Smothering heat radiated all around him, flames rising so high that they reached the cavern’s ceiling. Falls of lava made the walls while obsidian pillar-like platforms rose from molten rock that made the floor below.
Erikathyr, a wingless drake with pure white scales, golden horns, claws and fangs. He spun about on his pillar, as the ones standing on the pillars about him lay staring down at him.
Dragons, fully grown up beings of graceful destruction. Massive and powerful wings, thick blade-ended tails, large and fearsome jaws. The nine dragons looked down upon him, each white scaled just like him.
His clan. His elders. His family.
From Yvyd, the victorious. To Bennid, the mammoth. His parents, his uncles, his aunts. They glared down at him, their eyes showing pity. Their growls, speaking of disgrace. Their body language, dismissing, demeaning of him.
He watched as one by one, they slow turned to give him their backs. With each one that did, the platform he lay upon cracked further. Until his own mother, until Yvyd turned, only briefly faltering to glance at him one last time.
“No…Mother no.” Erikathyr begged, rushing to the edge of his platform. Reaching out with his left claw.
“No what?” Yvyd growled, ”Child, you bring disgrace to our blood. You bring destruction upon our race. Your foolishness, quick temper…your thirst for action. Were you satisfied Erikathyr? Are you full of the blasphemy you brought upon dragonkin? No my child, you’ve failed us. You’ve failed us all. Yet above all else, as a young Drakon, you have failed yourself.”
Yvyd turned with a loud stomp, “Begone, child of destruction. For you are mine no more.” giving her back to Erikathyr.
The ground beneath him fully shattered, gravity pulled him down, and flightless he fell. Roaring out, still reaching out as he splashed into the lava. He sunk, his left claw still held up, trying to grasp at empty air as he gazed at his mother.
He drowned in the molten earth.
Slowly as his consciousness returned, Erik opened his eyes to see an unfamiliar ceiling above his head. (“A dream?…”) He thought, as his expression hardened (“Mother…”)
He moved to rise, only to find that his body refused to fully respond. He was barely able to move his hands, Erik found that his entire body felt numb. “What…is this?” he grumbled in annoyance, weakly raising himself into a sitting position.
Then he noticed the human in the room, a young boy no older than 8 years of age, shakily holding a tray of medicine. The child stared at him in frozen awe for a moment as Erik stared back, yet before he could say a word the child waved aside the curtain that blocked the doorway and rushed out.
Shouting “He’s awake!”, as he left Erik alone in the room.
“Ugh, humanlings.” Erik groaned, raising his right hand ahead of himself, he began slowly moving it and its fingers about. “Why do I feel so…weak?” He asked himself, he had unlocked the connection between his body and soul so mana now flowed freely through him yet still his vessel felt as weak as ever.
(“This damn body cannot flow all my power yet! Damned be Grim, equipping me with this failed vessel.”) He inwardly cursed.
“M-Ma’am you mustn’t move so much!” shouted the boy once more, as he and Thea rushed through the curtain and into the room.
“Hah, finally awake are you?” Thea asked, ignoring the boy as she moved to stand by Erik’s bedside. She wore simple clothing, showing much of her bruised body. Injuries, Erik guessed, she sustained from more than just those Fiends they encountered.
“Awake I am, but my body feels…” Erik responded, moving around his arm a bit more. The numbness seemed to be slowly disappearing but it still felt highly uncomfortable.
“Not surprising sir, you’ve been bedridden for two whole days…” The boy explained.
“Two days?” Erik repeated with a chuckle, before glancing over at Thea “Did you carry me here then? Wherever here is.”
Thea smiled awkwardly, “Well I couldn’t leave my saviour back there to die. You’re at Beckton right now, although I wish I could say you’re safer here than you were out there…” she grimly said, her smile faltering. She quickly regained her spirits, “I’d never known you were a mage though, that is some destruction you left behind there!” she then exclaimed in somewhat an excited tone.
(“That was child’s play!”) Erik wanted to say, “I’m afraid my body cannot keep up with that output of magical energy though. And what do you mean by not safe?” but reality was this. His body couldn’t keep up with the comparably insane amount of mana that flowed through his draconic soul.
He then noticed a sour look come forth on both their faces at his question, “Has news not reached you yet?” she asked.
“I’ve been travelling alone for a while, this is the first village I’ve encountered in a long journey.” Erik said somewhat truthfully, he didn’t mention Trix. They did not need to know about Trix… Only Erik needed to know about that damn imp.
“The southern fortress fell two weeks ago. The wall has been breached…it has held for two hundred years but now?” Thea clenched her fists, “Last week the attacks began, daily strikes from different demonic creatures all over the southern Druvian territories. Succubae assassinations, shade hauntings, fiend raids and even jests of imps making days’ worth of food disappear by corrupting our storage.”
Thea sighed as the child held her hand, she pulled the little one in closer allowing him to drown his face into her clothing. “Beckton has had it the worst, being the only village between Fort Tempeste and Druvia. The last attack was those fiends and they…we weren’t ready for that sort of assault. Many died and in my hubris I…I chased after them, some others followed me.”
“You were lured out into a massacre.” Erik presumed.
Thea’s eyes widened, as she nodded “Only four fiends assaulted the village, we were met with eight outside in the forest.”
He sighed, in annoyance more than anything. “It has been two days?” he then asked.
“Two days of solace after those demon’s destruction by your hands, yes.” Thea confirmed.
“Solace? No, this is the calm before the storm. How far is the Fort from here?” Erik moved to stand, the numbness from his body now mostly gone.
“Uhm…Four? Five weeks of marching? They couldn’t possibly make it here in two!” Thea assured, in a somewhat agitated tone.
Erik chuckled in response, (“Pitiful human, when all other possibilities point so, even the impossible is possible. Just because your first reaction to the new is denial…”) he thought yet answered differently. “Demons do not require as much sustenance and rest as y-Humans, dwarves or even elves. They can march for days on end, traversing even the harshest of terrain just as well as half-beasts.” Erik explained, as he stretched out both arms. The numbness had finally disappeared.
“Wait no…so-” Thea began, panic already infused into her voice.
“If the harassment started a week ago then the army will reach Beckton…Tonight.” Erik cut her off.
“But we aren’t ready! The villagers still haven’t prepared everything to leave! It took me days to convince them to abandon their homes!” Her eyes wide and head shaking from side to side, Thea took steps back as she spoke in utter denial.
“Calm yourself.” Erik told her in a commanding tone, barely keeping his draconic voice in check from annoyance. “Panic will get you nowhere. First lay down what facts we do know. How far is the main city from here?” He calmly asked, not agitated in the slightest.
“I-It’s three weeks of travel, four if we mean to carry resources to survive as we do not have the carriage space and horsepower to saddle each man, woman and child…Many will have to walk.” Thea responded, still agitated but trying to retain her calm.
(“They’re doomed.”) Erik thought, but it wasn’t in his nature to give up easily. “Then you must stop the evacuation. You will not make it.” He said, causing panic to once more fill her expression as the child held onto her even more tightly. “If they arrive before you leave, they will catch you unprepared. If you leave, they will still catch up to you and decimate you while you move unprepared.”
Thea shook her head, denial and agitation draining her expression of colour.
Erik though continued on, “How many able fighters do you have?” he asked strictly.
“In my platoon alone, we’re six remaining from the thirty that arrived here…” She grimly responded, adding “There’s about five hundred citizens preparing to evacuate! If-If we get two more days!”. She moved to leave but Erik grabbed her left arm.
Holding her in place as he spoke, “Even if you leave you will not make it far, the demons care not for territory or resources. They will chase you, they will catch you and they will feast upon you, your people, your friends and your children.” He said in a harsh tone as his solemn gaze met her panicked eyes.
“Th-Then what do we do!? What can we do!” Thea asked, raising her voice and causing the child to whimper in fear. She glanced down at him, then crouching to embrace the trembling boy. “I’m sorry Lioness…” She apologised softly.
As she did, Erik moved to the curtain. “There is, one way to survive this predicament.” He said, before leaving the room entirely. Finding himself in a long corridor of stone, he garnered the wounded were placed in the largest building within the village. The central building.
He then stopped, ignoring even Thea as she chased after him. Realisation hitting him, (“Why…am I helping her?”) he asked himself. Turning to glance back at Thea and Lioness, weak humans the both of them. Weren’t they his enemy once?
Wasn’t exterminating them his entire goal? And now because of it his people were gone, his family disowned him in their dying breaths too. What was he to do now? A drake in the body of a human, lost through time, forced to face the consequences of his actions.
Erik swore there and then, (“No, this is not punishment. This is an opportunity for redemption.”) he turned to fully face them. (“I will redeem myself.”) He thought with determination. In his eyes Thea saw a fire, a blaze that danced within. “You wish to save these people? No?” he asked.
“I do, yes I do.” Thea answered, “But what can we do?”.
Erik smirked, “That will depend.” He said before starting to move once more.
“Depend on what?” Thea asked in confusion, following after him while Lioness continued to grip onto her. Not able to keep up with Erik she picked the child up into her arms.
“Where is the highest point in this village?” Erik asked, as he walked by several open rooms full of bedridden humans. Their injuries varying from minimal to life-threatening.
“Err, the bell tower? The last left, then head up the winding stairs.” Thea responded, as she had to hurry to catch up with his long stride.
Erik followed her directions, finding the staircase he quickly climbed up it, leaving Thea behind as she carefully followed with Lioness in her arms. He reached the top first, immediately walking around the massive bell and looking out onto the village below. Finding the morning sun slightly irritating to his eyes, he placed his hand over to cover them.
Brick buildings with wooden ceilings made up Beckton, hundreds of them with a simple grid system. A wall of stone surrounded the village, only four meters high, there was no damage to it and Erik knew a fiend could very easily leap over. Inside the wall though many of the buildings had suffered serious damage, some to the point of complete collapse.
Yet nobody was doing repairs, each villager was busy carrying things about, readying a large wagon of horses and carriages on the north side of the village where one of the three gates lay.
Erik was high enough that he could see well over the wall and the fields of crops outside too. Off in the distance to the south there was the whispering forest, a dry and dead landscape that seemed to be oozing into the fields, killing crops and other green life alike.
He continued to look out at the village, counting in his mind. When Thea finally caught up with him, “What is the date?” he asked her.
“The date?” confused by his question, she asked back.
“The day, the month and the year.” Erik explained as he finished counting.
“It’s January the 5th, Elven age 6, 224.” Thea responded fully.
(“Elven calendar Age 6? I died on February, Age 5, 9…32? Year 932.”) He sighed, the Elven calendar reset every two thousand years. Erikathyr the White fell on Age 5, year 932. It was now a thousand, two hundred and ninety-two years later. (“Age 6, 224…”) Erik pondered, had it really been that long?
Shaking the thoughts out of his mind, Erik turned to face the warrior “How many other villages lay to our east and west?”
“Dozens…But they’ll hit us first.” Thea replied, concern and fear making up her current expression.
“No, demons aren’t like orcs. They broke through your defences, they expect a massacre from now on. Their army will spread out, break into several outfits and invade the land in its entirety.” Erik explained, as he turned to stare out at the village once more “Tell me, Elite knight. Why is there so little of you here? Defending this small village?”
“Because…” Thea wanted to blame the monarch, the greedy nobles and the cowardly military.
But Erik cut her off before she could continue “Common human politics. Sending the weak off as a show of hope, to satisfy the masses. Your higher-ups knew this would happen, else if they truly wanted to protect these villages they’d have amassed their armies and marched against the demons. Instead, they hide behind their walls. Why? Because they know the demons won’t stay together. They cannot march against that, it would leave their main city defenceless and their army prone to ambush.”
“You mean to say, we’re just sacrificial lambs?” Thea sighed, seemingly already having come to that conclusion herself, somewhere deep in her mind.
“That saying never stuck with me. Sheep don’t just run when a dragon strikes, even while within its claws the sheep will struggle, kick with its hooves, stab with its horns and bite with its damned teeth.” Erik chuckled, amused by her words.
“But the dragons are gone, they thrashed themselves alongside the land…the alliance ended them right after.” Thea spoke with disinterest, dread filling her heart as she hugged the child closer.
(“Gone? Fool, I’m standing right in front of you.”) He thought with amusement, (“This is why I despise your kind. Despaired when the time calls for strength and unrelenting at the most frustrating occasions. Such confusing creatures.”)
“Knight of Druvia.” Erik spoke as he turned back to her, meeting her miserable eyes. “I can help you save these people, but you must trust me. You must answer every question, obey every word.”
Thea placed Lioness down, the child moving to hide behind her while shyly peeking up at Erik. She rose to meet his again, misery turning to resolve. “If it means saving as many as possible, I will charge the demonic army alone if I must.”
Erik grinned widely, (“Careful what you say, I might hold you to that.) he thought. “Gather your knights and the ablest villagers. I will speak to them all.” He ordered, his tone full of experience.
Something Thea caught on to, as she saluted out of habit and rushed back down the stairs. Leaving Lioness there with the drake.
Erik stared out the tower, watching her rushing out of the building and starting to gather people. (“Are you watching mother? I may never undo my mistakes. But I will redeem my honour. I will stake my life on it.”) he thought, clenching his fists over the stone brick.
When suddenly Lioness grabbed onto Erik’s new brown shirt, “W-Will you help us sir?…” the child asked. He turned to glance at him, finding Lioness staring up at him in awe, his expression pale and blushed from shyness.
Erik smiled back awkwardly. “Y-Yeah…” before shooing the kid away, “G-Go to your parents now…”. He didn’t like humans, he liked their offspring less.
“Papa and Mama aren’t around anymore…The shades took them away.” Lioness’s gaze dropped, the little boy raising his other hand up to his eyes to stop the tears.
Erik leaned away slightly, paling, not knowing how to deal with Lioness. He briefly watched the poor child start to weep, sighing as he placed his hand over the kid’s head. “Mine are gone too.” He admitted, (“And I fear I’ll never see them again.”) His own eyes becoming bleak.
Lioness wiped the tears from his eyes, then stared up at him again. “Will…will the shades take everyone?” he asked, his tone worsening.
Erik’s smile faltered, as he gazed down at the kid. A being so weak, so helpless it had to attach itself to others. From a young age Erikathyr was left to his own devices, learning only when he wished to learn, making reason of the world in his own way. The grownups only ever pointed directions when he asked for them, and he was the one that had to pick. Right or wrong.
They would be proud when he made the right choices, solved the correct puzzles, figured out the way to cast certain magic. But not a word when he made mistakes. Left to figure them out on his own. Dragons were wise from a young age, so expectations of him were astronomical.
But he failed, in the most miserable way he failed.
These weak creatures he looked down upon, why were they so important? To the point that nature itself did nothing to stop their damage. Why were these humanoids so protected? That was what enraged Erikathyr before and what confused him still now.
And if it meant protecting them himself, Erik decided he’d find out. He wanted to know, he wanted to learn. Humans, dwarves, elves, half-beasts, mers and even orcs. What was so special about them that his own kind gave their existence for?
Erik turned to gaze out at the gathering villagers, as Thea waved at him from below. “Do the shades scare you child?” Erik asked Lioness, then glancing down at him.
Lioness nodded, his eyes widening from the horrors that were his memories.
Erik crouched down before him, raising the child’s droopy face to meet his eyes “Then all demon kind must scare you?”
Lioness nodded again, as tears now freely leaked out of his eyes.
Erik smiled, “Do I, scare you, child?” he asked calmly.
“N-No sir…” Lioness responded, his voice cracking.
“I killed demons. Yet you are not afraid of me, but instead afraid of the demons? You make no sense child.” His smile grew into a grin, “I’m much more terrifying than some puny Devil. So dry those eyes of yours, straighten your back and clench your heart. For if shades come, I’ll swat them like flies. If fiends charge, I’ll butcher them like cattle.”
Erik rose, and Lioness’s gaze followed him. “If a Devil does come? Well…” Erik chuckled as he took the first step down the stairs, “A Dragon doesn’t lose sleep over a loud-mouthed imp.” He said with finality. Then descending the stairs, to later be followed by Lioness. The child having wiped the tears from his eyes, he gripped tightly onto Erik’s shirt, following him.