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The Dragon's Kiss

Chapter 5 - FIVE: Her Escape

The first thing Kel became aware of was the sound of hooves. Gradual consciousness spread through her body, and she realized she was sitting on a horse. Her wrists were bound tightly together in front of her, and she was leaning against something solid.

Vivid flashes of the moments before she blacked out suddenly swept through her mind, and her eyes shot open.

Dash. Barclay.

Lines of soldiers trotting along overwhelmed her vision. The silver armor with red markings dispelled any lingering doubt. She was surrounded by soldiers from the Serin Empire. She squinted at the rows of glistening armor and finally spotted Dash, dressed in Mevani's brown uniform, riding along in the line to her left.

"Dash!" She tried to yell, but her friend's name came out as a squeak..

"Oh you're already awake." Kel flinched at the gruff voice behind her. Pain shot through her forehead as she strained her neck to look back. The movement threw her off balance, causing her to lurch forward, and an armored forearm pulled her back.

"Easy," the man soothed.

"..Where?" she finally managed to choke out, fighting to regain control of her vocal chords.

"Are you asking where those other Mevani dogs are?" The man chuckled. "You really are clueless, aren't you?"

Kel coughed, trying to vocalize another question when she caught the scent of the pungent odor from before.


She tried to throw her elbow back against the man's abdomen, but her arms refused to obey her.

"Sorry, princess." The man brought one hand up to her face, and the world turned to darkness once again.

When Kel regained consciousness again, she was lying on her back. In the dim light, she could make out canvas walls and a peaked roof. She guessed it must be a small tent of some kind. Feeling some strength return to her limbs, she rolled to the side. Something coarse brushed against her arm. A blanket?

With great effort, she pushed herself up to a sitting position. Her hands were still bound tightly, making it difficult to balance. Ignoring the throbbing in her head, she tried to sort out her situation.

There was no doubt she was currently being held captive by Serin. However, judging from the sheer number of fully armored soldiers she'd seen, capturing Mevani's princess likely wasn't their original objective.

So how did they find us?

She suddenly thought of Dash and their final moments in the clearing. Was he the one who sold them out? He said he was going to drop false intel, but had he led the soldiers to them instead?

Kel shook her head. There had to be a misunderstanding. Dash wasn't the kind of person to sell out his own country. Besides, Kel wasn't even the real princess, meaning he'd have even less to gain by handing her over to Serin. In fact, it could ultimately prove to be dangerous for him if she was found out.

She sighed. Her head was pounding too much to make sense of Dash's bizarre behavior. Instead, she decided to piece together the things she knew for sure. First of all, Barclay was definitely in trouble wherever he was. He'd probably been taken hostage along with her, so finding him should be her top priority. Second, before she could find Barclay, she'd need to figure out how to get away without anyone noticing.

Kel squeezed her eyes shut, urging her foggy mind to think. Since the time Serin openly declared their intentions to take over the entire continent a few years ago, she'd spent a considerable amount of time studying the empire's military strategy as both a soldier and a princess.

She pictured herself sitting next to Adriell, staring at a carefully drawn map of a Serin war camp. The same map was referenced occasionally during military training as well. Serin custom was to set their base up like a triangle. She could visualize the oddly shaped camp on the map. Two of the three tips were designated guard stations that were responsible for keeping constant watch.

The thing that really made Serin's war camp different from that of other nations', however, was that the ruler's quarters weren't set up in the middle of camp. On the contrary, the emperor himself occupied the third point of the triangle as a first line of defense.

Kel shuddered at the thought of the Serin emperor. He was rumored to have midnight-black hair and terrifying red eyes. After leading a horrific bloody rebellion in the empire, he'd usurped the emperor's position at only nineteen years old. Most of his life before claiming the throne was shrouded in mystery, but due to his cruelness and incredible fighting skills, whispers of him being the son of a terrible monster circulated the continent. Not long after his ascension to the throne, people began calling him the Dragon Emperor.

If her captors truly believed she was the princess of Mevani, then that same Dragon Emperor's tent was nearby. Because Serin never put hostages near each other, Barclay must be at either of the other two ends of camp.

Kel gulped. Avoiding the Dragon Emperor would be difficult enough, but finding Barclay was going to be nearly impossible. For now, she should focus on getting herself out and getting word back to Mevani. If she was successful, then she could go back for her comrade.

You'd do the same, right, Barclay?

Kel imagined the burly man nodding his approval. She bit her lip, remembering the arrow sticking out of his back. Hopefully he wasn't in too much pain.

Don't think about it, Kel lectured herself. The only thing she could do now was find a way to get out of the tent. She grimaced at the ropes digging into her wrists.

They needed to go.

"Mmph!" Kel bit her lip to stifle a yelp as flames stung her wrists. Due to limited resources, she'd finally settled on burning her way free. Fierce heat radiated across her skin, but it was too late to stop now. She had the ability to create fire out of nothing, but couldn't extinguish it the same way.

After what seemed like several minutes of biting back the pain, the ropes finally fell to the ground. She'd managed to keep the fire concentrated in one area, so only a small portion of her wrists was damaged.

Kel smiled triumphantly. Uncle certainly would have been proud of her control.

She finished incinerating the ropes and spread the ashes through the dirt while blowing softly at her burns. Now she needed to finish strategizing her escape. Someone would probably come to check on her soon, so she would have to hurry.

Inching forward softly, she lifted the bottom of the door flap ever so slightly to get an idea of her surroundings. Two pairs of boots blocked most of the view.


She tested the walls of the tent, but they were all securely staked into the ground. Digging underneath might have been a feasible way to get out, but she didn't have the tools or the time. The door was the only plausible exit. She just needed to find a way to get the guards out of there.

No, not just the guards. Everyone in the area would have to be distracted for her to slip by unnoticed.

Kel sighed, flopping back down on the blanket. How could she create a diversion big enough to draw attention while stuck inside? She surveyed the cramped space, taking inventory of what she had to work with. There was the scratchy blanket she was sitting on, the clothes on her body and a few pebbles scattered here and there.

Maybe she could make a slingshot. But shooting a few measly pebbles wouldn't distract anyone. She leaned over and scooped up one of the pebbles at her side. If only-


It wasn't a pebble after all. It was an oaknut.

Kel jumped up. This was perfect. To an ordinary person, having a nut instead of a pebble made no difference. But to a fire user, a dry, woody oaknut unlocked a whole slew of options. 𝑖𝑛𝐧𝓻e𝒶𝗱. c𝚘𝙢

She hopped around the small tent, examining the other rocks. In the end, she managed to collect three oaknuts total. Now, the question was where to shoot them off. The guards might see if she used the door. Plus, creating a disturbance right outside was counterproductive.

She studied the ceiling of the tent more closely. There was a small hole on one side where the support poles were lashed together. Standing on the tops of her toes, she caught a glimpse of a similar opening in the tent next to her. There was bound to be something flammable inside if she could just get the oaknuts through.

With her bow, she'd easily be able to make it, but she was less confident in her throwing skills. Using a stone from the ground, she practiced the shot. The rock successfully passed through the opening in her tent, but dropped straight to the ground outside.

She held her breath, listening intently, but it seemed nobody noticed the clattering stone. Ideally, she'd practice with all the pebbles available, but she didn't want to press her luck. She needed to get the oaknuts into the neighboring tent and get it done quickly.

Kel picked up the first oaknut. She rehearsed the motion her throw a few times, and then took a deep breath. Her chest started to tingle. She carefully willed the tingling down her arm and into her balled hand. Once the prickling reached the nut, she flicked her wrist and sent it flying. Without waiting, she repeated the process with the other two.

After the final throw, she stood frozen, ears pricked.

Now all she could do was listen and wait.

Each passing second felt like ten. The noise level outside remained unchanged. Kel knew the odds of her plan working were close to zero, but she couldn't help the anticipation pulsing through her body.

An abrupt shout rang through the air. More yelling and the thudding of footsteps soon followed. Kel couldn't believe it. Had her plan worked after all?

She crawled to the door and peeked under the flap just in time to see the two guards leaving. Feeling hopeful, she lifted the flap a little more. In the distance, she could make out running feet between tents, but the immediate area around seemed to be clear.

It's now or never, she thought, bursting out of the tent. Her body instinctively turned the opposite direction of the oaknuts she'd thrown, but she couldn't resist peeping at the commotion. A quick glance over her shoulder revealed a ball of flames engulfing what she could only guess had been the neighboring tent.

Her diversion had worked.

She smirked at burning tent, and dashed off the other way. Fortunately, everyone in the camp was occupied with the sudden fire and didn't notice the golden-haired girl sneaking toward the tree line.

She paused as she reached the final tent standing between her and freedom.

"I promise I'll come back for you, Barclay," she whispered. With one last peek at the chaos behind her, Kel began to sprint toward the welcoming cover of the forest.

She had only taken two steps when something snatched her arm. She forcefully wrenched herself free, but the momentum knocked her to the ground. Regaining focus on the trees, she twisted around to scamper away, but instantly froze at the silhouette that crossed her vision.

Swallowing nervously, she slowly turned back to face the darkened figure. With the sunset behind him, the man standing there resembled the burning tent. She couldn't see his features clearly as she squinted against the sun, but one word came to her mind.


Kel knew whom this imposing silhouette belonged to. She'd just come face to face with the Dragon Emperor.

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