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part two

Augury Vale

It took Cal a minute to realise that Birch had said something – although, in fairness, the power thrumming through her body was a worthy distraction.

“Hmm?” She glanced across at the captain, who was gazing down at the scene of rolling destruction below them.

“I said, I wonder what he said to make it so mad,” Birch repeated.

They both looked down into the valley below, where the ancient creature had transformed into a vicious dragon-like beast. It had already flattened a copse of trees and was now screaming audibly at the heavens, shaking a long-taloned fist at nothing in particular. Mallos was nowhere to be seen, so he had presumably – and rather wisely – retreated. The first wave of elementalists were already storming through the vale, hurling fireballs and rocks. The plan was to drive it back towards the sea, where another two teams of elementalists – water specialists and earth specialists – were attempting to part the sea and drill a hole to the centre of the planet.

From this vantage point, Cal could pick out notable figures amongst the armies below. Mordred stood still in the midst of the destruction, easily visible and seemingly unperturbed by the bellowing beast rampaging towards him. Cal sent him a telepathic warning, concerned he would be trampled underfoot... but Mordred held his ground. He extended his arms slowly, his palms turned towards the floor and dropped his chin down onto his chest. Suddenly Dred's head snapped up again and his fingers stiffened, spreading themselves apart as he ripped chunks of earth out of the ground. The young lord flicked his hands over again, breaking the earth into large chunks before setting them spinning with a flick of the first two fingers on each hand. Each chunk set itself alight in turn, the amber flames growing taller as Mordred was lifted into the air by an unseen force. A flattened hand sent two great slabs of burning rock flying towards the dragon-creature, honing in on one of the monster's great yellow eyes. One of the projectiles hit its target and the beast turned a furious head as a renewed volley of fire and water collided with its left hand side. It spotted the black-haired man hovering a few feet ahead of it like some misshapen insect and lurched towards him, moving closer to the beach. The creature's sharp teeth missed the king's brother by inches as it took another step forwards, scattering a group of palace guards as they ran to avoid being crushed.

“Oi!” a voice rang out from somewhere to the creature's left. Out of nowhere the beast suddenly found itself struck with the full-force of a tsunami-like wave and was forced to fight to keep its feet. It turned towards the great wall of water, lashing out with its long whip-like tail. The tail caught Mordred in the chest, knocking him out of the air. At Cal’s side, Birch made an involuntary sound of alarm and lurched forwards as the king's brother plunged towards the ground. The air was filled with the sound of beating wings as Angmar appeared. The black dragon pinned his wings tightly to his side, dropping into a nose dive as he raced to intercept his master. The grass quivered as the dragon shot past, catching his fairy a hair’s breadth from the ground and soaring back upwards to the relative safety of the skies. As he flew, Mordred swung his leg over his neck into a more comfortable position and threw his ally an easy smile.

Cal opened her mouth to cheer, but promptly shut it again as a series of alien image-thoughts flashed through her head. There was a picture of a blackboard with calligraphic letters on it, followed by a red ‘x’, followed by a half-finished canvas on an easel and finally a green tick. She blinked and glanced at Birch who, judging by her expression, had just had the same vision.

“We’re supposed to use pictures,” the captain translated, loud enough for the rest of her troop to hear too. A few of them nodded in understanding.

The foreign force in their minds retreated as quickly as it had come. Birch lifted her sword and released a battle cry, which was swiftly echoed by troop. As one, they charged down the hillside.

Tristan skidded to a halt as the creature's front leg swiped through the air inches from his face. It missed him by inches, but the men who had preceded him had not been so lucky. Two of them had been killed instantly, and they stared up at him with glassy eyes their faces forced into an expression of eternal surprise. The third man had been less fortunate still, his breathing came in terrified rattles and his limbs protruded from his body at impossible angles. The prince forced himself to look away, and to start running again. Suddenly, the ground began to shake and move beneath their feet as the monster ripped up great mounds of earth to fling at the faeries surrounding it. Tristan nearly lost his balance as he felt himself lifted into the air. Taking a deep breath he threw himself over the side before he was hoisted high enough for the fall to cause him injury. The grass flew up to meet him and he landed shoulder-first in the mud. Clambering back to his feet the Prince joined the second charge. He paused again close to the monster and planted his feet. Great thick vines pushed their way up out of the ground and wrapped themselves around the creature's back leg, holding it tight.

The ancient creature shrieked at its aggravators, its eyes flashing with a fiery glow. It crouched low over the ground, its body writhing and twisting, and for a moment – one, hopeful moment – the aggressors paused, wondering if it was over. The monster’s form grew and darkened, its arched back cracking into deep chasms. As it swung its mutating head, one glowing red eye – swirling like molten lava – fixed into the nearest fairies, causing several of them to back up a little. When its body finally stopped metamorphosing, it was three times the size it had been before and formed entirely out of what appeared to be stone and earth. It sat back on its haunches and released an earth-shattering roar.

“The r-rock-dragon,” one of the older men nearer to Cal mumbled warily. “It used to terrorise us when – ”

An image of the canvas on the easel flashed through all of their heads again. Birch hijacked the connection and sent another picture to her troop: that of a child hiding under its bedcovers. It’s trying to scare us. That means it’s scared.

"REGROUP!" a voice bellowed, loud enough to be heard over the cries of faeries and shriek of the rock dragon. Rhaegar stood in the middle of the mayhem, axe in hand, staring up at the creature's new face with a sharp-toothed grin. Faeries obeyed, running towards the Danish God to reform their formations.

"Bring it on, huglausi gargan" Gar taunted it, shifting his grip on his axehandle, "I dare you."

It dared.

"Look out!" someone yelled as the creature drew its head back and opened its jaws wide. A stream of fire poured from between the dragon's teeth setting light to the surrounded trees. Rhaegar held up his hands, his palms towards the wall of flames threatening to engulf him. The Dane's jaw set in determination as he forced the fire back, away from those sheltering behind him until it seemed to form a dome around them. Smirking Gar snapped his elbows straight, turning the flames around upon their master until the rock dragon itself was enveloped in a fireball of its own making. It screeched, struggling in the blaze until it managed to clamp its jaws shut with an audible snap.

The creature snarled and folded its wings around itself, hovering in mid-air. Now she was closer, Cal could see the black mist swirling around its body as it transformed again. She aimed an arrow at it and, although she missed, she did inspire the legion of archers behind her. A sea of arrows shot through the air, but not a single one met its mark: they all bounced harmlessly off of the black mist as the creature writhed and shrunk. Its tail and wings retracted and its body became shorter and more upright, until it resembled a humanoid figure. When the black mist was finally expelled with a flourish, a fairy hovered where the monster had been. He was an older man, perhaps in his fifties or early sixties, with white hair and blazing, pale blue eyes. For an older person, he looked physically fit and strong. He was wingless, dressed in a long white robe, and had a hard, penetrating stare which made Cal pause. She wasn’t the only one. A collective gasp had gone up amongst some of the fairies, and a few nearest to her had actually dropped their weapons in shock. Cal didn’t need to glance at her companions to feel the mood change, and the morale waver.

Fortunately, the sensation was not unanimous. About a third of the army – mostly younger soldiers, led by a giant in royal uniform – continued with the charge, shouting war cries and hurling fireballs at the enemy. Cal thought she caught a glimpse of Whimsy among them, running alongside a green-skinned man who was controlling a complex net of vines. The ancient creature’s lips curled into a snarl and it turned to counter the vines with a burst of fire. The inhuman illusion shattered, and the rest of the army cheered and followed the younger fighters into the valley.

Cal sent Birch a telepathic image of a question mark, but Birch returned it. She didn’t know either. They sent the question mark wider, and received an answer from Mace: a symbol of weighing scales. Gwythr’s symbol. The ancient creature had taken the form of the former dictator to try and scare the older portion of the population, who still remembered the atrocities he had committed, into fleeing. Fortunately, there were enough migrants and younger generations to have partially pushed out those painful memories.

Mace sent another picture, too: the beach. They had to drive the ancient creature back towards the beach, where the stronger water and earth elementalists were waiting with the trap.

Written by Merlin & Aspelta

    • part three -
    • part four -
    • part five -

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