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I nodded to ___, then focused my attention on the hall. I walked down the hall at a brisk walk, fast enough to reach the end of the hall in four minutes but slow enough that I wouldn’t draw attention from anyone lurking around. I kept my sword held out in front of me as I walked and turned toward the end of the hall without stopping.
A servant exited a room in front of us and I held up a cautious hand, but he never turned around. When I reached the end of the hall I flattened myself against the wall and peered around the corner. I could see straight into the foyer. Something wasn’t right- other than the one servant there seemed to be no one but us- no noblemen followed us from the audience chamber, no King’s men guarded the door.
Before I could voice my concern, ___ ran past me. He motioned over his shoulder for his two friends to follow him. I ran close at their heels. These doors were made of the same ___ wood that the audience chamber doors were made out of, but they were almost twice as big.
Just as a crack began to show between the doors, a sound came from outside. It seemed to vibrate through the building, causing the floor to shake. The door thudded shut again as the men jumped back in surprise. No one moved for a full minute as they waited for another sound to reach them through the doors. Even as itreached their ears, I knew what it was without a doubt- a dragon’s roar.
“Open the doors! Open the doors!” I screamed. The three men jumped forward, joined by others as desperation replaced shock. Five men pulling at the doors seemed to quicken the process by a few seconds only, but the door did finally open enough for ___ and his fighting partner, ____, to slip through. They managed to push the door open another foot and I waited for them to make another move, but they didn’t.
The foot was enough for the three other men to gain momentum and the door swung open easily. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw on the other side.
___ and ___ lay sprawled face first in front of the doors. The King’s man who stabbed them was still standing over their bodies, pulling his sword out one of their backs. Behind them I could see that the courtyard was ringed with other armed King’s men.
A volley of arrows shot out from above me, suggesting that the roof of the New Palace was also covered with men. I followed the arrows with my gaze and was hit with the sudden reality of the situation.
The two dozen Guard dragons were circling overhead. I couldn’t be sure at their altitude, but I thought that a few of them were having difficulties flying. Cloud Skimmer noticed me standing in the doorway and she detached herself from the others and began to dive.
“No!” I shouted up at her. I stepped carefully over the bodies of my fellow Guards, knocking the King’s man to the ground on my way and leaving him for the others to take care of.
I ran down onto the steps and threw my hands in the air, jumping up and down. Cloud Skimmer steepened her descent. “No, no!” I cupped my hands around my mouth and tried my best to imitate the sound that a dragon would make when challenging someone.
Cloud Skimmer stared at me and continued to drop until she reached the tops of the surrounding houses. At the last moment, she opened her mouth in a toothy grin, threw her wings open wide and banked sharply to the right. She knocked over several soldiers as she swept through the courtyard and called up fire from her belly, scorching a line of others.
When she reached the edge of the courtyard, she turned again and caught hold of the edge of a nearby roof with her back paws, using the leverage to propel herself up and out of bow range. I followed her with my eyes until she had rejoined the other dragons, than turned my attention back to the courtyard.
None of the King’s men seemed to want to attack first. Not a problem, I thought. With a quick look over my shoulder at the rest of the Guard, I raised my sword over my head, roared a challenge and rushed at the nearest group of King’s men.
The others followed close behind me, spreading out in pairs. I felt a rush of energy as the first man dropped before me. I no longer pulled my blows as I did when fighting inside the King’s audience chambers. Every man within reach of my sword fell.
My concentration was so intense that I almost swung my blade at Druk as he pressed his back against mine. I stopped the blow at the last second and leaned harder against him as a new group of King’s men rushed us.
Druk’s reassuring presence brought me back to the present and, confident that my back was protected, I glanced around the courtyard. The Guard was holding their own. We already had casualties- my mind cringed at the word and a part of me still hoped that ___ and ___ weren’t dead. If we were going to survive this without any more harm we had to get out of here before the King sent out reinforcements. If we wanted to get out of here- my line of thought halted and I turned to face the New Palace- the Guard dragons had to land.
A plan already formed in my mind, I decapitated the last man that was in front of me and ran to the far end of the courtyard. I jumped up and down a few times as I ran and whistled as loud as I could. The bright patch of blue that was Cloud Skimmer heard me and began to dive at me.
Two other dragons flanked her, searching for groups of King’s men standing apart. The brown dragon found a group and let his fire loose on them. The third dragon, unmistakably ___’s because of his bright yellow scales veered to face the King’s Men on top of the New Palace. Twirling with incredible speed he avoided all of their arrows and managed to get close enough to engulf them with his fire.
While he was distracting the King’s Men, Cloud Skimmer dropped down low enough for me to grab onto her foreleg. She flexed her claw and grabbed my middle. Her claws would leave marks but I preferred that to falling.
As she began to climb I felt someone grab my leg, and for the second time during the battle I almost struck Druk. He smiled up at me and I returned it, glad to have him with me. When we were almost the height of the houses surrounding the courtyard, Druk dropped his sword so that he could hold on to me with both hands. The sword plummeted down and struck a King’s Man over the head, allowing a Guard woman to kill him. I rolled my eyes as Druk loosened his hold on me to wave down at her.
Cloud Skimmer started to rise to where the other dragons waited. “No, Cloud Skimmer, to the roof!” She twisted her neck to stare down at me and I pointed to where the remaining King’s men waited on the roof of the New Palace. ___’s dragon had taken out almost half of the bowmen. Cloud Skimmer cut their numbers in half again as she dove at them, fire pouring out of her mouth. Druk struck out the closest men with his legs as we passed over them and then dropped down on to the edge of the roof. Cloud Skimmer turned and passed over them again. She seemed reluctant to let me go but she set me down opposite Druk and took off again.
Now with a third of their fellows dead, a large number of the remaining King’s men on the roof ran. They’d rather take their chances jumping to the ground then face another dragon. Druk and I easily finished off the King’s men that stayed to fight- they were still shaking from Cloud Skimmer and Storm Cloud’s attacks and they were desperate. It didn’t help that they were armed only with their bows.
I tried to save as many of the bows as I could, although a few of them went over the side of the roof with the King’s men. I followed Druk’s example and abandoned my stolen sword, grabbing one of the bows.
Being on the roof of the allowed me to watch all of the separate fights going on in the courtyard below. Most of the fighting pairs were still together, but a few of the Guard were fighting alone. I noticed with alarm that Thera had been separated from her partner.
Before I could act, Druk picked up a bow and aimed at the King’s man nearest her. Thera fell to back in alarm, but she regained her feet quickly and jumped back into the fray. I was amazed by her ferocity.
As soon as the dragons realized that the enemy bowmen were gone, they dropped down and began to harass the swordsmen. They tried to separate the Guard from the King’s men so that they could use fire, but when they couldn’t accomplish that, they attacked with their teeth, claws, tails, and even their size.
When Storm Cloud landed, crushing two men underneath his feet, the closest King’s men panicked and nearly ran into the Guard’s swords.
Thera was still fighting by herself and Sun Scales was hovering over her, trying to strike at the King’s men nearest her without causing any harm to his rider. I grabbed two arrows from the pile Druk and I had made in the middle of the roof, stepped up to the roof’s edge and fired quickly. First one arrow, then the other found their mark. Sun Scales finished off the men with a swipe of her tail and set down her back feet. Thera was up onto her back in a second and then they were both in the air. One safe.
A fighting pair mounted their dragons together a few minutes later, and then ___ joined them. Four safe.
With ___ to lead the dragon’s attacks, they became more organized. I whistled to get ___’s attention and held up my bow. Storm Cloud turned around and hovered for a moment as close to the New Palace as he could. I tossed three bows and their quivers to him. He nodded his thanks and then urged Storm Cloud back to the rest of the airborne Guards.