The lovely Richard also helped beta this part. He deserves many many thanks.
Cautiously navigating one of the longer tunnels of his home, Draco quietly made his way to the side cavern where Ivor was standing guard.
“Caius, the poison has finally been cleared from her body, and she is resting peacefully,” the black battle dragon reported.
“This is good,” Draco replied. “Once she is well enough I will bring her to the Father myself.”
“Of course,” Ivor replied with a slight bow of his head. Turning he quickly left the caves in order to continue with his hunt. Rumors had reached the dragons that Ktulu was planning a raid on the small coastal village of Ceryus and the thought of roasting a few of Ktulu’s minions brought an eager smile to the weathered old dragon’s face.
Sitting on a rocky hill overlooking the partially walled village of Ceryus, Ivor kept a close eye on the countryside surrounding the area. After speaking with Alvora, an Imugi sea dragon, the old battle dragon knew some of Ktulu’s minions had been spotted in the vicinity.
“Greetings old friend.”
“Greetings Hallvaror,” Ivor replied as the green and gold Wyvern settled on the rocky surface next to him. “How did your patrol of the region go?”
“Unfortunately not as well as we had hoped,” Hallvaror huffed in frustration. “We only managed to find the remains of their campsites and nothing more.”
“So the vermin managed to slither away and hide then?” Ivor growled, his long barbed tail thumping angrily on the ground.
“Yes, though Alvora and her kin are watching for any unknown ships trying to approach Ceryus‘ harbor,” Hallvaror continued, giving his companion an update of ongoing events.
“They would know best which ships belonged and which ones did not,” Ivor nodded. While it wasn’t good news, it seemed that Ktulu’s minions would not be mounting an attack from the sea. This gave them a direction to focus their defenses, though the Imugi would not be letting up on their patrol of the seas anytime soon.
“Thal and Eydar are leading small patrol groups at the moment while the others are getting into position around the town.”
“Good,” Ivor replied. “This continuous slaughter can not be allowed to carry on.”
“Indeed,” Hallvaror snorted, shaking his massive head.
“Is there a problem old friend?” Ivor asked, his tone flat, dark eyes gleaming in the early evening light.
“There is talk.”
“That is not an answer Hallvaror,” Ivor scolded. “There is always ‘talk’.”
“Some say that Caius is ‘soft’ to the humans’ plight.”
“Their ‘plight’ is ours as well,” Ivor corrected with a sharp retort. “Ærworuld is home to both our races.”
“It wasn’t always so!” Hallvaror snarled as his wings fluttered around his body. “Caius simply refuses to see reason.”
“And what would that be?” Ivor replied angrily. “Let the humans suffer the Dark One’s vengeance all the while hoping that he never turns his gaze our way?”
“Our kin are dying in this foolish war the humans started!”
“Hallvaror! Do not blame these people for crimes supposedly committed millennia before they were born!” Ivor roared as he turned flashing eyes onto the Wyvern sitting next to him. “Ktulu and his master lie, we all know this.”
“It does not matter,” Hallvaror snapped. “No matter how much time passes they will always be bloodthirsty savages.”
“Some humans say the same thing about us,” Ivor stated, frustration filling his words as he unfurled his wings. Flapping them once, then twice more, Ivor slowly lifted into the rapidly darkening sky.
“And if we ignore this war then it will have been true.”
The moon peeked out from behind thick rolling clouds. Waves crashed against the shoreline. Thunder rumbled in the distance, while lightning flashed and danced across the sky. Winds picked up, filling the night with mournful howls and the scent of rain.
Scattered over the dale, hiding amongst a few trees and rocks, fire and ice drakes kept a steady watch over the sleepy city. It was their job to scourer the land looking for signs of the Dark One’s army.
The churning waters beyond Ceryus were patrolled by the sea serpents who kept a continuous look out for any ship trying to slip by. battle dragons and wyverns soared across the sky, adding their keen eyesight to the fire and ice drakes’ vigils.
The Alantria Forest, located a few miles from Ceryus, was ancient and thick with undergrowth were the towns people had not cleared it to make room for their roads and cattle fields. Its trees were towering giants, their trunks wide enough to hide a leviathan, or Nikias himself, if needed.
At the edge of the forest, Nikias stood overlooking Ceryus. His gaze swept over the landscape, eyes intense and filled with merciless glee. His hilltop perch provided extra coverage for him and his army. The battle would be bloody, Nikias knew, and he relished the idea.
“Are the arrangements coming along as we planned?” A childish voice whispered to his left. Stepping from the shadows, a small girl smiled coldly up at the powerfully built leviathan.
“Everything is running smoothly,” Nikias snapped. “There is no need for doubt.”
He watched, disgusted, while the girl let her eyes travel over his army. Small squads held positions next to clusters of rocks and trees, while three battalions marched closer to Ceryus’ surrounding wall-one coming from the north, another marching along the main highway towards the city, and the last coming up from the south. A select few leviathans were already at Ceryus’ wall, working carefully to place small bags of black explosive powder along the perimeter.
“You should close off access to Ceryus’ main gate and harbor. That way it will be harder for the humans to escape.”
“Since when do I take orders from you?”
Loathing filled his words. His narrowed eyes blazed with defiance, and a barely audible growl echoed from his throat. The noise caused her head to snap back in his direction. Fury flashed briefly in her eyes, before a calm mask fell over her face. In a quiet, steady voice, the promise of cruelty dancing along her words, she said, “Do well to remember Lyr, Nikias. You wouldn’t want to start emulating your predecessor.”
In his mind’s eye, Nikias could see the image of Lyr lying on blackened earth. His eyes were wide and unseeing. His chest was cracked open, displaying his crushed innards. Next to his open mouth was Lyr’s tongue. Nikias, on orders from Ktulu, had ripped it out when he’d offered excuses for his failure at retrieving the Souled-One for his Master’s new allies.
Scowling, Nikias quickly sent a messenger to give the orders for three squads to take up the new postings, two at the harbor, and one at the gate.
“Do not forget our agreement with your Master, Nikias. The Dark One got himself imprisoned and will be defeated without our help,” the girl casually reminded. “Besides, you do want the humans to pay for what they did, don’t you?”
Despite his strengths, Nikias was easy to manipulate. She knew which buttons to push. She needed only to play on his fanatical need for revenge and he unknowingly danced to her tune. It was too bad she couldn't do the same with Ktulu. He was a remarkable sight and delightfully cruel but, unfortunately, remained loyal to his Master.
“At least your exotic magics have provided us with adequate cover.”
It was a tactical concession, made only to ensure continued support.
“Remember Nikias, please us and our power will be your Master’s as well,” the girl said before she vanished, leaving Nikias to complete his task.
Leaving the cover of Alantria’s ancient woods, Nikias carefully made his way to the edge of the cliff. Turning towards his troops, and letting out a ululating wail, Nikias thrust his arm into the air, broadsword held high, and signaled for the attack to begin.
Lightning split the sky. Crackling thunder followed immediately after. Rain poured down, soaking the ground.
Thunderous explosions splintered wooden beams, causing sections of the wall to collapse. Lights flooded windows, and doors flew open. People stood, terror freezing them in place, watching as thousands of the Dark One’s minions poured through the gaps in the wall.
Stepping through a collapsed section of wall, Nikias grinned. Before him chaos reigned. Screams mixed with wailing winds as one by one the cities’s inhabitants were dragged forcefully from their homes. Mud squelching beneath clawed feet, Nikias strode through the now burning city.
Walking towards the huddled group near the cities’ fountain, Nikias let his gaze travel over the dismal gathering. The humans were cowering together, soaked through, and covered in filth.
It was a smaller group than Nikias had expected given Ceryus’ size. He had thought their entrance would have garnered more attention than it was receiving.
Locking eyes with the people before him, Nikias let loose a deep rumbling growl.
“Where are your people?” the oily thought poured through the humans’ minds, seeping into the very recesses of their souls, tainting them. “I cannot believe this settlement holds such a pathetic gathering of mortals.”
One older man managed to hold Nikias’ gaze. Raising his chin defiantly, he waited a beat before speaking in a loud clear voice.
“They surround you! You filthy beast!”
An arrow followed his insult immediately. It struck one of the dragonets’ chest, bouncing harmlessly off its thick hide. Before more could be fired, Nikias pulled out his
broadsword and impaled the mortal scum who had dared to defy him. Lightning flashed across the sky, gleaming off the bloodied sword sticking out of the man’s back.
“Jarl, no,” Siaya cried softly.
Fighting to free herself from her eldest son’s grip, Siaya watched helplessly as her husband’s wide eyes sought hers. He opened his mouth as if to speak but only a watery gurgle came forth. Blood overflowed his mouth and oozed down his chin.
As slowly as possible, Nikias extracted his broadsword from Jarl's body. When the blade caught on the man’s ribs, Nikias grabbed Jarl’s shoulder with his free hand, dug in his claws, and jerked his sword loose. It came free with a wet sucking sound covering the man's last dying gurgles. Without the blade's support, Nikias' first victim collapsed with a splatter on the wet street.
For his own amusement, Nikias found Siaya’s distraught gaze. Letting a grin spread across his face, Nikias raised a clawed foot. He brought it down on the dead man’s skull causing it to splinter and pop. Blood and mashed brains gushed out mixing with the sodden earth.
Looking over the horrified Ceryusans, the dim light of hope gone from their eyes, Nikias threw his head back and roared. It gave Nikias a thrill to cause such mayhem, and soon the other occupants of his army joined their voices to his, nearly drowning out the thunder from the storm.
As if in answer, a ululating wail echoed in the darkness followed by more lightning dancing across the horizon. Looking towards the dark shape of the half-crumpled wall surrounding their city, the citizens of Ceryus watched in relief as familiar giant figures appeared in the sky above. Thunder cracked again and the dragons attacked.
A rapid succession of images flowed through Spike's mind, like a VCR stuck on fast-forward, making him dizzy and nauseous.
An old man dragged from his hiding place, a young woman’s throat savagely cut, and the leviathan responsible grinned.
One man stood tall and fought bravely, but hopelessly, as he was cut down. Others immediately took his place but soon faced a similar fate, their bodies ripped apart with sword and talons alike. A few families tried to flee, most ended up with the barbed ends of spears forced through their backs.
With a loud roar a golden dragon swooped in, its wings unfurled, clawed feet extended towards a worm. The two met with the worm’s teeth clamping on to the dragon’s neck and the dragon’s feet raking the worm‘s soft underbelly. As the dragon broke free, a nearby firedrake let loose a blast of fire, igniting the wretched beast.
Along the coastline, sea serpents rose up high, towering over the town. With unerring accuracy, one lunged forward, catching a leviathan in its massive jaws and quickly dragged it beneath the waves.
Fires burned through homes and businesses. Black acrid smoke rolled skyward. Screams could be heard coming from some of the buildings, only to be silence when the buildings collapsed.
Lightning flashed again and a wyvern alit before a huddle of evacuees cornered on a cliff’s edge. The people scrambling on the back of a sea serpent, while the wyvern fights off a leviathan.
The leviathan swung a broadsword at the wyvern, cutting open the thick hide on its neck. Roaring in pain and angrily gnashing needlelike teeth, the wyvern finally catches the leviathan on the shoulder. Howling, the leviathan jerks free of the wyvern’s jaws. Taking advantage of nerveless fingers, the wyvern knocks the leviathan’s sword to the ground. Fighting back with its good arm the leviathan slashes its talons at the wyvern’s eyes. As the wyvern reared back to protect its eyes, the leviathan lunges forward. Wrapping its good arm around the wyvern, the leviathan’s talons and teeth sink into the wyvern’s neck. A quick jerk and a loud crunch precede the wyvern’s limp body falling to the earth. Face sporting a rictus grin, the leviathan stepped back, dropping the chunk of flesh it had bitten free. Blood and gore covered its face.
“Now my traitorous brethren, you will know my pain.”
The morning dawned cold and gray. A fog had settled around the city, creating an almost soft and gentle background to the carnage left behind by Nikias and his army. Building after building lay in smouldering ruins. The few survivors moved slowly, cradling precious burdens tightly in dirt-crusted hands. Barely a word was said. Those able went to help their neighbors. Meanwhile, some of the dragons quietly went about clearing any debris too large for the survivors to handle.
In the town square before him, Draco watched as the bodies of loved ones were methodically placed on the remains of shattered wooden beams.
Shoulders slumped and eyes vacant, a woman tottered closer to the funeral pyre. Her hand gripped a cloth doll, tattered and soot-covered. A man arranging the body of a small girl took it from her, and carefully placed it in the girl’s arms.
Draco had not known the people who died but the world already felt empty. The numbness inside his heart felt peculiar to him though Draco still felt the grief it was blocking.
Turning his attention to a cluster of wyvern at the promontory’s edge, Draco looked on as Thal helped load the body of their kin onto Alvora’s back to be carried away.
Hearing the crackling sounds of the pyre lighting, Draco turned back and saw the young mother he had seen earlier. She was standing in the center of a ring of townspeople, eyes staring straight ahead, as the flames consumed the bodies of those stolen from their families.
Even in their shocked state, Draco could see the fires of vengeance beginning to burn in the Ceryusans’ eyes. Whether they turned their anger towards the Gods, the Kings, the Dragons, or all, Draco did not know. Only time would tell.
Besides him, Rocher watched Alvora’s disappearing form, while Ivor’s cold voice echoed inside their minds.
“Caius, Hallvaror is gone.”