Evil plans to destroy Etias. The king, known as the Reaper, must save the realms.
Buried into the mountainside sat a deserted temple, the once strong walls now crumbled in several places to allow streams of sunlight in. Thick dust lay thick from the harsh winds blowing in dirt from the ridged landscape. A young girl, no older than ten winters, breathed in and out in timed rhythm, her eyes closed in concentration as she focused her core strength to hold herself upright in the large open temple. She stood on her hands, her feet pointed straight in the air during her rumination. Her long black hair fell to the floor like a winding ebony river.
An adolescent boy strolled over to the meditating girl, clicking his tongue as he did. "Oh, the potential to ruin your meditation right now with a single push, Aurae—"
"Touch me, Kaziel, and I will throw you off the mountain," said Aurae, her manner calm. She maintained her inverted stance in perfect balance.
Kaziel laughed, a wide toothy smirk spreading across his handsome face. "I can fly... that makes your intimidation an empty one, little sister."
"It's not if I clip your wings."
The adolescent paused at that final warning from his younger sibling, contemplating whether she was joking.
"Kaziel, quit teasing your sister. You should follow her example and meditate," a resonant voice called from behind them as a towering, well-muscled fire daemon stepped out from an alcove in the temple's side. The daemon's irises glowed a bright yellow, contrasting with the blackness of the sclera. Dark swirling markings etched around the daemon's face and visible parts of his body under his clothing. In his hand, the daemon carried a large egg. Dragon scales covered it from top to bottom, giving an iridescent shine in the light.
Their father, Etriz, walked over to the pair to clap his free hand on his son's shoulder. He noted how strapping Kaziel was growing, the lad nearly as tall as his own six-foot-five frame. His boy shared his dark-gray skin tone, while his daughter held the simmering golden orbs like his.
"I did. I'm always one step ahead of Aurae," with a grin, Kaziel shifted his head to look around the open chamber of the ancient temple. "Where's Ma?"
"Hiding away from her troublesome son?" said Aurae.
Kaziel smirked as he gave his sister a playful shove. With the grace of a warrior, the fire daemoness tucked her legs under her and rolled to a standing position. She shifted her shining eyes onto her brother, cocking an eyebrow at her older sibling.
"I know where you sleep, brother."
The older fire daemon chuckled at her quick reaction to Kaziel’s shove, casting a smirk at Aurae. With her face in view, Etriz observed the half-shadowed portion of his young daughter’s face, mirroring the same markings as her mother. "Impressive recovery, little one. But cease threatening Kaziel, even when he deserves it.” He turned to Kaziel. “Your mother is up further on the ridge. She mentioned feeling… uneasy, though she did not say what it was about.”
The fire daemon children glanced at each other before turning their heads to look at the direction of the ridge.
High above the ancient temple where they resided, Azara stood facing the vastness of the wilderness below her, her crimson and ebony cloak billowing in the wind. Her red eyes scanned the tops of the giant oak trees hundreds of feet downward. She brushed her long raven hair out of her view, revealing the black-shadowed part of her face.
Off in the distance, in the nearby village's direction, an enormous plume of smoke grew above the forest. Azara's eyes narrowed in the smoke's path. Every fiber of Azara's senses lit with a familiar dread and apprehension. She recognized, as much as she wanted to deny it, her elemental sister was not far. Azara frowned, irritated that the Faceless Daemon of Shadow did not show herself.
She wasted no time to jump off the ledge where she stood. In a burst of fire against her back, scaly wings sprouted from her spine. She soared downward, shifting at the last moment, her heeled boots touching the stone floor of the broken temple.
"There is smoke coming from the village," she said, urgent as she walked towards her family.
Etriz turned to his wife, the fiery golden ring in his gaze flickering with flames. The children’s eyes widened at the news, both turning to their mother as if ready to rush to the village, but their father stopped them with an outstretched hand. A fire consumed his frame, and once the blaze receded, maroon and gold armor constructed of dragon scales adorned his body. A helmet that resembled that of the top half of a dragon's head concealed his face. The only part of him visible from the headpiece was his eyes burning through the eyeholes.
"You two stay inside the temple. Do not come out under any circumstances, understood?" Etriz said in a stern voice to his offspring while handing the dragon egg to Kaziel to hold.
"But Father—" Aurae protested, but the dark glance her mother cast her silenced her tongue. Their children bowed their heads in respectful obedience, though they hesitated as they watched their parents hurry along the mountain to the town.
Astiroth snapped his whip forward, the great rope circling a woman's waist. With a simple tug of his wrist, the lash tore through her midsection, separating her body in two halves. Streams of blood flowed near Astiroth's feet as he smiled, basking in the enveloping chaos.
A man came speeding up the road with a short sword poised to strike Astiroth. The daemon was the quicker, his large hand wrapping the young man's esophagus as he dug his sharp claw-fingers into the flesh of his tender neck. He sneered into the human's horror-filled face. The man kicked and fought against Astiroth's grasp to free himself. The gray-skinned daemon chuckled at his flailing before he moved his bare fist, gripping the back of the man's skull to hold him in place as Astiroth tore the human's throat out. He dropped the body to the ground, listening to his victim gurgle and choke on his own blood. Astiroth turned his gaze forward, scanning the square for another martyr.
"Where is your so-called savior?" Astiroth howled.
He made his way through the street until he stood at the edge of the road. Astiroth wiped the blood from his face, his black orbs staring out into the nearby forest. Etriz broke through the woods in a rush, stopping in his tracks at the fire that overran the town. His yellow eyes grew more intense as he caught sight of Astiroth standing at the end of the burning village.
Azara stopped beside her husband, her crimson eyes wide at the horrific scene before them. The iron-rich smell of blood violated her senses. She snarled as she raised her hands to extinguish the flames on the buildings when the form of a lean woman with silver hair stepping out from behind one burning home halted her in her tracks.
Niaris looked at Azara with her gleaming white eyes, a wicked smile plastered on her face as she tossed the body of her most recent victim off to the side. Blood coated the Faceless Daemon of Shadow from head to toe, the thick, sticky substance making her unrecognizable.
"Well, well, well... if it isn't my betraying wench of a sister?" Niaris hissed between her fangs, her voice sweet and taunting. "I've been seeking you a long while, Azara. Mother says it's time to come home."
Astiroth looked at the armor-clad dragon-man in front of him, cocking an eyebrow in amusement. He gestured towards Etriz as he glanced to Niaris. "Is this him? He looks ridiculous in that getup. I'll tear him apart as I did his precious village." His baleful gaze shifted over to the other daemoness. "And this must be the alluring Azara? The gods smile upon me today."
A growl resounded in Etriz's throat as he plodded to them. Despite his rage, his warrior-instincts refused to let his anger cloud his reasoning. He recognized these two were dangerous and needed to be handled with care. Astiroth's grasp tightened on his whips as he watched Etriz move towards him and Niaris.
Niaris purred as she continued to stare at the Faceless Daemon of Fire, speaking to her companion, "Do what you wish to the male. I care nothing for him. Azara we must keep alive... even if only just."
Astiroth nodded in understanding as he smirked back at the fire daemon. In the flicker of an eye, Niaris's physical form dissipated, leaving a shadowed being. The figure launched itself at Azara, colliding with her midsection and shooting them both into the enormous trees behind them. The sheer force of the charge caused the dense oak trees they crashed into splinter and tumble with a loud boom.
Astiroth cracked his lash at Etriz, focusing for his ankles. He underestimated the large man's speed, Etriz avoiding the stone whip with ease. Flames engulfed Etriz's fist as he stalked towards his prey while growling, the noise echoing in his helmet, resounding like the bellow of a dragon. Astiroth sneered in frustration as he sent the other switch forward, this time aiming higher at Etriz's neck.
Etriz's hand snatched the lash in the air before it hit his nape. The vine sprung to life, slithering around his grip like a snake and holding fast to his skin. Astiroth yanked back hard, pulling Etriz off his feet into the air, sending him flying towards Astiroth.
As Etriz flew towards him, Astiroth pulled his hand backward, ready to strike Etriz mid-flight. As he started his motion forward to pummel the man into the ground, Etriz swung his armored foot to collide with the side of Astiroth's face. He sent Astiroth flying away from the village, his body tumbling along the ground.
Etriz landed and straightened, glancing back at his wife and the vile woman attacking her. In their struggle, Azara freed herself from the Shadow Daemon's grasp, rolling them over in the air as she slammed Niaris into the ground. The earth shook from the crash, a crater left where they landed.
Niaris lifted a flexible leg between them, thrusting a solid kick into the middle of Azara's chest, sending her flying backward. The Faceless Daemon of Fire collided with the dirt but stood back up a moment later, ignoring the sharp pain in her ribs with every breath she took. Niaris flew for Azara, extending her now visible raven-wings out wide at her sides. Ebony flames licked at her clenched fist as she sent it rushing at Azara's face who ducked low to dodge the attack.
Azara sent her own strike of burning fire towards Niaris's midsection. The Faceless Daemon of Shadow dodged and shot higher in retreat from the assault. Azara did not relent, her crimson eyes smoldering with fury as she opened her mouth in a scream of aggression, built-up energy materializing into a fire as it erupted from her throat. Niaris blocked the blast with her wings, and although the attack wounded her, it did not knock her out of the sky.
Azara kicked off the ground, sending her soaring towards her enemy as her wings spread wide. As the smoke cleared around Niaris, a bolt of blackness supercharged Azara once again. She had no chance to get out of the way. The wind escaped her lungs in a gasp as Niaris collided with her, forcing her downward at neck-breaking speeds. Azara's supernatural power prevented her bones from shattering under Niaris's charge when they smashed into a large boulder. Cracks ran up the rock, a dent remained where Azara's body struck.
Dazed, Azara tried to look up when a hand grabbed her by the throat. The evil daemoness hoisted her high in the air with ease, her other-worldly strength discernible in her vise grip. Niaris's silver eyes glared up at Azara as she squeezed the life out of her. Azara's hands reached up to grab the other daemoness's arms to escape her grasp. When Azara's fingers touched Niaris's forearm, the woman's skin sizzled and popped as smoke ascended. The stink of charred flesh wafted into the air. Niaris howled in agony as she released Azara and fell backward, clutching her burned arm.
"You little wench!" Niaris hissed with pure loathing as she swung her seething gaze on Azara who was now on her feet once more.
Etriz's shoulder collided with Niaris's back, catching her off guard. He sent her soaring to the side, her body skidding across the ground in a heap. He spun around to meet his other opponent, not wanting to let them regain the upper hand. As he turned, Astiroth flung his palms upward towards the sky. Under Etriz's feet, the earth rumbled as two large rock slabs raised on either position of him. They crashed together to crush the warrior between them.
Etriz recognized he was not quick enough to elude this trap as he used his mighty power to hold the plates at bay, though his arms trembled with the effort. The stones continued their pressuring, inching ever closer to squeeze Etriz. Astiroth smirked as he charged toward the helpless daemon, laughing as he held a sword made of sharpened stone gripped in his fist.
A dense, flame-engulfed missile collided with Astiroth hard from the side, sending the crazed man careening off his course. Kaziel, fires still covering his frame, slammed Astiroth into the ground to keep him aside from his father.
Azara, preparing to attack Niaris, looked towards her son with wide eyes. "Kaziel!"
Distracted, she did not note the blackened blade Niaris summoned as she sprinted at her. Azara's orbs widened in shock as the knife slipped through her abdominal wall with efficiency. Stunned by the searing pain coursing through her, her glowing eyes remained full as blood seeped between her parted lips.
"You will face our mistress for the crimes you have committed against her," Niaris hissed in Azara's ear. Niaris twisted the sword further, deepening the agony in her victim’s body. The Faceless Daemoness of Shadow lifted something to dangle it before Azara’s red eyes. It was a tear-drop shaped ruby attached to a long, velvet necklace. The hundreds of faucets within the precious gem sparkled before the woman’s eyes as a powerful energy tugged at Azara’s heart. Azara's body turned into flames, the fires licking at the knife before being sucked into the gem. Niaris sneered at it, a glow emanating from the precious rock before she slipped the jewel into the pouch on her hip.
Astiroth struck the ground hard, creating a small indention into the earth. The hit stunned him for a second, causing his influence on the rock slabs to stop, their force easing against Etriz's arms. The fire daemon pushed the plates away from him, whirling around just in time to witness the blade take his bride.
"No!" he roared as he charged at the daemoness, his judgment clouded by his sole focus on the witch that held Azara. Niaris heard the bellow of denial from the male fire daemon, shifting to see him charge. She laughed at him before she raised a hand, snapping her fingers, and with a blink of an eye, she vanished. Etriz paced the spot Azara once stood, growling in desperation as he looked for the two.
Astiroth stood, looking at Kaziel with a furious expression. "You will regret that, foolish boy!"
He threw his whip at Kaziel's neck, the stone vine wrapping it and squeezing tight. The young daemon roared as he struggled against the collar, thrashing his body. Before Astiroth pulled, two slender hands reached from behind him to sink her nails into his flesh. Aurae, her palms as hot as iron in a blacksmith's forge, growled as smoke wafted from Astiroth's face, his skin bubbling and hissing beneath her grip.
Astiroth roared as he drove his whole body backward, slamming her into a tree behind them. The wood cracked under their weight. Astiroth spun around to grab her throat, yanking her forward and smashing her again into the trunk. Aurae's mind was in a daze as her vision doubled and blurred, unable to concentrate on what was happening before her.
Astiroth's lips curled into a tantalizing grin as he leered at her. The daemon leaned in, his face inches from hers as he inhaled deeply through his nose to take in her aura. He let out a slow, contented sigh.
"I have your scent now. I will make you pay for scarring my face..."
Astiroth lifted his eyes as he noticed her enraged father storming their way. Etriz launched himself at the devil holding his girl. Before he could strike, Astiroth sunk into the ground, dissolving from sight. Etriz wrapped his arms around his daughter in protection, peering back at his son to make sure he was all right. His armor dissipated in wafts of vapor from his body as he held Aurae, tears of rage welling up in his golden eyes. His vision did not leave the spot where his spouse had stood only moments prior.
Kaziel, enraged, stormed the clearing, roaring aloud to no one for the 'cowards' to come to him. The younger male fire daemon turned to his father, his red eyes burning.
"We have to find her!"
Etriz shook his head as he continued to comfort his daughter. "No. You two need to get back to the temple and stay out of sight. Your mother will not wish you to get involved in this. I will search for her."
"You saw what those two are capable of, Father!" Kaziel argued, his fists clenched by his side. "There is no way you can take them on your own!"
Etriz let go of Aurae only to put his hand on the back of his son's head, pressing their foreheads together to calm the fiery young man. "I realize that, my son. But I cannot risk losing you or your sister. There is a reason your mother hid you in the temple. She did so to protect you from something more powerful than her and I."
Aurae spoke up before her brother protested further, "Then what are we to do? Papa, you cannot go after her alone. It is a suicide mission."
Kaziel pulled his head backward to nod. "If this group is as mighty as you say, then we will lose not only our mother but you."
Etriz stood there for a moment, the flames in his eyes dancing from a gentle simmer to a wild blaze and back again as he thought long and hard of what his next move was.
"I need to seek guidance with Krextia. She will know what to do," he looked between both his children, observing the resemblance of their mother in either of them. "My greatest concern is neither of you is safe out in the realms, not even in the sanctuary."
"Krextia knows these people just like Mama. She will know how to protect us from them," Aurae said, her golden eyes lightening at the recall of their aunt, the Faceless Daemon of Wind.
Etriz nodded at his daughter before turning to walk back up the mountain to the temple. "I agree, little one. We must gather our things. Let us make haste."
The children followed him, both glancing once behind their shoulders at the destroyed village.