Jagsod disappeared beneath the foamy surface, but quickly bobbed back up, spluttering and shouting. He waved his hand in the air, treading water against the pull of the waves. Thraluic swooped back and dove down, his great wings beating the water into white froth. Jagsod reached toward the dragon’s outstretched claw, swimming frantically toward the black dragon. Ander watched anxiously from above, while Shyllen turned slowly in a tight circle over her uncle and the splashing ogre. Jagsod grabbed at Thraluic’s claw, and caught hold of it tightly. Ander breathed a sigh of relief as the dragon began to pull the young ogre toward him – but too soon. A new disturbance roiled under the foam, and Jagsod looked over his shoulder in concern. Something like fins broke the surface a few hundred feet away, and vanished again. “Come on, Jagsod!” Ander shouted down. “Hurry!” A feeling of dread filled his stomach, and he knew without knowing how that there was something very dangerous in the water. An image of razor-like teeth and a slimy, scaled body many times longer than any dragon flashed through his mind, gone as soon as it had appeared. Or – not gone, simply moved. A horrible, nightmarish head broke through the rolling waves, the water dripping from its scaly mass like ooze from a corpse. Ander couldn’t help the shout of fear that burst from his lips, just as Shyllen gave a frightened scream and climbed higher into the sky. Thraluic also swooped upward with a roar and an explosion of flame. The monster was like an enormous snake, with a flattened head and slitted, yellow eyes. Its mouth was a tangled mess of overlapping teeth, each as long as Ander’s arm and far sharper than any sword. A ropelike, forked tongue snicked out from between two fangs, tasting the salty air with beastile intelligence. The scales that lined its sinuous bulk shone with an oily, green iridescence; shimmering disgustingly in the sunlight. Fins extended from its sides every ten feet or so, ragged with scars and ill-care, and encrusted with all manner of sea-filth. A rank stench rose from the creature like a thick cloud, stinking of dead fish and rotting vegetation. Ander gagged, his eyes fixed on the disgusting and terrifying creature as it lifted its head higher and higher out of the water. Below its rising form, Jagsod had frozen in the water, a look of horror on his craggy face. He instinctively knew that any motion would attract the monster, and floated, immobile on his back. Thraluic dove at the monster – whose slimy head was as large as his own body – flaming green fire at the creature’s face. It jerked to the side, the flames missing its evil yellow eyes by inches. Ander shouted a warning to Thraluic as the monster lunged forward, but the black dragon had already anticipated retaliation and dropped low to the water before sweeping up in an elegant arch and evading the creature’s attack. The sea monster roared – a horrible, gurgling sound like water sloshing through rough stone. Its mouth opened wide, displaying a gaping red maw glistening with venomous saliva, which dripped from the pointed teeth and dribbled down the yellow-tinted scales of its chest and belly. Shyllen circled in the air high above the creature. “Uncle Thraluic needs help,” she called to Ander. “Do you think you can hold on tight enough not to fall?” Ander scrabbled at her smooth scales, gripping the flexible spines with a death grip. “Sure,” he gulped, trying to sound brave. She glanced back at him once, and dove steeply toward the water. The monster’s head loomed near, and she flamed violet fire at its eyes. Ander briefly saw his own face reflected in the shiny yellow oval, before the animal reared back and hissed in pain – Shyllen’s fire had scorched the side of its face. “First blood!” Shyllen crowed in a furious delight. “Watch out!” Ander shouted at her as the sea monster snaked its enormous head forward, driblets of venom spraying through the air. Shyllen swerved violently, attempting to miss the slimy drops, and Ander slipped to the left. His grip held, and he pulled himself back upright, heart in his throat. Suddenly, the monster seemed to remember that there was more prey at hand than these annoying flying creatures that spat strange heat. Its gaze shifted downward – and downward and downward – until it locked on Jagsod, who still lay as motionless as a floating log in the water. Ander knew the exact moment that the monster spotted his ogre friend – its neck arched, its forked tongue flickered, and something like fins perked where its ears would be. “Jagsod!” Ander dared to let go of Shyllen’s spines long enough to wave at Thraluic, who was circling around, attempting to find some weakness in the monster’s scaly form. “Get Jagsod!” He slapped at Shyllen, desperation and fear burning in his gut. “We have to distract it.” She nodded, and took a deep breath. “Hold on!” Beating her wings with sudden intensity, she soared high above the serpent, rocketing so high that Ander caught his breath looking down. The monster seemed as small as a normal garden snake, and Jagsod was invisible. Shyllen banked sharply, twisting around. With a shrill war cry, she dove down; darting like a lake-hawk at a fish, or an eagle at a rabbit. Tears ripped themselves from Ander’s eyes as the wind tore past his face, and he lowered himself on Shyllen’s back until he was head-down toward the water, to cut down on the wind’s drag. He couldn’t hold back a scream of his own – and he was unsure whether it was a scream of excitement, or fear of impending death. The monster was nosing down its own sinuous length, slowly and contentedly lowering its head toward Jagsod, who was now splashing and kicking in a desperate effort to swim away. It looked up, the keening sound of Shyllen’s scream piercing its ears. The look of surprise in its eyes nearly made Ander laugh – if he hadn’t been about to dive onto a sea monster’s head, he might have. The creature had decided that the flying nuisances were of no consequence, unless one came at it with that otherworldly heat – in which case, it was a simple matter to snap at it until it left. But now one of the flying things was diving at the monster! The sheer shock made the monster widen its eyes in disbelief, and astonishment was enough to stall it momentarily – long enough for Thraluic to dart under its neck, snatch the struggling Jagsod out of the water, and fly away. Shyllen turned her all-out dive into an elegant swoop, raking the sea monster’s forehead with her razor claws and lifting back off into the bright blue sky with a triumphant “Ha-ha!” Ander pumped his fist in the air, shouting in exhilaration. “Who-hoo!” he screamed into the sea wind, turning to look over his shoulder as the menacing bulk of the befuddled and furious monster disappeared into the distant blue. Adrenalin pumped through his veins, and he felt as though he could almost fly himself. A death-defying swoop! Snatching a comrade from the very jaws of doom! His old friends would never credit it. Ander laughed aloud, remembering his disappointment when now-Prince Carlo hadn’t made him a page – how could being a page compare to this? Shyllen laughed too – weaving her head back and forth in the wind generated by her own speed. In front of them, Thraluic looked back and said something to Jagsod, who glanced back at Ander and Shyllen and waved; a shaky grin on his craggy face. Ander waved in return, and settled comfortably onto Shyllen’s back. How could Celzara stand a chance? When they reached Uncle Ravin and brought him back, she would crumble into confusion like the sea serpent – it was fate. They stopped for the night on another tiny island – one of many that they flew over that day. This one was a bit more land-like than the one they had slept on the night before, with a few honest-to-goodness trees and a broad beach to spread out on. Ander slept like a baby, more exhausted than he had realized from the day’s exploits. Before they bundled down for the night, Jagsod – who was sitting beside their small fire, trying in vain to dry out his leather clothes – looked up at Shyllen with a kind of worshipful light in his eye. “Thanks for saving me,” he said. He looked at Ander and Thraluic too, but Ander could see that his attention was fully on Shyllen, who had shifted into her lithe human form. Thraluic shook his great wings in a draconic shrug. “You are one of our party,” he said matter-of-factly. “I believe you would do the same for any of us.” Jagsod blinked his heavily-lidded eyes at Shyllen. “Yes, sir.” He said. For some reason, a small tremor of emotion shuddered through Ander’s belly. He wasn’t sure what it was, and didn’t want to go close enough to figure it out – but it felt surprisingly like…anger. Why would he be angry with the ogre? Shaking his head to clear it, Ander wrapped himself in his cloak and yawned. “I’m hitting the…er, sand.” He said, glancing down at the ground. “Goodnight, all.” The others sleepily agreed, and soon the only noise on the beach was the rumbling sound of snoring; the crackle of the dying fire; and the soft shush of the tide upon the sand.