Deragan should’ve seen it for what it clearly was. For what Rhyers had warned him. But he was blinded by hunger for vengeance. And burning agony tearing him apart.
The giant katash birds coursed the sky, watching the sleek outline of Rhyers on the ground. Tracking at a run. Barefoot and shirtless with a bow strung over his chest.
As a flock, they coasted the skies. Remaining together to keep the only human in view.
When Rhyers stopped and stiffened, Deragan followed his gaze across the meadow.
Radix stood amidst a field of dark clover. Gray cloak mixing with the dull shade of his beard and the trail he’d burned into the growth as he’d walked into the field. Squinting into the sky he waited for the sun to crest the horizon. Pink and gold fingers clamoring over distant hills.
Through fog, Deragan saw Radix still as a statue in the center of the clearing. Motionless with his giant staff.
He let me find him. It was obvious. Rhyers was right.
The Cimmerii littered the ground around him. Small ones, large ones, all providing a wall around him.
The others, Sarabi, were as big as horses and circled him protectively.
Nonis shrieked nervously in bursts. Veined orange eyes wide.
Targue hissed, letting saliva lop from their spiked teeth. Backs shifting like canine’s prepared to pounce.
The bang of mighty wings flapping sounded like the snap of sails, setting Cimmerii on edge. Circling the cluster of Cimmerii, the katashs tightened their perimeter.
They all knew what would happen.
It’s a trap. Rage coursed through him. Fluid and hot. Controlled heartbeat pounding in his ears. Teeth bearing, he screeched at Radix Malorum.
I’ll rip out the demon’s throat. That fantasy calmed him. He needs to know agony. As he’s shown me time and again.
He felt the echo of hunger for violence in his warriors as their eyes flashed through fog.
Next to Deragan, Bast’s gaze was fixed on the Cimmerii demon.
Radix’s lip curled above his gray beard at the knights’ refusal to show fear as they all stared him down. He was surrounded by Cimmerii rodents, toad like things haunting his steps. Making it look like he crossed a shimmering black pool.
There are more concealed in the trees. Deragan knew. Radix would never so readily bait himself without being certain he could survive it.
Coasting overhead Deragan scanned the dense coverage of trees. But saw nothing beyond the green canopy. He’s far underestimated us.
His katashs began raining from the sky.
Branches shattered behind Deragan and saw a battalion of Cimmerii coming through fog toward them.
Way more than I’d ever envisioned. More than I knew he possessed…
Like any good strategist Radix had saved his heavies reinforcements for flanking. He’d been the bait to his trap, luring Forever Knights into the clearing.
He intends to slaughter us. Deragan’s insides tightened as he watched the approach with dread. If he’d taken his time to make his move, he’d have seen the pieces aligning. I should’ve seen it.
Guilt bit at him. Deragan had lost all restraint. Time had been on his side. Time to recon, to check the woods, to move further out. But we didn’t.
Because I need this. But even over the din of his rage he felt an ominous sinking in his gut. No one had batted an eyelash when their leader ordered them to go in blind. What have I sentenced them to?
Radix’s game started by murdering their strongest player. My Fallen.
At once, undermining the Captain’s usual diligence. Pressing him into a battle his Forever Knights were unprepared for. Heart dropping, he realized his mistake. Anger and pain had driven him after Radix long before they were ready. Before they could gather necessary intel.
Radix had baited the trap, knowing Deragan’s grief would drive him straight to the center.
Forever Knights poured from the sky.
Engaged in the battle I began. Deragan watched what he’d wrought horrified. What have I done?
For centuries we hid. Hid as canines, felines, horses or birds and Radix had struggled to find us. Now I’ve brought them all to him. To Deragan’s horror Cimmerii poured from the trees in waves.
Rushing in, he pulled several Cimmerii launching from the trees, off Lucien’s back. To his right another katash was already weighed down by Sarabi. Brutally tearing bits from his wings and sinking teeth into his back, the katash was crashing.
Deragan rushed to him in a dive but as the other hit the ground he was immediately covered in a swarm of snapping Nonis. Deragan roared but they only looked at him with flickering orange eyes, unworried.
Katashs were being snatched from the sky and those that Cimmerii weren’t ambushing, Radix was yanking down with chains of vibrating light he sent streaming from his hands. Pinching the katashs and rending them from flight, sending them careening. Ground bound.
Deragan’s heart lurched. They’re all going to die.
Even as he thought of the spear, his eyes sought the green katash. Only to see him falling from the sky in the distance. Stomach up and wings reversed up around his face in a dead fall. Raese!
He was either unconscious or already dead.
No! The spear! His eyes searched for Tev but couldn’t find him.
Only one option was left. Take out Radix. Save what’s left of my Forever Knights.
Sinking from the gray sky and evading the bright glimmers of the rising sun seeking to blind him Deragan swept down toward Radix.
You’re mine now.
This will not be for nothing.
But the demon’s eyes found him, a slow smirk twisting his face. His eyes darkening with glee. Hair crackling with electricity the demon beamed. Arms jutting, he unleashed a ferocious torrent of gray currents lashing from his body.
Feeling a strange sorrow Deragan slowed but knew he didn’t have time to change direction. Goodbye Angel. I’ll see you again one day.
A sudden, tremendous weight hit him at an angle which forced him from the trajectory of the demon’s assault. Knocking he air from him. Deragan twisted and caught the glimmer of Bast’s gold scales.
He came from nowhere.
Now he yanked Deragan from the destructive path of Radix’s strike.
Staring in confusion, Radix’s eyes trailed the movement. Seeing he had two dragons lined up, Radix anticipated lashing at both. But his intention changed as he focused on the gold katash. The one he knew the Forever Knights called the Great Protector.
Aiming for the back of that one, clutching the Captain’s wings from behind. His gold ones wrapping the black katash protectively. The whips of magic shot from Radix’s fingertips. He hissed when yet another katash intruded.
A white one molded its’ back to Sebastian’s. Covering the other two and forcing himself belly out toward the lightning strike. His wings melding over Sebastian’s like a cape in the wind. Defending every inch of the Protector.
Radix didn’t have time to assess the situation. Chords of magic tore the pale katash. Searing through his wings and splitting his stomach and chest as he rolled away from the Protector to ensure the strike didn’t go through him and into the gold katash.
Releasing the Captain with a shove, Sebastian pivoted in flight. Moving to catch his friend’s weight but Chavias was completely limp. Slipping from Bast’s reach. Unconscious and falling he was incapable of catching himself.
Bast swept in. Attempting another angle to snag Chavias. But it was to no avail.
Radix’s whipping chords speared Chavias. Bearing him down quick. The demon slowed his path just as he hit the ground. Enough to save Chavias’ life.
Seeing the white katash falling paralyzed the rest. Hovering in stunned silence as Cimmerii clamored over the fallen warrior.
Bast dived, roaring in pain as Deragan’s talons sunk into his back. Followed by those of the others. As they flew in around him. Enough weight held him up, he couldn’t sacrifice himself to try to save Chavias.
Radix laughed coldly. “Is this what you wanted Captain? Oh, how I am terrified. You’ve certainly taught me a lesson I won’t soon forget.” He mocked. “The choice is yours though.” Laughing again he sobered abruptly. “I’d make you a trade. This Forever Knight for you.”
Deragan ceased breathing. I will do it.
There’s no choice.
I’ve trained Lucien to lead them.
Chavias morphed into a man. Small under the crushing weight of the Cimmerii tidal wave. Sarabi, Targue and Nonis. Despite his vulnerability, he reached up to tear the pendant from his neck. Twisting the chain in his hand.
His pendant. For summoning us.
Chavias launched to his feet, using surprising strength to throw many of the creatures off.
Nonis still pulled at his arms and legs, shredding his skin to the bone as he moved.
“No!” He roared. “Not for me, Captain! Let me go.” Chavias’ roar as he threw the pendant high. His cry echoing over the empty valley. “No one will be left.”
It reached Deragan’s talons, which reflexively closed around the bit of metal.
He ensured Radix can never use it to call us to one place.
The other knights objected in shouts, whimpering cries and vibrating growls.
Chavias sighed in relief that the pendant was safe. Staring up at Deragan, Chavias’ eyes were dark and pleading. “Take them home.” He urged. “Protect the pack, My Alpha.”
Radix laughed malevolently, mocking them all. Squawking mirthfully. “Listen to him. So selfless...Shame to see such a warrior’s heart eaten, is it not?”
Bast roared in fury. Twining tendrils of fire pouring from his mouth.
“Go.” Chavias shouted. “Please! All of you!” He tossed his arm in a gesture for them to leave.
The Nonis were pressing him back into the trees as they swarmed him.
Forcing him to stumble back. “None of you come for me. It’s the one thing I ask. None of you!” He gave Bast a long look. “Serve your purpose and forget me.” The hard look on his face and his locked jaw making it obvious he meant what he said.
Slowly Alazareth Bodane gave a slight nod and turned to stare at the Captain expectantly. Another nodded and then another in assent.
He asks this of us. His last request.
They’d give him their word, make him a vow and do what they’d always done...
What has to be done. Deragan felt sick enough to vomit.
Chavias was drug into the trees by Cimmerii already taking bites from his body. “Vow it Sebastian! Vow!”
Teeth gnashing the gold katash roared.
Deragan sunk his talons more deeply in Bast’s back and gave him a rough jerk. Give him this, Old Friend. He willed Bast.
Roaring in pain, Bast gave a sideways nod. The closest Chavias would get to the assent he sought.
They watched as he was drug away.
“Some great Protector!” Radix scoffed. Laughing as the gold dragon hung forlornly from the claws of the rest.
Deragan lead a heartbroken retreat. Collecting the crumpled, crushed bodies of their kindred they buried them.
Raese Merlinus was unaccounted for. No one could find a trace of him.
It gave Deragan hope.
And Chavias…Chavias’ body they’d never recover. They all knew that.
Sorrow silenced any words there might have been. This night was far hollower than the previous had been.
Bast was inconsolable. Pacing the camp restlessly he paused only to kick the fire, sending burning logs in every direction. Uprooting a thick trunk, he launched it through the trees with a roar. The crack of its landing echoing through the empty wood.
“Why?” He demanded of Deragan. “Why would you not let us save him?”
“It was not our choice.” Deragan stared at the firelight coolly, his arms crossed.
“It was Chavias’.” Lucien cut in. Standing on the other side of the fire and watching the interchange.
Bast’s fury was blatant as he tore a path through the trees.
He’s in pain. Once far from the others, Deragan caught up to him. Snagging his arm and dodging the swing that followed.
“Sebastian.” His voice was soft.
This wasn’t your fault.
“I know you would’ve, if he’d have let you.” Bast cried. Excruciating pain written over his face.
“Then why are you so angry.”
“Because he told me. He told me what he’d do!”
He kept his word. Deragan sighed. That sounds like him.
“Do you remember the vow you took when we were knights?” Deragan asked softly.
“To protect them all.” He cried brokenly falling to his knees as the morning sun crested the mountains. Lighting his gold hair in a halo as he planted his sword in the ground and looked up at Deragan pleadingly.
“You can’t. Never could.” Deragan shook his head. Hand falling to Bast’s shoulder. “How many times did you pray God would save your brothers? That you wouldn’t have to bury another one?” Deragan recalled hearing the whispered words from Sebastian’s tent regularly.
“Countless.” Bast cried, his head falling to his palms.
“Did it ever occur to you, Old Friend, that you are what he sent?”
Hands falling Bast gave him a torn look.
“You wanted something, someone to protect them. To keep them from bloody death. You made your vow and you’ve fought like a lion. How many knights have we lost since you took it upon yourself?”
“I don’t know.” Bast said brokenly.
Trying to listen. But in so much pain the words make little sense right now.
“Far less.” Deragan supplied. “You’re the Protector. The warrior that defends the warriors. Chavias gave his life for yours. For that. Don’t deny him the one thing he could offer us.”
Deragan tossed a piece of glinting metal at Bast who reflexively caught it in an open fist. Knowing instantly it was Chavias’ pendant.
“Why for me?” Bast cried. “For anyone else. He should’ve done it for anyone else!”
“But he did it for you and I.” Deragan said firmly. “He saw things you can never hope to, Brother. Chavias was always wise. And he made a choice that was his and his alone.”
Not even mine.
Bast huffed in pain.
“I’ll not mourn him.” Deragan was tight lipped. “He was the finest warrior I’ve ever known. The fiercest and most noble. He died with honor. I’ll not mourn him.”
I’ll celebrate him.
“I’ll mourn him enough for us both!” Bast cried. Dropping his forehead to the hilt of his sword despondently. The chain of the pendant dripping from his fist to clank against the metal.
Marcus Teverius appeared behind Sebastian and dropped a hand on Bast’s shoulder.
As did Christophe Rhyers, followed by the others stepping from black darkness into the rays of light falling on the blood-stained grass.
One by one they’re hands settled on Sebastian comfortingly.
Sharing his pain.
Even Alazareth Bodane, Bast’s twin. And the man that liked him the least, joined their number to add his comfort. Understanding the depth of Bast’s pain as only he could. From knowing his brother their entire lives, and all their immortal existence.
Heads bowed the Forever Knights grieved the day’s losses in silence.
And we gave reverence to those that’d died in battle.
We hoped for vengeance.
For a reckoning upon the man that’d kill the Captain’s wife on their wedding night.
But what we got was too painful to imagine…
From the Journal of Sebastian Bodane.