When Dev awoke to a loud slam in the castle turret, the Revinir was standing over him, her dragon tail snaking out through the open set of doors. Her eyes flashed in anger. Smoke drifted from her nostrils and traveled out the window’s iron bars, and flames curled around her teeth and licked her lips. Her scales shone iridescent in the moonlight, and her long, curved dragon claws gripped tiny vials of broth.
Dev gasped and scrambled to his feet. He pressed his back against the wall, and a sickly wave washed through him. There was nowhere for him to go. Through the barred window he could see a great number of dragons in flight, circling a little too close for comfort. Some looked in at him with dull eyes—they were under the Revinir’s mind control and would attack him at her command.
“Where are they?” the Revinir demanded in a horrible voice. She leaned closer. “Where?” Her wretched, fiery breath caused Dev to squint and turn his head to one side to protect his eyes.
His whole body began trembling uncontrollably, and he squirmed against the wall, trying to put a little more space between him and the Revinir. He knew she was asking about Thisbe and Rohan and the other black-eyed slaves who’d managed to escape the catacombs. And he knew they’d fled Grimere on the backs of two ghost dragons. Leaving him behind. He didn’t reply.
“Tell me where Thisbe and Rohan went!” The Revinir loomed closer. “Answer me! Did they go to the forest to find the twin? Is Fifer there?” She grabbed Dev’s shoulders and shook him. The points of her claws broke his skin.
Dev winced. He was almost as furious at Thisbe for leaving him behind as the Revinir was for tricking her and escaping. But Dev wasn’t about to give Thisbe up, even after what she’d done. That was out of the question. He yelped as the Revinir dug her claws deeper into his shoulder, then yanked himself out of the dragon-woman’s grasp. He dropped to the floor and started crawling in a wild attempt to slip past her to the doors. But she slammed her foot down on his back, flattening him and pressing so hard that he was having trouble breathing. He could feel his heartbeat reverberate in his empty stomach as his spine sagged under the weight.
Dev struggled to free his arms, then covered the back of his head to protect it. His nose pressed uncomfortably against the sooty, uneven line of mortar between the stones, which scraped his tender skin. He gasped and coughed, trying to get enough air and sucking in some ash particles left over from the recent fire. He couldn’t answer the Revinir now even if he wanted to. Gray spots formed and floated in his line of sight, and his body began to buck and twist on its own, trying to survive.
That’s really all Dev had fought for every day for as long as he could remember. To survive. But this was the first time he felt like he might not make it.
The Revinir whirled, jerking her tail inside the room and reaching for the doors she’d entered through. She grabbed them and slammed them shut so Dev couldn’t escape. Then she lifted her foot. “Don’t try that again,” she said.
Freed, Dev inhaled a ragged breath and coughed violently. He curled up on his side and took in a few more desperate breaths. With each, a searing pain cut through his chest, making him wonder if the Revinir had cracked some of his ribs. Eventually the gray spots vanished. Dev looked up at the dragon-woman, not hiding all the hatred he had in his heart for her.
“I know how to get you to tell me the truth,” the Revinir muttered. She shoved two vials of dragon-bone broth at Dev. “Sit up and drink these. Now!”
Dev felt his muscles go weak again. He’d known this was coming. Ignoring the pain in his chest, he gingerly rolled and sat up. As he did so, he could feel the vial of ancestor broth in his pocket. Thisbe had slipped it to him before he’d come to the castle. “Just in case,” she’d said. Dev knew it would work as an antidote to the dragon-bone broth. The only problem was that once he was back under the Revinir’s mind control, he wouldn’t know to take it… and he might accidentally confess to her that he had it, which would have horrible consequences. Was there any way he could fake drinking the stuff that the Revinir was handing him? Or perhaps do some sort of sleight-of-hand trick with the one in his pocket?
He coughed again to buy himself an extra second. The movement brought with it another ripping pain in his side. As he made a show of wiping his nose and eyes on his sleeve, his other hand went to the pocket and slid the vial out. He palmed it, keeping it hidden.
“Good grief,” said the Revinir with disgust. “Do you have to go on and on with your dramatics? There’s no way to avoid this. You’re stuck here with me, and you’ll drink this broth now. Or…” She looked around recklessly, and her eyes landed on the window. “Or I’ll throw you from this tower to your death. Does that help you decide what to do?” She shook the vials and shoved them closer to Dev, then attempted a soothing voice that only grated on Dev’s nerves even more. “Come, now. You’ll feel so much better once it’s done.”
Dev reached up with his free hand and took the vials. But he needed his other hand to uncork them. Panicking, he slid Thisbe’s ancestor broth under his leg so the Revinir wouldn’t see it and uncorked the first vial. Thinking frantically, he realized he should have tried to make the switch when he’d taken them from her, not after he’d uncorked them. Now it was too late—it would be too obvious. His hands began to tremble.
“Drink it!” shouted the Revinir, her voice pitching upward and dropping all pretense of gentleness. “Or out you go!” She hesitated as the reckless look grew more exaggerated on her face. Then she went to the window bars and placed both clawed front feet on them. Bracing one giant rear foot against the wall for leverage, she yanked hard. With an explosive grunt, she ripped the bars out and stumbled backward with them, leaving Dev openmouthed and staring, speechless and horrified by her strength. Then the Revinir threw the bars out the opening and ducked her head to look out after them, watching them go. They made a clatter on the way down, followed by a faint splash into the moat far below.
In the moment of distraction, and with the Revinir looking out the open space, Dev regained some of his senses and moved to switch the two corked bottles. But with his trembling hands, he bobbled the uncorked one and sent it skittering across the floor, leaking dragon-bone broth as it rolled. He uttered an oath under his breath.
The Revinir turned sharply and saw the mess. She snarled at Dev and started toward him. “You did that on purpose!”
“No!” cried Dev. “I didn’t mean to do it! You—you just have me so scared!”
The Revinir’s face wrinkled in disgust. “You’re such a simpering baby. Completely useless to me. Not one person in this world cares about you, which does me no good at all. I need an evil one that people care about. This isn’t easy!” The Revinir grabbed Dev by the back of his shirt and picked him up, shaking him. The two other vials went flying and crashed to the floor, shattering.
The Revinir looked puzzled for a moment as she realized there’d been one more vial than what she’d handed him. Then her grip tightened. She lifted Dev to eye level and stared at him. “What is going on?” she said in a dark voice.
Dev held his ribs and didn’t answer.
“Is the extra one a dose of dragon-bone broth that you should have taken in the catacombs? Is that why you aren’t under my spell?”
Dev froze. “Yes,” he said too quickly.
The dragon-woman studied him suspiciously. “You’re lying,” she said, sniffing him. “You sneaky boy.” Still holding him by the shirt, she wrinkled her dragonlike snout and bent down to smell the remains of the broken vials, first one, then the other. She went back and forth again, stopping on the second. “That’s ancestor broth,” she said. “I thought we’d destroyed it all long ago.”
“There must have been an old one mixed in by mistake—”
“Lies!” The Revinir shook Dev to silence him. “Did she…?” she wondered aloud, her eyes clouded with contempt. But there was reluctant admiration, too.
Dev whimpered in pain. He slumped and didn’t try to lie any further—not with him hanging precariously from her grasp. Besides, it wouldn’t help. It was clear she was already beginning to piece together what Thisbe and Rohan had done to break the spells that the black-eyed slaves had been under for the past months. It was only a matter of time before she figured it out. The ache in Dev’s side throbbed with every movement, every breath.
“I see what’s happened now.” The Revinir moved to the window, taking Dev with her, and sneered, “That little…” She snorted angrily. “I knew it! Thisbe lied to me, and I didn’t detect it. The ancestor broth does affect the black-eyed slaves. Doesn’t it?” She shook Dev again. “How is she able to trick me?”
Dev couldn’t concentrate on anything she was asking. He could only stare out the window at the circling dragons while his stomach tied itself in knots. Any second he could be flying out toward death, either from the fall, or from one or several dragons tearing him up at the Revinir’s command.
He squeezed his eyes shut, mentally checking out. Totally giving up as the Revinir continued interrogating him. In that moment he realized that not only was he about to die, but he’d also just accidentally let the Revinir know that the ancestor broth was actually powerful for the right people. He’d messed things up for Thisbe and the others.
It didn’t matter now. They were long gone. “They went to the forest,” Dev mumbled, trying to at least throw the dragon-woman off Thisbe’s scent for a while. Perhaps it would help a little. But they were all doomed. It didn’t matter how powerful Thisbe was. The Revinir was more powerful. She was unbeatable.
“You are all rats,” the Revinir said. “I will find Thisbe Stowe if it’s the last thing I do, and you’re not going to help her escape this time!” She lifted Dev higher and held him above her head. “I don’t need you. Nobody does!”
“Aaah!” Dev cried. “Help!” As he twisted and screamed, the Revinir let out an earsplitting roar. Three images exploded in front of Dev’s eyes. Rushing river with a forked tree branch. Palace. Gray man. Then the Revinir threw him, sending him sailing out the turret window.
Three dragons, their mouths open, answered the Revinir’s call and swooped in.