Erik slammed aside another book, grabbing a new one from the surrounding library which filled the large room’s walls. Yet already most of the books were stacked in a mountain where he sat the last read, pacing around it now to move back to the table at the room’s centre, a map of the continent lying before him.
Glancing off his read momentarily, he looked the map over, multiple thoughts running through his head as he switched from one to the other. Back and forth his gaze went, as the night only continued to get older.
His weary eyes, forced to remain open, as from time to time he’d silently chant a short spell beneath his breath.
A revitalizing light then spreading across his face, allowing his expression to harden and refocus once again.
Albeit the redness in his eyes only continued to get worse.
As the hours passed whilst he paced, stacking the mountain of books higher, even moving something over the map here and there.
To Makaela as she entered the room, it was a disheartening sight.
Even more so as he seemed to not even notice her, “Erik?” Speaking his name, she noticed his shoulders rise suddenly in surprise.
As he turned around to face her, blood-shot eyes opened wide.
“Huh? Oh, it’s you Makaela…” He mused, relaxing then as he returned to multitasking his thoughts. “I was just going over the books I ordered up from the Abu Katra library, just through the oldest of them and some Zrosian ones, which are surprisingly rare.” He said, moving another flag over the war map around, the same one he had just moved earlier.
Makaela sighed, “It’s been five days Erik, you haven’t slept for five days.”
Erik chuckled, “Who needs sleep when a whole nation is marching to your door? No, I need more information…” He said, lowering his book then onto the table as he glanced over the stack nearby.
“Is it?…” Makaela mused, moving to stand by him then.
“It’s getting worse, by the day it’s just getting worse.” Erik whispered, “And all I’m finding is the same two things over and over, the prophecy of the ancient, and the lie spun about my past…It’s like…It’s like someone destroyed all records of it. And I know there were other Dragons in the past who turned…I know there were.” Erik grumbled, leaning onto the table then as his gaze froze upon the map before him.
Makaela looked him over, his decaying scales falling off for the newly grown black, his deteriorating blue eyes turning a dark red surrounding by black, his darkening hair, his now half crimson half golden wings.
But what she saw, wasn’t all either.
She felt it, she felt the change occurring within him.
Makaela sensed a dark energy collecting where his core once lay, pooling into his chest. She sensed what once was the soul of a mighty dragon of fire and light…slowly but surely, becoming something else.
“Then maybe you shouldn’t be searching for answers within the records held by a kingdom who survived upon lies and deceit?” She offered.
“Hah, I wish it was that simple…Even Druvia’s records, public, kingdom and church…Even the collective adventurer’s guild records. Guess how far they all go.” Erik mused, rising then to meet her gaze. “The end of the 4th age, my first rise, is as far as everything goes. Nobody has anything beyond…Nobody except…” He then grabbed hold of a scroll which lay wide open upon the table, “Me.”
“What is that?” Makaela asked, as she looked over the writing but found that she couldn’t read a single word.
“Draconic script,” Erik answered, “not that we Dragons write or read…It was invented by one of my kind long ago, before even I was born. We rarely make use of it, if anything, this and two other pieces of indestructible parchment are the only ones I know of that hold these characters. I found this many centuries ago, and held onto it…”
“And what does it say then?” Makaela urged on.
“The prophecy of the ancient is the title, it speaks of what I believe to be my ailment but…to no detail at all.” Erik sighed as he put it aside, “Nothing more than the ravings of a mad dragon, speaking of doom and horror.” He glanced down at his own hands then, “I’m growing weaker Makaela, with each passing day I feel the control over my own magic faltering…”
Makaela watched over him, his grimace filled with pain, his faltering gaze as his hands clenched into fists around the table’s edge.
“Everything is coming back around full circle,” Erik mused, “I find myself asking, can I actually fight off fate? Can I truly shrug off my defeat as it keeps on looming over my back? It is the reason Grim brought me back in the first place…I know that now, I’ve known it for a while…To lose, that is the purpose of my return!”
There was no rage in his gaze as he spoke those words, no fury which Makaela felt should have followed them. She only saw sorrow.
For the very first time ever, she saw through his tough borders and walls, right through the scaly armour he wore.
Makaela for the first time, saw fear within Erik’s eyes.
“You know…” She spoke softly in elven then, turning to rest her back along the table as her gaze wandered off. “Do you remember, the first time we met? I do, it was like a God had descended before me…Amongst the chaos of our surroundings, a deity had come down and set his own laws. No matter what plans anybody else had, no matter what impossible odds moved against us…While everyone else was planning for the end of Druvia, to grab all the titles and riches, and run…You appeared, and did what we thought was going to be impossible. Erik, you slew a Devil King.”
She let those words hang through the following silence, allowing them to sink in through several quiet moments. “You broke me, when you told me the truth, that you were no almighty god returned to show my people the way…I was lost, yet somehow even after being betrayed…Somehow I found my way back in you.” Makaela sighed, turning back around to meet his own wandering eyes as they stared down at the table’s surface.
“I’ve watched you for this long, Erik, I know who you really are and this…this here is not it.” Makaela then sternly said in common, grasping him by the collar as she forcefully raised him to meet her gaze. His own eyes going wide with surprise.
“You’re a conqueror who put his foot down upon every king and queen throughout the civilized lands. You’re a nightmare to each and every hero and adventurer. You are no God, you aren’t any sort of immortal. Yet that only makes your story so much more incredible. Erikathyr, the destroyer of the weak, guardian of nature’s spirits, Devil slayer, Dragon slayer…White Red Dragon, master of the arcane arts, Emperor of The Dragon Empire and…”
Her eyes resolved, as she smiled.
Makaela stepped around, cornering him between herself and the table…as she then leaned in.
“The man I love.” Whispering those last words before her lips met his, pushing the entirety of her body upon him as he instinctively held her.
For long moments, they remained intertwined, grasping onto one another as their lips pressed into the other’s.
As Makaela’s tongue ruled supreme within, acrobatically leading his around and about, also later grabbing his arms. Leading his hands then through a quick tour around her own body before she released his lips. Her eyes, almost glistening as they met his wide and weary gaze.
Moving in closer, she whispered into his ear. “I’m done holding back.”
A cold shiver crawled up Erik’s spine then, followed by a warmth beneath his belt as it was Makaela’s turn to wander with her hands.
Rousing from her sleep, Makaela slyly snuck out from under his arms and sheets. Glancing back momentarily at his form, Erik lay sound asleep.
A smile snuck upon her face then as she looked back onto him, gazing over his grimacing expression. A nightmare, she figured.
As he restlessly turned about even in his sleep, his tail swiping back and forth, distorting the sheets which lay on him. She watched as he curled up, knees raised and arms around them, it amused her just how much like a beast he liked to rest. Coiled up like a serpent.
(“And other things…”) She mused, smiling to herself at that afterthought as she rose out of bed. Remaining fully naked, she silently flowed over to the nearest window, a dark metal humming out magical energy surrounding it. The barrier within was barely visible as she looked through it and onto the midday sun.
Taking in a deep breath, “I guess it’s time we make our move.” Makaela said as she gazed at the sky, twisting within her grasp a strand of her own hair.
“As we planned…Yeah.” Erik sighed, having sensed her rising he also had woken up, moving into sitting at the bed’s side then. “Makaela I…” He tried to speak, but her sudden laughter cut him completely off.
“Erik, spare me the excuses.” She said with a chuckle, “I don’t care.” She then said, taking in another deep breath. “Second to her, or whatever. I really don’t care anymore. I told you, I’m done holding back. I won’t hold you down either, I’m not going to stand in your way. But just like that, I’ll also do as I wish and like.” She explained as she stretched out her arms upward with a groan.
Erik couldn’t help himself from giving her flexing body a glance, a weak smile crawling upon his own face. “If that, is what you want.” He mused, rising then to stand straight. “Makaela, you know I might die…be it today or tomorrow. I don’t know what is happening to me, worse is even possible…”
“Whatever happens, I know you, you’ll find a way around or right through it~” Makaela said with a giggle.
“What if I can’t? What if I don’t, and just how the prophecy says, I become an unstoppable monstrosity? What then?” Erik solemnly asked.
“Hmm?” Makaela hummed as she turned to her pile of clothing, starting to redress. “If you do, then I’ll stop you. If you die, then I’ll just have to burn world after world until I find a way to bring you back. That’s, what you’re going to do for her, after all.”
“And you’re fine with that? You’re fine with my obsession anyway?” Erik asked, turning to find her fully clothed and already donning her leather armour.
Meeting her wide smirk as she glanced over his still naked body, she fully turned to face him, then kneeled. “I’m a complicated woman, Erik, but my wants and needs are as simple as they get. I am not your Empress, I am your General, and lover. Your bidding, is my command. If you wish to burn this world, if you wish to collapse reality, I will give everything I have to make sure you can.”
Erik gazed upon her then, his eyes narrowing as his mind filled with many more objections to her words. Yet, he couldn’t help but allow his smile to widen. Snapping his fingers then, the pile of fine clothing that lay beside him rose up, warping and reforming around his body of its own will.
“Then…as your Emperor, you know my orders. Go…” Closing his eyes, Erik took in a deep breath as well, allowing himself a few silent moments to accept this strange new relationship of theirs. “Go commence this war.”
“With pleasure~” Makaela giggled, opening his eyes then to find that she was gone, having left behind nothing more than dissipating wisps of shadow.
And one mess of a bed.
Zrosian Capital of Dabangui
Two Days Later
A thick layer of mist filled the ground within the room as roots, vines and other flora grew free all over the walls, pillars and floor. Some even hanging down from the ceiling above, dangling all the way down before him.
A jungle, is what Clayton thought this place seemed like, as the ex-Druvian…now Empire Ambassador, entered through the large iron doors.
Nervous unlike ever before, the Half-Elf still continued onwards.
(“Damn him…making me of all come here…”) Clayton cursed as he walked past dozens of Zrosian warriors, beasts of all shapes and sizes, wielded all sorts of weapons.
Yet each wearing the same design of armour. Plated yet in ways so different from anything he’d ever seen, the Zrosian Samurai glared him down cold as he passed by.
His own gaze then moving to the floor as he dared not look ahead, knowing it to be rude, instead he kept his head low even as he kneeled down before what he knew to be the throne.
Gaining only a glimpse of the being ahead; A young child with a bun of bright red hair, yet coldly narrowed calculative brown eyes, sat over an ornate golden pillow surrounded by dark wooden slabs carved with golden paint.
All around her lay see through blueish curtains with a darker set lying tied ahead and aside, held up by a circular overhang which grew out of the wall behind her. Made of the same wood and inscribed with the same runes as the slabs she rested her arms on, it also wasn’t entirely circular as attached to six corners were golden busts of six animal heads.
The three heads at the back lay broken, not by age but seemingly purposely shattered off their spots. Whilst the three at the front were made up of a wolf’s to the left, a serpent’s to the right, and a snarling bear at the centre.
“You may…speak.” Then spoke a gnarly old voice from his left, Clayton barely able to make out the dozen or so attendants who stood to either side of the throne. He glanced up briefly in the voice’s direction, nodding at the old man with sleek smooth greenish skin and serpentine emerald slit eyes.
Looking back down at the floor then, “I am Cla-” he was about to introduce himself.
“Oh skip the blabber and get right to it.” When a young grumbly voice cut him off.
Pausing for a moment, Clayton quickly gathered his thoughts. “Your majesty, I come bearing a message from my liege.” He announced, loud a clear and with little to no given emotion within his tone.
“Liege? Hah!” The young girl chuckled wildly.
“Zrosa does not recognise your master’s title.” Then said the old serpent, one Clayton recognised as the Elder Advisor.
“Oh but go on,” Added the child with great amusement in their tone.
Again Clayton cursed within his thoughts, he absolutely hated these people. “By orders of the Dragon Empire’s first Emperor Erikathyr the White, you are to surrender the lands you’ve unlawfully seized from the now vassal Sinbeni.”
A stifled giggle began as he continued to speak, “These lands include the towns of Dammamas, Abyele and all smaller villages in between.” Rising to uncontrolled laughter then as he finished.
Clayton sighed, as he then rose to standing, finding several a blade then suddenly unsheathing to surround him. “I wished, there would be a different way, yet I knew somewhere inside that none of you would care for my words. But I’ll ask either way, as it is simply proper.” Meeting then the young royal’s narrowed eyes.
“Empress Dabangui Hanae, we offer you mercy under the conditions of complete surrender.” Clayton announced, silence falling within the room at his words.
A silence then broken, by the same childish laughter.
As Empress Hanae rose from her seat, her bear-like brown ears twitching as she grinned widely, showing the sharp fangs within. Still nothing more than a child, yet as she slammed her little fist into the nearest servant, it knocked the poor man six feet deep into a now shattered wall.
Clayton though showed no reaction to her explosive strength, he knew exactly what this creature was.
“Surrender?” She mused, her voice now permeating the entire room as each vine and root within came alive, slithering away suddenly as she moved through.
Nausea filled Clayton’s mind as she spoke, yet he held, remaining standing straight he continued to focus his trained gaze at the royal.
As she now stood mere feet away from him, her smirking stare frozen and meeting his. “For centuries my ancestors prepared for this day, the day those Dragons lost their grasp upon the north. From birth, I was trained and prepared for this…And you ask me to surrender? Hah!” She laughed, a childish yet booming chuckle.
Resonating within his very bones.
“I Elder Beast of the Dabangui clan, will not be known…as the defeated. No, no I will be known as the conqueror of Sinroz!” She exclaimed, as her form shuddered, briefly another seeming to take her place.
Clayton caught only a glimpse of it, of her true form.
True, it terrified him, yet what ordered him to come here terrified him far more.
Having only a glimpse of his plan, Clayton knew he himself was barely a piece on the board that Erik loomed over.
As he turned around, giving the monster that could squash him with a mere touch, his back.
Hearing her growl, Clayton sighed once more.
“Then you decline our offer, as such, military action from our part begins now.” Clayton announced loud and clear, his words not entirely meant for those within the room…
As sounds from the outside suddenly began to fill their ears, coming in from the surrounding halls and windows, the sound of panic and chaos reached them.
“What now!?” Hanae exclaimed, shaking her retainers out of their own confusion, as one rushed to the nearest of the large windows that lay across the room’s walls.
Speaking back then in Zrosian, “The sky…” the servant’s eyes were wide with shock as he turned back to them.
Growling further, Hanae suddenly raised her hand forth, and each servant rushed out of her way.
As the wall she pointed at suddenly twisted and changed, the window expanding from its tall rectangular shape to a massive circular hole covered in vines. Each within the room then gazed at the outside, eyes wide at what they saw within the sky above their city.
Tendrils of greenish smoke filled the sky, like a cloud yet in constant motion as it was made up of hundreds of serpentine figures slithering about. Wide open wings, a long serpentine tail and a snouted head with horns. The smoky serpents took the formation of a massive winged dragon, marking the sky with the Empire’s emblem.
“It begins.” Clayton mused in Zrosian, chuckling as he himself saw the mark.
“W-What begins!?” The Elder Advisor demanded, grabbing him by the collar of his fine shirt.
As suddenly a reverberating sound rumbled through the entire city and its surroundings.
“You move to invade Sinbeni lands,” Clayton explained, watching with great interest as the draconic mark then scattered, raining serpents of poisonous smoke upon the entire city. “This is retaliation.” He mused, watching as serpent after serpent clashed with rising pillars of stone, expanding tree roots and cyclones of wind.
“Hah!” Hanae laughed, “Your petty tricks won’t get through our def-” She began to say, then watching as every serpent of smoke destroyed only scattered further, falling as a large cloud of death upon the streets and homes below.
Watching her eyes widen, Clayton chuckled as he turned away. “This is the real message, I was sent here to interpret.” He said, raising a glass of fine wine he found lying on a table nearby, “That no matter who you think you are, choose mercy. Else…”
Taking a quick taste, he turned back to facing the now silent room, yet filled with the screams and chaos of the outside. “Your titles, your riches, your lands and even people. Erikathyr comes to take it all.”
Elsewhere within Zrosa
The river lands between Dammamas and Abyele.
Dimming rays of sunlight barely filled the large encampment as torch-light began to replace it. Large tents had been set up for storing equipment and resources out of the sunlight, yet the soldiers themselves also had scattered hundreds of smaller ones surrounding them.
Movement within the Zrosian warcamp had died down as warriors and workers returned to their tents, shared between groups of many. Having had a long day of marching back from securing Abyele for their kingdom, each was weary from battle and travel.
And with another two longer days of travel ahead before returning to Zidao, even the night watch was sparse.
As silence began to fill the camp the lower the sun fell, only the sound of flickering torches and the occasional bestial breaths could be heard. Beasts so large, they seemed like hills of fur and mounds of snake-skin scattered across the encampment. Their looming bodies rising and lowering as they slept, three kinds could be made out from the larger species who lay unrestrained while dozens more kinds of smaller carnivores lay in make-shift pens.
From massive hairy four-legged birds known as gryphons to almost serpentine six-legged reptiles large enough to carry a dozen. Yet the largest of them all, were the mountains of fur, mammoths so large that constructs of wood and stone lay built upon their backs. These monsters slept while standing as they surrounded the camp, a fortress of living muscle holding up actual siege towers.
The night watch mostly filled those towers, watching the camp and its surroundings from high above.
Keens eyes, but blind to the shadows that stalked behind them, becoming aware all too late.
As dying croaks filled the towers, a quick flicker of shadow followed by the splatter of blood.
Silent as the night, Xilfir enclosed around the camp.
As the shadows already inhabiting it came alive right then.
Taking form from shadow as she stood surrounded by sprawled out corpses, Makaela faced the shuddering of reality before her.
Appearing out of nowhere just as well, the figure faced her too.
Wearing tight black clothing with long dangling sleeves, the figure also had four belts in total strapped across his body riddled with weapons and tools of all kinds. Yet every move he made, not a sound was heard, as each object lay expertly tied to his person.
His face was covered by a crimson red mask depicting a horned fiend, while only his eyes were perceivable through the holes made just for them. Serpentine in nature, they were a light green set of slits, focused now entirely on Makaela as their gazes met.
Makaela stood alone within this tower and sensed about two dozen of these figures surrounding her, yet she grinned widely as she stared at the only visible one who she knew to be their distraction.
Raising her index finger to her plump lips, “Shhh…” She shushed them, summoning ethereal blades all around her person then, floating in mid-air like ghostly apparitions.
And as such, the silent battle between the Dreadblades and Zrosian Shinobi Unit, began.