Dragon Fire: Episode 88

When the high priest Zephryses neared the castle of Ethion, he saw King Isembart strolling along the porch. Bending down to the young boy Zephryn, he said,

“There is the king. Stay by my side, bow your head in the presence of his majesty, and do not speak unless the king questions you. Do you understand?”

After Zephryn shyly nodded, the two began to climb the stone steps leading up to the porch.

King Isembart, a tall robust man with a beard reaching down to his stomach, saw the priest approach and with surprising exuberance and agility bounded down the steps toward him with the palace guards, the queen and the princess close behind.

“Zephryses, my dear friend. I knew sending you to the woods was a wise decision. There is no man I trust more,” Isembart said with a deep laugh.

Clapping the priest on the back, Isembart looked at Queen Calathene and asked,

“Did I not tell you?”

Turning back to Zephryses, he continued.

“She did not believe you would succeed. Why the news reached my ears that you moved the elements themselves!”

With a hearty laugh, the king said in jest, “Perhaps I should build a temple to you instead of the gods.”

Although Zephryses found himself somewhat uncomfortable at the idea, he could not help by remember that the captain of the king’s army had made a similar remark.

Suddenly King Isembart noticed the child standing next to the priest and asked,

“And who are you?”

“Al—,” the boy began but was interrupted when Zephryses corrected him.

“Zephryn. The boy’s name is Zephryn. He is my son now and shall be joining me in the church, taking the title of priest when he grows up.”

“Well it is a pleasure to meet you, little priest,” the king greeted. “You know my daughter Lillian is about your age.”

Turning to Princess Lillian, Isembart instructed,

“Lilly, show Zephryn around the castle while I speak with the high priest. Take care that you do not wander beyond the castle walls.”

“Yes, Father,” the princess answered.

As King Isembart continued his stroll along the castle porch, with Zephryses at his side, Princess Lillian walked up to Zephryn and introduced herself.

“I am Princess Lillian.”

“I am Al—Zephryn,” the boy said, still struggling with his strange new name.

Princess Lillian looked around to see if anyone was listening. Then she softly asked,

“What was your name?”

“Allaster,” Zephryn answered, “but the high priest said that I am to be called Zephryn from now on.”

“This change of names is a tradition here in Ethion started long ago by my great-great- grandfather King Estmon. When he was chosen to marry the princess and become king, he wanted to be seen as king and not the boy who grew up in the streets. So he made a law that all who take up the rank of royalty or a position in the church must adopt a new name so they will be seen as a new person for a new age.”

As Princess Lillian recited, she held her hands together and slightly raised her head as she had been taught.

With the sweet smile of innocence, she giggled then said,

“When I become queen, Father says I shall adopt the name Lachert, renouncing my birth name.”

Shyly, Zephryn softly said,

“I like the name Lillian better.”

Princess Lillian leaned in and whispered in Zephryn’s ear,

“I do too!”

As she reached out and took Zephryn’s hand, she said,

“The high priest spends a great while counseling with my father, so we have a lot of time to play games. My favorite is hide-and-seek. Do you want to see some of my favorite spots?”

“Yes,” Zephryn agreed.

With her best smile, Princess Lillian whirled around and hurried into the castle, pulling  Zephryn along with her.

 

*          *          *

15 years later

 

 

Valdis and Trystan raced across the field, the pouch of gold bouncing with each step.

“Why did you have to stab that man?” Valdis demanded.

“He saw you stealing his gold! You would have felt the blade of his knife! What choice did I have?” Trystan snapped.

“Not to stab him! Now we are running for our lives. Know this! I will crawl over you to survive!” Valdis warned.

“If we can just reach the others, we should be safe,” Trystan said, ignoring his threat.

They dove behind a fallen tree in their path to hide and catch their breath.

“Yes, if we can. But in truth, we will be fortunate if we live long enough to be arrested. Did you not see who is after us?” Valdis asked in exasperation.

“A creature?” Trystan answered.

“He is a man, a warrior called the Animal. There are tales of him prowling through the forest at night with a large wolf at his side. They say he never brings anyone to prison because he eats them instead,” Valdis claimed.

“Foolish tales,” Trystan insisted.

Suddenly a long howl came from the grove of trees behind them.

“You may wait and discover how foolish the tale is, but I will not!” Valdis said.

When Trystan tried to rise and flee, he found that his legs would not move.

Valdis jumped up, flew over the log, and tried to dash away, but before he could escape, a man with skin browned from the sun and red hair bright as fire leapt out from the trees and grabbed him, pulling him into the tree line.

Trystan listened in horror as Valdis pleaded for mercy. Then he heard a thump and silence.

From out of the woods, the brown man tramped, blood on his chest and pants. As he held a dagger dripping with blood, his wild eyes seemed to look through the terrified Trystan. With each breath, his great chest heaved. Then he slowly came toward Trystan, growling as he moved closer, his bare feet crushing the roots and rocks beneath them.

Published in: on August 17, 2017 at 1:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 87

The Priest

 

 

 

Settling into a chair by the fire, Brother Egil thought carefully about how he would begin the story of the king’s father.

King Alidus gazed into the flames, waiting patiently.

After a few moments, the old monk began.

“The Kingdom of Ethion has a troubled past. First came the Valkovian invasion then the Children of Dusk—”

Alidus raised a hand to interrupt.

“My apologies, but what is the Valkovian invasion?”

Brother Egil studied the king’s face for a moment then his eyes lit up with understanding.

“King Lanidus did not tell you. Despite his love for your mother, he was ashamed of the history of Ethion. The Valkovian invasion took place one hundred forty-seven years ago when a race of men known as the Valkovians took control of the kingdom, ousting your great-grandfather Tobias Ashblood from the throne. After a time, King Tobias regained the throne and exiled the Valkovians from the land.”

“What kept them from returning?” Alidus asked. “Could they not enter the land and live hidden among the people?”

Brother Egil nodded and said, “Valkonian men and women are born with the same physical traits, a gem the size of a coin imbedded in their right hand and small spikes running down the back of their neck. Among the Valkonians, these strange features have many different colors, passed on from parents to children. But whatever color a child is born with, both gems and spikes share that color. More importantly, these unusual traits store a great amount of magical energy.”

“Making obscurity difficult. I understand. And who were the Children of Dusk?”

“The Children of Dusk were a small faction of religious zealots within the Valkovian race who worshiped an ancient evil named Authrax. They believed Authrax lived in a cave deep beneath the castle. They would capture people from the surrounding villages, drag them into the caves under the castle, and sacrifice them to their god. When Tobias Ashblood exiled the Valkovians, he commanded that the Children of Dusk be burned alive for heresy.”

“And what about my father?” Alidus asked.

“Your father did not enter into the history of Ethion until many years later, after the siblings Dellano and Arabella. They were known as the Troll King and the Warlton Witch. When your grandfather King Isembart heard that the siblings were marching on the kingdom, he sent his high priest Zephryses to find the source of their power. That search led the priest to Wildeye Woods and the water where the siblings had gained this force. When he drank from the pool, that same power coursed through his body and he returned to drive out the siblings and their army of trolls. But in the aftermath of the battle, Zephryses made the first of two mistakes that would one day end his life. The first mistake was adopting an orphan boy named Allaster. That boy, sire, grew up to be your father.

 

*          *          *

37 years ago

 

The high priest Zephryses stood on the battlefield of Ethion, its lush green hills covered with the dead of both men and trolls. Overcome with grief, he wept at the sight of the city, its walls blackened and crumbling by the hand of Arabella the Warlton Witch.

“Many have fallen in this grievous battle,” lamented Captain Dellmore of the King’s Army.

“The price of peace is always high when those who oppose it crave blood,” Zephryses said.

“This new power you wield is like no weapon I have ever seen,” the captain exclaimed. “Did my eyes deceive me or did you move the ground? It was as though you commanded the elements!”

“Perhaps. I do not yet know what powers I drew from the water of the pool,” Zephryses said.

“Soon people may perceive you as a god,” the captain laughed. “I would be most uncomfortable were people to worship me.”

Zephryses laughed in agreement.

“Yes, indeed,” Zephryses said.

At that moment, his attention was distracted by a small boy wandering through the battlefield, his red face stained with tears.

Zephryses walked around the bodies to reach the child.

“What troubles you, my son? Why have you come to his place of grief?” Zephryses asked.

The boy, no older than ten, looked up at the priest, sniffled and said,

“I am looking for my father. He is a soldier.”

“You should be at your mother’s side,” Zephryses said.

“Wolves took my mother last winter. My father told me to stay at home. But I was frightened, so I came looking for him,” the boy explained.

“Come with me. Let us see if we may find him,” Zephryses said

Zephryses lifted the boy and carried him to Captain Dellmore.

“Captain, I am searching for the boy’s father. He is a soldier.”

“What is your father’s name?” the captain asked.

“Ardouin,” the boy answered.

The captain’s face darkened when he heard the name, but before he could speak, Zephryses told the boy,

“Son, your father has gone to be with your mother. They are at peace.”

The boy’s face went pale and he dropped his head. After a moment he looked up and said, “I am alone now. I do not have any other family. I do not know how to be alone.”

Trying to comfort and reassure the child, Zephryses patted the boy’s back and gently set him down.

“Then you shall not be alone. I shall adopt you. Would you like that?”

When the boy failed to respond, Zephryses knelt down and asked,

“What is your name, son?”

The boy looked at the priest and answered,

“Allaster.”

“That is a fine name. From this day forward, Allaster, you will no longer be alone. I shall take care of you.”

When Zephryses opened his arms to the boy, Allaster stepped into the embrace with fresh tears.

Then Zephryses lifted the boy and said,

“Because you will be taking a place in the church, I shall give you a new name, a holy name.”

Zephryses thought for a moment then asked,

“How does Zephryn sound?”

As the child shyly nodded his agreement, Zephryses patted him on the back and said, “Yes. Zephryn will do. Now let us leave this place of sadness and go home.”

At that, the high priest and the boy walked away from the battlefield.

Published in: on July 17, 2017 at 7:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 86

The sun’s rays poured through the open window, resting on the face of the sleeping king. The warmth slowly roused Alidus from his deep slumber, and he raised his head, shielding his eyes from the light.

“For three days and three nights you have slept, sire, but on the morning of the fourth day when the sunlight broke through the clouds, I knew you would rally.”

Alidus struggled to see who was speaking.

“Who is there?” he asked.

A figure stepped into the light then moved close to the bed.

“Degan,” Alidus greeted.

There was peace in his eyes as a soft light shone forth from Degan’s face, a light Alidus had never seen before.

“Are you well?” Alidus asked.

“I am more than well, sire,” Degan said. “I am free. When Zulagareth died, I felt his power leave me. No longer am I an outcast followed by the dead.”

“Wonderful news. What will you do now?” Alidus asked.

“My father worked the land, so I thought I might take up the plow. It will be most rewarding to work with living things,” Degan laughed.

Alidus felt something bump against the bed, but before he could react, Degan reached down and placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Olon has not left your side since you fell unconscious,” Degan explained.

Alidus peered over the edge of the bed and saw Olon raise his long black snout and look up at him.

“What about Atol and Idrian?” Alidus asked.

“Idrian is on the roof where she awaits news of your health,” Atol said, climbing in through the window, “and I am here.”

For a moment, Alidus looked far away then closed his eyes.

“The dragons are gone,” he said. “I can no longer feel them.”

“Soon after you fell, they flew away, returning to their home. The ruby dragon, though he bears the wounds of battle, will heal in time. The pearl kept close by his side in their flight,” Degan explained.

“Already the carpenters and stone workers bid to build a statue in honor of the two great dragons that bravely fought to save the people,” Aric said as he entered the chamber.

“I am pleased to see that all is well,” Alidus smiled. “But where are Razham and Brius?”

“Razham had to return home, and Brius chose to follow his old friend.”

Aric’s countenance grew sad.

“This displeases you?” Alidus asked.

“Before they left, Razham buried a dear friend of mine.”

“I am sorry for your loss,” consoled Alidus.

Aric shook off his grief then said,

“Enough. Now that you are awake, there is much to do. The king’s army must be rebuilt and properly trained. The city needs repair, and an ambassador from the faraway land of Kallimandil has arrived. He requests an audience with you.”

“Indeed. There is much to be done. I will speak with the ambassador at once. Thank you, Aric,” Alidus said.

When Aric bowed and turned to leave, Alidus said,

“Aric?”

“Yes, my liege?”

“To begin, remember that you are a prince. Do not call me liege. And secondly, you have skills as well as my trust. Begin rebuilding the king’s army as you choose.”

Aric nodded and left.

“So now what for you?” Alidus asked Atol.

“I must be going as well, sire. Idrian is nearing her birthing cycle, and I know she would like to be home when she gives birth.”

Alidus was surprised.

“There are others of her kind? I did not know this.”

“No, sire,” Atol said. “I believe she was born pregnant and will not stop growing until she reaches her birthing cycle.”

“When she does give birth, you must send word. I would like to see them.”

“I will, sire,” Atol smiled. “Olon, it is time.”

Olon came out from under the bed and followed Atol out the window to where Idrian waited. Alidus rose from the bed and watched as they climbed upon her back and Idrian lifted into the clouds.

* * *

In the days that followed, Alidus, King of Ethion, repaired the castle, while Prince Aric rebuilt the army. Under their watch, the kingdom flourished and the royal coronation was the grandest anyone had ever attended.

The dragons were never seen again, but it is said that should the king ever need them, they will return.

One wintry day, as Brother Egil stoked the morning fire in the great room, one of the other monks Brother Bavan stepped in.

“Good morning,” Brother Egil greeted.

“Good morning. A representative of Ethion is here. King Alidus wishes to speak with you,” Brother Bavan announced.

“Thank you. I will leave at once,” Brother Egil said.

Brother Bavan nodded and hurried away.

* * *

At the castle, Brother Egil was led to the bedchambers where King Alidus, now dressed in royal robes, sat by the fire. The king rose and walked over to the old monk, extending his hand.

Brother Egil took his hand and asked,

“Why have you summoned me, my liege?”

“After all this time, the title still sounds strange to my ears,” Alidus confessed.

“I am afraid it is part of being king,” the monk laughed.

King Alidus sat back and looked deeply into Brother Egil’s eyes. After a moment, he said,

“I want to hear about my father.”

“The king?” the monk asked.

“No,” Alidus answered. “My true father.”

Published in: on June 18, 2017 at 10:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 85

As the flames of the black dragon flowed over Alidus, enclosing him in their blaze, the ice breather, her pearly white skin glistening in the sunlight, shot up into the clouds while the fire breather, the ruby dragon, rose on his hind legs and lunged at the black dragon, tearing its skin with his great claws. Twisting to face his foe, the black dragon fought back, imbedding its teeth into the flesh of the red dragon.

Summoning all his strength, Alidus shot twin columns of fire at the black dragon just as the white dragon fell from the clouds. Driving her claws into the black dragon, she blasted him with a stream of ice before releasing him and returning to the sky.

Three steps and Alidus leapt into the air, landing on the head of the black dragon. He grabbed a horn then poured fire over the beast, but with a whip of its head, the dragon threw Alidus to the stone floor.

Rising to his feet, Alidus saw the black dragon bite into the red dragon’s neck drawing blood. As the creature screamed in pain, the black dragon dug in deeper. Quickly Alidus thrust out his arm and formed a whip of fire. Drawing back his arm, he lashed out and wrapped the whip around the black dragon’s neck. With all his strength, he pulled backward, trying to free the red dragon from the black dragon’s teeth. As he struggled to keep his footing, the white dragon again shot from the sky and landed on the black dragon’s back, driving her talons deep into its flesh.

As the three great beasts fought, Alidus pulled harder on the whip of fire.

 

*          *          *

 

In his haste to rally the soldiers and help the prince, Aric raced down the stairs and out into the courtyard. He soon saw that all the warriors had fled, fearful of the battle raging overhead.

When he rushed to the city gates, he saw that the guards there had also deserted, dropping their weapons as they retreated. Just as his hope was fading, Aric saw Degan and Atol coming over the hill.

As he ran the distance to them, he heard the sound of a galloping horse and turned to see his noble steed Colby.

“Degan, Atol,” he yelled as Colby drew near. “Prince Alidus needs our help!”

“Sadly, I can offer no help,” Degan sighed. “My power comes from Zulargareth. If I were to rise against him, the victory would be stillborn.”

“There must be something we can do,” Aric said, turning and looking up toward the battle.

Atol sensed Idrian’s emotions stir. He slowly turned and saw that she was intently watching the battle. Gently laying his hand on her side, he said,

“No, my valiant friend. This battle is beyond us. If we fight, we will not survive.”

Atol felt a rumble within her as she growled deeply in her throat. When she cast her eyes upon Atol, he held her gaze for a moment and knew what she would do.

“Very well. If this must be, we shall go together.”

Quickly he slipped on her back then helped Olon climb up behind him.

“Wait!” Aric called out.

But his word was lost in the wind as Idrian lifted into the air, her great wings pushing them onward to battle.

 

*          *          *

 

Alidus released the whip and held forth his hand as he looked deeply into the eyes of the black dragon.  A thin stream of fire shot from his hand and struck the black dragon’s face, forcing him to release the red dragon.

As the wounded ruby dragon fell to the earth, the black dragon clawed at his burning flesh, tossing the white dragon from his back. Alidus kept the stream of fire steady, his eyes fixed on his target. Suddenly Idrian broke through the smoke and pounced on the black dragon’s back. Digging her claws into his flesh, she wrapped her tail around the dragon’s tail and bit deeply into his neck.

When the dragon cried out in pain, Olon leapt from Idrain’s back and dove down the dragon’s throat. Idrian twisted and whipped her head around, tearing at the black dragon as he struggled to breath. Black smoke poured from his nostrils and engulfed Alidus.

“You cannot win this battle, boy,” Zulargareth said.

“I will fight to the death. I know you killed my father,” Alidus said.

“Not your true father,” Zulargareth said.

“And you murdered my mother,” Alidus added. “I will withdraw when you are dead.”

“I did not murder your mother, boy. You did,” Zulargareth corrected.

“Liar!” Alidus snapped.

“I speak the truth. The fire that rages within you killed her.”

At that, Alidus roared and exploded into glorious blue fire, the flames glowing brighter until they burned away the black smoke.

As the black dragon slowly dried to a burned husk, Idrian tore off the head and the remnants broke into a powder. Olon dropped onto a nearby section of scorched wood in what was left of the destroyed tower. Alidus, his strength spent, fell to the stone floor unconscious.

 

*          *          *

 

Razham carried the body of Lady Elisabeth to the top of a nearby hill. At the last, she had turned from evil, bravely fought her demons, and could now rest in eternity. He gently laid her body beneath a majestic tree, its great branches spreading out to shade her, and knelt down. Whispering a prayer, Gonorap watched as vines slowly grew over her, forming a thick emerald cocoon then turning a soft brown.

As he marveled, he saw a slight movement beneath the vines, something stirring as it worked its way out. A bright blue and yellow butterfly appeared, slowly fanning its wings before taking to the air. Fascinated, Gonorap cautiously moved up to the vines and reached out to touch them. Suddenly the vines broke apart and thousands of butterflies flew up, filling the air with their glory.

“Her soul is free now, and her body has been returned to the earth,” Razham said.

“There you are,” a voice called behind Razham.

Razham turned to see his old friends Brius and Olds riding up.

“Where is the boy?” Olds asked.

“Terrin,” Brius added.

“His name is Prince Alidus, and—,” Razham stopped when the clouds suddenly parted and the sun broke through.  “And it appears that he has saved us.”

“Well it would have been nice to know,” Olds complained, unaware of the battle now won. “We’ve been wandering the woods searching for him. We were almost set upon by bandits.”

“I am pleased to see that you are well, my friend,” Razham smiled.

“No thanks to you,” Olds protested.

“Stop your complaining, old man,” Brius teased. “We were protected by the most unusual of friends.”

From the back of the cart stepped out a cougar. She slowly approached Razham and sniffed him.

“I am a friend, great huntress,” Razham said.

His brow furrowed, Brius asked,

“It is time for you to return to your home?”

Razham watched as the cougar walked back to the cart then he looked up at his friend.

“Yes, it is time. I have used the last of my blessings and must reach home before my life fades and I return to the earth that bore me. Take care and tell Prince Alidus that Navhena watches over his land and brings it new life.”

“I will go with you, my friend,” Brius said. “We began this journey together and we will finish it together.”

“So I’m alone with the cougar?” Olds asked.

“Unless you wish to come with us,” Brius offered.

“No thank you,” Olds said, stroking his white hair. “I am far too young to lie down and die.”

Brius laughed and said, “Then take care, my friend.”

Published in: on May 18, 2017 at 3:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 84

When they neared the edge of the next rooftop, Razham slipped past Lady Elizabeth and bent down. Her hand on the bow, Lady Elizabeth scanned the area while a quivering Gonorap clung to Razham. Up ahead they saw a great fire, its flames reaching heavenward, as soulless worshippers danced at its edges, bowing and chanting before it.

“They worship this fire?” Lady Elizabeth wondered aloud.

“In his weakness, man will worship any god that asks nothing of him,” Razham replied.

Her eyes searching through the droves of followers, Lady Elizabeth furrowed her brow and asked,

“Where is he?”

“The archer?” Razham asked. “He is called Vanamir.”

“Yes. I do not see him,” Lady Elizabeth said.

“He will show himself, but we may have to draw him out,” Razham explained.

Lady Elizabeth reached back and pulled a cloth from her quiver.

As she gathered her hair into it, she said, “Then let us drawn him out.”

Pulling back on an arrow, she released and let it fly. The arrow soared through the air and struck one of the worshippers, pinning his head to the ground. Instantly the other followers stopped and grew quiet. Turning toward the rooftop, they began to shriek in an unearthly chorus.

At that, Lady Elizabeth dropped from the rooftop and began slaughtering the worshippers as fast as her weapon would allow.

“Stay here, little one. I must go to help her,” Razham said.

Razham dropped to the ground and scooped a handful of soil. Lifting it to his mouth, he began to mutter mysterious words while he walked away from the building to the middle of the road.

As some of the worshippers poured out into the road, Razham slowly opened his hand, letting the wind stir the soil and lift it into the air in a spinning circle over his palm. Suddenly the worshippers halted their charge and stood perfectly still. In the road behind Razham appeared the faint image of a great bear, its majestic muscles rolling in waves. As the worshippers stared in terror, the towering bear slowly took form and charged toward Razham. Moments before the bear reached him, Razham released the soil and began to fade out of sight. When the bear passed through Razham’s vanishing form, the creature became solid and attacked the stunned group of worshippers. While Lady Elizabeth fired at the followers emptying her quiver, the powerful bear roared and destroyed each worshipper with one swipe of its paw.

On the rooftop, Gonorap watched Razham and Lady Elizabeth, determining in his heart to be brave despite his fear. Clutching the small dagger Lady Elizabeth had given him, he commanded himself to climb down to the ground and join his comrades in the fight.

Her quiver empty, Lady Elizabeth drew her sword from its sheath and sliced her way through the mindless mass as they came at her. It seemed that for every one she brought down, dozens more poured out from the buildings.

Gonorap crept closer toward the battle, hiding behind fallen bodies and anything that would keep him hidden as he looked for a way to help in the fight.

Suddenly he saw the shadowy man with the black oil encircling his frame. Gonorap was puzzled by the change in him for he looked more human than before, enabling him to move closer to Lady Elizabeth without her notice.

When Gonorap tried to call out a warning, he found that his voice caught in his throat. He was too frightened to speak, too afraid to draw attention to himself, even if it meant saving Lady Elizabeth.

 

*          *          *

 

Lady Elizabeth felt a presence behind her, but before she could turn, someone had torn the cloth from her head, seized her hair, and pressed the blade of a knife to her throat. She shuddered when she heard a voice like a file across metal,

“Drop the sword.”

“Vanamir!” she thought.

When she hesitated, Vanamir pressed harder against the blade, cutting the skin and sending blood trickling down her neck.

“Now!” he demanded.

With no other choice, she dropped her sword near her foot.

“HALT!” Vanamir commanded.

The worshippers immediately obeyed.

Speaking to Razham, he said,

“The power you possess is truly amazing, but I cannot be stopped, not by you, not by anyone. Yield or I will open her throat.”

When the bear stood on its hind legs and let out a roar, Vanamir shouted,

“NOW!”

The bear froze then turned as all its color drained away and it broke into a thousand dead leaves that blew away in the wind. Standing in its place was Razham bracing himself on his staff, his strength spent.

“Weary are you?” Vanamir asked. “Excellent! That will make everything easier.”

Lady Elizabeth focused, waiting for a chance to free herself.

“Throw yourself into the fire or I will kill her,” Vanamir threatened.

“You will kill her if I do,” Razham returned.

“Perhaps,” Vanamir said. “But if you refuse me, she will die this day.”

Razham slowly removed himself from the support of the staff then threw it aside.

“No!” Lady Elizabeth pleaded. “Not for me!”

“Quiet!” Vanamir snapped. “I prefer that my future bride be alive, not back from the dead, but I will have you either way.”

Razham spotted movement behind Vanamir and slipped his hand into his pocket.

“You will not move again unless it is into the fire,” Vanamir ordered.

With the loud cry, “I am going to die!” Gonorap leapt at Vanamir, plunging the dagger’s blade deep into his calf.

Just as Vanamir howled in pain and kicked away Gonorap, Lady Elizabeth quickly reached down and snatched up her sword.

But before her blade could find its target, Vanamir had once again seized her and pressed the blade of the knife to her throat.

“Not so fast, my sweet,” Vanamir hissed.

Razham slowly withdrew his hand from his pocket.

“Stop fighting!” Vanamir shouted at Lady Elizabeth.

“Never!” Lady Elizabeth returned.

Raising her sword, she ran the blade through her stomach, impaling Vanamir.

As he gasped for air, Vanamir pushed her away and staggered back on shaking legs.

Razham raised his hand and tossed a small object at Vanamir as a dying Lady Elizabeth crawled away.

Vanamir stepped back when a small acorn landed on the ground before him. He looked up at Razham and smiled.

“You missed.”

“Did you really think you could end my life with a small acorn?” he laughed, stomping it into the earth.

“Navhena does not take life,” Razham said. “She gives it.”

When Vanamir felt the ground beneath him begin to stir, he looked down to see green vines rising up where the acorn had landed.

As the vines tightly wound around Vanamir’s legs, Razham said,

“Her vines will hold you. Her roots will feed you. Her bark will protect you, and her sap will bring life back to this dead soil.”

Vanamir’s struggle proved useless for the vines continued to break through the soil and wrap themselves around him. At last he grew still, and in his place stood a giant tree, its branches sending forth an abundance of blue starflowers. The vines spread from the tree’s base, encircling each of Vanamir’s followers and pulling them underground with a small sapling springing from the earth in their place.

With a woeful heart, Razham walked over to Lady Elizabeth and bent down. When he found that the life had gone out of her, he closed his eyes and said,

“May your soul at last find peace.”

When he stood, vines began to wrap themselves around Lady Elizabeth’s body, but Razham pulled them free and gently lifted her body up over his shoulder. He walked past the tree that now held Vanamir and bent down to pick up Gonorap. The brave little creature was unconscious but alive.

“Fear not, little one. You are safe now. Navhena will protect you and welcome you home,” he comforted.

Tucking Gonorap comfortably into his satchel, Razham retrieved his staff and moved on.

Published in: on April 18, 2017 at 3:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 83

As Cerros struggled to rise, the stone at his neck glowing with a blue radiance, he knew that because of his injuries and loss of weapons, he would likely be unable to help the young prince. Though Cerros drew comfort as he thought about joining Erlin and Cadrus, the wife and child he had lost in death so long ago, he grieved knowing that Atol would die protecting the castle, as would Idrian and Olon. Now only a few feet away, Edron roared and slammed his hammer to the earth with enough force to shatter stone.

The ground split beneath the blow and dust filled the air.

From across the battlefield, Atol’s heart broke as he saw the hammer strike and knew that Cerros was dead though he had fought valiantly. Soon his own fate would be the same. He courageously turned to meet the advancing foe. As Edron walked, the dust behind him began slowly to settle. Suddenly, Atol gasped when he saw Cerros rise from the earth.

At Atol’s look of surprise, Edron turned to see Cerros standing tall, surrounded by a clear ball of white energy. Though his battle armor was torn and he wielded no weapons, Cerros marched toward Edron with purpose.

“What magic is this?” Edron wondered.

He raised the hammer and brought it down again, striking the ground as a thunderclap split the air and the earth shook and tore. Like waves breaking upon the rocks, the force splintered against the glowing shield that surrounded Cerros.

“What are you?” Edron demanded.

As Cerros moved steadily towards Edron, Atol rejoiced until he saw the glowing stone around the neck of the great warrior.

“Olaskalam,” Atol whispered.

Olaskalam, the light stone, was an object of great power no one had seen in a generation. A stone of greatest purity, it drew upon the very life of the one who wore it, making him supremely powerful just moments before it killed him. Atol was disheartened. He knew that although Cerros would have the power to save his comrades, he would lose his life in the bargain.

“I will not be defeated by an inferior warrior,” Edron told Cerros.

Once again Edron raised his hammer, but before he could bring it down, Cerros reached up seizing his wrists.

Edron cried out in pain as the skin beneath Cerros’ grasp began to sizzle.

His eyes glowing white, Cerros said,

“If I must drag you to death myself—”

Cerros stopped when Edron’s screams grew louder and his skin began to crack as white energy burst forth.

“This day will be your end!” Cerros thundered.

Just as Atol closed his eyes, Cerros and Edron exploded in a burst of white light. Then the light died away, leaving behind only scorched earth.

Nyriad screeched,

“Brother!”

“He is gone,” Atol said as Idrian rose to her feet.

“No! He is not dead!” Nyriad shouted in rage. “But you soon will be.”

“The fight is over. You are defeated,” Atol said.

All around her, the ground began to swell.

“I will feed on your bones before this day is over!” Nyriad spat.

Atol felt the earth begin to shake and watched as it split from the tree line of the field to the castle wall.  Whatever Nyriad was calling to her was an army.

When the first section of earth broke loose, a small brown leathery hand reached out and pulled itself free. The creature was small but its numbers would be great.

“Goblins,” Atol said looking around.

“Yes!” Nyriad spat. “Release me and perhaps they will not feast on your dead body.”

Atol ran for Idrian. Taking flight was his only escape.

“No!” Nyriad yelled.

Roots from her armor lashed out and wrapped themselves around Idrian.

Idrian roared as she struggled to free herself.

“Goblins cannot be trusted,” Atol warned. “They will betray you.”

“So be it,” Nyriad growled.

As Atol fought to free Idrian, he looked at Olon and shouted,

“Dive deep. Run and warn the others.”

When Olon refused to leave his comrade, Atol ordered,

“Go now!”

When the last goblin crawled out from the ground, it began to chitter along with the others and the earth grew very still. Then suddenly the ground began to rumble.

Atol looked around to find the cause. When he saw the trees give way to an army of the dead, pouring from the tree line, he lost all hope of escape. Row upon row they came.

“What have you done?” Atol asked Nyriad.

Nyriad’s smile faded as a man, a man she knew, a man who was supposed to be imprisoned, broke through the ranks of the dead and stood before them.

Atol watched in amazement as Degan, cloaked in black energy, stepped forward and commanded,

“Slay the goblins!”

A skeleton to his left, clothed in shards of a soldier’s armor, raised his sword and let out a battle cry. The army of the dead took up the cry and it filled the air as they poured out from the trees in an unending wave. They washed over the goblins without mercy, killing them one by one as Degan strode through the chaos to Atol and Nyriad.

Degan’s eyes pierced Nyriad as he ordered,

“Release her!”

Terrified, Nyriad quickly pulled back the roots, freeing Idrian. The great beast stood and looked out over the army that covered the field.

“Do not fear,” Atol calmed Idrian.

Looking at Atol, Degan asked,

“Where is Cerros?”

Atol hung his head in grief. Before he could speak, Nyriad screamed,

“My brother is dead, and my master will see you skinned alive for your betrayal!”

Degan looked at Nyriad, his eyes like burning coals, and after a moment said,

“Take her. She is yours.”

Atol would not look as the dead dragged Nyriad away. As she disappeared into the massive army, her screams faded and all was still.

Dragon Fire: Episode 80

Each step took Kimli the troll closer to his destination and farther away from the battle that raged in Ethion, the city of his master’s death and rebirth. Each step drew him closer to the place where his brother had died at the hands of the fire breather.

Kimli and his brother Undall had failed to keep the fire breather imprisoned until the master could take possession of his new form, the man that Kimli now carried over his shoulder. Perhaps when he discovered that Kimli had taken the body to Copperhead Camp for safekeeping, the master would show mercy to Kimli.

As the troll plodded down the road, the man began to stir.

“We almost there,” Kimli assured him.

At the top of the next hill, Kimli stopped and looked out over what was once Copperhead Camp. Now its stone walls lay in great crumbling piles, like a forgotten vestige.

“Soon you be safe. Master forgive Kimli that fire breather get away.”

He missed his brother Undall. They were the last of the trolls. With a deep sigh, Kimli said,

“Master bring back brother.”

He shifted the man’s weight and started down the hill to the river that ran past Copperhead Camp, separating it from the rest of the world.

Just before he stepped into the current, Kimli took the man in his hands, lifting him into the air.

“Must keep Master’s new body safe,” he said as the water rose to his waist.

When he reached the opposite bank, he shook off the water and reminded himself of his hope.

“Must please Master. Master forgive. Bring back brother.”

* * *

Degan moaned and reached up to touch his aching jaw. The last thing he remembered was a great troll striking him, knocking him to the ground. He lifted his head and saw that he was being carried by the troll toward what looked like the remains of a castle.

“Where am I?” he asked.

“Safe place,” the troll answered.

When Degan struggled to get free, the troll only tightened his grip.

“No!” Kimli snapped. “Kimli keep you safe!”

“Release me at once!” Degan demanded.

“Must keep you safe. You hide here till Master come,” Kimli explained.

Degan fought against the strength of the troll but to no avail.

Kimli walked over to the opening where the fire breather had escaped.

“You hide here. Master come for you,” he repeated.

“Please, no!” Degan pleaded.

Kimli turned his hand over and released Degan, dropping him into the deep hole. As he plummeted to the bottom, Degan frantically reached out, trying to grasp something and stop his fall. His body flipped over and over until he finally landed, crashing into a pile of bones and charred bodies.

“Stay there till Master come for you,” Kimli ordered.

Certain the master would be pleased, Kimli turned and walked away. Just as he reached the bank of the river, the ground began to quake.

Frightened and confused, Kimli whirled around and ran back to Copperhead Camp.

* * *

Atol watched with wonder as roots wrapped like armor around the summoner Nyriad, lifting her from the ground, then he readied himself for the battle.

He waited to call down Idrian, fearful he would call her too soon. He knew she was courageous, ready to fight, but he wished to force the summoner to show all her powers. He would fight against them then call in Idrian to prevail.

Atol felt Olon press against his leg. He saw that his little friend was frightened but would not leave his side.

“If you must flee for your life, do it now,” Atol said. “I will guard your escape.”

When he saw that Olon remained, he steeled himself, took a deep breath and began running full speed towards Nyriad.

Stretching his legs out to full length, he saw that Olon was right behind him, keeping pace. When he was within range, Atol leapt at Nyriad aiming for her throat. But before he could reach her, a large branch hurled him aside, knocking him to the ground.

As he struggled to rise, he saw Idrian spiral down and land, shaking the ground beneath her. Turning toward Nyriad, she sent out a great roar.

Nyriad stumbled backwards at the force but quickly recovered and swung out at Idrian.

Idrian moved out of the way then lashed out with her powerful tail, striking Nyriad’s armor and knocking her backward. As Nyriad struggled to pull herself up, Olon leapt from the ground, seized one of the vines of Nyriad’s armor then burrowed deep beneath the ground, pinning Nyriad’s arm. With her enormous claws, Idrian slashed at the roots encircling Nyriad.

As Idrian tore away the armor, Nyriad cried out for help.

* * *

Across the field, Cerros fought Edron hand-to-hand, staying close to keep Edron from striking the ground with his hammer and sending out another shock wave.

When Edron heard his sister’s cry, he pushed Cerros back then turning to face Idrian, he raised his hammer overhead and slammed it down to the earth. The force of the blow tore through the ground and knocked Idrian onto her side.

Raising his hammer again, he raced toward Idrian to strike her. Cerros roared and chased after him, knocking him to the ground. As the two men fought, Idrian tried to recover and rise again.

“If I must drag you to death myself, this day will be your end!” Cerros shouted to Edron.

Edron dropped his hammer, and clapped his hands on either side of Cerros’ head, stunning him just long enough to pull a knife from Cerros’ belt and plunge it into his leg. Removing his hand from the handle of the knife, Edron pushed Cerros away then took up his hammer.

Cerros quickly regained his footing and ignoring the pain in his leg began to whirl his chain overhead. Lashing out, he wrapped it around Edron’s hammer.

Edron struggled to pull it free as Cerros pulled back. Driven by his sister’s cries for help, Edron used all his strength, pulled back on the hammer and slammed it into the ground.

The blast of the force threw Cerros back causing him to lose the chain and his sword.

Then Edron turned toward Idrian and slammed the hammer, knocking her down once again.

Turning to face Cerros, he growled, “I am done with you.”

Struggling to get to his feet, Cerros knew he could not reach his sword or chain in time, and his damaged ax was of little use. As Edron raised the hammer yet again, Cerros thought of his wife and child who had gone before him.

As he closed his eyes and prepared to die, the stone around his neck began to hum.

Published in: on December 18, 2016 at 6:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 79

“Please,” Aric pleaded with the captain, “let us sheathe our swords.”

“We are under orders from the king to arrest you for the murder of Prince Alidus,” the captain barked.

Just then the wind picked up as raindrops bounced off the iron blades of the swords, splashing onto the water-worn cobblestones. Aric knew well the fighting skill of these men. Alone, he had little hope of victory. Prince Alidus was now doubtless engaged in battle with the creature for he had not followed Aric up the shaft.

“Prince Alidus is alive, trapped just below our feet in the cave as he fights the creature beneath us. If you will but help me clear the shaft, you will see.”

“Enough!” the captain yelled as he swung his blade down toward Aric.

Aric blocked the strike and parried it out of the way. Gripping a sword in each hand, he told himself to keep moving. The guards must not overcome him. Quickly turning, Aric leapt up, landing on the fountain, then climbed to the top, a cowardly move that would give him only a few seconds. He hoped it would be enough time to search for a narrow passageway and force the guards to attack one at a time.

Aric sprang from the fountain’s spire and fled to the opposite end of the courtyard, hoping to draw the soldiers away from the fountain.

When the front guard swung out with his blade, Aric turned to ward off the blow, striking the soldier across the face. The guard stumbled backwards and fell into the advancing men, knocking them backwards.

Another guard rushed forward, striking down with his sword. Aric lowered his body, narrowly missing the blade, then whirled the soldier around and quickly raised his sword blade to the guard’s throat.

Instantly the other guards stopped their advance.

“I do not wish to harm any man, but I will in the name of the true king. There is a passage that runs under this city. The entrance is just beyond the fountain. This passage must be cleared so that Prince Alidus may rise and reclaim his throne,” Aric insisted.

The captain of the guard studied Aric for a moment as he considered. Then he gave the order.

“Two of you go and search for this passage. We shall soon see if he speaks a fool’s tale.”

Two guards broke away from the group and moved back towards the fountain.

“If nothing is there, you will release him and go willingly?” the captain asked.

“On my honor,” Aric answered.

* * *

As Alidus sent out a burst of fire, the monster Hannable retreated into the cavern.

“You must kill him, my son,” Genfyre announced.

“I cannot do this. He is a man and a father,” Alidus insisted.

“Long ago, he was. But now, he lies prisoner in his own body. Like me, he is tormented by mistakes of the past.”

When Alidus heard a low growl, he looked up to see the creature once again approaching the den entrance. But with another burst of fire, Alidus drove him back into the darkness of the deep cavern.

“He will not return soon,” Alidus said.

“Neither will he retreat,” Genfyre informed. “The animal never yields.”

“Is he not yielding now?” Alidus asked.

“No, my son. He will not stop charging until you are destroyed,” Genfyre said.

Alidus knew how to stop the creature, but Genfyre would not survive the burst of flames.

Sensing his apprehension, Genfyre said,

“I have lived a long life, my son. Committed many faults. Do not lay the burden of your soul as well on my shoulders. Like Hannable, I seek peace, and you have the power to give it.”

“But—,” Alidus began.

“There is no time. Your friend needs your help. If you do not act quickly, you will fail him as I have failed Hannable.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Alidus closed his eyes filling his mind with tranquility. He could sense the air around him begin to heat up.

“Tell Cerros,” Genfyre said, “that Hannable has finally found peace.”

As Alidus opened his eyes and burst into flames, he saw the creature running toward him at full speed. When he looked down at Genfyre one last time, the old man lifted his face and with a weak smile said,

“I shall tell your mother all about her son the hero.”

Alidus then turned his head away and closed his eyes.

* * *

When the guards reached the fountain, they abruptly stopped, peering into the water.

“Sir,” one called out.

“What is it?” the captain answered, keeping his eyes on Aric.

“The fountain, sir. The water is. . . ,” the guard trailed off.

“Is what?” the captain demanded.

“It is boiling, sir,” the guard said.

Annoyed, the captain turned away from Aric to face the fountain. Before he could take a step forward to see for himself, a tendril of black smoke-like energy struck him in the back, causing him to convulse for a moment. When he looked back at Aric, his eyes were lifeless and he sneered,

“That is of no matter. Kill him.”

The other guards hesitated, questioning what they had heard.

“Kill him!” the captain snapped. “At once!”

Amazed by the boiling water, one of the guards at the fountain said,

“Sir, the stones are beginning to crack, and they are as though on fire.”

“I do not care!” the devilish captain said. “I will kill him myself.”

As the captain stamped over to Aric, the fountain was suddenly engulfed in a column of flame that shot upwards above the castle walls.

Aric held up his hand to shield his eyes from the blinding light, but for a brief moment, he saw a man floating up inside the column of flame.

Through his fingers, Aric watched as the captain and guards turned to face the column of fire. He saw that the man floating in the flames was Prince Alidus.

Like a wisp of smoke, Alidus touched down lightly on the cobblestones. His eyes still burning embers, he commanded Aric to release the guard.

When Aric removed his blade and pushed the guard away, Alidus turned to the captain and guards.

“Drop your weapons,” he ordered.

The courtyard was filled with the ring of iron hitting stone as many of the guards obeyed.

“I will not ask again,” Alidus said to those who hesitated.

The rest of the guards dropped their swords, but the crazed captain held his and turned to face Alidus.

“I refuse to obey the orders from some hedge-born son of a devil,” he spat.

“You will,” Alidus returned.

Instantly, a column of fire exploded upwards from beneath the defiant captain, transforming him into a pile of ash.

Published in: on November 19, 2016 at 9:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 78

Razham grabbed Gonorap and fled, leaving behind the screeching woman. Grabbing the crumbling banister, he raced to the bottom of the stairs. When he stepped outside, he suddenly stopped as droves of burned people poured out of the surrounding buildings.

“Nightmare creatures,” Gonorap said in a panic. “Nightmare creatures come for Gonorap.”

“No, little one. Not yet,” Razham said hurrying back into the house.

He saw that the woman was now on the stairs. As she let out an unnatural scream and suddenly dove at Razham, he quickly moved aside then bolted up the stairs.

When he reached the top, Razham put Gonorap down and ordered,

“Go find the weakest section of wall. I will keep them back as long as I can.”

As Gonorap fled, Razham turned to face the woman. This time when she lunged at him, he struck her with his staff, doubling her over as she tumbled down the stairs. The force of her falling body knocked over two of the burned creatures who had found their way into the house.

As Razham fought, Gonorap searched frantically. He saw many small spaces where he could slip through and escape, but he remembered that the holy man had promised to protect him.

“Must find weak spot. Must find weak spot,” he repeated.

He scratched and dug until he was exhausted but found no weak section of the wall.

“Gonorap cannot find weakness!” he cried out.

“You must keep searching,” Razham yelled, his eyes steadfast on the attacking creatures.

With quick movements, Razham rotated his staff, striking one attacker across the jaw. The creature flailed its arms then fell over the railing.

Another spin of his staff and Razham struck a second creature, sending it flying against a wall.

“Gonorap found door!” Gonorap yelled.

Razham knew he was out of time. The burned creatures kept coming and would soon overpower him.

When Razham ran toward Gonorap’s voice, he saw the little creature waiting. Scooping him up, Razham hurried through the door and slammed it shut behind him.

“Hold tightly and do not release me,” he instructed Gonorap.

“Gonorap afraid,” Gonorap whimpered.

Razham looked into the creature’s eyes and said, “Trust me, little one.”

Just then he saw another door on the other side of the room and stepped quickly toward it. As he pulled at the latch, he heard the burned creatures screaming as they clawed at the bedroom door.

The latch gave way and the door opened onto a balcony overlooking the street. Razham stepped out to the edge of the balcony and stood still for a moment, judging the distance.

Then running back to the opposite end of the room, Razham took a deep breath and focused his energy.

“What? What?” Gonorap cried out.

Razham gave no answer but began running toward the balcony. As he ran through the room, the creatures broke down the bedroom door and poured in. With Gonorap’s fingers digging into his cloak, Razham dove over the railing and closed his eyes.

Over his shoulder, Gonorap screamed in terror.

Just seconds before he hit the ground, Razham vanished.

* * *

When Razham reappeared, Gonorap fell from his shoulder and vomited.

“I am sorry, little one,” Razham said.

Slowly Razham stood and looked around. He saw that they were on the roof of the house across the street.

“How Gonorap get here?” Gonorap asked.

“It is a small trick of my people. Though it is not difficult, it does leave me weary,” Razham said as he lay down.

When Gonorap started to speak, Razham cautioned,

“Keep your voice down and we should be safe here for a while,” Razham said. “I must restore my strength.”

Gonorap crawled up to Razham and whispered,

“We find necromancer.”

“Yes, little one,” Razham said. “We must leave this place for there is nothing we can do here.”

“We leave now,” Gonorap said.

“As soon as I have rested, we will find the necromancer,” Razham assured him.

After a few moments, the screaming of the burned creatures died down and Razham began to feel his strength returning. Suddenly a loud hissing noise caught his attention.

“What is that noise?” he asked as he sat up.

“Nightmare creature! Nightmare creature!” Gonorap repeated.

Razham quickly stood and saw that one of the burned creatures was crawling up onto the roof.

“Leave now! Leave now!” Gonorap whimpered.

When the burned creature opened its mouth to call the others, Razham reached for his staff then heard a thuuup as a black arrow shot through the air. Its point pierced the creature, pinning it to the rooftop.

Razham whirled around and spotted a figure up in the branches of a tree two houses down the street.

The archer leapt down from the tree and across the rooftops until she stood near them.

Without a word, she walked over to the creature, bent over, and pulled the arrow free from its target. As she slipped the arrow back into her quiver, the creature’s body slid off the roof.

Eyeing her cautiously, Razham decided that she posed no threat.

“Thank you,” he said.

“There is no need,” she answered.

Gonorap pulled on the hem of Razham’s cloak pleading,

“Leave now.”

“A moment,” Razham replied.

“You must go. It is not safe here,” the woman said.

“Why are you here?” Razham asked.

“Would that I were helping people, but the truth is not so noble. I have come to this place to correct the sins of my past. Within this city is a person, some say an immortal, who engages those who would kill for gold. I fear that if this evil triumphs in the kingdom, the world will soon perish. And so I must destroy this man, this one they call immortal, and set right my transgressions.”

Razham watched the woman’s eyes as if to see her heart. Then he looked down at Gonorap and considered the small creature.

“Gonorap, we cannot let her make this trek alone.”

Turning to the woman, he said, “We shall help you, at least until we have paid our debt to you.”

“You owe me nothing. You may go on your way,” she answered.

“To do so would be dishonorable. Besides, I believe we search for the same man,” Razham said.

“I am Razham,” he said extending his hand.

“I was once known as Lady Elizabeth,” she said accepting his hand.

“Oh no. This troubles Gonorap,” Gonorap sighed.

Published in: on October 16, 2016 at 10:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 77

His hammer raised, Edron roared a battle cry and charged the field, the minotaurs close behind.

As Cerros stepped forward to meet his foe, he stopped and for a moment watched the minotaurs. Turning back to Atol, he said,

“The man will soon fall under my blade. Idrian will protect you from these monstrous creatures?”

“I must save her strength for the next strike of the summoner,” Atol explained as he motioned for Idrian to take flight.

“Then I shall stay and fight the minotaurs alongside you,” Cerros said turning back.

“No, my friend. You must defeat the man. Leave these creatures to me,” Atol said.

“I do not question your valor, but they are as giants,” Cerros pointed out.

“One does not need greater might to win a battle. Even the smallest stream will wear down a mountain with time,” Atol said.

Turning his face toward the battle, Atol began running at the minotaurs, stretching out his legs to full length, quickly gaining a blinding speed.

Cerros watched with wonder as in a flash, Atol covered the distance and leapt at the last moment between the creatures. Lashing out his tail, he wrapped it around the neck of one minotaur, pulled it to the ground, then whipped it around and tossed it to the edge of the field. The creature landed on a group of sharp rocks, tearing its flesh.

Quickly turning, Atol felt his feet slip across the wet grass as the other minotaur roared and raised its weapon, bellowing a battle cry. Atol saw that the wounded minotaur had risen, collected its weapon, and was charging toward him. He waited until just before the charging minotaur struck then leapt out of the way to safety.

The two creatures collided, the horns of one goring the other. One of the axes flew through the air and Atol, reaching up to grab it, hurled it at the closest minotaur. As the ax blade drove itself into the creature’s back, Atol ran toward it and climbed up. Grabbing the ax handle with both hands, he pulled it free and jumped up and over Olon as he shot out of the ground.

With force and ease, Olon punched through the minotaur, leaving a two-foot hole in its torso. Both minotaurs fell to the ground and instantly dissolved into powder. Atol stood, turned to face the summoner, and dropped the ax.

Nyriad shrieked as she watched the black creature destroy her pets.

“You monster!” she howled.

A twirl of energy ran up her spine through her arms and traveled from her fingers into the ground.

All around her pockets of earth began to swell and writhe.

* * *

In the wake of Atol’s success, Cerros turned his attention to Edron. Shouting his battle cry, he took to the field. When he had covered half the distance, Cerros threw one of his swords. Spinning through the air, the blade came to rest in Edron’s leg, cutting a deep gash. Cerros did not wish the kill to be so easy. Victory was always work fighting for. It must carry a great cost for a warrior. As Edron fell to his knees, Cerros drew closer.

“I was hoping for more,” he yelled.

As soon as the words passed his lips, he knew he had erred. Pride can lead a warrior to defeat, for a battle may turn. True that taunting the enemy in battle may anger him, force him to make rash moves, but victory must never be celebrated before the battle is won. Better to fight bravely, honorably, and if need be to die well.

Edron pulled the blade from his leg and threw it at Cerros. As its blade sliced through the air, Edron stood, raising his hammer above his head and slamming it to the ground. The earth shook as a wave of force ripped up the ground and slammed into Cerros like a great falling oak. Cerros flew backwards and hit the ground, sliding over the rocks and grass. Stunned from the blast, his head ached as the cold rain washed the mud from his face.

Rising to his feet, Cerros retrieved his sword from the ground then slipped it into its sheath. With a light in his eyes, he said,

“I shall enjoy this.”

Drawing a chain from his side, he whipped it over his head then struck the ground as he shouted,

“Come to me and we will fight till the devils drag us to the underworld.”

* * *

As Nyriad filled with wrath, wave after wave of energy poured from her fingertips into the earth. The pockets rose higher until they finally broke open and spiders, each the size of a wolf, began to burst forth, crawling over each other as they covered the ground.

Giggling with delight, Nyriad shrilled a chant as she raised her arms to the clouds.

“Wrap, entrap. Bite and fright. Bind his bones until he moans. Tear his flesh. Make him thresh. Take a feed and watch the bleed.”

As she lowered her arms, she said,

“Now go, my children. Attack!”

From all around her, the great spiders swarmed out onto the field as she held out her arms. The creatures moved under her power and the trees and grass in their path withered and died.

Nyriad looked up to the sky and watched the circling Idrian.

“You, creature, killed my precious Kodaz. I will tear your head from your wretched body while your master watches. Then I will call you back from the underworld and command you to kill his friends.”

Suddenly she began laughing at the thought of the delicious screams that would soon fill her ears as her enemies perished at her hands. The screams that would wash over her with such great peace and take her into a slumber for days to come.

Energy poured out of her fingertips, striking the ground before her. The earth rumbled and roots broke through the soil, carrying with them rocks and dirt. Slowly surrounding Nyriad, they wrapped their branches around her arms and legs as they lifted her.