Chapter 17: Ever Hungry, Spawn of Nightmares

Four weeks later

 

Dry lands oozing a violet mist surrounded the small army, marching in formation for several weeks now, stopping only for brief sleep during the night. Mages and priests lined the border of their march, keeping the vile magical toxin away while the rest cautiously kept their eyes open.

Erik was at the very front of this, Thea, Droy and an undercover Makaela and Ascal with him. The two dark elves where fully cloaked with dark cloth while riding on either side of him, for one because it was their duty and for two because Erik disliked horses as much as they disliked him.

The creature had almost buckled more times than Erik could count now, and he could count for a very long time. He couldn’t really blame the creature, although he constantly did, since it was carrying a drake on its back. The horse’s senses going haywire with each step.

Are we there yet?…” Ascal whined in elven for the hundredth time today, the city born dark elf unused to sleeping outside and having had to deal with it for weeks. While also being away from clean bathing water and proper food.

If you ask one more time, I will skin you like Klein and nail you to a tree. Leaving you behind.” Erik finally warned, tired of his whining.

S-Sorry master…” Ascal straightened himself on his horse, going quiet right after.

“Not too far now,” Thea said, not fully understanding their words but having heard the same thing from the male Xilfir all day and along with Erik’s annoyed tone, she took a guess. “There to the left, over the hill.” She then pointed out.

They followed her gesture, seeing as over the rocky hill to their left a mountain range came into view off in the distance. Still several days away, which made Ascal’s heart sink.

“Two days march and we’ll be at Gilded Rock.” Droy said as he also glimpsed the mountains, “Prepare yourselves, we don’t know if the demonic presence there joined the army or stayed back.” He then shouted in order to the rest of the crimson guard.

Erik glanced back at the army of twenty thousand strong marching behind him, carriages of equipment while what couldn’t be fit on them was carried by horses, large stallions bred for war. He could barely make out the army’s end at the back, the trail they had been following the past week twisting and turning around hills and rocky mounds.

He turned back to stare off at the fortress barely visible between the two tallest of mountains, brick walls built into the mountain side to create an impregnable canyon. A canyon that was abandoned once the nearest fortress, Balgor, fell to Azruxan’s horde. The soldiers stationed at Gilded Rock marched back to the capital as ordered, where Druvia made its final stand, and won.

Now as Erik understood it, the crimson guard mercenaries were to take back control of the fortress in between the Gilded Rock mountain range, named after the golden crystal that formed around the large mountains, giving it all a reflective golden hue both during day and night time.

Erik grimaced though as he saw the mountains, once a beautiful sight he dearly remembered. Now a grim view to behold, the golden crystal reflecting the light into the surrounding miasma, giving the mountains a violet and sick glow.

He wanted to burn the entire thing to ash. Then again, he’s been wanting to torch every inch of his surroundings to ash since leaving the capital. The mere sight of miasma annoying him to no end, but if the Druvians had a way of healing the terrain that was more effective than burning the miasma out? He wanted to see the results.

It had not entirely been a boring ride though, Erik getting to watch and study these fine examples of their race from close range. From listening to their chatter as they made camp to studying their forced behaviour while marching…

Alright yes, he was bored out of his mind.

Erik had plans for Thea and Makeala while also wishing to test some of his spells with the surrounding miasma, but with all these eyes surrounding him he had decided to leave it all for after Gilded Rock.

Which after four weeks, he regretted not figuring out a way.

Alas though it seemed as the boredom was finally coming to a swift end as they marched closer to the mountain range…

Shrill cries suddenly filled their surroundings, growls and guttural hisses followed by the clear sound of flapping wings.

“Halt!” Droy called out, his order moving back along the march as the army came to an abrupt stop.

One specific hissing caught Erik’s attention, glancing back he saw the small wyvern Nerick had been learning to keep at bay, it was asleep around his neck before but now it was fully awake and very nervous.

Erik did not have his draconic senses, so leaning onto the child’s acute behaviour he guessed at what was about to occur. “Mountain wyverns.” He said, as a couple dozen of the massive winged reptilians flew overhead, too fast to make out.

“This north!?” Droy exclaimed, “Form up! Arm yourselves!” he then shouted back, the army’s formation changing about as mages and archers moved to the centre while spearmen rushed to surround them defensively.

“Thea! Tell your mages not to use fire magic!” Erik told her, as she glanced about the sky along with the rest.

“What? Why?” Thea asked, fire magic was the most destructive casting element and with the surrounding forest already as it was, it should’ve been the most effective.

Then suddenly the ground ahead of them exploded in rising dust, two of the blue scaly creatures crashing down before them. The two wyverns hissed at them ferociously, their front netted legs, their wings trembling with agitation as they bared their black fangs.

“Blast them!” Droy ordered, moving his horse to stand between the two wyverns and Thea.

“Do-” Erik was about to say, but several gunmen turned to shoot before he could finish. Bursts of flames fired off from behind them, magirifles going off in unison and barraging the two creatures.

But when the flames collided with the wyvern’s scales, the magic changed. From balls of heat they exploded out into a fog of steam, encasing the wyverns in a smokescreen. “Blazes, Mountain Wyverns are creatures of ice and frost! Fire is utterly ineffective!” Erik shouted at Droy, while gesturing at Makaela and Ascal to hold off from summoning the rest of the Xilfir, hidden nearby.

The two wyverns ahead of them charged, bursting out of the steam and catching the front line off guard. All but Erik, who raised his right palm forward flat. “Shield Gust!” He quickly chanted, sending forth a powerful gust of air shaped like a barrier. The wind collided with the creatures, pushing them back as they held their wings wide open to glide forward.

At the same time clearing the steam that had collected before them.

Use water and lightning spells!” Erik called out, mana infusing his voice and carrying it along. He turned to Thea, “They want the horses! Unsaddle!” he then said while he himself hopped off.

Thea followed suit along with everyone else, “Do as he says!” she told the guard.

Erik raised both hands forward, ignoring as wyverns swooping down behind him, grabbing at horses and carriages along the army. Flying off with their spoils while even more appeared to take their place.

Twin water spout!” He quickly chanted, a rush of water gushing into existence out of his palms and spraying all over the two massive wyverns. The water drenched them completely, freezing over on touching their scales, quicly encasing their bodies in ice.

Thea watched in amazement, the creatures were growing too heavy to fight back. Every drop of water that touched them adding onto their weight, until they could no longer move. Like statues they lay on the ground, encased in several layers of ice, ever freezing from proximity to their enchanted scales.

Seeing this outcome the gunmen switched magic casings to lightning attacks, while the mages began producing and alongside the priests, manipulating water to shield and attack the flock of wyverns that flew overhead.

Thea and all the other melee wielders couldn’t do anything more than watch, the winged monstrosities too fast for them to engage while the water kept them at bay and far from reach. That is until a lightning attack hit one swooping wyvern, the electricity running through its body and briefly paralyzing it.

The creature crashed down into the ground, lightning still surging across its blue body as it tried to rise.

“Surround it with spears!” Thea ordered the closest mercenaries that had unsaddled, Nerick included with them. The spearmen quickly approached the confused beast, surrounding it with spears while stabbing at any opening they could find between its lashing out tail and claws.

She watched as several other wyverns fell from the sky, paralyzed by electric attacks. Then surrounded by soldiers before being drenched with water and turned into an ice statue.

“There’s no end to them!” Nerick said, spinning about with his spear clenched to his side. The flock of wyverns had barely reduced in number and many a horse was still being lost, the large creatures capable of heaving a stallion per hind claw.

“They won’t give up until they at least get a snack each,” Erik said as he re-joined the two cloaked Xilfir by Thea’s side, “When a wyvern picks a prey it will hunt it to the very ends of the earth. And these are Mountain Wyverns, there is hundreds of them within each flock.”

“C-Can’t you pacify them like you did with Ivara?” Nerick asked, “The baby wyvern dammit, yes I named it!” he then said after gaining a raised brow from Erik.

“These are grown wyverns, and they’re far more savage than that forest child. No, I cannot pacify these pests.” Erik replied as he suddenly raised his right hand up, “Erratic spark” he quickly chanted and out of his fingers surged out three tendrils of lighting.

Colliding with two individual wyverns as they had been swooping down nearby, one crashing down into the dry forest to their left while another passed out from multiple strikes and fell onto the mercenaries. Men, women and horses rushing aside as to not be squashed beneath the large creature.

“This is hell!” Nerick said as he continued to watch the dozens of wyverns flying circles around them.

“Ignore the ones above! They’re just distracting you, pay attention to the hills around us! The real assaulters are hiding behind the high terrain!” Erik said, as out of nowhere a wyvern crashed down before him.

He turned, eyes wide just in time to see the creature’s massive maw, wide open before him. He stared into its blue throat, the depths of which he had no wish to visit. He watched, as it struggled to reach him.

Master!” Makaela shouted, snapping him out of his daze as she held the created at bay, her elongated whip tied around the beast’s neck as it reached out and bit towards Erik.

Erik raised his right hand forward, ready to chat.

But he was too late as Thea leapt at the beast, grabbing its snout before pulling herself over, sword in hand. The wyvern shook its head trying to throw her off but her metal gauntlet had a good grip on its scales even as it slowly gained frost.

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Wind’s imbue!” Thea chanted, her shortsword now glowing a greenish hue as she raised it onehandedly before stabbing down into the wyvern. The blade cleanly digging in-between the creature’s eyes, as it suddenly went limp.

The wyvern died before him, Thea rolling off as it collapsed to the ground. She fell back first, groaning while rising up. “Y-You alright?” Thea asked him as he stared back at her, dirt and mud now encasing her.

“Of course I’m alright.” Erik snapped back, yet he turned to stare at the wyvern’s corpse before him. At that brief moment, while he looked into the beast’s maw…he felt something he had never felt before, a clenching of the heart while his mind went disarray.

Master?” Makaela asked in elven as she retrieved her living weapon, hiding the whip beneath her cloak before anybody noticed its make.

Snapping Erik out of his thoughts, “Yes, yes the others.” he mumbled strangely turning to the rest of the halted army. Pillars of water and sparks of lightning filling the sky as more wyverns began to swoop down.

This wouldn’t end, he knew it wouldn’t. This flock would keep attacking until each of either side was dead, that’s how ferocious wyverns were. But there was one other creature wyverns wouldn’t dare approach.

“Thea, Makaela, Ascal. Watch my back while I chant.” Erik said as he stepped away from the rest, putting some distance between him and the army’s front while all three of them gathered around him.

“What are you going to do?” Thea asked, having lost her shortsword to the wyvern she unstrapped a spear from a nearby horse before joining them.

“Don’t question the master, just obey.” Makaela hissed at her, taking any chance to jab at the human knight.

Thea was about to respond but Erik had already begun chanting, “Form into a boundary, let not a whisper go by. Wind, conform, let not a sound enter. Wind School; Soundless Barrier!” Erik said as a torrent of wind briefly blew all around the mercenaries, forming a thin yet massive barrier between them and the outside.

Blocking all sound from entering and exiting.

Wyvern!” Ascal exclaimed in elven as he raised his draconic long-bow, quickly drawing his arrowless weapon as a tendril of lightning formed in its place. Thea and Makaela moved to shield Erik as he focused, arms raised forwards while he searched deep within himself.

Ascal loosed the bolt of lightning, the wyvern swiftly evading the attack with a single wing beat. It passed over them, retreating over the rocky hills.

“Another!” Thea said as she turned to face wide gravel path they were marching through, a wyvern having flew around the next hill and began diving towards them. Wings spread wide open while its hind claws lay ready to grab at several of them.

She aimed her spear, digging her feet into the ground while quickly chanting. “Earthen Resolve!” the ground beneath her feet rose and engulfed her metal boots and legs, solidifying to stone, holding her where she stood. “Wind’s Imbue!” She then chanted, her spear’s tip gaining a green hue.

Thea prepared herself for the impact, still holding onto her connection with the manipulated earth, waiting for the wyvern to fly closer so she could make the ground rise up with her. Prepared to skewer the creature in the face with her steel tipped, magically imbued spear.

But she got no chance at that, as Makaela sprinted ahead to meet the swooping beast.

Two long daggers appeared out of her sleeves as her body burst into shadows, rematerializing before the creature’s bare fangs as she spun mid-air. Makaela threw both daggers into the beast’s maw, the blades digging into the wyvern mouth’s ceiling as she dissipated into shadows once more.

The wyvern whined briefly before its body went limp, crashing down and tumbling over the ground, coming to a stop mere inches away from Thea’s spear.

Makaela reappeared next to Thea, “That is how you protect someone, Druvian.” the Xilfir whispered snidely.

Thea realised the dark elf was issuing her a challenge, but of what sort? Why was this Xilfir so deadset on outshining her? She got no time to ask or ponder, as a sudden sense of terror grew with her. As she sensed danger coming from behind her, a sense she as a human rarely ever felt.

Thea turned about to see Erik standing with arms down and hands clenched into firsts, eyes forced closed as he grimaced. A golden shine trying to escape from between his eyelids.

(“Enter the barrier.”) Thea heard the voice speak in her head.

She complied, Makaela and Ascal doing the same, having heard the same voice.

Erik took a deep breath, sensing that all three of them had stepped inside the soundless boundary. He had found it, that part that lay deep within him, the connection with his soul from which he summoned his true power against Azruxan.

The part that made him a drake.

Along with the rising growl that emanated from that part of himself, he opened his mouth wider. The wider he opened, the more effort he put behind the sound.

The ground quaked, the air itself shook, as Erik roared.

Like an erupting volcano, the bellow filled the hills and sky. Shaking wyverns off their swooping paths, scattering the flock above as each beast flew off to save itself, its natural instincts screaming at it to flee.

Erik held back, he had to else he feared he would’ve lost himself to his draconic instincts and chased after them. Wyverns didn’t get their ferocious behaviour from nothing, it was that draconic part of them that made them the fearsome beasts that they were.

His resounding roar slowly closing as did his mouth, taking another deep breath while he let go of his connection. His eyes dimming, the golden glow disappearing before he opened them back.

Erik dissipated the barely visible barrier of sound cancellation as he approached the army’s front, “They won’t be back.” he assured a confused Droy, the man eyeing Erik cautiously.

“Really? Thank the gods!” Nerick exclaimed as he went to grab a nearby steed, the agitated horses had been making everything all the more chaotic. “Those things are the ever hungry spawn of my nightmares!” he then said, glancing at Ivara on his shoulder. “Oh-Oh not you, you’re fine!” Then assuring the whining wyvern cub as it prodded his cheek with its small snout.

“Either way, we should keep moving. We’re almost at Gilded Rock.” Thea said, eyeing a frozen wyvern nearby.

“Yes, the crimson guard should. And we should be breaking off.” Erik then said, meeting Thea’s eyes briefly before glancing around. (“This attack was not an accident.”) he told her.

“Break off? But we’re not even there yet!” Droy argued, gesturing at the mountain range before them.

(“What do you mean?”) Thea thought, knowing he was listening.

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(“We found them master, they’re still watching.”) Makaela also spoke, the connection seemingly binding her to the Xilfir too.

(“Who? What is going on?”) Thea asked again, looking around cautiously, knowing the dark elves were hidden somewhere around.

(“Thea, we must break away from the mercenaries. I will not reveal myself just yet.”) Erik sternly said, turning to Droy who had not been part of their silent conversation. “We’ve come far enough south, I can travel much further with a smaller group by using my magic.” He told the crimson guard officer.

Droy stared at Erik with narrow eyes, “Very well, then let me assemble my elite.”

“There will be no need, Staff Captain, my six guards and myself will be enough.” Erik said, lying about the Xilfir’s numbers. There were hundreds of them hiding about the hills.

“Six? I may be growing old mage, but I only see two.” Droy said back, as he glanced at the previously two cloaked figures. Now six. Droy stared at them briefly, his eyes widening in surprise. “When did you…”

“My people will keep your Lady Selene safe, that much I assure you. But wouldn’t it be better if we made it to Sinroz faster than…this pace? And back.” Erik said, disregarding the soldier’s baffled expression.

“Why suggest this supposed faster method now then?” Droy asked, turning to stare at the mage once more.

Erik gestured at the wyverns, “Because it has just presented itself. I can enchant these beasts to listen. But I can only manage two, which would not be enough to carry all of us including you and your retinue.”

Droy’s eyes narrowed, “Madam, it is your decision.” he then said turning to Thea. “I would just remind you of what you promised misses Kayle.”

Thea found herself glancing in between them, speechless until Erik spoke once more in her mind. (“I detected mages while connected to my draconic side, they lured the flock to us. My Xilfir found them to be Sinbeni, as long as we stay with the crimson guard they’ll be in danger of more assault. I can deal with the assassins, but not with all these eyes on me.”) He solemnly told her, pushing her for a decision.

She cleared her throat, deciding to trust Erik’s words. “I’ll be fine Droy, we’ll break off from here.” she told him.

“Ah, guess we’ll be seeing you then?” said a relieved Nerick as he saddled his horse.

“Oh no, mister Nerick. You’ll be coming with.” Erik then said, causing Droy, Thea and Nerick to stare at him in confusion. “Your wyvern, Ivara was it? I have…plans for that creature, and it seems to have bonded with you quite nicely.”

Nerick found himself turning to stare at the nearest frozen wyvern, his jaw opening without a sound as he turned back to stare at Erik. “I’m…riding that?” he asked in bafflement.

“Would you prefer walking to Sinroz?” Erik asked back.

Nerick glanced back at the blue wyvern, its eyes were still moving and suddenly locked onto him. “Is that an option?…”

“Tying you to its tail is.” Erik replied, rolling his eyes in annoyance.

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