisoners on the platform, who were now all tied to the stakes and awaiting their fate. All my life I’d stayed out of trouble and kept my head down in order to survive. I’d never wanted to fight for a cause or overthrow an empire, I’d just wanted to survive another day. But if I was supposed to save the world from the Black Dragon, I couldn’t hide in the shadows forever. Not if I wanted to fight for what was right.

My back straightened with resolve. “Yes, I’m sure. The Gods chose us so we could bring balance back to the world. It’s time we started doing that.”

“If we’re going to do this, we need to hurry,” Slade said, his face grim. “They’re lighting the pyres now.”

“Cover your faces and get to the prisoners. I’ll cause a distraction.” Jasin ripped some fabric off his shirt sleeve and tied it around his face to cover everything below his nose. Then he raised his hood again, so that all I could see were his eyes.

I wrapped my arms around him and gave him a quick squeeze. “Be careful.”

He rested his forehead against mine briefly. “You too.”

“We’ll keep her safe,” Slade said, resting a hand on my back.

Jasin gave him a nod, before slipping into the crowd. We covered our faces like he’d done and started toward the stage, weaving around the people in front of us.

Someone shouted as an empty cart in the middle of the crowd went up in flames. Panic spiked in my chest, even though I knew it was Jasin’s distraction, and I forced myself to stay calm. People around us began screaming and pushing to get away from the fire, while soldiers rushed forward to investigate. I prayed Jasin could get away safely.

Unfortunately, the soldiers on the platform barely paused. General Voor instructed a few soldiers to deal with the blaze, but that still left half a dozen more, including the one setting fire to the pyre where the prisoners stood. With the twitch of his hand, Auric created a heavy gust around the pyre which repeatedly put the fire out, while we continued forcing our way through the crowd. But the soldiers were relentless, and eventually they got a true blaze going.

We were still too far from the platform and I worried we’d be too late, but then Reven raised his hand and water suddenly began to fall from the sky over the prisoners. If I didn’t know better I’d think rain was pouring down, even if it was isolated to one location.

As the pyre’s flames were doused, the General scowled. “Curse this weather,” he said, as he drew his sword. “We’ll have to deal with these traitors another way.”

As the other guards readied their weapons, Slade let out a low growl, and then the ground beneath the platform began to shake. I held onto his arm to remain steady, while people around us screamed and tried to flee from the sudden earthquake.

The soldiers and the prisoners both crumpled to their feet as the wooden platform broke apart with a huge crack and collapsed to the ground. The four of us rushed into the broken wood, trying not to injure ourselves on the splintered pieces. The prisoners were all still tied to their stakes and had landed at awkward angles, but a quick glance showed they were still alive.

Auric and I began freeing the prisoners, using our swords to cut through their bindings, while Slade and Reven guarded our backs as the soldiers got to their feet. The General tried to stand as well, but Auric knocked him back with a strong blast of air.

“Come with us!” I shouted to the prisoners, once they were free. I counted twelve of them total, some a little scorched and others bruised or cut, but alive. They stumbled after me off the ruined platform, looking dazed and scared, but at least they kept moving. Auric, Reven, and Slade formed a circle around us, fighting off the soldiers who tried to attack us.

The crowd had thinned between the fire and the earthquake, and those few people who were left didn’t stop us as we pushed through them. I led the prisoners toward the shop Jasin had pointed out, hoping we were going in the right direction, especially since more soldiers were starting to rush after us.

I spotted Jasin on the corner of the street ahead of us and nearly cried out with relief that he was safe. He waved us forward and called out, “Hurry!”

Jasin led our ragged group into an alley in the back of the shops, where he shoved a large flower pot aside to reveal a metal grate in the ground. He yanked the grate open, and I gestured for the prisoners to go in first, while my other mates moved to fight off the approaching soldiers.

“Get inside, quickly!” Jasin said, as he helped the prisoners down into the hole. “Kira, you too.”

I started toward him, but then I saw Reven cornered against the wall, fighting five soldiers at once, including General Voor. My assassin moved like a dancer, a swirl of black clothing and blades, but even with all of his deadly skill there were too many of them, and their armor was hard to penetrate. The General’s sword slashed Reven’s thigh, making him fall back against the wall, and terror gripped my throat.

I drew my sword and plunged it into the back of the soldier closest to me, desperate to save Reven before it was too late. I fought off the next soldier and threw myself in front of Reven before the General could run him through with his sword. My blade met the General’s and I stared into his rage-filled eyes under that red winged helmet, before he knocked the sword from my hand with his massive strength.

Reven suddenly grabbed me and shoved me behind him, as he brought up his twin blades to fight General Voor again. He managed to force the man back, and then a huge rumble sounded above us. A gust of wind knocked me and Reven back, as part of the shop beside us split apart and crumbled, forming a wall of rubble between us and General Voor. Slade and Auric stood behind us, and had likely just saved our lives.

“Come on!” Jasin grabbed my arm and dragged me toward the tunnels, with the others right behind us. Auric helped Reven, who was limping, but then an arrow fired from somewhere and struck my prince in the shoulder, making him cry out. My heart twisted at the sound, but he didn’t slow.

One by one we dropped into the tunnels, where the prisoners were waiting for us in the darkness. Slade was last, and once we were all safe he caused the ground to close up above us, preventing the soldiers from following—and trapping us inside.


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