I really hadn't been expecting this when Lief knocked at my door.
I sit in front of both Lief and Owen on Pyro's saddle, the former of which continues to shoot glares at his old friend. Judging from his look, Lief is tempted to cut through the ropes that both hold him to Pyro's saddle and prevent any attempts at killing either of us. To say the least, the atmosphere is hostile between the two.
"Are you sure it grows around here?" I ask, and Lief rolls his eyes.
"Yes! I know where it grows, okay?" he snaps back, clearly irritated by the very presence of Owen. Allowing his comment to pass, I nod, returning to scanning the valley floor for the violet flowers described to me by Lief: the only cure to the Deathshade that my sister is poisoned with.
Pyro swoops down, and I can only assume that my dragon has seen the flower. As he lands, he bows his head towards a small patch of flowers. Leaving Owen tied to the saddle, we swing ourselves down to examine the flowers. A victorious smirk crosses Lief's face as he picks a few.
"They're the right ones," he says, his emerald eyes glinting brightly as he stands, returning to Pyro. And to Owen, "Your stupid master had better be grateful."
Owen bites his tongue, holding back a retort. But he is in our debt; he knows such a decision would be both foolish and unwise.
Mounting Pyro, I offer my hand to Lief, who takes it and allows me to help pull him up.
"Back to the palace, Pyro," I command, patting his smooth, scaled neck as he opens his wings. Lief slips the flowers into a saddlebags, and turns to Owen with steely eyes.
"Grind the petals together with water, and get her to drink it. If you don't get it to her in time, it's not my problem," Lief growls. His aggressive nature is useful in battle, but no wonder Owen is forced to lock his lips tightly shut: Lief isn't the easiest person to get along with, considering the circumstances.
In a matter of twenty minutes, we arrive safely back at the palace, and I wave at the guards to signal I'm still fine. Earlier, I told them I was simply exercising Pyro, keeping Owen hooded so nobody who's faced him before would decide to slaughter him on the spot.
We land, and I cut Owen free of the ropes.
"Don't tell Pandora I helped," I say impulsively. "You have to promise. Swear it on her life. Tell nobody I found it, understand me?"
"I swear it," Owen agrees readily. "I'll send the monster's corpse to you as soon as Pandora has the antidote. And... I promise I will return, and you may do with me as you wish."
There's reluctance written cleanly all over his face as he says it, but I know that look: he will do anything for my sister.
"Forget it," I say. "You allowed Lief his freedom, and I'll grant you yours. But make sure I get the corpse, understand?"
He nods quickly, turning to leave before I change my mind, but glances back, as though confliction is streaking through his mind.
"Thank you." He almost hisses the words: thanking his enemy is something he'd evidently rather not do. And then he leaves, running to the stables where his horse will be waiting to carry him back to my sister.
"Why did you let him go?" Lief growls.
"Because he's still your friend, somewhere in your memories, and deep down, Lief, you don't want him dead."
I turn and walk away, leaving Lief to stand in the empty silence, staring after me with wide eyes. He shouts after me in denial, but, as I glance back, I see it in his eyes.
He knows I'm right.