Valkyrie II: Darkness Rising

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Chapter Three

Tisiphone followed behind Lithia and Khor, dodging leaves and webs all around. Her legs were sore, her heart raced and if she had to pull a Ninja on one more web, she was going to snap. She had nothing against the Spiders who’d created them, they were just trying to catch their dinner, but getting that shit out of your hair and off your clothes; not to mention the creepy critters that had also gotten swept up in the sticky silk and died…

She wasn’t too keen on the idea of walking around with an insect graveyard hanging down her back. Nonetheless, they were everywhere, like this part of the forest had been taken over by the eight-legged web-masters and nothing passed without a veil of evidence clinging to their very souls.
“That was quite poetic!” His voice crept up on her and she wondered which bush he was lurking behind. “You should write a book!” He added, though his position had changed.
“At least show yourself and take a shot like a man!” She shook her head and rolled her eyes, which in turn, led her to stumble upon a rather large stick. “Perfect!” She grinned, holding it up before her.
“Only girls, hit with sticks!” He grumbled from the branches above.
“Well, fancy that, I am a girl!” She replied sarcastically and set back to the path before her.
One would think, that with a large mass such as Khor lumbering down the trail before her, he’d have cleared most of this shit out of her way. Nope, the bastard walked right through it, not a care in the world as Tisiphone was left to hack away at it all and keep Markhon from complaining any further.
“Your mother hit me with a stick once, though it was a good fifteen feet in length and weighed…” He paused a rubbed at his jaw.
“It was a tree trunk and you walked into it!” Tisiphone corrected him, swinging once again at the travesty before her.
“It was a sapling, and it stung for days!” He appeared before her with his arms crossed in front of his chest.
“Too bad, this is just a stick!” She whipped the web-covered mass in his face. “Hungry?”
“Ugh!” He pulled back and wrinkled his face. “Last time I had web-kill, I swallowed a Kalvashian Mite. Thing festered in my belly for weeks before it gave birth to a whole bloody swarm of them. That was an interesting trip to the outhouse, let me tell you…”
“Uh, how about not?” She shuddered
“Come on, it hurt half as bad as the tree did!” He chuckled as she pushed past him. “And only the females birth live young, the males excrete a liquid that makes your piss turn green and in some cases, a raging…”
“Did anyone ever tell you that you’re classifiably insane?” She stopped short, eyeing the trail ahead of her. “Where did they go?” She spun around, looking for any sign of Khor, Lithia and Markhon. “Fuck?” She brought her hands to her head, forgetting about the Stick-O-Webs in her hand.
“Did we get lost?” Loki laughed out loud as Tisiphone spun in circles, fighting with the sticky mess.
She couldn’t even see the path anymore. Nothing but leaves and vines and webs, for as far as her eyes could see. Where could they have gone?
“You know, this forest is kind of creepy come night time?” He carried on as she scoured the small grove in which she stood.
“Are you scared?” She replied, pulling webs from her hair and face.
“Don’t move!” He called to her, the pale look on his face giving her reason for alarm. “Just, stay, very still!”
“What’s wrong?”
“Just stay, where, you are…” His words were cut short as a screech filled the skies above.
“This isn’t funny, Loki!” She hissed at him, but she stayed as still as she could; just in case.
“Did I say it was funny?” He came back, circling her as if to inspect something closely.
“You haven’t said anything, other than stay still!” She snapped, wanting so badly to examine herself, though she was afraid of what she might find.
“Just, want to be sure before I start lighting fires!” He sighed and shook his head as he circled her one last time.
“Oh, for the loves of all that is sacred, what the fuck is going on?” She shouted, then felt the tingles sweep up her legs. “Loki?” Her voice rose as he brought his hand up before him and conjured an orb.
It was small, orange and emanating an odd sort of heat, but as Tisiphone watched on, she found the orb leaving his hand on an intercept course, with her chest. Slowly at first, weaving about the air as if navigating some unseen path; like a Butterfly dancing in the wind. It wasn’t until the thing was a good foot from her that its demeanor changed and that smooth, innocent Butterfly turned into a Hornet on a mission to inflict as much pain as it possibly could with its tiny little stinger.
In seconds, her body went from tingling to burning. There were no flames or fires as he’d suggested, just an intense burn that seemed to cover her from head to toe as the orb expanded to envelope her. Surrounded in the strange orange aura, Tisiphone could feel every lick of those invisible flames, still confused and concerned as to what had started the affliction, she feared the worst.
“Loki, get me out of here!” She shouted, only to find her voice bouncing off the insides of the orb and echoing all around her.
“What was that, Princess?” He called back, his hand at his ear to hear her better. “I’m sorry, this will only take a minute.”
That son of a bitch. What was he up to? What had he done to the others?
“Loki, so help me, I will gut you like the pig you are…” Tisiphone seethed, but it mattered not how much she shouted, the asshole now acted like he heard nothing and chuckled as he continued to circle her. “I will end you!” She added with a growl and closed her eyes.
If he wanted to play games, fine. She’d play, but she was playing by her own, better rules. “I don’t feel so well!” She told him, her hand rising to her forehead.
One moment she was standing in the orb and the next, her face was flat against the outer wall and it began tumbling down a nearby hill with her inside it. Not what she had expected, but it had triggered the right effect.
“Fuck!” She heard Loki shout, then nothing at all as she slipped into the silence before the story.
Oh, the games she could play with him.

“We need you on the team for air cover.” Gil looked to the Dragon, who in her Human form, wore a simple frock and carried a basket of rocks down the stairs, nothing like what you’d expect a creature such as herself to adorn.
She was beautiful, even when covered in all those ruby-red scales, but to see her as she was now, was almost humbling. She helped where she could, with no qualms toward the job asked of her. Such a magnificent and noble spirit, kind and caring…
“Me?” She replied, careful not to drop her load.
“You’ve got the firepower we need.” He smiled, hoping to win her affections once more and add her to the team.

Cybelle thought about it for a time, all the way down the stairs and out across the courtyard, then replied with a smile of her own. “I’d be glad to help, but I fear, before I do anything, I must feed.” She shook her head. “If I grow hungry, you Humans begin to look quite tasty.”
“Oh!”
“I can go a day, maybe two, before the hunger sets in.”
“And what, may I inquire, do Dragon’s eat? Or, do you consume food like a normal person, I mean…” He added quickly. “… not that you’re not normal or anything, just, you’re a Dragon. You have needs. Big, needs….” He shook his head. “Shit, I should have just let Mist do the talking.”
“Not at all, in fact, you are doing better than most.”
“I am?” He muttered, standing at the edge of the courtyard with his mouth open and his brows raised.
“Most are too terrified to even approach me in Dragon form.” Cybelle laughed and made down the path to the main gates. “Others are well enough with my Human façade, until the scales come out. There are but a few with the courage to do what you did, and the continued existence of our friendship means a lot to me. I do not have many friends, as you can tell from the previous company I kept. It is nice to have friends, to help where I can. I would hate to lose one, to the hunger.”
What a lovely image of friendship, right up until the part where she chomps your head off and picks her teeth with your bones. Where could he find a herd of sheep? Gil’s mind thought of a million questions in his sudden panic. Cows, maybe? He’d need to talk to Alara about this. As Queen of the Elves, she had access to resources that Gil couldn’t even dream of; like the wonders he’d witnessed this morning in the courtyard. Perhaps she had a few cellars full of Dragon-kibble lying about?
“Let me see what I can do, my lady. Somebody around here must have a herd to spare. We don’t want to upset folks by, you know, eating them?”

“Gil, I was joking about eating Humans.” She laughed and set the basket of stones down at the guard house.
“Oh, really?” He asked, somewhat relieved and yet even more curious than ever.
“Pardon my saying, but your kind do not taste very good; they are far too tough and stringy.”
“Really?” He let out again, both a little disappointed and relieved at the thought of Humans being nothing more than a second-rate side-dish.
“Really! The only thing worse is a Goblin’s hide. I am still trying to get that taste out of my mouth.” She shook her head and for a second, Gil thought she was about to vomit.

“I’m, uh, sorry we don’t taste good.” Gil said quietly, trying his best to avoid imagining what Goblins tasted like, but it was too late. “Ugh! I didn’t need that image in my head this early in the morning.” He shuddered. “Give me some time and we’ll get you settled with some livestock.”
“Thank you, Gil, for everything.” She grinned, but something told Gil she had more to be thankful for, than a good meal.
“Uh, before I go, how is the egg?” He let out with a flush on his cheeks.
“It hatched. Word arrived yesterday.” She replied, as if the birth of a child was not something to celebrate, but rather just happened.
“You must be very proud.” He smiled, though he wondered who was caring for the newborn if she was here.
“My mate is pleased with his fine young son.” She chuckled, having plucked his thoughts from the air. “He even decided to name him after you, the man who cared enough to rescue him.” There was more emotion in her eyes now, a sort of sparkle that dazzled in the glow of the morning sun.

“I am most humbled by this honor, Cybelle.” He bowed his head, thrilled that the young whelp now bore his name.
A Dragon, named after him? Who would have thought he’d have his very own namesake? He sure hadn’t, yet here was the proof. There was only one thing wrong with this scenario and it concerned Gil deeply.
“Are you sure you want to come with us? Your son needs his mother.” He asked earnestly, unsure if Cybelle was aware of the dangers of this mission.
He didn’t want to be the reason a child went without both of its parents. “My mate is capable of handling things for a while.” She laughed. “You just worry about Malice. I’ll take care of the rest.”
Her mate? Had to be another Dragon, but where was he? What did he look like? What did their child look like? Was it even theirs, or was this how the Dragons lived, raising the eggs of another as their own? So many new questions, he felt like a child himself, needing to know the answers to everything he could see and hear.

Nonetheless, he had more pressing matters to attend to and though he’d love to pick away at her brain with his inquiries, she too, had work to do. “I’ll see what I can do about the sheep and we will meet here tomorrow and discuss it further.” He chuckled and ran a hand through his dirty-blonde hair.
“Of course, my lord!” She offered in reply and bowed her head. “We all, are in your debt.”
“I do what I must to curb the insanity, that’s all!” He sighed. “And thanks again.” He bowed his head and turned back towards the courtyard before the moment turned sappy on him.
He had things to do, people to see. A whole list that Mist had made for him to help keep him on track, and first up, was feeding that Dragon. The sheep issue would not be a problem for long. If the Queen had Unicorns and Pegasus’, surely, she would have a flock of sheep to spare. Alara seemed to have an endless supply of everything and upon discussing Cybelle’s need with her in the great hall, he watched as she ordered a handful of her Elven soldiers to round up the nearest herd. Clearing his list of things to do would be easier than he’d thought, but what came next left a grin on his face.

The fire mage, Vanessa, had been teaching him how to control the orbs, and today was the day he’d learn to make them detonate on command. In principle, it seemed easy, but when practicing the concept in real time, Gil had troubles maneuvering the glowing orbs to their targets and hoped that this lesson would go better than the last one. He hadn’t meant to lose the orb, nor had he expected the thing to reappear inside a bloody outhouse.
‘Well, boyo, now you can tell folks that you blew the shit out of something’ His great-grandfather’s words still circled in his head as he remembered the shower, and stench, that followed his little mishap.
Thankfully, no one had been in the damn thing when it went up, but by the Gods, he’d turned fifty shades of red as the poor sods ran about in the downpour, securing the area. Shaking his head, he made for the mage’s shack, hoping this time he’d get it right. He had no intention of holding another mop, for at least another year. He still bore the blisters on his palms and he swore that some of the villagers snickered and giggled as he walked by. Nothing he couldn’t handle, but he had a feeling he wouldn’t be living this one down for a long while.

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