December 29, 2016 1 Comment
[[ Prompt: A story titled “The End”.
I have seen prompts before that asked you to write the death of a character. I guess this is basically that, but larger in scope, it’s a vision of the Legion invading the Ghostlands. But don’t worry, as all Bronze dragons know, it’s only a possible outcome! ]]
The first streaks of dawn stretched over the Ghostlands sky, illuminating the wintry landscape below. A cold rain had frozen overnight, sheathing the branches and fences in a layer of ice. Renzdormu shivered, eager to finish his morning patrol and return to his cozy bed. There would be cake or muffins by the time he was back, and tea and chocolate. He occupied himself with wondering what sort of muffins they would be — manaberry, perhaps — as he glided low over the forest. As he crested the final ridge that led out to the ocean, something caught his eye, stark and jagged among the ashes of the scar.
It was a portal, a large one. As Renner watched, fel energy crackled over it, the surface churning like a stormy sea. His first thought was to try to break it, but he knew the structure was too strong — it was some sort of reinforced metal and likely had wards as well. He swung around and flew straight back to the school, beating his wings to carry him faster. Hethurin had to know, so he could prepare the portals to get everyone to safety.
Renner landed in the garden, shifting hastily into his elven form as he did so, jogging into the entry room. Hethurin wouldn’t be up this early, but he could ask Tik to rouse him. But surprisingly, he was, already speaking with the death knights. “There’s a–” Renner interrupted. Whatever they were talking about couldn’t be as important as this.
“Portal,” said Salenicus. “It appeared last night.”
So they did know. “It looks to be opening,” Renner said. “You must start the portals,” he said to Hethurin. “I’m going to find Zayel and see if she can help me close it.”
Hethurin was already making his way down the hall, knocking on doors to wake the students. Renner could hear confused and sleepy voices behind the doors, asking what was going on. Once outside, he made the flight over to the healing clinic in town, where Zayel would already be seeing to patients or making up beds for the day. Isandri looked up as he arrived, surprised. “Get to the school,” he said. “A portal is opening. Zayel, come with me.”
Zayel’s eyes grew wide, but she followed Renner outside. “Are you sure?” she asked.
“Very sure,” Renner said, looking south to where he’d seen the portal. The rangers! He’d forgotten they were here in the forest too, and first in the path of anything that might come out of that portal. “It’s this way,” he said, shifting back into his dragon shape, his great wings lifting him into the sky. His eyes scanned the forest below as he flew, searching for any demons. Maybe there was still time to close it before anything came out. He heard Zayel gasp, and he looked to her.
“Look,” she said, as the surface of the portal alit with vivid green flame. The spiraling surface seemed to pull apart, and a teeming swarm of imps poured forth from it. Renner couldn’t even begin to count how many there were; they were countless, like a hive of bees or ants. They ran over the ground, leaving it charred with flickering fel flames behind them, moving north up the scar — and toward the school. Renner had fought imps before. Even this many shouldn’t pose much danger.
“Is there any way you can close that?” he asked, turning to Zayel. She stared intently at the portal for a few long moments, and shook her head.
“It’s too strong,” she said. “There’s something very powerful keeping it open.”
Likely something much bigger than imps, even a swarm of them. “Go up to the school,” Renner said. “Hethurin will need help making the portals. If you could keep the demons out–”
Zayel nodded. “I can keep a ward up long enough for that, I think.” She looped around, heading north toward the school. “Be careful, Renner,” she said.
It wasn’t a matter of being careful, it was a matter of buying Hethurin and the others enough time to get to safety. The thought of the school — his school — being over-run by demons was unacceptable to Renner. The students, so eager and innocent, couldn’t be harmed either. He would not allow it. The bronze dragon landed squarely in the middle of the imp swarm, hoping to break their march. He snapped with his jaws, swung his tail, and swiped with his paws at any imp within reach. He could hear their pained shrieks, feel their bones crunch between his teeth. They jumped and crawled onto his back, their needle-sharp claws scrabbling to hold on. He could feel the fel fire burning into his scales, but he ignored it. There would be time to heal later.
The imps, seeing their kindred dying, finally scattered. They darted off into the forest in different directions. They were still out there, but they were far less dangerous alone. Renner looked back to the portal, and groaned. More demons were coming, and bigger ones. He recognized the mana-eating hounds, the long, tall inquisitors and the strange one-eyed orbs. They did not look at him as they emerged, rather they continued their march north. They had orders, Renner realized. Someone was in charge of this invasion. The demons were not simply roaming where they wished. It was even more important to stop their advance. But without the leader, it would no doubt continue. Where was he?
He would have a better view from the air. Though he ached from the fel burns, Renner spread his wings and flew up over the forest, searching. Even from afar, he could see a bright blue glowing barrier surrounding the school. He hoped it would hold against so many demons. Something whizzed past Renner’s head, and he drew back in alarm. A second later, the ground below shook with the impact, a smoldering crater of green fire. Infernals! Renner looked up, searching for more. If he could prevent them from hitting the barrier, that would help. He darted underneath the falling boulders, shoving them out of the way. It hurt, much worse than the imps had hurt, but if one of them got through the barrier — he didn’t want to imagine it. The forest below had caught on fire, the trees crackling with vivid green flames as the infernals pushed their way through. They were huge, their rocky heads towering over the tops of the trees. And more were coming.
A battalion of demons, each armed with two long swords, advanced along the scar. Each was huge, its hoofbeats causing the ground to tremble with each step. The portal yawned once more and Renner saw the general emerge — at least, he was certain it had to be the general. A monstrous pit lord, its massive body too large to fly, stepped out and surveyed the forest. Renner circled back around the portal, studying his prey. As long as he could stay in the air, he would have the advantage. It was surely weak around its head and especially the eyes, though its head was covered with spikes, and a pair of long curving tusks. He would have to stay away from those. But unless the head was stopped, the demons’ invasion would press on. If nothing else, he had to buy Hethurin enough time to make the portals.
Renner swooped down, clawing at the pit lord’s head. He didn’t seem to even scratch the thick, scaly skin, but the pit lord certainly noticed his presence. He bellowed and swatted at the dragon, but he darted away quickly.
“Captains!” the pit lord bellowed. “Remove that dragon.”
The eight demons with the long swords paused in their advance and turned around to look. Renner ascended up, out of their reach. Though they were more agile than the pit lord, they were still very large and couldn’t move as quickly as he could. And their swords only reached so far. Renner was careful to stay just out of range. Maybe he could draw them back toward the ocean, away from the school. But he could see the other waves of demons, continuing to walk north, ignoring his presence. They had their orders, and they would follow them.
One of the sword demons lunged toward Renner, swinging wildly. He ducked under and around them, flying up when he needed to pause for breath. The burns from the imps still stung, and he could feel the impact of the infernals — that would surely bruise later. He hoped Zayel knew how to treat dragon injuries as well as elf. Below him, the demons appeared to consult with themselves. He supposed it was a good thing that they weren’t more competent. The entire forest would have been burnt down by–
A bolt of fel fire caught Renner off-guard, causing him to stagger off-balance and flap wildly to regain his position. It had come from one of the long, thin inquisitors, and others gathered behind it, their hands glowing with magic. The fire had burned a hole in the leather of one of his wings, and the pain was almost unbearable. But he had to stay in the air. If he landed, he would be dead.
“Again!” ordered the pit lord. “Bring it down!”
The inquisitors’ hands alit with flame, and magic was much more difficult to dodge than slow swords. And his right wing already hurt terribly. Renner flew south toward the ocean, trying to draw them away from the school. He could hear the heavy hoofsteps of the sword demons following behind him. That was good. Another bolt of fire seared over his back and he shuddered in pain. It was enough for one of the swords to catch him, and Renner went tumbling head over tail into the brush. As his vision went dark, he saw the barrier over the school dissolve.