“Hey,” he said, gently shaking Anders. “Are you hurt?”
Slowly, Anders sat up. “Hm. Feel a bit cooked, as you might say. It got plenty hot right at the end there…you know, before we came here. And—where is that, anyway?” Paign had been watching his cousin closely and was relieved to see he was unhurt. Anders surveyed their new surroundings. His eyes suddenly grew wide.
“Why are we so far apart from each other, Paign?” he cried. “Did you move me over here for some reason?”
“Uh, no, of course not. What are you talking about?” he replied, suddenly annoyed with Anders. But as he looked around the meadow they were in, he finally noticed that, unlike their last parting, this time their group was strewn all around the meadow. Or at least some of them were. With deepening dread, he realized that some of his friends weren’t moving yet.
Without the need to say anything to each other first, they both ran over to the girls, who were about a hundred and fifty meters away. They were hunched around Ercen. As the boys drew near, they could clearly hear the girls crying.
“What do we do now?” Freida asked Danielle. “You know more about these creatures than I do. Isn’t there anything we can do?”
Danielle’s face was wet with tears. “How would I know that? It’s not as if I’ve had loads of experience with gargoyles, you know. It was only two—maybe three days ago, I guess—that they showed up in our lives!” Her hands were clenched so tight her knuckles were white. “Is she…is she…dead?”
The boys couldn’t help but gasp when they looked at Ercen.
“Oh, my!” Paign cried. “Her wing—it’s gone!”
Anders had already kneeled quickly beside the creature. She was horrendously damaged. She was lying on her left side. Virtually all of her left wing—which should have been lying on the ground under her—was blown off. Ragged fragments remained on her back where the wing merged into her ribs and back muscles. Her right wing, what was left of it, curled over her side and lay tucked in front of her. There was a huge hole in the middle of it. Most of her back was scorched and covered in sooty ash, from her own incinerated skin and feathers. Under the hole in her wing, blisters had formed. It was the most gruesome thing Anders had ever seen.
Paign ran into the nearby trees and vomited.
Gently, breathlessly, Anders placed his index finger on Ercen’s neck.
Anders had no idea of how a gargoyle’s pulse, healthy or sick, should feel. But he had to try. While it was faint, he felt a pulse.
Immediately, he stood up and said, “She’s alive. I don’t know if her pulse is normal or not.”
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