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    Israfil
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The Transporters - 5. Chapter 5

Here it is (finally). Took longer than expected when life decided to inconveniently happen.

"So... how do we draw them out?" Jenson asked. Tia responded by kicking open the front door. Descending the steps with the confidence of heading out to the clubs for the evening, she flicked her hair and strode towards the road. "Well, that's one way," Jenson observed from the doorway. Parker shrugged.

"Alright, here I am," Tia announced as she spread her arms, her voice loud enough to carry but not quite shouting. "Come through me to get your precious king. Are you wimps or wyrms?" For a moment there was silence aside from the chirping of crickets. Somewhere in the distance a crow cawed.

The dragon attacked like an owl, its wings not making a sound. A flicker of movement from above was all they saw before a dark shape was streaking towards Tia in a straight dive. Parker opened his mouth to shout a warning, already knowing he was too late, it was upon her—Tia disappeared and reappeared in a blur, easily sidestepping the attack. The dragon landed heavily on the asphalt, enormous cracks shooting out from the point of impact. The harsh yellow light of the street lamp illuminated navy blue scales and black spikes running down a serpentine neck curled back to strike. Its lips peeled back in a snarl bristling with serrated teeth and it inhaled, a flicker of pale blue appearing at the corners of its mouth. Parker heard the clap of Jenson's staff strike the ground beside him and the traffic lines on the road reared up from where they had been painted and wrapped across the blue dragon's snout like massive strips of yellow tape, snapping it shut. As the beast attempted stand up on its hind legs to claw off the binding, more road markings animated to hold its body and wings, pulling it back to all fours.

"That's my cue," Parker commented once the trap had been sprung. He dashed forward and drew his sword, the blade already aglow with the anticipation, mirroring his own, of tasting new magic. There was a furious roar from the shadows and he was swept off his feet by a massive gust of hot wind. It was the sensation of standing downwind of a forest fire—the air itself carrying the heat of the flame—but with the strength of a hurricane in a single instant. Landing painfully on the small of his back, Parker was forced to clamber backwards and shield his face from the blistering heat. Risking a glance to his right, he saw Tia holding her ground, legs braced against the gale. It was painful even to breathe, each inhalation seeming to sear his lungs, and a few seconds seemed to stretch out impossibly long, but the air suddenly stilled and cooled. He realized the pained cries he had been hearing were his own and began to gulp lungfuls of non-burning air. He turned to see Jenson leaning on the railing in front of the door, doing the same thing.

Parker noticed that not all cries had stopped and turned back to the bound dragon. Tia still stood before it, her shadow in the streetlamp having grown to twice her size, bearing massive feathered wings, a lashing tail and arched back. The blue dragon still lay before her, however the cause of its distress was the even larger dragon sitting atop its back, claws digging into its shoulders.

The new dragon sat back on its haunches, ignoring the stifled whimpering of the one beneath it, and regarded Tia intently. It was bright red, its head adorned with orange frills, and another running from its chin down its throat to give the appearance of a flaming beard. Its wing membranes were the same color, currently stretched wide and glowing brightly with the yellow light of the street lamp shining through.

"Tiamat, you're looking well," it greeted her in a rumbling purr.

"Hello, Astaroth," she replied evenly.

"I was saddened to hear you had decided to turn against the crown. I had such high hopes for you, my lady," the red dragon continued conversationally, not appearing saddened in the least, Parker observed. "But since it falls to me to carry out your sentence, I can at least grant you a quick and... relatively painless execution. As a token of my respect for you."

"So generous," Tia responded with what Parker was already beginning to think of as her trademark attitude.

"It's better than what you can expect from His Majesty, I can promise you that," Astaroth retorted. The blue dragon beneath him continued to whine. "A moment, please," he requested, before lowering his head to his prone compatriot, who began to writhe desperately. Jenson must have seen what was going to happen as well, clapping his staff once more to release the bindings and causing the traffic lines to retract to the road. The blue dragon managed to raise its head before Astaroth’s jaws clamped down on its neck. He shook his head once, eliciting from the smaller beast a final yelp, abruptly cut off with a wet snap as the neck went limp.

Astaroth casually dropped it and stepped off the body, a slight strut in his step. Jenson looked like he was about to be sick. Killing an enemy in the heat of battle—as with the gnolls—was one thing, but holding them down for a cold blooded execution was another. Jenson wouldn't want his magic used in that way and Parker couldn't find it in himself to blame his friend for trying to free the dragon. “Why would he-” Jenson began but was cut off by a painfully bright flash of light. Parker was momentarily blinded, as if he had stared straight into the sun as it came out from behind a passing cloud. When his vision cleared of spots there was a pale, clean-cut young man, no older than he was, standing in the dragon's place. The youth's black suit looked fresh off the press and his auburn hair was neatly gelled back, emphasizing the flawless complexion and smooth features of a face that could have been cut from marble with two jade stones for eyes.

Astaroth shook his head at the remains of the blue dragon. “Wait for the signal, I said. Was that really so hard? Instead he goes and blunders into a trap. There’s no place in the King’s Legion for such incompetence.”

“I don't know, you're still around, aren't you?” Tia quipped.

Astaroth's jaw tightened but he didn’t rise to the bait. Instead, he began to circle to her right, keeping her in view while facing Parker and Jenson. Tia in turn shifted to her left, keeping herself between them and Astaroth. “So are these your pet wizards?” he asked. Parker felt his swordhand involuntarily tighten on the hilt. “I’d imagine this trap was their doing, it’s far too stylish for you, Tia. Not nearly enough tree roots and dirt,” the red dragon continued.

“Astaroth, you have to know this is insane," Tia warned. "You’re in the middle of a human town in plain sight. Someone just has to look out the window to see you, they might have already.”

Astaroth shrugged dismissively. "Tomorrow this town will wake up to the aftermath of a tragic accident," he extended his arm, tracing an imaginary headline, "'Local townhouse caught fire in the night, no survivors; officials suspect gas leak.' And the public will accept it, because simple explanations comfort them and who really cares enough to find out the truth anyway?"

"You can't count on that—have your team stand down," Tia urged. Astaroth raised an eyebrow and the corner of his mouth curled sardonically. "This is bigger than our war," she continued, "How long has it taken to become a myth? For humans to forget about magic and monsters? One cell phone video could undo the work of over five hundred years. Astaroth, you're risking everything our people have built."

Silence greeted her impassioned plea for reason. Then Astaroth began to chuckle.

"A human’s senses are so easily fooled that most don't even trust their own. The same goes for their vaunted technology—anything they see tonight will be dismissed as a nightmare or hoax tomorrow." He glanced around the neighborhood and smirked, "Though I suspect this is the sort of place where people tend to mind their own business anyway." The dragon began to stalk forward and his shadow began to twist and writhe, becoming less human with each step. "Besides, if you were truly so afraid of the sheep you would follow your own advice," his voice dripped scorn, "Yet here you stand in the thick of the flock." The jade green gaze rested on the wizards and Parker felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. Relaxed yet clinical and detached, these were eyes that could already see you dead. They didn't see enemies, they saw corpses to be disposed of.

The traffic lines rose up and shot towards Astaroth as he approached the front yard. Without breaking step he raised a hand and with a small flick of his wrist, the bindings began to blacken and char before disintegrating entirely. The entire time Parker could feel the weight of the dragon's will pressuring him to drop his sword and surrender, he was only delaying the inevitable. If so many others had fallen to the flame, what hope did any of them have? They really were no better than sheep, to be ignored or slaughtered at convenience, but utterly ineffectual either way.

Under the force of such raw killing intent and the abject failure of his attack, Jenson had visibly slumped, the fight draining out of him. Seeing this, Parker's hopelessness began to shift to anger. How dare they threaten and belittle his friends? His family? Whatever this arrogant salamander thought, they were not dead yet and not so casually dismissed. He began to call a familiar spell to his hand that gripped the sword. Yes, that one would do nicely...

"What would Mithras say?" Tia inquired and a flicker of doubt crossed Astaroth's handsome face, "What if you're wrong? If you rescue him but expose us all in the process? Do you think he will thank you for that?"

The barrage of questions struck home and Astaroth snarled, his calm demeanor crumbling as his face contorted. “Shut up! You know nothing of our king, traitor,” the pure rancor loaded into that last word seemed to propel him forward as he lunged. His eyes blazed green, seeming brighter still in contrast to the crimson scales surrounding them.

Parker fired the spell.

A bolt of lightning hit the attacking dragon mid-air square in the chest, sending him back across the street to crash through a brick wall with a roar. Tia turned to Parker, bronze eyes wide as she took in the runes on the blade thrumming with energy. Before he could bask in her admiration for more than a second, her arm shot out and slammed him against the door.

“What the hell are you doing throwing that kind of power around?” she snapped. “Did you not hear anything I just said?” she added, giving him a small shake for emphasis. Parker could have sworn he felt his teeth rattle.

“Put him down,” Jenson demanded, staff at the ready, causing Parker to realize that his feet were indeed off the ground. Before could say anything in his own defense, he was suddenly dropped to the ground, landing painfully on his behind. Both Tia and Jenson were looking up in horror. He followed their gaze and saw a grey mist swiftly descending from the sky, spreading out around the house to envelop it.

A low rumble pulled his attention back to street level. The broken brick wall was dimly visible but the pair of jade orbs cut through the mist like fog lamps. Astaroth, in his true form, leisurely extricated himself from the hole, spreading his wings to crumble the remainder of the wall. “That,” he paused to shake himself, scattering dust and debris, “was supposed to be the signal. I can’t imagine what took Marduk so long, but no matter.” He smiled, baring his array of steak knife teeth. “Now we have all the privacy we need to have some real fun."

For once, I have the next chapter completely ready to go - so minimal downtime!

Israfil
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