By: Joiya Posted on: February 24, 2006
Author's Note: This work is purely fiction, drawing upon history for the setting of the story.
Han-Tolneth lay in my arms and wept, an architectural plan, tumbling from his fingers. He clutched at my jade robe, almost tearing it from my shoulders as he battled rage, betrayal, and pain. I had already cried until I'd felt like an empty husk, pain rolling around inside of me, gnawing ceaselessly in an effort to consume me. I did not know what expression my face was portraying, but I was sure it was contorted into a hideous mask. An Aldar had raised a hand against a brother. Delkalb was dead, and Han-Silnar's hands were fresh with blood, our own blood...his blood.
"I thought if we stayed to ourselves..." Han-Tolneth gasped against me, and for a moment raised his head. I traced my fingers over his ashen cheek and forced my soul to be strong. His gaze bore into mine, as he seemed to gather strength from something in my face.
"The Gods will not survive," I murmured gently. "They are trapped, just as our own people were trapped. Will we let them be slaughtered? We are their children, loved no more and no less than the humans."
A strange expression crossed over Han-Tolneth's face at the mention of the newest inhabitants of the earth. They were bastards perhaps, but alive just the same and I had always believed that everything should be given a fighting chance.
"Do we sit here and do nothing? What do you think our lives will be like with power-lusting Gods looming over us? Lady Lorielan's hunger for power will never cease. Never."
"My own brother..." Han-Tolneth murmured, but he was sitting, his warm hand squeezing my shoulder as his eyes lit on fire. He wore the same expression when he was drawing a schematic in his head, lovingly crafting wall by wall of some imagined building.
My soul shuddered and for a moment I wondered if the God's protective dome had faltered. "We must hurry," I whispered. Fear and determination battled in my eyes. "We must go to war."
Han-Tolneth lunged to his feet, robe swirling, and I watched as he strode to his wardrobe and threw it open. Cursing himself and his brother in angry dripping chants, he ripped out his riding leathers. By the time he had dressed in the form-fitting suit, I was standing beside him in my own brown armor, pulling the scaled gloves over my slender wrists. My angry, determined lover, pain bleeding from his eyes even as his feet carried him to action, stopped and took my face in his hands. His lips brushed across my forehead, across my eyelids, then briefly across my lips. With a passionate stare into my own willing eyes, he ran his hands through my red curls, following it down where it tumbled across my shoulders.
I followed him as he strode towards the door and flung it open, stepping out onto the stone balcony. A large gathering of Aldar glanced up at him, at his leathers, at his expression and there was a low murmured cry. One man, tall, slender, beautiful, strode up the stairs to meet Han-Tolneth and clasped him about the forearm. "We ride then?" I had known that the remaining Aldar had wanted to do something. We'd all felt useless, ashamed, as we hid and pretended that a brutal war was not taking place. The outcome would affect all of us.
Turning to look down into the upturned faces, Han-Tolneth punched the air with his fist. Curling back his lips in a loud thundering voice that tingled all the way down into the soles of my boots, he shouted, "Dragon Masters, we ride!"
We were airborne in less than twenty minutes, hundreds of leather-clad Aldar astride our fearsome mounts. I rode beside Han-Tolneth, and glanced at his opalescent white dragon. I could not remember when we had last been called to arms, but we were all willing to die to protect the Elder Gods from their destruction. My own mount, Gresh'et, a slender red, snapped her wings powerfully and took me spiraling up into the sky. I couldn't help but laugh, and heard it ripple back through our ranks. I guided her back into formation and composed my face. I did not know what we would see. We had heard stories, rumors, of demon beasts, somehow brought into our home by Khalas. I cursed him beneath my breath, and glanced vehemently about me. What? Had He not heard me? I almost screamed my curses aloud, my lips forming the names of the God-betrayers when the bloody battlefield of Nishnatoba came into view. The dragons all began to keen.
Throwing themselves against a large pearly dome upon the ground were hundreds, maybe even thousands of dark nightmarish creatures. Their wings beat frantically against the dome as they snapped and tore, trying to get past the barrier to the Gods. The Qui'anar, the Horkval, the Scrula, and the mercenaries of Arn were being torn apart by the flying demons. But for a moment, with the dragons' roars, everything stopped. Heads raised, eyes lifted. I saw the gorgeous Lady Lorielan with a hand to her face, and caught an expression of triumph. "We have not come for you," I muttered under my breath. I lifted my hand and as I imagined power flooding out of my chest and down my arm, magic danced across my fingers. I glanced behind me at the other Aldar, my sharp eyesight picking them out as they opened themselves to power and raised their bows, readying arrows as they fastened themselves to their saddles.
I looked at Han-Tolneth, regal, angry, ready, but he didn't look at me. He was staring at the small figure of his brother. Raising his fist, he wheeled his dragon around and roared a challenge at Han-Silnar. As he swooped down to confront his brother I touched Gresh'et with my mind, telling her to sweep down across the massed forces. A strange winged demon that looked like a bear with six large eyes glanced up at me. With a scream, I threw a bolt of pure energy that sizzled across its head. Blinded, I watched it fall with quiet satisfaction. Another winged demon fell on it, licking it grotesquely as if trying to envelope its essence. And then, they were after me. Funneling up into the sky like a storm cloud, a group of the winged atrocities soared after me. Hooking myself in the saddle I stroked my hand down Gresh'et's scaled neck, feeling a rush of exhilaration as she began to give them something to chase. Flipping, spinning, twirling, I glanced down and saw the pearly protective dome shimmer and disappear. For a moment I felt despair. Had the Gods faltered? Was it over? Then there was a roar, a divine roar that sliced through my brain. I was dazed, dizzy, but elation quickly overtook the pain. I had never felt more revitalized or certain. We would prevail over the Triumvirate.
Gresh'et spun and snapped one of the demons out of the air, tearing its wings to shreds before ripping brutally into its belly as it squealed and spat foul smoke. Oily black blood splattered across the faces of the traitor Aldar, and they all glanced up. We, the dragon riders, knew what we had to do and concentrated our attack on our own brethren. I caught sight of someone I knew raising a hand to kill a Horkval troop, leaping towards him. Biting my lip savagely until blood ran down my chin, I infused the Horkval with power and forced myself to watch as he dodged the Aldar's attack and ripped his chest open with a strong-armed swing of his sword. Gresh'et began to spew firebreath across the ranks as we flew over, and shredded one leaping figure with her claws. Demon bodies began falling out of the sky as the dragons spun and attacked.
Battlecries rent the air as the dwarves and mercenaries charged the Nevaharr and Kx'Khrah. The tide was being pushed back. A hideous creature that I could only assume was the infernal demons' leader had no chance to turn his eye on us, for the Elder Gods had descended into pure fury and were unleashing their power in awesome quantities. Lord Aegis tore by me, nearly upsetting Gresh'et as he ripped the limbs from a shrieking demon. His terrifying gaze scraped over me and I stared, transfixed, as he headed back down to the ground with bloody pieces of demons in his hands. Lady Gaia and Lord Vastar were raging at the elementals, and I pressed Gresh'et into a spin as a flash of lightning seared down past me, nearly singing my leg. As the battle sizzled beneath me like a raging ocean, I realized that the Triumvirate's mortal allies had been decimated. The Gods turned to the demons.
"The demon lord!" a dragon rider screamed, soaring past me through the scorched sky. I turned my head, following his plunge.
"Pazuzu! Pazuzu!" someone else screamed. The demon was escaping. Without a thought I joined the other riders in the chase. I don't know how I got in front of him but I did, wheeling Gresh'et around to cut him off. A thick group of us cornered him, swirling around him as he tried to escape. With a murderous scream that sent a shiver down my spine he tore viciously into the wing of a dragon, fixing himself to its belly like a furious cat. His claws ripped huge rends in the dragon's body before he released it. I watched in horror as the dragon fell, crushing the Aldar rider beneath him. Another Aldar moved into the empty space, cutting off Pazuzu's escape.
"Don't let him run!" someone shouted.
I could see Lord Matsuhama and Lord Aegis racing towards us, and with determination threw a rope of power at Pazuzu. The demon's attention turned towards me. Gresh'et dove and evaded his attack, and snapped at one clawed leg, ripping it almost off at the knee. As she came up beneath him, I felt a terrible pain rake across my back, splitting open my leathers like silk. Suddenly I was tossed high into the air. I caught sight of Lord Matsuhama reaching out towards Pazuzu...I saw Gresh'et wheeling around, wings outstretched...the air rushed past my ears and then it all stopped.
Something cracked in my back, and the pain I felt as my torn back slammed into the ground quickly vanished. I tried to move my left arm, and somehow turned my head to look. It was gone. I was cold. I couldn't breathe. Gresh'et landed beside me, nearly rolling on top of me. Her huge horned head loomed above me and she whined, the noise nearly shattering my eardrums. A shadow flashed across my face and an Aldar's face loomed over me. Somehow I couldn't remember her name, and stared at the tight leather enclosing her hand as she touched my face. "Han-Tolneth?" I gurgled, trying to spit the blood out that was clogging my throat.
The woman smiled sadly, and my eyes widened in panic. "No, no!" she said, "He is fine. Han-Silnar submitted to him on his knees."
"The battle?" The woman's face was starting to darken and I blinked, trying to focus on the hard lines of her face.
"Over, over. Lord Matsuhama and Lord Aegis have subdued Pazuzu. And I heard that Lady Lorielan surrendered to Lord Phaestus. It is over, Nevealen, the fighting...is over."
I blinked. She knew my name. Who was she? Another shadow fell across my face and Han-Tolneth's eyes filled my vision. Warm, wise eyes, even now filled with pain. I tried to touch his face but couldn't. I had forgotten. He seemed reluctant to pick me up for his hands touched me then retreated, and he spoke to someone else above me that I couldn't see. "Her soul?" he was saying.
"The wounds...her back...the spine is showing..."
I blinked at the fragmented words. My spine? It was becoming more difficult to concentrate. "We did it, darling," I managed to say. "We...we did our duty. The Gods are...saved..."
"Hush, try not to speak. You'll be reborn, I promise."
I laughed and nearly chocked. "Reborn? I'm not dead yet Han..." My eyes closed. I was sinking into warm darkness. Everything was fading away. I don't think I ever wanted to wake again. Somewhere, somewhere someone was singing.