The Reaper has ruled over Etias due to the longevity he has achieved through necromancy.
|White, fluffy tufts of clouds drifted slowly across an otherwise endless canvas of perfect blue sky. The canopy of the lush, radiant forest was woven together in a thick layer of holly, oak, and ash trees. The crowns of older, taller oaks emerged above, towering like watchful giants over the rest of the forest below. Rays of light burst through their crowns, reaching a range of young saplings in the understory layer, as they struggled to take hold in the stony ground below.
Silent creepers clung to the occasional tree, and a range of shrubs and flowers appeared along the floor, contrasting against the otherwise dark terrain. A cacophony of sounds, most belonging to bird songs, resonated through the air, forming a chaotic orchestra disrupted by the infrequent cries of birds of prey.
Perhaps to the untrained eye, the dark form that now moved swiftly across the vastness of this landscape could have been confused with the massive shadow of one of those birds of prey. But blood-red scales, iridescent underneath the noonday sun told another story. As did narrow, red eyes set within a bony, angular skull, complete with two thick, angular nostrils and a flattened nose. A thick, muscular neck ran down from its head and into a rippled, bulky body that glistened with crimson scales, acting as armor plating down its spine. Smooth leather covered the bottom portion of the creature, colored darker than the rest of its body.
Massive wings grew from below its shoulders and ended all the way down at its pelvis. Thick leather stretched across the appendages with eerie boney structures and curved points rising from the end like giant scythes. Its tail held a razor-edged tip and covered in the same crystal-like skin as its body. Four massive limbs carried the immense weight of its body, each ending in a claw containing five digits, adorned with sharp talons made of grayish bone. Its size, color and terrifying visage were unmistakable, as it circled, dipped and dived across the firmament.
In the forest floor below, a young woman nearing her nineteenth winter pushed through a thorny thicket and paused. Glancing upwards through the tall oak trees above her head, she sought a better view of the other figure hiding amongst the branches. Her protective, leather garments blended well into the green grove around her, shielding her into the scenery, save for her deep blue eyes which stood in stark contrast to the muted earth tones surrounding her. The traces of the girl she once was still lingered in Melina’s eyes and thinness of her body, though now her womanly curves were evident.
"Do you see anything?" she called upwards, her voice swallowed by the vast array of vegetation around her.
No response. Groaning under her breath, she checked to be sure her prized bow, Aicanáro the Soul Scorcher, and matching quiver were strapped secure to her pack. She gripped a low branch and hoisted herself up into the tree. With honed skill, Melina climbed up the mighty tree until reaching the top, pushing through some leaves to break through the canopy. The fresh breeze felt pleasant against her sweaty face as she brushed strands of her long earthen-brown hair from her eyes. She glanced all around, calling again,
She squinted her eyes at the abrupt light from the exposure of the sun, considering her surroundings. From her elevated height, she observed their tiny village, SilentForest, to the southwest and not far away. She clambered back down the massive oak, landing on the grass floor with a gentle thud of her leather boots. As she straightened, a male voice startled her, forcing her to whirl around and stare into familiar hazel-colored eyes.
"Melina, where the hell did you go?"
Bleiz pulled back his cowl, uncovering his short, spiky light-brown hair. Four years her senior, Bleiz stood almost a foot taller than her now, with broad shoulders and light scars decorating the skin over his lips and under his left eye, hard won reminders from many years of battle.
Stubble lined his tight, well-structured jaw. His dark eyebrows sloped downward in a perpetual scowl, that drew his mouth into a hard line across his face. His eyes enclosed a bright amber color around the pupil which balanced with a ring of honey-brown. His gait revealed a careful, seasoned warrior.
"SilentForest is a short way from here," Melina stated, ignoring her brother's question. She gestured in the direction of the town before she shifted to head in the predetermined location. Her older brother sighed before shaking his head, turning to follow the smaller woman.
They walked in silence through the dense woodland, breaking through a clearing which revealed a patch of blue sky. Melina stopped to glance up at the stratosphere for a moment, returning to an urgent, nagging feeling that something above them demanded attention.
Bleiz strode a few more paces forward before noticing she had stayed behind. He spun on her in annoyance.
"Are you coming?"
Melina didn’t reply right away. Instead, she squinted her eyes against the sun above them. After a moment, she raised a hand, gesturing for Bleiz to follow her gaze.
"Do you see it?"
Bleiz tilted his head upward, his gaze following Melina’s gesture to the sky, just as a dark shadow moved the firmament.
Bleiz narrowed his eyes as he stood straight. The dark shape swept closer and closer towards them, moving at a high rated speed. Then an ear-splitting roar sounded, causing their hearts to plummet to the pits of their stomachs.
Without delay, the siblings sprinted in practiced unison through the timberland, southwest towards the village. Flames erupted behind them, licking the bark and leaves of the oaks, all swallowed by mounting embers. The blaze, soon all-consuming, filled the forest with thick, smothering smoke.
Melina and Bleiz tumbled out of the forest with the dragon right on their heels. Colossal red wings destroyed tree trunks with absolute ease, as another deep intake of breath resulted in flames building inside its chest cavity. Roaring again, the scorching inferno erupted past a range of sharpened fangs, headed right for the fleeing pair.
Flames caught Melina's cloak, swiftly igniting the fabric. The sudden, fiery heat on her back caused her to stumble. Recovering, she performed a somersault in the dirt and in a seamless motion, unclasped her cloak and threw it free from her body. Bleiz had run ahead at first, not realizing what had happened until he came to a screeching halt, spinning around to see his sister,
Melina managed to get on her knees, facing the monstrous beast hovering menacingly above her. Without looking back, she reached instinctively to pull out her onyx bow Aicanáro. In a flawless motion, she pulled an arrow from the quiver, clicking the nock at the end of the arrow into the bow string with practiced ease. Taking careful aim, she released the arrow at the dragon. The moment the missile left the string, a small fireball erupted in the sky blinding everyone nearby.
The arrow landed dead center between the dragon’s eyes. It bellowed in pain, frustration and rage as the bolt exploded in a shower of embers against its scales. Shaking its monolithic head, the beast was knocked senseless for a quick moment before it turned its enraged eyes back on the human woman. On her feet now, Melina stepped backward, firing arrow after arrow at the dragon, as bolts of fire from her arrows mixed with the reptile’s flames.
Bleiz scrambled up a building spared from the fire-fight around him, his bow out and ready. Though not enchanted like his sister’s weapon, his possessed extraordinary aim, not once missing his mark, even as the monstrous beast thrashed its body. In a frenzy, the dragon's hazardous tail swished around, crashing into a nearby cart, splintering the wood. Its tail swung back, colliding with Melina's side. She let out a cry of agony as the dagger-like-tail slashed her flank, sending her flying backward through the dirt. Bleiz's eyes widened.
"Shit!" he hissed between clenched teeth. He glanced towards Melina as she struggled to return to her feet despite her critical wound. Her bow had flown from her hands and now rested on the ground several yards from her. Bleiz could not reach his sister in time, as the fierce dragon stalked deliberately towards its defenseless prey. Like a snake ready to strike, it leaned its head back, massive jaws opened wide, to reveal rows and rows of horrible, razor sharp teeth. A deep, growling hiss rumbled…
In this commotion, the sound of pounding, approaching horse hooves was deafened. Melina was unexpectedly hoisted up into the air, seconds before the beast snapped its mouth down in the spot where she once sat. She let out a scream of shock, plopped onto a saddle. Stunned and disoriented, she looked up at the horse’s rider, a man with piercing gray eyes and jet-black hair.
The mysterious rescuer wore dark gray armor which glinted in the sunlight. Masterfully crafted layers of metal in the shape of dragon scales decorated the man's shoulders, with pointed, half covering rerebraces that sat under the shoulder plates to protect his upper arms. His lower limbs were covered by vambraces with two blades attached on each outer side, all sharpened to be utilized as a weapon.
The breastplate was made from a couple of layers of the same colored metal, mimicking dragon scales along with the sigil of the Royal Family imprinted in the center. It covered almost everything from his neck down. His upper legs were covered by a rounded cuisse while his lower extremities were protected by greaves which had a skull-shaped metal ornament piece on each outer side. On his hip rested his sheathed blade. The cross-guard had a lavish dragon tail on each side. His horse was pure white and dressed in matching glinting armor. The horse snorted as it turned around towards the dragon's eyes, coming to a trot now as the man addressed Melina,
"Are you alright?"
He did not wait for an answer, however. He hopped off the horse while unsheathing his blade simultaneously. With a quick smack to this steed’s rump, he sent Melina safely out of the fight. The injured woman supported herself against the muscled neck of the mount, one hand pressed against her heavily bleeding side. Spots danced in her vision and her grip weakened on the mighty animal.
The dark-haired knight spun back to the fight. The dragon was not deterred by the newcomer, opening its mouth wide again as it attempted to snap its jaws around the warrior. The man was the quicker, sliding under its head to position himself under the more vulnerable underbelly. He stabbed his broad-sword upwards, the blade sliding through the softer tissue with ease.
Howling in pain, the dragon reared up to avoid another strike from that wicked blade. This unintentionally placed the monster in perfect alignment with Bleiz's next arrow, as the pointed-tip slid deeply into the crimson of the dragon’s left eye. The now half-blinded beast tried blowing fire sightlessly at its surroundings in a failed attempt to incinerate the humans.
With the dragon's focus elsewhere, the knight wrapped his hand around on one of its horns atop its head. He swung his body on top of the dragon's head, kneeling between its eyes. With two hands, he stabbed the blade down into the beast's skull. Blood and brain matter coated him as the dragon shuddered beneath him. With a thunderous bang, its huge body collapsed into the dirt, dust billowing up into the air.
The man jumped off the now dead creature, wiping his sword clean on its scales. He sheathed his weapon as he turned to the destruction around him. With agility fitting to a ranger, Bleiz scaled down the side of the building to reach the ground below. Ignoring the knight, he ran past him to his injured sister who remained propped on the horse, barely conscious.
"Melina, keep your eyes open!" her brother demanded of her, forcing her to turn heavy eyes towards him.
"Please, allow me to take her to my healers. They can help her," said the knight, suddenly behind Bleiz. The younger man turned to glare at him, not at all appreciative of the offer.
"We don't need your help. I know how to take care of my sister."
The man frowned at Bleiz, sensing the unnecessary stubbornness in this one.
"Do not allow your pride to blind you from what's best for your sister's wellbeing. The healers can heal her far quicker than you can," he responded firmly. Before Bleiz could bark back, there was a loud thud. The now unconscious Melina fell from her perch upon the horse and lay motionless on the ground, her blood darkening the soil. Her brother knelt over her in shock, the fear of losing her consuming him completely. Without looking back at the knight he whispered hoarsely,
“Very well . . . take her to your healers."
A few yards away buried in the dirt, Melina's bow and quiver lay out of sight.