The Dragon Prince: Sun
Chapter 1: Skirmish
Callum had seen dragons before.
Ok he saw only two but he always thought of them to be no bigger than a house or two. The red dragon that attacked the village from earlier was his best grasp but the sight of the enormous giant towering before him shattered all his imaginations.
The creature… the dragon was huge. Huge! As in big… really really really REALLY big. Even the castle back home would just be big enough for it to perch… barely. Should a thing like that attack, he doubts that the kingdoms of man would stand a chance.
"Callum." Rayla spoke to him whispering softly. Her expression was that of a starting point of fear. "Whatever you do, don't… panic." Oh great. Now she tells me.
"Rayla. There is a literal giant dragon standing in front of us. About three times bigger than the one we rescued. I think I have every right to be panicking." He leaned in to whisper. "Who is he by the way?"
"Sol Regem." She repeated. "The Archdragon of the Sun, Patron Lord of the Sunfire Elves and the sacred guardian of the border. Oh and he's the Dragon Queen's brother so… that would make him step-brother to the Dragon King."
"Ok. Noted. And I take it he doesn't like people interrupting his naps?"
"Oh no. He's actually quite a charming fellow to get along with. Loves riddles, a corny joke here and there. But he has one teeny tiny kink." She smiled sweetly… or was that sarcastically? "He absolutely, positively, detests humans."
"Uh… yay?" Callum's face twisted. "So I'm guessing he'll try and eat me."
"If you're lucky. Worst case scenario: He burns you with his sun power breath, leaving you alive, paralyzed for days while your skin slowly melt in the ground, your whole body twisted in agonizing pain as you wheeze out your last gasp for air, begging for the sweet merciful release of death."
"Did you really have to paint that kind of picture?"
"I said 'Worst case scenario' didn't I?" He was wondering what other scenarios she had in her twisted mind. "There's no way around it. The only way forward, is through him."
"Really?" Callum gulped.
"Just leave the talking to me and we'll be fine. Oh… and on a side note. Don't mention that burn on his face. He hates it."
With a deep breath the pair pressed onward, marching further into Xadia, closer to the giant man melting dragon. Its scales shone brightly in the morning sky as it moved towards the pass blocking it completely with his massive body. It was practically an immovable fortress in its own right.
"Sol Regem. Mighty one." Rayla began in a high toned voice praising the creature. "We come seeking passage."
The large golden dragon let out a mighty wheeze, breathing deeply. "I remember your scent, Moon worshipper."
"IT CAN TALK!?"
If the dragon had any malice of irritations, he didn't show it. It wasn't like he could do any expression with that face of his.
"Yes great one." Rayla continued. "I wish to return home. To the land of my birth."
Regem nodded – or at least that's what Callum could surmise through the action of its head. "I promised your party safe passage when you came to me that fateful night and gave you my blessings. The mission you were tasked was ordered by her eminence. I have no intentions of barring you."
"That's… wonderful!" Even Rayla seemed surprised how easy it was. Too easy. "Then… we'll just be on our w…"
The dragon's paw blocked their passage. "But I do not recall granting that thing my blessing."
Was he talking about him? Yeah… he was talking about him.
"Sol Regem. Please wait." Rayla pleaded. "There's a perfectly good reason I brought him here."
"Really? Do tell." The creature challenged. "Last I remember, there were six of you. Six of the bravest warriors of your people. Now you return, alone… and you bring this… thing. State your reason quickly… for I am mere moments away from burning that insect."
Yipes! Slow melting death? No thank you.
Callum felt the air around him get hotter and it certainly wasn't because of the lava river behind him. He could feel steam rising, slowly burning him. It was like the sun was shining even stronger than before.
"Regem wait!" The plea came only to be interrupted by a little blue creature who jumped out from Callum's back.
The golden dragon halted almost immediately in his march. His body froze as his eyes jolted awake. He breathed in, getting a whiff of the place.
Azymondias used its new found powers of flight to good use, floating between the two and the dragon before it. Its tiny body paled in comparison to the large bearded one but its presence somehow made Sol Regem pause in its threat. The golden one stepped back, afraid. Now it looked… confused and puzzled.
"What is this?" It demanded, its nose whiffing again to confirm something. "What is this familiar scent? The smell of rain and sky?"
"It's the Dragon Prince." Rayla explained hastily. "The son of the King of the Dragons."
"Son of…" Regem gasped. "Son of Fulgur. No. Impossible. But the egg…"
"The egg was never destroyed." Callum added. "It was taken from its nest long ago. We've… come to return him. Return him home back to its mother."
"That's why we require passage, Archdragon. We need to get the Dragon Prince back to her majesty. Let the world know that there's no need for war. There can be peace between elves and humans."
"Peace?" Sol Regem's voice mellowed. The earlier rough patched that it had earlier died out, replaced with calm and restraint. Its scarred eyes zoomed in on Azymondias unable to make out the shape. But the smell alone convinced him. At least that's what Callum hoped for. "This… little thing is…"
The little dragon squeaked flying closer. There was hope. A small hint of hope.
Rayla flashed a smile to the step-prince. There was no doubt about it. They had a chance now. They were in.
Callum and Rayla fell on their backs when Regem roared. It rolled its massive wings making it even look larger than before.
"You seek to fool me with your illusions!? I am the guardian of the border! None shall pass without my consent!"
"Rayla, get down!" Callum grabbed the elf and hid behind a pillar just fast enough when the creature's breath rolled down on them. The whole ground itself burned like it was being cooked by the power of the sun. "Somehow I saw that one coming."
"We need to get out of here. Fast." She paused glancing around. "Wait. Where's the little blue ball?" The dragon prince answered flying into their cover. "Oh. Thank goodness."
"You cannot trick me with your magic!" Regem bellowed. "I was there when my friend perished. I saw Fulgur fall with my own eyes. I saw the egg shattered during the battle! I was there when the Dragon Guards failed in their duty!" Rayla flinched at that last bit. "The others may have been tricked. But not I. I will not fail where others have! That is my solemn vow! No human shall cross to this land!"
(The Breach Fortress)
General Amaya breathed a sigh of relief when she returned to her post back at the fortress with her party in tow. It was the only human garrison in the whole borderland protected by the finest warriors Katolis could offer. It has never been breached, never been taken and not even the dragons would dare test its defenses. Not while its ballista towers stood strong atop its battlements.
"Man your stations, close the gates and recall the patrols!" The lieutenant instructed as Amaya ordered it through her hands. "Quickly men. The elves are coming!"
The soldiers scrambled around like ants. Each and every warrior drew out their arms and hastily manned the walls and towers. It would not be the first time the elves tried to storm the border fort and it certainly won't be the last.
With the fortress having only one narrow entryway, it served as the perfect location for defense. Even a handful of soldiers here would be able to hold off an assault for days if need be.
"Send a message back to the capitol. Tell the council that we require reinforcements."
"Yes General. I'll have a crows ready." The lieutenant nodded signaling the messenger by the crow's perch.
After a few moments, Amaya took her place atop the battlements, shield at the ready. Her soldiers made way, archers and scouts alike readying busying themselves for battle. The view from the wall was breathtaking, literally. The smoke and soot that came from the lava and volcano can ruin havoc on one's health, which is why there are hardly any guards posted here. However it also served as the perfect place to hold against any invading army. Even one that comprised of highly trained human killers. "That outpost was vital to our defense."
"Indeed. Without its signal, we won't able to tell when an attack force is coming or how many there are." The man beside her agreed. "But it served its purpose. At least now we know that an attack is imminent."
"There is something strange in their movements though." She added grumpily. "Sunfire Elves are notoriously hotheaded and reckless in their attacks but they'd never send their knights this close."
"I have little experience dealing with these knights myself. I've… only heard of them through the patrols. But… their weapons really can cut through everything."
The General tapped her shield.
"Well… almost everything." He agreed. "Do you think they're planning an assault? I mean… this place is far too defensible. Combining our garrison, our walls, traps, kill pits and siege weapons, they will take significant losses before they even get to the narrow pass. They'll be slaughtered upon approach."
"They can try." Amaya brushed the stone of her battlements petting it like an animal. "Bring the men to the walls and take some from the ballista crew. We'll pile their bodies and feed them to the flame." A mighty roar in the distance alarmed her and her soldiers. It was distant but they knew only one creature that could make that noise. "On second thought, belay that last order. Double the ballista crew. Load the poisoned tips. Just in case."
"As you command, General."
It seemed strange for Ezran to be here. Even though his previous destination was miles behind him, his destiny lied on the road he once took.
He was King now. The young king of Katolis. It sounded strange even in his head. Perhaps it has always been there and he just chose to ignore it. He was scared knowing that the moment he gets home he will become responsible for every man, woman and child in the whole Kingdom. People will be looking to him for guidance or leadership. None of which he had in abundance. He's probably better off working in a zoo… or a vet. But… not every had a choice in life.
How will he do it? How can he hope to lead an entire kingdom when he never led anyone in his life?
A sloppy lick from his glow toad brought him out of his daze.
"Oh Bait! Are you trying to cheer me up?" The multicolored creature shrugged. "That's so sweet of you. But I'll be fine. I think. I mean… I always knew I'd be king one day. I just never imagined it would come like this." Bait gave him the same bored look. "Don't be sad. Just think of it as another great adventure. I miss Zym too. But I know he's in good hands with Callum and Rayla. They'll deliver him to his mom and come straight home. And look at the bright side: As the King's personal mascot, you'll be given all the jelly tarts."
To Ezran, he could tell that Bait was happy. Having all the treats it could ever want without the baker harassing him every now and then would certainly be a treat.
"King Ezran." A voice caught him as the man approached kneeling down.
"You don't need to do that Corvus."
The man named Corvus blinked. "But… you are the king… and it's customary to…"
"I'm not the king yet." He corrected flashing his carefree smile. "At least not until I get back home and make it official. Besides, it must be hard for you to do that with that leg of yours."
The tracker's eyes widened when the young king pointed to his bum leg. "How… did you know?"
"Bait noticed you limping when we were riding those Banthers." The glow toad scoffed in response. "Did you hurt yourself?"
"Yes well… I… took a bad fall… some time ago. I was fighting… someone." He seemed hesitant or embarrassed to go into further details. "Anyway, I'm afraid I have bad news. There will be no ships crossing the lake today… or any day of the week for that matter. The dragon attack in the neighboring village got a lot of folks riled up. All the ships here are aiding with the relief effort bring food, medicine and construction materials from the southern city. It will be a while before we can get a ferry to get us across."
"What about those guys?" Ezran gestured to a number of shady looking sailors who looked more likely to slit your throat in your sleep rather than to take you anywhere. "They look friendly."
"Those are… privateers, sire. I wouldn't put my faith in any of them to give us an honest deal."
"Squawk! Stereo type thinker!"
"What in blazes!?" Corvus flinched when he found a parrot suddenly accusing him. "Did that thing just say squawk?"
"Berto!" Ezran recognized that red feathered creature instantly. He gave it a rub which in turned pecked his hair. "Oh I missed you little buddy. Hey, is your captain with you? We kinda need help crossing the ocean again."
"Squawk! Drinking again. Drinking again." The parrot led them over to the nearby tavern where they found the totally blind buccaneer snoozing peacefully with a barrel of rum cracked beside him. "Out like a light. Squawk!"
"And this would be?"
"Captain Villads. With a silent D." The young king introduced him. "He's the best sailor there is. He took us across the bay a couple of days ago. He's amazing."
"He… sailed you through? But… he's blind."
"Yeah. I was kind of wondering that too, but with Berto, he's top form. Ain't that right Berto?"
"Squawk! Pea in a pot!"
"Well… it doesn't look like he'll be waking up any time soon." Corvus added as he poked the old seadog with a stick. "He's out like a light."
Ezran tapped his favorite glow toad. "Bait. Can you wake him up?" The little guy gladly complied dragging its tongue on the sailor's face.
"AHH! The Kraken! It be real! And it got me!"
(Katolis Capitol) (Dungeons)
This was it. His life was over. Viren felt his whole world turned upside down. All his attempts to aid humanity, to bring them back to the magical lands of Xadia, all dashed away by the cowardly rule of the monarchs.
Those idiots wearing their crowns were nothing more than indecisive morons. They couldn't possibly understand the seriousness of war. He offered them a chance to unify, a chance to grow strong, to bring all of humanity under one banner. But they dashed it all for their own ignorant excuses.
How can humanity hope to survive these troubled times if their leaders are weak? Those pathetic men and women who rule over the west have grown lazy and complacent. Peace has made them fat and content.
Now Opeli will use her status to turn the story around. Make him the villain while she claims justice over Harrow's death. She will undoubtedly make peace with the other kingdoms and turn a blind eye to the true threat lingering just beyond the borders of Katolis.
"Troubled?" A deep and menacing voice crept its way to his ear. His hands rose only to fall flat on the chains that bound them.
"You?" Viren turned to his ear barely noticing the gross purple worm wiggled onto his head. "What do you want?"
"I came to visit my friend." The voice spoke back, amused.
"Be gone from me, traitor. We are not friends."
"Oh I would reconsider that." The worm wiggled, holding tightly around his lobe. "Considering the situation you are in, you are going to need all the friends you can get."
"It was you who put me in this situation!" Viren crackled hands barely reaching his ear. "If you hadn't abandoned me in our battle I would've…"
"You would've been dead." The elf on the other line interrupted. "Had you continued that fight, my powers would've ultimately destroyed you. You humans are… frail by nature. Besides, destroying your enemies there would've won you nothing but the ire of your people."
"You should've at least let me kill Opeli! If I could remove her, then everything would be settled!"
There was a laugh. A hearty one. Dark and malicious. "Such anger is not our way."
"Excuse me?" The dark mage questioned. "What do you mean 'Our' way?"
"Come now, friend. Surely a man like yourself can see that destruction is nothing more than a waste of resources. Sure you will feel the pleasure of revenge but that is only momentary. No. What you want… is satisfaction. Why kill something when it can still be controlled to serve a greater purpose? Turning your greatest foe into your ally can be quite… an achievement."
"It would be good." Viren scoffed. "But it's too late for that now. I have no more allies in this place. They have all betrayed me. Humanity itself has betrayed me. Even when everything I've done, I've done for them."
"And in that regard… we are bound." The worm added suddenly with its tone darkened. "I can feel your pain, friend. And believe me I understand that pain better than anyone. To be betrayed by those you once trusted cuts deeper than any sword. It becomes a scar that can never heal. You feel that you can never trust them again."
There was some wisdom in those words. Viren sensed it.
"But in that… I also found a solution."
"A solution?" The dark mage grew curious. "What solution?"
"A wise dragon once told me that it is better to be feared than to be loved if you cannot have both. Make them fear you. And when they fear you… they will cling to your every word as if their lives depended on it."
"Ha! And how, pray tell, do I cause fear? I'm trapped! I'm as frightening as a mouse, locked in here."
"Just because you are bound doesn't mean you can't cause fear elsewhere." The elf chuckled. "The shadow creatures you summoned. Did you deploy them as you wanted?"
"Of course I did." He answered gruffly. "But they're nothing more than smoke. My magic cannot sustain them for long. A few days at the very least. And then they… poof."
"Then it's a good thing I added my own magic in them."
Viren's eyes widened. "You what?"
"Come friend. Let me show you." With a twist of his hand, Viren's eyes glowed with magic and he found himself staring into an unfamiliar land.
"Wh… what is this?" The old mage scanned his surrounding noticing a remote snowy town in the distance. It was an old Viking fortress of sorts with a mighty wooden palisade that protected its people. Several longhouses dotted the place with chimneys bellowing smoke that warm the hearth of its residence. "Wait. I recognize this place. I've been here before. It's… Vanaheim, the capitol of Del Bar."
"And the target of your… satisfaction."
"But I've only sent these shadow beast a few hours ago. How did they get here so quickly?"
"I told you. I placed my magic in them as well." The worm explained before its invisible hand gestured forward towards the peaceful town. "Look around this quiet place. Can you not feel the serenity here? The people here have grown harsh through winter but they have forgotten the horrors of war. They know nothing of it. Their weapons maybe sharp and their shields strong but their warriors are nothing more than children playing pretend. Let us see how their champions fair against the monsters that go bump in the night."
"But there's only one of us."
He couldn't see it but he could tell that the elf was smiling. "The night may be getting old but the stars still shine… and the shadow before us grows still." Again the strange mage waved his hand… and out of the shade of the shadow elf, twenty more of its kind arose, eyes blazing and weapons at the ready.
"Now… there are more of us." The worm stated, its tone dripping with amusement as the shadow soldiers dropped on their knees bowing their heads.
"Command them, my friend. Allow them to be the instrument of your will. Take them, as my gift, to you."
Viren's eyes shot forward. He turned to the town in the valley, irritated to see the peaceful scenery. These people knew nothing of suffering. Nothing of the pain they've endured. While his mind rolled on logic, vengeance won over. He turned to the shadow elves, determination and hatred burning within them.
"The people of Del Bar hold their ancestors in the highest of regards. They sing their praises and remember them fondly." He balled his hands breathing in deeply before he snarled open his orders. "Raid their tombs, their ancestral burial grounds. Destroy their totems, their monuments that honor the elders! Sack their most sacred and holiest of land."
Half of the shadow creatures departed.
"Leave casualties to a minimum. Hurt them, wound them, make them bleed and scar them for life. But leave them alive."
The elf in the mirror nodded in approval.
"But as for King Florian. His pain will be deep." Viren sighed. "He has a son that he cherishes fondly. Spill his bloodline and we will have his attention. Go."
With a deep bow, the remaining shadows departed, ready to bring chaos to the world of men.
Viren was ready to witness his deeds. Ready to see the town set aflame with his malice. But the elf whispering in his ears had other plans.
"You don't need to witness this. Come… there are other places that need your… guiding hand."
Rayla could hear Callum scream like a headless chicken as he ran through the pillared area of the borderlands with a giant dragon snapping at his tail. This wasn't how things were supposed to go. She wanted to show him Xadia as the beautiful magical land that it was. However the guardian of the border wasn't exactly making a fine first impression.
"Ah! Rayla! Help!"
"Keep moving! Don't let him catch up to you!"
"Yeah I got that part. But what next!?"
"I'm working on it."
"Well I'm not one to put pressure on people but can you please work faster!? Bwahh!"
"Come you filthy human! Stand your ground and die!"
"Yipes!" He hid behind a pillar just quick enough to avoid a massive sunburn.
Rayla groaned. She needed to help Callum but wasn't quite sure what to do. They've fought large monsters before and came out on top but facing an Archdragon was raising the difficulty just a tad bit too much.
Sol Regem had his full focus on the young prince leaving her and the Dragon Prince alone. She can understand the dragon's hatred for mankind but taking it out on an innocent boy was not the way.
"Zym. Stay here and keep out of sight. I have to go help our friend."
With speed and agility only a well-trained assassin would possess, Rayla made her way to the one-sided fight putting herself between Callum and the dragon.
"Stop this!" She demanded which made the scarred dragon hesitate for a brief moment. "I won't let you hurt him."
"You would put your life on the line for this human? What idiocy is this?"
"He's just a boy and not a threat to you or anyone in Xadia." She reasoned. "There's no need for violence today."
"Humans are violent in nature." Regem countered scoffing his breath at her. "They attack without reason. Slew our king. They deserve nothing more than the oblivion we bring."
"The death of the Dragon King was a tragedy. Yes. But you cannot condemn an entire race for the actions of one. That's just not fair."
"What isn't fair is that Fulgur died because of them!" He roared. "He shouldn't have died. He shouldn't have." He shook his head in rage. "Now stand aside, elfling! My business is with the human and no one else's."
Rayla stood her ground and drew her blades out. "That's not going to happen."
Regem wheezed in disappointment. "I should've known something like this would happen." The elf raised a quizzical look. "I recognize your smell all too well. Your family failed in their duties when they were needed the most. What good does a child do?"
"I am not my parents."
"No. But you are their spawn. You inherit their weakness." He added lowly. "I should've expected nothing less from failures. Now stand aside."
"And I'll say it again: That's not going to happen."
"Then you can die along with this human! I cleanse your family of their failures!"
The elf braced herself for the full might of Archdragon. She was about to bear the brunt of the breath that can melt the sturdiest steel and the burn down entire forests. There was no way in hell she was going to survive. But before the mighty beast could unleash its power, a bolt of lightning struck, electrocuting Regem stunning him for a brief moment.
"Fulminis!" Rayla shot back to Callum who somehow managed to conjure another spell with his newly discovered magic.
"Sorcery!?" The dragon bellowed, roaring angrily. "How dare you? HOW DARE YOU STRIKE ME WITH HIS POWERS!?"
The boy shrugged back, smiling weakly. "Well… it was worth a shot."
"Burn in purifying flame!" He unleashed his breath. But Callum made haste grabbing Rayla and making a break for it.
"What was that?! Have you gone completely mad!?"
Callum shot her a look. "Hey! A thank you might be nice. He was going to kill us!"
"And your solution was to throw lightning at it? That just made him angrier!"
"Better than poking it with your knives! Now stop lecturing and hurry!"
"Where do you think you're going!?" Regem roared giving chase. "Do you think I would allow humans to cross my realm so easily!?"
You think that was easy? She could've been melted cheese at this point!
"There!" She shouted gesturing to a cavern in the distance. "There's a cave. We can hide in there."
"What if it's a dead end?"
"Well the other option would be to melt under the heat of the sun."
"Cave it is!" Callum agreed almost immediately. He let out a whistling sound calling out to the Dragon Prince. "Zym! Over here!"
They made a mad dash for the cave just in the nick of time before the dragon snapped at them.
Once the three were inside and hearing Regem's mighty roar disappear in the distance they let out a sigh of relief thanking whatever god that the danger had passed. At least for the moment.
"That… was close." Callum gave in to his weakened knees and buckled down. "Getting chased by a giant worm or sea monster was one thing, but a flying terror from the sky? Give me a hundred giant worms any day."
"I'd prefer not getting chased by anything giant at all."
"Yeah that too." He agreed on that remark. "What was his problem anyway? I know that humans and dragons haven't always been the best neighbors but it doesn't sound like he just hates us. He… really wanted us all to just… disappear."
Rayla sighed. "Regem takes his duties very seriously. Far more than anyone ever does. After the Dragon King was slain, he took over as guardian of the border. But… I guess you could say that he is kind of…"
"Intense? Hostile? Extremists?"
"I was gonna say harsh."
The prince gave her a look. "Rayla. Harsh is when you are grounded after spilling juice in your parents' bed. Harsh is getting scolded for smearing jelly all over the family's royal portrait. Harsh is not having any dinner for stirring up all the crows in the crow's nest. That?" He pointed at the corner of the cave. "That was severe malice and hard boiled anger."
"The dragons are known for their temper." She tried to brush it off but failed.
"He tried to kill me! Us! And Zym too!" The Dragon Prince tilted his head confused but also part frightened. "I don't know about you. But I have to draw the line somewhere."
"Look. I know it doesn't look good now but Sol Regem isn't a malevolent dragon. He… just has issues. That's all. Give him time. I'm sure he'll calm down after a while." But just as she tried to calm the boy down, Rayla's nose picked something up. Something hot and smoky. She turned around and noted that the cave was starting to… liquefy. "Oh no."
"What? What is it?"
"It's Sol Regem! He's trying to smoke us out. He's bringing this whole cave down with his breath!"
Slowly but surely the cave began to melt. The rocks, the roof, the ground. Everything was beginning bubble and curdle inward. The smoke alone was enough to make them suffocate. That monster was trying to seal them in here… or melt them along with the cave.
"Here. Put this around your nose and mouth." Callum offered a small piece of cloth which she immediately accepted. "I don't suppose you got a plan to get us out of this?"
"I'm fresh out."
"Then I guess we'll have to go in deeper."
He carried Zym on his shoulder guiding them in. "It's not a perfect plan but it's better than getting the worst ever sun tan."
She couldn't really argue with that logic.
(Harbor town) (Tavern)
Corvus had seen a lot of crazy things in his life these last few days. A dragon setting a town aflame, a Moon Shadow Elf's dexterity, Prince Callum practicing primal magic and even the young king Ezran taming wild and possibly dangerous animals with a simple touch. But now he was hear listening to a parrot talking in place for a blind sailor who Ezran claims to have sailed them across the bay.
All he can say is wow…
Where was the world he came from? The world where everything used to make sense.
"Ah young Ezran. I remember ya!" Villads, the blind sailor stated in his loud booming voice, one hand slapping the table. "How you doing? Last time I saw ya, you and your brother were off to some grandiose quest of yours."
"Caw! Delivering a dragon."
"Ah don't be pesting me with that tall tale of yours Berto. I'm not in the mood."
Ezran chuckled, giving the parrot a pat on its wings before speaking. "We're doing fine. But had a bit of a trouble. Callum and Rayla are continuing on their journey to Xadia. But I… have other duties."
"Ah… quite a shame. I really like those two. Really curious about the world yet so confused on what to do." He let out a short laugh. "By the way, who's the ball and chain standing stiff like a statue?"
Stiff as a wha?
"That's Corvus. He's a friend." Ezran explained while bait spat out. "Anyway. I need to get back home to the capitol. And we were hoping you could get us across the lake again."
"Is that so? Aye! I'd be happy to!"
Well that was easy.
"But I can't."
Why must you do this?
"Me old Ruthless is still getting her wood tied together after that storm we rode through. Leaky areas here and there and the sails a shot to shite."
"Caw! Shot to shite!"
"Berto, you scallywag! Mind your words. We got kids here!"
"How long will it take to fix it?"
"Oh… I don't know. It shouldn't take too long. According to the shipwright boys hmm… About a month or two?"
A month!? They'd be crossing to Del Bar on foot by then!
"Then I guess we won't be going back home any time soon." Ezran's face sulked.
"Aw don't give me that face, kiddo. Just because you got one obstacle in your path doesn't mean you can't overcome it another way."
"We can take the land path." Corvus suggested bitterly. "We can stick to the road and resupply on the various settlements. But it will undoubtedly be… taxing, especially in the mountains."
"That be the path you can take." Villads agreed. "I wish I can help lads. I really do. You know me and Berto are always up to an adventure. But it's not like we can just fix the ship like magic."
Another voice interrupted that answer. "Then maybe I can give it a go."
Corvus drew his chain hook out to deter the stalker but paused when he saw who it was.
"Claudia?" Ezran recognized her and the jock she carried with her.
(Borderland) (Cave system)
If the phrase 'Out of the fire and into the frying pan' had any meaning Callum would agree that this was it. After leaving the river of lava they were now beset by a dragon and now they were stuck in a cave that goes to god knows where.
They had to pick up their pace too as the smoke and heat that chased them didn't seem to relent. In fact, it got even worse as there was no ventilation here. It was sucking away all the air and making the whole cavern unbearable.
"Oh man." Out of breath and feeling the heat creeping up behind him, Callum began to feel the weather of fatigue. His body wasn't trained to handle these strenuous conditions for long. He wasn't a fighter like his mother or a survivalist like his aunt.
"Callum?" Rayla shot him a worried look. "You ok?"
"Yeah… yeah. Just… tired." He lied wearily as Zym licked the sweat off his brow. He couldn't slow down. He needed to push on regardless of what may come. "Is it just me or is it getting a teeny bit hotter in here?"
"Here let me." Rayla placed a palm over his cheeks, feeling them unnaturally hot. "You're burning up. This heat is killing you."
"Yeah well… we don't exactly have the hottest summers back in Katolis. Heh."
"Why don't I carry Zym from here on?" She offered. "He might just be a few days old but he is still a thirty pound dragon."
"That… is actually a good idea." He coughed giving the Dragon Prince away. "We need to find an exit fast or we'll be suffocating in here in minutes. How long do you think this cave goes?"
"Not a clue. I've heard about the caves in the borderlands but never really traversed them myself. Only the Sunfire Elves would know how deep they go."
"Great… then… we push forward." There was really no other choice. Death was almost literally behind them. If they stayed, they die, and all hope of peace between elves and humans die with them.
Rayla took the lead with Zym on her back. He wondered how she could easily traverse this dark cave.
Oh wait… duh. Moon Shadow Elves. No doubt she could see in the dark as well. Wouldn't be much of an assassin if had to carry a torch with her at all times.
"Oh just great." He heard her scoff out loud. And he found out why rather quickly. Because they came upon an intersection with four other paths to take. "They just had to make a split didn't they? Arghh… I hate multiple choice."
"Not a clue." She answered, her tone dripping with frustration. "I don't feel a draft, I can't see sunlight and I can't even get a whiff of smell because of the steam chasing us."
"Well we can't stay here. We're gonna have to pick."
"You pick then. Your guess is as good as mine. Unless you happened to carry a four sided dice with you."
He chuckled. "No. But I got something better." He picked up Zym. "I got a dragon."
Rayla shot him a sarcastic look. "You're joking. You're gonna entrust our lives on him? He just learned how to fly!"
"You got a better idea?" Sadly she did not and huffed under her cloth. "Then we'll go with mine. Alright Zym. Time for you to shine buddy. Pick a cave. Any cave. And lead us out of here."
Azymondias didn't seem all that keen on being handed reign over their lives but understood well enough that they didn't have a choice. It hopped off Rayla and began sniffing each of the entrances hoping to get some semblance of an exit.
Finally after some whiffing, it chose the right most cavern pointing with its snout.
"Looks like we got our pick."
Rayla raised her hand stopping the young princes from continuing. "Oh no you don't. It's sweet that you trust Zym's intuition but why don't I scout on ahead before we jump in? You know? Just to make sure that it's not the wrong hole."
"Oh come on. It's gotta be the right hole."
"We're just being careful." She added not wanting to debate any further. "You stay here and catch your breath. If I'm not back in two minutes, take another path and don't look back."
"We're not gonna just abandon you." Callum protested.
"I can handle myself." She gestured to her blades. "You on the other hand will become the first ever boiled human to grace Xadia in a long time."
"Callum. Trust me." He placed a hand over his shoulder, a softened look in her eyes.
Trust… such a fragile thing.
"Alright. I trust you. Just… don't take too long."
And with that, the Moon Shadow Elf departed heading into the hole that Zym picked. Callum watched as she disappeared into the darkness, a tight grip on his chest. He would've missed her dearly had she not appeared a few seconds later with eyes widened like saucers.
"WRONG HOLE! WRONG HOLE!"
A pack of man-sized fire beetles chittered behind her prompting the three to pick a different cave to run through.
Callum ran. Ran faster than his legs ever took him. Zym rode on his back panicking. The heat from those fiery insects made them feel like their backs were on fire. He would've kept running had he not noticed a steep cliff at the end of the tunnel they took.
"Oh boy. This isn't go… woooohhh!" He never got to finish that sentence when Rayla unintentionally tackled him from behind making them all stumble towards the pits below, separated.
The fire beetles followed afterward, scurrying in droves.
(Katolis capitol) (Throne room)
Opeli has always been a servant of Katolis. She had been King Harrow's advisors for many years and often had many solution to the kingdom's problems. Although she will admit that the king's death was unfortunate, she couldn't allow it to affect the kingdom. She had done her best in keeping the peace but that idiot Viren kept using the people's sorrow for his own agenda. Having that bastard locked up in the dungeons put a lot of worries at ease for her and her fellow councilors.
But that still didn't change the fact that they still had no one to rule.
Finding Ezran was the first true step in restoring Katolis back to its former glory. A young king on the throne may not be a viable choice but it would certainly quell any uprising from the ambitious nobles.
"The scouts have been dispatched as you requested councilor." The lone sergeant reported. "The search for the princes has begun. We've also sent crow messengers to the garrisons of each major settlements to keep watch for them."
"Good. If the princes are still in Katolis we will find them eventually." Opeli nodded back, pleased that they were making some progress. "And the prisoner?"
"Lord Viren is safely secured in the dungeon. We have guards keeping watch on him. But he is acting a bit strange." The councilors turned to one another before darting at the soldier. "One of the guards said that he was talking to himself. He might just be tired."
"He's an expert in the dark arts. Don't underestimate him. Keep a close eye on his movements. I will prepare his executions as soon as possible." Opeli added frustratingly. If she could she'd probably order someone to lop that man's head off a long time ago. The bastard deserved that much. "What of that secret chamber? Did you find anything we can use to condemn him?"
"A few alchemical materials, scrolls and items we've never seen before but nothing we can make sense of ma'am."
"Assemble all of them in the library. The scribes can pick through them later."
"Yes ma'am." He paused. "But there is one more thing, Councilors. We also found a separate hidden dungeon in the chambers and we… found someone." He stepped aside presenting the forgotten prisoner still in chains.
"Good morning!" The freckled face soldier greeted cheerily despite his predicament. "How do you do folks? Hey, love that helmet. Looks good on you."
Opeli gave a strange look to him wondering if the mad was mental or something. "And you are?"
"His name is Gren." The sergeant explained. "He claims to be a lieutenant serving under General Amaya. He was tasked on finding Prince Ezran and Prince Callum but was apprehended by Lord Viren during his stay."
Apprehended? That was good. Well… certainly not for the poor guy but she could use this to build a case against the man.
"Is this true?" She asked the prisoner.
"Yes!" He answered again in an oddly cheerful tone. "Absolutely. 100%."
"If you've been his prisoner this whole time, then you must know a lot."
"Well… I do know… a lot."
Opeli's mouth curled a smile. "Then I suppose you can tell me about Viren's plans?"
"Well, naturally of course. Since I have been in that deep dark dungeon for… uh what days is it today? I'm sorry. I lost track of time. Not a lot of sun down there. Just torches and magical lights here and there."
"It's been a month since King Harrow's death."
"Wow! That long? Gosh. That has got to be a new record. Eating nothing but bread and water for days on end really got me. I should be winning the fasting contest eh?"
"Can you please focus!?" She snapped.
"Right right right. Sorry. Got distracted. It's been a while since I last held an actual conversation with another human so I'm kind of off. Sorta."
"Then keep focus for the next two minutes." Opeli groaned. "Tell me what Viren is planning."
"Oh! That! Of course…" Finally some progress. "I have no idea."
Opeli wanted to throw this idiot back into the dungeon where they found him. "Are you kidding me!?"
"Well I was kind of locked up in a dungeon and we never really talked so… no. Not really."
"I think I'm getting a headache." She mumbled, planting a hand over her forehead. "Take him… somewhere else."
"Oh! But I do remember him sending his kids!" Grent added suddenly catching Opeli's attention.
"His kids. Boren and… Naudia? I think? I didn't really catch their names. Ahehehe…" Of course! Soren and Claudia. How could she possibly forget them!? They were his children and close friends with the princes. They'd make perfect assassins!
"Where did he send them!?"
"I… don't really know but I did hear that he had a special assignment for both of them. Again… not really sure what they are either."
Opeli saw an opportunity. Killing the King's oldest advisor would be made easier if they had someone speak against him. If they can get his children and make them confess their secret mission, it would be more than enough reason to put that guy's head in the gallows. It would be quick and clean but oh so satisfying.
"Sergeant. Add another announcement to the letters. Have the patrols and garrisons keep a lookout for Viren's children. Take extreme caution when apprehending them."
Viren soon found himself seeing through another pair of eyes. He had spent the better part of the hour ordering his shadow agents to destroy the port cities of Evenere and poisoning the water supply in Neolandia. He had smiled feeling some gratification in their destruction. Those monarchs who slapped his hand of friendship will finally know the pain of war. They will be reminded of the danger, the threat of the elves.
But while those other kingdoms sated his vengeance, he saved the best for last.
The lush and bountiful lands of Duren were now in his sights. It was the breadbox of the human kingdoms where food was plentiful in every season. It's lush and fertile soil provided for its people. It was here that the young and arrogant queen resided. Her childish nativity would be the beginning of mankind's downfall in the wall against the dragons. Oh… her defiance would be paid in a special price.
Turning, Viren found his shadow army grew in numbers here, their heads lowered and ready to obey his every command. The sun had already risen yet somehow his magic still remained strong. No doubt the elf in the mirror had a hand in that. He opened his mouth but stopped. A hint of doubt still plagued his mind.
"I can sense your frustration." The worm in his ears spoke, again in that amused tone. "What troubles you?"
"Nothing. Just… some old memories." He answered back, balling his fists back in the dungeon. "I once helped this land become what it is now. If I destroy it, I will be undoing the work of my friend."
"Then you need not do it. Let them live their peaceful lives. But would it be fair to the other kingdoms that you ravaged?" The creature asked. "You have done so much already. To be the leader, you must be willing to make sacrifices. You must finish what you've started."
Yes… the elf was right. He can't stop now. He can't hesitate when he had already done so much. If throwing away his humanity can save this pathetic race, why should he hesitate?
It was their fault for betraying him. Their fault for shunning him away when he offered them unity.
They deserved nothing less than the pain they inflicted upon him.
Viren returned his gaze to his shadow army, determination running through his veins. "The people Duren have enjoyed a time of plenty. They have grown fat and content with their lives. They've forgotten the pain of hunger. Burn their granaries to the ground, salt their fields, slaughter their livestock and torch their warehouses. Remind them of the pain, the struggle and hardship they once went through. And as for little Queen Aanya." He paused for a second breathing deeply. "She will lead this country to its doom. Do not hesitate. Kill her."
And with those orders, the shadow elves departed.
Before long the calm and serene atmosphere of this beautiful kingdom was replaced with screams of terror and the burning of its land.
After what felt like hours, the dark mage found himself back in the dungeon of his home. The magic that enveloped him vanished leaving the worm on his ear to continue poisoning his mind.
"So… how do you feel?"
Viren smiled. "Satisfied… friend."