le shook his head, the movement making him wince. 'Sethon knows about the String of Pearls. He knows about the black folio. Do you have it? Did you take both folios?'

I shook my head, thinking of Dillon wrenching the black folio from my arm. But I was not going to share that with Ido.

Shouts of command beyond the alley made me withdraw into the hole. I turned on the small top step and looked out. Ido had lunged for the sword abandoned by Ryko. He dragged the hilt onto his lap, the effort making him pant.

He looked across at me with some of his old authority 'Find the black folio. It has ways to bind dragon power and force its use. Make sure Sethon never gets it or we will be his slaves.'

It did not make sense. 'How could Sethon bind us?' I demanded. 'He is not a Dragoneye.'

'No, but he is royal. He has the dragon blood. Anyone with the blood can bind us with the power of the black folio.'

'I thought the dragon blood was a story'

Ido lifted his shoulder in a tiny shrug. 'I thought you were a story' He raised the sword hilt, the blade point barely lifting from the ground. 'Go, I'll keep them away from the grate as long as I can.'

'You can hardly hold the sword.'

'You forced this new generosity on me, so don't waste it,' he said harshly 'Get out of here.'

He was right. I should go — let him make his grand gesture of atonement — and get myself and my friends to safety. I owed him nothing. But even as I backed further into the hole, something stopped me from taking the first step of my escape. I could not leave him to face Sethon. My power had ripped his strength away; I had made him vulnerable. I doubted he even had enough stamina left to connect with his dragon.

I leaned out of the hole again.

'You could come with us.'

Even as I said the words I knew they were a mistake. I did not want him near me; I could already feel the slow building rage that was forcing its way through the soft reach of compassion. A sharp, deadly female rage that was not forgiving or pitying or merciful.

He angled his battered face to see me more clearly. 'No.' He gave a lopsided smile that made him look younger. 'I think my chances of survival are better with Sethon than with your islander friend.'

I did not smile back; the image of Sethon aiming his sword at the infant Prince, Lady Jila's anguished screams and the child's sudden silence were too huge in my mind. The High Lord was not only ruthless, he was vicious.

'Sethon will know you killed all the other Dragoneyes by now,' I said. 'He'll make you pay for your treachery'

Ido's smile tightened into a thin line. 'I know. But he has to take me first.'

Could he hold off Sethon? Perhaps — he did have an Ascendant dragon. Still, a Dragoneye had to be conscious to use his magic, and Ido was barely strong enough to stand.

'He won't kill me,' he added. 'Not until he has you.'

We both heard the jangle of armour and weaponry.

'Go,'he said. 'Or else he will have both of us.'

I ducked back into the grate hole and fell for the second step with my foot.

'Find the black folio,' he called, 'Before Sethon does.'

I scrabbled down the sleep staircase, Kinra's sword clinking as I found handholds in the darkness, The black folio was with Dillon. Or it had been a lew hours ago.

Keeping my eyes on the faint glow emanating from the passageway, I brushed my palm along the wall and followed it around the two corners. The lamplit corridor stretched before me in all its blue and gold grandeur. Up ahead, Lady Dela was struggling to keep Ryko upright. I ran along the soft carpet, the sound of my new, even footfalls swinging both of them around into tense readiness. Lady Dela stepped in front of Ryko, Kinra's sword raised.

'It's you,' she said, her shoulders slumping. She lowered the blade.

'Ido is holding them off,' I said. 'He won't last long. Come on.'

Ryko gave me a hard look. 'When did he become our ally?'

I bent under his arm and pulled it around my shoulder. 'I would not call him an ally' I said.

I did not know what to call him.

Although I took some of Ryko's weight and carried both swords, our progress was heartstoppingly slow. The three of us lurched along the soft walkway, our heavy breathing obscuring any possible sound from behind. I constantly looked back, expecting to see Sethon's men pounding towards us, but there was no one. Ido was keeping his word.

Finally, we reached the entrance that Ryko and I had used, the glow of the wall lamps abruptly ending. I peered beyond the soft light of the last lamp into the darkness beyond.

'River,' Ryko said, feebly gesturing further along the corridor. 'Waiting for us.'

Lady Dela leaned against the bright tiled wall, the vivid colours accentuating her pallor. 'Will they still be there?'

Ryko cast a scornful look. 'Tozay will wait.

Tozay is waiting for us?' I asked, the name prompting an image of a broad, tanned face and the sea smell of a long-lost home. 'Do you mean Master Tozay?'

'He is our leader,' Ryko said as I took the lamp from its niche.

I grabbed Lady Dela's good hand and pulled her up, then urged Kyko onwards.

'But I have met Master Tozay' I said. 'Before the ceremony' I eyed Ryko. 'That wasn't a chance meeting, was it?'

Through his pained exhaustion, Ryko smiled. 'Tozay made it his business to meet every candidate,' he said. 'You were all potential allies for the Resistance.'

Had Ryko told his leader the truth about me? It probably made no difference: there was no one else. I was their only hope. So much had happened since Master Tozay and I had bowed side by side as Lady Jila passed by in her litter. Now the poor lady was dead, her baby slaughtered, and her other son, the Pearl Emperor, fleeing for his life. Or was he dead too?

Silently, I sent a prayer of hope to the gods. Please, keep him safe.

We laboured onwards, the weak lamplight only ever showing the next few steps along the corridor. The rich blue pathway seemed endless. Ryko's shallow inhalations were breaking wetly in his chest, and Lady Dela's hand rested heavily on my other shoulder. Even my renewed energy was beginning to flag. Then, the carpet suddenly ended. I held up the lamp, the sight of the rough stone floor and the curve of a corner bringing a spin of giddy relief.

It was the same design as the other entrances; we climbed the steep stairs and pushed out the grate. I guided Ryko and Lady Dela through the small hole, then crawled out behind them into a clump of concealing bushes. We were by the river, outside the Dragon Circle. Dark clouds obscured the moon, or perhaps it

was the smoke from the battlefield, The air smelled of fire and fear. To our right was a small jetty moored with the royal barges — waiting for the <ornithines that would never come.

Ryko nodded at a small spit of kind on the left, almost hidden by a copse of elegant water trees. We hobbled towards it, Kyko wet his parched lips and made the low bud signal he had used to call Solly. A figure emerged from the cover of the thick trailing branches.

'Tozay?' Ryko whispered.

The stocky man hurried up to us, catching Ryko's limp form as he staggered forwards. 'There, I've got you.'

With astounding ease, he turned the islander towards a small rowboat waiting in the water, manned by another shadowy figure. 'Come,' he whispered. 'We must move swiftly or lose the tide.'

I pulled Lady Dela's arm across my shoulders and took her tired weight against my side. We slipped and skidded down the shallow embankment.

As Master Tozay delivered Ryko into the hands of his assistant, the moon finally broke from the clouds and gave me a clear view of the man I had met by the road a lifetime ago. The last few weeks had carved even deeper lines into the master fisherman's stern face. He steadied Lady Dela as she stumbled towards him, and half lifted her into the small craft. Then he turned to me and gently took the swords from my tense hold, passing them to his man.

Вы читаете Eon: Dragoneye Reborn
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату