Candles and small torches cut through the darkness of the Chastin’s cave, allowing little light. Cyrin sat in the cold floor, staring at the leader. She stood ahead of him, her old eyes looking him over. His broken leg was stretched out ahead of himself, bleeding and twisted.
Lorelei crossed her arms, saying, “Your dragon has caused much commotion to our people for the past decade.”
“And when was the last you’ve seen her?” he grunted.
“Not for a couple of months, until tonight,” she answered. “She had killed our animals and burned the little amount of crops that we had.”
“Perhaps it had something to do with your Great Snake Kiaran told me about,” he retorted.
“Kiaran?” her face changed. “You know this woman?”
“Aye,” he nodded. “In fact, I am sent here on her and Davin’s behalf for aid in combat with King Murdock and his guard.”
She pondered momentarily as she looked to the men on either side of Cyrin. “This sounds as if it could be important to us,” she thought aloud.
“I agree,” a young woman said. She wore black, leather armor and was covered in ash. Holding a spear like the other men, she appeared ready to fight. However, she wore a headdress which had several strands of fabric hanging down her back. She appeared important. In charge of the warriors, perhaps?
“We cannot afford to fight and lose…” the old woman said.
“Then fight and win,” Cyrin replied. He grasped his leg, the bone in his shin splitting from his flesh.
The woman smiled, saying, "Your accent. You are Avestitian?" He nodded. "As is the woman Swayer, hm?" Again, he nodded. This seemed to please her as she turned to her men.
“Ralic, take him to be healed,” she said. “Once you return, I will have fighters ready for you. However, because of our small numbers, they will act as assassins, attacking from the shadows and remaining hidden.”
Grinning widely, Cyrin nodded his head, “Yes, Thank you ma’am.”
The man called Ralic pulled him to his feet and helped him away. Leaving the cave, he brought him to a horse. Cyrin gripped the saddle tightly in his blood-covered hands as he hoisted himself up. The man aided him by placing his wounded leg carefully into position, tying it securely into place. He took his place in front of Cyrin and whipped the horse’s reigns. Instantly, it darted away, kicking up sand behind it.
He held on tightly as the wind tried shoving him off. They traveled further into the desert, away from any civilization. The sands began to ripple back and forth like the sea that was met up with the sand of the shores.
The horse came to a halt, refusing to move. It backed up, ready to return to its home. Ralic leaed from the horse, freeing Cyrin’s leg. He aided him across the sand, closer to the source of the shifting sands.
The sand grew deeper, nearly to their knees. It felt as if blades were scratching their way from inside Cyrin’s wounded leg. The bones began prodding through his muscle and poking through his skin. He growled as his grip on Ralic’s shoulder tightened. With his free hand, he wiped his face, his grip harsh.
Finally, sand burst just ahead of them as the snake head jetted from beneath them. The wave of sand thrust them back, falling onto their backs and half-blanketed by sand.
The dragon, still mostly buried, stood as tall as a tower. Its black eyes looking him over. Cyrin grew still as his muscles tightened in angst. The sand seemed to harden beneath him as it lifted him into the air, level with its face. It gently lowered its nose to his wounded leg, licking it. Its hot saliva soaked his pants, dripping into his flesh, burning like fire. He grimaced under the pain and the sand slowly lowered him and the dragon disappeared into the ground once more.
Ralic raced to him, helping him up. “It has healed you, thanks to the Swayer. Otherwise, it would have eaten you,” he said. “We must hurry back.”
Davin peered into every cell, finding each of them to be filled with his allies. There were no keys around, and his thoughts raced too quickly to think out a plan. He grasped the bars of a cell, resting his forehead on the cold metal. Sighing, he rattled the bars with great might, his heart shattering. He recognized many of the faces. He had either trained some of the men or he fought along their sides.
“Keep it quiet,” Torin hushed him.
“Torin?” Walter’s voice whispered into the halls.
“Where are you?” Torin turned around sharply.
“Here,” he grunted as he grasped the bars of his cell a few doors down. The brothers rushed to him. “What are you doing here?”
“We are about to attack,” Davin answered quietly. “We need to get you out of here.”
“There is little chance of that,” he retorted. “Murdock has become paranoid to the point as to carry the only key to these locks with him.”
Davin cursed as he shoved himself away from the door, tossing his hands into the air. “Of course,” he growled.
Brick grasped the bars in his massive hands. The brothers watched him closely as he grunted, pulling the door up. With his remarkable strength, he lifted the door from its hinges. He slowly and very carefully placed the metal door to the side, leaning it on the wall.
Walter and nearly twelve other men exited the little room. They were malnourished and in poor condition, covered in filth.
“They cannot possibly fight like this,” Torin gasped.
“Perhaps not,” Walter agreed. “However, I am sure we can be useful somehow.”
“How so?” Davin asked lowly.
“No,” Davin barked. “That cannot work; you will get yourself killed.”
His face filled with dread and he nodded, “We must. We run the streets, drawing them in another direction as you and your brother find Murdock.”
“Where would he be?” Davin asked.
“His throne room, but it is barricaded with walls and guards,” Brick answered.
“Damn it,” he hissed. Looking to Torin, he stared him down. “What if I brought him a peace offering?”
“What are you saying?” Torin grunted.
“We find Bryce and get some fake cuffs from him. Shackle you up and present you to the king.”
Brick grew quiet and Walter said, “I am afraid that may not be a good idea, Davin.” He looked at him, his brows lowering. “He is still very strongly sided with Murdock. He refuses to believe his wife had possibly been sided with revolutionaries.”
Looking between them, Brick asked, “Where is Kiaran?”
Davin’s eyes darted away as soon as the name left his lips. Torin clenched his jaws, the air growing painful. “She will be here,” Davin said solemnly.
He slowly nodded his head, and then replied, “The death of Alana may only cause Bryce to hate you more...”
"Too many people have seen us fighting alongside one another," Torin said. "We have to find another way."
Andrew readied his small army of Avestitians. Their numbers were unimportant as it was only a city and there were several other allies to help. He mounted one of the dragons with Ritiann’s best captain. “Let us take off,” he said. With that, the dragons mounted with warriors and archers took flight, heading to Rishana.
With good timing, they were there. The archers flew their dragons along the tall walls of the city, breathing flames upon the Rishanian archers. The men burst into flames, falling off the edge of the walls or running until they fell dead.
Stella worked at the fire as the sun streaked the sky with bright colors. She moved quickly, tossing the copper into the fire. The flames lit up and the smoke turned green, floating toward the sky. It shifted between teals, purples, and greens, rippling far past the tops of the trees.
Standing restlessly by the fire, she gripped her sword and shield tightly in her fists. Her eyes glided over the sky and forest, searching for the spirits, the fog…but there was nothing.
Minutes passed and the sun was pouring out over the castle walls. The bells still filled the air and she grew apprehensive. It was far too long to wait for them and she began to panic. They should have arrived by then. Biting her lower lip, she held a hand to her head, her short hair sitting still from lack of wind. There was nearly no wind at all.
“Are they…lost?” she breathed. Who could possibly help her? She mounted her horse, nearly to tears in panic. She kicked her heal into the horse and it galloped away. Possibly the Zeil could assist her.
As she rode her horse through the Armogot’s mountains, she saw nothing. They were nowhere within sight, the forest completely still. The horse ran quickly through the valley and the field, treading through the shallow river as if it were nothing but air. It leapt over fallen trees and large rocks as it carried her up the next mountain and down the trail to the tribe that awaited her…That awaited their leader…Kiaran.
With only one person on the horse, she had reached the tribe much more quickly, though the morning sky was less colorful as the afternoon had approached and was seeping into evening.
Her chest burned as her heart thudded powerfully. Finally, rounding the large boulders, she found the village to be empty. There were no fires, no dogs barking in the background. No one stood at the edge of the lake fishing.
The horse came to a stop, panting heavily. Hopelessness washed over her as she dropped the reigns. She rubbed a gloved hand over her eyes as they dampened. She slid off the horse just as it weakened, falling over. The poor thing was over-exhausted and dying.
She ran to each of the houses, barging in them, looking for anyone. In the center of the village, she fell to her knees, “Kane?” she cried. “Where are you?!” she screeched as she doubled over, closing her eyes tightly.
As she opened her eyes, she laid her gaze on boots. Looking up the feminine armored legs, past the armed belt, and the beautiful breastplate, she met with a familiar face.
Raven stared at her with frozen eyes. Her jaw was as tight and unwelcoming as Kiaran’s ever was. Her hair was sitting across her face, flowing over her shoulders. Beads and feathers lined down one side of her hair with three other braids.
“Where are the others?” Raven demanded.
“I could ask the same,” Stella said, nearly relieved. “We have separated to get our armies ready for the attack on Murdock today.” Stella stood, continuing, “The spirits of the Armogot are willing to help, but they have not shown up. I fear that they have become lost.”
“How could a spirit become lost?” Raven snapped.
“They travel differently than us,” she replied. “They seem to jump from area to area, and could possibly be trapped in unlikely spots and cannot leave. That’s what the stories say, anyhow.”
“Where, then, could they be, and why are you here?” Raven continued to question her.
“I do not know, and I had no one else to turn to,” her brows creased. Pointing to the mountains, she said, “Past those mountains, beyond your little tribe here is an entire country crying for help. Davin and Torin need help or they might possibly die before our deeds are done. This cannot happen.”
There was a long silence as they stared at one another. Nodding to Stella’s horse, Raven said, “Your steed will not last long.” Turning, she headed toward the stable, Stella on her heals. “Our people have been herded up like sheep and taken away as our fighters tried to protect us. During a battle with some of Murdock’s men, our elderly, weak, and young were captured and thrown into cages on the backs of horses and hauled away.”
Stella’s heart sank and her voice was very soft, “What has been done to them?”
“I do not know,” she answered coldly. “I intend to find out.”
“How did you remain behind?” she breathed, “Are you the only one?”
Raven remained silent as her gaze slowly moved beside them to the field beside the lake. Mounds of dirt, nearly thirty of them, where lined side by side in three rows. Small, green leaves sprouted from them. Alone, she buried her men. Her family.
“I have yet to find Kane,” she breathed. “I do not believe he ran away.”
“Perhaps he thought he was the only survivor and escaped to find help?” Stella reassured her.
“Or he is dead.” Her words chilled Stella to the bone.
Entering the stable, they retrieved two horses and mounted saddles on them quickly and leapt onto them.
“The only spiritual place I am aware of is headed the wrong way to your battle from where they began,” Raven said.
“If it is near, it is possible. It is inaccurate the way they jump from place to place,” Stella replied.
“Eava’s drop,” Raven replied. “It feels very…strange…Powerful to just stand at the cliff where Eava once stood, protecting her people.”
“Let us see,” Stella nodded as they headed off.
Reaching the base of the cliff, Raven left her horse, saying, “We must climb.”
Stella followed Raven as they hoisted themselves up the rocks, the water rushing downward beside them. The sound of the crashing water was loud, filling their ears. The moistened rocks made it rather difficult to climb.
An unfamiliar feeling overwhelmed Stella as she continued up the mountain. Her insides felt lightened and her heart grew heavy. The hairs across her arms stood on ends as they pulled themselves over the edge, on the top of the cliff.
Standing, Stella looked to Raven with discomforted eyes. “You feel it as well,” Raven said slowly.
The air about them seemed to thicken and grow cooler. “Emmet,” Stella spoke softly, “Are you here?”
Raven stared just passed her, alarmed. She slowly turned around, following her gaze. A faint image of a woman stood at the edge of the cliff. The woman watched them, her hair whipping about violently without any wind. Suddenly, she fell backwards, plummeting into the water below. Stella rushed to the edge, looking downward. “That was Eava, wasn't it?”
“Yes,” she nodded. “Well, I suppose. I’ve never met her, this was years ago.”
Stella faced Raven, only to find Eava standing between them. She watched Stella closely, speaking with a whisper, “You are here…for years no one has come…”
“Eava…” Stella spoke softly.
“What is it that you are in search of?” she questioned.
“The Armogot…they are not here are they?”
“Armogot?...” she breathed.
Suddenly, her smoky figure burst, the air exploding between them sending a cold gust of wind through their lungs. A fog settled in and Stella felt something familiar. Many soldiers stood around them, their bodies difficult to see. Her gaze glided over them until it landed on Emmet.
“You are caught here?” she asked.
“We are,” he nodded.
She looked around for a moment. Raven remained silent as she grew edgy. Spotting the green smoke heading into the sky, she pointed, saying, “That is where we are to head.”
“Perhaps it can help,” Emmet said.