Touching my palms with the fingers of my gloves, I typed back, “Named Artaxus. He’s a dragon. Don’t look in eyes. Mind control.”
Rachel texted back, “Fuck.”
Amy and the dragon were still talking. I typed, “Need to get outside. Bad to fight here. Because fire.”
Kind of have a plan, Daniel thought at me. Amy’s about to suggest we talk outside. If he doesn’t buy it, we run.
That’s a bad plan, I thought back.
Better than you think. Daniel said. If he decides to breathe fire and kill us all, I’ll know a little before he does. Izzy will grab the most vulnerable. Everyone else dives for the breach in the wall.
That might work, but it still sounds chancy.
I felt resignation from Daniel. It’s our best chance. If talking doesn’t work, that’s the most likely way that half of us don’t die.
He ended the connection. Reminded by the green squares of Rachel, Travis, and Jaclyn’s presence, I decided to sweeten the odds a little more.
Texting them, I wrote, “If Jaclyn’s close enough to hear Daniel’s warning, we could use your help down here.”
Jaclyn’s reply appeared instantly. “Already talked to Daniel. Count on it.”
In the background, I heard Amy say, “We don’t want to fight you either. Tell you what, we’ll take you up on your offer not to attack, and we’ll join everyone else outside.”
“Living for millennia doesn’t leave much room for trust,” Artaxus’ voice rumbled. I felt my armor vibrate as he talked. “All of you must look into my eyes, and you can walk out and join your fellows.”
Amy’s mouth began to open, but whatever she would have said, it wouldn’t have ended well. I felt Daniel’s connection to everyone’s minds grow, making me feel fear, hope, and determination filtered through many different minds as Daniel thought Now!
I’d half-planned to grab Haley as I ignited the rocket pack and aimed for the shattered doorway, but her reflexes were so much better than mine that by the time I reached out for her, she’d already jumped through the doorway and into the shop.
My helmet’s near 360 degree vision gave me a better, and more distracting view of the situation than I wanted. Behind me Vaughn, Sean, and Camille were all taking flight—though I think Vaughn was dragging Sean along with wind. The way Sean’s mouth opened and eyes widened didn’t exactly scream control.
Cassie had stepped through the doorway with Haley and already pointed the gun back through it toward Artaxus. Izzy had grabbed Daniel even as he’d warned us and was coming back to grab Samita as Amy and I stood between the dragon and her.
Artaxus opened his mouth, and flame poured out, so bright it obscured everything, including his face.
I felt the heat through the Rocket suit—which was already issuing warnings that the heat had the potential to breach the suit’s integrity. Amy and I both recognized the sheer stupidity of staying in that spot at the same time, turning toward the door ourselves, and jumping through.
In my moment of inattention, Izzy had already pulled Samita out of the hall.
Artaxus roared, spewing out fire with all the brightness of an acetylene torch. My helmet darkened, saving my eyes. Amy held up her arm to block the light, and Artaxus reached out to grab her.
Cassie shot him in the face.
The gun’s beam was too bright to look at, but it only lasted for a second, leaving blackened skin from Artaxus’ nose and across his cheek.
He opened up his mouth to breath again, but never got the chance. A purple blur appeared in my vision, and then Jaclyn’s fist hit him in the stomach.
I’d been about to step through the opening into the shop, but watched as Artaxus sailed backward down the hallway, hitting the wall, and then tumbling across the floor.
For a second, I half expected that Jaclyn would chase after him, and finish him off, but she stayed with us—and for good reason.
“I hit him almost as hard as I could,” she said as he pushed himself off the floor without weakness or any hint of injury. “I was moving at nearly six hundred miles per hour.”
Then he began to grow, his human body reshaping itself to fill the space the shadowy dragon form had occupied in Amy’s spell’s sight.
“Everyone get out,” I shouted, amplifying my voice with the suit’s sonic system.
No one needed to be told twice. We were all out of the front door practically before I finished the sentence, stepping or flying over the ruined clothes, and broken displays.
Behind us, rock cracked, strained, and finally buckled. In that moment Artaxus’ dragon form rose up from the shops and rock wall behind them. Around four stories tall, he had glistening black scales, broad black wings coming out of his back, milky white teeth, and a red tongue.
He launched himself into the air, making a tight turn as he dived for us, breathing flame.
We’d drawn first blood, humiliated him, and now he intended to kill us.