Read Dragon hunted Online

Authors: JB McDonald

Dragon hunted (page 2)

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Ashe's heart leaped, but he only gave Katsu a rueful grin and remembered, just in time, not to shrug. "It's a talent." It was hard not to keep looking at Katsu, spread out half naked beside him. With an effort, Ashe turned toward the cave opening. "Is the dragon still out there?"

Katsu grunted. "I'm pretty sure it fell asleep when the screaming stopped."

Ashe winced, feeling a little queasy at the sudden memory of agony. "That's good," he said weakly. "If you never do that to me again, I'll live a happy life." Then he paused, considering it. With aching care, he shifted until his weight was on one elbow and he could look down at Katsu. "Whatdidyou do?"

Katsu opened one eye, peering up at Ashe through thick lashes. "I paired your chakra--"

"My what?"

One hand lifted and waved, the very gesture reeking of annoyance. "I guess you'd call it your magic. Micarans would call it their soul. But really, it's a system of energy not unlike the energy of the world, and it controls and influences your biology."

Ashe gave Katsu a doubtful look. He had no doubt that magic affected biology -- that was well known, and why the Keela underwent training before using it. But the rest of that sounded like superstition to him.

Katsu ignored the look, though, and kept talking. He rubbed a broad hand over his own chest, drawing Ashe's attention to the thin lines tattooed across his golden skin. "This helps me use my chakra to heal. There's a lot of different ways I can use chakra, but in this case I traced the same pattern into your back and linked our energy. You'd practically ruined your pathways, so they wouldn't carry your chakra. Your centers were spinning backward or not at all. I forced them to work with mine."

"I ran out of magic and you gave me yours?" Ashe asked. He'd never heard of such a thing, but if Katsu was a healer as well as a medic--

"You can'tgivesomeone chakra, and it's impossible to run out of it. It just stops moving."

Ashe looked at Katsu askance. "Of course you can run out of magic. It's why we train."

"No, you train to strengthen the pathways."

Definitely superstition. Ashe shrugged, then cursed under his breath when it opened up the thin scabs on his back. Slowly, he pushed to a sitting position. The cave ceiling was low; no way would he be able to stand. But he could kneel, crouch, or even crawl. "I'm going to check and see if the dragon is still out there." He started for the opening, then felt Katsu grab his ankle.

For an instant, Ashe thought he saw concern in Katsu's eyes. Then the moment was gone, and he figured he must have been imagining it. "Just throw something out the hole first," Katsu said. "Don't get your head snapped off."

He thought about it, weighing the chance that the dragon was still there with the likelihood of getting eaten if it was, and decided that wasn't a bad idea. He picked up a small rock and threw it, wincing at the way his muscles moved under his skin.Everythinghurt.

The rock soared through the air and vanished into a bush a little ways away. Nothing else moved. There were even twittering birds. Taking a deep breath, Ashe began to crawl forward. Each slide of hands or knees burned through his body, and by the time he'd made it to the hole, he was pretty sure that all the scabs along his back had opened up again. Something wet slid down his ribs, and he couldn't tell if it was sweat or blood.

He was going to be a lot bloodier in a minute if that dragonwasstill out there. Rumor said that they were nasty, cunning animals. He hovered just inside the cave, listening for anything that might tell him a predator waited.

The birds chirped. Small animals dashed back and forth in the undergrowth and over tree limbs. The wind whispered through the ravine, an invisible hand that brushed across the treetops and made them sway gently.

Warily, Ashe crept out of the cave.

Nothing happened.

He turned his head, peering down the ravine. The trees grew thicker the farther in they went, stretching tall to reach the sun. Shade and water were plentiful, increasing the growth of bushes. No sign of a dragon, though.

He turned and looked the other way, toward camp and, more distantly, the town. The foliage was thinner, the shadows dappled with sunlight until the forest became a dry, airy woodland down among the flat lands. Dead leaves turned to mulch, piled up against the ravine wall.

And a dragon lay curled between a stand of trees and the cliff, head on its forefeet, tail wrapped around its legs. Ashe froze. Maybe it hadn't seen him yet. Maybe it was waiting for him to run before it struck. Maybe--

Its ribs rose and fell, a tiny weed swaying with the gust of its breath.

Maybe it was sleeping.

Heart pounding in his skull, setting up a racket he was sure even Katsu must hear, he looked at the animal's eyes.

Closed.

Slowly, slowly, Ashe backed into the cave, trying not to disturb so much as a leaf. Cool shade closed over him, the dimness reassuring as he crept to his spot by the wall. Bile churned in his stomach.

"Well?"

Ashe waved Katsu quiet with desperate movements, then whispered as softly as he could, "The dragon's still there."

For a moment, Katsu just looked confused. Then his eyes flew wide, and he looked toward the cave entrance. He pushed up to one elbow and pointed with his free hand.Out there?he mouthed.

Ashe nodded.

Shit.

Ashe nodded again.

They both stared at the opening.

"Now what?" Katsu asked finally, so soft even Ashe's excellent hearing almost missed it.

Ashe shook his head. He had no idea.

"Did it see you?"

He shook again. "It's sleeping." Katsu looked confused and gestured at his ears. Ashe repeated himself louder, wincing at the way his words hissed around the cave. Humans were so deaf sometimes. Important times. Like when he was trying not to wake a dragon.

Katsu looked at the entrance. Ashe looked, too. They sat in silence for a long time. Finally, Ashe looked back at Katsu. Half-naked Katsu, and he couldn't even be excited about that because he was too busy being afraid for his life.

Damn dragons.

"I bet it's the male."

"Does it matter?"

Katsu glanced at him, then back at the entrance. "It fits the description the townies gave us better than the one we were hunting. I bet this is the male, and it's been raiding for its mate."

"Which would be the female we went after."

Katsu nodded.

"Which means there are probably eggs. Damn." Ashe sat down on his butt, bringing his knees up and looping his arms around them. If there were eggs involved, the dragon was never going to let them out of this cave.

When Katsu spoke, he was a little wistful sounding. "Eggs go for a neat coin. Good for balms, salves, and powders, too. Dragon embryos go for--"

"Are you insane? They go for a neat coin because most people die trying to get them!" Outside, the birds suddenly went quiet. Both men froze. Ashe's heart thundered. He'd been too loud. That was almost a speaking tone of voice. He'd woken the dragon, and--

The birds began to chirp again.

Katsu gave him a foul look. "Look," Katsu said, "our best bet for getting out of here is to go while it's sleeping. They sleep through the day, so in theory we're safest leaving when the sun's the highest."

Ashe eyed the shadows stretched across the ground. "I think that's now." Katsu's logic was sound, but Ashe couldn't begin to describe how badly he didn't want to leave the relative safety of their cave.

"I can't go."

Ashe scowled and glanced over. "Don't wuss out on me now. You did fine yesterday."

A flush darkened Katsu's cheekbones. Not embarrassment, Ashe thought, but... frustration?

"I can't go. I twisted my ankle. Didn't notice it yesterday, with all the adrenaline, but today..." He shifted a bit, and Ashe glanced down.

Katsu had taken his boot and sock off, exposing a foot that was swollen and covered in purple and black bruises.

"What do you suggest I do, then?" Ashe asked, panicking. "Leave you here for the dragon?"

"I was thinking you could go and get help, actually..."

That, he considered, made a lot more sense. Except for the part about leaving Katsu here, defenseless against adragon.

"I can't just leave you here," he whispered. "We don't know how far help is, if they're still fighting with that other dragon, or if I'll even make it."

"I don't see a better choice. Do you?" Katsu continued before Ashe could answer, refusing to look away from the cave opening. "Look, it's not likely to wake up. You have elf stealth going for you. You can probably get away before it hears you, and if it sleeps right through, then it'll probably sleep through the day. That means we have hours before it tries to attack again, and it could even decide that I'm not worth waiting for and move on."

They both knew that last was unlikely if it was protecting a nest. Ashe didn't bother saying so. He didn't say anything, in fact.

"I did not sign up for this!" Katsu hissed, furious. "I signed up to patch people up and see the world and get paid, not bandage the fingers of over-sexed elves who slip with a knife and certainly not to get stuck in a cave with a dragon!"

The final word echoed. Ashe winced, but there was still no stirring from outside. "It's fine," he said at last. "We're going to get out of this just fine."

Katsu looked livid. Ashe couldn't help it. He smirked. "Getting pissed won't change this. It might scare your patients into better behavior, but not the world."

For a moment, furious dark eyes pinned him. Then the stare eased, and at long last Katsu gave a wry smile. With a start, Ashe realized it was the only one he'd ever seen. He scooted closer, mindful of Katsu's leg. Unsure what else to do, he finally looked again at Katsu's ankle.

It really was ugly. Gingerly, he framed it between his hands and focused on bringing healing warmth. Magic flowed through him, and he winced as it scraped nails under his skin.

"Stop that," Katsu grumbled. "You're going to damage your pathways."

"I'm just putting some magic into you. It'll make it feel better." He could smell Katsu under the scent of the moist earth.

"You're not putting anything into me, you're forcing my chakra to flow through my pathways and heal myself."

Ashe looked at Katsu from under his brows, trying to see if the human really believed that. Apparently, he did.

"Look, I'm the healer, damn it. Not you."

"It's amazing you ever heal anyone, insisting it's their own body doing it. That makes no sense at all."

"And magic transferring from one person to another does?" The question was sarcastic, but Ashe didn't respond. He didn't have a response: it made perfect sense.

"Does it feel better?" he asked after a time.

Grudgingly, Katsu muttered, "Yes."

Ashe nodded and sat back. There was pressure behind his eyes, a throbbing ache down his arms and into his hands. It was worth easing some of Katsu's pain. "We could wrap your ankle. With my support, we could both get out of here."

For just a moment, he thought he saw a flash of fear. "I'm not hobbling out there with a dragon at our doorstep. The two of us would make so much noise--"

Ashe shook his head. "I think we can go quietly. We'll have to go slowly, which is nerve-wracking, but we can do it." He was almost sure.

"And if you're wrong, we get eaten! Ashe, go get help."

"I'm not leaving you here. And you can't make me."

One side of Katsu's mouth twisted down. "You can't make me go, either."

Ashe's brows rose at the challenge.

"If you try, I'll bellow and wake the dragon."

"I'll just knock you out first."

Katsu's eyes widened almost comically. "You know, just about the time I start to think maybe you're a halfway decent guy, you get all high-handed and elfity."

Ashe smiled slowly, warmth curling in his chest. "You think I'm a halfway decent guy?" From what he'd been able to tell, Katsu didn't likeanyone. Ashe knew; he'd spent the last eight months trying to get the medic's eye.

"That is not the point! The point is that if you try to knock me out, you four-fingered--" He cut himself off, but it looked like he nearly strangled on his words.

Ashe grinned. There was something so satisfying about getting a reaction like that from Katsu, especially now that he knew Katsu thought he was halfway decent. "I mean it, too."

Katsu's face darkened again. A vein pulsed in his neck. Then he relaxed. "Rockroot."As if that was settled, he picked up one of the lengths of cloth he normally wrapped around his forearms and began to bind his ankle.

"What?"

"Rockroot. There was some right outside. I saw the leaves coming in -- they're very distinctive. For years it was thought to be a sleeping agent."

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