Page 73 of Wolf's Mate

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"No," the voice replied. It belonged to the person next to me. It was another girl, someone I could guess was barely more than a child. My stomach turned, from what I'd heard Zeke say, we were likely destined to be sold into slavery. It was a long road around the mountain range the dragons called home, and to the North resided the wolf shifters, and beyond them, the nomadic humans who were said to be barbaric and cruel. They would do awful things to a young girl.

They would do awful things to me, as well, but I tried not to think about that.

"I'm from Lakeside," the girl said. I nodded to myself, recalling the little fishing village several miles outside my own. They supplied most of the region's freshwater catches, and were renowned for their ability to make excellent boats and weave strong nets. "You?"

"Near the Pass," I replied. I could hear the other girl nod, the vague sound of her cheek rustling her clothing.

"They're going to sell us," the girl said, her voice thick with tears. She trembled in front of me, her knees hitting my leg as she tried to curl up, though there wasn't room to do it. I couldn't even move back; my back was pressed to the wall of the wagon. "We’re going to become slaves."

I swallowed. I wanted to tell her that that wasn't the case, that we were going to be alright. But that wasn't the truth, and the truth wasn't something you said in situations like this. "What's your name?" I asked her.

"Ravi," she whispered.

"I'm Alice," I said. "Stick with me and I'll protect you as best I can."

Ravi let out a tiny, terrified whimper, as the cart rumbled to a halt, swaying on its wheels. I frowned, and went tense as I heard the creak of heavy steps above our heads. Then, suddenly, the ceiling opened. It was still dark outside, but I still blinked rapidly at the sudden change of light, letting me see. A large man's shadow came into view and he sneered at us.

"Get up," he commanded, grabbing Ravi by her hood and hauling her upright. I surged after her and was caught by another man, as they held us and hauled us from the wagon, stumbling onto unsteady feet. It had started to rain and the ground was wet, and slippery beneath my shoes.

"Bathroom break, ladies," the first man snapped, shoving us towards the trees. I recognized his voice, and the way his big hands felt on my shoulders and back – it was Zeke. He had a mean look to him, enough that even if I had met him in the tavern, I would be reluctant to talk to him. His head was shaved smooth and he had a thick beard and mustache, covering the lower half of his face with reddish hair. His eyes were dark and narrowed in irritation as Ravi and I stumbled our way towards the trees.

I looked up, seeing that we were still in the shadow of the mountain. There was no sign of life around the summit, no telltale flicker of golden or red scales,

or the rumbling of beasts. The horses seemed nervous, but that was normal this close to the dragon roost.

I thought about screaming, and decided against it when Zeke held a blade out. He didn't try to attack us with it, but the threat was obvious enough. He wouldn't hesitate to cut out our tongues or take a few fingers. Slaves didn't need to talk to be useable.

My stomach turned in revulsion and I wrapped an arm around Ravi. I could see, now, that she was almost a foot shorter than me, and had tanned skin and very dark hair in keeping with the normal Lakeside people. She looked up at me with wide eyes, which looked almost black in the darkness.

I gave her what I hoped was an encouraging smile as we were herded into the trees by Zeke. There were other men around, almost a dozen, checking the wagon and laughing at each other as they shared bitter-smelling ale from skins between them.

We went into the trees, and I let Ravi go. "Do you need to go?" I asked her, aware that Zeke was hovering nearby, making sure we didn't try to run.

Ravi shook her head, biting her thin lower lip. "No," she whispered, visibly shaking.

I didn't need to, either, but who knew how long we would have to wait until we were allowed another break? "Try," I whispered, and she nodded, going over to a tree. I could feel Zeke's eyes on me and shivered at the thought of him watching.

My cloak had been taken, and while Ravi was still in her hood and cape, it wasn't long enough to give us any sense of modesty. I pulled my shirt up so that I could reach for the hem of my trousers, gritting my teeth at the thought of attempting to go in front of my kidnapper.

It was then that I felt another set of eyes on me. Ones not belonging to Ravi or Zeke.

I froze in place.

Behind me, the horses gave a terrified whinny.

"Zeke!" a man called, his voice high and frantic. "Zeke, we're -."

He didn't get to finish his sentence. Though there was no sunlight, the moon shone in silver hues on the ground and the trees and the wagon. And then there was darkness, with the deadly silence that comes right before a huge crack of lightning. For a moment, rain wasn't falling on me at all.

The plume of fire was brilliant and so bright I shielded my eyes, lunging for Ravi and holding her tight to my chest as I ducked behind a tree. Zeke cried out in alarm, temporarily forgetting us, and I grabbed Ravi's hand.

"Run!" I yelled, and she stumbled after me, gaining her feet and keeping pace admirably, considering how small she was.

I heard a roar, so powerful it shook the ground beneath me, and looked up. The flames illuminated the belly of a huge golden dragon, its wings so large they disappeared from sight within the trees. The dragon's teeth and the insides of its mouth shone with fire as it snarled, and released another jet of flame upon our captors. They were screaming, and I could smell them as they all caught fire and were burned to a crisp.

My heart was hammering in my chest, as I led Ravi through the trees until I came upon a clearing, and froze in place when, in front of me, I saw another dragon. Ravi screamed in fear, and I held her close, wrapping both arms around her.

"Don't scream," I whispered. "Don't scream. It's okay."

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