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Stellar last won the day on March 17 2017

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    movies, music, gaming, online gaming, writing, finding purpose and meaning in all facets of life

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  1. Stellar

    Awake And Asleep

    I don't know where I suggested that, but the truth is the exact opposite. It is not a wyvern. It has six limbs -- four legs and two wings -- and is a full dragon, through and through. Indeed, who doesn't love yaoi? Like Lucy, I am something of an enthusiast.
  2. Spirit of Fire Alternate Cut Ending: the mad god is successfully resurrected but in the moment of his greatest triumph, assassin Sebby leaps from nowhere out of the night and stabs him in the guts with a Valyrian st- ... diamond dagger, causing all the Conclave to collapse into ash and saving the world. Yeah, it's totally diamond. Roll credits.

    #DefinitelyNotPlagiarism #HowToRuinAStoryInOneSeason #RhaegalDeservedBetter

    1. Philippe


      Wow, where is this coming from? Are you checking if we’re paying attention? lol

    2. Stellar


      Well, it's not the actual ending to my book y'know, and that's totally what I'm talking about. 100% Spirit of Fire, yessir.

    3. Stellar


      Oh, and the alternate Alternate Cut Ending was something to do with stealing Crawley's glove and some magical finger snapping of the cosmic variety, but ... eh ... I'm sure somebody else has already done it.


  3. Stellar

    Dream Of Starlight

    All theories are equally valid, no matter how improbable, until explicitly ruled out by the changing circumstances of the plot. Assume away. As for suits of armour; being between red and white slices of dragon is about the most impenetrable sandwich you can make, though perhaps impenetrable is the wrong word to use? It's not much fun if you can't ... get right into it. Ahem.
  4. Stellar

    Dream Of Starlight

    There's plenty to consider here around the issues leading forward. We have in no particular order: Sebby's investigation of the Grey Prince and what Fineas Ridefort might know about it the precise conditions for the ritual of resurrection and how the Order might stop it the question of the Tempest's real intentions and how they relate to the origins of the war, and to the seer's prophetic powers, and what it means for loyal subjects like Viktor Araziah's ultimate purpose, and how he can both fulfill it and also resist the siren song of the dead god, which is the flip side of ... Torsten's role as the seer and what he must do with his abilities to help them win what exactly is out of place with the Fear, and why the Seventh House dragons are so concerned about it A lot to unpack, no? Plus, all the little tangential things of (apparent?) lesser importance; Lucy's resistance, the gauntlet and how it might be used, Torsten's skill with archery, whether or not Torsten will have a threesome as the filling in a dragon sandwich- ... uh, okay, that last one was jest -- OR WAS IT?!? -- but you get the idea. I am indeed the cruel dungeon master, arranging the board so the characters are trying their hardest to see what's going on, but it's all oh-so-murky. Yet, still, the pieces ARE there. The question is: what does it look like when you've sorted them all into a picture?
  5. Stellar

    Dream Of Starlight

    Well that IS quite a question, isn't it? You wouldn't normally think an air and fire dragon could co-exist in such a way, but ... well ... both Sebby and Araziah are NOT normal dragons. The regular possibilities are a bit expanded and so, a lot could happen. Thank you! Glad you're enjoying it.
  6. Stellar

    Strength Of Will

    Thank you so much! It's fair to say that the chapter end is particularly bad, but as you say, all is definitely not lost.
  7. Stellar

    Strength Of Faith

    They do always seem that way! The over-confident villain is certainly a trope, though I can at least partially dodge that one here as my dragons -- and the fire type especially -- are extremely egotistic and arrogant creatures to begin with. Believing in their own inevitability is perfectly normal for them! Thanks for reading!
  8. Chapter 19 of Spirit of Fire is here.
  9. The sun had just begun to set when we left the citadel of the Seventh House. Fire was everywhere upon the heat-slagged ruin, the imposing silhouettes of the towers melting and beginning to collapse. The last glimpse I had as we flew away was of scattered flames, and the shape of a red dragon stark against the darkening sky, circling the abandoned fortress in his unforgiving wrath. Though nobody I personally knew was on the gunship that I was riding in, I was assured by the Order officer in charge that Agent Crawley and Lucy were both on other departing craft. The allied dragons had taken to the air as escorts, and unsurprisingly I could not detect them anywhere near us. This simple fact was a comfort because it meant the disguising magic of a certain someone was in full effect. It was a reminder I was happy to have; a part of me was scared that I had somehow imagined the whole thing. We were only flying for about forty minutes before we landed and the officer explained that Lucy and I were going to be staying where we were. The Order wanted to give the situation a chance to calm, as the destruction of the Seventh House's sanctuary and the death of its defenders was a significant event that would draw the attention of any remaining Conclave in the area. Instead, we had gone into western Pennsylvania, to an area called Greene County. I was told we would be staying in one of several suites in an Order-owned property. It was a countryside-retreat apartment-block resort several miles outside some unnamed town, away from traffic and secluded. The officer also informed me that Mom already knew I was okay -- Celeste had seen to that, apparently -- and that excuses had been made to Lucy's parents so they thought she was simply at an unannounced sleepover and not several states away from home. Though I wanted to talk to Lucy again, I didn't get to do so before the Order's militarised forces dropped us off and left, their part in the operation over, and the administrative staff took over. I was ushered inside and shown to my room, which was on the fourth floor. The woman in charge told me Lucy was in the next-door suite, and Crawley's was next to hers. All I could do once the door had closed and I was finally alone, was to walk over and sit on a lounge chair. So much had happened. It felt like the world had changed yet again in the last few hours. I was struggling to catch up. There wasn't enough time for me to begin processing it all because less than a minute later there was a knock on the door. Only approved visitors could access our floor, so I wasn't worried when it opened before I could move. I was expecting Lucy, as self-invitations were her thing, but it wasn't her. It was an even more welcome sight. Him. The sight gave me chills, in the best way. Perfectly groomed as always, he was closing the door when I stood; then we were both moving together. We met halfway. His arms were about my shoulders, mine around his back, the hug so close I could almost feel his heartbeat. "I thought you were dead," I whispered. "I thought ... Kaia did it." "So did she, but I tricked her. It was an illusion." He let go, pulling back just a little so we could see each other properly, his voice soft. "I was gravely hurt and would not have survived, but for ... the goddess." The Spirit of Air ... did she intervene? "Torsten, it was unlike anything else." The look in Sebby's eyes was distant and awed, and it was a strange emotion to see in him because he was normally so evasive, so wise. "All the tales from family and others of my kind spoke of nothing more than a ghost and a voice on the wind. Even when she commanded me to go to the Order, that was all I saw. Just a shadow of her presence. When I called out to her today?" He blinked, as if he couldn't quite comprehend it, and he focused fully on me again. "She came in person. She brought her power, her grace. She blessed me. She saved me." "Then I want to meet her someday." I squeezed his lower bicep, my hands on his arms, and his on mine, enjoying the fact that I could touch him. "To thank her." To tell her how grateful I am that he came back. "I would like you to." Eyes downcast for just a second, he glanced back up, and it was impish. "I may be biased, but she is the best of the gods. The fairest, and the most free of conscience." "Sebby." "Mmm?" I can't believe I'm about to say this, but I think ... it's true. I couldn't be afraid any longer. No more hesitating. "Everything that's happened today has made me think -- really think -- about what's important, and about who matters and why. It scared me so much to think you were really gone. It hurt to believe it. So, um, yesterday you said you'd 'tell me more' when your feelings were returned?" It took Sebby a moment to understand, but when he did, his eyes widened, and he began to smile as the realisation took hold, the unspoken statement clear. "Then, we use another term in Celestial," he said, his voice slightly husky from the surprise of the confession, "and it is aruskâl, which is 'twin of my heart's desire'. In English, you might say 'second half' or 'beloved'." "Do you mind if I call you that, sometimes?" I bit my lip, kinda terrified about where this was going, but also exhilarated. Am I really doing this? Oh god, I am really doing this. I'm making it into something 'official'. "A pet name in your own language feels ... right." "I- ... " He trailed off, eyes glistening, his brow furrowing, for once lost for words. His grip on my elbows tightened. "Torsten, nothing would make me happier." "Good." I breathed, my attention wandering over his face; the amazing silver of his eyes, the short line of his nose, and his lips. Mostly his lips. "Are you going to kiss me now?" "Soon." He nodded, his attention as fixed to me as mine was to him. "Soon we will be kissing a lot, but first, allow me to romance you a little. It will require some explanation, but I want to show you something. Come." He let go and, taking my hand, he led me through the next room and out onto the balcony. There were no lights visible on other floors, and the building was quiet. It was just us, the countryside and trees below, and the mid-evening sky above. "I know you are the seer now." We leaned on the railing, facing one another, standing as close as we were before. He shifted his grip so our fingers meshed together, interlocking, instead of holding hands. "When we met at their fortress, I could tell you knew more than the material world. It was closer to the way a dragon might look at me, but still, different from any normal child of the Spirits. The gifts you received from Triskeleth, they are how you became free and why you are alive, yes?" "Yes." "Did she teach of the elements before she passed on those gifts?" The light from inside was dim where we were standing, and his skin was brushed with it, a yellow tinge on the left side, the right pale, touched only by the moonlight. "Of the balance that existed between the four?" "She did." I agreed, thinking back to her final lesson, and the ceremony of it. "They each have an ally, a neutral, and an opposite." "Yes, they do. Long ago, when the world was in harmony, the natural magic of the gods would move in cycles, like seasons in a year. Two separate magical tides, yet linked; fire against water, earth against air. They waxed and waned in proportion to one another; high to low and back again. When one Spirit was ascendant, their opposing sibling was weakest, but so too on the other side was their ally. In that way, the two cycles would cancel out, and the influence of all four stay in symmetry. The catastrophe of the mad god ended one cycle as we know it; fire and water became broken and uneven, but the other half? It works as it always has." "So air and earth are still acting as they're meant to?" "They are," Sebby nodded slowly, "and the same points in the annual cycle are respected as they have been for millennia beyond remembering. The earth dragons have many traditions that are heavily steeped in ritual and worship, as is their way. My kind does not, although both of us observe those four dates and celebrate them. Just like the solar calendar, there are two equinoxes and two solstices, and they represent very different things to us, and are treated accordingly." "This is fascinating," I told him. He had learned about my life, and it was a thrill to discover anything about his, and the culture he was from. "I want to know more." "The equinoxes are meant to be spent alone, in travel and flight. The waxing equinox in English is called Freedom's Song, and the rising strength of the goddess is honoured through the beauty of exploration, thoughts of the future, and the favour of the sky's freedom. The waning equinox is the Voyage's Lament. It is about the remembrance and introspection of times gone, those we have lost, and the harder lessons of wisdom. In contrast, the solstices are intended as time with others. The terrestrial solstice is the Promise of Faith, when my lady's influence is least. It is the love of family, friends, and the bonds of our community." "And the last?" I asked. "What is it?" "The last is the celestial solstice. We name it the Dream of Starlight, and it is devoted to the finding of a mate, to romantic and sexual love, and the creation of new life. It is regarded separately from the others, treated uniquely, and is special." Romantic and sexual love? "Special h-how?" I stuttered, my nerves appearing out of nowhere and getting the better of me. "During that solstice, the magic of the goddess reaches its peak, and on that evening alone, it is strong enough that we can see it flow in the sky. The custom is to fly with your mate, and dance together upon the currents. Torsten, you cannot follow me through the sky, but you do have the eyes of a seer. I was so distracted by all that has happened that I did not realise today is the day." He squeezed our meshed hands, and then pointed up with his other, voice dropping to a whisper. "So, turn your sight above, and see the Dream." Focusing, I did as he said, and looked up. There it was. Bright lines of white ran everywhere through the darkened clouds, shooting like quicksilver, twisting and turning in veins of pure elemental power. It was a magical aurora, and the moving light cast was ethereal, invisible to the naked eye, but I could see it. In every direction, crisscrossing and weaving around itself, it was the blood of the sky goddess, its pulse her heartbeat. Beautiful. "It's- ... it's incredible. So clear!" I stared about the sky, taking it all in, lost in the wonder. "I can see the magic everywhere. It's like a tide made of the moon and stars." "I wanted you to experience it." He slid closer, our hands still together, his shoulder touching mine. "I hoped one day to share the Dream with my aruskâl, but I never imagined I would seduce a human boy." "Really?" I turned my attention back to him, and the invisible radiance of his goddess was reflected still in his eyes. They gleamed silver-white, and on his hair and skin, a sheen of glittering magic reinforced his beauty, made it more intimidating. Then there was his light, his own from within. It made him seem even more alien and inhuman, a creature of pure mystique, Yet it was still him, the Sebby I knew; somehow completely intimate and enticing at the same time. My breath was stolen, my voice coming out softer than intended. "If this is seduction, then I think you're succeeding." "Oh?" He leaned up a bit, and I leaned down, a flicker of a smile passing by, our faces drawing closer, the yearning all too clear. "Well, I think ... I need proof." "Will this do?" My lips met his, his hands sliding up my arms, and I pulled him in. His tongue was on mine, his arms around my shoulders, and in an agile hop, he was off his feet, legs around my waist. Instinctively, my hands went under him, and then I was carrying him inside while we made out, his weight surprisingly light. We careened awkwardly through the side room and then across into the bedroom, before my knee struck the edge of the double bed and I fell back-first onto it, Sebby on top of me. "I'm convinced," he giggled, sweet and musical, "though if you want to really convince me, we can go further." His nose rubbed against mine, my hands on his hips. "I know what you've imagined, because I've imagined it too. It would be a joyful thing, to share your first." "But ... doesn't that bother you -- what I want?" I frowned, biting my lip, my urges about Sebby's body seeming crudely obvious. I feel like I would be asking him to lessen himself, devalue himself, by doing what I want. "I'm a human, and, well, you're ... you." "Hmm, is that your worry?" His head cocked a little, evaluating. "It doesn't concern me in the way you might think, and there is a reason. Suffice to say: all dragons are proud -- fire especially, but water and earth also, and even my own. Any sort of servile behaviour, sexual or otherwise, is difficult to accept." "You've slept with men before though, right?" I asked. "Were you always the one on top?" "Almost always," he nodded, "but even when I wasn't, I was still in control. I would charm them into acting how I wanted, manipulate them into doing the things that seemed the most enjoyable for me, first and foremost. They'd think it was their choice, and they'd still get an experience that filled their senses with bliss, but I was choosing which strings to pull and how to make the puppet move. That is, until I found you." Me. "The thought of forcing you, of working magic upon you, is repulsive in a way I cannot express. Every day, I learned more about you, and every day I fell a little more in love with this intelligent idealistic boy. Your flesh and blood is human, but your soul is that of a dragon. You are unique." "In ... love?" I whispered. "Was it not already plain? You are my equal, Torsten. I want to make you happy, to please you," he sat up, pulling me with him, the lust in his voice vibrant, "and I will please you, I can promise that. So, undress yourself, my innocent human. I'll be right back." With that, he was off me and away, to the next room. I wasted no time. Sweater, shirt, pants, socks, underwear, cast onto the floor, then the covers were being pulled back in preparation, even though I didn't know exactly what was going to happen. Sebby was back again, a little bottle of lubricant in one hand. His vest was open at the front, the arms freed, and it fell off his body with a shrug of the shoulders. He was doing the same with the leggings, and with a shift of the hips as he crossed the room, they too dropped away. He was completely naked as he reached me and climbed onto the bed. Sebby's upper half was slim but healthy, with subtle traces of athletic definition in his chest and shoulders. Like his hair and eyes, his skin seemed to have a faint silvery sheen to it, and it was both silky smooth and milky pale, like carved marble. Two tiny rosy pink nipples led into the line of his abdominals, and then, his lower half. His lower legs were ideally proportioned for someone as agile as he was; feet and calves compact, but his thighs were just a little thicker, butt just a little rounder, than I was expecting -- and my imagination had already created something very spectacular. I tried not to stare, but I was failing miserably. He's fucking gorgeous. "Stay how you are." I was sitting with my legs in front, and he straddled me nimbly to rest on folded knees, a hand going between my legs to wrap around my half-erection. It was cool and slippery, and I shivered in surprise and anxiety at the touch, but he drew my attention back to his face. "Relax, my aruskâl. Let yourself be excited." He began to stroke me, spreading the liquid all over as I got harder in his hand. "No nerves. You can't hurt me. Think of how wonderful it will feel." He slid his grip up and down quickly as if to illustrate a point, and the sensation was fantastic. "Did you know you're a good size?" "R-really?" "Mhmm." Shimmying forward, Sebby held my gaze as he raised himself, his thighs brushing my waist. His hands withdrew between my chest and his stomach, to cradle my neck, his fingers threading into my hair. "Now, that's enough talk," he whispered, "because you're going to kiss me, and I ... am going to ride you." Lowering onto my lap, he pushed down, then ... pressure, warmth. A grunt from him, and our lips were sliding together, my head tilted back, just as his midriff was rubbing against mine, his back arching. Further down, until he was all the way sitting on me, and my arms wrapped around him, hands clasped in the small of his back. His thighs pressed around my sides, his ass as soft and snug as any fantasy. Sebby began to move, rising and falling, forward and back, his hips in a slow gyration as he began to really ride me. Our tongues were playing, and every second of his grip, every motion, sent a hot ripple of excitement, an erotic pins-and-needles across my exposed skin. A hammering pulse, the heated tightness, bodies pressed together, his hands on me, and mine on him; it was overwhelming. Each swirl of the hips, each surge and descent, was accompanied by the softest sexual whine into my mouth, his hardness rubbing my belly, his fingers pulling at my hair, his lower half quivering. We kept a steady rhythm, and it was minutes later, though I didn't know if it was five or twenty or an hour, having lost track while we were wrapped up in each other. I wanted to keep going for as long as he could, because the sensation of fucking Sebby was already an addiction, but it wasn't to last. He sped up slightly, a little more forceful, and the massage intensified, the pleasure escalating in my lap. All too quickly it became too much, and first he shuddered, wetness spreading against my stomach, and then it was me following. Release. An ecstatic burst that sent me soaring, up, above and away, like magic but just him and me, and our bodies, melded together for that brief moment as if the veil between our different worlds was gone. The two of us, dancing through the Dream of Starlight. For a few seconds we were still, then I felt him lift off me, our lips and torsos separating. I slumped onto the bed, him with me, still on top but now relaxing, the passion spent, and he laid his head in the crook of my neck while I tried to catch my breath. We ... did it. I'm not a virgin anymore. Staring at the ceiling, I considered what had happened, if I made an error, or rushed into it. A lot had changed in the last couple of months and there were mistakes mixed into my introduction to magic and dragons, but was this one of them? No. The situation with Sebby is a few things, but 'mistake' isn't one of them. I like him. Hell, I basically told him we're a lot more than friends. Wait, what am I saying -- we are in a relationship. He's my ... boyfriend? Dragon-friend? That sounds silly and I don't think it's the right way to speak about him. That Celestial word is far more poetic and accurate, and didn't I tell him, he's my 'aruskâl'? I don't regret it, because it was with someone I really do care about. Besides, the sex was ... hot. "Mmm, that was satisfying," Sebby murmured, and I felt his lips on my neck, placing a gentle kiss. "For a novice, you did very well." "It was- ... uh, it was good. Really good." I instantly cringed inside at my lame nondescript response. Way to English, Torsten. That's all you can come up with? Shoulda said something nice. Ask him how he feels? "Um, are you ... sore, or anything? I know you're guiding me, but, I didn't want to be rough by mistake." "No, not at all." The laughter in his voice was quietly amused, but also tender, with no mockery. "You could not hurt me if you tried. Literally; the sharpest steak knife in this suite's kitchen would not draw blood. No, you are sweet to be concerned, but, apart from a minor discomfort, it was only good. Technique, experience, prowess; those things do not matter to me. They are dressing, not the main event. I wanted you ... and I was not disappointed." "Okay." I nodded, my breathing almost back to normal after the workout we'd just had. "I'm glad I waited, and I'm even happier it was with you. The day was terrible, but you made the evening something to remember. I ... don't want this to sound weird, but, when it's right, I'd like to do it again." "Oh, Torsten." I could hear the subtle delight, as low as it was, and his hand traced across my left pectoral, his right index finger circling my nipple. "The night is still early and you are my beautiful aruskâl, young and fit." He kissed the same spot as before, a reassuring mark and a promise. "Why on earth would we stop after one?" -o-0-O-0-o- Agent Crawley opened the door, assuming it was the administrator wanting to bother him for some reason or other related to Order business, but he was surprised to see Lucy Atkinson standing there, expectant. Apart from retrieving the glove and expediting her transfer onto a waiting gunship, they had not exchanged many words during the exit from the ruined fortress, and the agent had not been intending to see her again so soon. "Oh, it's you." He nodded gruffly. "Thought you'd be knockin' on yer friend's door, and not mine. Moral support after a rough day, and all that." "I was gonna, but, um, Sebby was in there with him, and I heard some sounds," Lucy shrugged casually, her eyes darting around, "and um, long story short, I think they're probably fucking. Or about to. Whatever. I'm not interrupting." "Seriously? Wait, so yer tellin' me that the cloud fairy princess really is a, uh, fairy princess?" She scowled at him, disapproving of the vaguely discriminatory language, and he shrugged, a mite sheepishly. "Hey, I don't mean no harm by that, it's just I had my money on the one that's busy rage-nukin' the castle when we left it, but, both of them?" Crawley doffed his fedora, ran a hand through his hair, and dropped it back in place. "Jesus, Terry's boy is gettin' himself tangled up in this a lot more than he should." "No shit, Sherlock." The agent chuckled, but then his tone switched, becoming serious. "Listen, kid, you should know that what you did today was risky and stupid, but ... damn ballsy and brave too. Ya saved my skin and I won't forget it, though I need t' ask: how? How'd ya do it? We tested the glove, and it never did anything like what you did. It weren't just a weapon on your hand, it also countered what Nero was doin'. Hell, you dominated a grown dragon, and that alone is a goddamned miracle from on high." "I dunno." Lucy shrugged again. "Only thing I can think of is ... any time they try to compel me, it doesn't work. It takes some effort, like I can feel them attempting to control me, but I can resist it. Darren's tried. Araziah did too, once, when he wanted me to go away. Same with Nero. Maybe ... that's why?" "Natural resistance, huh?" Crawley gave a thoughtful grimace, and then sighed. "That's somethin' to look into, if yer interested in experimentation and yer daddy can spare his little girl for some government face-time." He grunted, and waved at the door to Lucy's room. "Anyhoo, get some rest. Call room service, watch a movie, whatever. It's on the Order, so ya don't owe squat. You'll be home tomorrow and we can get back to figurin' out how to proceed through this mess." He made to close the door, but she grabbed the handle. "Wait! Um, can I come in?" Her look was pleading, almost begging him. "I- ... I don't want to be alone right now. Please?" Crawley hesitated. He really wasn't sure what to say. It hadn't occurred to him that she might have suffered from the experience. He couldn't just brush that off. "Hrm, dunno." He grumbled. "Yer a minor, so I can't share the good stuff, but, uh, ya know how to play Texas hold 'em?" Lucy's eye's lit up, and she grinned. "Know how? Try me. I'll bluff your ass into the ground." The agent snorted. "Cocky. We'll see if that smile is still on yer face after a couple hands." He held the door open. "Go on then, get inside, before I change my mind." -o-0-O-0-o- He was insistent that we explore different positions, so the second time, it was Sebby on his back with me on top of him, his legs wrapped around me. We took our time, just like the first, and I got accustomed to how playful he was. It was a game as much as anything, and his kissing was fun and flirtatious even during mid-sex, and I began to have an understanding of what really turned him on. For his part, he kept on surpassing my fantasies, reading what I responded to with his worldly-wise understanding, and each successive motion seemed better than the last. Then, the third time. It was different again, and he encouraged me to be more self-assured. With that, he was on all fours and I was behind him, kneeling. The stance was more impersonal, because I couldn't see his face, but the view I got instead was pure awesome. His shoulders, narrow and graceful, his arching back, tapering down to the slender waist, and finally his ass. It had a full curve and was small, but with a little extra layer of fat that was like a sexual cushion -- and I was pressed against that, buried deep inside him. It was difficult to think of anything but how amazing that felt, how horny I was, how hard his consent to the whole situation made me, and how badly I wanted us to fuck. And ... fuck, we did. Slow at first, while I was a still a bit light-headed, then with more enthusiasm. Part of the way through, my knee slipped, I went off balance, and my upper body fell forward. Instead of trying to pull myself up, I let go of his hips and landed on my hands, planting them on the sheets next to his, so I was truly on top of him, my front sandwiching his back. There was only a momentary pause, and both of us were still, adjusting to it. "Keep going, Torsten." A soft gasped-out response, the signal to continue, Sebby's cheek rubbing mine, and I began to move again. "Show me- ... haah ... -your passion." It didn't take long after that -- his slim frame yielding to each thrust, skin on skin, his hips swishing, his ass impossibly hot and tight, his short huffed moans -- and we were both done. He was shuddering underneath me, and a moment later I was too. We collapsed onto the sheets, and I lay there, warm and tingling all over, my muscles jelly, Sebby exhausted and spent. A couple of minutes later, he was squirming around, dragging the the blankets over us, and then he was cuddled close, my arms around him, and we drifted off to sleep. But, that still wasn't the end. It was early-ish when I opened my eyes, and he was next to me on the pillow, waiting for me to wake. Without saying a word, he pulled back the covers, took my hand, and made for the bathroom, towing me behind him. We didn't speak at all, but his smile was enough to make me smile too, and that was all the language I needed, his eyes conveying the rest of it. The shower cubicle was comfortable size for two, and he squirted bodywash into my hand from the dispenser, and another blob of it into his own, and we washed each other under the spray. He lingered on my chest and shoulders, giving more attention than was needed to get clean, his admiration and ulterior motives clear. The obvious body-worship sent a wake-up message straight to my crotch, and Sebby followed it down, crouching in front of me. Receiving a blowjob in the shower was a wonderful way to start the day, and I wanted to just watch him, and drink in the amazing warm-and-wet sensation emanating from my groin, but his attempts to make me more confident had left an impression. As soon as I was fully hard, I nudged him off me, indicating him to rise. He did, and there was a curiosity and mild puzzlement at what I was doing, his hair plastered to his head from the soaking, until I gently spun him around and pushed him against the wall. Then it was realisation, a kittenish delight that I was taking the initiative, and he braced himself, chest against the tiles, while I stroked, lathering up some, then pushed against him, into him. It turned out sex in the shower was just as fun as in the bedroom, and the fourth time was made all the more exciting and novel because of steamy warm water and my knowledge from the night before. Sebby was out before me, and by the time I emerged and began to dress myself -- fresh clothing of my exact measurements was laid out and waiting, left by some ninja tailor -- he had already finished doing so. His was in the same costume he always wore, and it seemed as untouched as it always did, pristine and without a stitch out of place. "How does that always look so good on you?" I finished donning the shirt left out for me, jeans already worn, hair still damp. He rose from his seat on the bed, taking my hands in his, and held them, and we just looked at each other. "Are your clothes magic too?" "Yes, actually." His brow rose, in easygoing indifference. "Enchanted garments are much easier to keep clean and repair. Less bothersome for travel." Travel. "Are you leaving?" I frowned. "I'll be going back to Mirrorvale today, as soon as Crawley wants to leave, I guess, but what about you? What's going to happen next?" "I am." He bit his lip, his typically coy smile fading somewhat. "Yesterday, I learned disturbing news about the Grey Prince, and I must clarify it. The Order's Grand Secretary might have the information I need, so, Northwood is my destination." His fingertips stroked over the back of my hands. "I know how dire our situation is. Michael will soon be in possession of everything he needs to bring the prophecy to fruition, but there are certain conditions that are bound to the phases of the magical world. The ritual cannot happen immediately, and must wait for the right time, but it will not be long. We have two weeks or three, before they attempt it." "What should I do?" "Go home and reassure your mother. Practice being the seer. The lady Celeste will tell us the next steps when the Order has a clearer understanding. They had to scramble to help us yesterday, so everything is still chaotic. Oh, and there is one other thing you must be prepared for." "What's that?" I asked. "Araziah." A proverbial 'elephant in the room'. The red dragon. I had put him out of mind since the previous night, but my last memory of the burning citadel was unforgettable. "What we saw yesterday was remarkable," Sebby continued, "and it would have terrified all of our allies who witnessed it. He is a dangerous unstable anomaly, and yet I cannot condemn him for acting as he does. Neither can you, and when he returns to you -- and he will find you -- you must give him every chance to prove his allegiance, to show his feelings and sway you." He squeezed my hands, brief but strong. "Do you understand me? Every chance." "But, Sebby ... why?" I whispered. "Why are you saying this to me? He said it himself, you're his rival, and you're asking me to- ... to, what, choose him instead?" "Torsten, my wonderful boy, I love you." He said it, plain and simple, and my heart raced at the words. "I would do anything for you, and I desire you in all ways, but ... so does Araziah. He is like me; he saw what I saw, he has protected you as I have, he has foregone his pride and ego for your sake, just like me. We are almost brothers of spirit, he and I, separated by time and chance." Sebby blinked, his eyes glazed, and for a second I thought I saw tears, the sparkle of emotion. "He deserves everything of you that I have known not because of any birthright nor power he wields, but because he is alone. Truly alone. Hated, feared, treated with mistrust and suspicion, marked for death, called a heretic and a blasphemer, subjected to torture that I cannot imagine, and why? Because he is Araziah and he chose you. You owe him, and yourself, that chance -- for his insight to be reality, just as mine is. Who am I to forbid you that possibility of happiness? Who am I to forbid him?" I was speechless. Is he really that selfless? Take a deep breath. Don't cry. "There is one more thing you should do, my precious aruskâl." The somber expression switched out, shifting to one of light humour, the edge of his lips curving up. "Lucy is going to say something, because she isn't blind and she certainly cannot help her curiosity. When she asks, I want you to brag about how thoroughly you gratified me with this." His right hand slipped down to cup my jean's front, and I twitched in surprise, a blush spreading, and he leaned up to plant a soft kiss. "Walk tall and proud, my love, and when I see you again, perhaps you will demonstrate it with an encore." -o-0-O-0-o- The trip back home was on a transport helicopter, not one of the Order's gunships. In hindsight, when I thought back to riding the Order's aircraft, there were a few things about the engines and shape of them I hadn't seen anywhere else. The design was unusual and outlandish, and I made the assumption that there was something in it that was magical or at least secret enough that they didn't want to fly them over the eastern United States in broad daylight for anything less than an emergency. Predictably, once Agent Crawley was out of earshot, Lucy immediately did exactly as Sebby said she would. The question about what I got up to last night was innocent enough, but I knew what she was implying, and I responded with the blunt truth and tackled it head on. Oh, we had sex. Four times, actually. No, I'm not going to give you any details, so don't ask, except ... he was very satisfied, and so was I. That's all. The candid approach was ideal, and it shocked her into silence, although that became small talk after a few minutes. Soon we were chatting like any it was another day, as if the crazy shit from the previous hadn't happened at all, and before I knew it, we were landing on the outskirts of Mirrorvale. A car was waiting to ferry us home, and in another couple of minutes Lucy was being dropped off. We hugged, the ordeal having brought us even closer as friends, and she promised me she'd text the following day, but today she needed to spend time with her mom and little sister, and make apology for the fact that she was missing school, since it was a Monday. Then, it was home for me. My own mom wasn't around when I got into the house. Crawley said she was going to wait for me to get home before she went to her job, but there was a note stuck to the fridge. It explained that work had an unexpected situation with a major client and they had asked her to attend it early, so she was out at least until that was taken care of. Wandering through to my room, I sat on my bed, took a deep breath, and tried to rationalise the world and the insanity of what I'd been through. Evil fire dragons stole a piece of their dead god and are going to resurrect him? Check. Paramilitary human-dragon allies staged a raid to rescue prisoners from a giant magical stone castle? Check. Divine future-seeing powers acquired through a psychic dream-link to a dragon seeress who was then murdered for her troubles? Check. Is this really what I want to spend my time doing on a day like this? Thinking about all this ... mind-exploding weird stuff? It wasn't. Stripping out of the jeans, I put on some soccer shorts, sports shoes, and grabbed the ball out of my closet, a water bottle from the kitchen, and took off. Normally, I would have gone to the school's field, but since it during class hours, I wasn't about to show up and have all sorts of awkward questions be asked by teachers and the grounds staff. Instead, ball under-arm, I made for the field at a nearby park, as as they often had nets up during the day. The whole way there, I couldn't get a particular thought to go away. It was the last part of the internal monologue begun in my room, that I had avoided addressing specifically. On the walk to the park, it kept popping into my head over and over. I got laid. Four times. It was awesome and he loved it. My growing smile was paired with the reminder that Sebby wanted me to be proud of myself, and I couldn't help a little swagger creeping into my walk. He wanted me to feel like 'the man' and, um ... I kinda do. Four times. I kept repeating it in my head. Wonder how many guys in my year did it four times on the same night as their first? Grinning, I dumped my bottle, the ball, and sweater, on the sideline, and began to warm up with a lap around the field. It was basically empty except for a few actual joggers and an elderly couple walking a dog. Three times in bed, once in the shower. Warmup done, I fetched the ball and began practicing place kicks from just outside the goal box. Hitting it just on the instep, good angle, not too much height, fast, accurate. I was solid with precision but not always a good judge of timing and power. His ass was superb. Finishing kicks, I started onto some keep-ups. Foot, knee, knee, foot, leg, chest, and on it went. My record was fifteen minutes without the ball touching the ground, but I had become rusty, and couldn't manage more than thirty seconds without dropping it. It didn't require much thought, just reflexes, and the same daydreaming monologue just kept coming. Actually, all of him was superb and I wanna see him again. Guess 'lips of an angel' and 'ass of a total uke' wasn't all that wrong. About half an hour of exercise and sunshine was plenty, and finally done, I picked up my things, took a long swig of water, and began the walk home. It was around midday, and there was a breeze to take the edge off the heat and cool the sweat, and I had reached the gate in front of home. The latch was under my fingers, about to be lifted, when a voice cut in. "Torsten ... Wilde, is it?" I glanced to the sound to see a man I didn't know approaching along the pavement at a steady walk. About six foot, he had neatly trimmed dark brown hair, bright blue eyes, a long nose and handsome sharp features. Twenty-something in age, wearing navy blue business pants and a white button-up dress shirt, he had a serious almost-humourless air, and he strolled closer to me, composed and calm. "Er, yes?" Tossing my things over our hedge into the front yard, the ball bounced and then rolled along the grass, the sweater and bottle thumping into a pile. Hands free, I turned toward him, my recent experiences making me suspicious of anyone I didn't recognise, though something about this person seemed familiar, in some vague way. "Who are you? Don't think I know you." "We've only met once." He raised his hand and waved it in front of his face, and when it passed, his hair was the same blue as his eyes, his skin a pale icy shade. Then the hand reversed course, and the mirage was restored, the human appearance put back in place. "Disguises are necessary. I prefer to not draw attention." Wow. If my memory is right, that's advanced magic right there. My brow furrowed and something in my brain clicked. "Are you ... Viktor?" "Good. You have some perception, at the least." He cast a disinterested look at our house, then back to me. "I do not enjoy having to explain myself." "Are you looking for Sebby?" I asked. "He's not here. He went to Northwood." "As much as I would like to see an honoured cousin, that is not why I came." Viktor's human voice was deep and almost hypnotic, like I could fall asleep listening to it. "No, it is not for any Order business that I am here. It is to speak with you." With me? "Me? Why?" A blink. "No offence, but what does someone like you want with me?" "Nothing, normally." He shrugged a little, hands held out palm up, before slowly folding his arms. "Yet, I cannot help but find something about your presence odd." "Like what?" My response was a challenge, but his tone was unsettling. "Yesterday, the Order's operation on the Seventh House sanctum was primarily motivated because of the Fear and the captivity of the seeress. Small mention was made of human captives and their rescue, but our friend Sebby was very convinced of your necessity. It is not just that, however. The dragon, the fire-kin you bade me stop, he was doing exactly as you claimed." Viktor's gaze narrowed, his attention on me very pointed. "How did you know he would fly to the Grey Prince? How could you tell what would occur?" Um, shit. I don't want to share this. He can't know. "I, uh, I-" A stammer, before being interrupted. "What secret knowledge do you have?" He stepped closer, and while I didn't think he was intentionally threatening me, the menace felt very real. "Why did you matter when the life of our high priestess was in the balance? She died in that fetid hell to those abject fanatics for their insane quest, and a human boy was more important, because ... why?" "It's- ... it's not what you think!" "What I think?" Viktor's suspicion was heavy, and there was a definite undercurrent of exasperation. Like his type, unlike the raw anger of the fire kind, his upset was cool, eerie. "What I think is that the application of logic fails me, because the most likely answer is that you utilised foresight, but that is preposterous. Only the chosen dragon of the goddess can do so, and you are human, and ... " He trailed off, his words slowing, and he stopped. Oh no. Viktor's eyes went wide, and he froze altogether, back straightening, shoulders stiffening, hands falling to his sides. "Is it ... true?" There's no way I can lie to someone like him and get away with it. I bit my lip, too nervous to speak, and nodded. "You?" He growled, still staring. "The successor to Triskeleth, wise and noble servant of our cause? You, a human child?!" "Yes." I found my voice. "She knew it. She taught me everything she could before- ... before the end." "This is impossible!" He snapped, a flash of temper, but quickly his tone reverted to sober cold reflection. "Inconceivable, but I can see it is self-evident. I do not know how this travesty came to be. Something so small and fragile housing a gift so integral to our survival, is a vulnerability that is implausible as it is precarious. The reason for this miscarriage of tradition needs to be discovered. The Tempest must know, and I will tell her." Oh god. No. No way. This CANNOT happen. He made to turn away, intent on immediately leaving. "Wait! You can't do that! Don't say anything!" Both a demand and a request. "Please!" Viktor paused, looking over his shoulder at me, half turned away. "Can't? You would tell me that I cannot inform my goddess about something so utterly important as this? By what right do you command me?" He came back around and stepped close, inches from my face. "No human may come between the dragon and his Spirit." As if in response, the seer's power activated, a burst of precognition striking me. A bolt of it came from nowhere, and a single fact jumped into my consciousness, simple but compelling. That's ... it. The only thing I needed. I won't be pushed around. Not by him. "I'm not just any human." My hands balled into fists. "I know you are a priest. I am the seer, and this also makes me the high priest, by your own religion. You are bound by the hierarchy, and must obey the laws. So, yes, I have the authority, and yes, I am telling you that you cannot let anyone know what you learned. Especially not the Tempest." The look on his face was arctic, and his response was just as frigid, the words tortuously slow and low, despite that we were under the noonday sun and in the middle of suburbia. "And why might that be, oh high priest?" "Because the seers before me never told you the full truth about the Spirit of Water." I matched his body language, no longer scared. "She's not innocent. She did something in the beginning -- something that sparked this war in the first place, that made all of this shit happen. I don't know exactly what, but I'm not a water dragon, and I don't worship her. There's no blind faith and divine terror stopping me from finding out, and until I do, you will keep silent. Do you understand?" "I understand," Viktor's eyes were glowing an unnatural blue, and I could almost feel the frost, the crippling bitterness empowering it, "but know this: your decree is profane to the point of real sacrilege, and if she is ever to know your duplicity, there is nothing in this world that can protect you from her retribution. Were you any other human, I would turn your bones to ice for such unfounded presumption." "Viktor, I've already told you, I'm not an ordinary person." He was slightly taller than me, but I leaned up, closer, and spoke softer. "I don't like your attitude, and I won't be threatened. If you speak to me that way again, your 'friend' Sebby isn't going to be very friendly, and neither will Araziah. Next time I see you, keep it civil." I pointed down the street, in the direction he'd approached from originally. "You can go now. I'm done talking." His expression was bleak, sub-zero, but also unreadable, and he turned, wordless, and strode off. Without watching him go, I did the same, unlatching the gate, grabbing my stuff off the ground, then unlocking the front door, only to stagger the distance to the couch before collapsing over the armrest onto it. My legs were aching and just about cramping from the muscle tension and my arms and hands were shaking from the pent-up stress. Oh god. What the fuck did I just do? He could have killed me. "Sebby," I murmured to myself, putting my hands over my face, "I think you gave me a little too much confidence." -o-0-O-0-o- Mom arrived home in the late afternoon, much earlier than she normally would have. The first thing she did was find me, in the back yard shooting targets, still in her business attire, and hug me. "Baby, you've gotta stop doing this to me." She pulled away, and held me at an arm's length, hands on my shoulders, and just looked at me. "Every time you walk out the door, I'm anxious about you." "I'm sorry, Mom. I don't want you to fret, but I'm a part of all this ... craziness, now." I shrugged, attempting a smile. "I've got people- ... uh, well, not all people, but, y'know what I mean. I'm not alone. We aren't alone." "I know. That doesn't mean I won't worry though." She sighed. "My son. My special little boy, but more special than I thought. How did we end up here?" "D'you think grandpa knew, when he met Triskeleth? Or suspected anything, about me. About our family being ... different?" "He always knew you were exceptional, sweetheart." She smiled, and her eyes gleamed, wet with feeling. "Always, from when you were very small. Even if he didn't know why. You're a Wilde. You're not your father's son, you're mine." Mom ... "Okay, enough of that. Don't want you getting too conceited." She sniffed, wiping her eyes. "I'm going to put dinner on. I'm thinking Southern fried chicken. You keep practicing, while it's still light out." "Okay, Mom. I will." I went back to improving my drawback, trying to balance and steady my aim better. What is it with today and everyone dumping emotions on me? For the next half an hour, I continued shooting, concentrating on refining my archery skill. It was just starting to get dark, the first signs of evening appearing when I felt it, again. Foresight. It was calling me outside our property, and I put down my bow and arrows, and exited through the gate. The hunch turned into a certainty, and I crossed the public grass until the border of the stream, and the beginning of trees. I knew he was about to arrive, and right as I reached the forest's edge, there was the telltale sound of teleportation and he appeared in front of me. Araziah. His hair flowed about his shoulders, sprinkled with ash, his arms and chest spattered with steaming blood, a thick scent of metal, smoke, salt, hanging in the air about him. Both hands were encased in gauntlets of flickering flame, and his eyes were filled with a solid red light, fire licking from them too, to his forehead and temples. The moment he saw me, the fire went out, the gauntlets vanishing in a puff, his eyes fading to their normal red, and he fell to his knees, strength leaving him. "Araziah!" I gasped, and stepped forward, hastily, to steady him. "Torsten." He breathed it, his hand on my forearm, red smearing over the fabric. "What- ... what happened?!" "I am everything you feared." His grip tightened. "Everything, and more." -o-0-O-0-o- The dragon Saborius arrived late to answer word of distress, and after a first high pass, he landed in the abandoned sanctuary of the Seventh House. Transforming to a human shape, he beheld what had become of it. Everywhere, everything that could burn was aflame. No Scourge were left alive. The Occident and Boreal towers were reduced to slagged rubble. The outer eastern walls were lined with melted scars, the sky bridges gone. The grass of the inner courtyards was seared away, and the forest burned back, the blackened stumps and broken carbonised branches still alight. The ground was charred in at least three places, the pyre sites of defeated Conclave dragons, and the central tower had an enormous gouge torn from its side, though it remaining standing, kept vertical by the inherent magic alone, a symbol of the defeated inhabitants. For four hundred years, Saborius had served the lord of the First House. He had honed his combat skill, advanced his knowledge of magic, bettered his psychic ability. Striving for the Conclave's ultimate purpose was his life's goal, and the common wish for a return to the height of grandeur, the days of antiquity, was understood and embraced by all. Now, here he stood, in the wreckage of the most ancient and glorious Seventh House, their home undone by fire, and a chaos and slaughter unleashed. By fire. It was horrific because it was unconscionable to him that this could have occurred. Who would turn fire upon fire? It was sin, and blasphemous. The perpetrator had to be sought out, punished. Thankfully, no searching was required. Within the devastated grounds between the collapsed towers, Saborius found the one responsible. Wandering, surveying the destruction about him with the callous deliberation of an intruder, he spied the dragon. Young, lean, tall, long red hair, an imperious stature. His back was turned, his attention engrossed in the remnants of the fortress, alone and unheeding. Saborius drew his short sword. His psychic power was put forth in suppression, dampening the offensive motions in the area, and in a dozen silent strides he charged over the blasted soil, the blade rising one-handed to deliver the Conclave's justice. The second he reached his target, the dragon spun to face him. The strike was stopped dead, caught in the left hand. It closed around the blade, unhurt, and jerked sideways in a sweeping motion. The sword was ripped out of his hand and tossed two score feet away, useless. With the right, he punched, and Saborius flew fifty paces back, crashing into the dirt, broken tiles and soot breaking his slide. What was that? Shrugging it off, he flipped upright from what was a dizzying physical hit. The opponent had not moved, still motionless, staring at him through the cinder-choked air, and Saborius drew his dagger, summoning a flame-fist on his offhand at the same time, the fire coalescing around his fingers. He lofted it, reasserting his psychic field, prepared to teach this young upstart why the Conclave was the regency of their kind, when- -in the space of a blink- -the other dragon was right in front of him. A fist smashed across his jaw, then in another blink the attacker was to the side, and the second blow came. His head snapped back. Then again, from another angle. Again. And again. And yet again. On the seventh blow, the dagger was snatched from his hand, tossed away as the sword had been, the gauntlet extinguished, his psychic focus scattered as if it never were. A strangling one-handed grip was on his neck, and he was forced to his knees. "Wh-what are you?" Saborius gagged, and the youth held the suffocating grasp in place; a pale apparition cloaked in red, fair-faced and beauteous, but merciless, dreadful, fell. "What manner of- ... hrk ... desecration is this?" "Desecration. Blasphemy. Hatchling." The first whisper of his opponent's psychic strength entered the mind, and it was an undaunted predatory spectre, stalking the corridors. "Every affront possible is delivered, the lie of your superiority repeated endlessly. You assail with magic, with your mind, with fire itself, all the while ignoring the truth before you." The fingers dug into his skin, the nails piercing it enough to draw blood. "I am Araziah. There is more flame in me than all your Conclave combined. I am the truth, undiminished and imperishable. You? You are nothing." "I- ... you- ... y-you c-" It was too late. His psychic resistance was crushed as if it never were, and the disbelief at another dragon able to take control was overwhelming, incomprehensible. He was overridden effortlessly, dominated, and Araziah was terror incarnate, a colossus that filled his mind with an unholy fear. "Obey me." The red dragon's eyes flared bright and flame erupted from them. "Where is Michael? Where is the Grey Prince? Give me their locations." "I ... do not know." Saborius declared it, eyes wide, meek. "I was not told. I am not their house." "Your sire -- and the others -- where are they? Where did the Conclave go?" "I do not know!" He repeated it, desperate, the pressure of Araziah's hold increasing, both physically and mentally. "California! I am but a servant of Ruprecht on duty in the east. That is all I can say!" "If that is all, then you are worthless." With a thought, Araziah's hands ignited, imitating the gauntlets created earlier, but so much more intense, so much hotter. They burned white and the flame flared about the fingers cutting into Saborius' neck, the other hand laying across his scalp. It began to eat into his flesh, consuming, and he was set afire, the psychic force constricting at the same time, squashing what was left of his enslaved mind. He began to scream, flames covering him, bones crunching, skin punctured, blood vessels rupturing and gushing. The grip was held in place until it was no longer necessary, and the burned gory human-shell remnant was dropped to the earth. Araziah gazed at the sight, at his hands, drenched in crimson, at the ruins of the fortress and what he had wrought, but, all he knew was the laughter, the distant sound of the mad god echoing through him, from the void. -o-0-O-0-o- "Don't you see? I murdered him. There was no mercy for the beaten foe. I am that monster." He pulled me closer, bloodied fingers leaving imprints, voice soft but urgent. "The others, he whispers to them, but for me it is a shout. It is a perfect song that follows no matter where I go, calling to me from within, to go to war. The lure grows stronger each time he speaks, and it is easy to believe it -- so easy -- and the anger, and power, and might, is a reward too bewitching to ignore. I am made for it; born to serve as his greatest weapon, to torch the world. Born to cover all living things in the destroying flame until there is nothing left." His brow furrowed, and there was confusion mixed with despair. "What if I were to lose control around you?" "You won't." I didn't know where the courage came from, but it was there in spite of the awful tale he had just revealed to me. Then, foresight, again, and memory. Advice, that Triskeleth gave me only days ago, though it seemed like an eternity now. Be the stability in his life. Be reason when madness whispers into his soul. "How can you know this?" I sank lower, so I was resting fully on my knees next to him on the grass. "Because I am the seer." "You are the seer?" He repeated after me, the words and realisation of what I had accomplished sinking in. "You are the seer." "I'm the counterweight to his voice. I'm the antidote. Whenever he poisons you, I'll cure it." I dislodged his hand from my arm, and took it in mine, the fingers clenching, ignoring the sticky wetness of blood. He watched me do it with a childlike expression of astonishment. "It's not just that, though. There's something else. Triskeleth, she showed me ancient history, taught me about the earliest of your kind. I saw the firstborn, the founders of the seven houses. They were the greatest dragons to have lived, and the greatest of them all was Xajarkith the Brilliant, your ancestor." "I ... I know his name." He murmured it, barely audible, almost groggy. "I dreamed of him, once. Golden wings upon a vast desert, in blinding sunlight." "He was honourable, valiant, loyal. He wasn't corrupt like those that came after. He wanted to fix the world and his father's madness, not help it along. Before he died, he saw us in a vision of his own -- me, the seer, and you, his descendent -- doing exactly that. Ending the war, thousands of years later." My voice started to break, my emotions getting the better of me, but I kept talking. "You're more like Xajarkith than any before you. You aren't your father's son, and neither am I. You made a choice to be free, and nobody can take that away from you. Not even a god, living or dead." I let go of his hand and pulled him to me, sliding my arms around his shoulders, not giving a damn about the ash, the smoke, the dirt, the blood. "You aren't alone. Not now, not ever." For a second, he didn't respond, but then I felt him reach around me, at first tentative, then he pulled me in closer, tighter. "I believe it," he whispered, "and I will help you, to mend this damaged world." -o-0-O-0-o- The venue was a private one in the heart of Mirrorvale, and the assembled brethren were few in number, with only the most trusted and secure individuals making the cut to attend. They had waited approximately twenty minutes by the time the expected guests arrived, and the Scourge aides opened the double doors into the lounge room, before respectfully vanishing again after. Mordred and his father entered; a tall imposing older man, longer grey hair tied back, brutally unforgiving steel eyes, and a stare that could alone reduce humans to a quivering wreck. They were met by a few lesser members of the Seventh House, relatives from other branches of the extended family, and the greetings were brief but courteous. Following that, the main event. "Cousin." Resplendent in a finely tailored suit, Michael embraced Mordred. "Here, you may speak freely." He glanced to the elder, Lothian. "Uncle, your participation is valued. Human communities are not to your taste, and I respect that." Lothian gave a subtle tilt of the head in acknowledgement, but said nothing. "And our gratitude goes to you too, my sire, and to you also, Darricus." The Grey Prince greeted them in turn, before addressing the eldest cousin once more. "I know the briefest part of our news has preceded us, but I must deliver you its entirety, and plainly. It is this: through the Order's assault, our sanctuary was destroyed. My sister was killed, as was your brother, Thoravir's heir, and all defending dragons of the Fifth." "We paid a steep price and their boldness was a gamble of its own," Michael agreed, the calculating appraisal of his cousin's description laced with a premeditated estimation of cost, "yet not entirely successful on their part, as I understand the sacrifice of our blood was worth it?" "They died as martyrs. The final message Nerunex sent was of a mighty gift, and the guarantee of victory in our war. He was right. I have the gifts, two of them, right here, and they are mighty indeed." He held out his left hand, a pulsing red memory orb in it, and Michael took it. "One, the translation of the incantation." Then the right hand, a small cloth bag. "The other, a lost shard of the Fear." Slower, careful, the sire picked up the bag, and with delicacy, opened the drawstring and extracted the item from inside. Holding it between thumb and forefinger, he gazed at the artifact, admiring. The room was silent, the others lost in the moment too. "Magnificent," he declared, "and just as extraordinary as I imagined. I can only- ... wait." He paused. "Why is it- ... no. That isn't right. Not at all." His attention flicked to the Grey Prince, and he held out the shard. "Morvalzîr, do you feel that?" Something was out of place. His cousin took it, pinching it between fingers to examine just as Michael had. His reaction went from inquisitive, to surprised, then concerned. "It ... can't be. How? I- ... do feel it. Or rather, I do not." As baffled as Michael, he offered it to Darren. "Your magical knowledge remains superior. What do you sense?" Darren sat the Fear on the palm of his hand, and studied it. His brow furrowed, at first perplexed as the other two, then he concentrated, looking harder, deeper, seeming to peer into the strata of the shard itself, as if mesmerised. Abruptly, he stopped, snapping out of the brief trance. He began to laugh. "Darricus?" Michael questioned, his bewilderment bordering on irritation. "Why is this amusing? It is a problem." "No, brother," he chuckled, staring at the fraction of history where it lay, "it isn't a problem at all. Quite the opposite. In fact ... it is the solution to everything."
  10. This latest season of GoT started off with enormous promise,  but has taken what remained of the book's intricate and compelling mythology, and stabbed it to death in a dark alley. Instead, we are left with Hollywood cinematic showmanship and narrative lunacy that is as nonsensical and ass-backward as it is visually appealing. Beautiful, but after this journey, depressingly hollow.

    At this point I'm not sure I care who sits on the Iron Throne, and as for the dragons? Don't get me started on what they've done there ...

    1. Philippe


      Another unwanted departure from the true storyline where the rules become unbounded. Sad to see it headed that way. It becomes much like a crashing accident you can’t turn away from.

  11. Stellar

    Strength Of Will

    Well, Araziah's anger was not directed at any particular remaining individuals -- all the Conclave's dragons had been killed, with the exception of Morvalzîr -- and so the Order and associated figures had easy chance to get out of his way. He was more making good on his promise to Kaia -- remember he told her that he would see her die and 'this place' destroyed. So here he is, destroying away in a fit of enraged pique because he was denied his real target. Curious statement about the Grey Prince. What makes you think there could be a coup happening? Apart from the ambiguity of Mordred's title, I suppose -- is there another reason? Do you suspect perhaps that he might not take the Fear and knowledge of the counter-incantation to his cousin and sire, and instead do something else with it?
  12. Stellar

    Strength Of Will

    Thank you for reading! I'm glad you're enjoying it
  13. Stellar

    Strength Of Will

    Torsten has not done anything magical himself. He has perceived magic; what was in Sebby's ring -- the enchantment that activated the lightning blade -- and in other objects, evident in his statement that the fire pit at the Orient Tower's base had a defensive magical enchantment of some sort on it, and the walls of the tower itself contained something magical that he thought has been added to fortify it. He can also 'see' the inherent magic in dragons, apparently, and while he didn't mention the sentinel fire dragon's signature, he definitely noticed the 'magical truth' within both Viktor and the enhanced Sebby. He has also used his power as the seer -- precognition -- though in a particularly human way, which is to say, by predicting enemy movement in battle through a direct visual analogue. On top of that, he has received more detailed information, such as what Xander was going to do, and that Lucy would die by immolation if she didn't immediately run. So ... has he performed any feats where he manipulates magic? No, not at all. Has he been the seer? Abso-fucking-lutely. He's done a brilliant job.
  14. Stellar

    Strength Of Faith

    Thank you so much for your kind words. In a way, it made my day -- sometimes I get so little feedback of any sort after posting an enormous word-count chapter that it's frankly baffling and wearying when people have nothing to say or only the most brief uninformative remarks. So, again, thank you. It's great to hear positive comments from anyone, and doubly so from anyone who does take the time to know my work better. I sincerely appreciate it.
  15. "Torsten? Torsten! Are you okay?" Lucy was shaking my arm, and I blinked, becoming properly aware of where we are again. "Did ... you do it? You went really pale there for a second." "Yeah." I looked down at myself, double-checking to see if there was any outward change after what I'd just experienced in the psychic link, but there wasn't. "I did it. I'm ready now -- as ready as I'll ever be, I guess -- but ... they're breaking her. She made me leave because ... she's ... she's going to ... " "Oh." Lucy blinked, frowning. "Shit. That's ... really bad." I know. "I don't know how long it will take. Probably only a few minutes, if that." I dropped the scale fragments back into the bag and pocketed it. Standing, I was for some reason motivated to go to the window, a weird pull that told me to wait there. Lucy followed me across the room, seeming fixated on my actions, probably worried I was about to pass out or attempt something outlandish. "I wish there was a way out. There has to be something. You were right, of course she knew I was going to get out of here. I just can't understand how." The little rectangle above wasn't even big enough to fit my torso through, and it was divided into quarters anyhow, iron cross bars making exit impossible. No escaping this way. Where, then? How? What am I doing here? "Answers. I want some damn answers. I need to-" ­With no warning, the moment arrived. Outside, in the middle distance, no more than a couple of hundred feet away, there was an explosion of ... something. Magic. Energy. The gift within the seeress, but ... no longer within her. Nobody else could hear it. Nobody else could see it. It was the sound of shattering ice, the feeling of an avalanche of cold and mist descending a mountain, cut free from its tethers and driven out, released from the form to which it was bound for so long. They've done it. "Triskeleth is dead." My voice was thick, and I shivered, staring through the bars at the sky, the early evening beginning to set in, the sun fading. "They got what they wanted." Then came a shape, fluttering down to the window. A butterfly, with wings of intermixed blue, light and dark. It danced through the air, past the bars, and I raised a hand as it came closer, landing on my outstretched fingertip. Triskeleth, I'm sorry. I wanted to help you too. In a swirl, the butterfly transmuted to energy, and with a zap like an electrical shock, the magical spark embedded into my finger, and I felt it flow rapidly down my arm, branching and splitting as it expanded to fill my body. "Wow!" Lucy whispered. "Was ... that it? Did it just happen?!" The tingle of power entered my head last, and my eyeballs were prickling, my brain buzzing. I blinked once, trying to adjust to the feeling. Twice. It stopped. What was THAT? Did it do something to my eyes? I looked down at myself for what felt like the hundredth time, wondering if this one would be any different. The same as ever, except- Wait. Is that- ... ? My right hand. Sebby's ring. Inside it, filling it, the diamond band was suffused with a sparkling static. Constantly fluctuating, it was a bubbling energy field. It's ... magic. She said true magic lives in blood, breath, and ... scale. More than that, I could comprehend -- in a way that seemed like nonsense to my human brain, but somehow worked -- the layers of magical enchantment. There was the subtle invisibility function that Sebby had placed on the ring, to enable it to disappear in the way he had described to me, but, there was a second enchantment, a hidden one. Inactive. I can SEE their magic. The door to the cell clicked, a key in the lock on the other side as somebody began to open it. "Torsten. They're here. They're gonna kill us. I know it." Her voice was unsteady, her eyes on the door. She was terrified. So was I. "Hey. I know it's scary." I told her, trying not to sound as frightened as I felt. "Your turn to trust me. Stay behind me, okay?" I stepped into the middle of our cell and touched the ring, sliding on the surface in a pattern that my new eyesight told me would trigger the second enchantment. It activated. From the ring, white light projected an inch above the back of my hand, then spreading parallel, following the line of my arm. It went both directions, toward my elbow and past my fingers. Stopping about four inches up my forearm, the light curved around the sides, connecting to itself to form a bracer, a protective enclosure that didn't touch the skin. In the other direction, it was width of my wrist until it extended past the end of my hand, going another four inches and narrowing to a point. It looked like a projection of light, but it was substantial, a couple of millimetres thick, solid, glowing a silvery-white, with shifting lines of plasma moving inside it. Like the energy sword from Halo, or a piece of futuristic Protoss psionic tech. I knew what this was, my understanding somehow instinctive. A weapon of crystallised lightning. Sebby's gift. There was a heavy clunk, a bolt drawing back and the door burst open, slamming against the wall. Two Scourge in front, three more behind, crowding the entrance. All had knives in hand, a standard piece of minion equipment for the Conclave. My pulse was pounding, breath coming fast. "Our lord has ordered your termination." The lead figure spoke from the doorway, quick and restless. He glanced to the new acquisition, then back to my face. Completely unfazed, he smiled a gruesome ugly smile, full of hungry cruelty. "A forbidden toy? No concern. We'll present it to him after we cut out your entrails." They began to advance, two at a time in the narrow space. My hands closed into fists. At that moment, another part of the seer's power kicked in. As they moved, I could see a ghosting blue silhouette ahead of where each Scourge was. Moving where they were about to move, acting as they were about to act. It was precognition. The shape of the future in motion. Wide-eyed, I dodged to the left, the frenzied vertical slash of the first Scourge slicing past my right shoulder. Slamming the bracer into the man's face while he was off balance, there was the sizzle of cooking flesh from the contact. He screamed, falling to the side in agony, and I was jerking my other shoulder back just in time, the next knife tip nicking my shirt before I brought my right arm around in a tight arc and plunged the blade into the second Scourge's neck. It cut right through flesh and muscle like it was nothing. The slash exited out the front, ripping through his throat, a searing hiss as it was instantly cauterised. Holy shit. There wasn't time to think, and I could focus on nothing else but the moment; the adrenaline that coursed through me, the speed of it all, and the advantage of my precognitive knowledge. The third was already on me, stepping over the bodies of his fallen comrades, a wide horizontal carve aimed high at my throat. A duck under, then a sweeping upward slash that sheared through his clothes, opening his torso from belly to collar. I can do this. My confidence building. I shoved the gutted third Scourge away, twisting again to block the incoming attack from the fourth. It hit the bracer, the metal sparking uselessly against it, and I whipped the energy blade in a quick circle, the knife pushed away with a crackling shiing, before jamming the blade end deep into his stomach. Still impaled, I pushed him, forcing him to collide with the fifth Scourge, the man behind losing balance and falling backward. Retracting the blade, the fourth dropped to the floor and I leaped over him, through the doorway, to the last one. He was scrambling to stand, but I was on him, a slash to the wrist, his voice rising in a harrowed shout of pain, the knife disarmed and clattering to the floor. "Aggh! No! No no NO!" Crying, caught somewhere between terror, regret, and the overriding hate of the Conclave's enslavement, he tried to beg. "Leave me! SPARE ME! Stop!" "You chose this! You wanted to be here!" I grabbed him by his shirt front. "I didn't! You're MAKING me do it!" "No! Please! I-" The energy blade sank into his skull, the end mercifully quick. I stood, pulling it back, his body thudding onto the stone. My arm was shaking, and I was so tense I could hardly breathe properly. So distraught I wanted to scream. This is so fucked up. They'd kill me if I turned my back on them. I don't want to put anyone down, but if I have to? I will. "Hey." Flinching at Lucy's touch, I calmed instantly. She was holding a knife, from one of the fallen Scourge. It was dripping with blood. "The first guy." She took a ragged breath. "The one you burned. He wasn't dead. I ... I had to make sure he wasn't gonna get up." For all of the bluster and attitude she had, her reaction was the same as mine. Shell-shocked. Lucy had a tough mind, and her father had made sure she knew physical self-defence, but butchering human beings and seeing them die in front of us was something else. People who were once 'normal' but now ... tools of the dragons. Nobody should have to go through ... THIS. "I know how messed up all of this is, but we can't trust anything they say. We've just gotta do what we have to, to get out of here." I pointed to the stairwell, the path down, to the outside world. "Like you told me: I've got your back. We'll make it. Are you ready?" Lucy took a deep breath. "Yeah," she said, "let's kick ass." -o-0-O-0-o- I didn't know how far up we were, but the building we were inside had to be more than a hundred feet tall. We kept going down, as quickly and quietly as we could. It was all made with old-time stone cobbling, like something out of a renaissance fair, though the masonry seemed put together extremely well. I could see the faint glimmer of magic in it, the dragons having added an extra something in its construction to hold the structure together, or maybe strengthen it. We only ran into a couple of Scourge a few stories down, surprising them and eliminating them easily. The last few floors were deserted, and I began to worry why we weren't seeing more of them. Until we reached the bottom. The ground floor was triple the height of the ones above it, with a pit in the centre that served as a nucleus for the tower. A small lip of stone was around it, a magical fire burning in the middle that served as both a comfort and some kind of defensive enchantment function, though I couldn't tell exactly what. The staircase we were descending curved away from the wall and toward the fire pit, the last steps finishing just short of it. Directly opposite, there was an arch doorway leading outside. On the left from where we were, in the wall, there was another arch, set at a perfect acute 45 degree angle relative to the outside exit, only this stayed inside, continuing into a covered passage. On the right was an identical arch, a mirror image of the left; the same distance from the middle, also leading into a covered passage. Except, the left was empty as far along as I could see, the way clear. The right had at least twenty Scourge emerging from it. Shit. They were looking around, expectant, already knowing something was amiss, and they saw us as we exited the steps; shouts of surprise, scuffing of feet, and they began to spread out. I was hit by another flash of premonition, and I knew what had to happen. She needs to get out of here, or she'll die. "Lucy." I pointed to the left arch. "Go. Run!" She ran, slowing for a second, a glance over her shoulder in confusion as to why I wasn't following. "RUN!" I yelled. She didn't look back again, tearing across the floor with renewed haste. The Scourge were dispersing, both toward me and in the other direction around the fire pit, moving to follow her and block all the exits so they could do their knife-work. Lucy had just entered the arch, with the first of the Scourge a dozen feet away from me, when there was a ground-shaking thump from outside. A dragon, head low to the earth so he could glare through the arch, lines of bright red and rusty brown streaking his frilled horns and jaw, eyes bright with malice. Sneaking human, his voice boomed into my head, a ringing exclamation, did you think you'd escape? His jaw snapped open, and all I could see were fangs and the building glow of impending death. I had three seconds to see where the flames would go, and they covered most of the chamber, except for one spot. I dived forward, my shoulder scraping painfully as I slid on the stone, and I rolled hard against the lip of the fire pit, flattening myself. It wasn't much, but it was enough. Dragon fire swept a couple of feet above me, a flood of it engulfing the rest of the room, incinerating all the Scourge in one go. As quickly as it started, it cut off again, another loud sound interrupting. What's THAT? I scrambled to my feet, desperate to know what was going on, staring over the scorched chamber and tufts of residual flame, to the view outside the central arch. Through it, I could see thrashing limbs, the marauding fire dragon locked in struggle with another. It was a blue dragon. -o-0-O-0-o- The chosen of the sky goddess, Sebakâli, the Sword of the Heavens, had left little to chance. He had scouted the sanctuary of the Seventh House thoroughly before infiltrating it, and had made sure to understand where everything and everyone was located, and how the defenders would respond to incursion. From the air, the fortress was a precise geometric design, both symmetrical and immense. It was a diamond, with the four corner points aligning with the designations on a compass. Each point consisted of an enormous circular tower, several dozen feet in diameter and well over three hundred high. At the diamond's centre was a slightly wider fifth tower. The diamond's sides were hundreds of feet long, giving a significant of enclosed space within, and the perimeter connecting the towers was shorter walls that reached approximately two-fifths of the height. The walls were thick, but hollow, with passages inside them at ground level to allow safe covered movement from point to point. The alternative method lay far above; just two stories from the top, there were sky bridges following the same boundary line of the diamond shape. They were unsupported flat walkways that were a marvel of architecture kept aloft by magic. As well as connecting the corner towers to one another, there were an additional four bridges running to the central tower, allowing the patrolling Scourge to easily criss-cross and monitor the entire castle from the aerial lanes. The terrain around the site was heavily forested steep hills on three sides, and difficult to navigate by foot. Though this was no issue for dragons, the only sensible ground access was from the south, where the land was flat and clear. It was a narrow approach and easy to observe, so the gates for the human servants were consequently located close on either side of the southern tower. His reconnaissance had indicated a few things. Apart from the Scourge numbers, which were approximately a couple of hundred, he had estimated eight hostile dragons. Five of those were from the Fifth House; one sentinel assigned to each of the four outer towers, with a fifth incumbent in the central tower, whom Sebby had only glimpsed. The sentinels were watchdogs and spent most of their time at their posts, scanning for outward danger. The remaining three were the familiar personalities that had conducted the ambush at Overmountain, and he although it was possible there were more, he had seen no sign of any others from the Seventh House. The conjecture about them being elsewhere in the world or having joined Michael in Mirrorvale seemed to be true. Nero, he was certain was in the central tower, which seemed to be the nexus of command, likely with Triskeleth and quite a number of attendant Scourge. The other two? There was no sign of Kaia's location, nor the Grey Prince. His initial deduction was that the most efficient breach method either had to be climbing the perimeter wall from a forested side where they would not normally anticipate it, or a drop from the air at an extreme height, taking advantage of the shielding effect of his native element. The aerial foray made the most sense, and his target was to be either the north -- the Boreal Tower, as the fortress residents called it -- or the east, the Orient Tower. The reasons were twofold; the sentinel dragons at those two points were weaker links, and were less aware of stealth than those at the west and south, and those same two towers were also where the prisoners were located; the former holding Araziah, and the latter Torsten and Lucy. It was an easy choice. As much as he had wanted to go directly to Torsten's aid and indulge his emotions, the importance of Araziah's immediate freedom could not be overstated. He had fallen on the hapless Boreal sentinel from far above, the enemy dragon's realisation arriving far too late to stop the conclusion. The scuffle had lasted only a couple of seconds, the defending dragon able to block one hit, immediately recognise the dire situation, and attempt, through fire-weaving, to send up a signal flare and raise the alarm. He did not manage to do so before Sebby's shock-burst and second strike tore him open. The mirage he left behind, an image of the now-slain fire dragon standing on the tower summit as if he were still performing his duty, was temporary but it would suffice for long enough. The assassination had been carried out without the Scourge nor the other dragons noticing, and with stealth intact he continued on. Dropping unseen down the side of the Boreal Tower, Sebby had slipped through the window, to find Kaia and her prisoner. He had never been more ready for such a moment. Seeing her back to him, knowing the perfect anonymity of his undetected entrance, feeling the weight of divine retribution in his hand? All of it was justice. After their rendezvous and imparting his collected intelligence to Araziah, a plan had been settled upon. The air dragon had left the chamber via the door, eliminating the small number of Scourge on the upper floors, Kaia neither needing nor caring about human assistance, before he arrived at the sky bridge that led to the Orient Tower. Next, to free his friends. He strode along the bridge, his aura of secrecy at full strength, pushed to the maximum. There were exactly nine Scourge idly strolling or standing on the walkway, and as Sebby passed by them, the clueless humans not even aware he was there, he implanted a suggestion in each with a mental flourish. It was a clandestine command that quickly and easily overrode the Conclave's regular possession. Hollow creature, rest your mind and forget your troubles. Slumber in absent thought and see nothing, for a time. There was no need to slaughter these pathetic beings unless they got in his way. His eyes stayed on the real target as he crossed the bridge; the Orient sentinel. The dragon in question was standing near the edge, looking outward over the landscape. Watching, waiting. Expecting any threat to come from elsewhere, not guessing that his Boreal compatriot was no more than a figment. Still, the influence of Sebby's magical suggestion had to hold. If the sentinel were to glance along the bridge, he had to see nothing, and continue to do so. Sebby could not be noticed early. The advance was steady, the wind refreshing and brisk this high above the American landscape, the late afternoon nearing dusk. He continued without impediment, the gap closing, his concentration well focused. He was only fifty feet shy of entering the Orient Tower, when abruptly, the sentinel dragon turned, alerted by something. Sebby froze, refocusing his aura, magnifying it on the target. Yet, the fire dragon did not even blink in his direction. Instead, he walked across to the inner side, just to the right of the sky bridge's connecting junction to the central tower, and looked down intently, seeing or hearing something else. Abruptly, the sentinel leaped a second later, transforming as he fell. Sebby rushed to the side of the sky bridge, peered down in time to hear the dragon's voice echoing up from above as he spoke into the foyer, then ... fire, gushing through the base chamber of the Orient Tower. 'Sneaking human' ... ? Torsten?! Yet, something more remarkable followed. A shape had sped in from the east, swerving over the now-unwatched tower wall, and it collided with the sentinel in a swoop of cobalt. -o-0-O-0-o- Araziah stood still, at the window. He had not moved since Sebby's departure. Poised, ready, his fury was kept caged within as the air dragon had suggested. It was difficult to restrain himself, but he did. He would unleash it when his prey was vulnerable. The view from where he stood was excellent. He had no reason to run, sneak, play with human minds. The covert sharpness of the air dragon was all well and good for a sky child, but Araziah embodied another way. It simply required the right moment and the right place, and he could see the majority of the activity going on in the fortress from where he was. There were only two dragons he truly wished to find, and he had not seen a hint of them. Not yet. He glanced to the sky bridge, and saw Sebby emerge from the nearby aperture and begin to cross to the Orient Tower. The nearest Scourge did not react to the air dragon's appearance nor his increasing proximity, remaining utterly oblivious to his presence and engaged in their tasks. His attention shifted back across to the centre, and right then, he saw it. A crowd of Scourge were exiting the central building on the sky bridge, heading west to the Occident Tower. Already a portion of the way through, they were moving quickly, almost at a run, and in the middle of the cordon of bodies was a dragon. Mordred. Araziah's focus intensified, his stare and the complex urges of his enhanced perception scanning the human-form of the Grey Prince. The figure flashed in and out of view between the Scourge escorts, but one thing was clear. He was carrying something. A little something, in his right hand, a cloth bundle no larger than an apple. The Fear. He looked to the tower's apex. The Occident sentinel had noticed the protective cadre, and already moved across to observe it. At the same time, Araziah perceived a subtle enchantment woven into the rooftop. It was a launcher boost, giving an added thrust that would propel a flying dragon quickly up. Further, not far from that, outside the fortress bounds, in the middle distance to the west, lay the clouding effect at the start of the Corridor. The western tower was the egress point; made for ease of departure. There was only one explanation that made sense. The Grey Prince was leaving with the Fear. Araziah needed to act, but the timing was critical. He itched for it, but he waited, allowing the seconds to tick by even as his senses demanded he strike, letting it continue longer than he was comfortable with. His wrath had increased, boiled higher, but he held it, seeing the figures get closer to their destination. They needed to be at the optimum point. Now. Araziah teleported to the Occident sentinel. Kaia's knife jabbed, cutting into the human-form's side, then he pushed the flailing wounded dragon off the tower, before assuming his natural form. Wings unfurling, front claws gripping the battlement's stone merlons, he leaned forth, looming above the party, and bathed the approach in fire. REVENGE! Mordred had only a momentary uncertain confusion to hear the battlecry and understand the situation, his own transformation a reflex, before Araziah struck him. With their combined weight and the red dragon's momentum, they crashed through the sky bridge and the incinerated Scourge. Cobbling, ash, and scorched stone scattered from the impact, and the pair plunged down, Araziah's slashing claws raking deep into the hide and scaling on Mordred's chest and neck. They impacted the ground with force enough to shatter the tiled path beneath the towers. The Grey Prince was roaring in pain, and with impressive acrobatic skill he bucked, his lower body twisting, his legs kicking. Araziah lost his grip, and was sent flying into a forward roll. Head over tail, he came about, righting himself, but Mordred was fast and very agile, already away. Araziah whirled, spying his foe above, climbing the Occident Tower in fitful leaps. It was the first chance to look at the Grey Prince's dragon form and he cut a striking figure; leaden all over, befitting his title, but for burgundy dabs -- a frontal bib of it, the lower jaw, eye sockets, and streaks of warpaint on his wings and long straight horns. Limber, he flapped as he climbed, using the thrust to speed his ascent. Further above, the other sentinel dragon, having latched onto the tower's side before he reached the base, was now rising too, uninterested in engagement and more concerned with Mordred's defence. Why not attack? It was two against one, but ... ... he could see Mordred's right foreclaw was clenched, just as his human hand had been, and he was not using it in his climb. Mordred was still holding the Fear, and it was then Araziah realised: the object could not be transfigured and 'stored' with the human form as many other personal items could be. It was an artifact of divine origin and being the sliver of a dead god made it beyond the scope of simple transformational magic. Mordred could not release it, and the sentinel with him was injured. They were at a disadvantage, not able to fight properly, and not sure they could win. Behind, in the rest of the fortress, he heard the muted roar of other dragons engaging in combat, the subconscious perception assuming Sebby's responsibility. The nearest Scourge on the ground were running, some away from him, some towards the other fracas, shouting and screaming in dismay at Araziah's sudden presence, or perhaps at whatever else had alarmed their miniscule senses. Through those few seconds, Araziah did not give chase, but continued to watch. He had bottled his wrath again, his body coiling at the tower base, his attention fixed unfailingly above, intent murderous but strategically converged, inerrantly aimed. He knew what he would do next. Mordred reached the summit, glaring down at him, the companion sentinel doing the same, both baffled by the lack of immediate aggression, the doubt sowed at his oddly restrained behaviour becoming full-blown paranoia, the meaning as a battle-tactic stalling any more decisive reactions. Not just that, but dread. Dread at a 'hatchling' that was nearly as grown and mature as an adult decades older. Dread at how strong he was already, at what he was becoming. Yet, above, before the Grey Prince could move to depart, another intrusion changed the possibilities completely. The sky shimmered, a hazy blue glow sweeping it, a magical shield crossing overhead, boxing in the fortress. A moment later, a water dragon burst into view, swerving over the western tower's summit to collide with the wounded sentinel, in a throated call of wild sea surf pounding onto rock. Reinforcements? Even better. Now, there was no way to escape. With a hungering joyful voracity, full of the yearning for battle, Araziah leaped up, teleporting again to the top of the Occident Tower. -o-0-O-0-o- Blue?! I dashed around the pit, the earth shaking, flashes of wings, scales, spikes, and snatches of sound whipping past the arch. Trying to get to safe viewing distance, I was stopped before I got within twenty feet of the arch. The wall on the right side of it erupted as the blue dragon's head crashed through, evidently rammed into it by his opponent. Baying in indignation, he withdrew immediately, the fire dragon hauling him free of the obstruction. Physically larger, the sentinel threw the water dragon down, having gained the upper hand in their wrestling, restraining him, while that familiar glow rose through the open jaws. Death. Instead, from above, a platinum blur dropped into view. Platinum. For a moment, I couldn't believe what I was seeing, but I was seeing it. The third landed with his entire weight on the shoulders of the rampant fire dragon. The sentinel was yanked backward, but Sebby rappelled away, repositioning himself in an aerial flip. He reoriented in the air, light and easy, then landed on the spread right wing of his opponent, pinning it to the ground. In a flash, the water dragon was up, the immobilised enemy thrashing as he tried to come free, but water mirrored his new ally, weight fully upon the left wing. Bound. At the same time, they attacked. From one side, a storm of lightning. On the other, a torrent of ice. The electricity arced down across the sentinel's chest, and layers of frost formed over the skull. It was indefensible, the ice rapidly thickening, the flickering shocks continuing, and the resistance slowed. At first savage, the struggle weakened, the scrabbling claws doing nothing, until the breath attacks abruptly stopped. Without letting a moment pass, the water dragon turned his lower body, his tail whipping around to smack with bludgeoning force. Like a hammer, it slammed into the ice-encased skull of the sentinel, which smashed beneath the blow, a red mist of bloodied shards and glittering fragments scattering from the impact. "Sebby?!" I was yelling, stepping over the wall's rubble, and I didn't care who knew. He had to hear me. "SEBBY!" Torsten?! His head swiveled from the sentinel's death pyre and he saw me. Torsten! In a blink, he had scooped me up through the wrecked wall of the tower's ground floor, lifting me in front for a moment, his perception immediately noting both the activated energy weapon on my arm, and the different way I was looking at him. I could see the magic in both dragons, and while water was filled with a blue glow that seemed completely appropriate, Sebby's light was blinding bright. Far more than what it should have been. He's alive. ALIVE. What happened to him? You did it. He knew without me having to say anything, and there was a lot I wanted to say to him. Before I could, the water dragon interrupted our reunion, not realising how well we knew each other, how closely we were connected. Tempest's sister-son -- friend Sebby! Your skill is needed! Viktor! Sebby's reply was paired with raising me up, offering me to the water dragon like a cherished possession. You came with the Order, did you not? Bear him to their safety! He is important. Viktor's eyes zeroed on me, an appraisal taking place as he judged why such a strange request was made in mid-conflict for the sake of a single mere human, but it was momentary and done with fast, Sebby's word accepted. No more conversation took place, and Viktor snatched me from Sebby's grasp, his haunches compressing, and then we were launching up, the wings flapping rapidly as our trajectory changed in mid-air, and then it was a curve around the tower side, over the walls, and out. The fortress was passing behind, then a fuzz of static also, a blue barrier that we shot through with no problem as we exited. A shield? I was being dumped, quickly but not unkindly, onto the open deck of what had to be an Order gunship. It was one of several hovering a few hundred feet clear of the fortress, and I took a moment to look at the place we'd just left, and see what was going on. The castle was enormous, with five towers, each hundreds of feet high. A magical dome was encasing it, a blue shield that covered the entire complex from one side to the other, and was powered and projected by several devices deposited outside on the ground. Sebby, in his dragon form, was partially visible as he nimbly climbed the central tower. In the distance, atop the furthest tower, were no less than four dragons; two fire dragons, Mordred and a second, were locked in combat with another water dragon, and an unmistakable fourth. Araziah. Suppressing fire from some kind of magic weaponry was streaking from the Order gunships closest to the tower that served as the complex's entry, and there were Order agents debarking; onto the sky bridges, and on the ground, trying to open the gates and deal with the Scourge. From the central tower's base, two human-form figures were emerging, and though it was difficult to make them out from the range and angle of elevation, I did recognise one. Nero, and an unnamed companion. Their transformation was immediate. Without a beat, Nero rose directly up, the largest adult dragon-form of any of the present defenders, brawny and aggressive. His attention was exclusively on the tower by the entrance to the citadel, which was the point where the Order was focusing the attack. Clambering up the side he paused a moment to lean around it, his size making the movement short and easy, and exhaled on the Order personnel below, an impressive carpet of fire blanketing the entry zone. He was the lord of the castle and he was going to burn out the invaders. The other? My precognition kicked into overdrive, and it was like my brain zoomed to the secondary dragon, my senses flooded with what was going to happen. His name is Xander. He's from the Fifth House. If he is allowed to move freely, he will choose to fly to that far tower, and use his unique ability to help Mordred win the fight. I could see what would happen if he reached the top. It was a super-quick montage of possibilities and all of them were bad. The horrible clarity and unfair selectiveness of the seer's power became totally clear to me, the powerless certainty of distant foresight no less brutal than total cluelessness. Knowledge, without means. Sebby won't notice him until it's too late, and Araziah will die if nothing happens I can't do anything to change that ... but maybe someone else can. "Viktor!" I shouted at the water dragon, who was still hovering next to the gunship, though he was about to pull away and return to the battle. My voice was just loud enough to make it above the wind and engines, and his head turned. "See him? See that dragon!?!" My arm was thrust to Xander's location and his attention followed. "STOP HIM! In ANY way you can!" What? Why must- "SLOW HIM DOWN! DRAW ATTENTION! ANYTHING!" I screamed. "If he flies up -- IF -- he reaches the Grey Prince?!? THEY WIN!" Viktor stared at me, his irises a whirling storm of ice, pupils a darkened marine abyss. My urgency had startled and surprised him, but swiftly, he looked away, to the shape of Xander, which was beginning to move from the central tower's base and toward Mordred, meaning to intercept and assist. Please. Believe me. The water dragon dipped away from the gunship, wings still beating. His arms moved in the air, tracing some arcane symbols, blue light pulsing from the claw-tips as he wove his magic. Ice accumulated, the energy of water drawing it together into a long thin shape, building in thickness, and in short order he had fashioned a haft that ran more than two dozen feet. In moments more it was completed, and Viktor hefted the spear. Though hardly suited for feats of human athletics, he turned slightly where he hovered and tossed it, the 30-foot glacial spike sailing through the sky with as much speed and accuracy as if launched by a machine. It flew straight and clean, passing through the shield as it streaked towards the airborne form of Xander. -o-0-O-0-o- It was an annoying truth that Agent Crawley had never been very fond of heights. His phobia was the cause of more than a couple of drinking binges over the years, but it was one that he had eventually and studiously found more practical ways to deal with, especially when the situation demanded it. The current situation was definitely one of those. As Crawley strode along the sky bridge with the primary Order strike team, the Austral Tower just ahead, he tried his best not to think about the fact that the ground was at least 350 feet below him, and the only thing keeping him where he was, was a thin walkway supported mostly by ... magic. Distasteful was one word for it. Instead, he focused his mind on the situation. Guards on the western and eastern towers 're busy. River Snake #1 hit the west but Araziah was there already -- useful he's free, but what the hell were they doin', lettin' a prisoner that dangerous stay alive and escape? -- and River Snake #2 is runnin' interference on the east. North is unmanned -- why? Do I care? Not really, but it's strange. The southern gate structure is on us. We've got it, or soon enough. Procedure: Incog arrival? Check. Neutralise the tower's occupant? Next up. Then secure the gate, lock down the southern side. Kill remaining Conclave. Sweep the complex. Clean out Scourge. That was the plan. They barged into the southern tower from the sky bridge, the landing empty of any Scourge, but the agent's entrance met with that of another. The human-form Austral sentinel was descending from the roof via the stairs, just a couple of stories above, and he was their designated first target. Immediately the Order team opened fire, mistaking him for one of the Scourge elite, though the error was fleeting; bullets pinged away or embedded only skin-deep in shallow ineffectual wounds, and they quickly stopped shooting. "Fifth," Crawley snapped it, "or Seventh?" "Guns? Puny weapons! Ashbringer take you!" His hand shot out, magic gathering, his psychic presence exerting itself in the following words upon the foes in front of him, compulsion strong. "Surrender your-" Fifth. Crawley was faster on the quickdraw, his Diamondback up and blaring after the mention of the Ashbringer. The arcane-imbued rounds were very expensive and slow to make, their crafting being too arduous for mass production, but each was custom made to pierce the extreme toughness of draconic armour. Crawley only had four bullets available, and they were loaded in his cylinder. All four hit the dragon's head, interrupting him mid-speech. He jerked from the successive impacts, then fell backwards onto the stairs, already dead, blood leaking from the entry wounds in his skull. "Never had the pleasure of usin' my special rounds before. Got the honour of 'em all, bucko. Ain't ya lucky?" He reloaded the revolver, directing the team at the same time. "You three, secure the roof and call in any fliers. The rest, with me. Clean house to the basement." The agent began to descend, the team trailing him. He could hear the squawks in his earpiece, speaking of the lack of outside defences, the internal chaos, the fighting as the Order's other teams breached the lower floors, repressed the magical defences, and tried for the gate. Still, his focus was here, and they sped down floor after floor, disposing of the Scourge they came across. A limited few had personal shields and stun magic available, but the agents with him were seasoned individuals and there was little they couldn't handle. They were most of the way down, only a half dozen stories short of the base, when Crawley glimpsed rusty scaling flick past the window, a ruddy back leg gripping the tower exterior, then several stories above the rushing fwoosh of an exhaled flame. Nero. Alerted, out and about. "Son of a bitch," he muttered, and picked up the pace. Flying down the last couple of stories, they reached the ground floor of the tower to find pandemonium. The assaulting Order teams were attacking from outside, but the gate control ancillary stations on the Austral Tower's front were stubborn, the operating Scourge barricaded in and resisting at close quarters. The last of a number of Scourge were being dealt within the chamber proper, one of the other teams having arrived first, but more Scourge were appearing along the Occident ground passage, rendering the gate on that side inaccessible until they were cleared. Through the smoke and yelling, he knew what had to happen. "Hold them there -- don't let them control this room! Keep pressure on the gates!" He pointed at the Occident entryway, then to the obstructed doors to the gate control stations. "Breach those! Direct all spare force!" His team complied, darting down the final stretch of stairs and ahead to their comrades, and Crawley stomped fearlessly after them, and into the fray. This was all for a purpose, but fighting the Conclave's minions was a task for other men. Crawley? He ignored the combat with the Scourge, instead cutting behind the Order personnel and across the chamber. He was here for dragons. Specifically one that he could see, in a direct line of sight, straight ahead. His eyes did not leave the shape of Nero's form, the dragon's body compacting as he landed next to the Austral Tower, having immolated its upper levels and exterior. His wings were extended, his head forward, and the booming roar of his verbalised anger echoed through Crawley's soul. The agent approached the arch leading to the outside, his aim unimpeded, his right hand rising. On it, the glove's five gems pulsed red, white light beginning to glow from the palm as it powered up. -o-0-O-0-o- Lucy Atkinson was running. As Torsten had told her, she went fast as she could, not turning when she heard the whoosh of rushing flame into the room she'd just vacated, and the brief screams of incinerated men. She couldn't think about what had happened behind her. He's the seer. He'll be fine. She had to believe it. Ahead, the straight line of the passage was clear and empty, and she continued to run, her breath coming shorter, before there was the glimpse of figures ahead, in the chamber this one connected to. Human shapes. They were fighting. Fighting? She skidded to a halt, chest heaving, and stared at the arch, still at least fifty feet distant. Is that ... the Order? Slower, cautious, eyes wide, Lucy walked closer, then sidled carefully the last few feet, catching a glance of the chamber. Just like the other one, a fire pit in the middle, Scourge dying to the Order, and none other than the weirdo PI himself, Agent Crawley, walking intently to the outside arch. Crawley! Lucy opened her mouth, wanting to call out to him, but the interior wall of the chamber erupted, stone spraying as a rippling wave of explosive pressure ran past, straight through her position. Flying, caught in a sweeping push that cut through the wall and knocked her clean onto grass and daylight, Lucy rolled, dazed. She sat up, covered in rock chips and dust, winded from the force of the impact. What was that?! Behind her, a large chunk of the tower's base wall, and that of the connecting passage, was ripped open. In front, Nero's tail was swinging back around him from his swipe, the dragon's head lowering with the circular movement, before he breathed out again, the gout of fire aimed at the scar he had torn in the building's side. It inundated the tower's ground floor, washing over Scourge and Order alike. No ... On a tangent between her and the dragon: Agent Crawley. He was trying to stand, but he was stunned, and wounded, his fedora missing, bleeding from a forehead scrape, and very unsteady. The dragon turned, catching sight of the agent. He went still a moment, surprised. Crawley. The tone was amused, almost joyful. What a happy coincidence. "The glove!" He gasped, staggering upright, eyes darting crazily across the grass. "Where- ... where is it?!" You came a long way to die. The dragon swung fully about. He was solid and hardy, a heavy brawler of his kind, coloured in orange-tinged rust all over. Nero's front claws thumped on the soil from shifting position, and reveling in the moment, forgetting the cries of battle, the clamour happening in a dozen places nearby, his undivided attention was given to Crawley. I'd hate to disappoint. "Hey! Hey you! Asshole!" Lucy didn't know how she managed to keep her voice from cracking, and denying the instincts that wanted her to just run away, the attention of the enormous utterly-deadly creature switching from the agent to her. "Leave him ALONE!" You. Equally as surprised, Nero snorted, smoke puffing from his nostrils. What good are you, little girl? "You'll have to see." She went a step forward and crouched to pick up what was at her feet. The gauntlet. Lucy took it and pulled it on her right hand. A magical curio? He stared at it, his interest caught. Intriguing. I will have it. His compulsion honed itself, concentrating on her, sent with the familiar air of superiority. Remove the toy. Bow down. Offer yourself and this gift to your new master. "No." The order scratched against her will ... but it didn't make a dent. What? You were commanded. His focus grew, the pressure increasing, her resistance not something the dragon had experienced. Obey. Remove it. "NO." You defy me? His patience was done, and he reared, the prelude to becoming no more than ash. Then ... BURN. The jet of fire shot from Nero's gaping maw, at least sixty feet distant, to hit- -air. It bounced away from Lucy's hand, an armslength shy, the flame dispersing and diverting to the sides, deflected and reduced to nothing. The barrage stopped. Nero was agape at the human girl before him, astonished. Unharmed. She stared back, then to the outstretched glove. It wasn't a toy at all. It was a real weapon. The balance had changed, the power shifted. He knew it, and he could not abide it. The dragon Nero roared, infuriated, and began to charge. If she was not fast enough, able enough, it would not matter. Yet, wearing Crawley's weapon had altered something about her perceptions. It wasn't exactly magic, and she didn't know how she could do so, but ... she felt it -- and she knew she could affect it. His mind. She pulled with her right hand, fingers curving, and something impossible happened. "STOP!" Lucy demanded. Glowing sparks flew from the gauntlet, and Nero faltered, stumbling to a halt. Claws ground through the earth, hind limbs throwing up dirt, as he came to standstill. What? What are you- ... n- ... no. The dragon shook his head, but he moved like he was drunk. Uncoordinated. Disabled. NO! "Yes!" Her fingers carved in a weaving movement, and she corralled the remainder of his psychic resistance with a swirling gesture in front of her, squashing it. "You will obey me!" I ... obey. His head dipped unwillingly, his wings flattening into an imposed meek submission. Dominated. "You're a monster and you're going to die for ALL the shit you've done to people during your life," she told him, "but first, I'm going to take the most valuable thing you know. Tell me- ... tell me your true name, and the true names of your family. The ones that matter." The desperation, the total and unparalleled terror at his powerlessness, was like nothing else, and he could not stop his voice from replying, exactly as he had forced countless humans to over the last century and a half. I am Nerunex. My brother Darren is Darricus. Our eldest Michael is Erezuur. He snorted, eyes wide, willing it to end, but unable to make it. My uncle Lothian is Luvengor. My cousin Kaia is Karidom. My cousin Mordred is Morvalzîr. "Lucy!" Crawley's arm quivered as he pointed at Nero, breath coming hard. "He's tryin' to free himself! He's fightin' it! Don't wait! Kill him NOW!" He was right. She could feel the pushback, as Nerunex struggled for control. It was likely her control would not hold. No stupid risks. "This is for Sebby, and everyone you've fucked with," she held out her hand, palm aimed at him, "and it's going to hurt." A beam of white energy burst from the gauntlet. It passed through the middle of the right wing, slicing it off in a clean amputation, the severed half falling to the ground. She directed the beam sideways over his chest, meandering, but slowly. Through the scales, the hardened armour, bone, flesh, it cut. The beam took only two seconds to disintegrate his body front to back wherever it touched; unmaking the dragon's physical matter, a surgical laser tearing through the central mass. She stopped before she got halfway. Deliberate, purposeful. It wasn't going to be fast. She wanted him to suffer. The gash carved in his side was gruesome. Steaming blood and jets of internal flame spurted and sprayed, and he could not stand. Wavering, he swayed for a second before his balance was lost, and he collapsed with a ground-shaking thump; his left wing and other limbs splaying on the surface. Nerunex gave a low keening rumble in a feeble protest, his head sliding flat and twisting on the soil so his big reptilian left eye could glare at her from where he lay; uncomprehending how this could be happening, wishing her dead but too weakened to act or even speak. Through the disbelief of his agony, laboured puffs of breath came slower and shallower, and his jaw opened. A stream of boiling fluid was coughed up, two weak spasms of it discharging over the grass in front of him, and with a last fading moaning cry that tapered away, the eyelid slid down. The dragon's body slumped properly, becoming lax, still, and settling at his final rest. -o-0-O-0-o- The ice spear struck Xander on his right flank as he was gaining altitude. It was a stinging blow that sent him off course and he collided with the side of the Occident Tower. Not enough to cause any real damage, the hit was mostly just an annoyance, but it was also interference. His head flicked about, seeking the source of the disruption, and for a dozen seconds he scanned his surrounds. It had not come from close, but his reaction gave him just enough time to perceive an incoming streak of silver from above. It knocked him off the tower side, his grip on the stone freed, and they plunged the short distance to the ground, the imposter on his back, their landing point the same impact crater from the Grey Prince's fall not long before. The aggressor was slippery, fangs tearing at the wing joints, clinging to him as they spun together. Backing up, Xander slammed him against the Occident Tower's base, loosening the hold momentarily, and with a practiced deftness, he turned in a half circle, contorting to hold his passenger in place as he did so. Face to face, both foreclaws latched onto the air dragon's skull and he activated his power. Too close, sky child. The magic poured out, draining from his victim into Xander; weakening one and strengthening the other in a vampiric embrace. Your life force is mine, and I will sacrifice it to our father! Yet, the dragon he had grappled simply dissolved. Illusion. Becoming a mass of white light, it split into a hundred streamers that snaked around his forelimbs and wings and chest and torso, magical bonds wrapping him and clinging tight. The free ends were rising, strands converging in the air into a thick rope of it, a lasso that flowed upward. They met thirty feet above, a leash emanating from the left foreclaws of the real Sebakâli, the air dragon hovering between the towers. No. His eyes were lit with the magic of his element, and his voice was vibrant with it. It is you who is the sacrifice. In the name of the Celestial Mother, you are condemned -- and I am the blade of her justice! Raising his right forelimb to the sky, there was a crackle of thunder, and then lightning came from the heavens. Bolt after bolt struck, again and again, forking and leaping from cloud to the air dragon's claws. The power of the Spirit of Air descended to her champion, his body wracked with electricity. It sparked and rolled across the glittering platinum of his form, dancing along the edges of his wings with the rhythm of their rise and fall. Through him, it passed, the collected energy running down the magical chains confining Xander, in a single uninterrupted stream. It did not harm Sebby, but the fire dragon? Xander writhed, convulsing, pulling at the bonds, but they only grew tighter, multiplying along with the electrical deluge, covering more and more of his scales, drawing his wings even further in. He fought it, but he could not stop it, the shocking pain tearing his insides, the ropes swaddling him in a blanket of doom, restricting even his breath, wrapping around his upper jaw. With a terminal sputtering gulp, he was beaten, the weakness overwhelming, damage done, and the summoned lightning ceased. Sebby released him, the chains dispersing into the air, the electrocuted form of the Fifth House heir dismissed on the floor of the fortress. -o-0-O-0-o- The top of the Occident Tower was dozens of feet wide, but with four atop, it was crowded. Araziah's initial return had been disruptive, and the tower sentinel, who was locked in close combat with the water dragon, had steered the fight to the centre point of the summit. Though wounded, he was still the largest of the present, and had repeatedly rebuffed Araziah, knocking him away from combat with any means available, and keeping himself in the middle and the Grey Prince protected on the opposite side. It was an odd dance of frenzied movements, with the combatants circling, back and forth, in a clamour of fangs, writhing scales and jerking wings. Tongues of fire and ice burst in the brief moments where it was possible, and Araziah tried, again and again, for an opening to pull the sentinel away, to pierce a hole and break apart the melee so he might insert himself and use his strength. The dragon was an older member of the Fifth House, and not only was his natural armour tough, but his defensive ability was proficient; bites were fended off even whilst occupied, attempted grapples seemingly denied with little effort, and slash damage minimised. It went on for nearly a minute before there was chance, and when he saw it, he took it. The sentinel had been on the higher position for most of the struggle, but in a slippery twisting pull, the water dragon reversed it, their positions switching. The sentinel was down, and Araziah dived in, going for the neck. What he didn't account for was the sentinel's tail. Unrestrained, it skimmed horizontally along the surface in a rapid sweep that surprised him, knocking him off balance and over the tower edge. Forest and sky whirled, and he frantically reached for the tower's side, falling only two dozen feet down, claws digging in. Clinging to the building, he pushed himself up, springing back to the top, yet again, only to find his new ally in the throes of death. Too slow. Given free reign, Mordred's stun had been enough, and the sentinel's concentrated fire on a defenceless target had done it. Held in place, the water dragon's front was badly charred, with exposed glistening tissue, the damage far too extensive, and with a parting kick from the sentinel, the mortally-weakened opponent was thrown from the Occident Tower. He struck the sky bridge to the Austral, grasping at it momentarily to keep from falling, but he had no strength left, and he slid off the side, dragged by his own weight, vanishing to the forest below. The moment was infuriating, but it was an unfortunate opportunity. The sentinel had to die, and fast. Teleporting on top of him in the space where the water dragon had just been, Araziah surprised them, grabbing Mordred's horn with his left forelimb. Yanking him down, he bashed their skulls together; once, twice, thrice, both stunned, then his tail whipped round in an effective imitation of the the sentinel's previous move. It smacked into the Grey Prince's torso, knocking him back, right to the tower's edge. With his right forelimb, he prodded at the sentinel's side, feeling for the wound he had given earlier, and finding it, he thrust the entire hand under the scales, and through the cut. Flesh. Araziah's claws tore in, pushing up and around, mangling. Scales around the wound were driven out from the inside, and the slash became wider, deeper. He felt the sentinel's defence slip at the sudden catastrophic damage and intense pain. At the same time, with the left forelimb he held the sentinel's head up, forcing it back and revealing the neck, and with all his fury bit down, his jaws as wide as they could go. His teeth pierced through, sinking all the way in, as far as possible, and once anchored, with an almighty pull, he wrenched his head back and tore the sentinel's throat out. Now, it was even. Turning about, Araziah shoved the dead dragon off the tower side, spitting the mouthful of flesh out, his fangs and face drenched in heated draconic blood. Mordred had stabilised himself, skirting around the tower edge away from Araziah, and the two faced one another, the gap between them only just wide enough to allow a temporary lull. You are running out of friends, the red dragon mocked, and have nowhere to go. He shook his head, drops of gore splattering the stone between them. Who can save you now? The Grey Prince's eyes lit up, his only reasonable defence, the paralytic stun beginning. It was just as potent as in human form, and it hit Araziah like the psychic hammer that it was, breaking all response and immobilising him. Nero will destroy these Order fools and cancel the shield. Mordred's grip on the Fear was tight, and all he had to do was wait. Xander is already on his way. I saw him. There was a thunderclap, then a series of lightning strikes crackled down, jagged lines of electricity lancing to earth. For a number of seconds it continued, hitting within the fortress grounds, between the towers and perilously close to where they were before cutting off, the reverbating rumble of it dying away. Really? Araziah forced the vocal projection out, despite the stun. The sky goddess seems to think not. As if in agreement, there was a gust over the battlement's edge from below, where the storm had been. In a flash, a white shape sped over the edge, the air dragon braking sharply, to land with impeccable finesse and impressive swiftness, equidistant to the other two. The Grey Prince's reaction was to drop the stun, and in one hasty motion, slam his free left forelimb down, activating a rune embedded into the stone. A dim red shield of his own sprang up, the bubble large enough to protect Mordred but little else, and he kept his claws pressed to the glowing symbol, feeding his magic into it to. Expecting someone else? Sebby ambled casually across and tapped the barrier with a claw, dragging it across the surface, bright red sparks emitting as the tip clashed with the bubble. Kaia and Nero are dead, as are your wardens. Your sanctuary is broken. This is a neat trick, but it cannot hold forever. It will not need to. Mordred regarded him with a mixture of condescension and hatred from within his magical shell. You do not know my house, nor the Conclave. We have endured worse. Surrender yourself and the Fear, and you may live. The humans are kind to prisoners. The terms he offered were fair, though the air dragon knew they would not be accepted. Otherwise there are no guarantees. No surrendering! Araziah leapt up, wings beating rapidly as he rose to hover just over the tower, looking down on Grey Prince. He must DIE! He exhaled, a cone of fire blasting against the top of the buffer. Beneath, the Grey Prince gazed up, unconcerned, the breath attack not affecting his ability to sustain the defence. It was just as he told Sebby; he did not need to do this forever, just for long enough, except- -the heat was growing. The colour of Araziah's blaze shifted through the spectrum, the fever rising dramatically, until it reached white, then blue. But, it didn't stop. Blue became a whitened brightness, laced with zigzags of violet, which transitioned yet again into shifting fringes of faint purple, the magical essence of it rendering a hue that would not normally be seen, but ... the temperature. The purity of it was unbearable. Mordred had not seen any dragon breathe a flame like this. A haunting realisation came to him that Araziah's claim to have burned Thyndorag to death was in no way a lie. The rain on his defences was hurting, and with a blooming sense of panic, he felt it begin to outpace his aegis, overpowering what he provided to reinforce. I AM TRUE FIRE! Araziah's voice was flush with anger and the seething rawness of his rage, his attack unabating and extremely potent. KNOW IT AND DESPAIR! Then, from outside the walls, there came a loud sound; a shattering crash, like breaking glass and the roar of another dragon. Sebby's attention was drawn, and he saw the closest of the Order's projectors lying smashed in ruin on the ground to the west of the Austral Tower. A voluminous pall of smoke billowed about a flying shape, which was lifting from a dive attack to the air above the Occident Tower, at least two hundred feet above them. A segment of the shield above flickered and vanished, the source removed. The smoke eased, revealing the form of an enormous grey dragon, an elder, and his voice boomed down from above. Son. Father! In one motion, Mordred let go of the rune, and activated the tower's boost. He streaked up, his wings snapping fully open, and then around, powering past toward the Corridor. The elder waited only a moment for his son to go ahead, his gaze daring Sebby and Araziah to follow and try him, and then he too turned, the whoosh of his flight fading away as they both entered the Corridor. NO!! Araziah's control broke, his acrimony at the quarry denied and Fear escaping finally causing him to snap. He turned, and directing his conflagration elsewhere, he unleashed it upon the structures around him. Sebby jumped free, extricating himself from danger, and climbing in the air he watched. The sight was fascinating and alarming, and the red dragon strafed the towers with the destroying devouring power of true fire. Enabled by his wrath, the walls and towers were melting, stone and and metal magical fortification no equal, as Araziah laid waste to the citadel of the Seventh House.
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