The enemy is at the gates, and Arina holds the key that could could save everyone
|Arina’s Last Hope
Arina struggled to keep herself from fidgeting as she awaited the appearance of the seer. The readings, cast at midnight on the night before, alarmed her enough that she had to come here – she had to know. So there she sat, inside a gaudy pavilion tent south of the grand market, waiting. She didn’t have long to wait, because, at that moment, the curtains stirred and an emaciated hand beckoned her into the reading chamber. She rose without a word and followed her into the dimly lit bowels of the seer’s sanctum.
As she crossed the threshold, the crone’s hand grasped her forearm and led her across the room to a wood-framed canvas stool. Diaphanous wisps of sweet scented smoke lingered lazily in the air all around her, obscuring her vision to the point that she could barely make out the walls that were only ten feet distant. The effect was disconcerting, as if the outside world had vanished, and all that remained was a broad, shallow silver bowl filled with water on the rug in front of her, with tall, slender candlesticks sitting on either side of it. The old crone took a seat across from her.
Arina had no idea how old this woman was, but to call her ancient would have been a gross understatement. She wore a beige robe that gathered about her in a myriad of folds that resembled those on her face. To Arina, it seemed that she must have lived three or four lifetimes to accumulate such a collection of wrinkles. Most appalling, however, was the flesh stretched across the hollow emptiness of her vacant eye sockets. Her blindness was her curse and her blessing, as she was unable to see the visions that she showed her customers, despite all the power of her ability.
Arina started to speak, but the crone held up a single knobby finger to ensure her silence. The hand extended, and Arina reached her own out in response. The withered fingers caressed her own turning it so that her palm was exposed. Then, in a flash of movement she could barely see, much less react to, the crone pulled a tiny blade from her sleeve and slashed Arina’s palm. She instinctively pulled away, but the seer held her in an iron grip. The blood pooled in the palm of her hand before she felt any pain, and the crone guided the hand as drops of blood fell into the bowl. Rather than sink, however, the blood remained floating on the surface of the water, expanding unnaturally until it formed a thin red sheen. The crone closed Arina’s hand into a fist to staunch the flow of blood and then leaned forward to blow gently across the liquid’s surface.
As Arina gazed into the depths of the bowl, her vision wavered. A moment later, she was flying across the peaks that made up the mountain range referred to as “The Dragon’s Teeth”. She dove down between two of the behemoths, and the city of Myridon stretched before her. Constructed entirely of stone, with its main keep built within the mountain itself, the city looked as if it could pass a hundred millennia and still look the same. On she flew, past the twenty feet thick, sixty foot high ‘Dragon Wall’ that enclosed the city, and across the army outside the wall; an obsidian sea that lapped up against it with tidal force. The number of black armored figures was incalculable; they were more numerous than grains of sand on a beach. Brilliant flashes of sunlight off honed steel blades reinforced the image of the beautiful, razor edged stone.
As she turned, she saw gouts of flame pouring out over the wall, incinerating small patches of enemies, but the obsidian sea quenched the flames and flowed in quickly to refill the gap. Catapults flung scores of stones into the maelstrom, but their effects were as insignificant as a bucket of water on a forest fire. She flew back across the wall and the city, continuing up the slope to the main keep and beyond. Above the keep, just below the snow line, was a large shelf standing at the mouth of an immense cave. The stone of the shelf was barely discernable because of the dragons crowded on its surface. A core of five red dragons stood at the center of each phalanx of dragons, with five green dragons on each side as flankers. Each dragon, green and red alike, bore an armored rider with a lance twice the length of a man. They were a magnificent sight to behold: The Dragon Riders of Myridon. A great bellow resounded from within the cave, and they began to take to the air. In minutes, the first five phalanxes were airborne, speeding down the slope toward an engagement with an enemy that sought their utter annihilation.
Another bellow sounded, and five more phalanxes exited the cave and took to the sky. After they had taken off, a massive form approached the cave mouth. The stone shelf trembled as a gigantic blue dragon stepped out into the light of day. His scales glistened, and atop his back sat a knight that was as impressive as his mount. Mithril plate armor encased the Lord Commander’s pure, white tabard emblazoned across it, the sigil of the Dragon Knights shone in the brilliant light like a beacon of hope. Rather than a lance, he carried a jewel-encrusted staff. The huge blue reared back on its hind legs and let out a great bellow that echoed across the city before leaping upward and taking to the sky.
As the flights of dragons neared the Dragon Wall, a great cheer erupted from the defenders massed there. Seconds later, they were soaring over the obsidian sea, spewing great swaths of fire upon the defenseless multitudes. Immune to the arrows that deflected off their adamantine hide, the dragons attacked with impunity, and the knights began to hope that they might carry the day.
The bellow of their leader diverted their attention just in time to see a dark cloud approaching. Suddenly the air was filled with hundreds of Harpies, their raptor claws tearing at the dragons’ scaled hides with astonishing ferociousness. The fact that their heads and bodies resembled those of human women caused the knights to hesitate. The effect was devastating. Bodies fell from the sky as riders were torn from their mounts. Severed wing tendons caused a number of dragons to spiral to their doom. The harpies were so close that lances were no longer effective, and flaming breath would undoubtedly hurt as many friends as foes. The knights tried to use swords to fend off the monstrosities, but the harpies were so agile that they could easily avoid their reach.
The massive blue bellowed a command, and the remaining dragons and their knights retreated. In their wake, the blue came barreling toward the harpies. As he roared, sparks of electricity began to flash around his head, building energy with every beat of his wings. When he got within fifty yards of the first harpies, he released a sizzling bolt of electricity that shot forward in a blinding flash. The first wave of harpies hit by the powerful bolt was vaporized. The coruscating energy folwed onward, leaping forward in a chain that brought dozens of the beasts down, leaving a stench of burnt feathers and ozone. The enraged beast and rider pressed the attack, scattering the cloud of harpies like chickadees under the shadow of a hawk. Atop the gigantic blue, the Lord Commander of The Dragon Knights lashed out with his staff, sending forth orange bursts of flame as a counterpoint to the electric blue pyrotechnics of his mount. The ferociousness of the assault sent the harpies into a panic, and they lost all coherence in their frenzy to escape. As they did, the remaining Dragon Knights flew in from their flanking positions, cutting off the avenue of escape for the enemy. Charred and skewered harpies fell to the ground like rain as the Knights concluded their decisive aerial victory.
Far below, amid the thronging hordes of the enemy, a glowing sphere of sickly green grabbed the Lord Commander’s attention. As he veered his mount towards it, a bolt of energy burst forth from the sphere, moving faster than thought as it impacted a red dragon. The red stiffened immediately and dropped like a rock. The blue increased his speed as two more bursts flashed by to either side. Nearing maximum velocity, the dragon drew in huge gulps of air, filling his lungs in anticipation of the fury that he was about release. When he was just about to strike, the green light vanished, but there was only a fraction of a second to ponder the mystery before a wave of blackness exploded in front of him. A shell of void energy raced outward, and every airborne creature that it touched lost consciousness and plummeted from the sky. In less than a minute, the legendary Dragon Knights were wiped from the face of the earth.
The images in the scrying bowl faded, as Arina clutched the armrests of the stool until the dizzy spell passed. When she was able, she stumbled to her feet, and thanked the seer as she made her way back through the curtains and out into the crowded market. In a city under siege, the cost of food had skyrocketed, and people in the square were nearing a state of desperation. The unspoken façade of normality was cracking under the realization that this time the dragon knights might not be enough to save them. Arina shouldered her way through the throng, eliciting more than a few derogatory remarks in the process, and eventually reached her servant who stood holding the reins of her horse. In moments, they were off, making their mad dash up the mountainside.
In most places, the thunder of the approaching hooves was more than enough warning to clear the way, but the milling mass simply had no place to go. Arina was forced to wait impatiently as the commoners flowed in a slow, steady trickle around her and her servant before they were once again able to navigate the continual switchbacks up the road to the castle. By the time Arina finally reached the castle she was in a panic, ignoring both soldiers and courtiers alike as she dashed toward the spiral staircase that led upward into the dragons’ eyrie. Down the halls she sped, scattering servants and nobles in her wake. Large mosaics of dramatic battles fought ages ago blurred in her peripheral vision as she urged her body to expend more energy. Behind her, a well-intentioned lieutenant and his small unit struggled to close the gap between her and them, and thus be in a position to assist her in whatever dire emergency was taking place. However, the fully armored men never stood a chance as the lithe woman vanished before them.
By the time Arina reached the cave that housed the dragons, she had little stamina left. Glancing around in horror, she saw that the cave was empty. NO! She couldn’t be too late! With the last bit of energy she had, she ran toward the cave entrance, stumbling as a tremor passed through the mountain. Her heart leapt with joy. Her Knight Commander had not yet left for the battle. Time slowed to a sickening pace as she broke free of the shadows to see the majestic blue dragon leap into the air. Her plaintive cries were lost in the cacophony of his bellowed roar. All that she could do was sink to her knees and watch as the blue dragon and her lover flew to their doom, her world came to a final and unavoidable end.
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