The Deadlands: Survival


Skye Melki-Wegner


The future of war-torn Cretacea hangs in the balance, in this exhilarating finale to The Deadlands series. Having dealt the Carrion Kingdom a devastating blow, the heroic outcasts return home to face the herds that cast them out. But Eleri’s treacherous brother is now Lord of the Battlefield, and the outcasts are condemned to die as traitors.

Meanwhile, an Army of Beasts is marching towards the Mountain Kingdom, hellbent on revenge. With enemies on all sides, how will the exiles survive long enough to convince their kingdoms of the real threat, and prevent a massacre?
Wings of Fire meets Jurassic Park in this thrilling finale of the middle-grade action-adventure series about five outcasts—and former enemies—who are the only hope to save their warring dinosaur kingdoms.

As bloody battle rages between the two surviving dinosaur kingdoms, Eleri and the other young exiles—including a peppy stegosaur, a stoic sauropod, a testy triceratops, and a mysterious spy—have temporarily thwarted the Carrion Kingdom, a conniving cabal of carnivores, and destroyed their secret stronghold.

Fearing that their cunning enemies will soon regroup and seek vengeance under King Cothar, the exiles must risk their lives by returning home to unite and lead the war-torn herds that turned their backs on them into one final, all-out battle for the very future of the land of Cretacea.


The Cold Canyon ran down the spine of Cretacea. It snaked from north to south, slicing the landscape in half. To the west lay the Deadlands. To the east lay war. And in the center, five young dinosaurs watched the setting sun. Its crimson glint crept over them, slick as seeping blood.

“We made it,” Eleri breathed. “We made it home.”

They stood on the canyon’s lip, throats tight and skin tingling. On the far side, the landscape came alive. Prairie lay stippled with marshes and grassland, and in the distance, mountains skimmed the darkening sky.

“Ooh, isn’t that a lovely sight?” Sorielle piped up. Despite her fearsome spikes, the ankylosaur was a gentle giant. “Just like they say, isn’t it? Home sweet home. Gosh, it will be such a delight to see our old herds again…”

Tortha scuffed a claw. “Yeah, until they start rippin’ our throats out.”

The exiles were an unlikely team. Before their banishment to the Deadlands, some had even been enemies. Eleri, an oryctodromeus, was a citizen of the Mountain Kingdom. Sorielle and Tortha, an ankylosaur and a triceratops, were soldiers of the Prairie Alliance. They were natural foes, destined to meet only in battle.

Or so they had thought.

In the Deadlands, they had learned the truth. The war between their kingdoms was a sham, hatched by their kings to save their own necks. A fraudulent conflict, churning out bodies as payment to the secret Carrion Kingdom. In exchange for their protection, the kings allowed the carnivores to feast on their fallen soldiers.

The war was a lie. A field of death.

And finally, the exiles were ready to end it.

“Night hangs heavy on this land,” said Lerithon. The young sauropod towered over his companions, his long neck curving as he studied the sky. “Each star must trace her path in darkness.”

A sack hung from his neck, carrying the broken fragments of Astrilar’s Shard. If all went well, these glinting scraps would help prove the truth of their story.

Zyre perched on Lerithon’s back, flexing her tiny wings. “Let’s keep moving. We don’t know whether there are carnivores behind us.” She paused. “Besides, the others are getting restless.”

Eleri turned. Behind the five exiles, a ragtag group of refugees stood waiting. These herbivores had been prisoners of the Carrion Kingdom, trapped in the crater of the Fire Peak. But thanks to Eleri and his friends, they were free.

By destroying Astrilar’s Shard, Eleri had erased the starmist that kept the Fire Peak standing. The peak had half collapsed, taking hordes of carnivorous soldiers with it. In the chaos, these prisoners had escaped. With their testimony and the remains of Astrilar’s Shard, Eleri hoped to prove the kings’ treachery—and ultimately, to end the war.

“Does anyone need a rest?” Eleri asked.

He directed his question to the group, but his eyes fixed on Jorela and Olithine. More than anyone, these elderly triceratops had struggled with the journey from the Fire Peak.

“We’re all right, laddie,” Jorela said. “We’ve had time to toughen up over the years.”

“It’s the young whippersnappers you’ve gotta watch out for,” Olithine said. “If you ask me, they’ve got all the gumption of a leaf in a wildfire.” Her face creased in a sly wink. “Present company excepted, of course.”

“Well, in that case…” Eleri trailed off, eyes on the sky. His body clenched. “What’s that?”

The stark terrain of the Deadlands lay behind them, and above, an array of dark shapes marred the sky. Eleri’s heart stopped. Pterosaurs! At least twenty of the beasts, flying in military formation.

“Flamin’ feathers!” Tortha swore.

Eleri felt sick. Had the predators spotted them? At this distance, the exiles would blend into the rocks nearby, wouldn’t they?

But moment by moment, they were drawing closer.

Eleri imagined the cry, the shriek of alert. The rush of claws and wings and blood, as talons tore into his herd. The screams, the blows, the desperate fight … and finally, the whimpers as his friends succumbed.

His flesh chilled.

He couldn’t allow it. He wouldn’t allow it. They had come this far. They had suffered so much, survived so much—they couldn’t fall now, at the edge of their homelands.

On Eleri’s torso, a strange wound tingled. As his pulse thrummed, a sting pierced his limbs: an unnatural burst of strength and power.

His mouth went dry.

Back in the Fire Peak, Eleri had absorbed huge wafts of starmist from Astrilar’s Shard. It had poured into his mouth, across his skin, through the wound that Prince Rishar had sliced in his torso …

And it had changed him.

In the days since, Eleri had been … off-kilter. The starmist pumped through his veins, lending him strength and speed. When he was calm, the sensation faded—but when panic surged, it felt as though he were burning a clawful of starflecks.

“What’s happening?” Sorielle gaped. “Eleri, your wound…”

It glinted oddly, its shine matching the surge in Eleri’s flesh. His friends stared at him, fright and confusion in their eyes.

Eleri felt almost queasy. This strength was not his own. It bubbled in his blood and bones, a silent parasite.

“It’s nothing.” Eleri drew a shaky breath. “Come on!”

They had to reach the base of the Cold Canyon. Down there, a tangle of shadows, boulders, and foliage might hide them from sight. With his new dexterity gifted by the starmist, Eleri could clamber down to safety. But there were ankylosaurs and triceratops in this group, not to mention Lerithon …

“Ooh, over there!” Sorielle blurted.

A jagged ridge spilled into the gloom below. It looked precariously thin in places, jutting from the canyon wall like a vein.

“Well, that looks real safe,” Tortha muttered.

Eleri glanced back at the sky. The pterosaurs were still some distance away, but their formation broke and they divided, arcing out to search a wider area. If one of them flew straight overhead …

“I reckon it’s a scavenging party,” Tortha said, following his gaze. “Any survivin’ carnivores have gotta be itchin’ for a feed by now, right?”

“Maybe,” Eleri said. “Or maybe they’re looking for … something else.”

He couldn’t bring himself to say “us.” If General Korvia had survived, she could have provided a description of the exiles.

“Could be lookin’ for you,” Tortha observed, with all the tact of a rockslide. “King Cothar must be keen to get his claws on you—and Korvia’s been wantin’ to rip out your guts for ages. Mind you, if I were king of a secret desert kingdom, I reckon I’d demand a better snack than a scrawny dirt muncher.”

“Gee, thanks for the reassurance.”


Eleri was quick on his feet, and he took the lead instantly. Lerithon’s lumbering was slow, but his enormous strides made up for it. Jorela and Olithine huffed great breaths, forcing themselves into an arthritic stumble. Gravel skittered beneath their claws, spilling over the edge like a hailstorm.

“Keep an eye on Lerithon!” Eleri told Tortha. “I’ll test the footing.”

She gave a sharp nod. “On it.”

Eleri scurried forward, keeping an eye out for hazards. His pulse raced in time with his clawsteps. On his torso, the starmist wound was throbbing.

“I think it’ll hold us!” he said, reporting back to the others. “The top layer crumbles a bit, but it’s solid stone underneath.”

“You think?” Tortha tilted her head. “Hope that means you’ve finally managed to cram some brains into that skull of yours, although I dunno how they’d fit with all the dirt in there.”

“Got a better idea?”

“Not right this second, no.”

Despite his pounding heart, Eleri threw her a grin. “Then I guess you’ll have to trust me.”

They scrambled downward, torn between urgency and caution. Eleri dashed ahead to check the path, hissing instructions. “There’s a sharp bend coming up … Lerithon, there’s a fragile bit ten yards ahead … Careful where that boulder juts out; it’d be easy to slip when you’re edging around it…”

As he skittered back and forth, Eleri’s throat grew drier. He swallowed, fighting to get the words out. Every moment, the pterosaurs were drawing closer. How long did they have? Two minutes, perhaps. Three if they were lucky.

“No!” someone cried.

Eleri spun, claws clenching. At the rear of the group, Jorela had collapsed to her knees. The old triceratops heaved for breath, her entire body trembling. Her eyes were bloodshot, raw with exhaustion.

“Get up, you old biddy!” Olithine rasped. “You’ve gotta get up, you can’t … you can’t…” She trailed off, broken by the sight of her collapsed partner. Her voice was strained, torn by terror and yearning. She nudged Jorela with her horn. “You can’t stay here, my love, or they’ll spot you…”

Jorela tried to stir, but only trembled. She had pushed her body beyond its limit, and she couldn’t rise now. She had to rest, to catch her breath—but the pterosaurs would not afford her that opportunity.

“Keep going!” Eleri barked at the others, scrambling onto a nearby boulder. “I’ll stay with her.”

“But—” Tortha began.

“I’m the smallest, I’m harder to spot from above!” On Eleri’s torso, the starmist wound was pulsing. His gaze fixed on Tortha. “It’s your duty to lead the others to safety, soldier. Do you hear me?”

Tortha hesitated, but there was no time to argue. She gave a halting nod, lingering for a long moment, before she turned to face the others. “Come on, get a wriggle on! They ain’t gonna wait for us to stroll down nicely.”

One by one, the others barreled past, hurrying down into the shadows below. Eleri’s throat clenched.

“I won’t leave her, laddie!” Olithine snapped. “And you’re mad as a rodent in a raptor’s lair if you think I will.”

“You’re as big as she is! If you stay here, you’ll double her chances of being seen.”

Olithine gritted her teeth, visibly agonized by his words. She must have realized Eleri was right.

The old moonchaser sucked down a breath. “Don’t let her die,” she whispered. “Please, lad, I beg you.”

Eleri opened his mouth, but he bit back his promise before it could slip out. What was the worth of empty words? He was a runt. A storyteller, not a soldier. He could never fight a pterosaur—and Olithine knew it as well as he did.

“She won’t be alone,” Eleri whispered. “I … I’ll be with her, whatever happens. But for us to have a chance, you’ve got to get out of here.”

The old triceratops nodded—and then tore her gaze away from Jorela, as if she couldn’t bear to leave if she looked a moment longer. Her entire body shaking, she stumbled down the slope after the others.

Once the path had cleared, Eleri approached Jorela. “I’m here. We’ll be okay. If you keep still, they’ll think you’re a boulder.”

“Go, lad…,” Jorela wheezed. “You’re too young—don’t risk your life for me.”

“I know it’s hard, but you’ve got to control your breathing. If we’re still enough, they might fly straight over us.”

Copyright © 2024 by Skye Melki-Wegner


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