A Rock And A Hard Place Chapter 16
The armies below us scrambled for their weapons and a few archers got off wild shots that came no where near us. I hung onto Akata-Zan’s spine for dear life and tried my best not to look terrified as we were drawn closer and closer to the ground by gravity.
Just as I was about to close my eyes so I didn’t have to watch my death come at me, the mighty dragon pulled up short, his powerful wings snapping out. The huge gust of wind from his wings knocked all the visible soldiers off their feet along with most of the tents that were nearby.
I did my best to catch my breath without seeming to as I sat up a little straighter on the dragon’s back. He let go another shaking roar that echoed through the skies and left my ears ringing.
Some of the soldiers tried to scramble to their feet and went for their weapons, though most were paralyzed with terror. I held up my left hand and focused my magics on the symbols to activate them. When they were all glowing with a gentle pulse, I looked up at the men who had managed to unsheathe their swords and stood shakily before me.
Every soldier in the encampment froze, now held by my magics and completely unable to move, though they could still see and breath just fine.
“Who are you?!” I heard a familiar voice screech across the clearing from somewhere by the larger tents.
I looked up to see Taliya, now Queen Taliya I suppose, stomping toward me in a rage. I sat back against Akata-Zan’s spine to be a bit more comfortable and waited for her to reach us.
If there is one thing that can be said about Taliya for the good, it’s that she has more guts than anyone else I have ever met. I had just dropped from the sky on a giant, roaring dragon which had turned the majority of her forces terrified and useless. Then I had, with a single word, frozen them all entirely on top of that. Yet, here she was, not a single soldier to back her and stomping toward myself and the dragon like she would yell us into submission. If that doesn’t take more guts than I’ve ever seen, then I don’t know what else does.
Either that or she was so completely wrapped up in her own self importance that she simply couldn’t comprehend that her orders wouldn’t be followed. A very real possibility, but I usually chose to give people the benefit of the doubt.
She stopped within easy yelling distance and glared up at me fiercely.
“You! You’re the one who killed my father! The liaison! What have you done to my men?! Release them this instant!”
I starred down at her for a long moment, raising an eyebrow at her.
“Where are my friends?”
She waved a dismissive hand.
“We executed them of course!”
“Akata-Zan,” I said in a low voice.
In one swift movement, the dragon had leapt forward, pinned the Queen under one of his huge claws, and lowered his powerful jaws to within inches of her face. Now she had the decency to look afraid as she gazed up into the dragon’s mouth and the huge sharp teeth not far from her head.
I let her lay there for a minute as her situation dawned on her and then I laid a hand on Akata-Zan’s shoulder. He pulled his head back and I leaned over his shoulder to look at the terrified Queen under his claw. I watched her for a moment longer and when I spoke, my voice was low and dangerous.
“Rethink your answer, Taliya, because I would have no qualms at all letting him kill you.”
I looked at her for another long moment to make sure I had her attention.
“Now, let’s try that again. Where are my friends?”
“The prisoners' tent,” she squeaked.
“That’s better. Show me.”
Akata-Zan brought his claw back just enough to let her wiggle her way out from under it and then he held it out so that I could climb gracefully down. She glared fiercely at me as she tried her best to brush the dirt from her robes but said nothing as she sullenly led me to the prisoners’ tent, which was on the far side of the encampment.
I observed the soldiers we passed and saw that, though they were completely frozen by my magics, they watched us carefully as we passed. Most looked frightened. I wasn’t sure if that was because their features were frozen into whatever expression they had at that moment or if it was because they knew I was the one that had sealed them and they were scared of me. Either way I suppose it didn’t matter.
We reached the small tent and Taliya stopped outside it, crossing her arms and continuing to glare. I gave her an icy smile in return and pulled back the flap.
There, tied up and gagged sitting back to back against a wooden stake, were Aaron and Lolani. I sighed in relief to see that they were relatively unhurt, though I could see a few bruises and cuts, probably from rough treatment, though it was nothing life threatening.
They looked up and I could see the relief in their faces when they saw that it was me. I grinned.
“Give me just a sec and I’ll have you out of here.”
Aaron looked confused but Lolani just looked relieved.
I let the tent flap fall back as I moved to examine the soldier who was guarding the tent. He had a sword and armor like all the others so taking his knife from him wouldn’t break the seal at all. I slipped it from his belt as he watched me with a frozen gaze. Then I ducked into the tent.
I cut Lolani’s gag first and then cut the ropes holding them both. I didn’t bother with Aaron’s gag and he glared at me, seeing that I wasn’t going to do anything about it, and took the knife from me to cut it himself. I chuckled at his glare as Lolani hugged me.
“Mistress! I’m so happy to see you!”
“And I’m happy to see you,” I replied with a smile. “I’m glad you’re alright. I was worried they might do something to you.”
Aaron got his gag off.
“Why did you take hers off but leave mine?” he demanded.
“Figured I’d let myself have peace and quiet for as long as possible,” I replied, still hugging Lolani.
“You...” Aaron began darkly, glaring again.
“Are wonderful and amazing and you are so grateful for the rescue that you’re speechless. I know, I know. You can stop praising me any time. I might get a big head if you keep it up.”
I smirked and waved my hand airily as if to stop him from talking as I released Lolani.
“Come on. I have some leaders to intimidate further and a feud to settle. Oh, and a second army to seal.”
“What?” he asked, baffled and forgetting for a moment to glare.
I didn’t answer and instead left the tent to find Taliya where I had left her, silently fuming, but thoroughly intimidated. Lolani and Aaron followed, working the life back into their limbs.
“Alright, Your Majesty,” I said, turning to Taliya. “Where is the Duke?”
The Queen sniffed at the name and turned up her royal nose haughtily. With an imperious finger she pointed to a low hill next to the camp.
“Those Wizards are camped just over the hill.”
“Why? I thought you two were working together now.”
She sniffed again and crossed her arms as she turned away from me.
“As if I would allow my men to socialize or be seen with such creatures!”
I raised an eyebrow at her back and starred at her for a moment.
“I sincerely hope you have realized how petty and ridiculous you are being since that line of logic has clearly worked out extremely well for you.”
She shot me a glare over her shoulder and in reply I gestured to the frozen soldiers around us. Her eyes followed where I pointed, but she refused to say anything. I shrugged.
“Very well. Have it your way, but you are coming with us to negotiate whether you want to or not.”
Taliya turned and opened her mouth to protest, rearing back indignantly, but before she could do anything further, one huge hand was clamped over her mouth and the second large hand clamped around her wrist as she raised it to fight him off. She glared daggers up at the MAGI holding her, struggling to get free as her indignant yells came out muffled by the hand.
“Thank you, Aaron,” I said, smiling up at him.
He raised an eyebrow.
“Wonders never cease.”
“I never thought I’d hear you thank me for anything.”
I frowned lightly.
“You make me sound like a horribly ungrateful person.”
“No. In fact, if you did more things worth being thanked fro, you would actually hear it more often from me.”
“I’ve done a lot that you should thank me for.”
“And I’m sure you would have heard thank you’s for those things if your help had been silent.”
Taliya was now standing still, panting from yelling and struggling futilely. I looked at her.
“Are you done?”
She glared but didn’t make any further attempt to try and free herself from the wall that held her. I nodded.
“I suppose that’s as close as we’re going to get to a yes from her. Let’s go gather our ride, shall we?”
“Our ride?” said Aaron as I turned away.
Aaron released Taliya and propelled her after me. Lolani came even with me and fell into step as I ignored Aaron’s question.
“Mistress, how did you get here? How did you survive the river? How did you find us?”
“Well, I’m not the one who found you and how I survived the river is another story entirely, but as for how I got here...”
I paused and pointed as Akata-Zan lifted his head above the tents. Aaron and Lolani froze, jaws dropping. The MAGI looked at me, aghast.
“You got here by Dragon?”
I grinned up at him.
His face went deadly serious and he grabbed my arm, bringing me to a halt and making me face him.
“Etti,” he said in a low, worried voice. “What did you trade for his help?”
I waved a hand to dismiss it as unimportant.
I tried to pull away but his grip didn’t lessen and I sighed, looking back up at him.
“Etti, I’m not joking. What. Did. You. Trade?”
I sighed again and let my gaze drop for a moment. When I looked back up at him, I let my face show more gravity so he knew I was taking it seriously.
“Nothing to be discussed right now, Aaron,” I said quietly. “You can ask me again when this is all over, alright?”
He looked down at me for a long moment and finally sighed, releasing my arm.
“Fine, but I will be asking you.”
“Yes, yes,” I said with a dismissive wave, turning away.
I moved closer to Akata-Zan and bowed.
“Mighty Akata-Zan, I must take these three with me over the hill to deal with the second army. Will you fly them as well?”
'That I will, little Nixie. I am promised to help you in this endeavor.'
I turned to my two companions and Taliya with a grin.