The following is chapter two of The Dragon Protector. (Need to start at the beginning? Click here to go to chapter one.)
Taliya studied the gap between the tips of her fingers and the roof. If she jumped, she was sure she could grab the raised edge and pull herself up the way Javan had. He had made it look easy. Then again, he was a good five inches taller than her.
The crowd had grown quiet. What could they see that she couldn’t? Had Javan drawn his stalker swords? Were the two men about to duel? She had to get up there to keep them from killing each other. But how?
“Just go for it, Taliya.” At her own prompting, she bent her knees as low as she could from her perch on the railing and vaulted straight up. Her fingers latched onto the wood, but that was as far as she could get. She dangled from the corner, unable to tug herself up or swing her legs high enough to snag the roof and use them to take some of the pressure off her arms.
“Psst. Mertzer. A little help?” Her words sounded soft and strained to her own ears and failed to get Mertzer’s attention. She began contemplating the best way to contort her body to cause the least amount of damage upon colliding with the ground when the dragon peeked his head around the building.
“Hey, buddy.” Her muscles burned, and her sweaty fingers started to slip. “I know Micah hasn’t given you an official order, but—” She lost her grip and braced herself for the inevitable impact with the ground. But the dragon’s head broke her fall, and she landed flat on her belly between Mertzer’s eyes.
“Good thing you can move quickly.” His scales were warmer than she expected them to be. He needed to get out of the city and back under the protective canopy of the rain forest. He would be able to if he was free like all dragons should be.
“Thanks for catching me.” She rubbed behind his soft ears to show her appreciation as he lifted her to the roof. She slid down his snout and landed discreetly behind Javan just as Micah was placing his sword in Javan’s hands.
“If I kill you, my father wins,” Micah said, dropping to his knees and putting his hands behind his back. “That is why you must kill me.”
Taliya watched in disbelief as Micah lowered his head and Javan stared at him like a confused statue. When nothing happened, Micah looked up.
“Go ahead,” Micah said. “Kill me. Take Mertzer. Win the throne.”
Javan stuttered his reply. “I…I don’t understand.”
Neither did Taliya. What had happened in Zandador that made Michah want to turn on his father and die?
“It’s not hard,” Micah said. “You need a Dusk Stalker. Mertzer is the last Dusk Stalker alive. The only way you can collect him is if you kill me.”
“I get that,” Javan said. “What I don’t get is why. The deal you made with Omri involved my execution in exchange for letting the people of Keckrick live.”
“No one else was in that room. How did you know about that?”
“That’s irrelevant. What matters is that I know the real deal. So why are you changing the terms?”
“Because I found out what my father is doing with the humminglo plants.”
◊ ◊ ◊
Micah noticed Taliya take a step toward them at the mention of the humminglo plants. Taliya? What was she doing up here? How did she get on the roof, and how long had she been standing there?
“What Omri is doing with the plants changed your mind?” Javan sounded baffled. “So it had nothing to do with the Destroyer?”
“What Destroyer?” The sudden appearance of Taliya already had Micah distracted, so he wasn’t sure he heard Javan right. Most of the Destroyer Bloodline had died out centuries before Micah was even born. Why would Javan be talking about a Destroyer?
“Nevermind.” Javan shook his head, tossed Micah’s sword aside, and pulled Micah to his feet. “What’s Omri using the humminglo flowers for?”
Micah took a deep breath to regain his focus and explained what he had learned. “When the liquid from inside the web of the flower is consumed, it somehow cuts off a person’s ability to think for themselves. My father plans to use this substance to control the Land of Zandador. He won’t need an army to enforce his laws, and he won’t need dragons to inflict punishment. He’ll gain complete and total power over everyone.”
“Mind control?” Taliya interrupted and walked over to stand beside Javan. “Are you sure?”
“I wouldn’t be willing to die if I wasn’t sure,” Micah said. “And I am sure my father won’t bother destroying the people of Keckrick once he gets his hands on their entire supply of super humminglos. The flowers are more important to him than anything else.”
“This doesn’t make sense,” Javan said. “You like having control over people. You should be trying to harness the power of the humminglos for yourself, not be asking me to usurp your father.”
Micah cringed at Javan’s assessment of his character. That is who he used to be; it wasn’t who he wanted to be anymore. He was willing to sacrifice his own life to prove it. “My father is wrong. People matter. You taught me that.”
Determining that Javan would prefer to use his own weapon, Micah drew the stalker sword from the scabbard hanging on Javan’s right hip, pointed the tip at his chest, and forced Javan to hold the handle by smothering Javan’s hands with his own. “But my father thought I was dead and didn’t care. My death should bother him. It will if you kill me and take Mertzer.”
Micah could tell by the way Javan’s chest heaved up and down that he was considering pushing that sword in a few inches. He needed to. It was the only way his father could be defeated.
“Don’t do it, Javan.” Taliya put her hand on Javan’s shoulder. “You’re not a murderer.”
“What other choice do I have?” Javan kept his glowing green eyes glued on Micah’s for a long moment before shifting his gaze to Taliya. They seemed to speak a silent language Micah didn’t understand, and he knew Javan would never act without Taliya’s approval.
“Javan, stop stalling.” Tears dripped down Micah’s cheeks. He needed this to be over. He needed to die. “Put an end to my agony. Please.”
“I will. But not by killing you.” Javan yanked his hands away from Micah, put his sword away, and offered his hand to Micah to shake. “Join me. Be part of my team. Fight with me and Taliya to overthrow your father.”
◊ ◊ ◊
Javan’s words reminded Taliya that she had already agreed to go with him to Zandador. She was not thrilled with the agreement. She had spent the first seven years of her life in that place and didn’t want to return. The only reason she had said yes was so that she could continue to protect Kisa even though the Dawn Stalker now technically belonged to Javan.
“No.” Micah refused Javan’s suggestion. “Mertzer can never be a part of your collection as long as I am alive. You need him.”
“No. I need you on my side.” Javan smiled. “I know of another way to collect a Dusk Stalker.”
“There is no other way. You have to–”
“You have to shut up and trust me.”
Micah cocked his head and narrowed his eyes. “All right,” Micah said after a long pause. “I’ll trust you.” He stuck out his hand, grasped Javan’s, and shook.
“Fantastic.” Taliya put both of her hands on top of theirs and lowered her voice as she looked at Javan. “Now that we have this team thing established, let’s go somewhere with a little more privacy to discuss how you intend to collect a Dusk Stalker that doesn’t exist.”
The story continues with First Team Meeting.