Shapira lifted her head, ears forward. Closing her eyes, she saw rivers of blood and carnage. Gasping, she turned to Baylor with eyes filled with horror. Baylor, who seen her like this once before, knew his mate was having a vision and by the look in her eyes, it wasn’t pleasant.
“It’s started,” she said, her eyes turning fierce, “Hurry, we must tell the others before the Atranoch get to the next village! Star!”
“What’s wrong with Star?” he growled, “Shapira! Is she okay?”
“I can’t tell!” she answered, “Oh, Baylor, we have to get to Tala’s village now! Go tell the others we’re off to battle!”
Baylor was gone in an instant and back with over thirty dragons of all types and colors. To witness such a sight under the bright moon, was something not never forgotten. They were glorious as they flew under the backdrop of stars, beautiful in their fury. The dragons, having ruled Kilacomb for thousands of years, despised the Atranock for their lack of respect for life. There was no place for such wanton acts of cruelty so the Atranoch had to be destroyed once and for all.
Daelyn flew side by with his father, excited and apprehensive at the same time. If anything happened to Star, there would be hell to pay.
The village was about twenty miles away, but they could smell the acrid odor of burning flesh, smoldering wood and the unmistakable stench of the Atranoch. Spurned by the stench of the beasts, the dragons cut through the air with powerful wings, reaching the village just in time to see the Atranoch finishing off the last equine in the enclosure. Baylor, Grindle and Alrath dove down and were on the offender in a flash, tearing him to pieces without so much as a whimper from the beast. Shapira, desperate to find her Starlyn, flew low, snatching the heads of as many of the ugly creatures as she could with razor sharp talons. Once in her grip, she spun, breaking their necks.
“Starlyn!” she roared desperately, “Where are you, child?”
There were so many Atranoch, she thought to herself, how will I ever find her? She called out again and again, but the human child did not answer. She watched the Dirgewvorms breathe bolts of electricity, lighting up the air around them with static. Beast after beast went down, rigid as fifty-thousand volts surged through their bodies. Grindle and his boys created a firestorm of fury, incinerating dozens of fleeing Atranoch. As the dragons slaughtered beast after beast, Shapira searched the carnage of Tala’s village for her adopted daughter. People she knew lay dead from hideous wounds inflicted by the murderous creatures and she dreaded every time she came upon a body.
Spying Tala’s hut, her heart sped up as she anticipated what she might find inside. The small hut, torn open by the Atranoch’s sharp claws, was the only one in the small village left partially standing. Just before she was about to stick her head inside, she felt searing pain down her side and tail as two of the beasts attacked her. Shapira let out a deafening roar followed by a cloud of inky darkness. The black mist engulfed the Atranoch, draining their life force. Immobilized, Shapira snapped their necks with one quick shake, tossing them aside like ugly rag dolls. More of them came seeing the female dragon by herself, biting and clawing her hind quarters as she tried to look inside the hut. Again she spun around, but there were too many. With sheer numbers they pulled Shapira down, swarming over her.
After watching Ark disappear into the forest, Jasha maneuvered the horse around in the opposite direction, heading in the direction of the village, despite Ark’s warning. As they neared, the sound of the battle was deafening and Jasha kept the horse just within the treeline for Starlyn’s safety. His eyes burned with images of blood, fire, death and destruction. He watched, awestruck, as dozens of dragons fought furiously against hundreds of beasts like Ark. Bodies lay everywhere. Jasha saw people from his village laying among the dead, torn and trampled upon as the battle ensued. Tears filled his eyes as he watched talons tear flesh from bone and the ground turned scarlet with blood. He looked in the direction of Tala’s hut to see the same female dragon who brought Starlyn pulled to the ground by a hord of the raging creatures. Starlyn saw as well, and screamed shrilly, her voice carrying over the din of the battle.
“Mama!” she screamed, jumping down off of Rane.
“Star! No!” Jasha cried in alarm, “Come back!”
Over the noise of the fight, Shapira heard the shrill scream of her beloved Starlyn and was renewed with strength at the joy of her being alive. Shaking the swarms of Atranoch off of her, she looked around frantically for the source of the child’s scream.
But someone else heard the scream as well. Rafa turned his attention from a Dirgewvorm on the ground in front of him, searching for a child he knew instinctively was Baylor’s human child. He spotted her running from out of the forest and quick as a flash, bounded over in her direction. He could almost taste her warm, sweet blood in his mouth as he neared her small figure. Just as his taloned fingers were about to snatch the child up, Ark appeared, blocking his deadly intentions.
“NO!” Ark yelled, “No, father, you will not harm this child!” His arms spread out protectively, stopping his father dead in his tracks. “She’s innocent, she’s just a child.”
Shapira watched the young Atranoch defend her child to the adult and it took a moment for it to sink in. Why was it defending Starlyn and her companion? Bleeding copiously, Shapira looked for Baylor over the sea of Atranoch heads, spotting him, Daelyn and Grindle as they fought a pack of the beasts about the ten yards away. Catching his eye with her shocked ones, he abandoned the fight and rushed over to her.
“Shapira!” he exclaimed, observing the deep wounds on her back and sides, “You’re bleeding, my love!”
“Nevermind me, Baylor, look!” she pointed to the scene unfolding with the young Atranoch and Starlyn and the leader of the creatures.
The young creature stood with its arms thrown out in a defiant stance against what looked to be his father.
“Stand aside, Ark,” Rafa warned, his voice deadly soft, “stand aside and I’ll forget all about this.”
“No, father,” Ark argued determinedly, “enough killing! This child has done nothing wrong except being alive! I don’t want to do this! You’re slaughtering living beings that have done nothing to warrant ending their lives. Why?”
“Move aside, Ark, last warning,” his father growled, “Obey me or there will be consequences.”
“What, you’ll kill me, too?” Ark yelled, “your own son?”
By now, both dragon and Atranoch were tuned in to the standoff between father and son, each side quietly observing and wondering how it would end. Jasha held Starlyn behind him protectively, his eyes pleading with Saphira for help. She winked at him, edging closer to Rafa, just behind Baylor. Grindle and his sons, the Dirgewvorms and the Fire dragons, encircled the Atranoch from all directions as their attentions were focused on their leader and his son. Never before had anyone ever come up against Rafa and lived to tell the tale.
“This is your last warning,” Rafa said, “move or die.”
“You’d kill your own flesh and blood to save face, father?” Ark gasped in shock, “You are no father of mine.”
Suddenly, Starlyn spotted Shapira. Breaking away from Jasha, she screamed her adoptive mother’s name, darted around Ark and tried to run past Rafa who snatched up the terrified child with an iron grip.
“Let go of me!” Starlyn shrilled, “Mama! Mama!”
Rafa cruelly twisted a handful of her red curls in his talon-tipped fingers, yanking her to his powerful, stocky body, squeezing her to him till she was almost breathless. He could feel her tiny body trembling like a little bird and her heart beating swiftly in terror. His smile was nothing more than a sharp-toothed grimace as he held his prize.
“Don’t hurt her!” Shapira roared, rushing forward, “She’s just a child!”
Rafa grinned horribly, wondering why the child was so important. Knowing he had the upper hand, he held Starlyn out before him roughly, making Baylor grit his teeth in rage. Grindle stepped in front of Baylor and his son in warning.
“Don’t be foolish, friends,” he said so only they could hear, “He’s just looking for an excuse to kill her, lay low. I have an idea.”
Baylor looked at the Fire dragon gratefully, nodding. He was right. The Atranoch leader would think nothing of snapping the child’s neck if he felt threatened. Holding Shapira back with his tail, he waited to see what Grindle had planned and didn’t have to wait long. Opening his great jaws, Grindle let a out a great roar followed by a huge breath of orange flames. In quick succession, his sons followed suit, lighting the sky with the brightness of their fire. In response to the Fire Dragons brilliant display, the Dirgewvorms unleashed bolts of lightening striking as many Atranoch as they could reach and the Deathtails lashed out terrible tails with death on the end. piercing hide after thick hide of the beasts.
In the chaos, Rafa loosed his hold on the frightened child in fear of the fire deadly light, and Ark took that moment to leap on him, knocking the patriarch to the ground.
“Run to your mother!” Ark said, shoving her forward, “hurry!”
Rafa took that moment to overcome his only son, his hyena-strong jaws closing around the younger Atranoch’s throat in a bone-crushing bite. Jasha watched in horror as their savior thrashed and flailed, unable to escape his father’s wrath. He screamed as the Atranoch ripped his out his own son’s throat in a bloody spray.
Although many Atranoch remained, the actions of their leader made them confused. What they lacked in intelligence, The Atranoch made up for in loyalty to their leader. They had certain expectations of that leader, though, in return for their faithfulness and when he killed his own son, they got confused and unsure of themselves. Between the screams of his dying clan members and the vigorous, renewed attack by the dragons, Rafa was distracted and didn’t see a Deathtail approaching from his right. Lunging for Starlyn’s recapture, his back arched in shock as a Deathtail’s deadly stinger pierced his thick hide, striking soft, vital organs. Screaming in fear, Starlyn ran as fast as her little legs could carry her into the waiting arms of her dragon mother. Enfolding the terrified child in her wings, Shapira hummed the lullaby song with her cheek against the child’s downy soft curls, her warm breath soothing and calming her.
With Rafa and Ark dead, the remaining Atranoch lost their bravado and tried to flee, all hell breaking loose. The dragons converged on the fleeing, cowardly beasts, tearing them to pieces. Amid the melee and confusion, no one noticed a lone female off to the edge of the woods. She watched the slaughter of her species with indifference as the two squirming bundles in her arms tried to nurse. After watching her mate kill their son, her hatred knew no bounds. Seething with rage and betrayal, she turned, escaping into the forest’s dark embrace with her twins.