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When it finally stilled, she turned to Thymara and cried breathlessly, “I did it! I did it! I speared a fish! I killed it!”

“Yes, you did. And you should get out of the water before you ruin your boots.”

“I don’t care about them. I got a fish. Can I try again? Can I kill another?”

“I suppose you can. Alise, let’s get the first one ashore, shall we?”

“Don’t lose it! Don’t let it get away!” This she cried as Thymara waded out and put a hand on the spear.

“It won’t get away. It’s very dead. We have to pull the spear out of the ground so we can get the fish to shore. Don’t worry. We won’t lose it.”

“I really did it, didn’t I? I killed a fish.”

“You did.”

It took some effort to free the spear from the mud. The fish was bigger than Thymara had expected. It took both of them to drag it back to shore. It was an ugly creature, black and finely scaled with long teeth in its blunt face. When they flipped it up onto the shore, it had a brilliant scarlet belly. Thymara had never seen anything like it. “I’m not sure if this is something we can eat,” she said hesitantly. “Sometimes animals that are brightly colored are poisonous.”

“We should ask Mercor. He’ll know. He remembers a great deal.” Alise crouched down to examine her prize. She reached out a curious finger and then pulled it back. “It’s strange. All of the dragons seem to have different levels of recall. Sometimes I think Sintara refuses to answer my questions because she cannot. But with Mercor, I always feel like he knows things but won’t share them. When he talks to me, he talks about everything except dragons and Elderlings.”

“I’m not sure we should touch it before we know.” Thymara had remained crouched by the fish. Alise nodded. She rose, took up the spear, and began prowling along the river’s edge. Her excitement was palpable.

“Let’s see what else we can kill. Then we’ll ask Mercor about that one.”

Thymara stood up. She felt a bit naked without her spear. It was odd to be the one trailing after someone else who was hunting. She didn’t much like the feeling. She found herself talking, as if it would restore her sense of importance. “Mercor seems older than the other dragons, doesn’t he? Older and more tired.”

“He does.” Alise spoke quietly. She didn’t move as smoothly as Thymara did, but she was trying. Thymara realized that her tiptoeing and hunched stance was an exaggerated imitation of Thymara’s prowl. She couldn’t decide if she was flattered or insulted. “It’s because he remembers so much more than the others. I sometimes think that age is based more on what you’ve done and what you remember than how old you are. And I think Mercor remembers a lot, even about being a serpent.”

“He always seems sad to me. And gentler, in a way that the other dragons are not gentle at all.”

Alise hunkered down on her heels, peering under a tangle of branches and fallen leaves. She sounded both intent and distracted as she replied. “I think he remembers more than the others. I had one good evening of talking to him. When he spoke to me, he was far more open and direct than any of the other dragons had been. Even so, he only spoke in generalities rather than of his specific ancestral memories. But he expressed things I’ve never heard the other dragons say.” She extended the spear and tried to lift some of the weed mass out of her way. As she did so, a fish darted out. She lunged at it with a splash and a shout, but it was gone.

“Next time, if you think a fish might be there, just stab down. If you move the water anywhere near a fish looking for it, it’s gone. Might as well risk a jab and maybe get something.”

“Right.” Alise expended an exasperated breath and continued to stalk down the shore.

Thymara followed. “Mercor said unusual things?” she prompted Alise.

“Oh. Yes, he did. He spoke quite a bit about Kelsingra. He said it was a significant city for both dragons and Elderlings. There was a special kind of silvery water there that the dragons especially enjoyed. He couldn’t or wouldn’t explain that to me. But he said it was an important place because it was where the Elderlings and dragons came together and made agreements. The way he spoke, it gave me a different view of how Elderlings and dragons interacted. Almost like adjacent kingdoms making treaties and having accords. When I mentioned that to him, he said it was more like symbiosis.”

“Symbiosis?”

“They lived together in a way that benefited both. But more than benefited. He did not say it directly, but I think he believes that if Elderlings had survived, dragons would not have vanished from this world for as long as they did. I think he feels that restoring Elderlings will be key to the dragons continuing to survive in this world.”

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