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The Shattered Realms: Rise of Zulguarde

By Jeffrey Wickerd All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Fantasy

Chapter 1 The Mother's Resolve

The shadows of the forest squirmed and there stood a small creature. Scales of dark magenta covered its arms and the hands each had five sharp looking talons. Horns jutted from his head, there were four of them. Two curled back along the crest like a ram and the final two reached up five inches from behind his pointed ears. They parted his shoulder length white hair that was caked with mud and ragged due to neglect. The serpent eyes were pitch but in the center crimson slashed down. The feet were clawed and scales covered his legs. His chest and abdomen were soft and supple like his face. Upon his forehead was a hoary purple scale.

He crept along a fallen log, basking in the lazy afternoon sun. Birds and insects mocked from the foliage, but it was a peaceful day. The breeze swam through the trees and leaves danced all around. The fragrance of the forest was earthen and pollen wafted from the abundant undergrowth. His scales shuddered and shifted before returning to their flat state. Blood red flowers bloomed in the darkness and drifted closer through the shade. He sat up as a form emerged into the light of the clearing. It was a tall woman. Her skin was ebony and twisting antlers sprouted from her head. Vines encased her form, growing from her flesh. Vibrant blooms dotted the surface but all were red. She smiled as she whimsically approached him.

“I was wondering where you were, Drakar.” Said the strange woman.

“Just getting some sun. Are we hunting again today?” Toothily grinned the boy.

She nodded with a mischievous smile. He stretched with a tired yawn and sprung to his feet. A buzzing sound rose and a tiny creature emerged from the underbrush. It was maybe six inches tall and its skin was just as pitch as the woman. Long, delicate butterfly wings hung from her back and her eyes reflected the sky. Two antenna sprouted from her glistening azure hair line drooping before her face. Gracefully she landed on her much larger counterpart's shoulder where a large flower obscured her hiding place. She peeked out from a petal and said meekly. “Did I miss anything?”

The two looked at the new arrival, then resumed their conversation. “So what are we hunting today, Bel?” Asked Drakar.

The woman in full bloom scratched her mossy silver hair thinking things over. “We could hunt worgs or perhaps some nymphs I would love to make some new sisters. Although lately there have been a strange number of humans coming through the forest.”

“Stop ignoring me!” Cried the tiny sprite, flailing her arms to get their attention.

“Well then what do you think Ciara?” Asked Bel not particularly caring.

The pixie guffawed, “Humans are always so troublesome, last time I got trapped in a jar, remember. You were just laughing, so cruel! Besides there aren't that many nymphs either since they always hide when we come to play.”

“Well of course they hide.” Sneered Bel. “They fear their predator after all. Besides after I partake in their nectar and give them my pollen they become dryads like me. Much the same as the fairies. Remember when I ate you and turned you into a pixie, Ciara? You were so fun. Crying and screaming, calling me a monster. Nothing tastes like a fairy, but Drakar you can't eat them, they are poisonous. I have an immunity so to me they are simply delicious.”

“Well of course I cried. You ate me remember!? The slimy, wet walls of your innards crushing me. I remember everything.” Replied Ciara convulsing in disgust. “Melting in your stomach. Watching my very being dissolve before my eyes. I still get that awful acid taste sometimes.” Her face twisted up at remembering the taste and looked like she would be sick. “No matter how much I screamed. And clawed. It did nothing! The terror of dying is not something I wish to experience again! Although the bliss of taking that first breath after being reborn is beyond compare.” A look of utter pleasure rippled across her face.
“Oh you little rascal. You bit my tongue and wrestled around with it in my mouth.” Said Bel dreamily. A wide evil grin spread across her face. “Then when I swallowed you, you lodged yourself in my throat. Oh my first little daughter. So tenacious and cunning, clogging my windpipe. You almost had the better of me but then I drank some water and down you went. It was so delightful, feeling you wriggle and squirm inside of me. Then you were born from my flower, a beautiful, ripe new pixie.”

“Is that how it is? I was wondering how pixies were made.” Said Drakar.

“Yup, remember fairies turn into nymphs and elves, but pixies turn into dryads and dark elves, once they mature. I wonder which Ciara will be? A dryad or a dark elf? If you want to be a dryad then think happy thoughts like me. Although if you want to be a dark elf be serious and brooding. Not that I mind of course I would love you no matter what you turned into. After all we are all children of Mother Shewolf. I told you about her before did I not Drakar?”

“Vaguely, I don't remember exactly what you were going on about.” Replied the boy sitting on the stump.

“Well get comfortable my boy it's story time. Many years ago there were no dryads or dark elves or pixies. Instead there were snooty elves, nymphs and fairies, a bunch of sticks in the mud in the Earth Realm; we are in the Material realm at the moment. I was an elf back then. The realms were at war and the humans, naga, and elementals had invaded the Earth realm. Luckily we had the Ascended, Devils, and Dragons helping us fight them off. Then in the middle of the fighting one of the seven moons exploded, and it was a truly a sight of woe. The devils whom served the Moon Goddess, Luna, rallied to their Queen Camelia. Their despair could be felt and they fled from the fight, returning to the Shadow realm to soothe their goddess.

“The war was over fairly quickly after that. The moon which had been shattered was the human's, which stopped their endless flow of reinforcements. They were forced to retreat and with them so did their allies. Several years passed while we picked up the pieces but then the Devils returned, they were changed. They once were like silver winged angels but now they had sprouted horns and their wings were black as night. Camelia was no more, the despair and hatred that had corrupted the entire race, had defiled her and she had become the mighty Shewolf that we know her as today. She attacked us without provocation, slaughtering us like dogs. I remember it so clearly. Mother's pitch blade sheered me in half. It happened so fast there was no pain, only shock. My life blood spilled out and the twilight of my life came to pass. I saw the Goddess of Death, Sintress. She smirked and waved goodbye, then the agony returned. It was a good pain, the suffering of life.

“We were no match for her powers and prowess. Only our Queen Faye could fight her toe to toe. It ended in a draw but the corruption from her blade tainted our hearts, warped our bodies and we were born again. As the dark elves and dryads. Our children were the pixies but we could corrupt those who were not. War spread eternal in the realm of Earth. Our enemies are the elves who do not see the glory of death and darkness. For years we fought tooth and nail but I grew weary so I left that realm to come here.”

“But then the elves and nymphs are the good people?” Asked Drakar.

“Well technically I suppose. We simply have differing natures. We were born of death; they of life. So it is not unreasonable that we fight. Besides it is so much fun to toy with them. Elves are snooty and look down at us. So of course we get angry at them. If they simply left us alone we would leave them alone. At the least I would but the elves of this forest are a bunch of no good bullies. I just wanted a nice quiet place to live. Do you know what they did to me the first time I found them?”

Drakar shook his head. “No what happened?”

“Those terrible elves they called me evil and burned me at the stake. That is why I hunt them. I just wanted to play nice with my former sisters but they drove me away. They cornered me and hunted me like an animal. They brought it upon themselves. The fools! I am a daughter of Shewolf! Brought into this world by her blade, it is not so simple to kill me! Did you know there were ten Elf villages when I arrived, but now there are but two? It was so lonely, no one to talk to, no one to play with, only those who wanted to hurt me. Then I remembered that I could make friends. I eat their children and so they become my own. Honestly I never wanted any of this but those elves are just so mean, they won't even play with the pixies. They kill the poor little things. Good thing I made the Heart Tree in the middle of the forest my home.”

“That is cruel. You are the nicest person I have ever met.” Scoffed Drakar.

“Dwaah. so kind of you to worry about me.” Teased Bel pulling on Drakar's cheeks. “We should eat some tasty meat today. But what kind?”

“Worg?” Wondered Drakar aloud.

“Too stringy, no good at all.” Said Ciara scrubbing her tongue as though something foul had been stuck in there. She washed away the look after sipping from a nearby flower. “Elf though is delicious and you would get stronger by eating their flesh.”

Bel contemplated for a moment “But it is no fun to eat them all, so maybe human? No too gamey. Ah I know Lizard man, yes, yes there is a village nearby too. I know how much you like their meat.”

“Their meat is tough and chewy just the way I like it. Alright lets go hunting.” Grinned Drakar.

He rung his hands together in delight and Bel smiled, ruffling his dirty matted hair with her hand. Ciara spied out from her flower. The trio left the small clearing through the twisted branches. The primordial forest shifted untouched by outside influences. Creatures scurried through the underbrush. Howls and squawks echoed in the distance. Bel lead the way and the path opened before them. The trees squirmed at her approach, uprooting themselves and moving to the side. Though such a thing should be tremendously loud, they made only whispers, voices of the forest talking amongst one another. Faces appeared in the bark revealing more dryads and pixies. The blackened trees blotted out the sun but their vibrant flowers glowed in the darkness a sickly red color. The deeper they traversed the darker it became. The crimson wings of pixies fluttered all about, tiny torches in the inky abyss. The ground grew soggy and a marsh lay before them. Fireflies circled in clouds, frogs and toads croaked to one another but they fell silent at their approach.

A brilliant blue loomed in the distance. The gentle glimmer held back the dank darkness. Giant mushrooms capped in translucent umbrellas ascended from the muck all around. They towered high above, illuminating their surroundings like street lights. Within the gloom a massive trunk stood. Red strings of flowers dangled from the dry, cracked bark of the ancient tree. Smaller green toadstools dotted the ground like stepping stones. The red sap oozed from the roots of the mighty tree like blood from wounds. The pools bubbled and churned to the sides. Laughter echoed and frolicked from all around. Splashes shuddered through the pools while the other dryads played. They danced with one another, spinning their partners around. It looked very much like a ball, except they waltzed in the blue spot lights.

A sordid play, echoed through the vale. The pairs tangoed and tried to out do one another. Dryads flaunted their ebony skin, only covered by their twisted vines and crimson roses. Dark elves were among the pairs as well. Their skin was smokey blue. Their silver or white hair flowed in the stagnant air. Their ears were long and bounced with every move. They wore soot covered leather tunics and breeches, but some were as bare as the day they were born. The dark elves were just as nimble as their pitch counterparts and would certainly not be out done. Their red eyes gazed at their partners, while their hands gripped one another in passionate embraces. The pixies swirled above, red stars in the oily sky.

Bel continued on, stopping at the trunk of the Heart Tree, a gaping cavern in the side led deep into it. A sickly sweet aroma emanated from the entrance to the dryad queen's lair. Bel however merely stopped outside leaning against the trunk of the gnarled tree. The murmurs of those gathered followed her. She reminisced, smiling in a uncouth manner.

“Time sure flies when you are having fun. I remember back when I was the only dryad in this whole forest, fresh from the Earth Realm.”

“How long ago was that?” Pondered Drakar.

The dryad seemed to lose her concentration for a moment then replied. “Five years before I found your egg so about fifteen years ago. I will never forget the day your egg just dropped out of the sky and hit me on the head. That hurt you know. I mean your egg was harder than metal. I had a terrible bump for three days after that. But I mean really, who just drops eggs from so high up? Stupid dragons, they should really pay attention. It was lucky you did not get scrambled, I was so tempted to eat you, you know? At first I thought you did not survive so I tried to crack it open but I broke a nail, so I gave up. Lucky for you my tree is so warm otherwise you never would have hatched. Come to think of it, it did take roughly two years for the egg to hatch. I was surprised to see it shake and squirm, then crack. I pried it open and there you were and you made that adorable little squeak. So cute! You made my heart all warm and fuzzy.”

Drakar's face turned red and his raised voice cracked. “I... I don't squeak.”

“Let mommy give you a big hug and we will see.” She spread her arms wide and he retreated.

The pixies and dryads and dark elves giggled at the boy. They sniggered between one another while he pouted. Drakar puffed up his cheeks and Bel gently tugged on them. She wore the most wondrous of smiles, a truly blissful face. This place was his home. The fellow inhabitants his brothers and sisters. They had played with him since he could walk, watching over him in times of danger. Teaching him to talk and write. It was an innocent time. Together they would cook whatever had been caught that day over the bonfires. Bel had always been there watching over him. They brought joy to one another. She was wise from her extensive life, cruel to her enemies, compassionate to her followers and protective of those within her domain. She was what a leader should be.

If the elves were not constantly conspiring her demise the forest would be at peace. Though originally they did not fear her, however they made a fatal mistake and incurred her wrath. The former capital city was reduced to ruins and the heart tree of the forest stolen from them. She had butchered the inhabitants and they were reborn as her children. The surviving outer villages and towns marshaled their forces and led attempts to retake the tree. Drakar had seen several of these attacks but they were insignificant in the recent years. The elves were growing desperate with each failed attack Bel's forces grew and their own depleted. In the past there were far more elves that laid siege to the marsh surrounding the heart tree. They were broken at every attempt but Bel saw no sport in hunting them down. Instead she laid waste to a village after every failed attack to exact retribution. Now the elves had grown fearful, they dared not attack. This was her benevolent nature she never bothered those who avoided confrontation instead taking the fight to those that looked for it. This was the one reason that the elves had not been mercilessly hounded out of the forest or butchered like pigs. She understood that it was their home too and that it was more than big enough for the two of them to inhabit it.

“Drakar, you have grown so much over these past eight years.” Said Bel, her face was filled with love. “That adorable little ball of scales that I once held in my hands has grown so big. I am proud of you. My beautiful son, the light of my life. Before I met you my heart was black and empty, shriveled and cold but now it is so swollen with pride and affection. I love you more than you could ever imagine. But I know one day you will leave us, you will leave your home in search of something. When that time comes we will send you off with smiles and tears in our eyes.”

“What are you saying? I would never leave all of you.” Scoffed Drakar, looking unsettled.

The dark elves and dryads smiled towards him, Bel continued, her eyes were large and wet, beginning to trickle. “You will one day. The Goddess has sent me a vision of fire and blood and darkness. You will leave this place but you will return one day. A day, years from now after you have grown even bigger, even more magnificent, stronger and wiser than I could have ever dreamed. When I saw this my heart sank yet it also burned with pride that my boy would become such a powerful man. I shall give you my blessing. Our hearts will always be with you and when you find yourself broken and filled with despair think of us and allow us to raise your spirits once more. This place will always be your home and we will always welcome you with open arms. The Goddess has seen past the veil of time and showed me flashes of your future, it will be hard. You will cry and you will scream, you will hate and you will despair, you will be betrayed and you will beg for mercy, but-”

Bel could no longer continue. The dam of her resolve had broken and tears flooded from her eyes. She hugged him desperately as though he might be torn away at any moment. She wailed in anguish and stroked his wondrous hair. The other dryads were sniveling, the dark elves were silent but the glint of their tears and pained expressions said it all, and the pixies were bawling and wailing like babies. His mind was blank his families' sorrow was filling the grove. None of it seemed real to him. Drakar had never seen any of them cry let alone blubber like children. A feeling of dread descended over him. Bel though she seemed to only play around did everything for a reason. So why now, why today it was as though something terrible was about to occur.

Bel regained her composure. Her eyes became steel and across her face a smile spread. “But you will find happiness, you will love and you will play, you will feel fulfilled and you will be compassionate, you will work hard and you will grow so strong and big, your broad shoulders will cast a shadow the likes of which have never been seen before. You will make many friends and you will earn the respect of so many more, your enemies will shudder at your name and your allies will roar your name with undying faith, and you will have a new home, a place where all the pain and misery will go away. A new family. You, my beautiful little boy, I will always love you. You are Drakar, Drakar Zulguarde and this world will tremble in terror of you. I could never be more proud of you.”

His eyes filled with tears, “Why are you telling me all this. I just want to stay here with you, with everyone. I don't want to go anywhere. Why? Why can't I stay here with everyone?”

She shook her head with a bitter grin. “Fate cannot be changed Drakar. The Goddess of Death, Sintress, she has never lied to me. I have lived for two thousand years but the happiest time of my entire life has been these past eight years together with you and the rest of my children. Nothing could compare to them and I will always keep them in my heart even when I have turned to dust and left this world behind. There is no use fighting destiny instead you should embrace it wholeheartedly. You are a good boy, more than I ever deserved, more than I could have ever hoped for. But I am afraid I have kept something from you, you are not a full dragon but a half. The other half is filled with such darkness it could only be one race, a devil.”

Drakar hugged her tightly. The warm flower petals pulsed with her heart beat and the weeping boy held onto her leg. “Why are you saying this? It sounds like you are going to die. I am not ready. Promise me that you won't die. I still need you. I love you Mother don't make me go. Please!”

“I won't die that easy silly boy. I promise, I will not die.” Bel smiled but her eyes were wet again. “Did I not say you would return one day? Poor little thing, makes me want to just pull your little cheeks forever and never let go. Shush now boy for now we should eat. Those lizard men are not going to kill themselves you know.”

“You are right.” Sniffed Drakar.

“Come now, let us feast! So we can send our dark prince off to his destiny!” Roared Bel.

Cheers rose from all around and the excited murmurs drowned out the noises of the forest. The hundreds of dryads and dark elves marched through the forest rank and file like an army. The woods themselves bowed before them and allowed them passage. They traversed the soggy ground for an hour before they had reached their destination. The land rose up onto a hill. A valley was before them, phalanx pines had been cleared within it but it was encircled by the silent sentinels. Their needles pressing out like spears against the world.

Huts dotted the depression, smoke rose gently from camp fires and the green scaled figures walked about. Drakar looked from side to side at the assembled war host. The dryads peeked shyly out at the setting sun while the dark elves stood resolute, gleaming in their polished armor. Their curved swords and spears at the ready. He looked back at Bel. She was taller and more glamorous than the rest by far. He barely came up to her knee. With a single motion from her hand death had come for the lizard men.

Thick mist rolled out of the forest, cascading down towards the unsuspecting creatures. The dryads lunged into motion, bursting from the fog. Their bodies plumed the water vapors into the air around them. They waltzed in pairs, trailing the clouds behind them. The dark elves marched in unison, picking up speed as they went down hill before breaking into a full charge. Their war cries shattered the silence and screams pierced the veil. Metal beat against metal. Fires raged through the village. Orange balls of heat exploded with flashes beyond the cover of mist. The sun descended behind the mountain and light vanished all around, leaving the shadows under the moons. The six moons danced high above. Each a crescent grin from the Moon Goddess. The shattered moon was more distorted than the others, it was jagged and a tail of crumbs chased it across the night sky. The pixie sat upon his shoulder gazing up at the night sky.

“So wondrous. Luna is smiling at us Drakar.” Grinned Ciara. He nodded in agreement.

The fight was not long and nor was it worth assembling so many warriors. Fifty would have sufficed or simply Bel alone would have been more than enough if she felt like doing it herself. When the trio descended the stench of blood was thick. Bonfires were raging and meat was being hung up to cook. The dark elves had pilfered alcohol from the huts and were enjoying the spoils of their battle.

They drank and laughed, dancing merrily around the fires. Pixies fluttered about the rising smoke enjoying the smell. The dryads were playing games as usual, chasing one another or hiding from their pursuers. At last the fat was drooling off of the meat and it was ready. A large flank was presented to Drakar by a dark elf with a tasseled full helmet. He took it eagerly and bit down. Flavor exploded in his mouth and juices spurted down the sides of his face. His lips smacked loudly before he swallowed with glee and took another juicy bite.

He could feel all of their soft eyes upon him. They looked at him with adoration and care. It was obvious that none of them wanted him to leave but a feeling in his gut was telling him that it would be soon. The fires swam and the shadows danced. The revelry continued long into the night but Drakar never left Bel's side. He held her supple hand while the woman who raised him could only smile with tears in her eyes.

“How strange.” Said Bel with a gentle relaxed face. “No matter what I do my thoughts come back to you. Drakar I can't help but reminisce. I remember your entire life so clearly, so vividly, yet all those years before seem so empty and dark. I remember when you cried and cried every time you were hungry. Where have the years gone? Is this all just a dream? That little wailing ball of scales can't possible grow so big. It seems like only yesterday you were clawing at my breasts for nectar. Kneading my flesh while I scratched your chin. Crying when the pixies didn't let you play with them. Oh my little boy the years just snuck on by didn't they? I feel we should have done more. Though I knew the time would come I dared not accept it. I told myself we still have time, we can make so many more memories.”

“Of course we can.” Smiled Drakar hugging her side.

“Do me a favor and let this old lady indulge a little.”

“You are not old.” He replied with a smile.

A wry smile crossed her face. “Oh you sweet boy, but I am ancient. The time is soon coming where our paths will part. Let me just remember all of the good times and the bad.”

Bel closed her eyes remembering years before. The egg cracking open. The tiny purple creature screaming for her attention. It suckled from her and never let her sleep. She hated it at that time and considered eating it or smashing it but she never could bring herself to. Before she knew it that little thing had taken up so much of her heart. She rushed to its side every time she heard it cry. He loved her smell and would cry whenever separated for long. She coddled it, giving it everything it could want, and took it everywhere with her. That little thing, that little boy. His first steps, she was so proud. His first words, it was Mommy. Bel's grin grew and grew while all the years came flooding back.

Drakar's first squabble and friends. The pixies didn't know what to think of their scaly brother. So they pranked him and he got lost. After an hour he was crying and they felt so bad about it that they showed him home. He was all smiles and they played with him from then on. The dryads would watch over him while he explored the forest. She remembered his first hunt. He was so shy to the bunny. He set it free and it scampered away. He made so many friends with the animals. They loved him and he loved them. The badgers would let him ride them. The nekomar, oh how he loved them. They were his best friends, they were inseparable. She remembered the night when they stole the honey out of the vespidian hive. The buzzing wasp women chased those little cat girls all over, stinging them and making them cry. She had to drive them off and they fled the forest from her wrath. He came home covered in bruises and cuts and welts from their stings but he grinned with those thieving cats. They shared a chunk of honey comb with her. She never could stay mad at them.

Bel smirked thinking of all the trouble those cats dragged Drakar into. They were so happy back then. Not even those snooty elves would try to harm them. They would steal fruit from the villages and dash away when the guards chased after them. But they were never serious about their pursuit, seeing the little gang as a mere nuisance. They would nap in the sun together. Those furry little fiends brought a smile to her face every time she saw them snuggled up around Drakar. Then she recalled that night when he came home screaming and crying. The nekomar had been trapped outside of the forest. By the time he had returned they had already been hauled off and Bel could do nothing. She was bound to the forest and hated herself for her limitations. She would have chased down the humans, butchered them all and brought back her son's little friends but she could not. She sent the dark elves but it was far too late and just like that Drakar's heart had been broken for the first time. He stayed by her side and rarely smiled for the next two years. He had become fearful of the world. Bel cursed herself for her powerlessness to return the smile to her boy's face.

Those two years were so painful to her. No matter what she did he refused to smile. She brought him new friends, strange animals, rare objects pilfered from the human caravans but nothing appeased him. Every night he would cry himself to sleep in her arms. Her heart felt like it would rip apart from not being able to help him. She could only give him her chest to cry against. He was gloomy and no matter what the dryads or pixies or dark elves tried he would isolate himself, wallowing in his own despair. That was when he met a human, who had wandered into the forest and became lost. She was the daughter of a merchant. She cried and cried over her predicament. She was scared of the dryads and pixies who found her. She ran away from them and bumbled into Drakar's resting place. They saw the fear in each others eyes and laughed. She explained that she was lost and he showed her out. His smile had returned while he waved farewell to the human. The two became the best of friends and she would visit every time her families caravan would pass through. For Drakar, Bel allowed them to pass through the forest without being ravaged. As a result however the family grew rich and greedy. Their caravans became longer and fuller, they traded with the elves. Then they betrayed her trust.

Drakar was lured by the girl's family and captured like some beast. They were going to sell him. In her rage Bel massacred every human in the forest. They escaped with Drakar however and her legions of dark elves pursued them, cornering them in their mansion. It burned, she could see it from the forest and since that day no humans dared enter the Black Leaf Forest. He was brought back mostly unharmed he cried over the loss of his friend. The girl had survived however. She returned to the forest but Bel could not forgive her. She was over come by such rage. Yet it was not the girl's fault she had helped him escape the mansion. She was chased from the forest and never allowed to see Drakar again. Eventually she gave up and left. Now Bel and her children hated the world around them. They became over protective of Drakar. He was never allowed to wander out of sight or leave the forest. If humans or elves approached him they were butchered mercilessly. They loved him more than anything and would never let anything hurt him again.

Bel knew this dream was impossible. She had seen the visions of his future but she was not in them. At first she cursed Sintress for showing it to her, for taunting her with his life that she would never be able to see. Then she came to accept it, for being gifted to see what life held in store for her little boy. His ups and downs, pains and sorrows, joys and bliss, his rage and grief. He would become so big and she looked on in disbelief. That the little thing she picked up on a whim would one day be bigger than her. He would have lovers of all shapes and sizes and from them he would have many children. He would be a man but she would never see it. His expression of young love. His awkward attempts at courting. The new friends he would make. She wanted so desperately to be a part of it all. It was unfair. Why should she not be able to be there for him? She wanted to hold each and every one of her grand children. Snuggle them and tell them that she loved them but she never would. “Why? Why can I not?” Thought Bel, the notion ate away at her. “Who said I could not? What is destiny? Who made it up and chose what would happen? He is my boy I should be there for him. I will be there for him. I will take the whole damned forest with me, hes my boy and I will be with him till the end!”

As the hours passed something was different about everyone around Drakar. They slowed their games, ceased their drinking and a feeling of blood thirst was washing over all of the gathered warriors. Even Bel was being effected her. She clenched his hand more readily, her grip on him grew stronger. Something was terribly wrong.

“Why is everyone so tense?” Asked Drakar.

She looked down at him a resolve so strong what looked like hatred filled her face. “We will leave tonight.”

“What do you mean leave?”

“You will learn soon enough.” Replied Bel scratching her chin, then she had made up her mind. “Screw Sintress.”

Those words echoed out and those gathered suddenly became still as death. “You heard me screw, Sintress. I will not hand him over to slavery so easily!”

“Slavery? What are you talking about.”

“The humans are coming prepare yourselves my children. I will not give him to those pigs.”

A roar of agreement exploded through the night air. The dark elves formed their battalions. The dryads were oddly quiet and no longer playful. Pixies swarmed about with fork sized spears. Bel stood and Ciara nodded from Drakar's shoulder. The army marched but Drakar's questions were not answered. Why would humans come? What would they do? Where are we going? His thoughts were jumbled but he had never before seen everyone with such unrelenting blood lust. After a short hour they had returned to the heart tree. It was here Drakar saw a strange sight. The elves were here, the normal ones. They wore faces of discourtesy but there was also distress as well.

The elves had pure white skin their eyes were blue and their hair was blonde, brown or black. They wore golden armor and had the same curved swords. There were roughly two hundred of them at the opposite side of the bog. Their weapons were not at the ready. Their leader stood out from the rest. She was beautiful with long hair of spun gold. Her armor was more intricate than the others, showing a face surrounded by leaves.

She raised her hand in greeting but her words were icy. “The humans are coming, we need your help.”

Her brow furrowed as though it was incredibly painful to ask. Bel was not surprised. She nodded her assent. The two began to discuss the battle tactics.

“My forces are better at range.” Said the Elf.

“Well then my dark elves will form the front line and the dryads will support with their dark magics. Where will you be in all of this?”

She gruffly looked at the surroundings trying to decipher where they were going to be. “My archers and mages will be on the hill behind the second line. Me and my vanguard will be here in the center of the front line.”

“Seems odd. Usually your kind likes to hide in the back. Why do you want to be in the front?” Said Bel with a skeptical look.

“What? You think we can't fight?”

“Well I suppose. If it is like that after we figure out where their archers and mages are, the pixies will descend from above and stab out their eyes.”

“Ah that tactic. As I recall you used it to overrun Fort Steel Leaf.”

“Indeed. Let's get everything set up before they arrive. Would you happen to know the extent of their forces?” Asked Bel.

“From what our scouts said it looked like a full subjugation force. Three thousand strong. Two hundred paladins, three hundred templar, and likely two to three hundred clerics. The rest is a mix between fodder and archers.”

“Sounds like they are going all out. I wonder how long it took them to get this army down here.”

“They have been planning this for a while most likely. All that is left to do is wait.”

Bel nodded and the elf commander left. She returned to her own forces. The battle formations lined up and stood on standby. The pixies vanished into the darkness above. Everything seemed ready but Bel was exceedingly nervous.

“Maybe I should have taken everybody and fled. Though the tree would never be able to out run them.” She said slowly.

“Why, is it that bad?” Asked Drakar.

“I did not think they had so many paladins or templar. We can deal with archers and clerics just fine but this is going to be tough. Causalities will be incredibly high. My children's blood will flow like water. If only those snooty elves had brought some nymphs to attack the assailants with the trees. When dryads try that it is really obvious since the trees turn black and have red flowers.” Bel shook her head.

She glanced over at the formations, squinting at them as though to see something that is not there. She made a worried face as though just now realizing something. A pained smile rose it was not a happy face. She closed her eyes took a deep breath and muttered “So be it.”

“What is the matter?”

“Sintress was right. Don't trust the elves here. They will betray us. Fate really can't be side stepped. No matter how this plays out I know that you will be safe. Don't hate that commander after all this is over, she is just too stupid to realize that she has brought death to this forest. I saw that she was useful to you later.”

“Oh but she is a traitor. Why do we not just kill them now?”

“Destiny my dear. We are already on the path, it can no longer be changed no matter what we do. Well just stand back and watch Mommy rage against her fate.”

“But if we know what is going to happen then why do we still rush head long into it?”

“Because of what will happen after this. You will meet a strange person after this. Once you are with her nothing can stop your destiny from unfolding. But be diligent and work hard to get stronger you cannot rely on others forever.”

“When will I see you again?” Cried Drakar.

“When you are a grown man you will return here. We will meet again then.”

“I will be all alone then.”

“No, Ciara will be with you. Don't get separated from her. Also Daemyn guard him with your life. Take nine others with you and flee when the elves turn cloak. I wish I could tell you more but our time together is nearly done.” Said Bel with a sad smile.

“Yes, Mother my life for Lord Drakar.” Said a tall dark elf. His helmet had a crimson tassel and the armor was silvery. He had a kite shield and a slim curved sword with an obsidian blade.

Drakar held her hand for a moment but then she pulled away. Her face seemed forlorn. She did not smile, not even a fake one to try and make him feel better. It was as though she was simply going through the motions and no longer cared to try. He thought that as she walked away but then he could feel it. A boil rage was, seeping from every pore of Bel. Her fists were tightly clenched and he knew that she would not let this end quietly.

Another hour passed and preparations were complete. Bel was on the right flank, the furthest away from Drakar. The elves were in the middle and their archers were in the back. The dark elves were everywhere they formed the meat of the army and then there were the dryads. They were between the elves, forming the second line.

The waiting game had come to an end when fire lit up the forest in front of them. Thousands of torches flickered in the wind. It was as though the dawn had arrived. They marched forward making the ground rumble and the animals flee. The humans had taken the field at last. Their armor was white and silvered with images of the twisted sun upon their carapaces. The front line held tower shields and flails. Foot soldiers flanked the sides of the main column. They were much lighter equipped. They wore leather jerkins and had short swords. These were all gruff, dirty men. They did not look especially skilled but there were so many that it did not seem to matter.

Drakar watched from the safety of the heart tree. Daemyn carefully observed the battle beside him. Then with a roar of shouts it began. The human wave surged forward. The dark elves held fast, beating them back. Their blades red with blood. Arrows flew. A wall of death descended upon the humans, many fell but for every one that did another four took his place. Bolts of darkness lashed out from the dryads they blasted through the human lines to the sides. Leaving gaping holes in their forces. The paladins rushed the center collapsing in on the elves. What should have been a ferocious whirlwind of gore did not occur instead the line ripped open allowing the humans through. The elves had already betrayed them within the first wave of attack. They turned on the dark elves attacking them from the sides. The bulwark fell almost instantly.

Drakar felt Daemyn's hand, grasping his own. He was being pulled away. He could hear his families screams of death. He stared as they were butchered. Then an arm the size of a tree descended from above. The ground quaked from the force that it exerted. Drakar knew that hand very well. It was Bel. She had grown taller than the trees and her body radiated dark power. She swung and the wind screamed. Lines of humans were torn asunder in an instant. Paladins and templar rushed towards her legs. Their glowing weapons, stabbing into her black flesh. Her blood poured but she continued her assault. Every earth shattering step she took crushed tens of humans. She leapt into the air and crashed down in a belly flop. In a moment hundreds of screams were silenced. Bel did not stop there however she rolled left, smashing everything that got in her way. Then she changed course and surged to the right. She steam rolled over the puny humans, crushing them like insects.

“I can do this.” Said Bel laughing at the tiny humans below her. “How can something so weak as this end my happiness? I will not let it. Feel my wrath!”

Her arms came down shattering the ground and the earth split. Death was all around her. Her children, her enemies they were all so weak, insignificant. She lashed out at the world. For a brief moment Drakar felt hope but it was instantly crushed.

Fire erupted all across Bel. Her form became an inferno. She rushed head long into the foes forces. A low buzz rose from above and the cloud of pixies descended from the branches. The elves fired arrows into the horde and shot magic at the tiny beings. Many fell but they gushed forward. Blood curdling screams filled the air as the vicious pixies started their attack. The magic and arrows stopped as the cloud of crimson death moved through the human ranks, leaving men wishing they had died. Chaos flowed and panicked cries were all around. It was only then that Drakar realized the paladins were heading straight for him. Daemyn pulled his sword, stepping between them. There were five heavily armored, glowing soldiers. Light magic was dripping from their weapons.

“Not like this!” Screamed Drakar.

“Just run!” Yelled back Daemyn, rushing towards his death.

The other nine followed suit forming a desperate wall. Light blared and each of them collapsed, their flesh smoking. The paladins were not even serious. They laughed at the pitiful resistance that they met.

“Oh, what is this thing?” Complained the humans, staring down at him. Their helmets covered their faces but their tones of voice were clearly of disappointment.

“It looks like a lizard man. It does not have a tail though.”

“Idiot it is clearly a dragon. Look at the horns on that thing, it will fetch a fortune.”

They were conversing when a shadow over took them. The massive hand smashed down crushing all five of them in an instant. Blood and gore seeped out from below the black flesh. Slowly it lifted and Drakar stared into Bel's eyes. She smiled as she stood before him. Her hands scraped the sky and tore the canopy off of the forest. The moons were high above, shining their light down. She raised her arms into the sky above. Red covered the sky. The moons had turned blood red.

“How dare you! I will not let the world take him from me!” Screamed Bel. Her eyes were filled with hatred.

LUNAR FLARE!” Roared her voice. The wind shuddered and the earth cracked beneath her.

The sound seemed to be sucked into a void for a moment. It felt like an eternity but then the light vanished from the sky. A pillar of silver light erupted in the midst of the humans. It expanded outward growing more and more until finally it was almost all that Drakar could see. Suddenly a dark sliver silently passed through the middle of Bel's abdomen. She did not seem to notice it, laughing at the top of her lungs. The blast made the wind wail in agony and world buckled around the impact point. Fissures split through the earth swallowing all that were in its way. The towering black form of Bel toppled over, sheered in half. A look of utter surprise and horror filled her face.

“Noooooooo!” She wailed as the world spiraled away from her. “How, could this be! I was so close. Just a little more and it would have been different. No, NO! ”

The top flailed and her onyx blood gushed out like a tidal wave. The legs wobbled and collapsed crushing those around it. The wave washed over the red sea of blood and stained it perpetually black. Drakar nearly drowned as it swept over him. He clambered for air, clawing at the warm viscous fluid before finally breaching the surface. What met his eyes was despair. Bel lay with her hand outstretched towards him. It was close. He swam as hard as he could fighting the current of life blood flowing out of her. He grappled onto her massive pinky and climbed into her hand. It shifted around him before closing. The light returned when she opened her palm over her chest, dumping him into a massive flower.

He still could not accept it, didn't want to believe that Bel could be dying. It was far too surreal. Just a moment ago she was laughing and now she was slowly slipping away. Drakar held back his tears. “Something like this. No this can't be. You are so strong how can something like this happen?”

“Drakar I am sorry. I wasn't strong enough. Fate could not be changed. A god cannot be opposed.” said Bel her eyes blankly, staring at the moons above, despair flowed down her face and blood boiled out of her grin. “I lied to you. About seeing you again... we never see each other again. But I was able to see your life... to see you grow up. I won't be there for you. That is my regret... No, I can't just lay down and die he needs me!”

“No! You can't die not like this!” Wailed the poor boy watching his mother fade away before him.

“Damn you Sintress... I don't want to die yet, he still needs me... He's just a boy. He's my boy. I won't let anyone take him from me! There is so much more I wanted to do. I wanted to be at his wedding... Don't taunt me with his future like this. Stop showing me these things! You cruel bitch. I wanted to walk him down the isle. I wanted to hold him when he cries his heart out. Why? Why would you do this to me?”

Her breathing was slowing. Her eyes were unfocused, her hands lost their strength and fell cracking the earth. “Hes just a boy! You can't do that to him I... I won't let you. Grant me a second chance, please, don't forsake me. He needs me, please, not like this. You lied to me! It wasn't supposed to be like this. How can his heart take so much sorrow. I have hurt him so much, how could he ever forgive me? Why do this to him? So much darkness... it is all so black. So cold.... Drakar are you there? Can you hear me?”

“I am here! I hear you mother! Don't go, please don't go, please!” Yelled Drakar his face flooded with sorrow and snot ran from his nose.

Bel choked and her chest heaved. Her tears could no longer flow. The blood was slowing and there was nearly none left. “I wanted to see my grand children. To hold them, hug them..... Tell them everything would fine. So many, he looks so happy. I wish I could be there. Thank you Sintress. I see now, so that is how it ends. With this everything is as it is meant to be... If you ever feel like giving up look... look to the moons and know that I will be watching over you. I am so proud of you, Drakar. I love you. You will always be in my heart.”

She shuddered violently and Drakar could not speak, only sobbing. Her eyes gently closed. Her breathing slowed as she took a large breath. Her chest swelled and hers eye ripped back open. Bel mustered the strength to lift her hand and lay it over Drakar. “Oh so small.” She said meekly. She gulped down her blood and her smile was stained black. “You still fit in my hand just like so long ago. We can go back... just the two of us. We can start over can't we? We can be free of this cruel fate. Drakar, my sweet little prince it seems I will be leaving first. You filled my life with light but all I can leave you is darkness.... I am sorry, I am a terrible mother, burdening you like this.”

She said the final farewell and all the strength left her. A blood soaked smile filled her face. The last of her life blood flowed out. Bel no longer drew breath. Her eyes were vacant. Drakar screamed and cried burying his face in her soft flower. Her body was withering, it felt like dried out bark. The flowers wilted. Her body shook as though life yet remained. The center of her chest cracked and shattered like a frail molting. A gigantic ebony orb shot out. The sphere lingered as though forlorn to leave. It glowed with warmth but it tilted to the sky. Countless smaller orbs rose up from all around leaving the dead. Magic crashed and assaulted Bel's soul, bouncing off harmlessly, as it ascended to the sky, chasing after the moons. The parade of lights filled the sky following their mother into the silvery light of the moons, leaving only darkness in their wake.

Slowly and gradually her immense form shrank until finally it was back to its normal size. He would not let her go even when the paladins pulled at him. Finally they ripped him from her. He watched in horror, when they cut off her head. A thin smile covered her face. His tears welled up and he wailed. They lifted the head of his mother up and cheers rose all around him. His chest felt tight. He could hardly breathe. His stomach emptied again and again. His heart felt like somebody was crushing it, twisting it. It was unbearable. They dragged him away.

He dimly heard a voice it was that elf commander. “Thank you for your help. We could not have done it without you.”

“Well thanks to you we were able to gather all the filth in this forest together.”

“Thank you for freeing us of Bel's tyran-” started the elf before the wind was knocked out of her lungs. She gasped and struggled, falling to her knees.

“Know your place elf.” Yelled the man, kicking her while she was down. “Put her with the rest. I am sure somebody will pay for such a slave.”

“Why?” She wailed struggling against her attackers. She was quickly overpowered.

“This is Lord Solar's Realm. Stupid elf bitch, thanks to you we just cleaned out the whole damned forest. Now we can cut it down without being attacked.”

“Traitor!” She cried.

“Says the one who stabbed her allies in the back. Those dryads were the only thing keeping us out of this forest. If you think about it they were the ones protecting this place. If it was not for them, all you elves would have been slaves years ago. I am sure we can find a buyer for that body of yours since your head is clearly not worth anything.”

She fell into despair, sobbing while they dragged her and the others off. Drakar stared at the humans. His chest felt like it was on fire. He had felt this feeling before it was hatred but he had never felt it this powerfully. It was amplified by his sorrow, his feelings of helplessness, his despair. His heart felt empty, it was black, cold, and dead. All the love that he held for Bel it was boiling, writhing, twisting and rotting. The anger was swirling. It hurt so much. He wanted to rip his heart out and throw it away. He wanted to hit something, anything to divert his attention from his remorse. He clenched his teeth grinding them back and forth. The darkness was bubbling up. He wanted to kill them, slaughter them, butcher them, rip them limb from limb, and then he would kill their wretched spawn. The misery filled him.

“Human scum, I will kill them all!”

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