Evil plans to destroy Etias. The king, known as the Reaper, must save the realms.
Prince Kyvan Andurth, now a grown man, inhaled through his nose, taking in the heavy air around him before exhaling between parched lips. His eyes remained closed throughout his short meditation, the small crackles of burning candles the only sound in his ears. He let his eyelids slide open to stare at the ritual ring set before him. Prince Kyvan shrugged off his black robes, the servants behind him, carrying them away without a word.
They stripped him to the waist, his pale skin reflecting off the torchlight that hung off sconces from the dungeon walls. His bare feet padded across the stone ground as he stepped up onto the pedestal of the necromantic ritual display. He turned his pupilless blue orbs to view a cloaked figure standing off near the shadows of the room, watching him.
Kyvan said nothing as he moved to lie flat on his back on the stone floor, ignoring the shivers that ran up his spine from the sudden chill that came over him. He stared at the ceiling as he continued his meditative breathing, focusing on it as the cloaked figure inched towards him. A white skeleton hand lifted, holding a thick black book.
"Are you ready, Prince Kyvan of Etias?" the Reaper asked.
With a slow nod, the king moved to open the large book to a specific section. He raised his free hand as he chanted in an ancient Archean language. Kyvan hissed between clenched teeth as an invisible force pushed his head further against the stone pedestal. He felt a deep pressure in his chest as his fists clenched to the point of whitening knuckles.
He tried to close his piercing blue eyes, but something forced them back open again as he let out a scream of pain. The lich raised a long blade attached to a pole - a scythe, the curled deadly tip catching the glinting torchlight. This scythe was designed different from his own, with a second smaller blade attached to on the pole parallel to the larger knife.
In his agony, Kyvan turned his blue eyes to stare at the weapon. The skeleton lowered the tip of the blade to Kyvan's forehead, and the moment the metal contacted his skin, his body lurched backward. His eyes turned a solid electric blue, similar shades of colored light emanating from his mouth and nose.
Wisps of vapor poured from his eyes and mouth, an otherworldly screech resonating from deep in his chest. The Reaper did not flinch, holding the scythe against the prince's forehead with determination. The blade shifted in color to match the same hue that came from Kyvan's features. Blue mist swirled around the edge like a hand grabbing hold. Blood trickled along the prince's forehead as the sharp edge of the scythe cut into his skin.
As quick as it began, it ended. Kyvan's body went limp as his eyes closed when the light disappeared from them. The monarch raised the scythe up, the swirling blue light still glowing within the blade.
"Take the prince to his chambers to rest," the Reaper commanded. From the shadows, the servants stepped out to help the unconscious man, carrying him out of the room. The ancient lich examined them take the prince away, and from beneath his hood, two piercing orbs of light burned in the darkness cast by the cowl.
A long oak table stretched across the room to provide enough seating for the twenty members of the Elders, the advising council for the king. Each Elder was a voted representative for the various races among the realms. They sat in their usual seating arrangements, everyone's eyes at the skeletal figure at the head of the table.
The Reaper, his glowing red eyes staring out at them, leaned back in his chair and pressed the tips of his bone fingers together in contemplation.
"What do you wish to ask me?" the king asked.
"Your Highness, we must ask... Prince Kyvan? You did not choose your son, but your grandson, to succeed you as the heir. We wish to know the reason behind your decision."
The Reaper turned his hooded head to look to his advisers one by one though none would make direct eye contact with him.
"I have my reasons for choosing my grandson to take my place on the throne. Those reasons are mine and mine alone. If I share them amongst you that will be my prerogative. Until the day comes, I expect you to accept my will without question. Is that understood?"
"Yes, my Lord," the group said in unison as they bowed their heads in respect.
"Good, now leave me."
Without another word, the group left the Reaper in the gathering hall alone at the head of the large table to contemplate on his thoughts. For near an hour, he sat, his gleaming red eyes staring off into nothing as he pondered the events from earlier.
A soft knock on the door broke him from his concentration. He knew who it was before the woman entered. However, she felt the need to announce her presence, regardless.
"I apologize for disturbing you, Father," Lady Syllia, Kyvan's mother, announced as she swept into the room. Syllia married the Reaper's son, Xanthus, many years prior through an arrangement made with a nobleman, the beautiful woman having grown surrounded by the high society of Dragonbreak, Etias’s capital city. Though not his daughter by blood, the old lich was fond of Syllia as if she was his own.
"Apologies are unnecessary, Lady Syllia. Please, sit," the specter gestured to the seat beside him. The elegant woman obliged, sitting straight as she looked at him with a worried expression.
"I am concerned about Kyvan. Did he do well in his transition?"
The old lich anticipated she would question the ritual performed earlier. It would worry any mother about their child when dealing with such a stressful transformation. It was a ceremony which sealed Kyvan's soul with his phylactery, though it had been hundreds of years since its last execution.
"He did," the Reaper assured her, reaching out to pat a bone hand against hers. "There is no need to fret."
Lady Syllia relaxed as the tension in her shoulders released. "I must admit that I am still uncertain about your decision with his being the heir."
"I understand your apprehension," said the Reaper, not bothered by his daughter-in-law's questioning.
"Kyvan is a powerful necromancer. I do not doubt his abilities to take over as king when the time is right."
"When will that happen?" Lady Syllia asked, her hands wrung together in her lap.
"That is still yet to be decided."
The Lady of the castle let out a heavy sigh as her shoulders slumped once more. She feared she would never rest as Kyvan was in the throes of his ascension. Or worse… what if Kyvan never brought an heir before something tragic happened?
"We must find him a wife, so she bears his son soon," Syllia perked at the idea, giving a bright smile. If the Reaper had any eyebrows to raise, he would have done so then.
"I would imagine that would be more stressful to the prince than entering lichdom," said the Reaper. "Let him be, Syllia. Kyvan will enter a union and become a father when the time is right."
"No, Father... he is the only bloodline left. He cannot dawdle on something as important as this," said Lady Syllia as she stood to her feet. "And before he ends up impregnating one of his whores."
The Reaper sighed and shook his hooded head. "I will leave this debate between you two."
He waved a hand to dismiss her. She bowed once more and left the room.
White, fluffy tufts of clouds drifted across an otherwise endless canvas of the perfect blue sky. A thick layer of holly, oak, and ash trees wove the radiant forest together. The crowns of older, taller oaks emerged above, towering as watchful giants over the rest of the woods. Rays of light burst through their tops, reaching a range of young saplings in the understory layer, as they struggled to take hold in the stony ground.
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 occasional cries of birds of prey.
To the untrained eye, the dark form that now moved across the vastness of this landscape could be confused with the massive shadow of one of those birds of prey. But blood-red scales, iridescent underneath the noon sun told another story. As narrowed, red eyes set within a bony, angular skull, complete with two thick, angular nostrils and a flat nose. A thick, muscular neck ran from its head and into a rippled, bulky body that glistened with crimson scales, acting as armor plating its spine. Smooth leather covered the bottom part of the creature, colored darker than the rest of its body.
Massive wings grew from below its shoulders and ended at its pelvis. Thick leather stretched across the appendages with eerie bone structures and curved points rising from the end as giant scythes. Its tail held a razor-edged tip and covered in the same crystal 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 unmistakable, as it circled, dipped and dived across the firmament.
In the forest floor below, a woman pushed through a thorny thicket and paused. With a glance 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 noticeable.
"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 she strapped her prized bow, Aicanáro the Soul Scorcher, and matching quiver 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 the 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 around, calling again,
She squinted her eyes at the sudden light from the exposure of the sun, considering her surroundings. From her high vantage, she observed their tiny village, SilentForest, to the southwest and not far away. She clambered back 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 a half a foot taller than her now, with wide-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. Bleiz's eyes enclosed a bright amber color around the pupil which balanced with a ring of honey-brown. The young man's gait showed a careful, seasoned warrior.
"SilentForest is a short way from here," Melina stated, ignoring her brother's question. She gestured in the town's direction before she shifted to 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 opened to a patch of blue sky. Melina stopped to glance up at the stratosphere for a moment, returning to a compelling, nagging feeling that something above them demanded attention. Bleiz strode a few more paces forward before noticing she stayed behind him. 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. He narrowed his eyes as he stood straight. The dark shape swept closer and closer towards them, moving at a high rate of 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, swallowed by mounting embers. The blaze, soon all-consuming, filled the forest with thick, smothering smoke. Melina and Bleiz tumbled out of the woods with the dragon right on their heels. Enormous red wings destroyed tree trunks with absolute ease as another deep intake of breath resulted in flames building inside its chest cavity. With another roar, the fiery inferno erupted past a range of sharpened fangs, headed right for the fleeing pair.
Flames caught Melina's cloak, igniting the fabric. The sudden, fiery heat on her back caused her to stumble. She performed a somersault in the dirt and in a seamless motion, unclasped her cloak and threw it free from her body. Bleiz ran ahead at first, not realizing what happened until he came to a screeching halt, spinning around to see his sister,
Melina got on her knees, facing the monstrous beast hovering menacingly above her. Without looking back, Melina reached 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 shaft into the bowstring with practiced ease. With 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. It knocked the beast senseless, shaking its monolithic head 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 as his sister's weapon, he possessed an 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.
"Damn!" he hissed between clenched teeth. He glanced towards Melina as she struggled to return to her feet despite her severe wound. Her bow flew 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 towards its defenseless prey. Like a snake ready to strike, it leaned its head back, massive jaws distended to show rows of razor-sharp teeth. A deep, growling hiss rumbled...
In this commotion, it deafened the sound of pounding, approaching horse hooves. Someone hoisted Melina up into the air, seconds before the beast snapped its mouth on the spot where she once sat. She let out a scream of shock, plopped on 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 a 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. Vambraces shielded his lower limbs with two blades attached on each outer side, sharpened for a weapon.
Two layers of the same colored metal created the breastplate, mimicking dragon scales along with the sigil of the Royal Family imprinted in the center. It covered everything from his neck downward. A rounded cuisse covered his upper legs while greaves with a skull-shaped metal ornament piece on each outer side protected his lower extremities. On his hip rested his sheathed blade. The cross-guard held 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 all right?"
He did not wait for an answer. He hopped off the horse while unsheathing his blade in one swift motion. With a quick smack to the steed's rump, he sent Melina out of the fight. The injured woman supported herself against the muscled neck of the mount, one hand pressed against her 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, undeterred by the newcomer, opened its jaw wide again to snap its mouth around the warrior. He was the quicker, sliding under its head to position himself under the more vulnerable underbelly. He stabbed his broadsword upwards to slice the blade through the softer tissue with ease.
With a painful howl, the dragon reared up to avoid another strike from that wicked blade. This placed the monster in perfect alignment with Bleiz's next arrow, as the pointed-tip slid deep into the crimson of the dragon's left eye. The now half-blinded beast tried blowing fire sightless at its surroundings to incinerate the humans.
With the dragon's focus elsewhere, the knight wrapped his hand around one of its horns atop its head. He swung his body on top of the dragon's head, kneeling between its eyes. He lifted the blade above his head, thrusting it into the beast's skull. Blood and brain matter coated him as the dragon shuddered beneath him. With a thunderous bang, its massive 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 surrounding destruction. With agility fitting to a ranger, Bleiz scaled the side of the building to reach the ground. He ignored the knight as he ran to his injured sister who remained propped on the horse, teetering on consciousness.
"Melina, keep your eyes open!" her brother demanded of her, forcing her to turn blurry gaze towards him.
"Please, allow me to take her to my healers, they can help her," said the knight from behind Bleiz. The younger man turned to glare at him, not 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 said. Before Bleiz barked 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 kneeled over her in shock, the fear of losing her consuming him.
Without looking back at the knight, he said in a hushed, hoarse voice, "Very well... take her to your healers."