He didn’t see the moment when Snow squeezed the knot in her tail and crushed the life out of the alchemist, almost splitting him in two. He saw the body, though, flung through the air like a stone from a catapult, straight into one of the knights, so hard that the force of it lifted him off the ground and they both sprawled like broken rag-dolls. He felt the sky go dark as Snow leapt straight over his head. She landed, shaking the ground where the knight had been, and snapped up another in her claws. The man screamed as she crushed him, and then Kailin heard the metal plates of his armour bend and break. The other knights were bolting for the cover of the trees. Her tail whipped around again, casually flinging a rock the size of half a man. It caught another Rider, smashing him into the forest. He didn’t get up.
Then came the fire. She swept her head from side to side, sweeping the trees with torrents of flame. The knights, if they were quick enough, would cower behind their dragon-scale shields and the heat would pass them by.
But if they were cowering behind their shields, they weren’t running. Snow sprang out of the river and up the bank, to the forest edge. The fire came again, and this time her tail cracked into the trees. She plucked out one knight, cartwheeling him a hundred feet into the air, and then another, this one smashed head first into the stones of the river bed. Kailin whimpered and covered his face. He couldn’t bring himself to watch. He heard men scream, branches crack, tree trunks bend and break…
Sprinting footsteps splashed through the water towards him. He heard a voice: “What are you doing? Are you mad?”
Arms roughly pulled him up out of the water and gripped him tight. Raw steel touched his throat.
“You tell that dragon to fucking stop, right?”
Kailin screwed up his face. “I… can’t…” I can’t stop her. She’s not listening to me.
The man with the knife at his throat tensed, as if preparing to make his killing cut. “Well then you’re coming with us then.” He started to drag Kailin out of the river. “If it’s going to burn us, it’s going to burn you too, you bastard.”
The man was doomed. They were all doomed. Kailin knew it as soon as they started to move. He could feel the dragon, as though she’d sensed his plea. She wasn’t done with the other knights yet, but as soon as she was…
They almost made it when the dragon exploded out of the inferno on the other side of the river, showering ash and embers and burning branches all around them. The fire flashed again, and the other man, the one who didn’t have a hold of him, shrieked. The man with the knife stumbled and the two of them went down together, falling in the soggy grass. He didn’t let go, but rolled, so that he was lying on his back with Kailin on top of him, both of them staring up at the sky. The dragon was staring back down at them. Her teeth were bloody, her eyes blazed, and she had someone caught in her tail again. Through the haze of smoke and gibbering terror, Kailin thought he recognised one of Knight-Marshall Nastria’s sell-swords.
“Let him go!” Roared the man with the knife. “Let him go or I’ll kill your rider.”
WHERE ARE THE ALCHEMISTS? The thought hit Kailin like a hammer. WHERE ARE THEY? BURN THEM! I WILL BURN THEM ALL!