A/N: Continuing our antagonist's point of view. When last we left him, Red had woken up from a nightmare and was headed for the kitchen, unable to sleep.
A fire was crackling in the kitchen grate: someone else was up. Red stifled a yawn and padded to the kitchen table, a rough-hewn thing he’d built himself, when he was young and even angrier. Old Joe had gotten tired of his angsting and given him a project to keep him busy for a while. All by hand; he hadn’t learned any magic yet. Frankly, he hadn’t much learned to use tools, either, and the table had been splintery and uneven. Now, after two decades of breakfasts and coffees and late night conversations—not dinner, which they had all together in a separate and far bigger room with several tables—it was worn smooth and looked like he’d made it rustic on purpose.
At present, the table was piled high with potatoes. Old Joe sat at its head with a knife, peering at a half-peeled potato through her ancient reading glasses as if expecting to find a message there.
Red pulled up a chair. “You’re up late.”
“I’m up early. Couldn’t sleep?”
She knew perfectly well that he’d had the old nightmare again, but it was something he loved about her, that she wouldn’t bring it up unless he wanted to. He shrugged and grabbed a potato. It started peeling itself obligingly. Joe grunted.
Red grinned and set another potato peeling. Joe had learned magic alongside him, up to a point. It had never come as easily to her as it had to him, and at last she’d declared, “You can’t teach an old wizard new spells,” which he didn’t think was particularly true, and given it up. Household tasks certainly weren’t beyond her reach, but she did them all by hand anyway.
They peeled potatoes in silence for a while. Then Joe said, “I don’t like it,” and Red knew she wasn’t talking about his use of magic.
His next potato unpeeled faster than it needed to. “We’ve been through this.”
“There’s too much that can go wrong.” Joe’s voice was so calm it was maddening. “There will be so many Knights in town.”
Red gritted his teeth and willed his potatoes to peel themselves more slowly. It didn’t work.
“That’s the point. The more Knights there are in one place, the more we can get rid of in one go.”
Joe shook her head, and sweat trickled down Red’s forehead. They’d had the same argument every day since Kiernan called.
“I don’t like it,” she repeated. “Don’t you think they’ll expect something? They’re not stupid. They have to have noticed they’re being targeted. That many Knights in one place, if they’re armed—”
“They won’t be armed. It’s a conference.”
“—there’s the school right there, think how many more Knights and weaponry—”
Half a dozen potatoes shot from the pile and smashed into the wall behind her so hard that they exploded in a smattering of pale potato flesh. Red blinked sweat out of his eyes. Joe regarded him over her glasses as if he were a naughty child, but her voice trembled when she spoke.
“Shoddy. I’m right here. You’d think one might have hit me.”
He swallowed hard, feeling as if he’d just run a marathon. His hands clenched and unclenched at his sides.
“We leave today,” he said, “whether you like it or not.”
He pushed back his chair and stormed off. The magic and anger stabbed at his insides, sparking in his eyes and fingertips, lighting the halls of the keep in brief flashes like red lightning. Pressure built in his head until the pain blinded him, but he kept going, faster and faster until he was sprinting unseeingly through the keep, until he reached the back door. He burst through it, out into the warm, humid air of a Dominion dawn. With a yell, he released the magic—hurled a bolt of fire onto the rocks below and then fell to his knees, winded. The rocks cracked and scorched. Sweat soaked through Red’s shirt.
He ran over his face and gulped down air, trying to calm his hammering heart. It hadn’t been this bad in weeks.
The sun rose swiftly over Dominion, drenching the mountains and jungles in color. Wisps of cloud chased each other into the sunrise. Red sat back and watched light spread over the valley far below. Steam wafted up through the canopy, a sign of river dragons surfacing in the river hidden beneath the foliage. His breathing slowed as he lost himself in the beauty of it all. If someone had told him, all those years ago, that he would grow to love it here, he would have thought they were crazy. Now this was home. Sometimes it made him second-guess himself. If his plans succeeded, could he really bear to leave?
But then he’d spend weeks worrying when Kiernan left for supplies, or he’d think of something from childhood that Nadia and the others were missing out on. They were trapped here. Fugitives. Leaving meant freedom.
Rocks clattered down the mountainside behind him. He twisted around. Copernicus, his favorite dragon, was making his way around the narrow ledge leading from the keep to the massive cave they called the barn.
Red snorted despite himself. Watching a ten-ton winged lizard delicately pick its way around a mountainside—delicately do anything—was a sight. Copernicus glared at him out of snakelike orange eyes.
“Just fly over, you idiot.”
Copernicus made a noise halfway between a roar and a hiss. Red shrugged.
“Stay there, then.”
Copernicus made the noise again and then lifted into the sky with a flap of his wings that ruffled Red’s hair. A moment later he landed, lighter than you’d expect. The ground barely trembled as he padded over to Red, turned around in a circle, and then curled on the ground with his massive head in Red’s lap. Normally when he did this, Red told him off—a mountain dragon’s head was the size of a Labrador and added too much weight and heat to your lap for comfort—but just now he didn’t mind. Not that telling him off worked often anyway. Once a dragon decided to do something, you pretty much had to sit back and wait for it to decide it was done.
“Joe said I’d find you out here.”
Red glanced around so quickly he cricked his neck. Shira had slipped out the back door and was looking at him with an expression he couldn’t read. He looked away as she sat beside him.
“How is she?”
She shrugged. A breeze picked up, blowing her tawny curls around her face. Red loved her hair.
“I didn’t mean to scare her,” he mumbled. “I just—”
“Got angry. I thought you were working on that.”
She yanked her hair back from her face and tied it back. She had high cheekbones and bronze skin and dark eyes that never smiled. She was beautiful. And showered. And fully dressed. And he was in a sweat-soaked t-shirt and his boxers. Not that she hadn’t seen more of him than that. It was something else the others teased him about.
“Why’s it so hard for you to talk to her? You’re already screwing—”
“We aren’t,” Red would tell them, because he really wasn’t interested in that, not even a little bit, but it didn’t matter. They poked fun at him anyway.
“I am working on it,” he said shortly, and then cursed himself for being short with her when he’d already frightened Joe. Copernicus huffed at him. Red cuffed him on the side of the head. “I just—I can’t—”
A headache was coming on again. Red sparks leapt from his fingers, but he took a deep breath and held it in. The sparks faded.
“I’m so angry,” he said, “all the time. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
Shira gazed steadily out at the jungle. “We all have things to be angry about.”
“You never get angry.”
She turned her gaze on him, and her dark eyes were full of pain he’d rarely seen there.
“The last time I got angry,” she said, “I was thrown into Dominion and left to die.”
He wanted to touch her, but he didn’t think she’d let him. Instead they sat in silence until Copernicus decided he’d had enough of being a lap dog, stretched his wings, and glared at them expectantly.
“Today’s the day,” Shira said. “You’d better get them ready.”
She waited a moment, as if expecting him to say something. Then she shrugged again, stood up, and headed back into the keep.
Red sat for a long while after she’d left, even though he knew he should get a move-on. The anger was still bubbling below the surface, stabbing at him, ready to rise to the surface if he let go even for a moment. He breathed in the tropical air and tried to focus on his plans. Today was the day. Today was the day. They would leave for Barstow, be there in two days—just in time for the conference—destroy the school, the conference center, as many Knights as possible, and fly away again before anyone had time to even think about what had happened. With the Chosen One in hand.
He felt better. Soon Barstow would be a blackened shadow of its former self. Soon he would know how much the Chosen One knew, and what she would do to stop him.
Soon the Knights would be destroyed.
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