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Disjecta Membra

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  1. Disjecta Membra

    Epilogue

    Thank you very much for that phenomenal compliment! Sincerely, that is such a humbling thing to hear. I’m very glad you enjoyed the story, and I can’t wait to get the next installment out! I am also planning on doing a series of short stories based in this world to keep everything alive until the next one is completed, so keep your eyes peeled!
  2. Disjecta Membra

    Epilogue

    Broadswords Epilogue She sat silently in her cell. There was a drip somewhere in the darkness, and the occasional scurrying noises made by rats, but otherwise there were no sounds. It made it easy for her to get lost in her thoughts. Though many people in the kingdom of Jhirdyr might not remember who the king had once been, Rea could never forget. He used to be an advocate for the mancies. Back when Rea was younger and coming into her own, she remembered how the king had supported the abilities of those capable of mancies, both divination and manipulation. Then one day, things changed. It was sudden. It didn't happen slowly; one day the king was supporting the mancers and the next he'd taken a whole new stance. It was without warning or explanation, which angered Rea more. She'd been so proud to be a citizen of Jhirdyr, with how open-minded and accepting it was. Being an innkeeper's wife with developing abilities, she'd been a huge supporter of the king. But when his opinion changed, so did hers. She still had no idea what had happened to him. Why he'd completely altered his views. As far as she was aware, he'd never made any kind of formal announcement on the matter, either. Not that it would make a difference. She couldn't imagine that any reasoning he had would be justified. At the time, she had thoroughly debated what to do. While mancies weren't being outlawed, it was clear that they were being shunned. To be a visible mancer within the community, it would only spell trouble for her and her family. She saw what it did to other mancers that lived nearby. They were driven outward, toward the furthest edges of the kingdom. They were avoided by the other citizens of the city. She couldn't let that happen to her. No, she didn't want to leave them – her husband, her sons. They meant the world to her. But so did her abilities. Which is when she left Jhirdyr. One night, when everyone was asleep, she gathered a few of her belongings. Some clothes, her locket, a few other random necessities. She kissed them each on the forehead, what she knew could be her final goodbye. And she departed into the night. Eventually, she'd made her way to Oestra. Along her journeys, she'd heard tales of the powerful Oneiromancers that lived there. She'd need a mentor, so she knew it was where she had to go. And when she got there, aside from the occasional thought of the family she'd left behind, she didn't look back. Over the years, her powers became incredibly strong. She was a fast learner and according to her mentor, a natural. She'd become a full-fledged Oneiromancer in no time at all, and was soon approached by the Dark Collective. With the fire that still burned in her soul, the anger and resentment she had for the man that had once promised people like her a place to strive, she didn't hesitate to join their ranks. For a while, she thought that maybe it was a hasty decision. But after learning what the Collective was all about, she knew she'd made the right choice. These were like-minded people, people who just wanted the same things she wanted. And now, sitting in her cell, all of those thoughts were in the forefront of her mind. The king had bested her. He'd locked her up. But he hadn't acted alone. Her own son had caused this. She thought she could trust him, thought he would understand. Especially once he'd opened up to her in revealing that he might be an Oneiromancer himself. Did he not realize how irrational he was being, supporting a king that forced mancers to keep their abilities quiet? She'd only come back to this hellhole city to rescue her boys. But it was clear to her now that at least one of them wanted nothing to do with her. And so she'd fallen into a trap. She surmised that Elsior had probably fallen in battle. While he had been a protégé of hers, he was nothing if not foolish. His cockiness would eventually get the best of him, and it would probably be now. She didn't know what else he had up his sleeve, but she was certain that her son and his cohorts would be involved in trying to resolve everything. The Collective would likely have to step in soon. Elsior had stirred up a lot of problems, and though his plans were in no way affiliated with the organization as a whole, their name would be brought up. They'd have to get involved in some way. She could only hope that they'd learn of her imprisonment and get her out of there. But until then, she'd continue dwelling. About the king. About Kep. About the wrongs both of them had done to her. She would get her revenge, in the end. It was just a matter of time.
  3. Broadswords Chapter Forty-Nine The Nightfall Birten rolled to one side, watching the subtle rise and fall of Kep's chest as he slept soundlessly next to him. The activities earlier that evening had meant a lot to him. He hadn't felt so cared for in as long as he could remember. It had been a long time since he'd felt that way with Daegon. He fought the urge to envelop Kep in his arms. He wanted that closeness, but he knew that Kep getting his rest was much more important. After everything that had happened, all of them that were involved needed a mass quantity of sleep. So he didn't touch him, just stared at the ceiling and let his mind wander to the events from a few hours before. After Harmon's speech, everyone kind of mingled for a while. They tried to keep the conversations light, for one last bit of normalcy, but most of the time they ended up going back to everything they might expect for the near future. Eventually, though, everyone started to trickle out. Once everyone was gone except for Birten and Daegon, Kep and Sal had started cleaning up the dining room. Daegon pulled Birten over to one side of the room. "I'm so glad you're okay, Birten. I worried a lot about you while everything was going on. My love for you is without compare. But… I do sense that our romantic partnership has come to a close," he said. It was evident that it was hard for Daegon to say those words, but Birten was glad he did. He didn't know how he would have brought it up, and he felt an appreciation for Daegon's courage. "I love you, too, Daegon. And I will be your dedicated squire as I always have. But I must agree, I think this chapter of our lives is ending." It saddened him. He truly did love Daegon. However, they weren't right for one another. They both grew as a result of their romantic relationship, in different ways, but it had to be over. "I sense there's another?" Daegon asked, nodding in Kep's general direction. He didn't ask it accusatorily or jealously, either. It was genuine. Birten smiled thinly, not needing to verbalize a response. Daegon smiled in return. He squeezed Birten's shoulder. "He's a good man. And he'll be lucky to have you." With that, Daegon said his goodbyes and thanks to the brothers. He gave Birten a final hug before departing. Birten helped clear the last glasses and flagons from the tables. When they were done, Sal asked Kep if he was heading to bed. "I think I'll, um… walk Birten home. If that's okay?" With a simple smile and nod, Birten confirmed. Sal said nothing, but also sported a smirk, and left the other two men in the room. "Oh, I almost forgot," Kep said sheepishly, and disappeared behind the bar. He emerged holding the bottle of wine he'd set aside for when Birten returned to Jhirdyr. Birten knew he was blushing, but he didn't care. It was a sweet gesture. He waited as Kep locked up the door, and the two of them headed toward Birten's home. They walked slowly, enjoying the quietness of the evening. They didn't say anything at all until they had entered Birten's house. It had been a long while since he'd stayed there, and many of the surfaces were covered with a thin layer of dust. Kep didn't seem to mind, though, and he set the bottle on the table. "Do you have glasses?" "I do, but I predict that they'll be as dusty as everything else in here. I could run to the well…" he trailed off. Kep shook his head though, and opened the bottle. He took a swig directly, and handed it to Birten to allow him to do the same. "Thank you," Kep said. "For what?" Birten asked. Kep shrugged, a small laugh formulating as he did so. "I don't know. Just… thank you." They stared at each other for a few moments before Birten finally got the courage to do what he'd been waiting to do for a long while. He stepped up to the slightly shorter man. He put each hand on either of Kep's biceps, feeling the muscles tense as he did so. He looked into his eyes, that same depth there that he'd noticed on their first meeting. And he kissed him. Kep's lips were soft, but still contained a firmness that allowed for a powerful kiss. Though it was their first kiss, and tender, there was a passion behind it that made Birten feel weak in the knees. He'd definitely had passionate moments with Daegon, but none that felt like that. When they broke apart, Kep's smile was ear to ear. "Wow," he said. And that was all he needed to say. They shared another kiss, and Birten knew that he'd made the right decision. Sure, there was more for each of them to learn about the other. But that would come in time. Right now, all he wanted was to be with Kep. However, when they disconnected after their second kiss, Kep's smile was replaced with a frown. "Birten… I feel like I have to tell you something. When you were gone, I…." He let his sentence trail, and Birten could tell whatever he was about to say was weighing on him. He didn't know what it was specifically, but given the situation they were currently in, he had a good idea. He cupped Kep's jaw in his hand, running his thumb over his cheek. "Hey, listen. Whatever happened before isn't important. I was involved with someone before this, too. The past doesn't matter. We have the future to look forward to. We have now." Positioning himself on the bed, he motioned for Kep to join him. He did so, but he still appeared to be a little down. Birten didn't like it. He'd dealt with enough sadness over the past few weeks, and he wanted this to be a pleasant experience for both of them. With that considered, he needed to take Kep's mind off things. And he knew just how do to that. He slipped Kep's tunic off and over his head, running his fingers over his bare chest. He trailed his mouth down Kep's neck, over his torso and down to his stomach. This seemed to bring Kep back into the present. He visibly began to relax, allowing Birten's fingers and lips to do all the work. Birten slid his hand across Kep's thigh, letting it rest at his groin. He felt Kep hardening underneath his fingers. He untied the drawstring of Kep's pants with one hand, and after they were loosened he slipped it inside and curled his fingers around Kep. He was fully hardened now, and Birten kissed him deeply. His hand continued to stroke Kep, and his own pants were feeling very tight. But suddenly, Kep started to pull away. "I, um… I've never…." Birten felt ashamed. He was moving far too quickly, considering the amount of time they'd known each other. He moved his hand away. "I'm sorry," he said simply. He wanted to apologize for how far he'd pushed things, for assuming that Kep was ready for what he was initiating. But he felt too sheepish to utter the words. "No, it's not that," Kep said, and he grabbed Birten's hand. "It's just… how do we determine who… goes where?" "Oh," Birten said with a blush. Kep didn't feel rushed. He just wanted to make sure everything went as it was supposed to. "You just kind of figure it out as you go along. Everything will fall into place." They fell into another kiss, and eventually Birten's tunic met Kep's on the floor. Soon, their trousers did, too. Their bodies intertwined as Birten's barely-tanned limbs wrapped around Kep's bronzed ones. A rhythm was found without effort. Birten's stubble pulled against Kep's full beard, Kep's calloused fingers raked across the skin of Birten's back. Birten couldn't wait any longer. He fumbled around in the drawer of the bedside table until he found a small container of oil. Unscrewing the lid, he dipped his fingers inside to anoint them with the liquid. He set the jar aside and rubbed his hands together to coat his palms. He ran his fingers of his right hand over Kep's length while he used his left to apply some between his legs. He laid back on the bed and helped guide Kep inside of him. He inhaled as he took him in, the sudden sensation of being penetrated overwhelming. Kep's reaction was quite similar, and he allowed him a moment to familiarize himself with the sensation. Soon, though, Kep's instincts had kicked in. He found a perfect pace and followed it. And it felt amazing. Their bodies worked together as if they were one. Birten had to fight to prevent himself from finishing already, before Kep was done. But Kep finished first, a slight pant playing at his breath. A thin sheen of sweat peppered his skin, and he smiled at Birten. Birten smiled back and stared at him. Kep was breathtaking. They'd shared a moment more glorious than any he could think of from his past. He was glad he was with this man. The both of them fell onto their backs, staring at the ceiling as they regained their composure. Kep sidled up next to Birten and wrapped his arm around his chest, running his fingers through the hair that grew there. Kep kissed his shoulder and sighed into his skin. "Wow," he said again. Birten didn't think he'd get sick of hearing that. Without looking at him, Kep added: "do you want to go again? But… the other way? I want to experience that, too." Birten was kind of shocked. When he'd been with Daegon, it was almost always done after Daegon had gotten what he was after. And Daegon was always in control; there wasn't a single situation where Birten had taken the lead. It felt unusual having Kep ask to switch it up. In a good way. In a very good way. He got up and positioned himself accordingly, repeating the routine with the oil. He looked at the man before him, watched as he nodded his readiness into existence. Spreading Kep's legs apart, he centered himself. He kissed Kep tenderly on the mouth. He knew that it might be painful for him, considering it was his first time, and so he went slowly. He could feel Kep tense up beneath him, and he paused. When Kep seemed to relax again, he continued. Completely inside, he waited again to make sure Kep was comfortable. And it was effortless. They moved together seamlessly, and the feelings were beyond compare. Birten had never felt so in tune with someone in his life. He didn't last long before he finished, his body falling slack on top of Kep's. The innkeep grabbed his face and pulled it toward his own, the pair once again lost in each other's embrace. It had been exactly what Birten had needed. Now, in the darkest hours of the night, he watched as the moonlight peeked through the curtains and shone across the parts of Kep's nude body that weren't intermingled with the sheets. He took in the beauty of the moment for a while, until he could no longer remain motionless. At that point, he emerged from the bed and stepped over to the window. As much as he tried to suppress it, and even with the recollections of his intimacies with Kep, he couldn't prevent the thoughts of the stones from entering his mind. There were nine dragonstones out there that they had to find and destroy. And they had no idea how much time they had. They could revert into their dragon forms tomorrow, or it could be years from now. It could happen all at once, or it could happen periodically. While Elsior may have been foolish and arrogant in telling them about his plan B in the first place, he was smart enough not to give them much more information than that. As Kep's soft snores sounded from behind him, Birten stared out the window into the blackness of the night. He knew he should get some rest, but he couldn't sleep. There were so many unknowns left. A month and a half ago, he knew what to expect. Here's a dragon, slay it. Now… it wouldn't be that easy. They might have to travel the world to accomplish their goal. They would likely have to split up. There was no telling what was in store for them. The darkness outside bore no solution. It simply stared back at Birten, not putting his anxieties to rest. The call of a night-raven was barely audible somewhere in the distance. The chirrups of crickets echoed from outside the walls. They weren't giving him answers. With a sigh, he admitted defeat. Though not tired, he retired to his bed and settled in next to Kep. Tomorrow would bring what tomorrow would bring. He thought back to what he'd said to Kep earlier that night. The past doesn't matter. We have the future to look forward to. We have now. He hoped he was right.
  4. Disjecta Membra

    The Stones

    Broadswords Chapter Forty-Eight The Stones The wood surrounding the cave was pretty much lost. The kingdom had called upon all of its magic-wielding citizens to help with relief efforts, and Phërion had summoned a few Hydromancers from Dorderia to assist with the quelling of the flames. But their journey wasn't a quick one, and most of the damage had already been done by the time they'd arrived. Harmon couldn't help but wonder why the amount of destruction couldn't have been seen in any visions by any of the mancers, and as a result they could have had Hydromancers at the ready. But he expected that their divination skills didn't work that way. Then again, he didn't really know much about the mancies as a whole, even if he had spent some time studying them. Though Elsior's actions were far from appropriate, he hadn't been completely wrong about how closed off Jhirdyr was in understanding mancies. He hadn't had a chance to meet Phërion formally yet, but Harmon hoped he could pick the Pyromancer's brain and get some more insight on the mancies as a whole. He'd also learned that Phërion had a hand in Harmon's locating the book on Terramancy. If nothing else, he wanted to share his appreciation for that. It was even the smaller things such as that which helped secure their victory. Even if the war was far from over. In the days after the battle, Harmon gave everyone time to rest. Each of the slayers, as well as Birten, Kep, and Lana, had been through a lot of physical and mental strain. Harmon himself was not exempt, either. All of them needed some downtime before he gathered them all together to discuss their next moves. Needless to say, his father was not too happy with his inclusion in the events that had occurred. He'd threatened to have Harmon quarantined in his bedroom, locked away as punishment for his actions. But with some convincing, Harmon talked his way out of it. He'd killed Elsior after all, the biggest threat their kingdom had seen in quite some time. Harmon assumed his father understood that even though he was no longer involved with Elsior, it was still not an easy task to end his life. It was someone he had once cared for deeply. And though his father was a stubborn man, he was not made of stone. Which is probably why he dropped the threats of reprimand. On the same token, the king did not feel that Jhirdyr should be involved with seeking out the dragonstones. After everything had calmed down a bit, the king had called the slayers, Birten, and Lana to a meeting with himself, his wife, and his eldest two sons. "The brave actions you showcased in the events that transpired north of Jhirdyr are momentous and your kingdom thanks you. Though some tragedies unfortunately occurred, the losses we suffered could have been far worse had it not been for you. "I have been brought up to speed on everything that happened, and the potential risk this man has spread out to our sister cities and various other areas across the continents is unspeakable. Regrettably, we do not have the means to assist them. We lack the manpower to lend our assistance to this cause. Doves will of course be sent out to the other fifteen kingdoms to alert them of the impending complications that may arise. They can spread the word to their surrounding cities from there. "However, I do have more pleasant news. As a result of the occurrences the other day, there have been some changes in the rankings. Daegon, your heroic actions are not to go unnoticed. The individual results you garnered in that battle are remarkable. You have hereby officially been promoted to the second rank. The current order is now: Elan, Daegon, Tayrick, Feodoro, Caspin, Verne. "Unfortunately, six slayers is not enough to keep our kingdom protected, which is highlighted by said battle. Should anything of this scale happen again, we need to ensure our readiness. Preparations have begun to hold an event to honor our lost slayers. At the same time, we need to restore our ranks. That being said, I would like to formally extend an offer for the role of dragonslayer to you, Lana." All attention went to Lana at that point, but she said nothing. She stared straight ahead at the royal family. And it wasn't she who finally broke the silence, but Daegon. "I'm sorry to take this moment from you, Lana, but I must interject. While I am honored for the promotion, your highness, I have to decline. I am too well aware of the further tragedies that could impact the rest of our world now that these dragonstones have been disbursed. I would not be able to live with myself if I kept maintaining the same life here in Jhirdyr. I need to be involved in destroying the stones. I'm officially removing myself from the rankings." A few gasps peppered the moments following Daegon's resignation, but he wasn't the only one to speak up. "I have to agree with Daegon," Elan said firmly. "I, too, must step down." Elan's decision had the same response as Daegon's, and Harmon could tell without looking at his father that he was furious. Still, the announcements weren't done. "And I, as humbled as I am by your offer, must also decline. There is more for us to do." Lana's words lingered as the rest of the slayers looked on. But she was the last of them to speak. The other four slayers remained silent. The events of one battle had cut the Jhirdyrian dragonslaying ranks from nine, to six, to four. Once the kingdom with the beefiest collection of slayers, Jhirdyr was now somewhere amongst the middle. And considering their two best slayers were no longer part of that number, it was no surprise that the king was angry. While Harmon could understand his father's irritation, he also knew that Daegon, Elan, and Lana were doing what they had to do. He didn't blame them one bit. If he had the means to do so, he would have done the same thing himself. The king kept his composure, however. "Very well. I cannot say that I support this decision, but I also cannot prevent you from doing so. The services you have each provided are appreciated. This does of course mean that the lodgings afforded to you as part of your positions will no longer be available to you. I will allow you a week to find other accommodations, but not a day more. Your resignations are accepted, and will be henceforth catalogued. Jhirdyr thanks you for your service." That had been two days ago. Now, Harmon had gathered those willing to participate in locating the dragonstones together at Street Inn. He looked around the room as he waited for the chatter to die down. It was an interesting group. Daegon and Birten, Elan and Lana, Kep and his brother Sal, Phërion and his companion Roark. Even Kep's friend Jeno and his wife were in attendance, sitting in the back corner keeping their baby quelled. While they couldn't assist on the frontlines, they'd offered their support and were willing to do what they could to help. And having an apothecary on their side wouldn't hurt. Even Lessa had wanted to join, after hearing all of the details. But the king would never allow her to come. It was hard enough convincing him to let Harmon leave the castle, but Harmon was going to use the "I killed Elsior" angle for as long as he could. The king finally relented, but only after assurance that Harmon would assist in the efforts internally and would not be departing the kingdom. And with his visit to the inn including the accompaniment of two guards. They currently flanked the door on the outside, doubling as security in preventing patrons entry during the meeting. Once the side conversations began to taper off, Harmon began his speech. "Thank you to each and every one of you for meeting here today. We have a well-rounded group of individuals involved in this quest. Together, we have a chance of stopping what Elsior has started. We don't know what to expect. We don't know how much time we have. But what we do know is that we have the means to prevent it from happening. "We have mancers to assist in finding the locations of these stones. We have the sage minds and logicality of our squires to keep us aware and get us through issues that might arise. We have our dragonslayers to defend us against whatever we come to face. We have an apothecary to supply us with any healings or concoctions that might become necessary. And above all, we have a dedicated group that will stop at nothing. "While I can't be out there questing with you, I will run the hub from here in the kingdom. While you are out there, I will spend all of my free time researching whatever I can in order to aid you. We will be in constant contact via messenger doves. I also have a secret weapon at my disposal. Though I wouldn't admit it to her, my sister Lessa is a genius. She would be beyond thrilled to be a part of this, and her research skills are unmatched. She will undoubtedly be very impactful in our quest. "I also predict that we will find more allies along the way. While you're out there, do your due diligence in making connections that might further us in our journey. No bit of assistance is too small. At the same time, we must all keep cautious. We don't know if the Dark Collective had any part in Elsior's plan, but we do know that they're out there. Elsior was proof enough that they have the capability to deceive those around them to get what they want. Should a member of the Collective infiltrate our ranks, it could be our downfall. "We've had a few days to rest, and I know some of us still need some more time. But we have no time to waste. Whatever we can do until we get some leads on the locations of the stones can only help. Whether it be through research, mancies, or even thinking of potential plans, any preparations we have are a good start. "I also want to thank Kep and Sal for granting us access to their inn as a headquarters. I think it's safe to say we will be converging back here in Jhirdyr from time to time, and a dedicated place for us to meet up will be necessary. Of course, they still have a business to run. And so I've contracted a group of builders to erect an annex at the back of the inn, adjacent to the kitchen." Both Kep and Sal made to interject, but Harmon didn't allow them. "It's a necessary addition. And it's for all of us. It will strictly be for use as a meeting place, and will bear no impact on your business, either positively or negatively. It will also be only a small addition, barely noticeable from the outside. Passersby will be none the wiser that anything has changed about the structure of the building itself." The brothers did not attempt to argue further, and both nodded in appreciation. Harmon looked around the room to see if anybody had any questions or anything to add. But they didn't. Considering none of them really knew what to expect, they probably didn't know what to bring up. He thanked them for their time, and the small talk between them all picked up again. Harmon was in no rush to get back to the castle, so he found himself striking up a conversation with Jeno and his wife. Though he partook in the discussion, he wasn't really tuned in. His mind was all over the place. He thought of Elsior and the times they'd had, and how that had changed so immensely. He thought about his father and the impact that his decisions could potentially have. He thought about how everyone in that room was the only chance they'd have to seeing this all resolved. He was just as in the dark as everyone else, and was glad he could put on an air of confidence to keep spirits high. But he wasn't all that sure. He had his doubts. But all he could do was be the leader these people needed.
  5. Yes, his logic is a little off. He had a lot of time to himself while he was banished, and that changed his mental state a bit. Just like how he found it logical to try to destroy an entire kingdom because of that banishment, instead of going directly for Harmon and/or the king. In the same sense though, there will likely be some less than logical areas who will point blame on the people they felt should have stopped it before it got to this point. The Sanguistis killed Elsior so fast because he took it to the heart. So it was drawing blood directly from the source. From Harmon’s standpoint, he used the spike in the hilt rather than the blade because it was a rapid attack and he used the first pointy part he saw. From my standpoint, it’s more interesting and brings things back full-circle. I think it’s a more appropriate end than if he was just stabbed like normal. 😜
  6. I will confirm that yes, Elsior is truly dead. However, his magic does not die with him. The stones will remain stones for an unspecified amount of time, so the group is really going to have to get into gear to figure out what they’re going to do.
  7. Broadswords Chapter Forty-Seven The Battle, Part Three Kep didn't feel any sense of remorse for having his mother imprisoned. Initially, he expected that he'd at least feel something. A lingering thought at the back of his mind, or a sharpness in the depths of his stomach. But he didn't. It needed to be done, it was right, and his body wasn't burdening him with guilt over it. In any event, he'd been reunited with Birten. It was overwhelming. Their embrace had felt so right to him, and he had to resist the urge to kiss him. He wanted to, that was for certain. But he did not want their first kiss to be in front of Harmon, the king, his mother, and a random guard. Nor did he want it to occur in the dungeons beneath the castle. So he refrained. There would be plenty of time for that later, anyway. Plus, he knew that the battle must be raging at the cave. He couldn't even imagine what exactly was going on, but he knew that he had to be there. Regardless of what the slayers would think about the situation, he was just as much a part of this thing as all of them. It wouldn't be right to putter around in the kingdom while something so major was occurring. After they left the dungeon, Harmon pulled Kep and Birten aside into a small sitting room a ways down the corridor. "So what's the plan?" the prince asked. Kep still didn't know him all that well, but Harmon, too, seemed rather unfazed after the scene that had just transpired below the castle. Perhaps it was something the prince was used to experiencing, being royalty. Or maybe he also knew that it was something that needed to be done. Kep cleared his throat. "I have to get out there, to the cave. I know I won't be able to add anything in the means of fighting, but I can't stand idly by while everything is happening. I need to support the slayers, and me being here isn't doing much to help that." He looked at Birten, hoping he didn't try to dissuade him. It would hurt him to go against Birten's wishes, but he knew he'd go either way. He just hoped the support was there. Birten nodded. "I have to go, too. I'm still a little groggy in the head, but what's right is right. I have a slayer out there who I've sworn to accompany through thick and thin." "Alright, let's go," Harmon said, and made his way toward the door. Both Kep and Birten watched as he began his departure, but neither followed suit. Kep knew they were both thinking the same thing. A member of the royal family voluntarily putting themselves into such a violent and dangerous scenario? It wasn't the smartest idea by any means. Harmon noticed that they weren't behind him, and he turned. "Come on, we don't have time to waste," he said. He must have been able to decipher the looks upon their faces, as he continued. "My father wouldn't approve of this, no, if that's what you're thinking. He would prevent me from going. He wouldn't allow it. But this is bigger than that. There is a battle raging out there, and in part it's because of me. And in part it's because of my father. I have an obligation to this kingdom, and I am not going to let someone destroy it because of the way they feel about me. There are countless innocent people that could see their lives end today because of this foolish act. I'm going." Kep couldn't argue with that. Despite his status, Harmon had just as much right to go as Kep did. So he was in no position to debate. He followed the prince out the door, and with some hesitation, so did Birten. They hadn't been able to procure use of any of the royal steeds from the stables, as the news of Harmon's appearance would without a doubt make its way back to the king. And Birten's horse had been lost in Dorre. They had no real choice except for Kep to rent three cheap horses. They could probably double up, but considering the state of the lower-priced rentals, it wouldn't do them much good. It would only delay their trek, and none of them was willing to allow that to happen. So Harmon waited a distance away from the stables, sticking out like a sore thumb despite the fact that they'd clad him in some ill-fitting garments of Kep's. Meanwhile, Kep and Birten dealt with getting each of them a horse. When they'd made their way back to Harmon, Kep couldn't help but think how ridiculous the well-off man looked in the less than noble streetwear. However, it was what was needed in order for them to get him through the kingdom unnoticed. When they finally got on their way, Kep realized that they might have trouble actually departing the kingdom. Though they had made it this far without anyone realizing a prince was in their midst, the guards at the kingdom gates would be much more observant. It could be a hitch in their plan; not only would it prevent Harmon from leaving, but Kep couldn't be sure that he and Birten would be safe from punishment. It was bad enough when the guards had thought he'd caused Elan's injury when he'd returned the slayer to the kingdom. If they thought he was kidnapping the prince, or even just involved with the royal son trying to escape, it would certainly be much worse. But Harmon didn't seem concerned. "They'll be more attentive when we return. They're not going to put as much focus on us as we exit, and they wouldn't have reason to expect that I'd be leaving. If my father had noticed I'd gone missing and alerted them, it would be a different story. But by the time we come back, there's not much they can do. They won't have the option to not allow me reentry." Though his nerves were still high, Kep didn't voice any further concerns. Harmon was so well-spoken that he made it hard to argue. So they left. And Harmon's theories were confirmed. The guards glanced over their faces as they passed through, but miraculously didn't appear to recognize him. It was concerning to Kep how some dirt, a change of wardrobe, and the tussling of Harmon's hair made that much of a difference in the eyes of those protecting the perimeter of the kingdom. Regardless, they'd made it out without issue. And there were more concerning things for him to focus on. He had no idea what they would arrive to, and he was beginning to feel more scared than he had in a long time. All of the emotions and fears that he'd felt over the past month or so were finally culminating due to the situation at hand. He did his best to push his anxieties down, but it wasn't easy. He had to do it, though. He knew he was putting himself into this situation, and allowing his internal issues to get the best of him would negate that. They were making decent time on the horses, and it didn't take long before they noticed the fire. Though the wood was still a significant distance away, the flames were visible from where they were. Kep could tell that the fire had spread a sizable radius out from where the cave stood. It terrified him to think that all of the slayers could have been burnt alive in the process. They could be too late. When they reached the first smattering of trees, they found the horses of those that were involved in the battle. The fire hadn't yet reached the edge of the wood, thankfully, but the horses could clearly tell that something was amiss. Kep didn't feel comfortable leaving their horses there, but there was nowhere else to leave them. So they did. Once they were on foot, they kept as quick a pace as possible. The warmth intensified the further they got. And before long, they began encountering parts of the wood to which the fire had spread. But with Kep's guidance, they were able to navigate through and find alternate routes to avoid those areas. And finally, they made it to the clearing. The battlegrounds were a sight to behold. The entire surrounding area was ablaze, and there were two large dragons lying immobile near the center. Two additional dragons were active, and the slayers were split up into two groups in defense. It took him a few moments to realize that there were a few human bodies on the ground as well, and he forced himself not to look. As he shifted his gaze, he saw Daegon begin to climb the further of the two dragons. It took him some time, but he made it up the creature and wrapped himself around its neck. As Kep looked on in astonishment, he witnessed a dragon being slayed for the first time. The dragon fell to the ground, and Daegon came off of it as if it had been nothing. But it wasn't nothing. It was huge. Especially to Elsior, who Kep hadn't even noticed until his yell drowned out everything else. Though he had never seen the man, it was quite obvious that he was the one who had created all of this chaos. Looking crazed, Elsior raised his arms up into the air. "Enough!" he bellowed. He moved his hands in a series of patterns before him, staring intently at the dragon that was still standing. It began to rise into the air as he did so. Kep couldn't quite describe in his own head what was happening except that it appeared that the dragon was transforming. Several things happened all at once: the dragon began to shrink, its appendages began withdrawing into its body, its scales began smoothing out. It started off slowly, but the smaller it got, the faster it happened. Soon, the dragon was no more. Instead, what appeared to be a rock remained where the dragon had been. It continued to float in the air, and Elsior turned his attention to the mouth of the cave. A few of the other dragons were emerging, and he did the same to them. All of the onlookers were too shocked to move. Even Daegon and Elan, who Kep knew to be quick on their feet, stood where they were. Elsior had stunned them all. And he wasn't done. One by one, he altered each of the remaining dragons into stones, all of them continuing to float in the air once their transformation had been completed. Kep made mental note of how many dragons had been altered into this new form, and he realized that by Elan's initial count, there were still two left. They must not have fully emerged from the cave yet. With another gesture of his hand, the seven current stones flew across the clearing toward Elsior. He snatched them from the air and shoved them toward the man at his side, who immediately distributed them into the several pockets that adorned his clothing. The two of them rushed into the cave. Elsior was undoubtedly going to finish the task, turning the remaining two dragons. Finally, everyone else seemed to shake out of their stupor. Daegon was the first to move, followed soon by Elan and Lana. Within seconds, each and every one of them was following suit. Once inside the cave, there was no need for torches as Kep was so used to. The immense amount of fire that had overtaken the wood was enough to light a good distance into the cave. By the time Kep made it to the rest of the group, he could see that Elsior had already completed the transformation of the remaining dragons. He must have already given the stones to his companion, as he said "Deke, you know what to do." And Deke vanished into thin air. But Elsior remained, and the fury in his eyes was evident. He swept his gaze across the faces of everyone in his audience. "You think this is over… but it's far from over. There are nine infants and one full-grown Elsior's dragon left. You may have protected Jhirdyr… for now. But can you protect the rest of the continent? Or the other continents? I'm not so foolish to believe that I was guaranteed a win here today. Every plan requires a backup. Deke is currently fulfilling my request to have the dragonstones scattered across the lands. I didn't use full-fledged Terramancy this time, you see. The magic will only hold for so long before they revert back into their dragon forms. And when they unleash their fury on their new whereabouts, the people affected by their devastation will know Jhirdyr is to blame. They will know that this proud kingdom could not eradicate the power that exists within my creatures and thus is the reason they were spread elsewhere in the world. They will know who brought tragedy to their people." Most everyone was either too stunned or too angry to speak. But apparently Daegon wasn't one of them. He took a step toward Elsior, hand at the hilt of his sword. He sneered. "You're pathetic. Destruction of the world is your answer to a personal vendetta? Millions of innocent lives lost because you felt betrayed?" The two men stared at each other. Neither of them moved. Kep glanced around at everyone else, and anyone with a weapon had it at the ready. But Elsior was unarmed. And outnumbered. But that didn't seem to bother him one bit. "I'm not heartless. Do I want to see innocent people lose their lives? Of course not. But sometimes sacrifices must be made. This is not only a personal vendetta. That is part of it, I won't deny that. But it's more than that. It's more than me. It's what this kingdom has done for so many years to so many people. It has shunned its mancers, casting most of them out. The world must see how foul this is, how cruel this city truly is." Then another voice echoed against the cave walls, coming from Kep's left. It was Harmon. The majority of the group turned in their direction, and Kep quickly realized that they probably had no idea that the three of them had even arrived. He felt uneasy with so many eyes on him, but Harmon was used to that kind of attention and it didn't appear to faze him whatsoever. "You're not wrong, Elsior. Jhirdyr is a progressive place in many, many ways. But its overall stance on the abilities that mancers have has not been very enlightened over the years. I cannot imagine the internal anguish mancers have felt as a result. Especially those born within our city. But is this any way to prove your point? Is showing the devastating possibilities of what mancies can cause going to help your plight? Elsior was clearly taken aback at the sight of the prince. Though the fury still raged on his face, a sense of surprise was briefly visible as well. "You. After all these years, after all this time, you of all people do not have the right to say those things to me." Another silence filled the air. The flames crackled outside. Ragged breathing and panting escaped various people's lips. The occasional crunch of the ground sounded as someone shifted their weight. But nobody spoke. Though Harmon didn't seem to be the type to give up, Kep assumed he felt there was no need to say anymore. It was pretty evident that Elsior's opinion wasn't going to be changed. And from what Kep could tell, though he'd never met him, he had lost his mind. It continued for a while, everyone staring at each other without words. The tension was becoming unbearable. It seemed as if they might be at a standstill. That is, until something caught Kep's attention. An object near the cave's wall glinted against the firelight that shone from the outside. The Sanguistis. He'd forgotten it was still there. He'd been in such a hurry to get Elan out of the cave when it nearly sucked the life out of him, he didn't think twice about it once he'd tossed it aside. Harmon must have noticed it too, as Kep noticed him shifting his eyes toward it every so often. But Elsior was still looking him dead in the eye. Kep realized that Harmon needed a distraction. He was nervous. It wasn't something he was used to getting himself involved in. But he was a different person now. He couldn't continue to be the sheep he has been for so long. He had wanted to get involved, and this was his chance. Whistling loudly, he was able to get Elsior to look away from Harmon. And it was just what the prince needed. Harmon leaned forward and deftly yanked up the Sanguistis from the ground. Whether or not the prince knew what powers the dagger held, Kep wasn't sure. But before he fully knew what was happening, Harmon lunged forward and shoved the handle's spike into Elsior's chest. Immediately, the mancer fell to his knees. The dagger stuck in his chest like a tack, blood emerging from the wound. A blossom of red slowly formed around the weapon, soaking into the material of his tunic. A warmth emitted from the weapon, far more intense than anything that had occurred when Elan had used it. The color drained from Elsior's skin at a rapid pace. A faint gurgling sound came from his slack jaw, but no words emerged. His body went limp, and he fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Elsior was dead.
  8. Broadswords Chapter Forty-Six The Battle, Part Two Von was dead. Kasaj and Orvit, the seventh- and eighth-ranked slayers, were dead. Their numbers were dwindling at a rapid pace. One battle had already cut the Jhirdyrian slayers down by a third. And it didn't seem like it was slowing down one bit. Daegon was uncharacteristically finding himself doubting their chances. He didn't often have such a grim outlook, but this was different. While Elan was battling alongside Tayrick and Feodoro, Daegon's group wasn't as well-rounded. Lana, the only non-slayer involved, was holding her own more than the other two. Caspin, the sixth-ranked, and Verne, the ninth, were practically useless. Whereas he and Lana had formed a smooth rhythm, the newcomers were not on the same page. If they didn't get their acts together, they might end up getting them all killed. Daegon hadn't seen other slayers in action in quite some time. If this was how they all performed during their more routine slays, it was no wonder they hadn't moved up in the rankings. There had already been two or three occasions in which Daegon's quick reaction time had prevented them from getting devoured as Orvit had. Neither of the men had the dexterity that Daegon would expect to see in any slayer, regardless of where they ranked. In truth, Lana should have been a slayer over either one of them. He was much more impressed with her skills. Regardless of everything else, though, both he and Elan had managed to take down a dragon. It was tough work, far more difficult than anything he'd come to face in the past. But there were two down. Ten to go. Elan had managed to slay his due to the ignorant actions Kasaj had taken. The foolish slayer had charged at the dragon. That was always an ill-advised move against beasts of this size. Daegon, like Elan, knew that one must always look for an opening. Distractions were of major importance in dragonslaying. One moment of a dragon letting its guard down was all that was needed to make a big move. Unfortunately for them, these dragons didn't seem to be easily distracted. In reality, the distractions that had so far befallen them were sheer dumb luck. It would take a whole lot more of that kind of luck for them to have the same outcome with those remaining. "Look out!" Lana called breathlessly. Daegon chanced a glance in her direction to witness as she swung her sword upward, crashing against the underside of the dragon's jaw. Verne had let his guard down, and if it weren't for Lana's quick actions, he'd have been the fourth slayer to go. It angered Daegon. Everyone had to look out for themselves, and if he and Lana were having to babysit these other two, it would prevent them from focusing on what they needed to. He almost bellowed for Caspin and Verne to back off, but he didn't have time. The dragon's head practically bounced off of Lana's sword, and it used the momentum to swing it rapidly in Daegon's direction. He wasn't provided the right angle to attack, so instead he ducked and rolled to the side. It wasn't an easy maneuver considering how many of them there were, but he managed to escape its reach with only a smattering of scrapes along the way. These idiots were now causing him to be in more danger than he rightfully should. If he made it out of this, he wouldn't be against having a long talk with the king about the slayer selection process. The two of them wouldn't even be well-equipped to be slayers in a less dragon-addled kingdom such as Lodus. But the fact that they were amongst the ranks in Jhirdyr, one of the biggest dragonslaying kingdoms? It was inane. He sprung back up and distanced himself a little further from the other slayers. He didn't like having so much distance between himself and the dragon, but he didn't have much other choice. If they continued to be so clustered together, it would be their downfall. He noticed Lana doing the same thing, and realized she had come to the same conclusion. Elan had done a damn good job in choosing his squire. Whether she was this capable when she first joined him, or whether Elan had busted his ass in training her to this level, she was a force. Daegon unfortunately could not say the same of Birten. It was no fault of Birten's, either. It was Daegon's own fault. Birten was a fine squire, and did exactly what he needed to do. He brought brains and logic to the team. Quick-witted and observant, he was perfectly suited for the job. But Daegon had never really honed Birten's fighting skills. He'd been too busy over the years tearing the squire down to consider the possibility of putting some of that effort into making him more well-rounded. If Birten had been there with them, he'd certainly be dead. There was no way he could hold his own against a dragon, let alone these ones. And that would have to change. Daegon knew that whatever happened, he'd have to shape Birten into a warrior. That's what a dragonslayer was supposed to do with their squires, and Lana was proof that Daegon wasn't quite as perfect as he once would have considered himself to be. He watched as she found an opening and swung at the beast. Her blade found its way in between a handful of scales and caused a thin line of crimson to bubble up between them. It was far from a death blow, but any injury could only help. Caspin tried to take the opportunity to do something, too. Granted, the dragon was slightly reacting to its new wound, but it wasn't distracted enough for a big move. Yet there Caspin went, thrusting his sword forward. He managed to put enough force behind the plunge that it did pierce the dragon's hide. It came as a surprise to all of them, most of all Caspin. However, it was immediately clear that a stab might not have been the best call. As the slayer tried to pull the sword back out, it appeared that it was stuck. It must have gotten lodged at just the right angle, because Daegon could tell that it wasn't budging even though Caspin was pulling at it with all his might. The dragon stared at Caspin for a moment, and briefly all of the sounds around them seemed to fall to a hush. The group stared at the situation as it slowly unfolded before Daegon finally came to his senses. "Move, you fool!" Caspin shook out of his own stupor and stumbled backward, leaving his sword protruding from the dragon's chest. He got out of the way just in time, too. The dragon snapped forth with such rapidness that Caspin would have been dead if he had moved one second later. Though Caspin wasn't too bright, or too capable, Daegon didn't want to see any more deaths. At least not from their side. He could sense that everyone around him was on their last legs. Even he was beginning to feel that he was almost out of steam. If something major didn't happen soon, they'd start getting picked off one by one. Their reaction time was starting to be impacted. Reaction time was one of their biggest defenses. If they didn't have that, they didn't have much at all. So Daegon knew that he had to make a bold move. It would be risky, sure. But he was a better planner than most of the other slayers, who so far had been making poor choices. Risky or not, he would make sure the timing was right. If he kept doing what he had been doing up to that point, chances of something happening in their favor were slim. But by putting himself in the situation he was planning, he might just be able to down another of the dragons. He knew Birten wouldn't approve. He knew none of the other slayers would approve, either. Least of all Elan. It wasn't a plan without faults, even he would admit that. But it was something he was willing to gamble. He had to cause a distraction. It was the only thing that had worked so far, and they couldn't continue to wait on chance to cause one for them. So he would make one happen. And the sword that Caspin had left in the dragon was exactly what he needed. While the dragon had its sights on Lana, Daegon barreled forward and leapt atop the hilt of Caspin's sword as if it were a peg utilized to climb the sheer face of a mountain. Considering the sword wasn't wedged in all that well, it wobbled quite a bit. Caspin hadn't been able to pull it out straight-forwardly, but that didn't prevent it from shaking from the weight Daegon added to it vertically. But he kept his footing. He shoved his own sword between another section of scales a few feet higher, and was able to pull himself upward. It didn't take long for the dragon to take notice. It began writhing in an attempt to shake Daegon loose, but the slayer held fast. It wasn't an easy task by any means, but he was able to cling to the creature's hide. It was his intention to distract the dragon long enough for Lana or one of the other slayers to make their move. But the dragon wasn't having it. While trying to rid Daegon from its body, the dragon stamped its feet, creating little to no opportunity for the others to get close. Daegon had to think on his feet. He'd thankfully shoved a dagger in each boot, which hadn't been the most comfortable, but it was paying off now. He used them to further ascend the dragon, and it was almost surreal. He was climbing this dragon as if it were a mountainside of the Ore Cliffs. He was now straddling the beast as if it were a common horse, holding on for dear life. The dragon clearly didn't like it, as it continued to thrash about in an attempt to shake him loose. But he held tight. He looped one arm around the base of its neck, using the other hand to pry one of the daggers from between the scales. With a little bit of effort, he was able to get it out without falling from the creature's back. What he'd initially intended as a distraction was proving to potentially be a way to slay the dragon outright. Continuing to steady himself, he brought the weapon to the dragon's throat. He forced it in with as much strength as he could muster, and he was able to pierce through the scales and skin. The dragon let out a roar, and it shook more furiously than it had thus far. Daegon continued to cling to it with every ounce of strength he had left. When the dragon would quell, Daegon would push or pull at the hilt of the dagger to lengthen the incision he'd made. He could see the reactions of the others, none of them hiding their shock at the display. Even Lana seemed to be slightly letting her guard down, her jaw slack at what she was witnessing. It was bizarre enough from his perspective, and he could only imagine what they must be experiencing. Though they shouldn't have lost their focus, he assumed it was hard not to given the situation. Finally, after several minutes, he was able to saw through the dragon's neck enough that it began to wobble. As it fell, slowly, he prepared himself for the impact of the body against the ground. He leapt off at just the right moment. There was no way, after all of that, in which he was going to allow himself to be catapulted into the air as a result of the chain reaction of the dying carcass slamming against the burnt earth. As he landed, he felt his ankle twist just slightly. It would hurt later, but he didn't care. He'd done it. He'd killed another dragon. The intensity of Elsior's feral yell could be heard above everything else, and Daegon didn't need to look at him to know that the mancer had fallen to his knees in a show of despair. The sound was enough to confirm that they had already done much more than Elsior had expected. And it was glorious.
  9. Broadswords Chapter Forty-Five The Battle, Part One It was quickly clear to Elan how Von's death had occurred. These dragons were unlike any he'd ever encountered. He was the best slayer in Jhirdyr, and though there were no world rankings, he was sure he was one of the best across all of the continents. Still, even his most epic slays weren't as intense as the battle he was part of now. He knew that the other two slayers and his squire would absolutely be in agreeance. The unrestrained power Elsior undoubtedly had was mimicked in his creations. The beasts were ferocious and untamed. Were their existence not horrendous, it would almost be impressive. The fact that Elsior was able to bring such monstrosities to life was unheard of. As far as Elan was aware, there had never been an example of man-made dragons before. And there was no easing in. These things were intense from the get-go. An hour had already passed since he'd arrived, and the battle was still going strong. Though young, the dragons seemed to have an immense amount of stamina. The same could hardly be said about the rest of them. Elan was already feeling worn out. While he'd had several encounters with dragons in the past that had surpassed that length of time, this one was different. There were two. They were taking on four humans. They weren't slowing in the slightest. On top of all of that, his muscles weren't where they normally were. The recovery time he'd had in the castle was evidently not enough time to bring him back to one hundred percent. He was far more capable than he'd been even a week ago, of course, but it still wasn't his norm. And the consistency of the flames that surrounded them was not doing anything to help the matter. The fire had begun spreading outward, and he couldn't help but think that there might no longer be a wood there by the time everything was said and done. It was too far gone to control at that point, even if the battle miraculously ended soon. Any kind of fire would be devastating to a wooded area such as this, but dragonfire was much more rampant. A third dragon had been standing at bay at the mouth of the cave the entire time. Why it hadn't joined in, Elan couldn't be sure. Maybe Elsior hadn't deemed it necessary yet. Which didn't make sense. If Elan wanted to wipe a slew of dragonslayers out, he'd ensure he was using everything at his disposal. But Elan was far from an Elsior. He'd briefly considered facing that one, once he'd realized it was there. But it didn't seem to be doing much, and Tayrick could clearly use the help. So he left it alone, and it did the same to them. It didn't make sense, but he wasn't going to overthink it. There wasn't much time for thoughts, anyway. The dragon he and Tayrick were up against was lithe. It stamped its feet constantly, several times causing the both of them to dart one way or the other. Its neck and tail were like tree branches in a windstorm; they swayed to and fro without warning and on several occasions swung out, almost knocking the slayers to the ground. With sweat pouring out of him like rainwater, and a headache rapidly forming at his temples, Elan was fearing that he didn't have a whole lot left in him. But he wouldn't give up. It wasn't in his nature, nor would he ever stop fighting for his kingdom. He'd continue on until there wasn't an ounce of strength left in his body. And even then, he couldn't be sure that he'd stop. He wasn't particularly used to fighting alongside other slayers, but he and Tayrick had found a rhythm that was remarkable. They had very similar styles. Where Elan would bob, Tayrick would weave, and they were at the very least keeping the dragon on its toes. Tayrick had certainly earned his position of second-ranked slayer, and Elan was glad he was there. Where the other five were, he couldn't be sure. And he was not happy in the slightest that they still hadn't arrived. He'd stressed the severity of the situation very hard, and their lack of dedication had not gone unnoticed. There they were, three slayers and a squire, with another dead slayer in their midst, fighting what could be an end-all-be-all battle. And five more that should have been there simply weren't. He cursed under his breath as the dragon lunged forth, narrowly missing his shoulder. He was thinking too much about the other slayers and it wasn't helping his concentration. His concern over their whereabouts was doing nothing to help him in the current situation. He forced the thoughts out of his mind. They'd get there when they got there. And until then, he could put forth nothing but what he always did: his best. As the dragon drew back, Elan swung his blade upward, grazing the surface enough that several scales were shaved from its neck. He wouldn't have thought it possible, as thus far the scales had seemed rather tough to penetrate. But still, he'd managed to clear off a patch about six inches in length. The dragon didn't seem as if it noticed much, but that could have been partially as a result of its feral nature. It didn't change its demeanor. But at least Elan knew that there was more to find out about how to defeat this thing. He had potentially uncovered a weak spot. He vaguely heard a clamoring of people joining the battlegrounds, but he didn't turn around. He'd so narrowly avoided a serious injury the last time he'd let himself lose focus that he wasn't about to make the same mistake again. He could only hope it was more of the slayers, but he wasn't about to confirm his expectations. He reserved all of his attention for the dragon. With another dart forward, the monstrosity once again attempted to ensnare Elan in its jaws. But he was prepared this time, and he once again lifted his sword with his steady arms as it pulled back into position. He'd found a rhythm. Just as he'd done the previous time, he shed another patch of scales from its neck, just above the other one, expanding the unprotected area. He was certainly hoping that the increasing amount of bare flesh he was uncovering would allow for a killshot. Before he could put too much more thought into it, though, he saw someone running forward in his peripheral vision. It was one of the lower-ranked slayers, one of the ones whose name he couldn't remember. The short, rather lean man was charging forth like a bat out of hell. He held his sword straight out in front of him, much like he was entering a joust. But the less-experienced slayer was clearly overzealous in his endeavor. It was a risky move, and it didn't pay off. The dragon that Elan and Tayrick were squaring off against immediately saw an opportunity and took it. In seconds, the dragon had averted its attention away from Elan and Tayrick and snapped the foolish slayer up in its mouth. He was surely dead on impact, and it was not a pleasant sight. But there was no time to allow grievances or mourning. There was nothing that could be done for the poor fellow now, and Elan had to take advantage of the opportunity that had been granted as a result of the unintentional sacrifice. As the dragon was distracted by its easy prey, its attention turned to the side, it gave clear access to its recently scaled neck. Without hesitation, Elan leapt into the air despite his rapidly deteriorating energy. His sword entered the bare patch like a butter knife being dropped into a glass of water. As he fell back toward the ground, gravity did most of the work. The dragon's neck was half-severed as a result, practically decapitating it. After a few slow gurgles emerged from its throat, it was dead. Despite the various noises around him – the uproar of the conflagration about them, the snaps and snarls of the dragon that Daegon and Lana were still up against, and the various shouts of everyone involved – Elan could hear clearly the guttural howl that escaped Elsior's own throat. Another of his creations had been destroyed, and he was not happy. Immediately, the dragon that had been motionless near the cave entrance bounded forward. It stopped next to its dead sibling, but did not acknowledge it. All of its attention was on Elan and Tayrick. It spat dragonfire at them in bursts, causing them to once again have to keep light on their feet. One of the recently arrived slayers joined them, covering Tayrick's left. It was Feodoro, the fifth-ranked. The cocky bastard should have been there an hour ago. Elan wasn't thrilled with the addition of the man at their new dragon, especially considering this one seemed much more intense than the previous one. Feodoro would only get in the way. But he said nothing. He couldn't. They truly did need every person they could gather. Thankfully he'd chosen to stand on Tayrick's left side, whereas Elan was on his right. He needed the mobility and would not have been amused had he been sandwiched between the two of them. Another dragon had emerged, this one too standing immobile at the mouth of the cave. Elan was still flummoxed at what Elsior was doing. Perhaps not all of the dragons had fully emerged, but once again he was keeping one at bay. But why? There didn't seem to be rhyme or reason to it. He could have easily had each dragon join the battle as it left the cave. The slayers would be no match for that many attackers. But it was in their benefit. The longer they had to fight them one at a time, the more they'd have a chance to slay. Hopefully that would be all of them. The thought of one dragon attacking the kingdom was worrisome enough, but if multiples were to do so… it was a harrowing concept. There would be no coming back from that. The new dragon seemed much more capable than the last. It moved much more frequently and with less consistency. While Elan had found a pattern of movements with the previous one, he wasn't having the same luck this time around. He was becoming more and more worn out as the battle raged on. He tried to keep his movements minimal, but it wasn't easy. He had to rely a little more on Tayrick and Feodoro than he'd care to, but he didn't have much of a choice. This was not a normal slay by any means, and he couldn't let his pride get the best of him. Suddenly, from somewhere near the other active dragon, a gut-wrenching scream erupted across the clearing. The sound was undeniable. It could only mean one thing. Another slayer had fallen victim to the dragons. It was clearly a male's voice, so he knew it wasn't Lana. And not that any death would have been less devastating than another, but he silently prayed that it wasn't Daegon. But the loss was extremely foreboding. In less than two hours, these dragons had downed three slayers. Meaning only six slayers remained, plus Lana. And they'd only managed to slay two dragons. And while the remaining dragons were still full of life, the humans were weakening by the second. The odds were not bright. Despite the odds, none of them would give up. This was who they were. This is what they did. They were sworn to protect their kingdom, and that's what they were doing. Nothing would prevent that. At least, Elan could only hope that the rest of them had the same mentality as he. He stared their dragon in its eyes. The deadness that gazed back enraged him. These things didn't even have souls. They were basically evil embodied. Somehow, it reenergized him. Adrenaline coursed through him. These bastards weren't going to win. Not as long as he was still standing.
  10. Broadswords Chapter Forty-Four The Reversal As they neared the castle's main entrance, Kep was starting to get nervous. He was finally going to see Birten again, after all this time, but he wasn't sure what to expect. He knew there was a chance that Birten wouldn't remember him. Based on what he'd heard about the squire's condition, there was a lot of things that Birten was struggling with inside his head. Considering their interactions had been minimal, Kep feared that Birten might look at him as if he was any other passerby. On their way to the castle, he'd gained a small amount of insight from his mother. Once he'd stated that he'd leave the kingdom with her if she cooperated, she was a little bit more open with him. She'd asked how he'd come to the conclusion that she was an Oneiromancer. After all, she'd reminded him, she never displayed her powers in front of him or Sal. He was well aware of that fact. During his conversation with Phërion, it was one of the things that made the pill harder to swallow. There had been nothing in his recollections of the short time he'd spent with his mother to suggest that she was anything other than a regular citizen, a typical innkeeper's wife. She'd helped out in the dining room, she helped keep logs of their sales and room rentals. Never once had Kep imagined that she could have been capable of more. Not because he thought she was weak; on the contrary, he'd always seen his mother as a strong individual. Most of the time, before she disappeared, he felt like she was what kept the family and the business running smoothly. His concerns were more because she never seemed to put on a front – she always appeared to be exactly who she was. So he only bent the truth slightly in his response. He told her that he was wondering lately if he was a wielder of the same sort of powers. He told her about the dreams he'd had, though not in detail, and how things he'd dreamt were happening in real life. It was nothing major, he admitted, but it made him question if it was just the beginning of something bigger. That concept seemed to fascinate her. He sensed that it might actually be one of the reasons she was so concerned with getting Sal and him out of there. That she was hopeful that one of her offspring was capable of the same talents she possessed. That maybe if she could hone and develop their skills, she could mentor them to be more like herself. Then again, maybe he was getting ahead of himself. He was still feeling so much resentment toward her, he could just be jumping to conclusions to continue making her into something worse than she was. But the more she asked him – how often are you having the dreams? – how real do they feel? – how does your mind feel when you wake after having them? – the more he felt that he was barking up the right tree. She seemed far more focused on his potential mancy than everything else that was going on. It might have seemed like a normal reaction in any other situation. Why wouldn't a mother be excited to find out that her son was taking after her? Of course she'd want to know every last detail. But his mother wasn't like most people's mothers. She'd brainwashed the man he was more or less infatuated with. No, she hadn't directly admitted it. But she clearly wouldn't have agreed (albeit hesitantly) to go to the castle had she not been the perpetrator. She was not only aware of the attack on the kingdom, but was also directly involved. He couldn't help but feel that any interest she displayed regarding Kep's developing abilities was anything more than selfish. But he still needed her. She was the only one that could fix Birten. Eventually, after she'd bombarded him with a dozen or so questions, to most of which he gave one or two words answers in return, she finally turned the conversation to something much more relevant. "So why is Birten so important to you?" He considered sugar-coating his response, but he knew it wouldn't make a difference. In actuality, being honest with her might even help his cause. If there was any sincerity in her wanting to ensure his safety, maybe explaining how much he cared for Birten would spark something in her conscience. So he admitted his feelings. "I've been lost for a long time. I've been slowly coming into my own over the past few years, finding who I really am. Who I'm supposed to be. And when I met Birten, I just knew… I knew that I'd found someone I want to be myself with. I found someone I want to get to know the real me. Who I'm capable of becoming." They didn't say anything for a while after that. The silence was somewhat of an awkward one. Still, it was welcomed. Kep hadn't admitted those feelings out loud to anyone, and he'd barely admitted them to himself. It felt good for it to be out in the open. When they were almost to the castle entrance though, just as Kep was trying to shake his nerves, his mother stopped him. She grabbed him by the arms and made him look her in the eye. "I'll do this for you, Kep. There's no sense in leaving that poor boy in that state, and especially not since it's so intensely clear that he is someone very dear to you. But you must promise me that we'll depart as soon as it's undone." He watched her face as she spoke, and a part of him felt guilty for the distrust he had in her. But it didn't negate the fact that she was no longer the woman he remembered from so many years ago. She might be his mother by blood, but she hadn't been a matriarch to his family for a long time. It was true that he needed her, but he had far from forgiven her. But she didn't need to know that. Not yet. "I promise." His response must have been satisfactory enough, for she let go of his arms with a deep breath, straightened her dress, and resumed walking toward the castle. He followed suit, falling in stride beside her. Upon arriving at the door, one of the guards stationed there spoke up. "Hello, Kep. Elan's left the castle." Kep cleared his throat. "Yes, yes I'm aware. We're actually here to see Birten." The guard's eyes narrowed. "The prisoner? I'm not sure I'm authorized to allow that visit." He didn't look suspicious, necessarily, but more surprised. Kep had to admit to himself that it did seem a little odd. The guards would have no idea that he had anything to do with Birten, let alone would the woman he was with. "We've come to fix the state he's in," Kep explained. "My… colleague, here, is able to undo what's happened to him." He didn't look at his mother as he spoke, not caring to see the reaction she'd have at the way he referred to her. "That's still not a call I'm able to—" Kep hated how short he'd been lately, but he didn't have time to debate it. There was a battle beginning that could potentially lead to far worse, and arguing over his ability to enter the castle was wasting his time. "Harmon's aware of the issue at hand, if you could just—" And just as he'd cut off the guard, the guard returned the favor. "I'm afraid we're unable to call the prince to the door. It's security protocol, you see. Especially if the caller is subordinate enough to refer to a member of the royal family in such a familiar way." Kep realized his mistake instantly, and knew that he wasn't going to get very far being brusque. He regained his composure and threw on a more polite tone. "My sincerest apologies. Prince Harmon, he's at the forefront of getting Birten back to where he should be. I understand that he can't be brought to the door, but if it would be possible for someone to alert him of our arrival, it would be greatly appreciated. I'm certain he would be fond to hear what we have to say." The guards seemed to weigh what Kep had to say. For a moment he feared that he'd ruined his chances, but finally they shared a nod and the one who hadn't spoken vanished into the castle. After several minutes, the second guard returned and gave a simple nod. The first turned back toward Kep and his mother. "Very well. The prince will see you." He stepped aside to allow them entrance, and the other guard led them into the castle and to the hallway that bore the staircase down to the dungeons. Harmon was waiting there for them. There had only been a handful of interactions between Kep and Harmon over the past few weeks, and most of them had been insanely brief. They certainly hadn't spoken at all. And although Kep had thrown himself headfirst into this dragon situation, he was still nervous to speak directly to the prince. But it was essential. "She can undo it," he said, tilting his head in his mother's direction. Harmon studied the woman beside Kep, a firmness in his jaw. He didn't acknowledge her otherwise, speaking only to Kep. "So she's the one that caused it. Are you certain?" "Absolutely certain," Kep confirmed. "Very well. To the dungeons, then," he said. He led them through the doorway and past the guard stationed there, down the darkened staircase. He grabbed a torch from the wall as he descended. It was narrow, and Kep felt suddenly claustrophobic. He noticed a shortness in his breath, and he tried to keep his breathing steady. He couldn't believe he was seconds away from being reunited with Birten. However, there was still something he had to do. With as much deftness as he could, he slunk a few steps down further than his mother without being obvious. He leaned forward carefully, whispering into Harmon's ear. He hoped the torchlight casted enough shadows that his mother couldn't see exactly what he was doing. He was also hopeful that the stone walls didn't echo enough that she heard what he was saying. When they emerged from the staircase into the dungeons, he glanced at her. She seemed uncomfortable being there, and that appeared to be the only thought on her mind. He was convinced she hadn't noticed his sidebar, which was a good thing. "Where is he?" she asked, breaking the silence that had befallen her since they'd arrived. Harmon led them to Birten's cell, where they found him sitting against the bricks. He was facing the opposing wall, staring straight ahead. He didn't appear to have noticed that they'd arrived. Kep looked at him, almost unrecognizable. He looked the same, sure. But there was something about him that was off. He didn't like it. Whatever it was, it was his mother's doing. Too nervous to say anything, Kep was glad when Harmon broke the silence. "Birten?" The squire turned his head slowly, looking first at Harmon, then at Kep's mother, then at Kep. He looked sullen, but he spoke. "Kep… what's she doing here?" A whole whirlwind of emotions went through Kep. Birten recognized him. He remembered him. He called him by name. There was still something there within him that hadn't been lost. But Birten also recognized Kep's mother. He didn't quite know what to do with that. But once again, Harmon stepped in at the right time. "Birten, do you recognize this woman?" "Of course I do. She's from Tarragonia. Oestra. I've known her for a long time… or at least… I think I have," he said. Kep could feel the defeat that radiated from Birten. It saddened him. To think that his mother had done something so awful to him that he didn't know up from down. "You haven't," Kep said softly. "You didn't meet her until very recently." Birten locked eyes with him, and they shared a look for several seconds. Kep felt goosebumps forming on his arms. He tried to rub them away discreetly, not that anyone would have noticed in the dim lighting anyway. "Are you sure?" Birten asked. "Yes," Kep answered. The squire looked back to Kep's mother, but spoke to Kep. "Okay. I believe you. But there are still these thoughts in my mind that I can't make sense of. I don't know how to fix it." "That's what she's here for," Harmon added. "She can undo it." Kep was fully aware that both he and Harmon were pussyfooting around the fact that she had caused everything in the first place. There was no point in angering him, not while he was in such a fragile state. Plus, Birten was a smart man. Once he was back to himself, he would figure everything out. "Does he need to be asleep for this?" Kep asked. "And how long does it take?" Harmon chimed in. She fidgeted with her locket and shook her head. "The reversal is fast. Less than a half minute. Sleep isn't necessary either. To apply the mancy, sleep is required because it's a manipulation of the dreams themselves. But those manipulations weave into the person's memories during their waking hours. To undo it, those memories must simply be restored to their original state." "What do I need to do?" Birten asked immediately, barely giving Kep time to register what his mother had said. None of this seemed simple, despite the fact that she claimed it was. "Come closer," she said. He did as he was told, getting as close to the bars of his cell without pressing himself completely against them. She also stepped closer to him, and lifted her hands to his temples. "Close your eyes." Once again, he obeyed, and she followed suit. She mumbled a few words under her breath. Kep wasn't sure if it was another language or if he just wasn't able to make them out clearly, but he had no idea what she was saying. He watched them as Birten stood there, fully allowing her to take control. And then it was over. She let her arms fall back down to her sides and stepped back toward the other two men. There was no flashy reaction or mystical ambiance. It was far blander than Kep would have expected. And it was as quick as she had promised. If it worked. "Was that it?" Kep asked tentatively. "Yes," she responded. All three of them looked toward Birten, each with a varied expression upon their face. Kep himself was nervous, while Harmon seemed wary, and his mother was clearly in a hurry to get out of there. At first, Birten didn't really respond. He blinked his eyes a few times, looking at all of them. He appeared to be a little weak on his feet, and lowered himself into a sitting position on the floor. Once he seemed to regain his composure a little, he looked up at Rea. "How could you do that to me? You tried to turn me against my own people. No, not tried. You did. And for what? To help Elsior destroy this kingdom?" Kep and Harmon remained silent, and joined Birten in looking at Rea. She didn't acknowledge the question. She didn't respond to Birten at all, in fact. She spoke instead to Kep. "I've done what you've asked. Now it's time for us to go." "I'm not leaving," Kep said firmly. His mother's eyes narrowed at him, and her voice got stern. "You made this agreement with me. You cannot back out of it now. Who knows how much time we have before it's too late to get out of here?" Kep nodded at Harmon. It was his way of letting the prince know to get the guard. As they'd descended the staircase, when he'd whispered to him, he'd told him to alert the guard and have his mother imprisoned. It probably would have been the first thing on Harmon's mind anyway, but there was no sense in not ensuring that it was done. He kept his mother distracted while Harmon snuck past her and headed back up the stairs. "I don't want to be part of whatever this is, whatever lifestyle you've chosen. You're doing things that are absolutely against who I am. You've hurt someone who's extremely dear to me. You are not the mother I remember. You're a stranger. And you're not a good person." She glared at him. But he wasn't done speaking. Not only did he need to give Harmon a little bit more time to get the guard down there with them, he had a lot more on his mind. "You abandoned your children. Your husband. Your home. You still haven't told me what it is about this disgusting plan of Elsior's that has you on board. You've given me no justification to why you'd want this place destroyed." Though at this point it was unsurprising that she still didn't give him any answers, it didn't make it any less annoying. He couldn't believe this was the woman who'd given him life. They stared at one another in silence for a while longer. Kep couldn't imagine what was running through Birten's head during all of this, and he couldn't bring himself to look over at him. But it didn't matter. Harmon had returned with the guard. And the king. "Rea. How am I not surprised?" the king said, monotone. She turned toward him. "Alright, Kep. You want answers? Here's one. This poor excuse for a man, this is why I agree with Elsior's plan. This so-called king of yours. He's the reason I vanished all those years ago." "And the reason you're going to be here for a very long time," the king said. Without hesitation, the guard grabbed Rea by the arm and escorted her into the cell adjacent to Birten's. After locking it, he moved to the door of Birten's and did the opposite. As he swung the door open, Birten stepped forth. Kep couldn't help but smile. Though he had a burning desire to know what happened between the king and his mother to turn her into whatever she was now, he knew it wasn't the right time. Not in front of the king. And it didn't really matter right then. Because Birten was free and Birten was himself again. Without even thinking, Kep threw his arms around the squire and enveloped him into a hug. He realized that it might be too soon, after everything that he'd been through. But Birten squeezed him just as tightly.
  11. Broadswords Chapter Forty-Three The Reunion Working the bar just didn't feel right to Kep considering everything that was going on. But they still had a business to run. As long as the kingdom wasn't destroyed, that was. And he couldn't keep letting Sal handle everything on his own. His brother had only just been getting involved in helping out running the inn, and the experience at the cave had put a damper on that. So as much as he didn't feel up to it, Kep was back to pouring drinks for their patrons. Phërion and Roark had offered to help, but Kep declined. It was true that neither he nor Sal were running the place as they normally would, both of them less upbeat and focused. But they didn't need the help. Well, it was true that it would have been pleasant to have less to worry about. At the same time, Kep still hadn't shaken what Phërion had suggested the night before. He wasn't quite sure why the concept bothered him so much. If it were true, would it really be that bad? In a way, it might. Mancies had developed a strong reputation in Jhirdyr, and it wasn't a positive one. Then again, Kep wasn't closed-minded to things such as that. It was more likely that he was perplexed because everything was just happening so fast. A month and a half ago, he'd been a simple innkeep trying to keep the family business afloat with his brother. And since that time, he'd been thrown into a whole new world. Dragons, weapons, magic… it was as if he'd traded places with someone else. And suddenly the idea that he might actually have some kind of connection to that world, it was just too much to deal with all at once. Based on everything, he knew that he had also rejected Phërion's assistance because he was shutting the man out. It was something the old Kep would do, not the man that he had become over the years in changing his outlook on life. He hated himself for it, but he didn't know what else to do. As a customer entered the room, the rest of the guests let out various gasps of surprise as a dove flew into the open door. It startled Kep as well when it flew up to him and landed on the bar. He stared at it for a moment until it pecked at his hand. "Ouch," he said reflexively, pulling his arm away from it. Then he realized that it had a piece of parchment attached to it. It was a messenger dove. He had never gotten one before. Carefully, he removed the paper from the bird. It flew back toward the door and fluttered around for a bit until someone opened the door back up to let it out. He held the parchment for a moment before Sal came up to his side. "Are you going to open it?" Swallowing, Kep looked at his brother. "I'm pretty sure I know what it says." He knew there was only one reason he'd be getting a message via messenger dove, and he wasn't ready to open it. But he knew that he had to. He broke the small wax seal and unrolled the scroll. There was just one word. Now. He suddenly felt dizzy, and was thankful that his brother had enough sense to notice and pull up a chair. He sat down in it, letting his shoulders slump. Though he thought he would be ready when the time came, it was different now that it was happening. He didn't know what to do. "Well?" Sal asked. "Is it… is it what we think it is?" Kep glanced up at his brother, not saying a word. He could tell that Sal knew what the look meant. They both remained silent for a while. Eventually, Kep slipped the note into the trash. He surveyed the room, watching the guests as they went about their days. Eating a meal, having a drink, being part of a regular, run-of-the-mill conversation. None of them knew what he knew. They were all oblivious to the fact that their city could be destroyed that very day. "I need to go," Kep said, abruptly standing up. He didn't know what he was doing to do, but it dawned on him that he couldn't keep sitting there doing nothing. He made to move past Sal, but his brother stopped him. "What are you going to do, Kep? You can't fight! You can't kill a dragon! If you try to go out there you're sure to wind up dead! I know our relationship has been strained over the years, but you're my brother and I love you. And I love how much closer we've gotten over the past several weeks. I don't want you to go and do something stupid." He knew Sal was right. He knew there was nothing he could do to actually help on the frontlines of battle. But he also knew he couldn't sit there and let his imagination run wild. "I don't know what I'm going to do. I've just got to get out of here." Pushing past his brother, he walked around the bar and through the door. He didn't like the thought of how much anxiety and upset he was causing to Sal at that moment, but he would go insane if he didn't get out of the dining room. He'd only made it a few paces out of the inn and into the street when someone stopped in front of him. His head was hung, so he didn't take notice right away. "Oh, excuse me," he said absentmindedly, and went to bypass them. But they stepped in the same direction as him, blocking his path. "Kep?" It was a woman's voice, slightly breathy and nervous. As he lifted his head, he looked at the woman. She was about the same height as he, with dark hair and eyes that looked like his. She had the same complexion as he did, too, and there was something about her facial structure that was familiar. Watching the way she bit her lip in hesitation, the realization fully formed. "M-mother?" he stammered. At that she smiled, a sparkle playing at her eyes. She reached toward him, as if wanting a hug. But he took a step back, and both the smile and the sparkle disappeared. She let her arms fall back down to her sides. "What… what are you doing here? What happened to you? Where have you been?" The questions spewed from his mouth like lava. He was barely aware of what he was saying. Everything that had run through his mind for years was now becoming verbalized as if by no control of his own. "Kep, there's so much to explain. I know that. But there's not time, not right now. I can tell you everything you want to know, once we're safe." He watched as she fiddled with something at her chest beneath her dress. He knew what it was. He remembered it, from before she disappeared. It was a small, poorly made locket. His father had made it for her when Kep and Sal were both young. He'd inscribed it with Kep and Sal's names. He was no metalworker, that was certain, so it was a crude necklace. But it had been the sentiment of it that made their mother wear it. And the fact that she still had it was a slap in the face. "You're damn right there's a lot to explain," he said. He was incredulous that she had the nerve to show up out of the blue after all this time and not give him the decency of some answers. There was something in the back of his mind, though, that told him he shouldn't be all that surprised that he was in her company now. After all, the dreams he'd had included her. Phërion's suggestion was swirling around in his brain, and that was another question he had for her. But there were far more pressing ones he had first. "And I promise you'll hear it all, but I need to get you and Sal out of this kingdom," she responded. The same breathless nervousness was back at her voice. "Jhirdyr is in great danger right now." "I know that," he said, accusation forming on his face. "But how do you know that?" "Kep, please." She did seem mildly frantic, he'd give her that. But the way she was acting also told him that she was well aware of the exact danger the kingdom was in. She knew about the dragons. And that thought frightened him more than anything. He wasn't going anywhere with her until he knew what she knew. "If you expect me or Sal to trust you in the slightest, you have to tell me what it is that you know. You've been gone for thirteen years. No goodbye, no contact. For all we knew, you were dead. And you show up now knowing that something is about to happen and you want me to just trust you?" She sighed, and he could tell that she was about to give in. After all, what other choice did she have? He was aware that this conversation being held in the middle of the street might not be the best place for it, but he did not want to go back into the inn until he knew what was going on. The last thing he needed to was for Sal to see her. "A man named Elsior has launched an attack on the kingdom. He's got a slew of infant dragons in a cave to the north that are about to do his bidding and destroy the entire city. You and Sal were supposed to be spared, but he double-crossed me and didn't hold up that end of the bargain. I had to find my own means to get here and get the two of you away before it begins." It wasn't that she knew who Elsior was that threw him off. It wasn't that she knew about the dragons, or the cave, or the plan. It wasn't even that she found a way into the kingdom so quickly after the dragons had emerged from wherever she had been. It was that she was somehow involved in the whole thing. "Double-crossed you? That end of the bargain? Are you telling me that you've been part of this?" he asked. He didn't like the tone he was using. He didn't know he was capable of it. And whether it was the wild range of emotions he'd had over the past few days, the disgust he was feeling toward his own mother, or the general fear of what was coming, he was beginning to feel sick to his stomach. "Helping him was the only way I could ensure your safety—" she began, but he cut her off. "No! You could have ensured our safety by warning us what he was doing! Not by helping him. That makes absolutely no sense." However, as he said it, he realized that there was one logical explanation for why she would help Elsior. His eyes narrowed. "Unless you're not against the plan." It was then that a defensiveness began underlying her tone. The whole back and forth of the moods and energies between the two of them throughout the whole conversation was as if they'd been stirred up in a pot of stew. It seemed exaggerated. Then again, he hadn't seen his mother in over a decade. He had no clue which of these was her normal persona. She didn't acknowledge what he'd said, but he could tell that he was onto something based on her response. "Kep, please. I've told you what you wanted to know, now we must go. I shouldn't be seen here." "Why not, mother? What happened thirteen years ago? What happened that caused you to help someone hatch a plan to destroy an entire kingdom? A kingdom in which you don't want to risk being seen?" He didn't like the way he was speaking to her, the woman that had birthed him, but he also didn't like the fact that she seemed like a complete stranger to him. He continued to stare at her, but she was no longer giving in. Realizing she would continue to be stubborn, he finally came to grips that it was a losing battle. He believed that she would give him answers. But he knew that it wouldn't happen now. Not yet. Not until she'd gotten her way. "Okay," he said. "Okay, I'll go with you. But there's one thing that I do need an answer on before I'll go." She looked at him but said nothing, the expression on her face a clear go-ahead. However, she didn't seem amused. Then again, he was far from amused himself. "Are you an Oneiromancer?" he asked. Her reaction changed, but just barely. The stubbornness was joined by suspicion, and her eyes squinted ever-so-slightly. Still, she didn't utter a word. But to Kep, it was enough to confirm the answer to the question. His mind was reeling with what exactly that meant for him, if it meant Phërion was right. But even more so, he wondered if her powers were what caused whatever happened to Birten. While he didn't know all the ins and outs of it, he'd picked up on enough of the talk that had gone through the castle to have somewhat of an idea. And based on everything else that had happened, and the few clues he was gathering from her now, it didn't seem all that farfetched. "Are you familiar with a man named Birten?" Her eyes narrowed further, and then he was sure that she was the cause of his brainwashing. It made him sick. But from what he'd learned from Daegon, who'd been brought up to speed by Harmon, the type of magic that had befallen Birten could only be undone by the person who'd induced it in the first place. So he needed her. "Birten is very important to me," he said. "I need you to come with me to the castle. I need you to fix him. If you do that, I'll go with you."
  12. Disjecta Membra

    The Dove

    The Sanguistis could prove useful, certainly. Especially considering how its powers work, it would give them a potential leg up against a breed of dragons that they don’t know much about. However, I think it’s also safe to say Elan won’t touch the thing again, and most of the other slayers don’t know anything about it. That’s not to say, of course, that it won’t come back into play. You haven’t seen the last of the Sanguistis, that’s for sure. Von was ranked third, after Elan and Tayrick.
  13. Disjecta Membra

    The Dove

    Double posting (Deleted)
  14. Disjecta Membra

    The Dove

    Broadswords Chapter Forty-Two The Dove "Sir, this arrived for you via messenger dove." Elan looked up at the guard, who'd entered without knocking. He had told the castle's kingsmen to enter the room immediately should a letter arrive for him and not worry about etiquette. Which meant something was already happening at the cave. He snatched the small scroll from the guard and unrolled it quickly, letting his eyes scan over the few words written there. He didn't need to, of course. He knew what it said. But the words still sent a shudder down his spine. It has begun. In truth, he hadn't expected it to happen so soon. His initial estimates of the timeframe were based on breeds he'd encountered in the past. While he knew that this new breed would be unusual, he hadn't fully considered that they'd also develop faster. Not by as much as an entire week, at least. At the same time, he wasn't stupid. He had prepared his own letters as soon as Daegon and Lana had departed. Not that there was much to them. Each consisted of one simple word: Now. The other slayers would be well aware of what it meant. He dropped the eight pre-rolled messages into the guard's outstretched hand. Everything was already arranged; the guard knew what he was to do at that point. Elan had debated on sending all eight. Seven, of course, for each of the other slayers aside from himself and Daegon. But the eighth… it was going to Kep. He didn't want Kep to try to intervene or make his way to the cave. The man had so much heart and involvement in the plan, Elan worried that he'd do something stupid. But at the same time, he knew that he had to let him know. It wouldn't be right for him to keep Kep in the dark on everything. After all, none of them would likely even be aware of what was going on at all had it not been for Kep. He watched as the guard left the room with the haste expected from a Jhirdyrian kingsman. Considering the fact that all of the slayers were within the kingdom walls, the doves would get to them very quickly. Still, there was no time to waste. He swung his legs over the side of his bed and stood, gathering the few items he had in the room and stuffing them into his pockets. He'd been recuperating rather quickly over the past couple weeks. Recently, he'd been getting up and pacing around to ensure his leg strength remained intact. Had he not, he expected he wouldn't be much use in battle. The bigger issue though was whether or not the royal apothecary would discharge him from his stay. He felt as ready to go as ever, but he knew that the apothecary had a tendency to be cautious. If he wouldn't allow Elan to leave, he might have to go against the doctor's orders and take off anyway. There was no way he could allow the other slayers to deal with everything without him there. As if on cue, the old man entered the room. "You're certainly spritely this afternoon," he said, walking up to where Elan stood. "I'm glad to see your motor functions have been regenerating quite nicely." "It's time," Elan said. He looked at the man with hesitation. He'd grown fond of him over his time in the castle, and didn't want to offend him. But there was no choice in the matter. He needed to leave. "I have to go. I'm ready to get back in action." "Not so fast," the apothecary said, holding up a hand. "Sit down, I need to check out your vitals. If you're in fighting shape, I daresay I'll be willing to concur. But I can't allow you to leave if I don't see that you've healed enough." Elan did as he was told. He wasn't about to knock the man out in order to get what he wanted. In any event, he was sure that he'd be where the apothecary hoped he was, health-wise. He sat on the edge of the bed and allowed the man to putter about, checking what he needed to. Elan hated feeling like a child, but unfortunately he'd gotten somewhat accustomed to it during his stay. The old man put his hand to Elan's forehead, checked his pulse, looked into his eyes. There were several "hmm" and "huh" utterances as he did so, appearing to mentally weigh the results. He jotted a few things down on a piece of parchment, scratching his chin. "Well, Elan. Things are looking pretty good. As I've said before, you're recuperating quicker than I think I've ever seen anyone in similar situations. Not that yours has been all that normal. But I can safely say that you're cleared of any further need for observation. You, sir, are good to go." "Thank you," Elan said. But there was no time for further pleasantries. He had to get to the cave before it was too late. He darted out of the room before the apothecary had a chance to change his mind. It was a good thing that Elan's house was so close to the castle. He was able to make it there in short time, which allowed him to gather the belongings he'd need for the battle. In any normal situation, Lana would have been there to get his bag together. But he'd needed her to get to the cave immediately, so he hadn't tasked her with the standard preparations. Thankfully, he always had the basics ready to go. He snatched his bag up from the floor in his weapons room. Always wearing the same armor, that part didn't take much time. He lifted a chainmail vest from its stand and slipped it over his tunic. It was all he needed. Wearing anything else would just slow him down. Except for weaponry, of course. That he still needed. He eyeballed a few of his most prized swords, but there was no telling which would be right for a slay like this. He chose his reinforced sword, the one that held his very first weapon at its core. It was always his go-to, and was his favorite. He also selected a couple heavy dirks which could be handy in close combat, as well as a trusted longsword. He tended to favor broadswords, but if there was a chance of finishing these beasts off, an array of weaponry wouldn't hurt. He slung his bag over his shoulder to complete his ensemble. Feeling decently weighted, he decided that he'd gathered enough. It would do him no good to keep going. If he was too heavy going into battle, it would be to his detriment. He slapped his hand on the ranking list on the wall before leaving, for good measure. It was something he did for good luck before each slay. His trek to the stables seemed to take longer than it did in reality. With everything going on in his head, and knowing that Daegon and Lana were currently alone with whatever was starting to happen, he felt like time was moving at a snail's pace. When he finally arrived, he was almost surprised to see Lana's grey steed in the stall next to his own horse. But then he remembered that Daegon and Lana had chosen to head to the cave on foot, as they didn't know how long they'd be out there and didn't want their horses to get restless. Evidently, it wouldn't have mattered much. But it was probably still for the best. Too many horses around that many dragons would only cause more chaos, more distractions. And horses were very instinctual around dragons. During a battle that would be as epic as this one, horses would get too spooked and get themselves killed, only adding insult to injury. Despite the relatively short distance, Elan didn't have the luxury of leaving his horse behind. He had to get to the cave as quickly as possible, regardless of if the inclusion of his mare would complicate things. If he didn't get there before it was too late, it wouldn't matter. By the time he'd arrived at the edge of the wood, there were already two horses there. Two of the other slayers had arrived before him. He was thankful for this. He had given them a general idea of how to get to the cave; the route over the plains was easy enough to explain, but he had only hoped that they'd decipher how to navigate through the trees and hills based on the landmarks he'd referenced. He fastened the reins of his horse to a tree branch a short distance from where the other two were stationed. He gave himself a handful of seconds to steel himself, but nothing more. This was it. He weaved through the woods as quickly as he could. Though he was feeling much better, the Sanguistis had done a number on him. There was still a tenderness to his muscles and a stiffness to his joints. He hadn't noticed it much until now, but he had to push through it. It wasn't long before he heard the roar of a dragon permeate through the trees. It almost caught him off guard, but he didn't let himself react to it. That part was normal. And he was close. He forged on, feeling the heat increase as he did so. And the heat was followed by the fire. He was maybe halfway to the cave when he saw the flames. There in the distance, right around where the cave was, he could see the reds and oranges flickering through the tree trunks. That was a lot of fire. It wasn't good for battle, but it would be a beacon toward where everything was happening. The remaining slayers would certainly have no trouble finding the place. If there was anything left to find by the time they arrived. Feeling beads of sweat forming on his forehead, he continued to close the distance between himself and the battlegrounds. He'd been involved in a lot of slays, even a few that had taken place in wooded areas such as this. But this was different. The fire seemed hotter. Some of the trees were so tight-knit in the area that the whole woods could be destroyed in a very quick span of time. Either this new breed held more firepower than any others he'd encountered in the past, which was plausible, or else more than one had already emerged. Finally, he broke through to the clearing that stood before the cave. The entire area was surrounded by burning trees. A large dragon rested near the edge, clearly dead. Blood was still seeping out of wounds in its leg and throat. Two more were stamping around, their necks and tails waving about haphazardly. He had to look around frantically before he saw any of his allies. But there, facing off against the further of the two beasts, he saw Daegon and Lana holding their ground. He let out a quick sigh of relief. He saw another figure running around the closer dragon. It was Tayrick, the second-ranked. It wasn't surprising that he was one of the first to arrive. Who did the other horse belong to, though? He continued to survey the area. He could just make out two men in the distance, past all of the chaos. One of them was the peddler that had talked his way into selling the Sanguistis to him. The other, he assumed, was Elsior. Bastards. Dropping his bag to the ground, he unloaded his weapons alongside it and decided to start with his reinforced sword. He held it as firmly and steadfastly as ever. One thing that always felt right to him was a weapon in his hand. It wasn't until he ran out amidst the battle that he saw the owner of the other horse. It was Von. There on the ground, midway between the two monsters, was the body of the third-ranked slayer. The top half of his body was scorched. He was dead. Elan didn't take time to mourn the loss. It wasn't the first time he'd been involved in a slay which had resulted in a death, and it would likely not be the last. Any casualty was a tragedy, of course. Regardless, there was not time to think about it. That was exactly the kind of mistake that would cause additional deaths. But it did mean that these dragons were no joke. If they'd already defeated one of the kingdom's best slayers, they were going to put up a hell of a fight. Which Elan had anticipated. The fact that one of the dragons was also dead, though, meant they had a fighting chance. Since Daegon and Lana seemed to be doing alright with their dragon, Elan chose to join Tayrick at his. Ignoring the tenseness in his muscles, he leapt into the battle with the deftness he always displayed. Though he was fighting alongside the best of the best, he couldn't rely on them. He had to be the number one slayer he was, and he wasn't going to let this thing be the end of his kingdom.
  15. 730 is getting my gears turning. I think I’m going to try to turn that one into something.
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