"You're coming with us?" Harry asked Titan in surprise. "Don't you have better things to do?"
Titan inclined his head. "I've been imprisoned for centuries. No pressing engagements are upon me."
Harry shook out his hands before grabbing up his books and scrolls to try and get the tremors under control. He could feel Titan's powerful eyes on him. Assessing.
"I may not be able to directly help you destroy my sister, to stop her schemes, but I can help in other ways."
Harry turned to him.
"She betrayed me and she will pay for it. I will do nothing else until I've seen she has been destroyed."
"Can you tell me…"
Titan of course knew what he wanted to say. The god tilted his face up, eyes directed to the high temple ceiling. His nostrils flared as his eyes darkened with power. Finally Titan's attention returned to him. "Your son and the son of Hirsha's favorite are currently safe. They are being protected by creatures of the jungle. Who is to say how long this will last, but they are safe right now."
Harry dropped his hands to the small table and bowed his head, blowing out a relieved breath. "Thank you," he whispered.
"You must keep focused on the task at hand."
The Emperor smiled a little. "I don't know if my husband will be pleased to know you're coming."
Titan deeply chuckled. "Your mate. Interesting creature. He is a strong one. Very strong. This wasn't always the case. You two have made each other exceptionally strong. In character. In magic. In physical prowess."
"You can see everything about us, can't you?"
"I only need to look in your eyes to see your life's story."
"Brill," Harry muttered darkly. He then turned back to him and smiled. "So Ozemir really is Hirsha's favorite?"
"Yes. When he was born, she celebrated. He is her son in all ways. He and Dagon."
Harry laughed. "Ozemir is everyone's favorite. But why didn't she make him the new blood then?"
"It would not have suited him. Things are better as they are."
Harry went back to putting his stuff away. He glanced at the god from the corner of his eye. "Ozemir's son and my son are very close. Was that planned?"
Titan did nothing but smirk. Harry returned his smirk.
"Harry," said Draco behind him in clear exasperation. He and Ozemir coming in just in time to hear his question.
"What?" Harry asked as he turned around, trying for innocence. "It was just a question."
Draco shook his head.
"Titan says our sons are safe at the moment," he said to Ozemir. "And he's travelling with us."
Predictably Draco frowned. Not surprising and understandable. Titan was still a demon god and they really knew nothing about him. Beyond the fact he was a god and could snuff out their lives with the snap of his clawed fingers.
"You've sent all your warriors out to search for the babes," Titan responded to Draco's narrowed look. "I think you'll find my company welcome."
"I have no complaints," Ozemir chirped, looking considerably more cheerful upon Harry's declaration of their sons being currently safe from harm.
"No. I didn't imagine you would," Titan returned in good humor.
"We can protect ourselves," Draco returned lowly. "We're not exactly helpless."
"Okay!" Harry exclaimed and slung his bag over his shoulder. "I'm ready!"
"Follow," Titan said as he turned to head down the main Temple hall. "I'll show you the right way out. You cannot leave the way you came. The lock would remain intact otherwise. There is always a front and back to these things."
"See? He's helping already," Harry told Draco as Ozemir hurried after the god. Already they could hear him chatting up Titan, asking a deluge of questions. "Don't worry so much about this. We'll take it one step at a time, yeah."
Draco knew better than to argue. He'd rather Harry stay optimistic. It was the only thing keeping his lover in control of his emotions. Keeping Harry from losing it completely in the wake of their missing son. Draco knew he had to be strong for Harry. Not show any sort of weakness. Not now. Caellum was out there but the god said he was safe. Half of him couldn't trust his word on that, but the other half made himself believe it. What else could he do?
He grabbed Harry and hugged him tightly. Pulled back just slightly to bump noses. "My idiot."
Harry's laughter was shaky.
The Royal Healing Center was a bustle of activity. Especially one particular wing which had been closed off for the sole purpose of seeing to the rebels' care. Many of the Ghost rebels injuries could not be healed easily or immediately. Fortunately Bill was not one of these cases. Unfortunately this was not so for Aerin.
"What is going on?" Falde growled.
"Commander. The Mindless. They appear to be poisoned now."
Falde growled lowly and lumbered over the poor elf. "Explain in greater detail or you will not like what happens next."
"All of the wounds obtained directly from a mindless claw or teeth have festered. Some are already set with infection. No regular healing can help. The wounds are unable to heal themselves as well. We've never seen this before."
Falde pulled in a slow breath. "Aerin?"
The healer slightly shook her head. "Commander, I don't know. We're having a very hard time stopping the bleeding and because of the taint, his body isn't producing enough blood to counteract and it's very hard to keep the wounds closed. We don't know if he'll make it."
"I DON'T WANT TO HEAR THAT!"
"We've tried everything, Commander! Unless we find something to cleanse the bodies of the Mindless poison, we may lose them all!"
"Falde." The commander spun around to find Bill leaning against the wall. He was shirtless and had a bandage around his torso. At least his wound hadn't been caused by a Mindless. Bill would be fine. "Falde, do something."
Falde's eyes moved just over Bill's shoulder. Fred was standing just slightly behind his brother. Falde strode to him, grabbed him and embraced him tightly. "I need you to fetch Kaego."
Fred took a moment to savor the embrace before he nodded against Falde's chest. He then pulled away and raced down the hall. Falde turned back to the healer. He had to remind himself it wasn't her fault. "We have some of the finest healers in the realm here. I suggest you all start thinking of solutions. At the very least, find some way to stave off death until a solution can be found."
"What can Kaego do?" Bill demanded. "He can't heal right now. Not while he's pregnant. He's too far along."
"It doesn't mean he can't contribute. He's one of the best healers I know. Even being only a consulting healer, he could be a great help. He's a predominantly battle healer which means he's quick in the mind and because he can't directly heal, he'll be able to stand back and think of a solution while the others work on keeping your people alive." He turned back to the healer. "Healer Kaego will be overseeing. When he arrives, fill him in on everything. Listen to him, follow his orders."
The healer nodded quickly. She looked relieved. "Of course, Commander. Healer Kaego's involvement will be a great relief to us."
When she was gone, Falde turned back to Bill. "You should go rest."
"I don't think I can do that. I don't want to leave Aerin. And if I do have to leave here, I should go check on my people who made it to the fallback location."
"Then go in, sit with Aerin. Your brother has already gone to meet the survivors. Write a message to Taera, report what's happened."
Upon the mention of Taera, Bill's face fell even more. He looked crushed. He dropped back against the wall and dug his hands into his hair, squeezing his eyes closed.
Falde growled under his breath and grabbed Bill's shoulder to drag him into the infirmary room. Marching him all the way to the back to Aerin's bed which was curtained off like most beds were. However, they didn't go in as there were numerous healers in with Aerin at the time.
"It's just not stopping," someone muttered. "It's spreading quickly."
"He won't make the night…"
Bill jerked away from Falde and wandered aimlessly around the room; stopping here and there at those of his people who were awake to speak to them for a short time. To stand beside the beds of those whose bodies were already fully covered by sheets. His friends, comrades. To burn the faces into his memory.
"What is going on in here?!"
Bill spun around to find Kaego standing next to Aerin's bed. The elf looked seriously enraged and he spun around to look at everyone. "Are you all incompetent?! PUT THEM IN STASIS IMMEDIATELY! Start with the most severe case and move down!" The Healers immediately scattered to hurry and do what he said. Kaego was glaring around, his chest heaving in anger.
"Who is in charge here?" Kaego demanded as he eyed the bodies under the sheets.
A male came running forward, raising a hand. He looked like he was in no way ready or experienced enough for this sort of emergency. "T-that would be m-me, sir."
Bill turned, found his brother standing beside him. Fred was watching Kaego tear a new arsehole into the healers. "You've been living with him, yeah?"
"Not for long, but yeah."
"Is he always like this?"
Fred snorted, shook his head. "Sweetest bloke you ever met, funny too. He never loses his temper. I've never once seen him this upset… guess this was a good reason to let go of all that pent up emotion."
"I will need gloves and… Fred?"
"Could you go and retrieve the books within my office? The books on the right side bookshelf."
"Course!" Fred nudged Bill, smiled at him and quickly left. Bill pulled out of his depressive funk just long enough to watch Falde try and slink off after his mate, only to have Kaego stop him at the lost moment.
"Oh, Commander? We will need to study one of these poisoned Mindless."
Bill grinned when Falde's shoulders slumped just slightly. For only half a second before the elf straightened and nodded.
"I will fetch one."
"Better make it a few."
"Very well, Healer."
"Can you do that?" Bill questioned. "Bring them here?"
"The things will be dead. The protections will allow it."
Taera made a soft noise and crushed the missive in her shaking hand. She looked at the Saen. "The rebels were attacked," she whispered. "Many lost their lives."
"Aerin?" when she didn't answer quick enough, Hoihm stepped closer. "Aerin?" he demanded.
"He was attacked by a Mindless. They seem to be poisoned now. Anyone directly injured by the claws or teeth… it's impeding treatment. He's dying, Hoihm. They don't know how to stop it."
Hoihm spun around, walked away a few paces. "No," he whispered. "I only just found him-no!"
Taera watched him a moment and then straightened up. This elf had no family at all. Not anymore. All killed in the civil wars. All killed while he had been asleep. "Saen, I want you to go. Go and look after my brother," she ordered. "Someone should be with him."
"I cannot," he whispered. "I must find the babes."
"We will find them!" Taera snapped. "We will find them and they will be safe! You go!"
"The Emperor ordered me-"
"Draco will understand! You know he would! Almost the entire Family is in Taeneen. He would tell you to go. Of this I'm certain. I will take the blame should this not be true."
Hoihm turned to face her. "Taera. You are his sister. You should go."
Taera managed to smile. "And you are his mate. I want you by his side. Seeing you will give him strength. Please, Hoihm. I'm begging you. Go be with him. P-please. P-please, keep him alive."
Silent tears were running down her face. She looked terrified. Hoihm took one of her shaking hands, held it tightly. He laid a hand on her cheek and pressed his forehead against hers. She dropped a hand to his shoulder and took a deep breath. Took the strength he was trying to lend her, managing to smile because now it was clear her brother had a good mate.
"I will go."
"Do not thank me. Just find those babies." He pulled back just slightly. "Do you wish to send a message back with me?"
Taera glanced at the missive from Bill. "I…" she cleared her throat. "Tell him I do not blame him. Tell him I'm glad he's alright."
"That is all?"
Taera frowned slightly. "And tell him I regret leaving without speaking with him."
Hoihm nodded, a slight smirk on his face. "He desires the warrior, Lieutenant. You should not doubt that."
"We don't have time for this. Go."
Hoihm moved in slowly, following after Kaego and Falde. He could smell the stench of poison, of death. It swallowed him whole. Bed after bed was taken.
"He's in stasis," Kaego explained as they headed deeper into the room. "I can take him out for only a short time."
Hoihm nodded and followed silently. Finally, they reached Aerin towards the back of the room and he bent over the bed to touch Aerin's face, spread his hair away from eyes which opened upon his touch.
"Hi." Aerin tried smiling, but it was one of pain. "Did you miss me?"
"I did," he answered truthfully.
Had he been well, Hoihm knew Aerin's face would have flushed. "What are you doing here? Has your mission ended?"
Hoihm sat in the chair Kaego pressed against the back of his knees. He leaned forward so that he was only inches away from Aerin. "There's nowhere else I would rather be."
His young mate's eyes turned bashful. "Will we be mated?"
"Just as soon as you are well. So I need to ask something of you-"
Aerin swallowed thickly, his eyes fluttered closed, chest pulled in a pained ragged breath as if it would be the last. Hoihm shot from the chair to hover over the young elf, slapping his hands on either side of Aerin's face. "Are you listening, Aerin?" he snapped. "I will have none of that from you!"
"Y-you're a big bully," Aerin rasped and yet he smiled.
"You will fight this, Aerin," he ordered as Kaego appeared to reactivate the stasis. "You will be strong. For Taera. For me. We need you."
"I'll try," Aerin whispered as the stasis covered him, sending him back into a dreamless recuperative sleep.
Hoihm fell back into his chair, staring at his mate's pale face. "You can't fix this, can you?" he hollowly asked the healer.
"Not yet. But I haven't given up and neither should you," Kaego responded firmly. "I'll have a meal delivered to you momentarily. Keep talking to him. There are times when the patient can hear outside of the stasis."
Further in the jungle, about a league away from the sacred pool, sequestered off by dense foliage and large boulders was a smallish nook, a cave. Here was where the Matron led Suka and the babes to hide them away from disagreeing clan members. From those who had tried to make sure the elf babes drowned in the river. Once brought into the safety of this cave, the hairless cubs had been cleaned; their scrapes and bruises also tended to. They were warm now and safe, and content enough to watch the Arthis curiously.
What do we do? Suka signed to the Matron after settling down inside the small cave. We should return them. But how?
The Matron prowled around the small cave for a time, watching the babes as they rested in a nest of moss and dried leaves after Suka's tender care. A series of quiet growled barks erupted from her throat. Elves were swarming the jungle. Two factions of them. These babes were being tracked.
They are in danger, she signed. They have brought the elves conflict to us. We must find out who is friend and who is foe. Suka must go. You must find the right ones before your patriarch finds us here. He will. Only a matter of time.
Suka stood, nodded. He studied the babies and then turned back to the Matron. How do I know who is who?
Look at them. The Matron lightly grunted and gestured to the babes. They are well groomed, well fed. They have been cared for.
Suka grunted. She meant those who took good care of the babes would also be out searching for them. It would be easy to tell friend from foe once he'd watched both groups for a time. He looked at the babes again and signed, what about them? If I go…
Korda arrived then with braided baskets of fruit and minced fish, as well as a bowl of water. She sat before the babes and placed the baskets in her lap. The two hairless ones immediately climbed from the nest to approach the food. They watched Korda a moment, who grunted at them. The dark haired one moved first to grab a bite, but the light haired one grabbed his friend's hair and jerked hard. This didn't seem to phase the other one, though he did stop reaching for food and sat back to watch his friend take a piece first. The three watched in amusement and shock as the white haired one took a bite, clearly testing it first, before allowing the dark haired one to take his own piece.
Smart ones, Suka signed smiling wide and showing off his teeth.
The Matron barked softly at him, telling him to go now. She didn't think the babes would notice him gone now that they were being fed.
Suka left then, making sure the small cave was covered properly. He then wandered a few yards before standing still. Smelling the air, listening intently. He smelt them, the elves, and also his fellow Arthis. Though the smell of elves wasn't too strong so they weren't close by yet. The Arthis were his people, though not many knew of the Matron's small cave.
He followed his nose to find the elves, but he wasn't' too far away from where he left the babes before he was intercepted by one of his own. He was quickly told someone was disturbing the pool. A small group of elves. Four males.
Suka frowned. That was close and the pool was sacred ground. Should his patriarch hear of this…
Show me, he barked.
"I am so sick and tired of this jungle," Harry muttered.
"Ditto," Draco returned.
Harry knew he would have enjoyed it if he weren't in a hurry to find the Cavern and his son and Zohrek. If he could just be at peace in the jungle. But they were moving so fast everything was flashing by in streaks of green, grey, and brown. And the light of Talyn as she zipped and zagged before them. It gave him comfort to know they were headed to the fourth and final lock and soon they would find the Cavern and claim whatever power it was that would stop the army of dead… and then. And then they were going after Demai'Tah.
They stopped towards sundown the second day away from the temple. And they only stopped because Talyn stopped. The jungle opened up near the mountains. Opened up into a beautiful glade. The centerpiece being a dark blue lake. The water was clear and being fed by a waterfall at the opposite side of where they came in. They came out into the glade with Talyn hovering right over the center of the small lake. It was so small it could be considered a large pond, but to Harry it felt like a lake. Trees surrounded them on all sides and the mountains rose up at the opposite side of the lake like a guardian.
"This is it, isn't it?" Harry murmured to the god beside him. Titan did nothing but incline his head. "But what's the next step?"
Just after saying this, Talyn's form dived into the water. "Oh."
"What?" Draco questioned, noticing the wary tone.
"Talyn just went under the surface."
Draco huffed and dropped his pack at his feet. "Well let's get to it, then," he replied and went to remove his tunic, preparing for a swim.
"Draco, wait… let me just check it out first. We'll take a break before going on. Have a meal. We don't know what else we'll have to do. We should rest up a bit. I'll just see what's down there now and then we'll go ahead in a couple of hours. I seriously doubt jumping into a lake is the last thing we have to do."
"I agree," Ozemir said. "But I would prefer to be the one to go investigate right now, young one."
"No. It has to be me. You both know that. I'm the only one who can see Talyn."
Draco growled lowly in aggravation. There wasn't anything else he could do since Harry was right. Looking at Vendyl, it was clear the Saen felt the same way.
"Alright then. Here we go," Harry chirped and started stripping out of his clothes, starting with his boots. Vendyl and Ozemir wisely turned away, knowing of Draco's disposition concerning his mate, but Titan kept right on watching him an appreciative smirk on his lips.
"Excuse me," Draco growled, stepping right up in front of the demon god just before Harry would shed his pants. "Do you fucking mind?"
"No, not at all," Titan answered slowly and easily shoved Draco aside. "Continue," he said to Harry, who had paused in his undressing.
Harry frowned while Vendyl and Ozemir shot forward to grab their blond Emperor by the shoulders and drag him away before he could commence with the attack that was surely about to happen.
"The rest of this expedition would go on a lot more smoothly if you didn't try and bait my mate like that," Harry said.
"Are you asking me to avert my eyes, littlest imp?"
"If you wouldn't mind. Please."
"Very well." And then Titan turned around.
Harry walked over to Draco. "See? Be nice. That's all it takes." And then he dropped his pants before Draco could retort.
Harry snickered and handed over Lovely. "You're so easy." He shook his head fondly and turned towards the lake, quickly heading for the edge and hoping nothing was down there that would try and eat him. Not knowing what was down there made him apprehensive. He remembered the last time he was searching for something under water. He remembered the serpentine guardian. Still, even though he was wary, he didn't hesitate to dive in, though he was on his guard, fully prepared to immediately defend himself if need be. It helped when he heard Draco. When his mate started talking to him, keeping him calm and focused.
Harry started off by swimming a circuit around the lake just at the edges. It didn't take him all that long. He surfaced to take a long deep breath and dove deeper, swimming another circuit and aiming for the center.
What do you see? Draco asked after some time.
Just water so far. Don't even see any fish. There's some plant life, but it doesn't look dangerous from here. Hold on…. I see Talyn. She's floating at the bottom—whoa, there's a strong current!
Talyn was floating at the bottom, but she was also moving round and round in a quick pace. Harry stopped when he felt the current. He had a feeling he would get caught up and not be able to recover.
It's like a drain, Draco. We'll get sucked up into something.
Richard did say underground rivers.
I guess this is it. I'm coming back up. Can't go any further. We'll all have to go at the same time or we'll be separated. I don't think we'll be coming back up this way.
"I'm telling you, they're this way," Tom snapped. In his hand he held Caellum's blanket. They had only come upon it a short time ago in a small clearing not far away. Worryingly, that clearing had been surrounded by ice bulb pods and many piles of shadow hound ash.
"But how can you be sure?" Sirius demanded as he and the others traveled through the jungle. "Did you catch the scent?"
"It's a feeling."
"But what if it's the wrong direction? If you don't know for sure…"
Everyone came to a jarring stop when they were faced with the edge of a cliff. Hermione moaned. "I can. I can smell them here."
Eyes were wide on the rushing river below. Wide and horrified. Nobody said, but they could all see the tracks now. Right up to the edge.
"No, no, no, no."
Severus placed strong hands on her shoulders. He looked to Lucius. "We need to get down there. Search."
Several feet away, Dagon stood. Studying other tracks. Tracks he knew were made by the Arthis. He didn't say, however. Nor did he alert the others to the fact that even now they were being watched by the Arthis. Behind them all the soldiers were catching up.
"Get down there," Taera barked when she caught up with the situation. "Search!"
The winged warriors, including herself, immediately took flight and glided down to the bottom. Lucius, Hermione, and Mila followed. Severus changed to his animal spirit and also flew down.
"This way," Dagon announced going around the others and leading them to a path that they could take down.
"We'll never find any tracks here," Mila murmured more to herself than to the elf hovering near her. They had been searching the river's edge for nearly an hour at that point. "Not of the babies. Too much water…"
"They could've… Merlin, I don't even want to think-"
"Then don't!" Mila snapped at Lucius. "We'll keep looking. We'll keep looking until we find something."
"Mila! Mila, land now!"
Mila sniffed and refused to look at the person standing far below her on a boulder.
Lucius smirked at her. "It must kill him, to be stuck on the ground."
She nodded and laughed. Then she looked down and stuck her tongue out at the demon assassin.
"Is this what you call resting?" Draco inquired; watching his mate pace around the small fire they'd built. "Come sit down already. Come eat. Right now, Potter."
Harry spun on his heels and immediately rounded the fire to drop down between his husband's legs and into Draco's open arms. Draco bent his head, nuzzling Harry's neck. "Take deep breaths, lover. That's right. Just like that…"
"If we go now," Harry whispered. "If we go before they're found… we could be trapped down there with no easy way to get out, to get to them…"
Across from them, Titan smirked. Like he knew something they didn't. No one noticed this of course as he was quite experienced in making lesser immortals and mortals forget he was even there until he wanted them to remember.
"The choice is yours, young one," Ozemir said. "We can go finish this, or we can wait until we've found our sons. Either way, I will do as you say and think no less of you."
Vendyl and Draco nodded at this.
Harry took comfort from his husband's warmth and stared into the fire, contemplating this. Then he straightened with resolve, coming to a decision. Though he never got to voice his decision. Vendyl jumped to his feet, sword in hand just before they heard a shrill whistle from above. Several winged elves were making their way down.
"Father too," Draco announced, squinting into the dark.
Harry jumped to his feet, a wide smile on his face as he watched his sister approaching. "Mione!"
Ozemir stood. Catching sight of movement across the lake by the waterfall. More elves were climbing down from there, coming from the mountain near where the river fell. Harry took off into the air and collided with Hermione and Mila, hugging them desperately. The three then descended to the ground. Draco made his way over to them just as Hermione handed a blanket over to his mate. Harry cried and brought the blanket up to his nose, inhaling deeply.
"We found it not too far from here," Hermione told them.
"We were tracking," Mila said, "that's how we got here."
Harry was too busy hiding his face in his son's blanket, inhaling Caellum and Zohrek's scent.
Suka watched all this from the shadows. Watched the tall one press against the winged one's back. Suka paid attention to the one with the blanket. He recognized that blanket. It belonged to the babes. The one holding the blanket was shaking, crying.
The other elves reached them, converged on the one with the blanket. "Tom!" Another male shouldered aside everyone to take up the shorter one in his arms. The other light haired male who had been flying moved over to give comfort to the taller blond. Suka realized this was a family unit and all of the elves here had the same expressions. Worry, panic, sadness. These were the right elves. And then the lone being by the fire, the one with the horns suddenly turned his head, looked right at Suka, causing the Arthis a fright.
Bring them here.
Suka's eyes widened, he took a step back in nearly fright and then spun around to disappear into the forest, to report back to the Matron.
"You!" Draco dashed across the clearing towards a small being with horns. Charan squeaked and raced away around the lake. "You bloody demon! When I get my hands on you!"
Titan finally stood, chuckling.
Harry dashed after his husband, who had managed to catch Charan and threw the little boy to the ground, wrapping hands around his neck. "DRACO!" he skid to a halt and slapped the back of the blond's head, hard. "Get off him!"
Draco fell off Charan in a daze, groaning as he pressed a hand to the back of his head. Harry squatted in front of Charan, smiling at the little demon. "You okay?"
"Is he okay?!"
Charan snickered. "He's really mad."
"Well, yeah. You caused some pain. I'm Harry, by the way," he held out a hand to Charan. "nice to meet you finally. I've heard a lot about you—don't bite me," he warned once Charan had taken his hand and stared at it.
After a moment of contemplation, and the fact Tom had come over to stand behind his brother, Charan nodded and released his hand. Then the little demon god jumped up and ran around to Tom. "Did you see what he did?" he jumped up onto Tom's hip before Tom could respond and dropped his head to the elf's shoulder. "He's mean."
"I'm very certain you deserved it," Tom muttered, poking at Charan's neck to make sure Draco hadn't actually done any harm.
"I'm seeing double," Draco groaned.
"Serves you right, wanker! What were you thinking?"
Draco finally sat up and speared Charan with cold fire. "I was thinking to wring his little neck!"
Harry tisked and turned back to the others; the coldness of knowing Caellum was lost was slightly thawed by having his family with him. His siblings, Lucius, Sirius, and Severus. Mila and Dagon were even present. Or at least he could have sworn he saw Dagon come in with the rest of them, but now the assassin appeared to be gone.
"Harry…" Hermione whispered after coming up to him.
Harry shook his head forcibly. "He said they were safe. Caellum and Zohrek are safe so they couldn't have fallen to their deaths over a cliff."
"Who said?" Severus inquired.
Harry turned and walked back to the fire, eyeing Tom and little Charan who was still on his hip.
"What?" Tom snapped.
Harry shook his head and snickered. Then once by the fire, he pointed to the tall being with the horns that strangely no one had noticed before. "Titan."
Charan gasped and quickly squirmed out of Tom's arms and rushed around the fire. "Uncle Titan! Uncle, uncle, uncle!"
"Charan, you devilish creature," Titan chuckled, hoisting Charan up and then throwing him in the air. "Your mother couldn't have released you too long ago. Already causing mischief?"
Tom narrowed his eyes on the being while the others just stared in shock. "Explain," Tom hissed under his breath.
They settled down around the fire, passing around food. At the end of the tale, Severus shook his head; looking at Harry fondly. "Only you would wake up a demon god, Harry."
"It was unintentional."
"I consider it a fortunate occurrence," Titan intoned as his clawed hand sifted through Charan's hair. The little demon child had taken to sitting in Titan's lap.
"That remains to be seen," Draco muttered under his breath. Tom looked at him and nodded.
"So," Hermione ventured as she slowly moved closer to the god; she and Mila. Moths being drawn to a flame. "You're the creator of the Greek Titans?"
"This is so," Titan answered.
"Why did you create them?"
"For my enjoyment."
"But I thought Mother Earth and Father Heaven created the titans," Hermione said to him.
He looked at her with those powerful eyes, one brow rising. "You are well versed in mortal mythology."
Hermione nodded. "But is it not right?"
"Who do you think Mother Earth is, sweet one?"
Hermione flushed immediately and Mila, on Titan's other side, sighed happily. Charan snickered.
"I thought Hirsha was only the Goddess of this realm."
"She is all things," Tom replied darkly, glaring harshly at Titan.
Titan nodded, staring steadily back at him.
"So you're supposed to be Father Heaven?" Lucius asked.
"It was my sister's humor, to call me such a thing. I am a demon. Heaven is merely an idea. But yes, she gave me the power to create my titans. She thought it was a brilliant idea."
"Mommy likes to laugh."
Titan suddenly turned to Mila. "You may touch them if you wish."
Mila flushed darkly under the firelight, but when Titan inclined his head, Mila did not hesitate to reach up to caress one of his horns.
"You as well, sweet one."
Hermione jumped up and hurried around to sit next to Mila, and then the both of them were caressing the demon god's horns. Both of them looked as if they had fallen into a trance.
Sirius snorted. "He's a total player."
"I bet he's one of those who always had a harem," Harry whispered to Draco.
Severus snapped to his feet and was around the fire in an instant, grabbing Mila and Hermione's hands and dragging them away.
"Severus, maybe you should grow horns," Hermione said breathlessly.
"That's a brilliant idea!" Mila concurred.
"What are you saying?!" he snapped back.
Titan's deep chuckle seemed to reverberate around the clearing.
"Did you hear?" Sirius began, leaning towards Harry and Draco. "About the Ghost rebels?"
The emperors shook their heads and grew concerned when Sirius's face darkened.
"Demai'Tah found them using the orbs. He orchestrated a surprise attack. Took out half of them. None of ours died," he quickly added, "but Bill… he was injured and he's lost a lot of good men and women. And Aerin… Aerin was severely injured. Taera received a missive from Bill not long ago."
Draco turned, zeroing in on Ozemir who had taken to walking around the lake, studying it. "Is he going to be alright?"
Lucius shook his head. "Draco, he's dying. The Mindless are poisoned now. Anyone who was directly wounded by a Mindless claw or fangs is poisoned. This is something the healers haven't seen before. They don't know how to stop it and according to Bill, Aerin's wounds were already fatal. He would have died instantly had he not been immortal. And now…"
"Taera knows?" Harry whispered.
"Yes. She sent Hoihm back to Borsteria to be with him. She says she'll take responsibility for ordering him to go since you told Hoihm to search for Caellum and Zohrek."
"We would have sent both of them, so it's fine. Nothing can be done?"
"Falde put Kaego in charge to find a solution. Bill said Kaego went on the rampage once he arrived. Apparently the healers had no idea what to do. They didn't even think to put the injured into stasis until he ordered it."
Harry blew out a breath. "So he's in stasis, at least."
"Hoihm can't lose Aerin…"
"From now on, burn any Mindless you come across," Draco ordered those around him. "Immediately. No playing about."
"Bill's really torn up about it," Sirius went on. "He lost many good people and he says Aerin sacrificed himself to keep the Mindless away from him."
Harry stood and went to join Ozemir, to impart the information since Taera had gone off to search the immediate area.
Draco turned back to Sirius and his father. "Where's Brumek?"
"He's with Dudley, Frank, and the gang. They went a different search route. We figured we'd cover more ground that way."
"Add to the fact the way they went was straight towards the raiders Demai'Tah sent. They're making their way in this direction…"
Draco grabbed at the blanket in his lap and brought it up to his face, growling. He felt like exploding. And then a thought occurred to him. "Father, where's the triplets?"
Sirius grinned while Lucius shook his head. "Lord Faldyn demanded to be able to take care of them. He and Neville have been babysitting."
"Aren't you afraid they'll do what Caellum and Zohrek have done?"
"It pains me only a little to admit our children are nowhere near that powerful. And the circumstances are different. Caellum was feeding off the troubles you and Harry were having and Zohrek of course wasn't about to let his friend go off alone."
"No. Zohrek's manipulative," Sirius said to the Malfoys' surprise. "He wanted his parents just as badly. So he didn't stop Caellum when he very well could have. Don't think this is the last time you are going to have this kind of problem. Those two are going to give us all hell," Sirius ended, laughing.
"So what are you all doing here?" Lucius asked.
"It's the last lock. The last lock before getting to the Cavern. Apparently we're going to have to go into the lake and get sucked down a drain. I take it we'll be travelling underground for sometime after this."
"Sounds like fun!"
Draco stood, shaking his head in fond amusement at his step-father. Fun? Not likely. As he began to walk away towards the lake, he wasn't surprised when his sister and brother fell into step beside him as he made his way to Harry and Ozemir. By that time his mate and guardian were sitting at the edge of the water; Harry with his arm wrapped around Ozemir's back.
He wasn't surprised, as he sat down with them, to see Ozemir didn't appear too distraught over the news. But appear was a relative term. Too much was at stake right now, too much going on, and Ozemir was strong. He knew when too much emotion would only be a hindrance. But it was clear as Hermione and Tom also sat close to him that he took comfort from his charges' support and care for him.
"If he's anything like you then he'll pull through," Harry whispered.
Suka rushed through the forest, contemplating on what he had seen. Wondering if thy really were the right elves. None of them had the markings on their arms. Those elves who were trampling through the forest; hacking left and right. All had strange markings on their arms made of cloth. And the horned being… not an elf. He had spoken inside Suka's mind. He hadn't spoken in the Arthis language and yet Suka understood. Bring them here. The being was speaking of the little ones.
Quick frenzied barking had Suka skidding to a halt and soon Korda appeared, barreling through the brush just up ahead. The moment she saw him, she started signing frantically.
Your patriarch found the Matron cave. Babies forcibly taken. They will be used as an example.
He will start a war! Suka barked in rage. He cannot! They are innocent!
He demands your presence, Korda signed. You must go. You must go and stop them.
Suka nodded, grabbed Korda's shoulder; squeezing gently when she grasped his hand. He turned, looked back towards the lake. Is the Matron under guard? he signed.
Bring her to the lake. Just you and the Matron. This is where you'll find the little hairless ones people. Family, I think. The Matron will know what to do then.
Korda nodded and they split up. Korda to go and fetch the Matron, while Suka quickly made his way to the main Arthis settlement, praying he wasn't too late from stopping his patriarch from doing something which would inevitably bring about their destruction.
Dagon reappeared just as Ozemir stood and moved to stand beside his Emperors near the fire. "We have visitors," he said before Dagon could. "Harry, see? Your first look." Ozemir pointed over near where they had entered the glade. A whitish creature was crouched and half hidden behind one of the trees along the edge of the glade.
Harry took a few steps forward. "An Arthis," he breathed, excited.
Ozemir raised a hand to the others. "Stay still," he ordered. "Don't scare her."
"How do you know it's a she?" Lucius asked.
"Slimmer frame and short hair. The males are bigger and shaggier. The males also have three short stubby horns."
The creature cocked her head, eyeing Harry as he slowly approached. After a moment she stood from her crouch and barked out two short barks. Harry paused, watching. An answering bark came from deeper in the jungle. The female backed up a few feet, looking at Harry. And then her eyes wandered to Ozemir. She barked again.
"She wants you to come too," Harry whispered over his shoulder.
"How do you know that?" Draco demanded as he approached. He froze when the Arthis slightly crouched again, growling.
"It's just a feeling… Ozemir, come here and bring Caellum's blanket." He then looked to Titan. The god inclined his head, smirking. Harry released a relieved breath. "She knows where our sons are. I think she wants to lead us…"
"But clearly others are out there," Draco ground out, watching in annoyance as his mate raised his hands up in a peaceful manner as he continued to approach the nervous creature.
"Just stay here for now. I'll tell you when to follow. Be quiet about it. I don't want to mess this up. Dagon?"
"Find the others. Tell them not to hurt any Arthis. Tell them we may have found the boys."
"If what you say is true, the babes are near," Dagon returned. "I could easily retrieve them now and without fuss."
But Harry shook his head. "No. It needs to be done this way. I need to do this. However," he looked at the assassin over his shoulder. "I expect you to kill any raiders and Mindless you find who are looking for the babies. Relay this message to Brumek. Purge the jungle."
"Very well, Your Highness." Dagon crossed to the fire and picked up Mila's quiver and bow. "I might need you to keep me on task. Come with me."
The only reason why she agreed was because it wasn't a demand this time. His tone was gentler and he wasn't looking at her.
The brunet walked back to his mate, lifting on his toes to press their lips together. It'll be fine. I have Ozemir with me.
Draco looked back to the tree line upon the Arthis' three short impatient barks. Harry laughed and pulled away.
"I'm going to go get our son now. Go ahead and set up a camp."
Draco nodded and let him walk away. And then he frowned. "Hey! Who died and made you king, Potter?!"
Harry snickered as he rejoined Ozemir's side. "Where'd she go?" he asked because the Arthis was no longer visible.
Ozemir gestured with his hand. "Still there. She's only in the shadows."
"Why didn't she just bring the boys here?"
"A very good question."
"Do you think this is a trap?"
"Harry, I'm at a loss. The Arthis never willingly entangle with us. And she appears to be alone… aside from the three others who have been watching us the entire time we've been here at the lake."
They moved in beyond the tree line. The Arthis was there, again crouched beside a tree. She cocked her head at them, but she didn't move away when they continued to approach. "Hold out the blanket," Ozemir directed when they were only feet away from her.
Harry did as was instructed. The Arthis slowly stood, watching them carefully. She raised her head just slightly and her nostrils flared. Clearly she was sniffing them. And then cautiously she reached out to take the blanket before bringing that up to her squat brown nose and deeply inhaling. A soft bark escaped her.
And then suddenly she was pressing against Harry, sniffing his hair, his wings, his neck. Harry stood absolutely still. But he caught her scent too and also… "she smells like our boys!"
Abruptly the Arthis backed away and then turned slightly. She then started gesturing with her hands and fingers. They were humanoid hands, Harry saw. Five fingers, clawed, and covered in the whitish fur on top while her palms were hairless and tan colored.
Ozemir lay a hand on his arm. "It's one of the ways they communicate," the Scholar whispered under his breath. "They don't speak as we do, instead they bark or sign. Look there," he ended gesturing a few yards away to where the Arthis was signing.
Another Arthis was crouched near a tree, watching them intently. From what Ozemir had already said, Harry figured this was a female also. But she seemed shaggier, and she also had ornaments around her neck and head.
"She's much older," Ozemir whispered, and this his eyes widened in excitement. "Hirsha, it's the Matron! I've never managed to catch a glimpse of a Matron! I've only ever read about them!"
The Arthis with them turned back and barked in their faces. Ozemir grinned and lifted his hands, nodding. Harry did the same, though he had no idea what was going on. "She wants us to stay where we are," Ozemir whispered.
Then the Arthis moved to join the older one.
"But how do you know that and what's a Matron?"
"Much of it has to do with body language and the cadence of the barks. Clearly she was giving us an order just then. And the Matron is much like the highest elder, greatly respected and known to be the wisest. As well as once being the one who birthed most of the young in a certain time frame within a community. Remember this, Harry. Treat her with the utmost respect. It's amazing she came to meet us…"
The younger Arthis and the Matron then began to move closer and once they were within touching distance, Ozemir bowed and Harry quickly followed suit. This seemed to surprise the two beings. But once over the surprise, the Matron grabbed Harry's face in her rough hands; tilting his face up and down, this way and that. Releasing low barks under her breath. What put Harry at ease was the level of intelligence in her eyes. He was right. These weren't just beasts. These were people.
The Matron stepped back, holding the blanket. She sniffed it and then moved and pressed a closed fist against Harry's stomach. She seemed to bark out a question. Harry was unable to contain the emotion and quickly nodded, his eyes stinging.
"If she has seen Caellum she sees the resemblance, Harry," whispered Ozemir soothingly. "Do you understand what they are doing?"
"They want to make sure we're the right people," he answered thickly and that meant a great deal to him.
The Matron then turned her back on them, looking into the recesses of the jungle. The younger one stood at her side, watching the Matron's face. Finally the Matron nodded and the younger began to move on. The Matron turned back to them, eyes slightly narrowed.
A growl poured from her parted lips. "Come."
Ozemir was so shocked that he just stood there so Harry had to grab his arm and start dragging the Scholar along.
Mila stepped out of Dagon's Shadow, away from his close proximity, breathing out in relief. She couldn't stand to be close to him now. Not now that she knew he had a mate. How stupid of her to assume they would always have the closeness they developed recently. It's as she told him. He was completely whole now. He would find a mate. She didn't want to think about the unknown person out there who could be her mate. She didn't want that person. She wanted Dagon!
She felt him at her back, felt the explosive heat. She stepped away and shouldered her quiver. "Are they near?" she wondered, looking around. She paused to listen and could hear others. Many and the sound of marching feet. She took the lead herself to go and find the Second.
Dagon watched her traipse off in the right direction and blew out a breath. He raised his eyes to the canopies above and ran an agitated hand through his hair. What do I do, Mother? I don't know how to do this.
Do as you usually do.
But she's different! I don't want to hurt her.
There. At your feet.
Dagon looked down to find several pretty flowers sprouting from the damp earth. He sneered at them. "How is that helpful?!" he stamped on the flowers as he slowly followed. "And another thing! Why won't you show yourself? You are needed!"
I cannot do everything. I cannot always be the answer. This is how you all grow.
Be nice to me. Besides, there is a problem in Borsteria that I will be seeing to and the fire army is being raised.
Dagon growled lowly as he hurried after Mila, crossing a small stream and over numerous boulders before he came across a camp. Brumek was in the middle, and as usual, barking out orders before he caught sight of Mila. The Second immediately crossed to her, no doubt waited to hear a report.
"Have you come across Demai'Tah's forces?" Dagon asked once Mila finished speaking.
"Not yet, but we know where they are. They are ahead of us, heading north. We are setting up a camp and then we will attack."
"There's an Arthis settlement in that direction," Dagon replied. "We need to intercept them. The Emperor and Ozemir are on the babies trail. Our duty now is to cleanse the jungle of raiders and Mindless and to protect the creatures here from the enemy."
"Have they really located them?" Brumek asked quietly.
"Your son will be in his mother's arms soon, warrior. Now then, shall we go and destroy? I am eager to relieve some of this stress and frustration," he hissed at the back of Mila's head because she was just being so stupidly stubborn. If she would just see already, he wouldn't need to take care. He could tell her, but there was that one little doubt in the back of his mind and he had no wish to be outright rejected. Not over this.
"Merlin, those creatures smell awful," Fred murmured after walking into the lab where Falde had brought the dead Mindless for Kaego and his people to dissect and study.
Before he spoke, his mate had been standing back at the edge of the protective circle with his legs spread and arms crossed over his chest, watching the proceedings closely. But upon his speaking, Falde immediately turned, those hard wizened eyes softening and brightening upon looking at him.
"Ready to go whenever you are," Fred said softly.
Falde nodded and turned back to the healers. Before he could say anything, Kaego lifted a hand and shooed them away without even pulling his eyes from the body and the other healers kneeling down in front of it at his feet. Fred narrowed his eyes slightly on Kaego, mentally demanding the healer to continue to keep his distance from the poisoned carcass.
Falde took his hand. "He's taking care," he murmured as they left, seeing the worry in his eyes. "He's not careless."
"I'd like to see Aerin before we leave. Can we?"
"Of course. I wanted to do the same."
Aerin was still in very bad shape. He would have already been dead if it weren't for the stasis spell. As it was, the protection of the stasis wasn't strong enough to stop the deterioration completely. Minute by minute Aerin was slipping away from them. At least the dozen others in the infirmary weren't so bad off, but even still, in time they too would succumb if a cure couldn't be found.
"Fred, I apologize for being away so long."
"I don't want to hear your stupid apologies," Fred bit out. "Your duty is to the realm. I get that. You don't have to apologize."
Falde frowned fiercely. Fred looked at him and then snorted. "Missed me too, huh." He laughed outright. "Why didn't you just say that then?"
"I'd rather show you," was the low reply and Fred's wings lifted and fluttered in good spirit.
Fred blushed and shot a glare over his shoulder. "Stop it," he hissed. "Stupid things! Totally get Lucius' annoyance now."
"Kaego says you were-"
He groaned. He should have known. "You're back now. And I'm fine. He took care of me."
"He says you were taking care of him… would you like to move? To make a home together."
"When did you two even have time to talk?" he muttered with an eye roll.
For a moment they stood several feet away, studying the Saen sitting beside the bed. Hoihm was bent over, forehead pressed against the mattress. Fred could hear him murmuring under his breath, praying to Hirsha, begging. His hands were laced together in prayer form just next to Aerin's stiff body, shaking. It must be torture for Hoihm, especially since he was not allowed to cross the stasis barrier to lay even one finger on Aerin.
Fred's own hands flashed to grip his hair in sudden anguish at the sight of this strong big elf losing it as he was losing his young mate.
Falde moved closer to stand beside the sitting elf, to drop a hand on his soldier's shoulder.
Hoihm barely moved. He must have known it was Falde. "I… I cannot do this, Commander. I can't. I thought I was strong enough to face anything, but this... he's so young. He has to live!"
"Hoihm," murmured Falde, unable to say anything else, do anything else. He couldn't say one comforting thing. They were losing Aerin, and at this point, the young Ukatae's death was imminent.
"I gave my life to the Empire! Happy to do so! And what do I get in return? The death of everyone I hold dear! How is this fair, Commander?" he demanded as he suddenly shot to his feet, dislodging the hand on his shoulder to pin his Commander with eyes full for fury.
"It's not," Fred whispered, but Hoihm heard him. However, the Saen was still fixated on Falde.
"You. You and your Father sent him away where he had no business going!" he shouted. "Your clan survived the civil wars! Why would you press it?"
"IT WAS NOT THE TIME FOR YOU ANYMORE! It was my duty, my pleasure, to teach him about the world! And now you've taken that as well!"
Fred was relieved to sense his mate was not getting angry over the fact Hoihm was screaming at him, accusing him of things. No, Falde was becoming increasingly pained.
"You are right," Falde whispered before turning and walking away.
Hoihm dropped back into his chair; he studied Aerin with lost desperate eyes.
Fred approached hesitantly. "Hoihm?" he whispered. The Saen barely moved, but it was clear he was listening. "Don't give up. Don't lose hope. There's still time."
Hoihm finally looked at him. "Time for what? To say goodbye? Even without the stasis he does not wake."
Fred shook his head. Before he could say anything else, a shimmering shadow appeared at the head of the bed and solidified as it moved to stand beside Hoihm. That figure became completely visible as her hand pressed comfortingly against Hoihm's shoulder.
Fred felt a smile form on his face as Hoihm turned to look up into the face of Luna, their Mother. "Time for a miracle," he whispered. "Luna."
Luna smiled at him before looking at Hoihm's face. "Everything you said is true, Hoihm. You have given your life to the Empire. You and your clan's unwavering loyalty has not gone unnoticed."
"Am I to lose him now too, Mother?"
Luna's smile faded just slightly as she moved to lean over Aerin. Her lack of answer was not a good sign. Fred wished he'd kept his mouth shut.
It wasn't surprising when Luna was able to reach through the barrier to touch Aerin without removing the stasis. She pressed forward until her nose was nearly touching Aerin's and gently grasped his cheeks, thumbs also gently lifting the young elf's eyelids so that she could see his pupils. "This is a sickness," she whispered after releasing his eyelids and pulling back just slightly to inspect his shredded torso and stomach. "This will become a plague if we do not stop it. It is not poison. This is a curse meant to evolve."
"Luna, can you stop it?"
"I don't know enough about it yet. But I can help Aerin for the moment and the rest. Give them more time." She pulled back for only long enough to remove the stasis. Hoihm jumped to his feet, fear and panic yet again easily witnessed on his face. Aerin would die in minutes without the stasis.
Luna returned to her previous position, hands gently cupping Aerin's face, and tilted his head back enough to where his mouth parted. She then pinched his nose closed, took a deep breath, and lay her lips over his to breathe fresh life back into him. In only moments, Aerin's eyes fluttered open; pain free and clear. He immediately focused on Hoihm and smiled.
"A-Aerin," the Saen breathed, voice shaking with unprecedented emotion and he immediately bent over his mate to hide his wet eyes against Aerin's hair. "T-thank you, Mother," he whispered to Luna.
"Fred is right. Do not give up on hope. This is something we should never do." Luna carded a hand through Hoihm's hair and then dropped a kiss to the top of his head before moving away to do the same with the rest of the wounded rebels, smiling brightly at Fred as she did so.
As Fred turned to go find his mate, he heard Aerin ask in awe, "was I dreaming or were you really screaming at the Commander?"
Fred snickered as Hoihm cleared his throat and in no way answered that. Instead, "if you're awake enough to talk, you're awake enough to drink something."
He watched as Luna skipped around the infirmary, giving more time to the rest of the injured rebels. It was a good thing Tom wasn't around. It was for certain the young Dark Lord would have objections to Luna going around kissing people, even if to save their lives.
He found Falde slumped against the wall in the outside corridor, waiting for him. Fred went straight for him and pulled him into a hug, smiling a little when the Commander dropped his face to Fred's neck to hide there. "You know… what he said…"
"It's the truth," Falde muttered. "It's the truth. My clan survived the civil wars. Almost every single one of us. He was asleep, Fred. He couldn't protect his own. Someone should have."
"You can't really blame yourself… You did all you could. Not your fault many of your people didn't listen to your orders. You couldn't be everywhere at all times."
"What kind of Commander does that make me?"
Talk like this was pissing him off now. Fred pulled away, glaring. "Do I need to hit you again?" Falde raised his eyes, blinking. "Besides, we really don't have time for this. Caellum and Zohrek, remember? Luna's here. She'll help figure this out."
"Luna's back?" When Fred nodded and pointed back to large hall where the rebels were being cared for, Falde immediately pushed off to go see her. Luna skipped out of the hall just as he reached the door. Without saying anything, she grabbed Falde's hand and began to pull him down the hall. Fred quickly caught up.
"You two must go and help Bill secure the new Ghost rebel base. We will need them and they need to see you, Commander. Bill needs you there for a short time."
"But the babies," Fred said.
"They have more than enough people looking for them. In fact, Ozemir and Harry are minutes from finding them. All will be well with them shortly. I will stay here and help Kaego."
"I've given him more time. He's awake and now grumbling because Hoihm is bullying him into drinking something he doesn't like the taste of."
They weren't following long before they were surrounded by ferocious barking coming from all directions. And because the Matron crouched slightly, growling, and her eyes expressed a warning, Ozemir immediately instructed Harry to hide within a shadow. Harry did as he was told and almost directly after Ozemir took flight in his bird form was the Matron and the younger female surrounded by others of their kind; all clearly not friendly.
Harry watched in rising worry and concern for the friendly Arthis as they were quickly taken in hand; pushed and dragged away. Something's not right. He had a feeling this was why the babies weren't brought to them. Draco, shield the camp from view.
After only short moments, Draco responded. Done. Do we need to follow?
Harry hesitated before answering as he was busy chasing after the Arthis. The Matron appeared to be in a fury; barking and snarling in her captives faces. As was the other female. She was way more vocal and energetic in her attempts to escape… until a male used the hilt of her own whip to smash against the back of her head. Harry snarled in silent fury when she went limp in her captive's arms. Once the Matron saw this action, the fires of Hades was also burning in her eyes. Harry suspected this young female was under her training; was in line to become a Matron herself.
Yes, just don't be seen. I'm thinking the boys' presence have spurned civil unrest here.
That became clear once he finally reached the camp hidden deep in the forest. Made up of caves and clearings, huge trees and a stream. It wasn't a camp, but a village and in the center of the village the Arthis converged near a huge bonfire. The Arthis appeared to be split into two groups. Amidst the center of both was a very large Arthis. Harry pegged him as the leader as his horns were longer, more curled than the others, and like the Matron, he wore ornamental pieces around his neck arms and waist.
This Arthis held what looked like a cage made of twisted vines high over his head, while he barked to those around him, both friendlies and foes. Within the cage were Caellum and Zohrek; being jostled none too gently and crying. There was something else that drew his attention, which was probably fortunate since seeing his son and nephew being treated in such away had him going feral.
But there was another near the leader, snarling in the leader's face, snarling at those around him; barking and signing frantically. Desperately trying to get his people to listen to him. What was different about him was the fact both Caellum and Zohrek's eyes were pinned on this one. Both with their hands through the bars outstretched to him and this Arthis' eyes were desperate on the babies.
I'm here, lover. Brumek and the others are close by. The fighting will reach us shortly. Look up and straight ahead.
Just as Harry did so, looked to far side of the village to a hive of caves where a white tiger prowled back and forth at the very top of the enclaves, a war horn sounded. And the frenzied barking went quiet. All turned to the entrance of the village. Harry watched closely as the one Arthis his son wanted used this distraction to lurch out of his captors grip and lunge forward; jumping high to snatch the cage into his hands. Immediately he set to shredding the cage and the babies were very nimble as they climbed out of it and onto the Arthis' arm. Caellum and Zohrek clung to him tightly, hiding their faces against his furry chest.
Do something now or I will, Draco demanded.
The Matron recovered first, still squirming in her captors' grips, still snarling. The Arthis holding the boys turned to her, and barked harshly as he sprinted over to pull her away. It was easily done once he'd snarled in the others' faces. Many were backing away from him at that point. And many more were taking up position at his back as support.
The Matron began to sign quickly to him as they made their way back to the leader.
What the fuck, Harry?!
Hush, Draco. Something is happening. I'll be over there in less than a second if I have to. Did you see the boys? They wanted the one holding them. See? They aren't scared anymore. Find out why. He said all this calmly, but he did go ahead and step out of Shadow. The moment he did, Ozemir joined him.
I can see the fighting now. Mindless are just about to enter-no wait, Titan has gone giant and is stomping on them. Ha!…Brumek is about to join you. And that Arthis... he saved Caellum and Zohrek. From Shadow Hounds, from the river... A point needs to be made right now, Harry.
Harry nodded and summoned one of the discarded whiplashes to his hands. He and Ozemir took a moment to study it. "Very nicely crafted!" Ozemir chirped, which of course finally brought the Arthis' attention to them. "Zohrek!"
"There's my little one! Mommy's here-" a cherished bellow came from behind them just as Harry snapped the whip- "and your daddy too!"
The whip smacked the ground at the edge of the crowded Arthis, and just as it landed, the ground trembled and out from the recesses of the jungle a massive vine- as big as the oldest tree trunks- surged into the village growing larger as it shot to the far edge of the village where Draco wait impatiently. That show of earth magic shocked every Arthis still and silent. Draco leapt onto the vineway and used it to travel the village until he was halfway and then he stopped, sharp predatory eyes on the one Arthis who looked about ready to do his son harm.
Draco transformed back into elf right there, crouched and scanning the Arthis. "I want my son," he growled while his sharp claws dug into the vine beneath him to keep from lashing out. The patriarch didn't dare pull his eyes away from the growling elf right above his head.
Brumek was hot on the heels of the vine, but then skid to a halt upon coming to Harry and Ozemir's side.
"Always late, dear heart." Ozemir laughed when his mate scowled at him.
"Dada!" Caellum squealed. "Mama!"
Suka lowered his head and bowled through the crowd of Arthis to get to the elves with the wings before they decided a fight would be better. His patriarch was foolish in this regard. These elves were not here to hurt them, to destroy their land. To kill. Not yet. And he would make sure it didn't happen.
The two babes jumped out of his arms the moment he was close enough to the winged ones. They two each had arms wrapped around them, embracing them tightly. The winged ones nuzzled the babes, murmuring soft things into their ears, petting their hair. And then to Suka's shock, the two winged ones shot forward to embrace him!
"Thank you so much!"
"Thank you. Thank you!"
He had no idea what they were saying, but he understood what they were trying to say. These were the maternal ones. Looking back over his shoulder. The pale haired one was still crouched, watching him with unwavering eyes. That was the patriarch. This one as well, he thought of the big elf who came to stand in front of him with a large weapon perched on his shoulder.
And then the smaller winged one continued on, speaking excitedly. "My husband says it was you to save our children. Saved them from drowning. Thank you again!"
"Su-ka," he managed to say.
The winged ones backed up, looking at him in surprise.
"Su-ka," he repeated again.
"Ah!" Ozemir bounced, his smile stretched from ear to ear as he touched the Arthis' chest. "Suka! His name is Suka!"
"Yes." He drew the word out as if it were the first time; and it sounded like it was.
"I thought your kind couldn't speak."
Suka cocked his head, looking at Ozemir in confusion.
"Guess he doesn't understand all that much."
"But how did he know how to say his name?! This is new, Harry. The Arthis never spoke before. Not like this! This is amazing! I can't wait to-"
"Excuse me, stupid scholar! There is a battle going on, in case you are deaf!"
"Don't call me stupid!" he went back to murmuring against Zohrek's soft cheek, apparently not concerned with the fighting going on at their backs. "That's so insulting."
"And I hear just fine," Harry murmured as he bumped noses with his happy son. "I can hear Titan winning."
A/N: So here we are! Another chapter. Yay! Life Crusades will never be discontinued. It may take time between updates, but eventually the updates will come until i have completed this lovely fun monster :) Hope you enjoyed this chapter and have a great day!