A Scythe in Time: Part 10
We may have all come on different ships, but we are in the same boat now.
Morning found the group reasonably well-rested and several horses richer. This was quite a welcome turn of events, as many of them were getting tired of the army's jeers and stares at their seating arrangements, and those that had still been proceeding on foot were all too eager to give their aching feet a rest. Well, most of them, anyway.
Ferdie frowned, eyeing the spotted gray equine before him with distrust. Are you sure this horse won't fly into battle like the other one?
Positive, Lita nodded, mounting a dark brown horse of her own as Ferdia inspected the chestnut mare she'd chosen as her light charger.
The army had cooled considerably to the group's presence following Ferdinand's abrupt ejection of the lot of them from his tent the night before. To his credit or perhaps more in the interest of his pride - the prince had said nothing of the swollen welt the camp's Healers had lost no time in magicking from his face. But gossip spreads quickly through the ranks, and by sunrise scarcely a soldier in the camp was unaware that an altercation of some sort had taken place between their leader and the mage's party the night before. Moreover, most of them wanted nothing to do with those who would strike their future king.
Still, there was an air of mystique about this group of exotic fighters, with stories and rumors of the group's exploits and abilities sweeping through the camp at speeds that rivaled that of the fight's gossip. Several soldiers had asked to join the Poker game the night before, and the remarks overheard during their late-night camaraderie only served to further fan the army's curiosity. Thus, when a bored Lita had, on a whim, presented herself at the rope corral where the army's horses were kept and demanded the mounts of those killed in the previous day's battle as rightful spoils of war, the animals had been handed over without argument. But the group had also been required to catch and prepare their own breakfast, and no messengers rode to their camp to inform them of the army's decision to move out.
Ferdie glanced up from his staring match with his rather complacent gray mare and watched the lines of soldiers march orderly by in tight, synchronized lines. He blinked as the prince rode past them without so much as a nod, turning to regard his friends uncertainly. You don't suppose he's still upset about- he mimed a fist punching his cheek, Do you?
Probably, Ivan smirked. Him being royalty an' all, I doubt anyone's ever smacked him for getting smart with them before - regardless of how much he deserved it. All the same, he glanced over at an unrepentant Squeaks, Remind me never to get on your bad side, detective.
Newton shook his head at the grinning mouse. I still cannot believe you did that, Sir Knight.
I can, D'Gal chuckled from the back of the group, Fiend trotting along impatiently at the group's slow pace, Arellians are a proud race. They don't take kindly to name-calling. Insults their honor, an' all.
From the seat of her new charger, Ferdia frowned, pulling up alongside Squeaks. But you've been insulted by suspects before, she queried her partner, Why-
I've never had a bird call be 'vermin' and mean it quite like that before, the mouse shrugged, meeting her gaze. Grouping me with roaches and fleas and scum-of-the-earth pests, he spat, bitterly. But the annoyed cast of his eyes was quickly replaced by a familiar wry glint. And I'd like to remind you that you were about to pound him yourself for something he'd said. All teasing aside, you rarely do that to anyone not actively threatening you.
Okay, so he had it coming, she sighed. Still, give us some warning next time! she winked, nudging him playfully in the ribs, We could sell tickets!
Hey! Iiwi called from above them, circling impatiently overhead, What's with the hold-up down there?
Beak, ever confused, glanced about their mini-convoy as it trotted alongside the main front lines of the army soldiers. What hold-up?
Ferdinand's ridden ahead! she called back, Didn't you notice?
Yeah, Ferdie shrugged, So?
So, he did that to meet with some scouts further up ahead! Don't you wanna know what about?
Sure, but we figured you'd tell us!
The Flier rolled her eyes. I gotta do everything, don't I? she muttered. Look, she called to her companions, Not to do your jobs or anything, but I did happen to hear them mention a dragon. So you might want to get the whole story!
As the Flier banked off, heading back out ahead of the line, the others shared a look. Might as well go check things out, Ferdia shrugged, spurring her horse.
Ferdinand rode warily into the clearing behind his ever-present personal guardsmen, making note of the scorched circle of underbrush situated halfway across it. The scout who'd discovered the circle and the debris inside it, a young cardinal of Winfield's by the name of Leelat, was crouching intently over some bit of burnt remnants when he arrived, but quickly rose from his inspection of a tattered rag and bowed to the prince.
Your Majesty, he greeted Ferdinand, straightening from his bow to wave back at the torn rag behind him. My partner and I found this while out on patrol, and felt it deserved your attention.
The prince nudged his hesitant mount forward, drawing nearer to the rag until he could make out dried blood and a broken, yellowing bone protruding from it ragged edges. Glancing about the surrounding area, he noted another smattering of blood nearby, amongst the huge, clawed footprints dotting the flattened grasses in the clearing.
As you can see, sir, the scout stated, Our dragon's been here quite recently.
Looks like it was hunting, too, Ferdinand observed, glancing once again at the bloodied rag. Arm or leg? He couldn't tell. Nor did he much care. What was another peasant's death to a monarch trying to end a bloody war? He scowled at the scout disdainfully. But these beasts will do that; it's all part of their abominable nature. How is it this merits my attention?
Oh, the cardinal blinked, scrambling to catch up with the pacing bluebird, W-well, sir, this wasn't a simple hunt. As near as we can tell, it corralled its victim in a circle of flames, then landed inside and chased it down.
And? the prince prompted.
Generally speaking, sir, dragons are like hawks. The bird raised a hand in the air, curling his fingers into a likeness of hawk talons and miming the raptors' typical stooping behavior. They strike their prey from the air, killing them instantly and with minimal effort. The chase is over by the time the dragon lands. He paused, frowning. But in this case, it intentionally trapped its prey, and took its time making the kill.
So they're vicious brutes when they're bored, Ferdinand shrugged disinterestedly. Gryphons do the same thing. Cats, too. Ever see a cat that's caught a live mouse? he asked, grinning darkly as his eyes briefly glinted in terrible amusement at some private thought. After a moment, he shook himself from his reverie, face once again taking on the bored look of a put-upon member of station. It's all a part of being a predator. Again, I ask: why is this pitiful limb worthy of my personal attention? Thus far, a messenger could just as easily have delivered this news.
With all due respect, my liege, Leelat bowed, exasperation beginning to tinge his voice as the scout continued his explanation, Please allow me to point out that its victim here was neither game nor villager, but a mage, bearing what appears to be the Pale Knight's crest.
The bored prince was suddenly interested. He ceased his pacing, turning instead to stare at the cardinal. Is that so?
Indeed, sir, Leelat bowed, retreating to the scraps of bone and clothing to show his commander a torn fragment of blood-splattered embroidery in the shape of a serpentine dragon on the remnants of the bone's tattered sleeve.
Curious, Ferdinand mused.
Indeed, sir, Leelat nodded. And - begging your pardon, of course - I've taken the liberty of asking one of your mages to sweep the grounds for spell remnants. Apparently, our victim tried to seize control of the creature's mind.
Ferdinand reined his horse to a halt, considering this disturbing bit of news with a frown. One of the Pale Knight's mages, out trying to capture a dragon. On one hand, it meant the fiend himself was very close by within a day's journey, he'd swear to it! But on the other did he truly have mages that could bring the dragon to heel? This one had failed, but suppose another had already succeeded? Or was close to succeeding? The prince himself lacked adequate magical support in his army, reliant as he was on Healers and Apprentices barely able to call down so much a Fireball upon his enemies. To be so close to the Knight, and yet to be magically outmatched
The sound of thundering hoofbeats disturbed his concentration, and he looked up in time to see the rogue mage and his supposed 'doubles' burst into the clearing along with the rest of their lot. He frowned. Who had told them of the scout's discovery? Or he glanced up as a slight shadow passed overhead had their firebird stumbled across the site as she fluttered about the treetops? He felt his mood turn sour.
Hey! the boyish Fury that wore a bitter mockery of his sister's fair form greeted him, with her typical lack of decorum or manners of any kind, What's the news?
Ferdinand scowled at the rag-tag band as they slowed to a walk before him, whatever camaraderie and curiosity he'd initially harbored for them long since expended by their brutish conduct the night before. He'd had half a mind to abandon them in the early hours of the morning, deciding against it in favor of keeping an eye on their antics. And now, with the Pale Knight chasing the self-same dragon as this lot, he found himself genuinely in need of their skills and magic. What a thing this war was, that he found himself obliged to throw his lot in with theirs for even the slightest stretch of time. Still, it had been his suggestion that they travel with his army, and he was too well-bred to go back on his word.
It appears, he said, avoiding their gaze in favor of glaring at the ruined serpentine emblem, that the Pale Knight not only knows of your dragon, but seeks to control it.
The firebird fluttered down to what was left of the Knight's mage, poking at the blood-stained ground by a dragon-print experimentally. So that roaring last night wasn't just it hunting it was it fighting.
Not much of a fight, you ask me, Leelat muttered.
No, indeed, the mage agreed, making note, however mages do, of the spell remnants lingering about the area. But not for lack of trying. These were good spells. Too weak for a beast of this one's size, and haphazardly cast but good. He glanced worriedly at the Fury. We may be running out of time, milady. If the Pale Knight were to attempt this again, with a mage of greater abilities or even a group of them, casting concurrently he could very well succeed in snaring it. Once it's under his control, it's quite possible he'll amplify its power, and protect it against the very spells we seek to bring against it.
She nodded. We'll have to move more quickly, then. Or perhaps go after the dragon before spending any more time looking for Drake. Where do you figure it is now?
Dragons do not fly at night if they can avoid it, the lizard stated, keenly scanning the peaks along the horizon in search of anything reddish or even seemingly out-of-place. It's early yet; it may still be in the area.
As if meant to answer him, a deep, reverberating roar shook the treetops west of them.
Iiwi! the Fury cried.
Way ahead of you! the little firebird grinned, leaping into the air and swiftly climbing high into the clouds. The assembled group both the mages compatriots and a reluctantly curious Ferdinand eagerly awaited her return, heads craning to catch sight of the high-flying bird as another furious roar echoed off the mountainside. Moments later, the scarlet bird dove back to earth, breathless.
There's a half-dozen mages picking a fight with it twenty, maybe thirty miles due west of here, she reported anxiously. But, she said to the lizard mage's worried grimace, it doesn't look like they're doing so well, either.
Ferdinand gathered his reins, spurring his horse back towards his army. Their fate is none of my concern, he grunted, as his guardsmen and scouts galloped along after him, But the Pale Knight will doubtless be watching them nearby. His forces may well be hidden out of sight, but they cannot be much further than a few hours' ride from his mages. If we hurry, we can reach him before he rejoins his men!
Iiwi flew high and fast, sticking to the clouds as best she could in an effort to mask her silhouette and shadow from those below as she scanned the ground for signs of troops hiding amongst the trees. The air up here was thin and cold, the wind cutting right through her downy feathers as it ruffled overtop her wingtips, but it allowed her the greatest range of sight, and hopefully gave her enough time and altitude to escape should the dragon suddenly take an interest in her.
Back on the ground, Ferdinand was in a fine mood, dispatching scouts to comb the area as he and his army raced for the bellowing dragon, but even if the mages battling the creature held out for an hour unlikely, in the Flier's opinion, as even now they seemed hardly more than keeping it at bay the army would arrive too late to catch whatever hidden observer watched the conflict. With luck, their trackers might be able to pick up a trail after a bit of searching, but that would cost them valuable time. No, if they wished to find where Drake's captors had hidden, she needed to do it her way.
Until then, the others were keeping pace with the prince much to his chagrin in case they stumbled across the camp as they charged in the direction of the mage-battle - but she knew better than to pin her hopes on being able to follow the dragon. She, and no one else, had seen it fighting the mages; the only thing keeping it there was hate. She doubted it'd stick around very long once the battle ended, just as she doubted the battle would rage for very much longer. The dragon was steadily wearing the young mages down.
Still, if she were the warlord who'd dispatched the mages to do battle with the dragon in the first place, she'd want to be close by, watching the fight not so close as to attract the dragon's attention, in the event the mages lost, but close enough to easily reinforce the tiring mages should their spells begin to take hold. And that meant said reinforcements would need to be based not far from the battlefront, and therefore she flew in tight, concentric rings around the fight, searching for anything even the slightest, most insignificant of things - seemingly out of place.
She found none.
But she did find a patch of forest where her earlier flights such as those scouting a welcome campsite following their haunting night in the monks' village had found barren, rocky grasslands. At first, she felt it a figment of her imagination perhaps she'd mistaken this spot for another, the reduced oxygen of her high altitude playing tricks on her spatial memory but then she spotted her chosen region markers. A tree and large rock, one chosen for its charred, twisted shape, one for its size and unusual tilt, both originally sighted in an open field and chosen for their high contrast and visibility, and both now nearly indistinguishable from the trees surrounding them.
She'd spent enough time in Newton's company to know a glamour when she saw one. So this was how the Pale Knight kept his armies from being discovered by hiding them beneath a magicked camouflage? She fixed the location in her memory, banking around and heading back towards Ferdinand's marching army column as fast as her wings would take her.
The army was proceeding as fast as it could, the cavalry officers rushing back and forth down the lines of infantry now running in synchronized lines for all they were worth. The men would be tired, some possibly even exhausted, by the time they reached the Pale Knight at this pace, but that would be Ferdinand's problem when and if the issue came to head. For now, it simply took every ounce of self-control the group save for the villains, who invariably trotted along at a relaxed pace as if there was nothing at all to rush about for - could muster to keep from bursting forward at a gallop. After all, the entire point of hiding amidst Ferdinand's soldiers had been to mask their presence from the Pale Knight's forces, and charging on ahead of the army would defeat the entire purpose of that move.
Ferdia looked up in alarm as a shrill hawk's screech echoed off the mountains around them, scanning the skyline for the approaching Iiwi even as the Flier remained hidden above the clouds. Seconds later, a red streak flared into view, spiking through a wispy cloudbank as Iiwi bore down at them at top speed, wings flattened at her sides, her expression urgent even from far away. The scarlet missile flared her wings into a stoop at treetop height, speeding overhead amidst the wind-whistled tearing sound of feathers literally cutting through the wind.
I've found them! the Flier cried, streaking overhead at speeds that whipped regimental flags about wildly and sent many a startled soldier's hat flying, Just beyond the far ridge, hidden behind a forest glamour!
Her high-speed entrance and fly-by had, naturally, caused considerable stir amongst the neighboring army column, catching the officers' attention as the news rippled up the line of jogging soldiers. It wasn't long before the armored figure of the prince rode up to the group in search of an explanation for their sudden flurry of activity.
What's this, then? Ferdinand demanded, as his soldiers within earshot of the anxious Flier's report shouted urgently at one another to make ready.
She's found the Pale Knight's camp, Ferdia stated, earning a look of wide-eyed surprise from the haughty prince, They're about five miles further north than the dragon.
You'd better hurry, though, Iiwi advised, fluttering in anxious circles overhead, Those mages aren't doing so well. Once they fall, the camp's not likely to be distracted anymore. They'll notice our approach for sure then.
The mages were failing. Any fool could see that. Greer's spells, despite the robin's assurances, were having little to no effect on the blood-red terror hovering above them, and the angry dragon certainly didn't seem inclined to let them off with their lives. Either the impotent mage was right in his claims that his trainees were too inexperienced to command the level of magic necessary to successfully wield the spells, or they were spending far too much time casting defensive wards against the creature's fire to fight properly. There was no cohesion, no strategy amongst the scattered youths at this point; only desperate scrambles to survive. He'd seen this in the scouts and army detachments he'd set upon before; it was only a matter of time before one of them made a mistake and left the group exposed to attack or, failing that, until the mages began running out of energy to cast spells. It was rather depressing to be at all associated with such an embarrassingly pathetic showing.
Sir! a scout galloped up behind him, Movement spotted to the east, sir!
Movement? Draco queried, eyes never leaving the faltering battle before him.
Yes, sir. Prince Ferdinand's army has been spotted along the hills, making for the dragon as fast as they're able!
Indeed? the Pale Knight rumbled, as the dragon snatched up a careless mage. There it was: the first mistake, the first casualty. Panic would set in amongst the surviving mages now, sealing their fate as surely as if they'd already surrendered. He cast a sidelong glance at the scout eagerly awaiting his orders. The boy had also made a mistake, but had evidently failed to notice it. Prince Ferdinand's army, you say?
The scout frowned. His master's voice had a dangerous lilt to it, but the squirrel couldn't quite say why. Yes, sir?
Tell me, boy. Am I a subject of this tarnished crown?
Then I would suggest you refrain from using that title in my presence, the duck stated, menace dripping off every word.
S-Sir! the squirrel saluted.
Now, then, Draco continued, as another mage found themselves caught in the dragon's razor-sharp talons, Ride down to the camp, and tell the men to make ready. I will join them before the hour's end, once the dragon finishes here.
After what seemed like an eternity in Hell, his suffering was slowly, inexorably coming to an end. The screams had alleviated to the point where he could actually begin to distinguish one from the other once again, and separate the hallucinations from the images actually reflecting off his retinas. At long last, the torturous spell was finally starting to wear off, and to Drake's infinite relief, he realized that it truly had all been in his head. That dulled the pain somewhat, knowing that he hadn't actually witnessed the horrors still flashing before his eyes, but it did nothing to chase away the terror they'd visited upon him, or cause them to be any less haunting now he knew they were only the sick suggestions of an evil mind. It occurred to him that he'd probably have nightmares about the unspeakably horrific visions for months to come.
He vowed right then never to sleep again.
Then he set about trying to sort himself out. He didn't know how much time had passed since he'd first spoken to that psychotically twisted mirror image of himself, that fiend of fiends who had visited this living nightmare upon him. It felt like days, weeks, even or perhaps no more than a few hours. He couldn't even tell if he'd been moved; the plush tent looked the same as it had before, so much as something seen in triplicate and harsh, overly-bright glowing colors could resemble something glimpsed briefly what seemed like a lifetime ago. Still, he vaguely remembered the paralysis spell that kept him from rising from a position prone on the floor, and couldn't quite shake the feeling that something was now different.
He blinked, willing the tortuous images of his own private Hell away for just long enough to confirm that, yes, he was on his knees.
Dignity be damned. It was the first good news he'd had all day.
Not long after the group stopped off in a clearing to begin the preparations for their rescue, Ferdie squinted at the tall figure galloping towards them with the suns at its back. We've got a rider coming! he called to the others. But his friends merely grunted a response, intent on their tasks as they rifled through saddlebags and sorted spell ingredients.
Uh, okay, then, he sighed, Guess I'll just see what they-
What's going on here?!? Ferdinand demanded, reining in his horse inches from his startled double's beak, Why have you stopped?
We've stopped, Iiwi stated, ruffling her feathers as she sidestepped the now-petrified form of Ferdie, Because our wizard has spells to prepare, and because we never said how long we'd travel with your army, anyway.
The prince scowled down at her, anger twisting his beak into a snarl. I'm not about to leave a group of fighters like yourselves behind me. Not when you know my heading and could easily sabotage my flank.
Iiwi blinked, looking for all the world as if she'd been slapped. When she had recovered sufficiently and spoke once more, it was with a great deal more ire than before. What, you don't trust us? We could've kicked your over-preened tail how many times over these past few days, and you still don't trust us? she squawked, fluffing out her feathers and fanning her wings, yielding to an instinctual urge to make herself look far bigger than her aggressor. Her efforts spooked Ferdinand's horse back a startled step before its flustered rider reined it in, and she screeched at the prince as loudly as her lungs would allow, mock-lunging with each admonition. Go on now, get! Get out of here! Scram!
Ferdinand fought with his increasingly uneasy horse with each of the puffed-out Phoenix's screeched lunges. How dare you! I'm the crown prince of the realm!
Not my realm! she retorted. I answer to no one, you got that? Not Bob, not Ferdia, and especially not a transparently obvious little prick like you, lording it over everyone just 'cuz someone told you that you could! You think we don't see what you're doing? You want our wizard and our fighters for your battle! But you're absolutely, positively NOT-
Iiwi! Ferdie hissed at the screeching Flier as the mounted soldiers that served as the prince's guardsmen headed over in concern, You're drawing a crowd!
I don't care! I'm mmf! she squawked, as a hand clamped over her beak.
You have a problem with our departure? Squeaks intoned, glaring up at the prince with his ears flattened against his head as a furious Iiwi squikked muffled obscenities at the both of them, fluttering on one leg and clawing at the mouse's hand with the other.
Ferdinand returned the mouse's cold glare as the Flier flopped about, her attempts at prying at Squeaks' hand from her beak beginning to draw blood as he stared unflinchingly back at the prince, tail flicking angrily back and forth as the pair stared each other down. Wordlessly, the royal's bodyguards and a handful of other concerned officers moved to form ranks defensively behind the bluebird. For a moment, silence reigned.
Geez, you could cut the testosterone over here with a knife! Ferdia exclaimed, striding between the two to break the staring contest and swatting her partner's hand from Iiwi's beak before the Flier succeeded in drawing any more blood than she already had. I mean, really! *D'Gal* is being more civil!
That a problem? the duck called from where the rest of the group sat sorting spell ingredients.
Did I *say* it was a problem?! she shouted back, feathers fanning out.
You do that! she yelled, smacking at Ferdie to reboot her brother's terror-frozen brain as Squeaks and a hissing Iiwi glowered first at each other, then at the prince. Now, look, she turned back to Ferdinand, You have a problem with us bowing out now? Fine. We'll stick with you until both sides draw their lines in the sand, and then we're off to get our idiot back. That okay with you, brat?
That will suffice, Ferdinand scowled, For now.
Good. Anything else?
He shot her a disapproving look. You absolutely cannot be my fair sister.
Damned straight I'm not! Ferdia glowered, pointing over to a cringing Ferdie, I'm his sister, and you know what? I'm glad, because with you as a brother, I'd've committed fratricide years ago! Now get back to the front of the line and set up your little chessboard however you want to play it, and leave us be! I mean, *geez!* she turned and stormed back to the rest of the group, throwing her hands up in exasperation. Honestly! Snarling at each other like a pair of junkyard dogs! Ought to douse the lot of you with a bucketful of ice-water
Ferdinand scowled after her, flicking his gaze back down at the mouse, bluebird, and hissing, puffed-up Flier still glaring back at him as he turned to go. You're certainly a very disagreeable lot, you know, he remarked.
Only when it comes to you, Iiwi spat at the withdrawing royal and his escort.
Draco rode into the glamoured camp with a sour expression on his face. Greer's mages had, as predicted, fallen before the dragon, which had picked them off one by one as their meager magic began to run dry. Now the creature was winging its way back east, and his chances of bending it to his own devices shrinking with the leathery-winged silhouette on the horizon. He lost no time in shooting a scathing glare the robin's way, watching as the impotent mage wrestled his better judgment and shuffled out to meet him.
Greer, he stated coldly, calmly, in a tone that told the mage there would be no more chances, ever. We are going off into battle with the princeling brat's army. Either take your place among the mages, and bring me my dragon, or take your place amongst the front line infantry, and bring me my victory. But know this you have failed me for the last time. Either you succeed now, or you die - by your hand, the enemy's, or mine. That is all the choice you have left. Are we clear?
Good. He clicked his horse past the mage, marching into the midst of his readied troops. It was time, he reflected, to whip the beasts into a battle frenzy.
Men! he called to them, watching as they snapped to attention as one, We stand at the brink of victory! The king's army means to meet us just beyond those hills, led by the brat prince Ferdinand, who has made your lives miserable these past ten years!
Yeah! cheered the ranks of mice, squirrels, lizards, and other assorted featherless creatures culled from the land's persecuted peasantry. Suffered, we have! one of their numbers yelled, earning a second round of angry agreement.
Yes, Draco nodded, But now now we have the opportunity to pay him back in kind. This land should by rights be yours!
Ours! cheered the troops.
Not his! the Pale Knight continued, leveling a finger over the hills in the direction of the approaching army.
No! his men hooted.
Draco rolled his eyes. Manipulating these simpletons was really far too easy. He hoped Ferdinand didn't mind him jumping the guns a bit and starting the battle so far away, but he did have the small matter of his dragon he wished to attend to before making his appearance on the field, and he didn't wish to keep the prince waiting. He drew his sword.
To arms! he bellowed, swinging the weapon overhead as his men followed suit, Our enemy marches over yon hills, just past the ridge! Let's bring the battle to him, eh? Charge!
Yeaaaaaaaah! the frenzied men yelled eagerly, turning in their ranks and running for the forest as fast as their loose formations allowed. Like a stampeding herd, they flowed out of the camp and over the hills beyond, an unstoppable phalanx of flesh and sharpened metal intent on naught but the enemy waiting at their destination.
With a self-satisfied smirk, Draco turned back to the emptied camp. His eyes met the line of worried mages Greer had rallied together for the bird's last attack on the dragon. And what are all of you still doing here? he scowled at them, Bring me my dragon!
Greer and all but one of the youths scattered like a flock of frightened sparrows, and the cringing mouse that remained looked as if he would much rather have fled with them. But, sir, he squeaked the ivory-clad knight, What of the camp's glamour, and the hex that binds your prisoner?
The Pale Knight hid his surprise. He had all but forgotten the tormented soul writhing within his quarters. Here he'd had such hopes of torturing every last drop of information out of the duck, only to find now his prisoner had already outlived his usefulness. Well, nearly so, anyways. We have no further use for the glamour, he stated. Cancel it. As for the prisoner leave him to me. He grinned darkly. I do need something to keep me occupied before the battle
Keeping pace with the swiftly marching lines of the brat prince's army, our intrepid group of heroes was calmly debating the best way to break ranks with Ferdinand's troops and strike out in the direction of the Pale Knight's camp when a pair of scouts burst into view overtop the next slope, riding for all their worth on mounts that had tired miles ago, but galloped on out of concern for their own safety. The pair desperately charged at the army, bolting past line after line of marching soldiers as they shouted warnings to all in earshot. Their distress was evident even from half the line away, and Ferdinand's white charger leapt from his sister's side as the prince rushed forward to hear their news.
They're coming! shouted the younger of the scouts, as the sparrow pointed a shaking finger behind him, Soldiers on the march, right beyond the ridge!
They're charging, sir! the scrub jay beside him yelled to the approaching prince, Hundreds of them, already in battle formations! They'll be on us in minutes!
Ferdinand followed their worried glances up to the ridge running across the shallow valley, where the dust of several thousand feet was rising into view as the clamor of untold numbers of raised voices and pounding weapons was even now coming into range, their cacophonous pounding chants drifting in on the wind. The prince frowned it was very poor form, sending soldiers out before negotiating the terms of engagement but now was hardly the time to dwell on another of the Pale Knight's many failings.
Soldiers! he yelled, To the hill! Quickly, now, and fall into battle formation! He spurred his horse, dashing to the head of the line to oversee the preparation of the front lines as his generals scrambled to signal the jogging soldiers as to where they ought to be headed.
Ferdia watched the flurried chaos roiling down the lines as the army scrambled to meet a frenzied attack that would be upon them in a matter of minutes. As predicted, she and her friends had been forgotten in the confusion; not even one of the forms rushing by paid them any heed.
Well, this works out well for us, at any rate, she shrugged, glancing back at her compatriots. Let's move off to one side and prepare our rescue, shall we?
The rest of the group nodded (or at least shrugged noncommittally), turning back into the forest and quickly galloping along the slope a ways before venturing across a section of the valley still thick with trees. The sound of the Knight's army charging into battle several miles to their left met their ears like the roar of distant thunder, clashing loudly with the first of Ferdinand's forces.
You're sure we're far enough away from them? Ferdie asked uneasily.
Sure we are, Iiwi called down from treetop height, flying high enough to scout the land around them, but low enough to keep from being seen, We're just in a valley that channels sound quite well, listening to several thousand men screaming at each other and hitting things with sticks. That sort of thing tends to get pretty loud.
Ferdie looked unconvinced.
Look, try it this way, alright? Iiwi sighed, trying a more pedestrian analogy, It's like a parade in downtown San Viano. The buildings channel the sound down side streets, so you can still hear the cheering in your office, despite the fact the parade's several blocks away.
Ferdie considered this. If you say so, he ventured, as the group came to a halt. So, what's our plan, anyway?
Newton dismounted, taking a worn grimoire and a smooth, fire-cured carved stick he'd been working on the past few days from his saddlebags. Well, since you all seem to thrive on them so, I thought we might try another diversion. There's no telling what sort of guards the Pale Knight will have left at the camp, so I've tried to come up with something convincing enough to distract anyone. He paused, looking a bit sheepish. It, ah, might have the added benefit of scaring off the enemy troops, too.
Iiwi, who had taken up a perch high in the treetops, fluttered down to watch as the wizard set the stick atop several flint pebbles and a polished, blood-red stone the size of a golf ball that she recognized as one of the baubles he'd been routinely stealing back from Lita over the course of their travels every time the teen spirited it away. What exactly are you doing? she asked, watching him page the grimoire open to a marked passage.
I'm making a fire-rod, he replied, scanning the incantation, It's an enchanted object that works a lot like a wand, and shoots fire. You'll need it for the diversion.
I'll need it for the diversion? Iiwi repeated, frowning. You mean I'm the diversion?
In a manner of speaking.
I don't get it. I mean, what's so scary about a Phoenix when there's a dragon lurking abo- she paused, catching sight of the wizard's smug expression. You are not serious.
You can't be! I'm, like, bite-size to that thing!
It won't appear that way. Now, if I could have a moment to concentrate? the wizard asked, raising one hand above the piled objects as he held the other on the text in the grimoire to keep track of his place, I've never tried this before.
There was a minor stampede as the group scattered, taking refuge behind rocks and nearby trees and whatever else presented itself as a likely fireproof shield. Even the horses took several nervous steps back.
Thanks for the vote of confidence, Newton commented wryly, turning back to his spellbook with a raised eyebrow. Spirits of the Flame, he chanted, I beseech thee: bind thy essence to this wand of fire-kissed wood and sunstone, that mine enemies might perish as burnt offerings to thee.
You don't suppose this is a Dark Magic spell, do you? Bob whispered to the bird crouched beside him between a fallen log and a towering, moss-covered rock as the wizard continued the chant.
What gave you the first clue, hero? Ivan hissed, The morbid incantation, or the skeletal dragon on the cover of a scaly, leather-bound book titled 'Se Darke Artse'?
There's no need to be rude, Bob huffed, as Newton hit the apex of his chant.
Sanctus vernum! he shouted, Infi Infini- he stumbled on the last, water-blotted word of the incantation, and the fiery magic swirling above the piled objects started to wobble.
Inferniaralmus! Iiwi shouted from the treetops behind him.
Inferniaralmus! he finished, righting the teetering spell. The swirling magic formed a mini-whirlpool of liquid fire and crackling bolts of electricity, sizzling and spinning in the air above the rod as it singed the air to ozone and sent the wizard back a step. Then slowly, inexorably, the concentrated mana began to change, stretching into a crackling, fiery tornado that reached down to the pile, steadily drawn into the sunstone even as the red rock melted and flowed into a clawed groove in the carved rod. The brilliant whirlpool of magical energy seemed to get brighter the more its mass flowed into the sunstone-infused rod, until with a final, blinding flash of white lightning, it was gone, leaving the sizzling rod with what looked like a fiery, glowing gemstone embedded in its tip.
Wow, Iiwi breathed, fluttering back to the ground as Newton crept forward to examine the magicked rod, Did it work?
I think so, the wizard ventured, snatching his arm back with a yelp as his fingers brushed the rod's surface. Yah! he gasped, fanning his hand about in the air as smoke skimmed his fingertips, Still hot.
Okay, Ferdia stated, watching the smoking rod warily as the group crept out of hiding and Newton rubbed a Healing spell into his burned hand, So we've got a fire-wand. What now?
Now, milady, you and the others make for their camp while I conjure a convincing dragon glamour for your Phoenix. With a little luck, you should arrive shortly after she does.
Ferdie raised his hand. Do I have to go?
*Yes*, his sister glared at him.
It's for the best, really, Lita reassured the worried bluebird, patting his shoulder as she gave her bo an experimental twirl, Your screaming distracts the enemy.
What? the teen blinked, I meant it. Really. I mean, I was being sincere an everythi-
Don't help, Farlane, Ivan sighed, motioning to their horses, Ride. You and D'Gal are our scouts now.
Beg pardon? the Vycerian interjected from across the small clearing, where he leaned lazily propped against a gnarled tree.
Ferdia and Squeaks paused as the rest of the riders filtered out behind Lita. You are coming, aren't you? the bluebird queried.
To save Dumas, of all people?' the duck snorted. I think not. I've an image to maintain.
I hardly think your reputation will be jeopardized by an event he'll be too ashamed to speak of, she scowled.
Be that as it may, I'm still not going, D'Gal stated, folding his arms stubbornly. Bugger did set a pack of orcs on me, after all.
Squeaks, talk some sense into him!
Don't you try it, Arcadia. I swore I wouldn't kill him. I never said anything about lifting so much as a finger to stop someone else from doing so. Besides, the ebony duck shrugged, Do you really intend on leaving the wizard here undefended? Who's to stop a strike team from coming after him once you and the Flier leave?
I can fend for myself, Newton scowled, indignant.
While maintaining a glamour of a dragon? Correct me if I'm wrong, wizard, but won't that spell take significantly more energy than simply embellishing and handful of blokes' attire?
The wizard frowned, considering. True, but-
Do you object to my company, then?
Newton blinked. No
And you, Arcadia, do you truly need nine people to raid an empty camp?
Squeaks frowned. No.
Then what, precisely, is the problem?
You've made your point, the mouse scowled, conceding. He turned to his partner with a shrug. Let's catch up with the others.
Ferdia rolled her eyes as they departed into the forest. Yeah, 'cause I'm just itchin' to save his tail myself, she snorted.
No, really, it's like there's this gaping hole where my annoyance at him used to be. However did ulcers survive before he came along?
He's not all that bad.
Oh, all right, so I also miss the endless supply of comic relief and easy dinners with him around to attract flocks of vicious, man-eating sheep every five minutes.
D'Gal listened to their banter as the two departed after the rest of the galloping party. Charming pair, aren't they? he commented wryly, as the wizard went back to preparing his spells and Iiwi set about learning how to handle the cooled fire-rod.
The spell was nearly spent. The hallucinations had dissolved to a mere blurring distortion around the edge of his vision and a distant, haunting echo in his ears. Drake found he could even stand now, with minimal need to lean on something to keep his balance, and moved about the tent in search of his effects.
His uniform was, predictably, nowhere in sight; much like his phaser and communicator, it had doubtless been removed for further study. Still, his fiendishly evil double kept quite a stock of primitive weapons in his tent, and loathe as he was to use such brutish devices, he wasn't so deluded as to believe he could make it back to the others without some form of protection. With some degree of trepidation, Drake chose a sword from a pile of sharp, polished blades and stumbled for the exit.
He paused at the flap and listened. The spell still marred his hearing, giving even the wind a disturbingly haunting echo, as if he were in a tight, dank cave, or had a conch shell constantly held at his ear but the change in the sounds of the camp were unmistakable. No longer did the cacophony of clanking metal and gruff voices threaten to deafen him, just as the thundering feet that had shook the ground with their passage had ceased their booming. Now, the silence stretched out for minutes; the camp was deserted.
Well, almost deserted. A horse trotted to a halt nearby, snorting gruffly amidst the creak of leather and chink of armor as someone shifted out of the saddle. Then there was the sudden scuff of boots tracking across the worn earth, steadily approaching his tent. It was now or never, he supposed and at least this way, he had the element of surprise. He tensed, steeling himself for the harsh light of the midday suns, gripped his pilfered sword tightly in what he hoped was a fighting position, and leapt from the tent.
High in the sky above, Iiwi gawked at her shadow below as she winged her way towards the Pale Knight's camp, no longer bothering to hide amongst the clouds. She still saw herself as she was: a small, red bird with a glowing fire-rod clenched in her talons; but her shadow told a different story that of a fearsome, leather-winged monster the size of a transatlantic airliner.
Her reflection on the surface of a passing river painted and even better picture of her glamoured form: blood-red scales, fading to the color of wet desert clay along her belly, her head tapering to a tooth-filled snout as bony ridges formed an armored crest about her head and plaited into sharp ridges along her spine, tapering off into a long, whip-like tail. Her legs all four of them were daintily tucked against her belly, sheathing the same razor-sharp claws on her talons that tipped each bony strut of her enormous, membranous wings. Two small horns curved back along her head like ears, and while her eyes maintained their striking jade color, her pupils were slit, like a cat's, and set against a canvas of yellow. White curls of smoke occasionally wound from her nostrils, and if she concentrated, she could call forth fire from the rod, watching the flames spew forth from the mouth of her glamoured form just like a storybook dragon. What's more, Newton had assured her that every syllable she spoke was magically magnified and deepened into a genuinely menacing dragon's roar. She had tried this only once, and could compare the sound to naught but a hulking predator's roar in a dinosaur movie.
She so wanted to sneak up on Ferdie.
But her presence in the sky was an obvious one, and already a flock of mages had attempted to throw spells at her as she'd flown past. Best to stick to the plan for now, she thought, and frighten the Pale Knight's soldiers and mages and anyone else left wandering about the fiend's camp. There would be plenty of time to play a prank or two on her favorite blue-feathered coward until after her friends had successfully rescued Drake.
She cleared the last bit of forest quickly, surprised to find the enemy encampment free of its masking glamour. But that simply made pinpointing her targets all the easier, as the only forms moving down below were the resolute mage squad stalking her every move and a pair of combatants squaring off further on up the hill. She could even see her friends tucked amongst the trees, and heard to her immense delight Ferdie's terrified yelp as he spotted her. She smiled, imagining the toothy grin this action likely produced in the glamour, folding her wings and drawing breath to roar at the white-clad figures busily fighting below.
She nearly choked mid-bellow as they both looked up at her in alarm, the shock of recognition nearly botching was she'd meant to be a fearsome dive. She recovered from her start quickly, rolling away from the field and circling back around for another pass.
All right, she told herself, turning to fire a quick bolt of flame at the pesky mages for no other reason than because they were the most convenient target in range, It's nothing to freak about. Shouldn't even be all that surprising, really, considering the royals an' all...
She'd just let her charging comrades sort out the details
Ferdie, given confidence by the plains' flat, rolling surface and complete lack of any visible guards, had just moved to venture out into the deserted encampment when a giant, winged shadow flowed across the ground before him like a low-flying jetliner. Despite his better judgment and a quick trigonometric calculation as to just how big a creature needed to be to cast a shadow that size, the bluebird found himself glancing up at a monstrous red form flying overhead in a manner that made it seem as if it had suddenly entered the sky from the outer edge of nowhere.
Great Holy Jeezums! he shrieked, jumping back into the shelter of the forest trees as the great grinning dragon streaked by above them, paying the group no heed as it began attacking the camp, Is that Iiwi?!?
Wow, Ferdia breathed as her brother scrambled for cover, wincing at the volume of the diving dragon's roar as it reverberated off the nearby hills, Way to go, Newton! You'd never think tha wait, she blinked as the dragon sputtered and coughed mid-roar, Did she just hiccup?
Maybe she swallowed a bug? the sign holder suggested, keeping a firm grip on the struggling form of the now-panicked sheep.
Or she got a better view of those combatants, Squeaks stated grimly, jerking his chin in the direction the dragon had been diving towards and watching the two forms fighting there intently. We may have a problem.
Drake was in trouble. Fencing never had been one of his better sports, and Draco had the advantage of years of evil experience and an immediate lack of an after-spell hangover. And now a fire-breathing dragon had seen fit to add itself to the mix.
He almost preferred the simplicity of being mauled by sheep.
A slicing sword brought Drake out of his reverie, the startled duck just barely managing to bring his weapon up in time to block it. He dodged aside as his adversary pushed him into a standing slide across the dry, pebbled dirt he could have sworn he'd firmly planted his feet in. The dragon swooped in close again, its hot breath singeing the air overhead and curling his feathers, but causing Draco to release him and leap out of the dragon's path, giving Drake a chance to regroup a bit. Could this battle perhaps be handled like starfighting, he wondered, darting around his recovering double and whirling backwards as the duck made to follow. Draco parried his lunge to a glancing blow, again giving Drake just enough of an opening to dart out and circle around. But the Pale Knight had not survived by the sword this long by being slow on the uptake, and feinted around the duck's flanking maneuver this time, landing a blow to Drake's kidneys with the butt of his sword that sent the air whooshing from the Platyrian's lungs and knocked him sprawling to the ground.
Drake rolled as he hit the ground, splaying his feet in the loose earth to slow his slide down the lightly-sloping hill and coming up to block his double's blade with a sword and a fistful of dirt that sent his blinded adversary stumbling back a step, clawing at his eyes. Drake took the opportunity to rush his foe, wrapping a hand in the duck's fluttering cloak to cut off the distracted villain's escape. But Draco, still rubbing at his eyes, would have none of this, and reached up with his free hand to undo both the clasp holding the cloak at his shoulder and the catches on weighty, cumbersome body armor - meant for a battle in which he was riding a horse, not darting about on foot sending both to the ground.
As his armor fell free and Drake struggled to free his tangled arm from the folds of the discarded cloak the dragon screamed once more, diving towards the pair yet again. But this time neither had time to pay the hurtling lizard any heed, as Draco chose that moment to spring into action, charging forward and catching the Platyrian off-balance. As Drake's balance failed, their combined momentum sent them both tumbling down the hillside, their attempts at throwing each other resulting in nothing but a flurried confusion that gained neither of them anything and cost both of them their swords. Reduced to wrestling, the pair grappled about in the dust, oblivious to the world around them until a cold, clicking metallic sound brought their attentions to the stern-faced group now surrounding them.
Both ducks froze where they were, tangled in their holds amidst the dirt and discarded cloak, pausing to contemplate their situation for a moment. The concept of guns was a new one to Draco, but the Pale Knight had taken the time to study his prisoner's memories during Drake's hypno-spelled imprisonment, and was thus acutely aware of the danger he was now in. Curse it, this lot shouldn't even be here!, he mentally swore as his mind raced for the most likely way out of this mess. How had they managed to find him so quickly? The glamour hadn't been down all that long! How had they even known their comrade was in his custody? Unless
the other duck had somehow survived. He made a mental note to slay those lazy scouts when next he saw them. Until then, he needed a way of surviving this encounter himself. And he knew just how to do that.
Ace! the Drake with his ear ground into the pebbled dirt cried gratefully, Thank the gods! Arrest this fiend!
You-! the second Drake sputtered indignantly at the first, tugging at the cloak bound around his arm only to find it caught about his double's arm as well. He shot a pleading look at the white-furred figure above them. Don't you believe him, Arcadia! He's a memory-stealing fiend!
The mouse and bluebird holding the dusty pair at gunpoint shared a look, then glanced at the assembled others for suggestions.
I could beat it out of them, the rabbit twirling a Bo volunteered happily.
I somehow doubt that would help, the bluebird deadpanned.
Naw, the teen shrugged, But it'd be therapeutic.
What if we threatened to feed them to Iiwi? a second bluebird suggested. The others glared at him. Oh, yeah
neither of them knows
Anybody have any helpful suggestions? the first bluebird asked.
Baaaaaaa, a wooly voice bleated.
AAAAAAAAAA!!! the ducks chorused, SHEEP!
The bluebird groaned, rubbing her temples. Forget this. Bag 'em both.
The ducks yelped in unison as deceptively strong hands pulled them from the ground, pried them apart, and bound them securely with rope as the small boy with the sheep wandered up the hill to retrieve the white horse whickering curiously after its twin masters.
Newton sat astride his horse atop a bare mountain peak, bleakly watching Prince Ferdinand's forces as they battled the frenzied legions of the Pale Knight below. How do you figure they're faring? he queried.
D'Gal looked up from what little he could see of the distant rescue mission, which mostly consisted of watching their faux dragon roasting a series of mages that seemed intent on following Iiwi around and throwing the odd spell at her. Us, or them?
Us. Or, them. Both? The wizard frowned. Which ones are we?
The black-feathered duck rolled his eyes. Inquiring after my loyalties again, are we?
No. Though I confess they do confuse me.
Good, D'Gal grinned. I can't stand being predictable. The kiss of death, that is. He jerked his chin in the direction of the Pale Knight's camp, where their glamoured dragon was busily herding the pesky mages away from the plains. As for your question, Arcadia seems to be doing well enough not to need the Flier's support any longer. Looks like she's ditched the bevy of mages and is headed for the battle proper now.
Newton watched as Iiwi soared to even greater heights than her present altitude, bellowing loudly enough to ensure not a soul on the field or, indeed, in the surrounding countryside at all - could possibly miss her entrance. Satisfied that she now had the undivided attention of the men below, the glamoured Flier folded her wings, uttering a mighty battle roar as she dove into the fray, sending soldiers on both sides running for cover. The wizard watched as she then circled the field again, unleashing a plume of flame onto the Pale Knight's forces as it began to occur to Ferdinand's troops that the rumors of the wizard currently smirking atop the hill in the distance might just have more truth in them than he'd professed.
They'd called him a dragon-summoner a rarity in these days of war-torn strife, mage shortages, and a dragon population all but defunct. It wasn't exactly the truth he'd hardly seen the temple dragon, after all, and was frankly more concerned with resealing the beast than in controlling it but it gave him a heady feeling of importance. Perhaps the dragon streaking by and loosing flames upon their enemy's front lines was naught but an enchanted creation - but there wasn't a man on the field now that dared doubt the fearsome fire-lizard currently menacing the Pale Knight's soldiers.
Still, Newton was his own worst critic. Despite his best efforts, the Phoenix was still just a bit too small for a dragon, and perhaps a tad more trim and agile than her tapered wings ought to have allowed. And that tail
.he frowned. I'm still not entirely confident about that glamour, he confessed to the duck watching the battle alongside him. Do you think she's really all that convincing of a dragon? he asked, attention riveted to the chaos on the field.
Hmm? D'Gal replied distractedly. Oh, quite. Quite.
Do you mean that? the wizard frowned, glancing back at the duck, You're not just saying - his breath caught in his throat.
In a rush of wingbeats and purpose, the temple dragon whooshed right over them, leathery wings beating the air like thunder. It passed so close in the flyover that they could feel the heat of its breath and watch as the nearby leaves singed amongst the highest treetops.
Oh, my, Newton breathed, as the beast coasted resolutely towards the glamoured dragon hovering over the battlefield, completely oblivious to its presence.
Convincing enough for you, wizard? D'Gal smirked.
Awful lot of roaring going on out there, Ferdie commented as the group hurried back towards the clearing they'd left Newton in, their twin cargo in tow, You don't suppose Iiwi's in trouble, do you?
Ivan snorted. Redbird just fricasseed a contingent of mages intent on shooting her down. Suggesting someone like that would be doing anything but laughing maniacally as armies fled before her seriously underestimates her character.
Speaking of seriously underestimating one's character, one of the Drakes began, as they dangled from the back of a white charger like a pair of bagged deer.
I don't want to hear it, Ferdia stated.
Arcadia! a voice cut in over the sounds of crashing underbrush, seconds before D'Gal burst into view at a full gallop, nightmarish steed rearing back as the party scattered aside to a startled halt. Newton arrived an instant later, as the party still blinked in surprise at the ebony-feathered villain's hurried entrance and uncharacteristically anxious mood.
Ferdie frowned. What, you guys get tired of waiting?
That's not it at all, Newton shook his head, You see-
What's with them? D'Gal interrupted, jerking his chin at the ducks thrown across the back of a pale horse.
You mean Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum? Ferdia supplied. Simple. One of them is Drake. The other, as near as we can figure it, is this 'Pale Knight' everyone keeps talking about.
'Pale Knight', eh? the Vycerian repeated, quirking an amused eyebrow.
Oh, it gets better. Apparently this knight took the time to read and memorize Drake's memory, as they're both claiming to be him. None of us has any idea who's who, so we've just tied them both up in the interest of sorting things out later.
Which is terribly unfair, the Drake on the left pouted, You're punishing me as well as him. He glared at the duck beside him.
What's unfair, the Drake on the right countered, Is your despicable attempts at mimicking me!
Oh, this is rich, D'Gal chuckled.
Why would I pretend to be you? the first snapped, It's obvious enough that I'm the real me!
You're just worried they'll challenge us with a game of wits, the second sniffed, Since you're obviously ill-equipped for such a contest.
Me?!? I'm far better educated than a soulless fiend like you!
Oh, well if that's not the pot calling the kettle black-
Enough! Ferdia yelled.
Been at this awhile, have they? D'Gal murmured.
You have no idea, Squeaks sighed.
But the two ducks paid them no mind, engaged as they were in a rather heated argument over just exactly who was the hapless victim and who was the scum-sucking bottomfeeder lying through his beak.
Yes, the two had been reduced to name-calling.
I've got more brains than you, you worthless sack of yak entrails!
At least I don't stink like a steaming pile of dung!
Might have something to do with being the bastard son of an inbred goat!
Spoken by someone whose mother had to smash his egg because he was too stupid to hatch on his own!
At least she hung around that long!
As the combatants resorted to blows a difficult task, as they were still tied up and slung across Draco's horse Bob and Beak put down their insult scorecards and set about calculating each duck's total score. (Unfortunately, for reasons never fully explained, this involved advanced calculus and quite a lot of long division, and both kiwis quit before reaching any totals at all.) But neither Drake nor Draco was about to let a little thing like lack of mobility stop them, settling for ramming their shoulders, kicking, and even occasionally head-butting each other. Their struggles eventually knocked one off-balance and as he slid sideways off the horse's flank, he managed to twist around just enough to kick his rival in the beak, knocking the second duck backwards off the horse as well. After a bit of squirming and some strategic ramming they each managed to work their way to their ankle-bound feet, and the fighting resumed.
Look, growled one, practically beak-to-beak with his mirror image, Drop this charade already. It's getting tiresome.
Oh, I absolutely agree, snarled the other, And were I the imposter, I certainly would stop!
You are the imposter! the first retorted, glaring at his glowering twin with contempt, And as soon as Birdie and the others realize i Urk! he gasped mid-tirade as a blade suddenly pierced his chest, rotated a quarter turn, and withdrew, leaving the duck to stumble a hobbled step as a red stain blossomed on his white mailcoat. A trickle of blood spilled down his beak as he gazed disbelievingly at the wound, swaying a bit as the others looked on in shock.
Damn, he muttered, his eyes losing their focus as he slid lifelessly to the ground.
The surviving Drake gawked in wide-eyed horror at the image of himself lying dead on the ground, blood pooling in the dirt around him. It was, in a word, surreal. For Drake, at least. The rest of the group would have characterized the scene as varying levels of shocking and morbidly satisfactory, depending on whom it was you asked. Slowly, all eyes moved from the fallen duck to the one standing immediately behind his crumpled form, idly twirling a bloodied sword in a fashion reminiscent of gunslingers.
That, D'Gal stated smugly, Is how you end an argument.
Ferdia snatched the sword away, bending over the prone form in a vain attempt to find a pulse.
Drake, ever the eloquent one, was the first to find his voice, gesturing frustratedly from D'Gal to the body of his twisted double as soon as a rather reluctant Lita had cut the ropes binding his hands. You! You just
Ran him through? the Vycerian prompted.
D'Gal shrugged. Seemed the thing to do. Felt mighty good, too.
Anger flashed in the Platyrian's eyes. Idiot! He might've had valuable information!
Then he really should've mentioned it, instead of pretending to be you, the Black Knight shrugged, snatching his sword back from Ferdia and using a strip of cloth from the fallen Draco's mailcoat to wipe off the blade.
but, you promised- Drake stammered.
D'Gal quirked an eyebrow at the duck. Did I kill you?
Well, no, but-
Then I fail to see what your problem is, Dumas, the Vycerian smirked. Unless of course you're worried this sort of thing might be habit-forming.
Drake scowled. Just how did you know which of us was which, anyway?
Highly. Sophisticated. Reasoning, D'Gal deadpanned, emphasizing each word as he allowed a malicious glint to creep into his eyes.
Besides, he grinned, I figured my chances were an even fifty-fifty.
Drake's mind boggled.
Suppose it's just as well I'm not a betting man, D'Gal muttered, sheathing the sword with a shrug and heading back to the waiting Fiend.
Drake blinked at that. You did know, right? That you'd get the right one of us?
Did I say I got the right one? the villain arched an eyebrow, swinging up into the nightmarish horse's worn saddle, Or simply that the odds of doing so were favorable?
But you knew, right? Drake persisted, reaching for the fallen knight's white horse as it nudged his double's fallen form. The animal had as yet shown no propensity to maiming him, after all, and he had no idea what had become of his own pony. Right?
D'Gal busied himself with adjusting Fiend's tack, ignoring the duck.
Newton blinked at the ebony-feathered duck for a moment, then at the surprisingly small, crumpled remains of the man who until a moment ago had been one of the most feared blackguards in the country. He wasn't certain if thanks were in order, or if a carefully-worded reprimand might perhaps be more appropriate given the circumstances. Fortunately, an echoing roar brought his mind back to the present.
milady, he fumbled, trying to bring attention back to the battle at hand.
Ferdia looked up at the wizard, wiping her hands free of the duck's blood with water from her horse's canteen. Newton, yes. You two had something urgent to tell us, right?
Well, let's hear it, then.
he fumbled for words, his eyes wandering back to the crumpled corpse entirely of their own accord.
There's a problem with the dragon, D'Gal volunteered.
What, with Iiwi? Ferdie frowned, tuning in once again to the bellows and roars in the distance. There certainly seemed to be more of them than there had been, but unless a local township had suddenly sprung up and implemented some sort of noise ordinance, he didn't see where that could be the problem. Isn't she a convincing enough dragon?
Ah, see, D'Gal grinned. That's precisely it.
Iiwi was not frantic.
No, she'd shot right past frantic and into full-blown panic a full five minutes ago, when the temple dragon had darted into view. She had no idea where on the scale she ranked in at now; the finer points of panic were generally Ferdie's gambit, not hers. All she knew was, the closer the temple dragon flew, the more whatever she became.
Oh, pretending to be a giant, hulking predator amongst mortals had been all well and good right up until an actual giant, hulking predator showed up. She hadn't known whether to laugh or cry at the dragon's unexpected entrance, so she'd settled on a shriek of terror and a bolt high into the sky. She'd been hoping to put some distance between herself and the temple dragon, learning just a bit too late that, heavy or not, dragons were as fully capable high-altitude fliers as iiwis, if not more so. He followed her straight through the clouds, past the point where even she started to black out from lack of oxygen.
She'd switched tactics, diving back earthwards on the assumption that surely so small and aerodynamic a Flier as herself could outrun the dragon's drag profile. She had to give Newton credit she could hear the adjusted rip of the wind as she cut through it, making it sound as if huge, leathery wings were slicing through the air, instead of her small feathered ones. Small wonder the armies below scattered each time she screamed towards the ground she'd been cutting things close, leveling out at a minimum height for a bird her size. Watching a significantly larger dragon try the same thing over and over must've been terrifying.
Check that: it was terrifying, she gasped, as the dragon behind her cut his dive just as close as she had, clipping treetops and gouging deep trenches through battle lines too slow to scramble to safety.
But her dive had bought her a great deal of speed, and she shot forward, skimming the treetops in a desperate search for a certain lizard. She found him after a moment, riding hard with the others back towards the battlefield.
Newton! she shrieked, pirouetting in the air to circle the wizard, her words echoing off the trees below, rendered unintelligible by the spells modifying her voice.
Still, he anticipated her question. Keep him busy a little longer, Phoenix! he yelled up to her, I need a few minutes to set up the spells!
Keep him busy?!? she screeched, Have you lost your mind?!? Weren't you paying attention to what happened to all those mages that tried to spell him? He's gonna *eat* me!!! Change me back!! I can hide if you just change me back!
This time, it was Beak who answered her, the Magi picking up on the general feelings behind her words, if not the actual words themselves. But Miss Iiwi, the dragon's not trying to hurt you he just wants to be your friend! Maybe you should talk to him!
But I don't speak dragon! she shrieked again, listening to the roar echo off the hills and wondering how true that statement really was.
Just a few minutes, we swear! Beak promised. Try to lure him back to the battle, so he doesn't see us!
Why? she demanded.
He doesn't like mages! Beak shouted back, They keep shooting at him!
With that, the galloping group ducked back into the forest, leaving her to her panic and the entreating calls of the dragon behind her.
Fine, then. They wanted her back at the front? She'd go back to the front. Ferdinand's troops looked like they could still use a bit of help, after all. There had to be a mage in the Pale Knight's ranks somewhere that she could goad into attacking her. And even if she couldn't, as long as the dragon behind her was as Beak said - out to impress, maybe he'd pitch in once she'd thrown a few fireballs at the Knight's forces.
Either way, she was going to see to it someone paid for this. She hadn't felt mind-numbing terror like this since that cave-in at the Valley of the Kings all those years ago and even then, she'd had more of her wits about her. How did Ferdie function like this?!? Or did he simply let his higher-brain functions shut down in favor of raw survival instinct?
She made a mental note to ask him if she got out of this alive. Right after she smacked Newton, of course. A lot.
Ferdie blinked as the terrified dragon-Iiwi dove away, frantically winging back to the battle to distract her mistaken suitor while the group galloped for higher ground.
I don't get it! he shouted up to the wizard, I thought the potion was ready already!
It is! Newton replied, But there's more to sealing a dragon than that!
Such as what? Ferdie demanded. Iiwi's panicking up there! She's gonna have a heart attack if we don't get some help to her fast!
The potion should extinguish his fire and block his magic a bit, the wizard explained, But I'll need another Silencing ward and a Confusion spell to block the rest of it, and a Slow spell to dampen his reflexes on the ground. And all that's simply to get him into a state where it's even possible to begin the Sealing incantation! For that, I'll need my grimoire, and time to concentrate on a rather long and complicated spell!
So? What's the hold-up?
Aside from refreshing my memories of the Slow and Confusion wards, I'd like to cast a Magic Enhancement charm on myself, to boost the strength of my spells, Newton replied, dodging off into a clearing as the group crested the final hill separating them from the battle raging a mile to their left. The others followed, slowing their steeds as Newton dismounted, grimoire in hand, and quickly paged through a thick spellbook, skimming the two warding spells and quickly casting the enchantment charm.
Now, then, he said, hurriedly removing a glass flask half-full of blue liquid from his saddlebag and presenting it to Ferdia with some degree of care, Milady, take this, and keep it safe.
The bluebird frowned, tilting the flask this way and that in an effort to identify its contents. What is it?
A second draught of the dragon's potion, the wizard explained, securing the grimoire within his robes. In the event the containment spells go awry, it should buy you enough time to escape.
She frowned. We're not about to leave y-
Milady, if something goes wrong, there won't be a me to leave! Just please?
Ferdia sighed. Fine, I'll take it, alright? But we're running interference for you once that thing's on the ground.
Yeah, Lita grinned, hauling the sheep up by the scruff of its neck with one hand and twirling a jeweled scepter in the other, We've got all kinds of dragon bait.
Newton paused in his scurrying about and sighed wearily. Will arguing with you do any good?
Not likely, no, Ferdia grinned.
Then, please, be careful, milady. All of you, he glanced at the assembled group. You don't quite appreciate the sort of menace you're dealing with here. Angry, wounded dragons are vicious things, and-
Pfft! Lita snorted, D'Gal's vicious. Dragons're just big an' mean. We can handle that.
Not to rush anyone, Ferdie chided them as the dragons streaked by overhead, But Iiwi's got to be getting a bit tired of it at this point...
Ah, yes, Newton looked up, casting a bright, quick light spell overhead as the smaller dragon arced back their way. I need to borrow your wings, Phoenix! he shouted as she drew near, These spells cannot be cast from a distance!
Iiwi roared sharply in return.
She wants to know how you're going to do that, since her talons are full already, Beak translated. She doesn't want to lose the fire-rod, since it's the only weapon she's got.
I thought she might say as much, Newton smirked, heading out to the middle of the field. I'm a lizard, Phoenix, remember? I stick to things! Give me your back, and I'll be fine!
The smaller dragon roared again, nodding as she folded her wings in close and dove at the wizard in the field. So real was the illusion of her size and ferocity that the group found themselves involuntarily retreating back a few steps to make way for the giant mass streaking for them. Newton looked especially uneasy, as survival instincts battled with the knowledge of his illusion. As the dragon cleared the trees, impossibly close to the ground, it banked sideways, its bulk enveloping the wizard in the blink of an eye an instant before arching skywards, turning at the top of its loop to fight for altitude.
The group crept out to watch Iiwi's departing climb, anxiously praying the wizard's grip held, but quickly scrambled for cover as the temple dragon, barely a dozen wingbeats behind the Flier, repeated the Flier's desperate move.
You really think this is going to work? Ferdie wondered as the aerial chase continued.
Gonna be one helluva barbeque if it doesn't, Lita observed mildly.
Ivan ignored the teen's glib commentary, watching the dragons intently. It'd better work, he stated, For all our sakes.
Newton voiced an involuntary yelp of surprise as a solid wall of dragon swung his way, defensively throwing one arm up to shield his face on instinct a fraction of a second before his outstretched hand hit feathers. His fingertips had barely time to register the sensation of latching onto swiftly-flowing feathers before he found himself jerked off his feet, careening skywards at so steep an angle that up seemed like down for a moment. When the world finally straightened itself out, he found himself dangling dangerously close to falling from the back of a decisively more glib Flier than her panicked squawks had indicated.
Ha-ha! Iiwi laughed, furiously flapping her wings to recover speed and altitude as the lizard scrambled for a less precarious perch than halfway down the bird's back. The wizard's presence and promise of dragon-sealing spells was enough to calm her fears just enough for some portion of her sense of humor to surface again, and she grasped at that with all the tenacity of a drowning creature. Comedy helped her cope. You should've seen your face! I didn't think anyone but Ferdie could look that terrified!
So glad my terror amuses you, the wizard muttered, grumbling a moment before glancing about them in awe. The filmy, transparent form of her dragon-self completely enveloped them, giving Iiwi just enough of an idea of spatial placement to make her movements look believable while at the same time refrain from obscuring her field of vision. From this angle, it was difficult to believe the illusion appeared solid to anyone. So this is what the inside of a glamour looks like, he mused, I'd wondered.
Weird, huh? she nodded, Like you've been swallowed by a ghost. But it's nice to be able to talk to someone again. How's that work, by the way?
The vocal glamour is like the visual one, Phoenix, Newton stated, Only those outside the spell perceive it. He shrugged, turning to look back at the dragon behind them. How are you faring with our friend back there? Not too much trouble, I hope?
Nah, I'm faster an' more maneuverable than he is. Plus, I can dodge through trees. He hasn't quite figured out how I manage that yet. Mostly, though, he's being a gentleman - keeping his distance, helping me fry some troops, that sort of thing.
You're likely the first dragon he's seen since waking, the wizard stated. He means to follow you 'til you calm yourself and land. Probably curious as to whether or not you know of other dragons in the area.
Iiwi snorted. Please. He's lonely, thinks he's frightened me, and is desperately trying to convince me he's a nice dragon that just wants to play. I'd feel sorry for him if I didn't know he'd swallow me alive if he got close enough to realize he'd been tricked.
Newton winced. About that
Unwilling to take her gaze off the skies before her for more than an instant, the Flier flicked her eyes back, catching the uneasy wizard at the edge of her peripheral vision. There was something about his tone that told her she wasn't going to like what she was about to hear. Yeah?
I'm going to need to be quite a bit closer to him if I'm to hit him with the potion.
Oy, she sighed, pumping her wings to catch a passing updraft and boost her altitude. Somehow, I figured you were gonna say something like that. Oh, well, she shrugged, banking around on the rising current to face her scarlet-scaled suitor, Into the lion's den we go, then
Just one thing, though? Newton continued, as the temple dragon, startled by Iiwi's abrupt change in tactics, banked around with her, forming a following circle as the Flier corkscrewed to ever smaller circles in an attempt to round on her pursuer.
Beasts or no, dragons are magic-users. Just like any other mage, if he's paying enough attention, he will notice my presence.
Now he tells me, Iiwi muttered under her breath. Then I guess I'll just have to be charming, she purred.
The temple dragon was confused.
He'd been on his way back to his hunting grounds in the East, after a fine breakfast of several pestering magic-wielding two-legs that had woken him that morning convinced him that, while prey was plentiful here, it was also irksome. He wanted nothing to do with these bothersome two-legs; instead of fleeing before him as those in the East did, the annoying creatures in this region were brazenly trying to not just capture him, but to control him, much as they did the simple-minded herd-beasts they rode. As if one of his blood could be brought under their puny heels. Still, they'd been persistent enough that, in the absence of any real reason to stay in these strange mountains, the disheartened dragon had simply decided to return home.
He'd hardly been in the air an hour before he'd heard it: a dragon roar. And not the sweet, simulated entreaty the two-legs had tricked him with the night before no, this was a full-blooded battle cry, dripping with challenge and fury. Could this truly be another dragon, or was it simply another ruse concocted by the tricksome two-legs? Curious - and figuring he really had nothing more to lose but his chances of reaching his den by sundown - he'd turned about, flying back to the western mountains at top speed. And this time, it seemed, his efforts had not been in vain he'd hardly cleared the cloud-swept peaks of the outer range before spotting the feisty dragoness as she dove at two squabbling herds of two-legs.
She was small several decades younger than he, or perhaps the lack of adequate game in the region had retarded her growth but sleek and healthy, her rust-colored scales gleaming in the sun as she almost gleefully menaced the night-colored two-legs with her fiery presence. Again and again she circled and dived, sending the pesky creatures scattering before her with each ground-skimming pass never taking any of them in her jaws, but toying with them, like a playful fledgling. Occasionally, a magic-blessed two-legs would toss a spell or two at her, and she would roll or dodge aside, lithe and graceful as a wyvern, and drive off her attackers with a plume of orange flames. She hadn't seen him, focused as she was on the roiling masses of two-legs below, but her playful, self-assured presence captivated him nonetheless. The loneliness that had plagued his existence since he'd awoken in that cold stone prison suddenly became too great to bear, and he'd eagerly rushed towards this vision of comfort and companionship, his ecstatic roar of greeting echoing off the mountaintops.
She had all but squeaked in terror, and fled.
That confused him mightily. To his mind, he hadn't done anything threatening. Nothing about his open approach or light-hearted greeting had been tinged with even a trace of territoriality or with challenge; only with friendliness and relief. But when, despite her cries of alarm, no other dragons came to the aid of the frightened young dragoness as she skittered across the sky, another thought occurred to him. Perhaps she had never seen another dragon? After all, parents were quite skilled at hiding, heating, and stocking their nests; it was entirely possible hers had perished before she'd fledged. Such things had happened in the past; he'd encountered quite a few orphans back in the time before the two-legs had locked him away, and she was rather young. Perhaps a more moderate approach was in order for one so skittish calm her fears from a distance first, until her curiosity overwhelmed her shyness. If get her to play, then - prove he was friendly. But
how? An orphan might not recognize typical dragon-play; he needed to find a form of play she could relate to.
She seemed determined to continue her odd attack on the herds of fighting two-legs. Was this a trick she'd learned, a way to catch a great deal of prey in a land with so little game? Despite her swoops and plumes of flame, she didn't seem to be taking any prey, simply attacking them while they fought amongst themselves, and in truth only a very few of the two-legs seemed interested in attacking her. Such a strange was to hunt. Still, it seemed something she wanted to do, and in the absence of any other common ground, he opted to do it as well, diving down at the squabbling creatures with a mighty puff of flame.
See? he roared, to the fluttering dragoness, We are the same.
Still she fled, dodging and weaving, climbing and diving, fast and agile and always just out of his reach. She even braved the forest a few times, darting amongst the trees and rocks in a way that ought to have been impossible at the speeds she navigated at; much as he wanted to play along, this trick was something he was far too large and unfamiliar with to attempt. But despite how high and far and fast she fled, she would not leave the mountains. Always she returned to the fighting herds - protecting her kill, he supposed, as it were.
Time had taught him patience. He'd keep trying to earn her good graces until she either abandoned her fear, or grew tired of all this darting about and took to land.
Suddenly, just as he'd resigned himself to an afternoon of following her about in play, she seemed to abruptly change her mind, swinging around sharply to face him. There was a determined, even defiant, gleam in her bright emerald eyes. What was this, then? Was she attacking now? He curled his wings, circled around her strike - only to find she circled with him, tightening her turn as she attempted to swoop ever closer to his uncertain form. She certainly looked as if she wanted to chase him away, what with her taught posture, piercing glare, and resolutely-set jaw and yet her talons were tucked up, her fire quiet. Was she finally curious, then? Guarded, perhaps, and cautious but curious? He stretched his wings, braking slower ever so subtly, allowing her to circle nearer.
He didn't sense the two-legs with her until she was far too close to dodge.
He's onto us! Iiwi yelled as she twisted into a dive at the dragon, noting a sudden flash of anger in its giant eyes and the threat of fire brewing in its nostrils. A menacing growl rumbled in its throat, building up to an echoing roar as she careened at it on a collision course.
Not to worry! Newton replied, rising to a half-crouch on her back, one hand out to steady himself as he lobbed the vial of potion at the dragon's open maw. He remembered the Protection spell he'd placed on the fragile vial just in time, canceling it an instant before the glass shattered against the creature's teeth, extinguishing the ball of flame building in its throat as Iiwi whipped into a tight turn to avoid slamming into the beast.
The dragon's roar became a choking sputter, its great, leathery wings beating the air frantically as it struggled now to stay aloft without the help of its magic. But magic or no, it was still fast, and not just a little furious at its betrayal by the vision it had courted so genteelly. It lashed out at the swooping Flier with one razor-taloned claw as it floundered in the air, claws raking through the flank of a dragoness that wasn't there as Iiwi dodged within the glamour with a startled squawk.
This battle was far from over, Newton reminded himself. A dragon this size was a force to be reckoned with, as it had centuries of experience and considerable magic to draw upon. The potion's magic-silencing spell would not hold for long; it was time for the battle's next regrettable salvo. Motia Impedium! he yelled, gathering the spell as Iiwi looped around the thrashing dragon, Slow!
The spell leapt from his fingers, ice-blue tendrils of light that flowed over the dragon's red scales, slowing its midair lunge as if it were suddenly moving through thick, sucking mud, or part of a slow-motion reel. Hindered by the enchantment's impeding effects, it was unable to beat its wings fast enough to stay aloft, and as if a huge millstone had suddenly been thrown around its neck, the creature's lunge became a dive. Its wings sluggishly flared out to slow its earthward plunge, and its mouth opened in a roar of horror for while it could no longer react to things as fast as they occurred, the dragon was fully aware of all that transpired. And a dead-weight plunge from high above the mountaintops is the sort of thing no creature looks forward to.
Far below them, the battle's surviving combatants paused in their fighting, having noticed the commotion above and reached the conclusion that, though one dragon had shown a marked propensity to attack only the Knight's forces, a dragon in free-fall was not likely to try not to crush anyone. Thus the soldiers both those of Ferdinand's army and the Pale Knight's more lucid berserkers scattered once more, desperately scrambling from the tumbling dragon's crashing shadow. Its sluggish attempts at righting itself finally succeeded in edging its belly up seconds before landfall, turning a bone-crushing plummet into a scale-tearing skid along the blood-soaked grassy field, sliding and tumbling completely out of control across the slope. Its bulk and impeded reaction time left it at the mercy of gravity alone as the dazed creature's momentum pushed it forward, claws and flailing wings tearing through the sod and sending up fountains of dirt in their wake as the fallen dragon crushed all those too slow to escape its turbulent path.
Iiwi followed the careening creature as it tumbled and skid towards its eventual halt at the foot of the slope, plunging earthward to get back within casting range before the dragon could recover from the shock of its fall. Newton prepared the next spell during her decent, clutching the feathers at her shoulders tight in a bid to keep from being whisked from her back by the biting air currents whipping by as he gathered the Confusion ward together. Iiwi bottomed out of her dive a full thirty feet from the ground, shooting forward over the torn field in a spurt of level flight that gave the wizard all the time he needed to lock the spell on target and release it. The charm's magic took the form of a swift-moving orange shockwave, hitting the grounded dragon full-force as the already-dazed creature struggled back to its feet amidst the ground bones and scrunched sod that had cushioned its fall. The wave seemed to ripple the fabric of reality when it slammed into the dragon's unmoving bulk, twisting and distorting the world around it to all that looked upon the writhing spell. At first, it seemed the dragon was resolutely weathering the oscillating force of the shockwave, much as a century-oak weathers a blustering gale wind but then its fiery red eyes glazed over in an orange haze. It shook its head, staggering back a step as its balance wavered, roaring in pain and anger as it stumbled sideways. Its dulled eyes tracked Iiwi lazily, feebly snapping at her as it swaggered this way and that like a drunkard.
We need to land, quickly! Newton shouted to the Flier, watching the hexed dragon closely as Iiwi angled in for a landing that wouldn't set them too close to the beast. The inhibitory spells seemed to be holding, as was the potion but for how long was anyone's guess. Time was of the essence now. I'm canceling the glamour! he yelled, reaching into his robes for the grimoire that contained the final spell in this shameful ambush, I'll need the energy for the containment spell!
Whatever you want, Iiwi shrugged, jostling the wizard a bit as he fumbled for the right page. Her attention was currently focused on the soldiers flowing across the grounds before her. Would they rush the two of them, she wondered, as the ghostly dragon outline clinging to her form dissipated like so much colored smoke. And indeed, quite a few heads swung her way in double-takes as the dragon-come-Phoenix gingerly touched down several yards from the staggering temple dragon currently clawing at its throbbing temples but no one seemed all that interested in going after her and Newton just now. Instead, Ferdinand's battle-weary troops streamed right past both her and the confused dragon, some nodding greetings and words of praise, others expressing a profound hope that their luck held out against so mighty a beast, but all abandoning the ruined fields in favor of the sounding bugle that called them after the Pale Knight's routed army.
A lone figure on a white charger broke from the teeming mass of sweaty, blood-and-dirt encrusted infantry, leisurely trotting towards them as if this were not a battlefield, but a leisurely meeting between casual acquaintances out for a ride. Excellent work, mage, Ferdinand called to the good-naturedly, Your monarch is most pleased. Now if you would be so kind as to direct it to-
My liege! Newton cried, tossing a quick Shield spell about the startled bluebird and shying horse as the dragon snaked a foreleg the size of an oak tree at the rider in gleaming silver armor, Sire, you must not come near here! This dragon is not yet caught! - And even in its Confused state, your armor will draw its eye! Please, sir, get back!
Ferdinand harrumphed, glaring down his beak at the dragon with disdain as his charger nervously sidestepped and skittered back from the crouching beast. Very well, then, he conceded, turning his horse back towards his troops as they chased down their routed foes, But I expect that creature in the air the instant he's under your control, mage! A beast like that could turn the whole war around!
With that, the prince galloped off, shouting words of encouragement and hustle to those of his ranks that lagged behind the rest as the armored columns raced after the scattered remnants of the Pale Knight's frenzied madmen without a second glance to the fantastic trio now facing off in the midst of the field. But if the soldiers' reaction to their appearance on the field was a lackluster one, the dragon's made up for it in spades. With the shiny glint of Ferdinand's armor now gone, its gaze drifted to the next most outstanding, distinct flash of color in view Iiwi. At the sight of the bird and lizard adorned in the same scents and magical auras as the rust-hued glamoured dragoness and, indeed, even standing where she had once been the realization that it had been tricked again - dawned. With a hiss of rage and betrayal that rapidly escalated into a bellow of unchecked fury, it tossed its head, eyes flashing with ire as the dull orange haze lifted like morning mist from the slit-pupiled red orbs. It shot the pair a look of pure bloodlust.
Newton took a step back as the glowering creature hunkered into a low crouch and lurched resolutely forward, the blue tendrils of the Slow spell straining to hold it back as it stalked ever closer. It it shook the Confusion spell!
I kind of figured that out on my own! Iiwi gulped, snapping her wings open and rustling her feathers nervously. Can you cast it again?
Newton shook his head, silently weaving a booster spell to reinforce the remaining spells. In theory, yes, I could. But right now I'm a might more worried about making sure the Slow spell holds! He repeated the signs and gestures, and the thinning blue wisps of said spell thickened and glowed as brightly as they had when newly cast, tightening as they drew the dragon back for an instant before its renewed determination began straining them apart again.
Iiwi fluttered back a step as the creature took yet another step towards them. It suddenly looked far larger than it had before, glaring down at them with cold malice in its eyes and a shiny coat of saliva gleaming across an impressive display of very large, very sharp teeth. It-it's getting bigger!
Aye, Newton nodded, casting the booster spell once more, It's drawing magic to itself to fight our spells. He grimaced. Had he learned nothing from the past days' reports? Two squads of mages had already fallen before this dragon, and yet he'd had the audacity to think he could take it on alone? That binding spells were more effective than controlling wards, that his level of experience and strategy somehow surpassed that of his colleagues?
No, no. They'd fared well at the start of this fight only because they had taken the dragon by surprise. Now they'd lost the initiative, lost the surprise. Now the dragon was beginning to fight back and it was far stronger now in its fury than he had imagined.
Look! Iiwi cried, flaring her wings in alarm as wispy strands of smoke began curling from the dragon's nostrils.
Newton winced. The dragon was breaking his defensive wards one by one, far faster than he was able to reinforce them which, cataclysmic as that would normally seem to a mage in his situation, was only magnified by the additional fact that this cycle of spell-casting and reinforcement was keeping him from beginning the binding spell. The potion's failing!
So do something!
I-I don't have time! If I don't keep the wards up-
There was a great crackling sound as the Slow spell wrenched apart, the dragon tossing its head back with a triumphant roar to the heavens. It brought its gaze down to their level slowly, malice creeping into vengeful mirth as it curled its gums back with an almost leisurely smugness. Smoke curled from its nostrils and around the corners of its mouth as the great beast tensed into a crouch, glaring down at wizard and Flier with a toothy, predatory grin, growling softly.
Its muscles twitched ever so slightly as it sprang into a pounce
- which was ruined an instant later, as a rounded cylinder of glass shattered against its cheek. It whipped its head around, wings flaring to halt its mid-air lunge to take stock of its newest attackers. Bluish liquid oozed down its scales, and it roared with outraged recognition as the puffs of smoke again vanished from its nostrils.
Hey! Ferdia shrieked from a mere fifty paces away, waving in big, exaggerated jumping jacks in an attempt to catch as much of the dragon's attention as possible, Big, dumb, an' ugly! Over here!
Look what I got
Lita sang a few steps to the cop's right, lobbing a jewel-encrusted golden egg in the air and smacking it with a gilded scepter, sending the bauble pinging sharply off the dragon's scaly neck. The rabbit reached into one of her many bulging cargo pockets, fishing out a handful of polished diamonds the size of goose eggs as the sign holder danced about, their struggling mountain sheep adorned in glittering gems and held aloft over his head, Lotsa nice - *smack* - she batted a softball-sized diamond the dragon's way, - tasty - *smack* - jewels!
The dragon blinked as the gem bounced off its snout, rumbling a warning growl at these noisy new interlopers, its winding tail lashing about back and forth like an angry cat's. Behind them, Iiwi and Newton remained motionless, frozen in place.
Run, you idiots! Ferdie shrieked at the pair from the safety of the trees along the hill's edge. The coward's words seemed to snap them out of their petrified stupor, as bird and wizard scrambled back into the air, taking flight like the proverbial Bat Outta Hell as the dragon swung around with an outraged snarl.
Elsewhere, Drake and D'Gal were steadily chipping away at a loose stone in a tall, rambling fence made up of thin stone slabs stuck haphazardly into the ground like grandmother's teeth. The Platyrian had not been too keen on the idea of splitting off with his nemesis so soon after the fiend had demonstrated a very real predisposition to killing individuals matching Drake's description, but had found himself abandoned all the same when the rest of the group rushed to the aid of their wizard and Flier. He warily shot a glance over at D'Gal, in case the fiend had taken it into his head to attempt a re-enactment of the Pale Knight's death scene but the Vycerian seemed intent on prying the slab from its place in the fence. Drake frowned.
What exactly are we doing, again? he queried, as the loosened stone wobbled, nearly out of its setting.
Opening the gates, D'Gal shrugged.
Does it matter?
Drake paused, considering this. He certainly couldn't see anything especially unusual about the fields beyond the stones. Perhaps he was simply being paranoid. Watching his own murder at the hands of his arch nemesis was tended to have that sort of effect on him. I guess not, he frowned, hefting the rock out of the ground. It was surprisingly heavy for something so thin, he thought, nearly pitching backwards under its weight as he struggled to dump the slab sideways.
But, at last, the rambling wall of stone was broken. A light breeze rustled the long grasses beyond, producing the wispy sound of air escaping through a crack in a pressurized enclosure that sounded suspiciously like ephemeral giggling. Seconds later, the ground began to rumble ominously.
You know what? the Platyrian stated, gazing worriedly into the green pasture, Now it does.
It's really quite simple, D'Gal shrugged. I overheard one of the mages discussing the place before the battle started. Ought to make for a fine diversion. He raised one eyebrow archly, You do want to help the wizard, don't you, Dumas?
Drake gulped. You're using my name correctly again. I have mentioned how much that freaks me out, right?
Oh, Drake was a tad too nervous to press the issue further. The ground was shaking worse now, a cloud of dust rising in the distance as D'Gal swung back up into Fiend's saddle. Too late, Drake noted his borrowed steed had long since fled, galloping away from the broken wall as fast as his hooves would take him. So, ah, - What exactly is it I'm supposed to do to help Newton?
D'Gal flashed him an amused, evil grin, tugging back on Fiend's reins as the animal prepared to bolt as well. Run.
Run? Why ru- Drake paused, gasping in horror as an endless stream of hungry mountain sheep suddenly appeared over the pleasant green hill, stampeding at full speed for the gap in the fence. Run!!! the duck shrieked, tearing off down the hillside for the relative safety of the battlefield below.
The dragon's teeth closed on open air as it leapt up after Iiwi and Newton, snarling in frustration as the Flier whizzed above its head faster than it could react, thanks to the wizard's quickly-spun Velocity spell. The creature's earlier earthward plummet had badly wrenched its wings, depriving them of the strength to get its hulking form airborne, even with the assistance of its natural magic.
Bellowing angrily, it turned its attention to the scattered group of two-legs mocking it below, springing after Lita as the jewel-pitching rabbit ventured just a bit too close to its shoulder. The fleet-footed teen took off running, zigzagging across the ruined field just a breadth ahead of the earthbound creature's snapping jaws. Frustrated, the dragon flexed its crippled wings, giving itself an extra boost of speed as it again leapt for the rabbit
- only to have a veritable phalanx of bleating mountain sheep stampede out of the woods in front of it mid-pounce, scrambling and squishing underfoot as the stampeding horde found itself before and, indeed, under a sizeable predator. The dragon's head snapped around in confusion at the sudden swarm of white, swiftly-moving ground cover, even as the woolly fiends scattered in terror at the sight of it.
While the dragon gawked at the swarms of sheep flowing about and, for the boldest and brazenest flock-mates amongst them, munching on - its feet, Newton seized upon the beast's renewed distraction to begin earnestly chanting the Sealing spell, flowing from word to word with minimal verbal fumbles and skips as he fought to maintain his grip on both his grimoire and the high-flying Iiwi. It was not, he remarked, the proper way to cast a spell such as this but it was as good as he was likely to get. And besides, despite his insistence that they flee, Lady Ferdia and her companions were still ringing the edges of the battle, chasing the sheep back into the fray and doing their best to divert the dragon's attention from the swift-flying scarlet missile darting about overhead.
-and in the name of Dragus, Demon Lord, he proclaimed, one hand raised to the clouds, I bind thy magic and banish thee *oopmf*! he pitched forward as Iiwi whipped around in a sharply-banked dive out of the leaping dragon's path. The wizard felt his grip on her feathers slipping as they zipped around against a downdraft, and clutched frantically for a secure hold, temporarily forgetting the battered grimoire. It slipped from his hands, yellowed pages fluttering and tearing in the wind as it plummeted earthwards.
Iiwi heard Newton's cry of anguish, and caught sight of the tumbling book an instant later, curling her wings into a stoop as she arced after it, shifting her grip on the fire-rod to free up a talon in case the wizard failed to catch the volume as they whizzed beneath it. Unfortunately, the dragon had heard the wizard's cry as well, and coiled into a spring, leaping at the leather-bound book as it fluttered helplessly in the wind. To the assembled group's horror and Iiwi's shriek of alarmed surprise as she just barely snatched her toes back in time the beast's jaws closed around it with an echoing snap!
Newton gasped in dismay as the spell and many others like it were burnt to cinders in the belch of flame the spiteful creature loosed skyward upon its landing. Then - The spell! he cried, a look of horror crossing his face as the dragon grinned up at them, I didn't finish the incantation!
Iiwi glanced back at him, worried. They'd seen the effects of malformed spells before but never one of this level and magnitude. The fireburst that had brought the dragon's rampage at the castle to an end loomed in the back of her memory like a bad dream. How far'd you get? she inquired nervously.
Not very far, the wizard grimaced, glancing about for signs of magic gone awry, I got as far as binding its magic, but stopped in the midst of banishing it to quiet slumber until it finds peace. But
I don't see
it doesn't seem to be-
There was a crash of thunder above them, as dark, purple-gray clouds rushed across the previously clear sky, angrily swirling amidst blankets of lightning and a sudden, bone-chilling wind. Every last creature on the field froze in place, gazing up in awe and terror as day became night and hail and freezing rain began to fall, swept along by gusts of bitter wind. For a moment, there seemed to be no sound at all but the booming thunder and shriek of the wind. Then, as one, every last bird, sheep, forest creature, and untended horse turned and bolted for the safety of the distant hills with screams of terror.
You were saying? Iiwi wavered, worriedly swooping away from the clouds while trying to avoid the torn glances of the half-frenzied dragon below. Newton shuddered.
perhaps this is the way the spell is supposed to go, he ventured without much conviction as the Flier warily circled a dragon with half a mind to run, the other lost to bloodlust, Binding spells of this magnitude are supposed to be great and terrible things to behold.
The building spell-storm above them rumbled as if in response, lightning crackling along its underside and jolting the forests below. Wings slicked to stalling with a coating of ice, Iiwi abruptly set down onto the ground, sprinting alongside Newton as the lizard ran to shield their clustered friends from the wild elements the storm was loosing violently onto the world below. The driving torrents of hail and frozen rain abruptly stopped, the wind swirling like an unseen tornado around the clearing for an instant as the spell and the field's occupants seemed to hold its breath for a one last, lingering moment, as the constant peal of thunder began to fade. A bright, glowing light began to build in the center of the wind and swirling blanket of clouds.
The monstrous spell building overhead solidified, and struck.
The glowing center of light burst into a cluster of brightly glowing green-blue blobs of ball lightning, riding the circling wind currents to their edge before they seemed to take on a speed all their own, banishing the wind and air out from the circle and swiftly drawing in around the dragon like a luminescent noose. The glowing balls of magic-infused lightning sped their pace even faster, stretching into comets of light and energy as they lifted the bewildered creature from the ground in the swirling, glowing sphere of a cage their streaking paths traced. The balls' paths quickly bled into one another, forming a yellowish-glowing orb with the dragon suspended in its center. Alarmed, the creature began thrashing about, trying to break free but as the group watched, dumbfounded, a great, fiery thunderbolt struck the orb, forked lightning licking across its surface as the dragon writhed and squealed within.
What's happening? Ferdie shouted over the dragon's shrieking roars and the ever-increasing peal of wind and thunder.
It should bind the beast's magic, the wizard hazarded, frowning up at the mage-storm and panicked dragon, but the banishment -
Ho! A disapproving Ferdinand appeared again at the forest edge with his sister and a contingent of guards at his side, urging his hesitant charger out into the threatening darkness looming above the field as he rode up to the clustered group. The princess and guards followed, and after the now-customary glares of disdain were exchanged between all assembled parties, the prince returned his attention to the magic raging overhead, glaring at the dragon suspended amidst the swirling bolts and roiling clouds of the spell. What, pray tell, he scowled, Is happening now, mage?
I don't know! Newton shrugged, half-bowing to the distracted royals, I-I never finished the Sealing spell; there's no telling what the magic will do when the Binding completes and the Banishment begins!
No telling what it will do? Ferdinand repeated, glaring down at the wizard, I'll tell you what it will do! That storm stretches beyond our every horizon! Fields and forests ignite with every bolt of its lightning; beasts stampede at every clap of its thunder. Its winds even now are tearing trees and boulders from the ground and sending rock- and earth-slides hurtling down the mountain slopes! At this rate, I will have no country left to rule! Stop the spell this instant!
Stop it?!? Newton gawked, I dare do no such thing! One can't go meddling with a spell once it's been set in motion! There's no telling what might happen!
Eeeek!! a horrified Ferdianna shrieked, gloved hands flying to her beak as she paled a shade, delicately-tearing eyes fixed on the writhing dragon overhead, It's shrinking! The poor dear is shrinking!
So it is, Newton remarked with surprise. He frowned, thinking. The spell is not binding its magic, but banishing it altogether, he said, squinting through the swirling wind, As a magical creature, the dragon's size is linked in part to its magical strength and ability. It should get considerably smaller as its magic is removed. But without the temporal restrictions on the Seal the Sleep spell that bound the shrunken creature inside the temple you found it in, he clarified for the group's benefit, as Ferdie grinned nervously, - there's no telling how long such a curse will last, or even how much of its magic the spell will attempt to banish. It was only supposed to bind it, after all - to Seal it away, like a seed, not bleed it as it is
Why wouldn't it remove the lot of it, if that is what the Binding was meant to do? Ferdinand queried. Not that it's a fate I had wished for a creature that could've chased my enemies from the land for good, mage, but wouldn't your blasted spell simply drain the beast until it's naught but a harmless fire-lizard, and be finished?
Newton winced. It may never be finished, sir. This was a very strong dragon, and dragons pull their magic from the world around them. He paused for a minute, blinking in horror as a thought occurred to him. If it can take up magic in as fast as the spell banishes it, he croaked, it'll burn through all there is before the spell finally runs its course.
But it shrank! Ferdie protested, That means it's lost a bunch of magic already, right? So it couldn't possibly hold its own now-
Oh, but it could, Newton countered with a shiver. Dragons are fast learners. It may have lost much of its size and strength before figuring out how to fight the spell - but now it's learned how, there's no stopping it. You must understand it's battling for its life at this point, he explained, As a magical creature, it cannot survive without some small bit of magic coursing through its veins. If the spell manages to rob it of every last bit of magic it can summon, it will die.
Ferdinand frowned not out of concern for his ruined battle-dragon, but from the memory of a half-forgotten childhood lesson on the ways of the world. He squinted up at the swirling clouds overhead, the lightning violently illuminating sky and dragon with each deafening burst of thunder. I once was told, mage, he stated, and undercurrent of concern tingeing his disappointment at the lost prize, That the world cannot exist without magic. Is there truth to this?
I wouldn't know, my liege, Newton shook his head unconvincingly. The Prince had been schooled by scholars, after all; he merely had the warning admonitions of a handful of ancient grimoires. Though I'd just as rather not find out.
Then *do* something!
Aye, sir, Newton nodded, sending a worried glance his friends' way as he pushed through the driving winds to reach his horse and began paging through spellbook after spellbook in search of a helpful answer, or even a likely counterspell.
Hey! Ferdia yelled at the prince as Ferdinand made to yell after the wizard, Ease off, eh? It's not like we meant for any of this to happen, and we're doing our best to fix the worst of it! I mean, thanks to us, you've got your sister, the Pale Knight is dead, his army's devastated and on the run, and the menace of this dragon is nearly at an end!
The entire world may be at an end! the prince retorted.
I think I've got it! Newton proclaimed, as the group this time with Ferdinand included rushed to his side. He pointed at a page of faded runes wandering across the faded calf-skin of a book older than the very mountain they stood upon. It's a reversal spell, used centuries ago in battle to cancel high-level spells. It's says it's a, ah a type of loop, say, that uses the energy of one spell to power another-
A feedback loop? D'Gal blinked. Clever.
Newton nodded absently. The mages back then were practical ones rather than risk exhausting themselves by constantly calling on all their energy to block, counter, or cancel a spell only to cast one of their own in response to the first, they created a charm that takes the energy of one spell and uses it to fuel another!
Ferdie frowned. Wouldn't it be easier to just call off the magic?
Generally? No. The wizard shook his head. And as I've said, that can only be done that when you know what's been cast; otherwise, you're mixing magics with an unknown variable never a wise thing to do. This way, you don't need to know what's been cast, because you're not countering or canceling the magic, but redirecting it into another spell!
So cast it! half the group exclaimed.
I need another high-level spell first! he protested, Something we actually want to happen!
Why not simply banish the thing? Ferdianna suggested, frowning as she glanced about the group with the dawning realization that Drake was not among them.
I can't! Why did he bother explaining these things, when these were the questions he got for his efforts? Newton asked himself. The point of this spell is to redirect the magic. I can't cast it on the same creature the original magic was working on!
Well, then, the princess huffed, finally catching sight of her knight on the field, Why not send something nasty at those sheep down there? After all, while it's certainly noble of Sir Drake to distract them with his attempts to lure them out of danger, I can't help feeling his presence would best be here.
Oh, gag. Ferdia muttered, tuning out her embarrassingly empty-headed double. Oh, how she longed to be home, and free from the puffball's constant irri- -wait. Say, Newton, she frowned, Is there such a thing as a Banishment spell that sends something back to where it came from?
Newton frowned, thinking. I think so, milady. He paged though the crumbling grimoire resting in his arms, scanning the sections for a barely-remembered line he'd glimpsed in the book days ago. Yes, yes, here it is! A bit archaic, and generally used to send recalcitrant demons on their way, but
the notes in the margin claim it has also been used as a quick way to return distant travelers to their homeland- he paused, glancing up at Ferdia. You
you mean to return to your world with this, don't you, milady?
Well, yeah, Ferdia shrugged, That was the idea, provided it would work
Leaving? So soon? Newton blinked. But they couldn't leave yet they had to
no, wait, it was
no, they'd done that too
.But, still. First they slay the Pale Knight, then they pick a fight with the dragon, and now The temple dragon's roar, now a scream of agony and fear, broke his impromptu reverie. The wizard sighed. Denial would have to wait. Very well, milady, he bowed reluctantly, lowering his eyes to the cracked and faded page to read over the spell. If I could get one of your number to scratch out a pentagram and these accompanying symbols on a patch of land
I'll do it! Ferdie volunteered, taking the proffered book from the wizard and glancing at the inked sketch detailing the arced runes that lined the Summoning or in this cast, Banishment - circle beneath the spell's incantation. I've got some experience in this area, after all.
As your car can attest, Bob muttered, the sudden thought of home bringing him out of coffee-deprived silence in a display of bitter levity.
If I'd had time to finish the circle, the runes would've worked, the bluebird retorted, cautiously approaching Lita in the interest of borrowing her Bo to scratch the runes and accompanying configuration shapes and symbols into the torn ground underfoot. The teen surrendered the weapon with reluctance, returning Ivan's cold, compliance-demanding glare as she did so. It was all the same to her if they stayed or went but the thought of turning over one of her weapons was a disgusting one.
Newton, meanwhile, began busying himself with the Redirect spell, sounding out the more difficult bits of the faded incantation in hopes of avoiding any slip-ups once he'd started casting it. The Magic of old was no force to be trifled with, after all, and to miscast two spells of such high level in the same hour would be a horrendously shameful and probably fatal, should the spells fuse spectacle. It took several moments of practice and a few hastily-darkened notes before he felt up to trying it in earnest. Not ready, mind you. No, he certainly felt he could live out his entire life without ever attempting such a dangerous stunt as this spell-shunting promised to be but, then, such an existence would undoubtedly be a short one, tied as it was to the dragon's world-tearing predicament. The air around them seemed to get colder with each passing minute, as a premature winter shriveled the battlefield grasses and unnaturally strong winds ripped the mountains' trees and crags from their rightful place.
It was time, then. Hesitantly, he began the incantation, his words were all but inaudible over the swelling volume of the roaring of thunder and screams of the trapped dragon. The biting winter winds and crackling thunderbolts seemed to magnify their intensity as well, choking purple clouds roiling violently overhead as the botched Sealing spell met with the long-forgotten spells of the battle mages.
As the magical redirect began bleeding the power and chaos of the out-of-control Sealing spell enveloping the dragon, a transparent, iridescently oily puddle appeared inches above the encircled pentagram Ferdie was still hurriedly scratching runes into, creating a crosscurrent with the dying spell's gale-force winds. The building Banishment crackled red fire from beneath the suspended oily pool as the spell bled off the Sealing spell's magic. The flickering flames gradually gained strength and a searing luminance, flaring wildly in the corkscrewing winds that fanned the flames everywhere, it seemed, but the puddle the fire seemed to support. As the winds picked up intensity, sending Bob tumbling back into Beak as Iiwi gripped the ground beneath her feet for fear of being whisked away like an autumn leaf, the storm thundering overhead began to falter. The thick, black-purple clouds began to lighten and thin, their rapid tracks across the sky slowing to a less-dizzying pace as the crack of lightning and rumble of thunder faded back to a more tolerable thunderstorm level. The forks of lightning ceased their circuit of the static orb encasing temple dragon, and indeed the orb itself began to fade and drift down towards land and intangibility, freeing the stricken creature as it did so.
The creature now hardly larger than a falconer's tiny kestrel - flailed about in the air for a moment, tumbling like a disoriented fledgling when first pitched from the nest. It hit the ground with a winded squeak, staggering to its feet with an almost drunken stumble. It took it a full minute before it regained enough of its bearings to take off running, fiery eyes locked on the green-scaled wizard that had visited such pain and insult upon its greatness.
Oblivious to the diminutive dragon's charge, having lost sight of the creature the instant the glowing orb dissolved like morning mist and set it winging for safer pastures, Iiwi poked a hesitant talon into the floating puddle experimentally. Its oily surface shimmered, water-rings forming where she'd broken the surface tension. Still cautious, she 'accidentally' nudged a peering Bob into the puddle, leaping to catch his foot before he vanished completely from view. You okay? she called to him.
No response. She leapt into the air above the puddle, pumping her wings to tug her guinea pig out of the spell. Bob struggled a bit as she did so, kicking at her feet as he emerged from the puddle. Let me go! he cried, That's San Viano's finest coffee district we were gliding past, Iiwi! He kicked at the Flier's talons again and this time, she let him go, dunking him back in the wafer-thing puddle with an impossibly large splash. The kiwi's shout of surprise cut off the instant he vanished into the silvery pool of the spell.
Iiwi fluttered to the ground again, skittering back a step to dodge a running Beak, who launched himself into a swan-dive at the puddle, yelling something that sounded suspiciously like Vive le BaNAna!! as he did so.
Somebody might wanna get Drake, she smirked, winking at the group before launching herself into the air and diving headlong into the puddle-gateway.
Oh, please, Lita rolled her eyes at the Flier's parting comment. Why would anyone want to do a thing like that? she deadpanned, quickly scooping up the panicking sheep as it dragged the sign holder about, intent on escaping this dragon-storm-spell madness.
Hey, boss? she called to Ivan, smiling broadly and dangling the struggling lamb by the scruff of its neck as the sign holder gratefully released its silk leash, For future reference, he followed us home, okay?
Farlane, Ivan started in an I'm-warning-you tone, moving to block the long-legged teen as she and the sign holder made a run for the spell with the struggling lamb and what remained of her loot bag firmly in hand, Don't you da-
Rabbit, kiwi, and wooly captive disappeared into the Banishment portal before the Mafioso could finish, leaving him with naught to do but sigh and trudge along after them, muttering about bad influences and garnished wages.
Oblivious to the crimelord's grumblings, eternal geek and paranormal investigator Ferdie poked experimentally at the portal with a broken stick plucked from the spells' whipping winds, attempting to catch some of its silvery essence in a vial purloined from Newton's saddlebags before spreading his arms and falling mock-dramatically backwards into the portal.
Nearby, having nodded to Newton in a relatively-civil parting manner and chilling the royals to the bone with a sly smirk and tilt of his head reined Fiend in and dismounted, cutting the tack and saddle from his horse with a few quick flicks of a hidden switchblade. He gave the nightmare's neck a pat as it shook the sliding saddle from its back. Go, the Vycerian stated, waggling his fingers towards the retreating forms of the Pale Knight's remaining soldiers, visible once again amongst the thinned forest as the thinning storm clouds drifted further and further apart and the wind began to calm, Play.
Fiend blinked the fleeing masses, the instinct to terrorize glinting brightly in blood-red eyes as the horse slowly came to the realization that he was, once again, free. He snorted, tossing his head and pawing at the dirt, and reached down to smack the ebony-feathered duck in the chest with the flat of his head, whickering once before turning on his heels and sprinting for the trees with a whinny of challenge.
As Newton stood by watching this exchange, amused, Ferdia caught the distracted wizard in a hug. He reacted in the only way he knew how by leaping back with a startled jump of surprise.
Yeah, yeah, I know it's not proper, she snickered to the embarrassed lizard, holding the hug for a moment and reveling in the absolutely scandalized looks on Ferdinand and Ferdianna's faces. Gratitude aside, the hug would've been worth it for their expressions alone. Big deal. After a moment, she released the flushed wizard, punching his shoulder lightly. Take care of yourself, okay?
Newton rubbed the back of his neck self-consciously. Aye, milady.
And drop the 'milady'.
Never, milady, he grinned.
As generally happens in moments of camaraderie such as this, Murphy's Law attacked.
Drake, running for all his worth from an endless stream of sheep no longer fleeing a marauding dragon and thus able to regroup and dedicate the entire brunt of their hunger and wrath to running down their meal of choice, entered the scene at top speed at the exact moment the tiny temple dragon, having finally drawn near enough to launch itself into the fading but still chaotic winds swirling about in order to reach this group of hated foes, pounced at his enemy. Drake had just enough time to register the furious fire-lizard's presence before he had to dodge out of its way; similarly, the dragon rumbled in surprise at the sizeable Platyrian missile's sudden arrival, banking sharply to avoid slamming into the duck. Their quick reactions avoided a high-speed collision with each other, but sent Drake plowing into D'Gal as a snarling, distracted dragon slammed into Ferdia, Squeaks, and Newton - knocking all involved parties off-balance just enough to allow a sudden gust of wind to send them tumbling into the shimmering portal inside the pentagram.
As a startled Prince Ferdinand, still recovering from the absolutely unspeakable act he'd just witnessed by his beloved sister's own double, no less! - sat speechless upon his charger, blinking in surprise and disbelief at the sudden loss of both his rightfully indentured mage and captured, if useless, dragon, Newton's horse still heavily laden with the wizard's spellbooks, supplies, and lingering magic items - whinnied nervously, pawing at the ground. When this failed to produce its master, the beast gave the oily portal a wary look, dancing back a step before charging into the silvery pool after the lizard. Seconds later, the spell, having exhausted its energy reserves - for the it had lost both its anchor point and its fuel source when the wizard and dragon disappeared from the world's plane of existence - faltered, and the shimmering portal flickered and faded from view, leaving naught but the dumbfounded royals and their guards standing on an empty battlefield before a dirt pentagram.
There, see? Told ya a good horse was better'n any wizards' stick money could buy
After eighteen hours of ridiculously harsh treatment and desperate brain-wracking as he attempted to sort out the hopeless mess of fried circuit boards, smoking wires, and corroding switches that had once been the illustrious Intergalactic Kiwi Network, Newt had all but resigned himself to a horribly cruel, nameless fate at the hands of the fearsome black-feathered harpy before him. He couldn't work like this. She wouldn't let him eat. She wouldn't let him sleep. She hadn't even wanted to give him a bathroom break, until a quick call of Nature for her had led her to reconsider the devastation ignoring such a thing could wreak upon one's concentration. Still, he'd made very little progress. Given the time and a lot less pressure he could rebuild the machine but extracting useable coordinates from its predecessor was absolutely, positively, undeniably IMPOSSIBLE. There was nothing left that could have recorded said coordinates, and electronic data do not leave trace evidence. Not that he was about to tell her that oh, no, he fully intended to put that off as long as possible, in hopes that sleep deprivation and lack of food would soon reduce his consciousness to raw delirium, at which point he was fairly certain he wouldn't feel any pain at all while she plucked out his feathers, peeled his skin like an orange, and broke out the sandpaper and radishes or whatever other absolutely terrifying torment she was currently contemplating as his fate. Still, he was beginning to suspect she was starting to grasp the sheer hopelessness of their situation.
You know, Jesmynne purred, slinking over to where he crouched before a series of charred motherboards, I'm beginning to think you're not trying to help me after all.
No-no, I am, I am! Newt assured her, fumbling with the ruined board nearest him, In fact, hee hee
I'm quite close to having it fixed.
Her eyes narrowed in suspicion. Oh, no, had the laugh given him away? It just kind of bubbled out all on its own and
I don't believe you, she pronounced.
Newton blinked at the weapon a hair's breadth from his head. Do NOT laugh, he willed himself. We're not delirious yet; we'll feel whatever it is she intends on shooting us with. I swear, he told her levelly, I'm nearly finished. Really, now would I lie to you?
Hmm, Jesmynne considered this.
Yes. Yes, you would.
No, I *wouldn't*!!
He heard something click in the weapon. Right. Never go around threatening people holding weapons to your head, he reminded himself. I really wouldn't, he assured her, pleadingly. Why didn't he keep cyanide tablets in his jacket pocket, like the chaps on the Mad Scientists board recommended? Sure, occasionally someone mistook them for mints or chocolate chips, but mostly they worked just fine, and saved you from really painful death if another mad scientist should happen to take over your lab. Just a few more minutes, and it'll be ready. We we could even try it now, as a test run, though since it's a test you won't really see that it's work-
She frowned. I don't believe you, she stated, thumbing a setting on the weapon she held at his forehead.
Suddenly, without warning, a strange glow erupted from the ceiling above the ruined device behind her.
Scientist and bloodthirsty killing machine looked on as the glow formed a pool of quicksilver above their heads, ducking out from under the phenomenon an instant before their missing comrades and a sizeable horse - tumbled through en masse and landed in a sprawling heap on the scorched floor of Newt's laboratory. Newt, of course, being no one's fool - regardless of how close he was to a nervous breakdown lost no time in diving for cover during Jesmynne's brief moment of distraction. His friends, professionals that they were, could deal with her. He'd just curl up in this cupboard for a few moments
Meanwhile, back at the pile, the world-travelers were starting to move. Jesmynne circled, watching them from a few paces away, while Newt watched her from the safety of his hiding spot.
Oh, dear, a lizard neither recognized blinked, rubbing at his temples and glancing about the lab as the others slowly extricated themselves from the pile.
Get off me, D'Gal growled, kicking Drake away.
The booted Platyrian stumbled backwards to his feet, slamming into the charred hulk of the Intergalactic Kiwi Network as he did so. He quickly edged away from the still-sparking machine, hurriedly dusting himself off and searching for lingering sheep before a distinct click sounded directly behind his head.
'ello, chump, a low siren's voice rumbled sweetly as the Duck froze, eyes wide.
D'Gal sighed wearily. Jesmynne, dearest, be civil, he admonished gently, pushing himself up off the floor and slowly advancing on the pair. He had to step lightly now Jesmynne was a hair-trigger, and all bets on the ceasefire were off now they'd returned to the lab. Still, if he played this right, he could appeal to Arcadia's sense of honor, and see them both out of this unharmed.
The ebony beauty blinked, perplexed. Whatsit-who?
Civil, Jes, the Vycerian purred, sliding behind her and nuzzling her neck while subtly wrapping one hand around her waist, and one around the hand holding the weapon to the back of Drake's head, It means put the gun down, he slowly eased her arm up, and backed her away from Drake, and back away slowly.
She frowned. I don't like the sound of that, she pouted, leaning into him as D'Gal backed them another step away from the assembled group, keeping her between himself and them, It sounds a lot like running away. Why do we-
Because I owe Arcadia a favor, luv.
Another time, luv, he promised her, gaze hardening to a glare as he glanced back towards Drake, Another time.
Count on it, the Platyrian shot back, as Jesmynne reluctantly surrendered her weapon, reaching into her hip pocket for their ship's communicator. Flipping the device open, she cued up the transporters, beaming the pair away in a shimmer of light and sound.
You know, Ferdia mused to her partner in the resulting silence as the others stared at where the pair of Black Knights had stood mere moments ago, Someday, I wanna hear the story of just how he owes you a favor.
Squeaks groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose in an attempt to ward off a building headache. Why was it, he asked himself, that he tended to land near the bottom of these piles? Still it was good to be back, headache or no. He favored his partner with a jovial smirk. You'd have to get me very drunk.
Ohh, that sounds like a challenge! she hooted.
So, er, not to interrupt, the frazzled, sleep-deprived form of Newt greeted them, crawling out of a small cabinet, But, er the horse? And the sheep? And the, er is that a dragon?! Er, ah
what I'd trying to say is, did you wind up at a Renaissance Faire?
Absolutely, positively, NOT, Bob growled, dusting himself off with as much aplomb as a dangerously coffee-deprived caffeine addict can while standing amidst fried circuitry and tangled wires. He advanced on his frazzled scientist with a dangerous glint in his eye. From now on, Newt, every single one of your inventions is to be *completely* waterproof, do you hear me?!? he bellowed at the inventor.
yes? Newt blinked.
Good, Bob nodded, apparently satisfied or perhaps too coffee-deprived to care enough to pursue the matter further at the moment. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm late for an appointment with a five gallon jug of Kahlua. Possibly more, if they've got it. And coffee chasers, just to be thorough.
Suit yourself, hero, Ivan waved, as he and his wards and Iiwi scooped the remaining loot which had spilled about the floor in their haphazard landing, and was still quite a respectable amount, all things told into their bags and the sign holder took up the sheep's leash. Me, I've got treasure to appraise.
And hand over, Iiwi reminded him as they moseyed out the door. Lita made a face.
.Milady? Newton queried, as Ferdia and Squeaks helped him to his feet, Where exactly are we?
Downtown San Viano, Ferdia laughed, clapping him on the back as the disgruntled, diminutive dragon clawed its way up the wizard's robe and promptly sank its teeth into his neck at the shoulder. The wizard's thick robe blunted much of the bite, but he still spun around with a yelp of startled surprise.
Ferdia blinked at the creature's attempted mauling. It came with us?
Apparently, milady, Newton nodded, subtly trying to shoo it away from his collar.
Will it stay that small? Squeaks queried, Or do we need to worry about a repeat of the capital city?
Oh, he'll remain this way for quite some time, the wizard assured them. His magic's been both bound and banished. Unless someone finds a way to lift the Seal a difficult task, given as we don't rightly know what exactly the Seal placed on him is he'll remain as he is a harmless little fire-lizard.
The dragon paused in its head-shaking savagery of Newton's robes long enough to lift its snout and roar its outraged response. Its voice, once so deep and mortally terrifying, was now a high-pitched squeaking seldom heard outside the nests of birds of prey. This fact was not lost on the dragon, whose look of consternation quickly descended back into fury. When its attempts at fire produced no more than a spark and a few puffs of smoke, the incensed creature chomped down on the wizard's neck and robes again, riding his shoulder as the lizard followed his companions away from their landing site, gingerly stepping over the remains of the ruined machine.
The trio plus the vicious dragon and Newton's loyal horse took care to carefully tiptoe past Beak and Ferdie's animated explanation to a frazzled Newt just this side of sanity and dangerously teetering further over the edge with each excited revelation as to just exactly where they'd been. Leaving the kiwis and cowardly bluebird to their scientific analysis, the cops and wizard walked out the torn remnants of the scientist-inventor's front door - just in time to see both the Vycerians' gleaming starship and Ivan's vintage limo speed off one zooming high into the sky, the other motoring along the long, flat road of the highway to the metal peaks and glass towers of the bustling, shining Californian city.
Welcome to my world, Ferdia beamed.
Lizard and dragon both went white.
(roll credits as Jennies is carted away in a straitjacket
And Now For A Word From Our Author:
when you go far enough off the deep end, you begin to approach yourself from the other end as SANE. It's a very scary feeling. Anyways. Had a lot of fun with this
dragons, magic, weird doubles
.amazing what a bunch of half-serious suggestions thrown out in a fit of boredom can grow into. I was far meaner to the dragon than I'd originally intended, which is more than I can say for Draco, who (while he died as anticlimactically as planned) I grew far more fond of than I thought I would. Ferdianna and Ferdinand both annoyed me far more than they were supposed to, so it surprises me that so much of Draco's scenes got cut, while theirs stayed in. Though I do revel in the irony that Draco, with a rep. for killing those that outlive their usefulness, meets his end shortly after I discovered I couldn't play with him anymore. Ah well. I'm not entirely certain what Lita intends on doing with her sheep, but I *know* we took Newton & the dragon as souvenirs for a reason. The Creativity Demons have been bouncing around a Renaissance Faire for a few weeks now, and I just wanna smack them. But I won't; I am, sadly, intrigued.
Oh, and a side note for my mouse: If you wanted another pet, boy, you just missed one HELL of an opportunity to snag a gryphlet like Scree. *listens to the sound of Squeaks swearing in Arellian*
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