My last day among the Sangi stank of trouble, even before the Acursa came. Ossilan and I downed a small dragon on the coast during our shift. Mer captains took a second one, close to Beach City. We held a joint bonfire celebration that night, attended by the gray-skinned Sangi of the wood—my adopted people—and by landwalking merfolk, who could turn tail to legs.
One of Jaire's friends added a log to our fire, raising sparks. Lord Grat Theldier cursed, brushed sparks from his tunic. Raising his head, he sniffed the wind. I sensed it too. Something in the air felt off, thicker. Like gathering magic. The celebrating throng trailed off their noise and looked north. Something was coming. I glanced at the sky and saw what looked like a hurtling, spiraling star coming our direction.
Lord Grat Theldier stood. "Move away from the fires."
The crowd broke apart; merfolk dashing for water and Sangi moving up the hill toward the trees. I joined the back of the Sangi throng. The great light swooped over our heads, making our shadows grow long, and slammed into the ground with a boom that shook the earth and echoed off the cliffs. A mer baby gave a shriek of terror that cut off with a splash.
I took a calming breath, drew Denara, and turned to face the light. There at the fire where I'd sat with Jaire stood the Acursa.
I circled warily, Denara before me in a two-handed grip. I could hear the crunch of twigs as the Sangi behind me found positions in the shadow-shrouded trees. They would not help with this, nor would the merfolk who watched from the shallows near the shore. This enemy had come for me, and me alone.
Behind the light, a portal opened and a dragon emerged, taller and uglier than those seen earlier in the day. It took two tentative steps toward me and stopped, sniffing the air and wrinkling its snout in disgust. “What the hell are you burning?” it said. “And put down that stick.”
“This is Denara!” I shouted, brandishing it menacingly. “It is a mighty weapon!”
“It’s a stick,” the dragon said. “Put it down and get over here.”
“I will draw no closer to the Acursa!” I cried.
“Acura,” the dragon said. “It’s an Acura. And seriously, did you kids build a marijuana bonfire? Where's your camp counselor?"
I looked around me. Lord Grat Theldier and the others had vanished, perhaps for good. The dragon rose taller, and its voice deepened dangerously. “Get in the car!” it roared.
Terrified in the face of its fury, I had no choice but to lower Denara and comply with the dragon’s command. “Fine,” I muttered. “But on the way home, can we stop for snacks?”
Opening: Rebecca Kellogg.....Continuation: Joe Mosher