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Two days. Her birthday was in two days.
Little was left of this day. As Noemi trudged after Garrin, the low sun shone through the trees ahead of them. She had to squint to make out the space in front of her through the glare.
Little was left of today. Tomorrow, she would either be in love or dead.
Garrin shouted a second before chaos broke out.
A scaly body reared up in front of him. He backed up into her. The sight of the dragon made Noemi’s blood freeze. It was a day early! Its mouth opened. Belatedly, Noemi thought of the wax in her pocket. She fumbled for it—and light grew in the creature’s throat.
“Duck!” Garrin yelled, shoving her behind a rock. Fire scorched their footprints.
Noemi pressed her back into the rock—only it wasn’t a rock at all! It was too smooth.
Garrin’s sword flashed between them and the dragon. “Stay here,” he whispered. Then he somersaulted to a nearby tree and took off running. Another blast of flame shot after him.
The ground shook like an earthquake. Noemi glanced over her shoulder into another saurian face. Without meaning to, she screamed.
The dragon lunged for her. She sprang away, but she felt the wind of the dragon’s movement. Garrin screamed her name, but she couldn’t do anything about that. She had to keep dodging the dragon.
And then there were two of them! Two streams of fire from two sets of teeth. Noemi ran.
The dragons were far enough away to give her an extra second. She searched for Garrin. He was near a cliff, on the other side of the egg from where she stood. He swung his sword at one of the beasts. Metal met scales. The dragon squealed.
Garrin didn’t see its mate rear to strike.
A scream tore Noemi’s throat raw.
Garrin heard. He lunged toward her, just out of the dragon’s path.
Her heart started beating again. Her vision went sort of blurry.
But there was a rustle behind Noemi and she had to run again. Garrin called to her. She dodged fire and looked. With the hand not battling a firewyrm he pointed to a cleft in the cliff wall.
She could only hope it was a cave. With speed she didn’t know she had, Noemi sprinted for the hole.
The dragon was close. Its flame singed her cheek.
Just a couple more steps.
She squeezed through the gap. It opened up wide, so she ducked to the side and waited for Garrin. Her heart thudded once, twice, and she’d never been more afraid. The darkness quenched all light.
Then his heavy breathing echoed off the walls and the dragons outside shrieked in frustration. Noemi’s knees buckled. “Garrin?” she yelled, desperate to know with certainty that her friend was alive.
“Here,” he panted. His hand found her arm. She reached in his direction. His arms wrapped around her so tight it hurt. “Thank everything that exists,” Garrin laughed.
Noemi squeezed him back with all her strength. “I thought you were dead,” she choked on her own breath.
“Not dead,” he assured her. “I’m not that easy to kill.”
They sat in the dark together, away from the sliver of fast-fading light in the cave’s gray entrance. “What do we do?” Noemi asked Garrin.
“We wait till morning and hope they’re all asleep.” He squeezed her hand. “Get some rest if you can. I’ll take first watch.”
It took her a long time to get any rest. She kept seeing dragons attacking her dearest friend, only now, in the dark, they succeeded. Even with her head resting on his shoulder, it was hard to let go of the grief that image inspired.
Sometime later Garrin woke her. She gave him her shoulder to rest his head on and stared in the direction of the cave’s entrance.
A thin line of gray announced the dawn of the day before her eighteenth birthday.
This was it.
She felt numb as she woke Garrin.
“We have to plug our ears until tomorrow is over,” Garrin said.
“I know,” she said to the darkness in front of his voice.
“Stay close to me, whatever happens.” His words were an order, but Noemi thought it sounded more like a plea.
She reached out blindly and squeezed his arm. “I wouldn’t spend my last moments anywhere else.”
“Don’t talk like that,” he growled.
“Garrin,” she said. “I am truly thankful for your friendship and loyalty. I…you’re one of the most important people in my life.” Her voice trembled. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “Now, please give me my wax ear plugs.”
He did, hand lingering over hers. Neither spoke another word. Noemi rolled the wax until she could lodge it in her ears. With both balls of wax in place, all she could hear was her heartbeats counting down to her death. She knew their inability to hear gave Garrin hope, but a prophecy was inescapable. One way or another, she knew it would come true.
Garrin’s hand wrapped over hers again. He led her toward the gray light of early day shining on the dull rocks of the cave opening. Garrin went through first. For just a moment, his body eclipsed the light, leaving her deaf and blind. Her heartbeat sped up. Then the light returned. Noemi crawled after him, out into the morning—
Into the brightest, most vivid world she had ever seen.
Did she whisper it, or just think it? She couldn’t know. The sky—that couldn’t be one color! No, one word would never be able to describe it. The trees, the sleeping dragons—they all looked so much richer, so much more alive than she’d ever seen.
Garrin wouldn’t know. He assumed she’d be following him. But she couldn’t, not now. Someone else was in the cave. Her true love, after all these years! In a cave! Noemi grabbed Garrin’s arm. She had to go back to him. She had to meet the man who made her see color, the stranger who would save her from the prophecy’s dragon.