The sound of feet on the dirt and hooves kicking up the rocks is a sound I will never forget. The sound of 1,000 men, marching possibly to their deaths, is one I will never take for granted. And I swear with every last drop of blood in me, I will protect all of these men.
I know where Cassian is, and he knows where we are. I can sense him and his armies as they wait for us at the mid-point of the mountain. Where the snow meets the grass. Tikaani is steady beneath me, and Caius rides next to me. The rest of the men are on their horses or foot, clad in armor. Armor encased with my power, to protect them the best that I can.
I thought that when this moment finally came, I would feel some kind of fear. But I feel calm for some reason. Ready. It’s either us or them. And for the sake of every living being beyond these mountains, it cannot be them.
We reach the mid-point of the mountain, and I know that Cassian’s army is just over the horizon line. The scent of dirt and a slight mist of water fills the air. And the sun is barely peeking over the horizon, casting an orange glow over the land.
I take a deep breath and focus my eyes on what is to come. And that's when I see them. Four of them. They look like birds at first in the distance, but as they grow closer, I can make them out. Dragon-born. They are in their Dragon form, flying high in the sky. My eyes travel below to the massive army that breaks through the trees, and the object of my nightmares comes barreling through.
Cassian. I know it’s him. He’s massive, full of black scales that are on fire. He lands in front of his army, letting out an ear-piercing cry. And in a burst of flames, he’s back in human form. He’s still dressed in armor that glints off the barely rising sun. Flames are still burning off of his shoulders and even though he is so far away, I can feel his gaze on me as if he were directly in front of me. He smiles. He’s excited to kill us. To kill me.
All of his Dragon born allies land next to him, but they stay in their dragon forms, open their jaws impossibly wide jaws. Their loud screech-like roars echo across the field, shaking my bones. Tikaani rises on his hackles beneath me, and I pat him lightly.
“Calm.” I murmur. It’s all I can do. Cassian still doesn’t make a move. His entire army behind him is a sight to truly fear. Our numbers are small, and his are massive. I feel him, inside my head, and I hear his voice.
“They will all die.” He growls. I try and shake him out of my head, but he remains just long enough for me to hear his words to his men. He holds his hands high in the air, all the while keeping his gaze locked to mine.
“Kill them all.”
Shouts of 20,000 men echo across the field, as they all take off towards us. The Dragonborn next to him lift off in the air, coming towards us at high speed. I grip Tikaani’s fur tightly beneath me. I close my eyes, taking a deep breath.
“No fear.” I say. I turn to the men behind me.
“Do not fear! Today, we determine the fate of the world! Today, we stop the blood kings reign! Today, we fight for what is right!” I scream. The men all shout with me. War cries fill the air, as do fearless men's clank of armor. I smile. I turn to look at Caius. I take a deep breath. I give him a shaky laugh.
Before I can utter the words he smiles softly at me.
“I know.” He says. I nod my head.
“Are you with me?” I say. He nods his head.
“Until my last breath.”
I face forward, bracing my thighs on either side of Tikaani. I hold my hands out next to me, letting the poisonous ice flow through my veins and manifest itself into blades covering my arms. A weapon I learned from the warriors of my tribe.
With that, Tikaani growls and takes off towards the army ahead of us. I feel adrenaline and blood rushing through my ears. My heart is beating wildly, and my nerves are shot. With each step, we become closer to Cassian’s army. And Cassian. He watches it all unfold. I know that Caius will try and be the one to end him. But it can’t be him. It has to be me.
I look up just as a ball of flame comes rushing down at me. I use my power as do my warriors to hold up a wall of ice, blocking the dragon's fire. I shout to the Ikniri warriors in my language.
“Hold off the Dragons!”
My gaze is forward, and I keep my eyes steady as we come closer and closer until we collide with Cassians army.
I’m exhausted. My chest is burning, my eyes are dried, my muscles ache from the constant battle that rages around me. Men are targeting me more, and it’s an almost impossible task to keep them at bay. I know Tikaani is near, but us being separate gives a better fighting chance for our side. Another man comes charging at me, aiming his sword at my face. I dodge, using my power to blast him far across the field.
The more I fight, the harder it is to sense Cassian. I know he’s near, I know he’s doing damage. I fight off another man from his army and turn my gaze to look over the field. some men are down, some are still fighting. I make a conscious effort to find Caius, and I locate him. He’s near and alive.
At that moment, I sense an enormous amount of heat coming at my back. I turn and emit enough cold air just in time, but it still blows me off my feet, sending me across the field. My eyes widen and I look up in realization. Cassian is walking slowly towards me, his sword lazily thrown over his shoulder. Flames are erupting from him, causing the ends of his hair to dissipate in a fiery trail. I notice out of the corner of my eye, Caius coming towards him. I know it and he knows it. And he’s going to kill him.
Caius gets just close enough, and Cassian is seconds from ending his life. I can feel it. I lift my hand. Just as Caius reaches him raising his sword in a battle cry.
“No!” I scream. A force erupts from my palm, sending Caius a safe distance from Cassian. I know he will try and come again, so I stand immediately, letting out a loud cry as I slam my palms into the ground. The ground quakes around us as the ice rips from me, forming a massive dome around Cassian and I, blocking every other being from interfering at all.
My body is shaking, and my hands have a slight chill to them. I look up, and Caius is beating against the ice, screaming at me. He takes his sword and begins chipping away at it, but there’s no way he’ll reach us. My body is shaking, and I slowly turn my gaze to look at my opponent. I bite my lip hard enough to draw blood, and tears involuntarily well up in my vision. Cassian stands over me, with a smile on his face.
A split second passes, and he whips the sword around. I immediately jump back just in time for it to slice a strand of my hair. The exact spot that my throat was mere seconds ago.
I form a blade of ice on my arm and swing at Cassian. He dodges easily. But I keep swinging. He ducks, dodges, and gracefully keeps out of range. I scream in frustration, emitting ice from my palms. He retaliates by blowing scorching flames. They collide in between us, and I can feel the force pushing my feet back on the ground.
I stumble a bit but stand my ground as we both stop firing. He glares at me, walking to the wall of ice. He places his palm against it. I can hear the hiss of the ice burning his palm.
“What a clever Ikniri you are.” He says calmly. He faces me, and it’s as if the fire erupts from his pores and a demon like cry releases from his lips. I swallow my fears, calling upon whatever strength I have left, and doing the same. I can feel the ice coating my flesh. Cassian shifts slightly and in an instant, he is in front of me.
He swings again at my throat and I dodge. I aim at him and he blocks me, countering. The battle between us seems to go on forever until I feel something in my head, and it’s as if my body freezes. He lands a blow in my stomach. I’m sent flying into the wall of ice I created to protect everyone around me. My body explodes in pain as the air is ripped from my lungs.
Before I can breathe Cassian is in front of me, holding my throat in his palm. He leans into me.
“you should see the men watching you die right now. It’s pathetic. All of them will share your fate, Ikniri.”
I pick my legs up, wrapping them around his arms, and squeeze trying to break it but he erupts flames, knocking me to the ground. I cough and feel the ice dissipating from my body. I slowly look up, and fear latches onto my heart.
Cassian makes his way towards me, dragging his blade alongside him, flames still erupting from his pores. This must be what the devil looks like.
He picks me up by the throat and doesn’t hesitate. His sword moves forward in one swift move, and I feel it rip through my ice, through my armor, through my flesh and bone, and coming to a rest as it protrudes from the other side of my body.
He drops me, and I fall to my knees.
I can’t breathe. I look down, forgetting everything that is happening around me, focusing on the golden hilt that is protruding from me. I slowly reach down, trying to grab it, my hand grasping the gold, and my other hand wrapping around the steel blade. I feel the pain as it cuts through my hand easy, but I can’t pull it from my body. I feel something traveling up my throat. Is it a scream, maybe?
I choke slightly when the liquid makes its way through, and cough. Blood. A waterfall of blood escapes my lips. I look up, and Cassian is watching me. He looks...confused. He kneels in front of me, placing his hand on the blade, and I cry out when he rips it from my body.
I collapse, half expecting to hit the dirt, but am surprised when Cassian catches my body, preventing me from doing so. I can’t form a coherent thought, let alone speak. He rolls me over, looking at me as if he is still confused. I feel cold. Which is strange, because I’ve never felt that in my life.
A sharp pinch escapes my wound, and I feel the chill spreading. I look up at the sky, wishing that I could see the stars one last time. But I’m met with Cassian’s black and red gaze. He’s looking at me, and he finally speaks.
“I...” He doesn’t finish his sentence. I chuckle softly. I’ve never known Cassian to be at a loss for words. My mind isn’t straight. My body is numbing, and I feel...ice? I raise my head, looking down. My body is crystalizing. Like my parents. My brothers. I finally realize what’s happening. I’m dying.
I look up at Cassian, mustering all the strength I can. At this moment, he actually looks how he did when we first met after all those years. Vulnerable.
“You...got your wish...” I manage. His brow furrows. My vision blurs a tad, and then I feel water rolling down my cheek. I’m crying.
“Please... Protect them...” My gaze travels to the edge of the ice, and I see them. My men. My people. They are watching, screaming, trying to break through.
“Don’t...let...the world..” I cough heavily. Words are getting harder and harder to form.
“Suffer...” My hands are shaking as I reach up, pressing my palm softly against his cheek.
“Start a new era...” I say. I smile one last time, and I can see my life as if I am reliving it.
“I’m sorry.” The words cut through the haze, but I don’t know who or where they came from. All I know is my ice is taking over my body. I can feel it inch its way up my neck, and over my face, until there is nothing but peace and darkness.
I stare at the crystallized form of Neytiri’s body. It’s as if she’s encapsulated her body in a block of ice. Except it’s clear and glistening from the sun like a diamond.
This was supposed to bring me joy. This was supposed to make me happy. Why aren’t I feeling happy?