Evil plans to destroy Etias. The king, known as the Reaper, must save the realms.
Azara groaned as Niaris sent a sharp kick into her side, sprawling the daemoness into the frozen dirt. Azara struggled to get back onto her hands and knees, a chain around her neck glinting in the light of the black moon. Niaris snickered at her sister, approaching her to grab a fist full of her black hair, pulling back Azara's head to stare at her.
"Not so high and mighty without your powers, are you?" the shadow daemoness hissed.
"Enough, Niaris," came Madame Medri's voice as she appeared in the fog.
Niaris turned to glance at their mistress before letting Azara go, giving one last kick to her prone form as she did. She stepped back from Azara, allowing the Madame to step closer to the injured Faceless Daemon of Fire.
"You caused me significant grief," said the lich, her piercing red eyes glaring at Azara. "First you betray me... followed by having offspring. I will enjoy destroying those children of yours before your eyes."
Azara gave a weak glare at her old mistress. "You'll get your hands on them... over my dead body."
"Is that a challenge?" Madame Medri's permanent grin widened at her.
Astiroth chuckled as he stood to the side, watching them. "I dare say so, Mistress." He smirked, staring at Azara, his stark black eyes of a mad-man. Astiroth shifted to Azara's height to get at eye level with her. "I hold your daughter's scent. She can't escape me now. I pride myself in tracking my prey. She is such a sweet little thing... I wonder how long she will last, compared to my other victims?"
Azara lifted her gaze to the evil man as she gave a weak but confident smirk. "If you were ever foolish enough to lay your filthy hands on my daughter... I can assure you, you will suffer. Not in any pleasurable way as I realize someone as deranged as you enjoy."
"We will see. I promise you even if that were the case, I shall scar her mind and body before I am ever destroyed. She may never step outside again from the fear and pain I will cause her. And the other cocky little brat of yours… I want his skin as my throw rug. Maybe along with your mate's head mounted on my wall."
Azara's eyes did not express emotion, her smirk remaining stretched on her lips before she spat in his face to emphasize her point. Astiroth snarled as he swung a hand forward, his sharp fingers striking her across the face to send her sprawled onto the ground. He stood up, kicking into her abdomen. He wiped the spit from his face, pulling his hand back as his whip formed in his grasp, preparing to strike her again.
"Whore! I'll show you scarred!"
"Enough," Madame Medri growled at him, her tone leaving no room for debate. She looked back at Azara, waving a hand outward as the daemoness's body vanished into flames, retreating into the gem on the necklace clenched in the lich’s grasp.
"I hate that female as much as ever," said Niaris as she examined her fingernails.
Astiroth seethed but knew better than to disobey the one person who held the ability to make him more powerful. He let the whip fall to the ground as it slithered into a crack. He turned to Niaris and Madame Medri, closing his eyes for a moment to collect his enraged thoughts.
"Mistress, I request Azara's daughter be mine to annihilate. I want to teach the wench a lesson for scarring my face the way she did."
The Madame turned her gaze to him. "Very well. You may have the daughter. But not now. The family will be on alert, and no doubt will receive aide to find Azara."
Niaris walked over to sit on a nearby tombstone as she looked at them both. "What now, then?"
"We will continue our negotiations with Xarsunon and the others, while we grow our army until we are ready to strike the throne.”
Astiroth lifted his gaze, his thoughts not on the conversation at hand. "Those two children... they overpowered me. How did they carry out such a thing? I am never caught by surprise."
Niaris spoke in a mocking tone to Astiroth, "Until now, that is. That is because they are the offspring of two powerful beings. Two sources of power mating will bring forth a child of great strength. That's why they could overpower you."
Astiroth scowled at Niaris, but his eyes flickered as an idea came across his thoughts. He stared hard at the female, his scowl turning into a wide grin as his eyes scanned her womanly curves. "Yes, that's it..."
The Faceless Daemoness folded her arms over her chest as she cocked an eyebrow at his expression. "What is that look?"
Astiroth stepped closer to her as he spoke, the tone of his voice lowering to one of seduction, "Two beings of great power creating an offspring… imagine one from us? The power that the child would hold."
"You are suggesting you mate with Niaris to bring forth a child of power?" Madame Medri did not dismiss the idea but contemplate as she stared at the two.
Astiroth never removed his gaze from Niaris as he answered, "Mistress, envision the power of a child with three elements under their control. Fire, earth..." his eyes narrowed at Niaris as he added, "and shadows. That child will contain strength the likes of which the world has never seen."
Madame Medri paused, mulling the idea over. She glanced at the cracked statue looming by them. The dark eyes turned red, and faint whispers crept around them. The lich stared at the bust, listening to the whispers coming from the dark statue. Finally, she turned back to the pair. "A secret weapon… a vessel. Azara's children will never fight for our cause, but one that destroys from birth…" Her voice trailed off, the thought lingering in the air.
Astiroth nodded, sliding his tongue across his teeth. "I will keep him here and train him until he is ready to do your bidding, Mistress."
"I do not want to care for a brat," Niaris snapped, unhappy at the prospect.
A stone slab shot up from the ground behind Niaris. Astiroth placed his hand beside her head, his eyes still boring into hers. Niaris cocked an eyebrow at him as she leaned back at the now appeared stone behind her. She did not dismiss a liaison with Astiroth, as she believed he may be one of the few in the realms that held a chance to satisfy her sexually. But bearing a child still did not please her.
"I agree," said the Madame, catching Niaris off guard. "Just as Azara birthed two children of great power, you will bear an even stronger offspring. And we will raise him to use his might, unlike her brats. He will be the key that we need to strike against the throne." Madame Medri chuckled at Niaris's expression of annoyance. "Come now, Niaris. You will enjoy this."
Their mistress lifted her hand, disappearing into the fog. Astiroth smirked as he reached to yank Niaris's hands up, pinning them against the stone above her head.
"Let us begin… we have a world-conqueror to create," Astiroth hissed with lust.
High above the sky loomed the blood moon, casting its ominous glow across the land.
Krextia moved from behind the bedroom curtain where she helped tuck the daemon children to bed, returning to the small living room. She looked over at Etriz with sympathy in her glowing white eyes as he sat before the fire lit in the mantel.
The wind daemoness pushed her braided blonde hair over the front of her shoulder as she stepped to gather the tea she crafted before the fire family arrived at her home. She walked over to sit beside her friend.
"Everything will be okay. Azara is strong and stubborn. She will not let the likes of them defeat her," she said to the man, scrutinizing his expression. Etriz sighed, placing his face into his hands, the weight of failure upon his shoulders.
"I realize she is, but I failed... Not only did I not keep the village and its people safe, but I didn't protect my family from harm." He lifted his gaze, staring deep into the fire as if expecting it to offer him a solution to rid himself of the guilt in his heart. "I cannot take on Niaris and that man by myself. The man... Who is he? Azara never mentioned such a being."
Etriz turned his head, looking at Krextia with exhaustion embedded in his gaze. He refused to sleep, fearful that the dangerous duo would return and attack his family again while he slumbered. She shook her head as she offered him the second cup of tea, picking up her own.
"I never heard of this man. He is not one of Madame Medri's usual lackeys. He must be someone she found... he sounds dangerous," the firelight glinted off the shadow on the upper part of her face, "she let Azara be for centuries... so why come back now? The Madame must be planning something."
Etriz took the tea with a nod of thanks, leaning into the furniture and drew a slow swig. He gazed back at the fire, the blaze in his own eyes dulled with exhaustion and worry. "She has them and gods know what else behind her. Now she has Azara. Who knows how she will control my wife for her plans?”
Krextia shifted before letting out a heavy sigh after taking a sip of her tea. "Unfortunately, I know how she will use Azara. It's how she controlled us before we escaped."
An expression of worry crossed over Etriz's face, understanding the implications of Krextia's words. If Madame Medri took control over Azara as she did before, he knew a battle with his wife would be eminent. He never fought against his wife, other than the sparring matches they often shared.
"Before we attempt to find Azara, we need to place the children somewhere safe. They aren't ready for this... and I can't bear to lose them too."
Krextia paused for a long moment as she stared at her tea. "The children can stay here while we sort out what to do for her."
Etriz's golden eyes drifted from the fire to the side where the dragon egg sat on a small cloth.
Krextia looked from him to the egg. "I hate to intrude on your private matters, but... why do you carry that egg?"
Etriz tore his eyes away from the egg back at the woman. "No need to apologize."
He stood, placing his tea on the table as he walked over to the egg. He put his hand on the scaled surface. "I was young when my village was ransacked, and they wounded my mother. She escaped with me. She stumbled across a cave with an elder dragon living within. As her dying plea, she begged the dragon to care for me. The dragon obeyed my mother's wishes by raising me and training me to fight.”
He lifted his tunic just enough to show the faint marking of an abstract dragon that covered the whole right half of his body. The head started below his collarbone with the tail ending on his ankle. "The elder dragon gifted me with this once I was ready. My natural fire abilities increased tenfold, and I found I can communicate with dragons in their native tongue."
Krextia examined the tattoo, tilting her head as she sipped on her fresh cup of tea. "I assume then your guardian was a fire dragon? Those are the most hotheaded," she smiled at herself for the joke.
Etriz smirked at her humor. He lifted a hand, producing a small flame in his palm. As he did, the markings on his side shined a brilliant gold color. When he distinguished the blaze, the glow disappeared. He let his tunic fall as he nodded.
"He was a fire dragon. As much as he taught me, he left me with just as many questions." The male fire daemon paused, pondering over the memories of his guardian. "He died of old age. Before his death, he instructed me to use his scales as a new coat of armor, as dragon scales are the strongest material in the world. After my state of grief, as I collected the scales, I found this egg buried beneath them. He never mentioned it, but I carry and protect the egg every day since his passing."
He lifted the scale-covered egg that shown an iridescent glow from the flames. Krextia listened to his tale, sipping at her tea as she did. Her white eyes examined the egg, studying its features.
"I imagine that you received it years ago... long before you met Azara, correct? The thing never moved? Nothing ever hatched?”
Etriz nodded, using his tunic to polish the egg from the faint dust particles that collected on it. "I have had it for near to five-hundred years. It has never so much as twitched, but I am connected to it as I was the elder dragon who raised me. I will never let it leave my side."
Krextia nodded in understanding as she stood up to get herself more tea. "Your mentioning of the dragons is interesting, as there are rumors that the dragons are stirring.”
Etriz cocked an eyebrow at her. He placed the egg back beside the fire before turning his gaze to Krextia. “Stirring? How so?”
“They are attacking innocent people,” said Krextia, her expression grave. “They have been breaking the Equinox Concordant. No one knows why. However, I find it odd that Madame Medri’s sudden attack and these dragons are happening at the same time. It can’t be a coincidence. Since you speak draconic, perhaps there is a dragon around this area who knows what is happening?”
Etriz turned to the window, gazing out into the darkness. "That depends on what dragon we speak to. A few are easy to track if you know where to look.”
The Faceless Daemon of Wind brought a finger to her chin, her white eyes looking up towards the ceiling as she pondered. "I believe a blue dragon lives relatively close to this area.”
Etriz moved towards her as he folded his arms over his chest. "Then if you agree to go with me, we will seek this blue dragon in the morning."
Krextia placed a hand on her hip as she looked up at him. "Very well. But if I am eaten by any dragons, I will have the Reaper bring my spirit back to haunt you." She gave a wide grin, a characteristic trait of hers.
Her humor lifted his spirits, allowing his troubled mind to ease. "You are a wonderful friend, Krextia. I am in your debt for your help." He sat back in his chair, his body appeared relaxed with the fire returned to his eyes. He smiled at her before taking another swig of his tea. "My children have a wonderful aunt."
"Your children tell me that often," Krextia said with a stretch of her slender frame, lifting her arms high above her head. "Try to sleep tonight. You won't be useful if you're exhausted." She gave another smile before she turned to disappear into her room.
Etriz nodded as Krextia departed. As much as he wanted to rest, he could not. He spent most of the night staring into the fire and glancing at the egg by it. His mind focused on Azara, thinking back on happier times together. Finally, fatigue got the best of him, forcing him to shut his eyes.
"I will see you again, my love," he murmured into the darkness of the room as he drifted off to dreams of his wife.
Once the children settled, Krextia and Etriz began their search for the dragon north of their location, staying near high altitudes as dragons frequented mountainsides. The woman shivered from the bitter wind, despite her thick, white fur coat around her shoulders.
She lifted a hand, and at her command, the wind ceased to blow around her general proximity. She heaved a great sigh as she continued up the mountain.
"Azara owes me for this," she grumbled to herself. "She knows I don't enjoy the cold."
"I swear to you, Krextia, that we both are in your debt," Etriz said. He remained a few paces behind her, adorning his dragon-scaled armor once more. The heat emanating from the scales prevented the bitter coldness from nipping at his skin. He carried with him the dragon egg nestled in a leather satchel on his side. They pounded forward through the snow, Etriz's yellow eyes scanning the skyline and the ridges of the mountain for any glimpse of what could be a dragon.
Krextia moved forward still until the pathway became too narrow to continue straight. It forced her to hug the stone wall as she slid her body along the narrow ridge, grumbling to herself as she glanced to the valley far below them. She sighed as she braced the wall harder, easing along her path.
When she turned around the corner, she noted a large ledge that led to a cave. She hurried along before stepping out before the mouth of the cavern, glancing around with her white eyes.
"This looks big enough to fit a dragon," she whispered. Even at her low volume, her voice echoed into the cave.
Etriz moved to her side, glancing inward at the cavern. He noted the size of it was near the same as the elder dragon's that raised him.
"I believe this is it," Etriz said as he moved into the cavern. As he neared the entrance, the egg that remained dormant for many years gave a hard jolt. Etriz stared in amazement before he looked at Krextia.
"I say that is a confirmation. It has never moved until now."
Krextia raised an eyebrow at the egg before looking back up at him. "Does it know when a dragon is nearby?"
Etriz gave a shrug, unable to offer any answers. A low grumble from inside the cavern caught their attention, turning their eyes back to the darkness of the cave. Etriz hesitated for a moment before inching his way forward to investigate. His eyes darted around the walls, keenly aware of any movement.
The low growling grew louder when, from out of the darkness, a giant blue dragon claw stepped forward, followed by a mammoth-sized head. The deep vibrant blue of the dragon's scales shone even in the cavern's darkness. The lizard turned its icy blue eyes on the two intruders.
"Svaust beviri lekar wer okarthel di Nyvet, sargt di wer myvillion?" the deep voice snarled.
Etriz's eyes lifted to the top of the towering creature before him. He understood the dragon's language. He sensed the warmth of his dragon marking on his side intensify before he responded in the common tongue.
"I am Etriz Arkan. This is my friend, Krextia. We come to seek your great wisdom, Nyvet, Guardian of the North."
He gave a short bow, the dragon-scale armor shining brighter than usual. The egg at his side gave another hard tremble. Etriz kept his attention towards Nyvet, not wanting to give the impression that something else was more important than the dangerous lizard before him. Nyvet turned his blue eyes on the fire daemon, lowering his massive head to eye-level. His icy breath compared with the mountainside he resided.
"Why do you wear the skin of a darastrix, mortal?" the dragon sneered in the common tongue, his thin pupils narrowing into dangerous slits. Etriz sensed a shiver run along his spine. This surprised him as his natural hot-tempered race, and the protecting dragon scales always prevented the coldness from reaching him.
Even the egg appeared to sense the biting chill as the thing shivered against his hip. Etriz stood unwavering as he spoke in draconic as an attempt to show respect for the dragon, "An elder dragon in the south gifted the scales. He raised and mentored me in the ways of the darastrix, Guardian Nyvet."
This caught the dragon's attention, moving its long snout closer to Etriz, sniffing at him and his scales. Etriz didn't move, allowing the mighty beast to take in his scent.
"Yes... I recognize that scent," Nyvet said in the common-tongue as he lifted his long neck up, eying the two. "Undry, Protector of the Forest… I have not heard of tales of him in many a century."
Etriz’s heart leaped at the sound of Undry's name being spoken out loud. He had not uttered the name in centuries, the title a faded memory in his mind.
"After Undry's passing, I continued protecting that same forest as he did, near to five centuries since his presence last graced the realms."
The egg gave another hard twitch, shifting its position to slide out of Etriz's satchel. Etriz bolted to catch the egg before hitting the ground. Nyvet stared at the egg in the fire daemon's hands.
"Place the egg on the ground," the blue dragon commanded. Krextia glanced at Etriz before looking back up at Nyvet. Etriz hesitated for a moment before he heeded the lizard's instructions. He set the delicate egg down before he took a step back.
The egg jerked and rolled towards the blue dragon. Nyvet lowered his great head once again, eying the egg and its movements in quiet observation. The great dragon exhaled, blowing a coldness over the egg, extending his power to the contents within the shell.
The egg shivered from the breath before hopping several inches in the air. It continued to jolt back and forth before a loud crack echoed throughout the cavern. The egg's scaled outer shell shifted, and a piece fell away. A soft noise squeaked from within the casing, followed by a shrill screech.
The blue dragon lifted a giant claw, prodding a piece of the shell away to show more of the contents.
"Confn ekik, sart ir," Nyvet said out loud, reverting to the draconic tongue.
"Come out, small one?" Etriz translated, his heart thumping in his chest as he stared at the egg. Another shifting motion displayed a small, red, and gold baby dragon. Its scales glistened with an inner flame, even in the dim light. The dragon screeched once more before lifting just its head, blinking open its large eyes at Nyvet.
The baby dragon opened its mouth wide and breathed, sending out small sparks. Thin tufts of smoke filtered from its nostrils, letting out a high-pitched growl. Etriz's eyes widened in shock, realizing the tiny thing appeared as a smaller, younger version of Undry.
"Such a sweet little one!" Krextia cooed as she clasped her hands together, her white eyes sparkling at the baby.
Nyvet leaned his head back again to allow Etriz a full view of the tiny dragon. "Darastrixi... we do not die of old age. No. We are like the phoenix - reborn again to grow and live our lives anew. This is how we are eternal."
Etriz kneeled beside the egg for closer examination. The small red and gold dragon turned its head towards him while unfurling from its curled state. It tilted its head at Etriz, omitting a slight cooing noise while lifting its body up, stretching out its tiny wings. Etriz looked up at Nyvet, stunned and at a loss for words.
"Are you saying... this baby... is Undry born again? Why did he not tell me this, Guardian Nyvet?"
The blue dragon nodded. "Yes, mortal. A hatchling must be near a grown darastrix to come forth." Nyvet appeared to shrug as he shifted on his large feet. "It is possible he wanted you to discover this on your own."
Etriz smiled in astonishment as he reached out for the baby dragon. "Undry, even after this time, you still teach me."
The baby dragon hopped onto Etriz's hand and clambered along his arm, perching himself on the top of the fire daemon's helmet. Etriz's scaled armor appeared to have a renewed glow when the baby settled on him. Nyvet chuckled, which came out as a deep rumble that shook the ground beneath their feet. Krextia stared at the baby dragon before turning her white eyes back to the Guardian of the North.
"Guardian... we come to request information."
Nyvet turned his blue eyes on the female now, his large nostrils flaring as he took in her scent. "I recognize you." His blue eyes narrowed in focus on her. "You are a creature from the Elemental Plane of Wind, are you not? But an evil monster created you... one who has sided with Xarsunon."
"Xarsunon?" Krextia questioned, the name ringing memories from long ago.
Nyvet's scowl was evident as he lowered his head to her level. "Xarsunon the Undead Dragon King, a monstrosity to the darastrixi.” The great dragon gestured with his head to the eggshell on the ground. "Darastrixi are aware they will die and be reborn unless their souls are destroyed before rebirth. Xarsunon was not content with such a fate. He never wanted to die or pass through the stages of rebirth. The Undead Dragon King is a lich, just as the Reaper and Madame Medri. Unless one were to destroy the phylactery of Xarsunon, the item that contains his soul, that perversion of the darastrixi could never perish. However, he no longer has a physical body, as it was destroyed during the Great War. No one knows where the phylactery is.”
Etriz's face twisted with confusion before long-forgotten memories came back to him. He turned his golden eyes back to Nyvet. "Undry told me of such a being long ago.”
The baby dragon on his head perked at the mention of Undry's name. It leaned its head over the face of the mask to make eye contact with the fire daemon.
"Yes, your name is Undry," Etriz confirmed to the dragon who made a clicking noise of excitement before settling back on his perch. He looked back at the Guardian of the North. “If the evil witch Madame and Xarsunon are in ties with each other, then she has a mighty army by her side. Guardian Nyvet, do you know anything about the recent dragon attacks?”
"That is beyond my knowledge," Nyvet said with a shake of his giant head. "But if Madame Medri and the dragon-lich are working together once more... it can only mean doom for the rest of us.”
Etriz stood tall as he looked back at Krextia. "Do you know anything?”
“I… know very little,” Krextia said with a shake of her head. “Madame Medri ensured us Faceless Daemons were kept ignorant of her plans.”
Etriz turned to Nyvet and bowed, forgetting for a moment the baby dragon perched on his shoulder. The baby sprung to life, scrambling to grab onto Etriz's shoulder pauldron to prevent from falling. Etriz stood up straight and used his hand to nudge Undry onto his shoulder.
"Then we must start the search for this Xarsunon and Madame Medri’s ties to him. Nyvet, Guardian of the North, thank you for your wisdom. I am forever in your debt."
"Should the need arise, I will fight against Xarsunon and Madame Medri," said Nyvet with a bow of his great head. "Good luck, to the both of you."