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The words slowly penetrated Sedric’s mind, and he remembered that there were more things in the world to consider than just food and water. He spoke with his broken mouth full. “Who survived?”

“Well, more survived than went missing. Took us a day or two, but we’ve gathered up most everyone. Now that I’ve found you and the copper, we’re only missing Rapskal, his dragon, and Jess. We found poor Warken dead, and Ranculos is badly bruised, but other than some injuries, everyone else is fine. How about you? You look more battered than anyone else.”

He touched his face self-consciously. “A bit.”

Carson gave a low laugh. “From here, it looks like more than ‘a bit’ to me. So. It’s only you and the dragon here. No one else?”

“Only us,” he replied guardedly. How would Carson feel if he knew that he and Relpda had killed the other hunter? He had frequently seen the two men together on the boat, and they often partnered each other in their hunting tasks. Now was no time to risk offending his savior. If he said nothing about Jess, no one would ever know.

Unless Relpda said something.

A tremor of fear went through him. The dragon reacted to it. Danger? Eat hunter?

“No, Relpda, no. No danger. The hunter will find food for you, but not right now.” He mended her words as best he could and then said to Carson quietly, “She’s been a bit more confused since the big wave.”

“Well. I think we all have. But she has a point. She has to be ravenous. She was never fat to begin with, and it looks like the last couple of days have winnowed her down. Relpda? I know that dragons prefer fresh meat, but I saw an elk carcass floating not far from here. Shall I show you where?”

“Bring to Relpda. Relpda tired.”

“Carson tired, too,” the hunter muttered, but it was a good-natured complaint. “I’ll go put a line on the stinking thing and pull it down here. You want me to leave the water with you?”

“Don’t go!” The words were out of his mouth reflexively. Rescue had only just arrived.

Carson grinned and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back. I’ve gone to all this trouble to find you. I’m not about to abandon you here.” Carson’s gaze met Sedric’s, and the words seemed to come from the hunter’s heart. Sedric didn’t know what to say.

“Thank you,” he managed at last. He looked away from the man’s earnest gaze. “I must seem a coward to you. Or an incompetent idiot.”

“Neither one, I assure you. I won’t be long. I’m leaving the water with you. It’s all we’ve got right now, so go as easy on it as you can.”

“It’s all we’ve got? Why did you let me drink so much?” Sedric was horrified.

“Because you needed it. Now, let me go get Relpda some nice rotten elk, and then I’ll be back. Maybe I’ll still have enough light to go up the trees and look for more food for us.”

“Jess—” Sedric halted his words. He’d nearly told him that Jess had found fruit nearby. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Don’t mention the other hunter.

“What?”

“Just be careful.”

“Oh, I’m always that. I’ll be back soon enough.”

THE WATER HAD gone down. There was still plenty of dead fish to eat. It wasn’t fresh, but it was filling. She wasn’t dead. At least, not yet.

Sintara shifted her weight. Her feet were sore from the constant immersion. The water was less acid than it had been, but her claws still felt soft, as if they were decaying. And she had never had less hope for herself.

She, Sintara, a dragon who should have ruled the sea, the sky, and the land, had been picked up and tumbled head over heels like a rabbit struck by a hawk. She’d floundered and gasped. She’d clung to a log like a drowning rat. “No dragons have ever endured what we have,” she said. “None has ever sunk so low.”

“There is nothing ‘low’ about survival,” Mercor contradicted her. As always, his voice was calm, almost placid. “Think of it as experience hard won, Sintara. When you die and are eaten, or when your young hatch from the egg, they will carry forward your memories of this time. No hardship endured is a loss. Someone will learn from it. Someone profits from it.”

“Someone is tired of your philosophizing,” scarlet Ranculos grumbled. He coughed, and Sintara smelled blood. She moved closer to him. Among the dragons, his injury was the most serious. Something had struck his ribs as he tumbled in the flood. She could sense the pain he felt with every breath. For the most part, their scaled bodies had protected them. Sestican had a bruised wing that ached when he tried to open it. Veras complained of a burned throat from swallowing acid water. The lesser bruises that they all had scarcely seemed worth mentioning. They were dragons. They would heal.

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