Kiss of the Dragonfly

29. Running Man

The horse that had been Lucan was running.

Gronnor soon figured out that the horse and his rider were on the Scrabble Valley spur, nearing the brook. They were making good time.

The impression of a pale circle had appeared, its perimeter near the edge of vision. The diameter of that circle reflected the dragonfly’s estimate of how soon it would reach its prey. The circle would contract until the target was within striking distance.

Gronnor watched through Lucan’s eyes while Lucan caught his meal. First he slashed a startled raven out of the air with his sword, ripped out the softer bits, then tossed the carcass aside. Later, he knocked a squirrel from a tree trunk with a stone. He ate it as he ran, mashing the skull with his teeth. The dragonfly wasted neither time nor opportunity. Its efficiency pleased Gronnor.

The hunt would soon be over.


Petra put away her spyglass. “I don’t think it’s raining, but I can’t see all of it.”

Lightning flickered, silent in the distance. As the Rull bent eastward, the flank of Attica Mountain had appeared in the narrow view. Heavy cloud was banked there.

“We should climb to higher ground next chance,” said Canuut.

The opportunities were fewer than before. The palisade of staffs had grown taller. It was oppressive, more believably a corridor of Hell. Here and there a gully broke through, or a chance alignment of broken columns made giant steps to the top. They had to find one that the Jackalute could manage.

The companions pressed on. When godshade came, half the sky was black as ink.


Gronnor, when he next wore the ring, found Lucan walking in widening circles on the eastern shoulder of Staff’s valley. Lucan sniffed; the dragonfly tasted. Their senses were exquisite, but they had lost the girl.

Controlling the horse was a clumsy process, best done in private. When Lucan looked to the right, Gronnor looked left. When Lucan took a step forward, Gronnor stepped back. After a few jerks and twitches, the dragonfly got the message.

With encouraging jerks of his head, Gronnor guided Lucan back down the gully to the campsite in the Rull.

He inspected the signs, which the dragonfly picked out in auras of color. There were the holes where they had put up the fence. Footprints, dog prints, jackalute prints, cheese wax, droppings, and pee. Petra’s signs were brightest. The scent of her blood or sweat clung to a column and her prints in the silt glowed. The signs were fresh; she had been there only hours before. Those of the man—Canuut—were present, too. But there were more signs: a welter of footprints, two different sizes, unmarked by the dragonfly. The impressions of four packs, not two, lay within the perimeter marked by the fence holes.

“Stupid, pea-brained bug,” muttered Gronnor. The dragonfly had known, but shown nothing—too stupid to think it important that its target had more than one companion.

Gronnor made Lucan poke at one of the unmarked prints. His interest inspired the dragonfly’s interest. Immediately the print bloomed with a color of its own, and others like it took the same hue. He scanned the campsite. Gradually, new impressions formed in the dragonfly’s mind, and Gronnor’s. The boots had been left just there. Scuffed silt showed that their owner had slept beside them.

Close by, its glow brightening with the dragonfly’s growing confidence, was the impression in the silt of a sheathed sword and buckle. Gronnor knelt, Lucan knelt, and both peered at it.

“Come on—closer,” muttered Gronnor.

The buckle’s impression grew clear.

There was the dragonfly—the emblem of the Broks, of the Broken Clan. That sword had been Gronnor’s gift to his nephew—to his wretched, treacherous nephew, Cort Brok.

“Miserable maggot!” roared Gronnor, leaping to his feet.

In front of him swam a sudden face, round and open-mouthed. It was not something in Lucan’s vision, but his own: Gench!

“What the devil are you doing here?” roared Gronnor. “Why didn’t you knock?”

“I did knock, Tash, and I heard you speak—”

“Get out of here!”

Gench blundered out.

When Gronnor allowed the dragonfly’s impressions to fill his mind again, he found that Lucan had drawn his sword and was casting around for something to kill. The dragonfly was responding to his anger. He calmed himself.

There were smaller unmarked prints, also fresh. He needed no more to be sure. They were the prints of the other missing nephew, of that smart-ass Otger, the only boy with the brains to one day take his place as Tash. They had both turned against him. She had turned them.

Just north of the gully, fallen columns were piled too high for the silt to cover them. Petra and her company had crossed the pile to hide their prints, then continued up the Rull. And that confirmed for Gronnor that Petra had stolen the Drakhorn waymap. Only from the waymap could she know the secret of that dangerous path, and only with the waymap for guidance would she dare to follow it.

How he admired her daring.


The sky was gone.

Petra and her companions had tried to climb out of the pillared canyon twice, once spending an hour scrambling up tumbled, steeply canted columns and getting nowhere. Canuut nearly lost his remaining hand yanking on Mistake’s halter to urge him on. The jackalute yanked back and snapped his silver teeth. Canuut and Cort were for going back, and quickly. Petra, gnawed by anxious guilt, was for going on, but she spoke without force. It was Otger who pointed out each new pile of fallen columns ahead, and calmly reminded them that the last way out they knew would serve was the one at the campsite, far behind them now.

In daylight, the narrow sky was leaden and the rumble of thunder echoed weirdly. In godshade they lit the way with torches. Petra sometimes led determinedly, and sometimes fell back beside Canuut, stealing glances.

Canuut growled, “When it comes, it’ll come fast. We’ll have minutes to say our prayers.”

“We don’t know it’s raining.”

“We’ll die of your don’t knows! Of course it’s raining—can’t you hear?” To punctuate his words, the boom of thunder reverberated between the walls, on and on, and the staffs answered with a deep, throbbing moan.

“Wait, something’s wrong,” panted Otger.

“Everything’s bloody wrong,” roared Canuut.

“No, I mean … godshade’s over, but no sun.”

It was true. Far behind them, the gray evening light pooled in the Rull, and some way ahead as well. But where they were, it was as dark as pitch.

“Above—it’s stone,” said Petra, holding her torch behind her so that it wouldn’t dazzle her eyes.

And so it was. The Rull was narrow, the columns high, and overhead the floor of the Vale of Staffs had drawn together across the cleft to make a roof. In the faint torchlight that reached it, they could see the broken ends of hexagonal pillars hanging there. The Rull had become a tunnel.

Canuut groaned. “Girl, you’ve led us up the devil’s nostril.”

And what was worse, she might have guessed. On her father’s waymap, the line that marked the trail had changed along the way, becoming dots with fine strokes across. There was light ahead, and light behind. She took out her spyglass to study the gray patches and gauge the distance. That’s when she saw the running man: a tiny figure, legs and arms pumping, as though he were sprinting from some terror. But he was alone.

“Canuut, look,” she said, handing him the glass. At first Canuut said nothing. Then he stiffened. Then he swore.

At first Canuut said nothing. Then he stiffened. Then he swore. “So fast …”

Otger took the glass. “His clothes are all ragged. And his face—it’s strange.”

The man was closing fast. He would soon enter the darkness of the tunnel. Petra found him in the glass: gray skin; draggled, whipping hair; a hanging jaw—hanging wide, like no one’s would …

Like no one alive.

She knew that slack-jawed face. Her heart thumped and her skin grew cold.

She passed the glass back to Canuut and gave her torch to Otger. She pulled a coil of rope from Mistake’s pannier and slung it over her pack, then took out her airgun and a pouch of darts. Ten pulls on the pump lever and the weapon was good for three shots.

Canuut said, “Lost him—damn.”

“I think it’s Lucan,” said Petra, fighting to stay calm.

Otger and Canuut stared at her.

“It’s Lucan Drakhorn, and he’s dead. We have to run!”

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