The Shattered Realms: Rise of Zulguarde

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Chapter 4 The Mare Maden

The group had walked for several days now and Drakar was growing restless. Everyday though new and exciting was tiring and long. They camped hours after the sun set and packed up, moving on before the sun even rose. Magnum was quiet as always and Sin still had never said a word, the duo was rather ominous. Malissa on the other hand was a chatter box, telling stories of things that sounded made up. During the day she would chase butterflies and then cry once she actually caught and smashed them. The creatures seemed to sense her presence and melted into the forest to escape her. The path was a narrow dirt uprising, to the left lay a tangle of branches and woods, to the right an expanse of flat grass land, although it was roughly ten feet down from the embankment. Valene was in the lead as ever her gigantic shield propped on her side while her massive maul was slung on her back. At times she would raise her hand then proceed alone with a grunt. Minutes would pass but soon enough there would be a scream from somewhere up ahead. She would return and wave then they would continue, blood would always be splashed across her armor, though it was never her own. There was never a body she would devourer her prey whole.

Azra was at first hesitant about her new compatriots but after hearing of the event that befell Tar she agreed to accompany them to the Shadow Song Forest. Daemyn on the other hand was overjoyed when he awoke to see the puppeteer and her cronies. Those who have been touched by the darkness recognize one another very easily. Ciara however did not enjoy being around Malissa and the constant threat of being hugged too tightly. She seldom left Drakar's shoulder, this was her perch to see the world. Maeve was never far from Drakar's side, rubbing against his legs while they rested, and nestling up to him to sleep. The green winged fairy was as silent as ever with her mask shifting its expression.

Faith was always watching, for that matter Sin was as well, she would cook the remains of what ever animal that Malissa had loved to death. One time it was a Rune Bear as Faith called it, its head had been torn off and the rib cage caved in. The meat was cooked over the fire and the left overs were stewed that morning. Faith made a cloak for Drakar out of its hide, it was warm at night and kept the sun off during the day. Valene never turned down food. It did not matter if it was raw or cooked, human or beast, she ate it all then picked her teeth clean with the bones and crunched them up as well. Truly a glutton. At night Sin fiddled with her metal box, the groans of the contraption could be heard into the early morning hours. The more that Drakar thought about it the less he know about her. Does she even sleep? What is behind that mask? What race is she? Why does she not talk? Every time he tried to ask the feeling surfaced that it would be incredibly rude maybe even offensive to her.

“How long will it take us to get to the Shadow Song Forest?” Asked Drakar, walking beside his armored protector.

Valene glanced at him, placing her claws on his head and ruffling his hair. She smiled looking the map over. “Well lets see. We are currently here, skirting the edge of Sorrow Song Forest. To our east are the Sun Grass Plains and way over here beyond that is the port city of Jarkah. On the other side of the forest to our west is the Frost Ridge Mountains and beyond those is the Scarred Land. To our south was your town of Tar, further still and we reach the Grand Lake of Osis in the middle is an island and the city of Osis. In the north here we will be leaving behind the Sorrow Song Forest and entering the human kingdom of Marth. The city of Marth is to our west a little ways so we will not be going there. We will be passing through the towns Sirk, and finally Murk. Once we have passed these we will be arriving at the Cave of Carnage though we will not be going in, it is good to know where these things are. About three days north from there will be the Shadow Song Forest. It will take another five days to pass through. Then it will not take long at all to return home. So in total a little more than two weeks, assuming no altercations occur.”

Valene's talon poked at the dot, it flashed as she pointed out the locations. Finally she drew the line of the course, plotting it. The towns were represented by huts and little castles marked where major cities were located. Far in the north was the circle of mountains, Slag Ridge it was large, encompassing the entire northern region. On the other side stood a formation of trees then an empty space went off to the east and a circle with squiggles extended to the west. At the northern half rounded hills crept until finally there stood another castle nestled away by the mountains. The city had scribbles beside it as did everything else. He knew that the trees were the Shadow Song Forest and the empty spot was the Razor Grass Meadows, the circle was the Crystal Bog but then what was that castle?

Drakar pointed to the castle, “What is this place called?”

“That is our stronghold, Zulguarde Keep. Though it is likely in desperate need of renovation we have not been there for over twenty years. It is most likely fallen apart and looted by now but it can simply be rebuilt. We will gather zombies to do the manual labor at a later date. It will be your seat of power and from it we will strike terror into the hearts of men.”

“Zulguarde? But that is what Bel called me before she...” Started Drakar before he became sullen.

“Well maybe she saw that you would be its ruler and so named you after it? I am not sure. Anyway buck up Master, you will have a grand castle and servants at your beck and call.”

“So it is a castle? I am going to live in a castle? Is it big? I have only seen one before.” Smiled Drakar his eyes lit up.

“It is not as big as my former castle but we can always expand upon it. It was more of an outpost.” Replied Valene lifting him onto her shoulders.

“You had a castle?”

“I did indeed for you see long ago I was a Princess. Though I was a tom boy and loved the sword more than boys.”

“I want to be a strong warrior when I grow up. I will save everyone from the humans and then we can live happily ever after.” Smiled the foolish boy.

Valene looked up at him, her serpent eyes piercing him. “This is not a fairy tale become strong so that you can protect what you care about. The fighting will likely never stop.”

“But surely we can win. Right? That is why you found me isn't it?”

Valene smirked, “That is right. I will make you strong so that you can defeat anybody. Even me but that will be a while you are weak at the moment and in a few years you will grow even bigger so for now you will just have to wait.”

“I will not let you down.” Said Drakar with gusto.

The group continued down the road. The wind rustled across the brown grass making it wave. Farther ahead the forest faded away but it returned in the distance. A patch had been cleared and deforestation was evident. It made a half circle for roughly half a mile ahead. The path sloped down and the ground became even with the plains to the right. Stumps stood for several hundred yards to the left of this making it feel very open. Valene raised her hand, she stared into the distance and there was dust rising from the road ahead. Too far away to clearly see what was making it but something was coming. She pointed to the side carrying Drakar through the army of stumps. Maeve scooted along the ground smelling as she went, her tail was puffed up. Malissa pouted, stamping her feet all across the road in a fit of anger. The dirt froze solid and became slick. Faith dragged her along non the less.

“Why are we hiding?” Asked Drakar.

“I smell Humans that is why.” Said back the Dragoness.

“You guys are stronger than them so even if they attack us it should not be a problem.”

Faith swatted Drakar, “We are trying to throw off our pursuers if we kill irresponsibly they will figure out where we are heading. They are likely gaining on us as we speak.”

“Then we should keep moving and just ignore them.”

“They will be questioned and tell about our whereabouts. Currently the Solar lackeys do not have solid leads on where we are because of those zombies we dispatched. If we are seen then it would be the same as killing.”

“I understand but why are you so scared? Those other guys were destroyed in an instant.”

Faith shook her head, “That was just some town guards and they did not have any Templar or Paladins with them. Holy warriors are not easily killed, they know magic and have trained for many years, making them far stronger than the common rabble. Think of them as elite warriors. Only a fool would not be wary of their enemies.”

Drakar nodded in agreement Faith was smart after all, she knew what she was talking about. So they waited. An hour passed in relative silence. Malissa was growing restless by the moment however. She whined and complained to Faith about things that did not matter. Finally the foe appeared. It was a caravan. A knight rode at the lead atop a stead that Drakar had never seen before. It looked like a horse but it had a man's upper body sticking out of where the neck should have been. He wore a helmet just like the knight on his back and armor on his chest, a twisted sun was emblazoned in the center. His flanks were covered by a draping material that was plated with metal. It clanked while he trotted, surveying the area. Though he was armored he had no arms instead he had stumps where arms should have been. As the group grew closer on the road it became clear that the horse man was being controlled by his rider. Leather reigns drooped out from behind the helmet and they were pulled when ever the knight wished to move differently.

“That is a centaur. It must have been enslaved by the humans and reduced to a simple mount.” Whispered Faith.

“That is terrible.” Replied Drakar.

“It is a common thing here. They capture them in the wild and train them, if they resist they cut off their arms. After a few generations they breed subservience into them. The ones that they specifically breed serve them willingly and are powerful adversaries.”

“Those monsters. We should do something, set them free!”

“It is too late for those ones how would they live without arms?” Replied Faith, shaking her head. “They are dependent upon their human masters. If set free they will starve. Centaur are proud creatures and would never let someone ride on their backs that they did not choose. These are a lost cause, they are already broken. Look at them there is no free will left in them.”

“Then it would be better to truly set them free.”

“I just told you... oh I see, you mean their souls?”

“We should set them free from such a life.”

“I am against this Master we should let this go, this will delay us even further. We cannot afford it.” said Faith, crossing her arms.

The caravan continued forward now the end could be seen clearly. In total there were three carriages, four wagons laden with goods, and a single cage on the back of a large wagon. Five centaur guarded it with just as many knights. There were foot men, walking along the sides of the carriages, they were lightly armored with leather. Within the cage was another centaur but it looked smaller then the others and had chains holding it in place. It was sobbing lowly. They advanced further along but then the lead centaur reared up, kicking the air before falling to the ground. Panic consumed the guards they took defensive positions scouring the area. Several of the knights wrestled with the unsteady stead. He fell again, slipping on the frozen ground. His leg snapped and he screamed in pain, thrashing against his oppressors.

“This is your fault Malissa.” Fumed Faith, glaring at the girl beside her. “Alright fine kill them all, this will take far too long to let them sort it out.”

Malissa excitedly leapt up, shouting with glee as she bounded towards them, her arms wide ready to embrace one of them. Valene nodded and dashed towards the caravan letting out a roar that made the centaur freeze in terror. Magnum rushed them with earth shaking foot steps. He sliced down, sheering rider and mount in half, down the middle. They wordlessly gasped and fell apart. Screams rose and the cabins of the carriages burst open. Humans fled, running into the tall grass. Valene swung hard with her maul, pulping one of the knights before chopping down and crushing a centaur. Its legs bucked in a death throw and it collapsed missing its front half. Gore burst out across the road. Malissa gave a big bear hug to two men. They gasped and stabbed at her. Their blades merely bounced off of her clear skin. She squeezed harder and harder until their spines snapped and organs shot out of their mouths. She twirled with the corpses, dancing but the moment they stopped struggling she discarded them. She spied more toys running away and gave chase. Faith simply stood back, shaking her head at the whole affair. Azra and Daemyn were at a loss for words over how barbarically efficient the slaughter proceeded. Soon the guards were butchered, the runners had been chased down and mercilessly ripped apart in the tall grass. Faith brought Drakar closer now that it had calmed down. The nobles who owned the caravan were still alive, cowering before Magnum. They were fat and disgusting. They had soiled themselves and spilled their food all over their fronts. They wore far too much jewelry and their clothes were bright and flashy.

“Spare us I beg you. You can have everything here just let us live.” Pleaded the pig of a man.

Drakar shook his head and Valene raised up her maul over her head. She brought it down reducing the man to a smear in the ground. Then she moved to the next and repeated until nothing but pulp remained. Valene lowered her weapon.

“Maeve dispose of the evidence.” Said Faith.

The cat girl grinned as her face warped and her body turned to sludge. The green slime rolled over the ground dissolving anything organic that it touched. The gore and blood vanished in her wake. The puddle made short work of every sign of struggle, not even leaving the bones. The only remnant of the humans were the empty armors and broken weapons. Slowly the green liquid pooled together and the familiar form of Maeve coalesced. She stretched with a deep yawn.

“What exactly is Maeve?” Asked Drakar.

“Well we are not entirely sure either.” Replied Faith. “At first glance one would think she were a Nekomar or perhaps a Slime but Slimes cannot perfectly mirror other species. She is something akin to a doppelganger. If she eats it she can mimic it. At any rate you will have to get her to tell you.”

Maeve tilted her head, licking her paw, her tail swayed energetically. A mischievous smile crept across her face. She was feigning ignorance. Drakar decided not to pursue questioning her.

He walked away from Maeve to the cage where the centaur was still confined. It was a young girl, blind folded, gagged, and chained so that her arms were stretched away from the rest of her. Her hooves were roped together so that she could not even stand. Blood dribbled from her wrists and her knees were scrapped raw. Her ears shifted to every sound and she groaned in terror when the cage door opened. Her legs shifted wildly and she fought against her restrains. She smelled awful and flies buzzed about. Her back had three long gashes where she had been whipped. The insects crept around the wounds and maggots squirmed in her flesh. Drakar gently removed her blind fold, then the gag. Her eyes blinked and she squinted at the light. Her mouth hung open as she shook her head in fear. She pulled away but could go no further when he hugged her.

He whispered in her tall ear. “Easy there, I am not going to hurt you. Don't struggle you are just hurting yourself more. Let me get these off of you. You will feel better after that.”

Her eyes which had been steeled with resistance and hatred dissolved into tears. She wailed as he undid the shackles and set her free. She held onto him as though he might simply be a dream and slip through her grasp. She continued to blubber when Valene untied the ropes around her ankles.

“Master we have wasted too much time our pursuers will be gaining on us if we linger much longer. Luckily we can use this carriage to move faster now. I will pull it.” Said the Dragoness.

“We can't just leave her though.” Replied Drakar feeling the centaur cling to him tighter.

“I never said to leave her. She will be coming with us of course, centaur are beautiful creatures. If the others have a problem with that I will carry her myself and pull the cart. It is such a shame to see their strong spirits broken like those others.”

Drakar stood and she shifted unsteadily. She clung to him for dear life but eventually her legs wobbled below her. She stood then collapsed. She was emaciated and scrawny, clearly starved. Her bones could be seen through her skin and nothing about her looked healthy. Her hair was dull and matted with mud.

Faith made her way over glancing at the dilapidated creature. She frowned then came closer and inspected every crevice of the centaur. Finally she wiped her hands as though done with the affair.

“Can you help her?” Asked Drakar.

“Maybe, she was really put through the ringer. Honestly I am surprised she is still alive. Though centaur are hardy creatures. Well, we will see what magic can do. If that does not work I could try my potions but the materials are hard to come by. If nothing else we can cauterize the wounds to stop infection and blood loss though she might die from the shock of it. For now let me work my magic. We will take two of the carriages Magnum will pull one and Valene will pull the other. We have already loaded some valuables into the storage compartments. I will be in the back with the centaur and the elves, you will be in the front with Malissa and Sin. Those are the arrangements get to it.”

Valene dragged the carriage and wagons that they would not be using into the forest. Various goods were taken and stored in the compartments of the carriages. Magnum placed the poor creature in the second carriage, laying her across the back seat. Faith stepped in. Drakar climbed into the other carriage. Malissa was already there as was Sin. They sat across from one another. He sat beside Sin. Her mask grinned at him and she pat his head. The Ice Princess was smirking across from them. Maeve scampered in curling around his legs, she began to purr loudly. Then the cabin jerked forward. It moved again before the pace became steady and smooth. Malissa crawled out the window and made her way to the front.

She cackled with glee and the crack of a a whip echoed, “Faster Valy! Mush you muscle head!”

“I will pull this thing over right now if you keep this up. Only the Master can whip me!” Roared back Valene.

“Always so serious Valy hey, hey you want me to hug you and tell you that you did a good job, right, right. I know you do, don't lie to me, come to me my snuggle pet!”

“No! Why would I want that? Hey stop touching me. How did you get your hands in there? Hey knocking it off! Get off of me you little! Just shut your gob and let me pull this thing.”

“Never! Know your place beast! You are just an animal! A pet for my amusement! Muhaha! Now mush! Your brains are nothing but mush so it should be easy for you, now onward beast! Mush, Mush!”

“I will give you back to Faith if you keep this up.”

“Boo no fun, no fun at all! Valy that's not fair.” Pouted Malissa.

“Do they hate one another?” asked Drakar, looking at Sin.

Her mask smirked and she shook her head lightly. They were certainly moving faster. The grass rippled outside the window and the shadows of Malissa and Valene danced in the setting sunlight. He glanced back and saw Magnum, pulling the other carriage. He was a bit behind but it was nothing to worry about. The cabin jarred with every bump but it soon became soothing. Sin patted her lap and tugged at him. Slowly he laid down and rested his head on her. She stroked his face and gently pet him. It was warm and soft, sleep soon took him.

With a jerk the carriage came to a stop. Drakar stared out the window into the inky world. He opened the door and stumbled to the ground. Then his eyes adjusted and the moons had taken their place in the sky over head. There were six moons. Each held a different shape, some were crescent, some were round and then there was the shattered moon. It spiraled around itself and a tail of dots followed it across the sky. Fire erupted to the side and the outline of Valene became visible. She placed more wood upon the blaze and dragged rocks beside it to sit upon. A thundering of foot stomps grew louder and Magnum arrived, pulling the second carriage. He parked it beside the fire and pulled himself free of the harness. Faith emerged, followed by Daemyn and Azra. They sat by the fire under the watchful eye of Valene. Sin stretched and took her place, gazing into the flames.

“Master let me see your hand.” Said Faith walking towards him.

Drakar approached her and asked. “What is it, is the centaur going to be alright?”

“She will be fine for now. I will be venturing into the forest in a bit to gather herbs. I will take Magnum with me so no need to worry. But enough about that let me see your hand.” Said Faith, taking his palm into her smooth embrace.

She traced the lines in his scales then dug her sharp finger nail into a soft spot. Drakar winced and tried to pull away but she help his hand still. Blood began to flow and she collected it in a small jar. Once it was around a quarter full she set it aside and licked the wound. The bleeding stopped and she held up two collars, dripping the blood onto a gem stone embedded in them. Satisfied she tucked the jar away with a wry smile.

“What are those?” Asked Drakar.

Faith jingled them around her finger. “These are slave collars, nasty bit of blood magic. Those that wear these cannot remove them and they are compelled to follow the orders of the one whose blood is in the crystal, the owner in other words. In this case that would be you, Master.”

“That seems cruel though.”

“Only if you order them cruelly. Is it worse than killing them? I think not. This is simply insurance that they will not try anything funny. I am sure that you will not abuse this power. You are kind after all.”

“Who are you planning on using those things on?”

“Any humans or the like that we capture.”

“If it is as you say I suppose it could not hurt.” Said Drakar thinking things over. “Where did you get those things anyway.”

“Where do you think? The humans had them in quantity among their possessions there are twenty or so more in my carriage.”

Drakar followed her back to the fire. He sat beside Daemyn who pat him on the back. He grinned. “I still cannot believe how fortunate we were to be rescued like that.”

“But of course such puny humans stood no chance against us.” Smirked Valene.

“So says you, things escalated far too quickly we must be careful in the future.” Glowered Faith.

“What I am still puzzled by is as to why you people are so concerned with that boy.” Said Azra.

“Well that would involve a promise that was made three thousand years ago.” Replied Faith.

“What kind of promise?” Asked the elf raising her eye brows.

“Well Sin had become rather attached to Shewolf. She agreed that she would look after any loose ends if anything were to ever happen to Shewolf.”

“What does he have to do with that accursed woman?”

“He is her son.”

Azra looked at Drakar for a long moment then laughed. “Impossible, you have the wrong boy. He is far too nice to be that she bitch's son. If he was bathing in blood and mating with anything that moved I might believe it. We all know the depravity of Shewolf.”

“Yes she was a rather active individual. Have you ever met her?” Asked Faith.

Azra shook her head. “I have only heard the horrendous stories of her atrocities against my people and many other races. As I recall she brought the Dryads and Dark Elves into being about five and a half thousand years ago. That was the time that my ancestors fled to the Material Realm.”

“That sounds about right. That was when the alliances shifted in the wake of the Second Lunar War.” Said Valene.

“Bel told me a little about that I wanna hear more.” Excitedly said Drakar.

“It was a great war that involved every realm. The Naga, Elementals and Humans fought against the Dragons, Elves, Devils, and Ascended. The only thing that ended the war was the sundering of the third moon, the Material Realm's Moon. It drove Luna to the depths of despair and her hatred corrupted the Devil race. This was the birth of Shewolf. In her rage Luna set the crazed demigoddess upon the unsuspecting realms and she sowed chaos wherever she went. The Elementals adored the savagery of the new Devils and changed their allegiance. The Naga sensed the change in the flow of events and shifted to the Devil's side as well. Unable to contain her blood lust Shewolf slaughtered the Elves and tainted the Tree of life in the Earth Realm giving birth to Pixies, Dark Elves, and Dryads. The Dragons joined forces with the Humans and Elves to push back the madness.”

“What about the Ascended?” Wondered Drakar.

“The Light Realm sealed itself off and concealed its moon fearing the darkness that flowed from the Shadow Realm. Sintress, Goddess of Death and Despair came to reside in the Shadow Realm drawn to the weeping Luna. She consumed all of the hatred and soothed Luna from her sorrow but the damage had already been done. The realms feared the Devils and Luna was hated by the other gods, her own brother had abandoned her. The only one who cared about her was Sintress and so she agreed to allow the Goddess of Death to freely use her Realm.” Said Faith.

“That is not what I heard. As I heard it was Sintress who corrupted the Devils and seduced Luna. She is not some good doer who just happened to pass by she planned the whole thing. There is a reason she is called the Schemer and the Seducer.” Replied Azra.

Faith stared down the Elf with piercing eyes. “Prejudice is a hard thing to overcome. I know the elves despise their dark sisters but you should really not speak so poorly of our Goddess. We might get a little miffed you see. Somebody had to be the Goddess of Death otherwise there would be no order. It was under her direction that we were even in this place at this time. So you can thank Sintress for saving your lives.”

“I will not be swayed by your words. I know what terrors have manifested since the dark sisters were bestowed upon the realms.” Sternly replied Azra.

“We do not care about you. You are just excess baggage anyway. Do not think so highly of yourself. I was a princess too you know.” Grinned Malissa.

“Now, now stop that we should be uniting to fight a common foe, the humans. The cause of all our woe.” Said Faith.

“But she started it.” Whined Malissa.

“I don't care who started it. Play nice or you will go back into the box.” Glared the witch.

“But Faith you know I can't stand the box.”

“Then I am sure you will be a good girl and behave.”

“If I must.” Scowled Malissa.

“My beliefs are my own but you do have my thanks.” Said Azra with a slight bow.

“No need to be so formal we are all companions here.” Chuckled Valene.

“Then I will be in your care for a while longer.”

“Just keep your head down and you will be delivered to your kin. After all it would be bad for our truce if you were killed under our watch.” Said Faith.

“What exactly are you people to Drakar anyway?” Asked Ciara peering out from her nest in his white hair.

“We are his guardians. Though Sin is more of an adviser. She will use her own judgment.” Said Faith taking a knee before him, her eyes were filled with reverence. “But as your power grows others will be attracted to your greatness and join your forces. After all once you are tucked away safely to the north we will begin forging your kingdom. You will be strictly trained and taught about the world. I will give you magic and edicate, while those muscle heads will teach you weapon and armor mastery.”

“Why am I so great though, I do not understand. I thank all of you for saving me but why me? I do not think I can do this.” Complained Drakar looking away from them.

“You are the spawn of Shewolf. That alone is reason. The blood that runs through your veins is filled with dark energies, your mother's gift. She was the Queen of the Devils, born of the darkness of the Shadow Realm. She received the blood of the Moon Goddess Luna and Sintress the Goddess of Death to ascend to her prowess of Demigoddess. Her powers were so vast that a single swing of her sword could shatter an army and a snap of her fingers could resurrect it to do her bidding. Her body would regenerate after receiving even the most grievous of wounds, not even chopping her head off could stop her. If she had not been tricked she would have raised you herself. Though you will not be as strong as your mother you will be incredibly powerful. More so than Sin in time, so fret not Master for now just learn and watch. We are yours, Master command us as you will.”

“But if I will never be as strong as my mother then what does it matter, she was defeated so why will it be any different for me?” Stiffly questioned Drakar, staring into her eyes.

“Master.” Said Faith unsure, for the first time he had ever seen she seemed to struggle for the answer. “We are perplexed at the moment but there might be a way to set your mother free and once she is on our side again our victory will be that much closer.”

“Why did you not say that earlier?”

“We do not know where she is or if we can even undo the curse. We did not want to get your hopes up unduly. For now we must gather our power, consolidate our forces and carve out our stronghold. It will take many years to find her and save her so in the mean time you must grow into a worthy successor. Master all of us believe in you.”

Sin, Malissa, Valene, Magnum, Faith, and Daemyn bowed before him. His chest felt fluttery and warm. They believed in him so much, it felt wrong to disappoint them. They had killed for him, cared for him, cooked for him, told him of his heritage, but most of all they accepted him for what he was.

“Stop it already this is embarrassing, just stand up already.” Said Drakar.

Faith stood up straight and said. “We may have mentioned this already but Sin performs acts to gather money, really she just likes the children and this is an excuse you see. Every town we pass through she will spend a day or more performing, in the mean time we will restock on supplies.”

“Money why would we want that?”

“Everything has a cost. Food, water, clothes, weapons, armor, shelter, guards, farmers. Having money makes things easier. Sure we could take everything by force but we are still paying a price, the blood price, but if we use money then we can draw far less attention than if we came through and butchered as we pleased. Moderation is key to discretion and secrecy.”

“But I thought that our objective was to kill as many as possible.”

“Foolish boy.” Snarled Faith smacking him on the head. “You understand nothing. Is your head empty, are you the same as Magnum? You are just a boy, powerless, tender, weak, at the moment you are simply relying upon our strength and not taking responsibility for your actions. If a full contingent of Templar and Paladins were to find us in our current state we would be in dire straights. Sure we could kill them all but wounds would be taken and not everyone might survive. Sin is already nearing her limits having so many of her servants summoned without a way to replenish her mana. We would be broad casting our location to every lackey of Solar across the continent and they would converge upon us, making every day a struggle just to survive. Every action we take has rippling effects that move out into the world and influences our surroundings.

“If say we broke into a slave market and set free all of the slaves not only would we doom every single one of them to death we would be wanted by every major human settlement on the continent. This would slow us down and we would be forced to take back roads and we would have nothing to show for it but the blood of innocents, drenching our hands. There will be a time when we rise up and butcher the ants but it is not now. It will be many years before we can be openly aggressive towards the humans we must be prepared or else we will be crushed. Even ants can drag down much larger creatures if there are enough of them. Every one of us would willingly throw ourselves in the way of arrows, fireballs, or swords to keep you safe but why pick fights for no reason. We were lucky with the centaur that there were not more people and that it was in a remote place. No matter what you see in the cities and towns ahead you must not baulk away instead remember it, let the hate boil within you and drive you to train yourself harder and more ferociously. However you cannot act upon your feelings, not until we are ready.”

Drakar looked into her shimmering eyes. They were swayed by the fire light and a tear rolled down her cheeks. She wiped it away and her face was covered in stone. She had steeled herself and there would be no arguing over this matter. He could only nod reluctantly in agreement.

“Good.” Said Faith seeing his submission. “Now then Master, Magnum and I will be away for a few hours to gather herbs stay warm and safe. If you wish you may visit our guest though if she is sleeping it would be best to let her rest.”

“Oh I can?” Asked Drakar grinning at her.

Faith gave a curt nod already preparing for the task at hand. She gathered a sack and a lantern, lighting it by the fire before setting out with her towering protector. Their silhouettes vanished into the brush. Only the glow of the lantern and snapping of twigs remained, growing more distant with every moment. Drakar made his way to the carriage. The light illuminated the sigil of a fist clutching a black heart. He opened the door and darkness met him. The centaur shifted within and he could see the whites of hers eyes glowing. She blinked twice before laying back on the seat. He sat across from her.

“How are you feeling?” asked Drakar.

“Better but I have no way of thanking you. What you and your servants have done for me, I can never repay you for your kindness.”

“Why not?” He asked softly.

“You saved me. I owe you my life and there is nothing that I will be able to do that can thank you enough.”

“It was more of an accident than anything else otherwise you would not have been rescued, so do not thank me.

“No you did not have to take care of me. You could have left me to die but you did not. You have saved me.”

“Well I just could not stand seeing such a horrible thing. I will not ask that you repay me.” He smiled.

She shook her head, leaning into the firelight. Her face was awash in orange and no longer looked gaunt. “I must repay you. I could never live with myself for being so selfish. Please ask of me something, anything. I will do it to the best of my abilities. If you are after my body it is yours, I... I will not resist though, you should know that I am no longer pure. If you want me as your slave I am yours, I will serve you faithfully so long as I live.”

“Why would I want your body? I do not care what they did to you I would not think worse of you. No I saved you from being a slave I would never subject you to that again. If you really want to do something then would you be my friend?” Said Drakar nervously, he looked away embarrassed.

He expected her to refuse but instead she wore a warm smile. She took his hand in her own, clutching it tightly. She seemed happy but at the same time dismayed. “Would it not be more suiting to be your servant though? I am not worthy to be your friend, it would be presumption and arrogant to even consider myself deserving of such kindness. I have been defiled and broken. Something as dirty as myself could never hope to be your equal, that is what being a friend means. I wallow in the mud and you soar in the sky that is how different our standings are. I am unworthy to kiss the ground that you walk on.”

“He is not that great.” Sniggered Ciara, flopping onto his shoulder. “He is such a cry baby all the time. You should have seen him when he got stung by a vespidian.”

The centaur retreated a bit at the arrival of the pixie. She squinted and stared at the red glowing wings. Her ears shifted uneasily. “What are you?” She asked.

“Me? I am a Pixie.” Grinned the little woman. “I am Drakar's bestest friend. We are so close I live in his hair.”

“You live in his hair?” Said the centaur. “Such a strange creature you are.”

“But it is the best place to live. It is warm and soft. It is you who are strange.” Pouted Ciara.

“For something like you it might but a nice place. I however would prefer the wide open plains.”

“That is enough you two.” Said Drakar pinching Ciara's wings shut. “She is still recovering from her injuries so do not attack her.”

“If you insist. Alright pony listen well to what Drakar has to say. If he says he wants to be friends consider yourself fortunate.” Puffed the pixie.

“I know my place already.” Meekly said the horse girl.

“Don't put yourself down like that. It is so lonely being at the top, revered and coddled. They follow me and lead me but it is an obligation to them. If I were anyone else they would have never even looked at me. Though they care for me I know that it is for their own gain. Their ambition is to turn me into a lord and battle the humans. I know that they are using me but I can only thank them and hope that one day I can truly call them friends.”

“If... if it is just friends I could try.” She replied, her face was bright red. “but if you want anything I will be sure to do my best. My name is Lysandra Steelhoof, m... master.”

“Call me Drakar, Lysandra that is a very cute name.”

“Cute?!” She shied away, her face was dyed with embarrassment and her ears shifted uneasily. “You think it is cute, no one has ever said that before. No, I must call you Master. It would be impolite otherwise. I must know my place.”

“No need to be so formal, you are my friend remember?”

Lysandra floundered in her reply. “I do not feel comfortable saying your name like that. Would Lord Drakar appease you?”

“Well I suppose it is better than being called master all the time. Very well you may call me that after all I do not want to make you stressed.”

“Thank you Mast- I mean Lord Drakar. Was there anything else that you needed?”

“Not at the moment. Just get some rest. Later I want to hear all about the centaur.” Smiled Drakar.

“Thank you. I will tell you everything I know.”

“Thank you Lysandra.”

“You do not have to thank me.”

“But I am thankful. Now I have a new friend. Well good night I hope you have pleasant dreams.” He gave her a hug she resisted for a moment but gave in, wrapping her arms around his back.

“Good, good night.” She meekly replied.

“Later pony.” Smirked Ciara.

He stepped down from the carriage and gently closed the door. He turned to leave but then heard sobbing rise from within. Drakar opened the door again and Lysandra pawed at her eyes, wiping away her tears.

“I am sorry.” She said smiling, “I am just so happy. Tears just started to flow. I must look unsightly and ugly.”

“Silly I have never thought you were ugly. Just let it out and you will feel better.” Grinned Drakar.

She cried louder and he gently pet her head. He stroked her ears and waited until she had drifted off to sleep. Silently Drakar propped her head on the pillow and closed the door. He walked beside the fire. Valene sat with her sharp teeth smirking at him. He sat beside her.

“What is with that smile?” He asked.

“You must be the son of the Shewolf.” Laughed Valene. “You little lady killer you. I must say I am proud as a dragon. You are working so diligently to collect a harem as quickly as possible.”

“A harem? What are you talking about?”

“Oh that's right. I never told you, in Dragon society your position in nobility is related to a degree to how many mates you have and what standing they have. The Dragon Emperor has more than a thousand brides of all kinds of races.”

“So, so many... Why does he have so many?”

“He is the Dragon Demigod. He can have as many as he wants. Dragons collect harems and horde shiny things, it is just what we do. I did it too you know, I had a hundred men at my beck and call back in the old days. Well on the other hand Devil society is rather decadent to put it lightly. They make Dragons look positively saintly compared to their wild parties. They say that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Well it would make me proud if you collected a vast harem but I understand if you do not, after all keeping so many women from clawing each others eyes out over you can be tiring.”

“I will keep that in mind.”

“Just some life experiences being handed down. Also... well never mind you are too young for that I would be scolded for giving you ideas.”

“Now you caught my interest though, tell me, Valene.”

She narrowed her eyes and flicked her tongue, scratching the side of her face. “I have a very unique perspective about male and female. So I know the ins and outs of both. In a few years I will tell you the secrets of wooing women and making them scream for more with a certain technique.”

“What do you mean?” Grinned Drakar. “Why do you know so much about women?”

“Well long ago I was a proud and haughty princess who loved to slaughter monsters.” Valene's eyes seemed distant for a long while. “I was cursed to become that which I hated most. I became a man filled with lecherous desires. Ah that takes me back. Eventually I became what I am today, a Dragon and once the transformation was complete I reverted back to being a woman. But that is a long story I will tell you later perhaps. That is how I know how to manipulate both men and women. The key is that deep inside everyone is a lustful beast you just need to find out how to unchain it.”

He sat and thought about it. The fire crackled and Valene hummed merrily roasting a boar over the spit. There was a small pile of piglets with snapped necks, the handy work of Malissa. The perpetrator was playing some sort of game with lines drawn in the sand. She hopped between the squares with a blissful smile upon her blood stained face.

“I want to be stronger. Teach me Valene.” Said Drakar.

“Music to my ears.” Smirked the Dragoness. “What can you do while we travel? Ah I know just the thing.”

Valene rummaged through her belongings and eventually wrangled out two pairs of bracelets. They were made of silver and the engraving of a rose sat upon each. She clacked one on to her arm and moved it about with ease, seemingly satisfied she removed it.

“What are those?” Asked Drakar.

“These are Bracelets of Burden. They are cursed items that when worn cannot be removed easily. I know the trick so it is not a problem. What they do is increase their weight by influencing gravity. Depending on how I adjust it they could weigh nothing or they could weigh thousands of pounds. For now each will be twenty pounds. So in short you will be bound to these until you can move with ease, then I will increase the weight again.” Explained Valene clasping the silver onto his ankles and and wrists. They accented his scales very well. Ciara looked a little jealous.

“These things are really heavy.” Complained Drakar.

“This is the fastest way to become strong of body. Endure it for now Master later you will be very pleased with the results. I used these for training myself so I can attest to their potency.”

“How long will I have to wear these?”

“Likely the next five or more years. They will only get heavier but you will grow stronger as well.”

“That sounds like a hassle.” Whined Ciara.

“This is going easy on him. If I truly wished for the fastest results I would force him to wear those and carry a sack of rocks that weighs over a hundred pounds. I would then make him run for hours on end. Strength is derived from effort and pain. To become truly strong you must have a hunger for it, an insatiable gluttony for punishment. Like me.”

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