Authors: black_goose — & umberela —
Pairing: Baekhyun/Chanyeol, Sehun/Luhan, Tao/Kris, Kai/D.O
Word count: 4,865
Summary: "The Oracle has seen the twelve united. War is coming to the Nations. We must prepare for battle."
A/N: for every comment we get on this chapter, i'm going to write a paragraph of my nanowrimo. because i'm currently at 12k wHICH IS A LOT LESS THAN I SHOULD HAVE.
The camp was unusually quiet. They weren’t sleeping yet, but they practically may as well have been. The only conversations going on were hushed whispers around the fire. Suho gnawed on his bread, and wondered if they should ask Kai to teleport off and get them some food, despite his reluctance. The way Luhan was going through it, they would have to get more soon. Suho was just glad he was eating at all. He was still very thin, but had put on a good amount of weight. All things considered, he had gone pretty much back to normal. None of them could make heads or tails of any of it, and they had rehashed the events over and over, throwing out theories around the campfire in the days past. For now, it was a mystery.
Suho watched as Luhan began picking at Sehun’s rations — Sehun clearly not getting through it as quickly as he should have done — and then moved his gaze to Kai and Kyungsoo sitting not too far away, huddled close and murmuring to each other. They, at least, were acting relatively normally, Kyungsoo laughing at something Kai said, the noise remarkably loud considering the quietness around them.
Tomorrow was the day, and that fact loomed over them all. In the morning, they would reach Chanyeol’s shell of a city. In the morning, Chanyeol would have to face the truth of what had happened there once and for all, and not a single one of them was looking forward to it. They couldn’t know what Chanyeol’s reaction would be, but even the most favorable outcome wasn’t particularly pleasant to consider. Suho was no fool, he didn’t believe Chanyeol would learn the truth, fall into Baekhyun’s arms, and then immediately swear to help them win the war against his evil nation. Things were rarely so cut and dry.
Chanyeol was silent beside the fire, watching the flames without really seeing them. The nearer they approached to his city, the more subdued and withdrawn he’d become. Chen was beside him, trying to cajole him into eating some food, from the looks of it. Chanyeol made no motion to show that he’d heard. From his perch next to Xiumin, Baekhyun looked concerned.
They were missing someone. Suho stood, giving the rest of his bread to Luhan, who snatched it eagerly, and went to find Yixing. He, like Chanyeol, had been strangely withdrawn the past few days, talking only when someone else spoke to him, and choosing to be by himself. Suho had half-assumed that it was because Chen, who Yixing usually sat beside during meals and the like, was preoccupied with Chanyeol, but now he was beginning to worry. It wasn’t usual for Yixing to be so quiet.
Yixing was sitting in a deep shadow beside the dragon, far from the warmth and light of the fire. Suho hunkered down beside him, fairly close. “You awake?” Suho asked softly.
“Yes,” Yixing murmured, shifting so his face had some light on it. “Did you need me for something?”
“No,” said Suho. “I was just wondering... Yixing, are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine.”
Suho nibbled his bottom lip before trying again. “You’ve been really quiet these past few days, and I don’t think you’re fine. Ever since Luhan had his, his thing, you’ve been odd. Are you unwell?”
“I am fine, Suho. There’s nothing wrong with me.” Yixing turned his face away.
“No, you’re really not fine.” Suho sat the rest of the way down, arm brushing Yixing’s. “What is it?”
Yixing heaved a sigh, then chuckled. “I know you don’t like being the unofficial leader, but you’re good at it, you know. We wouldn’t have made it this far if it weren’t for you.” Suho didn’t know how to reply to that, cheeks feeling heated. He simply tilted his head, brow furrowing in confusion, and Yixing sighed again. “I’m just thoughtful.”
“Thoughtful,” Suho said slowly.
“Thoughtful,” Yixing said a bit more firmly, “and also confused. And a bit scared.”
That was slightly alarming, because Yixing didn’t seem like he scared easily. “Scared? About what? Chanyeol?”
“What?” Yixing asked, genuine surprise in his tone. “No, not Chanyeol. He just seems, I don’t know, broken. That’s not scary, that’s just... sad. No, it’s Luhan.”
“Luhan?” This time it was Suho’s turn to be surprised.
“He—” Yixing stopped, rubbing a hand over his face. “You can’t tell the others this.”
“I won’t,” Suho said, feeling more than mildly alarmed.
“I don’t know what happened to him, none of us do, but whatever it was, it mangled him. That energy ripped him apart. When I put my hands on his chest, he was gone.”
They’d already known that, Suho thought with a frown. He couldn’t think why it would suddenly bother Yixing. “Well,” Suho reasoned, “he was supposed to die, remember? In his vision, he said he died, so it would make sense for him to have been very wounded. But you were able to Heal him before—”
“No, Suho, you don’t understand,” Yixing whispered, almost frantically, “he was dead.”
Suho blinked. “Are you saying you brought him back to life?” The back of his neck began to prickle.
“No,” Yixing hissed. “I just.” He ran his hands through his hair agitatedly, dislodging his ponytail. “He wasn’t breathing, his heart wasn’t beating.”
“But, you said.” Suho was having trouble grasping this. “You told us his heart was still beating, just, just not right—”
“I lied,” Yixing hissed. “For various reasons. Not least of which, I didn’t want to freak Kai and Sehun out any more than they already were. But I was also freaked out. I restarted someone’s heart. It’s not supposed to be possible to do that, but, even though everything had stopped, there was still somehow a spark there, ever so faint. I don’t know how I could sense it, and I don’t know how I could send that spark into a flame of life again without dying myself. I didn’t even get the Bleeds.”
Suho felt winded, completely at a loss for words. “But that’s—”
“It shouldn’t have been possible,” Yixing said. “I know that. But it happened, Suho. It happened. And I don’t know how to deal with that.” Yixing fell silent, sitting back into the shadows.
Suho understood now, why he had been so reclusive. The weight of this knowledge was extraordinary, and Suho didn’t blame Yixing for being spooked. “I think,” Suho murmured, “something happened that day, something that can’t be explained fully. Not yet, at least. Maybe we’ll get answers some day. But until then, you can’t— it’s not something you can try to rationalise.”
Yixing sighed. “I know. But it’s difficult. I can’t forget the feeling, of there being stillness under my palms, and then feeling Luhan’s heart begin to beat again. It kind of terrifies me.”
“I don’t think it’ll happen again,” Suho said honestly, and he didn’t.
“No, I don’t think so either.” Yixing shivered. “Or maybe that’s just my own wishful thinking, I don’t know.”
Suho stood, extending his hand out to Yixing. “You should come over to the fire,” he said. “It’s warmer over there.”
There was a pause where Suho thought Yixing would refuse, but the Healer took his hand in the end, and let himself be led back to the fire.
The smell of ash was beginning to become all too familiar to Kyungsoo. He scrunched up his nose as they entered Chanyeol’s city, trying to breathe through his mouth. At least they wouldn’t be staying in this city, ash getting into everything. He’d had quite enough of that to last him a lifetime.
Chanyeol’s city looked a great deal like Chen’s city to Kyungsoo’s eyes, perhaps a bit bigger, and not walled in. But the buildings were made of a similar stone, their shapes the same. From the air, they’d been able to see that Chanyeol’s city was beside an extraordinarily large lake. It would have been a sea, but the water was not salt, from his understanding. Kyungsoo knew Chanyeol’s city had largely been a fishing city, flourishing despite the drought. Fishing had been how Chanyeol’s family had originally made their fortune.
Since there was no wall, there was no gate, and they were able to walk straight in. The buildings on the outside were fairly small, getting taller as they went on. The street remained wide, and the dragon, on foot, followed behind them, picking her way over what debris there were in their path.
Chanyeol led the way, silent, back straight. Suho was watching him like a hawk. They all were. He’d been pale all morning, lips pressed together until they were white. Not knowing what Chanyeol would do was pretty frightening, Kyungsoo thought. If he didn’t like what he saw, he could fly into a rage, and they had all seen what Chanyeol was like when he wasn’t restraining himself.
For now though, he was silent. Kyungsoo looked to Luhan, who had been told softly to monitor Chanyeol’s emotion’s. Luhan’s face had an odd grimace on it, but he didn’t look worried or frightened. That was reassuring.
“I don’t like these places,” Kyungsoo muttered, trying to avoid looking at what could possibly have been a charred body out of the corner of his eye. There was too much death here, too much silence; it weighed down on him.
“I know,” Kai said, touching his arm comfortingly.
They continued walking, and the silence stretched on, making Kyungsoo’s neck prickle. He’d expected some kind of reaction from Chanyeol by now.
Kyungsoo stepped to Luhan’s side. “Is he—?”
“He isn’t volatile,” Luhan said tersely. “He’s. I don’t know. Grief, there’s grief and sorrow, but he’s holding it down under a blanket of numbness.”
“That’s so comforting,” Kyungsoo muttered.
“I’m not going to let anything happen to you,” Kai said, putting a hand on Kyungsoo’s shoulder.
Kyungsoo sighed, then coughed as they turned a corner and the breeze from out over the water sent ash into his face. When his eyes stopped watering, he was finally able to see the lake, far down the wide street, glittering in the sunlight.
“This is the city’s center,” Chen murmured for their benefit. He motioned to a mass of stone sitting in the center of two wide cross streets. “Most Fire Nation cities have stone statues of our two deities in the center of the city, built to watch over them. Mine had a full on temple, but we’re a bit unusual.”
“Those are supposed to be statues?” Xiumin whispered.
“They were, once,” Chanyeol said hoarsely. He walked towards them, hand reached out to touch the stone that had melted. Kyungsoo had seen the deities in Chen’s city, and these ones were fairly similar, just on a much smaller scale. As Kyungsoo looked around, he could see that many of the other buildings had caved in as their stoned heated to melting point. They looked like globs, and not so much buildings anymore.
“Fire Shifters,” Kyungsoo said unnecessarily, and Chanyeol bowed his head.
“Chanyeol,” Baekhyun said softly, voice trembling. Kyungsoo hadn’t noticed him, he’d been lagging behind, keeping to himself. Kyungsoo realized now it might have been because he was weeping, tears silent as they fell down his face. “Chanyeol.”
Chanyeol didn’t turn. He pushed himself away from the disfigured statues, stumbling for a moment, then he began to walk, then run. Baekhyun gave a cry, and Suho made a small panicked noise as he gave chase. Baekhyun followed on their heels, and Kyungsoo groaned as he too ran after Chanyeol. They followed him off the main road, and the dragon gave a screech as she was too big to continue down the smaller streets.
“She’s going to wallop me on the head later,” Kai panted. “She’s tired of me running away and getting into trouble without her.”
“Hurgh,” Kyungsoo grunted, not particularly happy either. He may have been more willing to understand why Kai had ran out from behind the dragon that day of the explosion, but he still wasn’t entirely sure he’d forgiven Kai for it.
“Where is he running?” Tao gasped out.
“Home,” Baekhyun sobbed.
They lost sight of Chanyeol; his legs were long and he was running like he was fleeing something that none of them could see, something that made him run faster than any of them could keep up with. It didn’t matter though, because Baekhyun knew the way.
Chanyeol’s property was close to what had once been the docks. The buildings weren’t as bad out here, but they were still burned out husks. There was enough of Chanyeol’s estate left for Kyungsoo to see it had been beautiful, and Baekhyun gave a small wail of despair when it came into sight. It had a crumbling wall around it, and a large arched gate, although the door, which had probably been wooden, was no more, and the arch was misshapen, as it seemed to have warped in the heat of the fire. Some of the house was still visible over the top of the wall, but not much.
Baekhyun dashed under the archway, and they followed. Kyungsoo absorbed the sight of blackened trees and what was once probably a fountain before they’d reached the door of the building. Chanyeol was standing just inside the door, his shoulders slumped, his back to them. Inside the house, nothing remained. Everything had been burned to dust, only charred marks on the wall indicating where there had once been pictures hanging, piles of ash where furniture had once stood.
Baekhyun sobbed, slumping, and Suho grabbed him under one arm to help hold him up. “We need to get out of here,” Baekhyun moaned. “This— I can’t— Chanyeol, please—”
Chanyeol didn’t so much sink to his knees as fall, going down heavily first on one leg and then the other, like he could no longer hold himself up. Dust and ash swirled up as he hit the ground. He clutched his hands to his chest, like he was physically trying to hold himself together. He made a noise, a helpless, pathetic whine, and then tipped his head back and screamed, the sound raw and terrifying. Kyungsoo took a step back, decidedly unnerved.
The scream tapered off, Chanyeol’s head falling forward, his hair obscuring his face. Then he fell forward, hands on the ground, shaking uncontrollably as he sobbed. The sounds coming out of him were wretched, and somewhere behind Kyungsoo, Luhan gave a small sob of his own. Chanyeol was gasping, like he couldn’t breathe, his hands clenching and then unclenching, fingers scraping against the floor manically.
“Everyone,” Baekhyun sobbed, practically gasping himself, “everyone is—” And then he pulled himself out of Suho’s grasp and kneeled beside Chanyeol, heaving in lungfuls of air as he struggled to say something else, something he couldn’t quite get out. Eventually he just lay his hand on Chanyeol’s shoulder.
Chanyeol lifted his head, turning to look at him, making a sound like a wounded animal when he saw that it was Baekhyun. The next moment, Baekhyun was hugging him, pulling Chanyeol’s body towards him, cradling him against his chest. Chanyeol held out for a brief moment, looking like he was going to pull away, and then clutched at Baekhyun, fingers hooked in the material of the back of Baekhyun’s shirt, sobbing into his shoulder. Baekhyun pressed his face into Chanyeol’s hair, his shoulders heaving.
“They’re gone,” Chanyeol rasped, “everything is gone.”
“I know,” Baekhyun replied, voice breaking, “I know.”
“Everything I have ever loved is gone.” Baekhyun’s hold on Chanyeol tightened, his knuckles practically white. Kyungsoo watched his mouth open and then close, before he pressed his face back to Chanyeol’s hair. One of Chanyeol’s hands briefly touched the back of Baekhyun’s neck, skin to skin contact, and, quite distinctly, he said, “Almost everything.”
Baekhyun made a small noise, almost keening. Chanyeol’s hand dropped from the back of his neck, resuming clutching at his shirt, and he sobbed anew.
“I can’t,” Luhan said, and he sounded like he was about to be sick, but Kyungsoo didn’t turn to look, too focused on the pair lost in grief in the middle of the room. He heard shuffling, presumably as Luhan turned to leave the room. Then Luhan screamed, high pitched and terrified, and Kyungsoo thought his heart had stopped for a second.
Kyungsoo turned just in time to see Sehun yank Luhan away from the doorway and a huge jet of fire shot in. Luhan went sprawling to the ground, barely making it out of the way. “Fire Nation soldiers!” Luhan screamed, and Sehun stood over him, shielding him with his body. “There’s more—”
A man stepped through the door, wearing all black, and there were others behind him, and several more were coming through the burnt and cracked doorways around the room. They had been laying in wait for them.
The soldiers didn’t give them a chance to regroup, summoning jets of fire and sending them flying towards various members of their party. Yixing screamed, and Kyungsoo heard a crash, then Kai was grabbing at him roughly and teleporting him to the other side of the room. He was beside Suho now, and in the center of the room Chanyeol had shoved Baekhyun off himself and risen to his feet, his face terrifying.
Suho drew his hand through the air, and a substantial bit of water appeared in a trail behind it. Kyungsoo’s eyes widened. Suho shaped it into a point and sent it flying through the nearest soldier, leaving a gaping hole in his chest. He fell to the ashes, dead, and his comrade whirled and sent a blast of flame roaring toward them. Kyungsoo brought a chunk of the fallen stone wall up, blocking the attack.
He could feel the stone begin to heat under the relentless attack, trying to hold it together enough to continue blocking. Suho cursed, and Kyungsoo saw Kai draw his dagger before teleporting away. The fire stopped abruptly not long after that. Kyungsoo brought the wall down so he could see, then promptly sent it flying at a soldier that was fighting with Sehun, crunching him between the slab of stone and a standing wall.
Suho was already fighting another, and Kai was teleporting around, too fast for Kyungsoo to keep track of him. There were more soldiers than Kyungsoo had initially thought. One came charging at him and before Kyungsoo could react the man had fallen to the ground in two neat pieces, body sliced through the middle by a blade of air sent by Tao.
Some of the wooden beams that hadn’t burned fully were flickering with flame. Smoke was filling up the room. It was making it difficult for Kyungsoo to see, difficult to react to threats quickly enough. He only just managed to dive out of the way of a blast of flame sent his way, landing heavily with a grunt. High rending screams of pain filled the air, making his head shoot up to locate the source, his vision filled only with the smoke.
Kyungsoo didn’t miss the sudden flare of flame though, bright even through the smoke. At first he thought one of the charred central roof beams had gone up, but then he realized the flames were red. Chanyeol.
“Get outside!” Kyungsoo yelled, struggling to his feet. The door was blocked, but he could see light streaming in through a hole that had once been a window. He jumped through it, snagging himself a little on broken glass, and fell on something softer than he’d anticipated. “Crap,” Kyungsoo muttered, rolling off of Yixing, who might have slapped him were it not for the obvious fact he was in pain. Kyungsoo got to his feet, grabbed Yixing under the armpits, and heaved, dragging him away from the window. Yixing cried out in pain once, before he clamped his mouth shut.
Suho came tumbling out of the window mere seconds after Kyungsoo had dragged Yixing out of the way. Xiumin clambered out right after him, the shoulder of his uniform burned away, the skin underneath red and painful looking. Smoke was rising heavily from the wreckage of Chanyeol’s home, and the flames were catching. The roar got louder, the flames surging impossibly, fueled by Shifting energy. “Kai,” Kyungsoo gasped, as the screams got worse.
All of a sudden the flames sucked themselves back in, disappearing. Nothing happened for too long, Kyungsoo’s heart juddering in his chest, and then someone came stumbling around the corner, coughing, and dragging someone else along by the wrist; Kris, pulling Tao. Both of them were covered in black soot, Tao’s eyes wide, tear tracks down his face marking white streaks in the black ash.
“I think everyone’s alright,” Kris said. Tao turned away from them to heave, shoulders trembling.
Kyungsoo moved to peek in through the window. “Can’t see, too much smoke.” Kris came up behind him and sent a gust of air into the room, which helped considerably to clear the air. There were only three figures left upright and alive, everyone else burned to a crisp. Chanyeol remained towering above Baekhyun, but he was no longer terrifying, with his head bowed, looking defeated even as he stood amongst the remnants of a fight he had just won.
Baekhyun was sitting upright, staring up at Chanyeol, his expression at once scared and awestruck. The third person in the room, Kyungsoo almost missed at first: Chen, hunched in the corner, slowly lowering his arms from over his head. As the air cleared, Chen stood and stumbled over to the window, like a man half-drunk, and Kris helped him out before he could fall out. Chen stood trembling, heaving in lungfuls of clean air.
“Where’s Kai?” Kyungsoo asked, eyes wide. There were a lot of bodies in the room, still smouldering, and all unrecognizable.
“Where’s the Oracle?” Kris added.
“I didn’t—” Chanyeol said, his voice calm but tinged with something almost apologetic.
Sehun was running towards them, his hand in Luhan’s, both of them looking dirty and worse for the wear, but uninjured. Kyungsoo expected Kai to follow on behind him, but there was no one else.
“Where’s Kai?” Kyungsoo asked again, mild hysteria creeping into his voice.
“He isn’t with you?” Luhan asked, alarmed, and Kyungsoo shook his head.
Kyungsoo could only stare wordlessly as Chanyeol and Baekhyun climbed out of the window, chest rising and falling rapidly. Chanyeol met his gaze and looked somewhat taken aback. “I swear to you, I didn’t—”
Chen suddenly rushed past Kyungsoo, brushing his shoulder, and Kyungsoo forced himself to look away from Chanyeol, forced himself to fight back the urge to scream at him. Kyungsoo turned to look back inside the room, at the bodies, at their faces, searching for familiarity, but couldn’t stomach it for long. He stumbled away from the window, focusing on their fallen Healer.
Yixing was laid out on the ground where Kyungsoo had dragged him, well out of the way of danger, but also far enough away that no one else had noticed him, too preoccupied. From the looks of things, he had fallen out of the window and landed hard on the broken glass and shards of rock below, the entire right side of his face scratched open and bleeding. His clothes were torn and bloody, and when Chen turned his head to inspect the damage, Yixing hissed in pain.
“I saw you fall,” Chen said, “but I didn’t think—”
“Glass, in my leg,” Yixing gasped. “Hurts.”
“We can’t stay here,” Suho said, eyes darting around. “Are you too hurt to be moved?”
“No,” Yixing panted. “Nothing is broken, just, there’s a lot of glass. I can walk with help—”
“We can’t go anywhere without Kai,” Kyungsoo said shrilly. “Where is he?”
“Uh,” Xiumin said meekly, pointing at something behind Kyungsoo.
Kyungsoo turned, hearing a periodic whooshing, and saw the dragon flying toward them. She circled over them sharply, not really having enough clear space to land. In the end she surrendered, landing on the smaller remains of Chanyeol’s home, though she tried her best to avoid it and land in the front courtyard. Her tail took out the room with the bodies and sent ash billowing out.
“Kai!” Kyungsoo shrieked, then coughed, running to the dragon’s side. Kai was there, and as Kyungsoo watched he slid down the dragon’s side.
“Sorry, she was panicking, and Chanyeol had the fight well in hand,” Kai said to Kyungsoo before looking over to Suho. “I think we should—”
Kyungsoo closed the distance between himself and Kai and punched him in the face. Kai stumbled to the side, reeling. It wasn’t hard enough to send Kai to the floor, which was unfortunate, but it was enough to send him back a couple of paces. Kai held a hand to his face, looking at Kyungsoo in shock. “Ow!” Kyungsoo cried, his knuckles smarting.
“Ow,” Kai echoed, hand over his now definitely bruised cheek bone.
Kyungsoo breathed deeply, nostrils flaring, too furious for words. “AAAAAAAH!” he screamed at Kai’s face, before stomping away.
“K-Kyungsoo?” Kai called weakly at his back.
Kyungsoo climbed up the dragon’s leg and onto her back, somewhat clumsily as normally Kai teleported him up. He choose a neck spike that was too small for two people to sit by, and screamed incoherently down at Kai again. Then he sat back, crossed his arms over his chest, and seethed.
“I think he’s mad at you,” Luhan told Kai helpfully. He sent a dainty foot out and clipped Kai in the shin. Kai’s yelp of pain was satisfying.
“We thought Chanyeol might have accidentally fried you,” Kris said reproachfully, and Tao slit an accusing glare at Kai, sniffling slightly.
“I wouldn’t do something like that!” Chanyeol said, sounding affronted. Then he saw the raised eyebrow Chen was giving him and faltered. “Well, I wouldn’t. Not — not after what’s happened, not after what you guys showed me.”
“Thanks,” Kris said, deadpan. Now it was Baekhyun’s turn to be reproachful, staring up and up at Kris with a frown.
Kai straightened, wincing. “We need to get out of here, there’ll be plenty of time to discuss everything later.”
Chanyeol looked down at the ground, receding into himself. Kai teleported Luhan onto the dragon’s back and didn’t get the bleeds. He hadn’t since Luhan had had his little episode. Kyungsoo watched him settle Luhan in before teleporting down to get Yixing, and sat back, covering his face with his fur collar, feeling like he was about to cry. He had been scared.
Once everyone was on the dragon Kai stepped over to Kyungsoo, stuttering to a stop when he saw Kyungsoo had chosen a spike without any room for him. Kai blinked down at him, hurt and confused. Kyungsoo simply shook his head, burying further into his furs.
Kai licked his lips, shooting a glance behind himself, knowing the others were waiting on him. “We’ll talk later?”
Kyungsoo couldn’t look at him. “Okay,” he said softly, and Kai retreated, finding another spot to sit. Kyungsoo looked up briefly, just to see where he had chosen, just so he knew, and caught Luhan’s eye, who gave him a sympathetic smile. Kyungsoo looked away quickly.
Kai shouted at them all to hold on, and the dragon took off, wings billowing huge clouds of ash around them. There was a yelp of pain from Yixing, cut off after a moment, then the dismal grey mass of Chanyeol’s city was receding beneath them. The dragon headed north, toward the lake, the streets blurring as they passed by beneath them.
As they began to gain speed, someone far behind Kyungsoo screamed, “Look out!” Kyungsoo turned in his seat quickly, seeing a jet of fire roaring up from the ground, right toward them. It hit the dragon’s wing, and the scent of burned flesh was overpowering in Kyungsoo’s nose. She screamed, the noise like grating rocks, and in a flash Chanyeol had sent a blast in return, toward the ground, but he missed his target, because the dragon banked sharply away from the original source.
Kyungsoo felt the world tip, his seat sliding away from him. He scrambled for something to hold onto, hands just brushing against the neck spike he had been sitting in front of, and then it was gone, and warm smooth scales slid away under his palms. Then they too were gone, the dragon turning away, and he was falling.
“Kai!” he screamed, as the dragon got further and further away, and the ground rushed up at him. The only sensations he could feel was the dull roar of air rushing past his ears, the weightlessness of his stomach, the way the wind seemed to pull at his limbs so that he didn’t seem to be able to control them. Over it all was the absolute sheer panic, the increasing realization that he was falling far too fast, that he couldn’t stop it, and that this was going to hurt.
And then he hit the ground.