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Chapter Sixteen: The End of All Hope
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Kalanna Rai



Joined: 21 Jan 2006
Posts: 3075
Location: The Frozen North

Posted: Thu May 10, 2012 11:08 pm    Post subject: Chapter Sixteen: The End of All Hope  

And so a stand is made. Enjoy!
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Chapter Sixteen: The End of All Hope

The door groaned on it's hinges, the sound of scrabbling bones against it's thick wood becoming more and more audible as more and more skeletons piled up behind it. He bit down on the cut in his lip again, causing a fresh burst of pain to spark and a few drops of metallic blood to sting his tongue, salty and hot. He had to stay awake despite the fact there was precious little energy left in him. In his arms was all that was precious to him, his mate passed out in exhaustion, his child asleep in her embrace. Behind him the remnants of his family and the few loyal to them, all packed amid a few stalls in the barricaded stables.

The old king was in a bad way, face ashen and breaths shallow. Alasdair had spared all the energy he could to keep the reaper away but if he didn't get some sleep soon, and a good meal, he was going to collapse. Today had taken everything and it was still asking more. Always more. First had come Aaern's birth, the babe picking perhaps the most unfortunate time in history to choose to come to the world. It had taken a good measure of his strength to keep the infant from tearing his mother apart to get free, power coaxing and guiding, turning the boy so that he slid from the womb head first instead of reverse as he'd tried.

Then the fight, a hopeless and desperate scramble. The skeletons hadn't bothered him overmuch. They couldn't get through his scales no matter how hard they tried and they were easily crushed by physical blows or turned to dust with less mundane abilities. But there were so many of them and, as he'd once told Khafi, a dragon alone was no match for an army. Even a pair of dragons. He wished with all his heart that Kyrie had remained behind, had recovered her strength.

Instead she'd come to his aid, to buy the people of an ungrateful town time to escape. Tired as she was, she was still a true Northern woman and she did her Ancestors proud, both dragon and man. But it was a losing cause and it hadn't been long before she was collapsing, the ambling bones piling over her as they sought each vulnerable spot. Her eyes, her nostrils, anywhere they could get those relentless chisels of bone to work. He'd flung them clear of her, lifting her in the sky, carrying her back toward the town. It was the most telling sign that she didn't struggle, or argue with him. It worried him when she just agreed to things, or let him do things for her.

The last of the townspeople had been shuffling through the portal when they arrived, crowding the courtyard. Well Kyrie had, there was simply no room for the both of them. He'd set her down gently, making sure that she wasn't going to slip off into the Void and leave him alone in this life, turning his attention to the wall that Astor and his men had been holding. Others had joined them there, a group of soldiers that had wandered lost from the main battlefield, cavalry oddly enough, horses having sought the comfort and safety of their stalls, carrying the men to safety with them.

Sweeping them into the courtyard, he'd done his best to clear the ranks of the dead, giving everyone time to get through. It hadn't happened. Kyrie hadn't been able to muster the energy to return to human form. Exhausted she'd simply lain there, staring up at him, urging him to take Aaern and go. As if that would ever happen. And he wasn't the only one to stay. Tessa had chosen to remain. "I don't know how to raise a human child. How on earth do you expect me to raise a dragon? Besides, there is no place safer than right here, no matter how desperate it seems now."

She'd smiled at them, sitting down near Kyrie's nose and letting the small infant rest on his mother's scales, keeping him calm and quiet. Her maidservant had looked at the portal for a moment and, with a long-suffering sigh, settled down on the cobbles near her mistress. Obviously losing your royal charge was not the best reference for future work but...loyalty was a strange thing.

Then Khafi had stepped up, discarding the plate pieces of his armor, leaving him clad only in glittering ebony mail and a dark surcoat. "There is nowhere else for me to go. No home I can run to should this place fall. I would rather die free and in a place of my choosing, than as a slave or to a poisoned dagger in the dark." Of his many servants, only the massive black skinned man and the slight, always silent, golden skinned woman remained. And like the man they'd sworn a life-debt to they had nowhere else to go. And so they stayed.

Lukan had stared at them all for a moment, shaking his head, the quiver, almost empty of arrows, on his back rattling with the motion. "Beak made it out. Hopefully he makes it home. Either way...everyone back home is going to think I'm dead anyway. I'd rather be able to tell them that I survived a siege of the damned than ran while everyone else remained behind. Maybe if I live people will stop thinking I'm just Syvlania Stormrunner's bastard boy and start thinking of me as Lukan Stormrunner?" He shrugged, giving a tight smile. "Besides...I owe the people who are not coming home a little more tribute than just...running."

Alasdair had swatted another wave off the wall, lashing his tail and casting them back into the writhing mass of their heinous comrades. Glancing back he'd watched Astor reach out to Lukan, taking the white portal rune that Yevard had left behind. Pushing it toward the portal, he'd glanced at the men still standing with him. When not one had moved toward the glowing gateway, he'd touched the rune to the ring of magic. There'd been a soft pop and the gateway had vanished like a child poking a bubble. "This is my city. I will remain here until her last wall falls."

And they had. Alasdair had kept the walls of the courtyard clear. Looming over them with a foot braced at each corner. With snapping jaws, beating wings, and lashing tail he'd driven the bone horde back until the dead seemed to realize here was an enemy they couldn't bring down. They'd turned to ransacking the city, methodically tearing the stones apart to find anything living. That had given the ragged group enough time to regroup. For Alasdair to get Astor some healing magic for the crushing blow that had snapped several of the old king's ribs. For Kyrie to get enough rest so that when Aaern cried for his first meal she was able to take a human form to feed him. Enough time for them to get into the stables and block all the ways in.

And that was where they were now, resting, those that could. Alasdair never taking his eyes off the door where the dead relentlessly flayed at the thick wood. The bonds of iron foiled them, the doors having been built to withstand siege. The horses shifting fretfully behind them. A rasping cough drew his attention as Astor stirred, wiping away blood from his lips with a torn bit of his cloak.

"We can't stay here anymore. It is time for us to go."

"Go? There is no going now. I couldn't call the dragon form if I wished to and Kyrie is still too weak to risk another change. As humans we cannot fight our way through that legion out there."

Astor coughed again, holding up the white portal stone. "We won't have to. This is the key to our escape. All we have to do is reach the door it unlocks. If we can reach my Throne, there is a way."

The door shuddered under another impact and he glanced down as Aaern made a noise in his sleep, Kyrie stirring as his hold tightened just a bit. Behind him the horses snorted, shifting uneasily. "Khafi. Are you awake?"

For a moment there was no response, then a tired voice answered him. "Our chances of success are low but if you're thinking what I'm thinking then yes...there is a chance. We get on the horses, you do whatever you can to clear a path, and we ride like hell for the great hall. If we can surprise them and get into the castle...from there it's a straight path. The doors are open, they were left open when everyone left. There's the stairs but they're easy enough for the horses to take. Our only problem would lie in speed. Even if we get a path clear can we get down the path before they flank us and rip the horses down from behind?"

He blew out a breath, biting his lip for the sharp burst of pain again. His talent in the combat magics was not...refined. He could easily blow them all to the void as well as clear them a path. And there was the little matter he was exhausted. Right now he wished he had Ranaulf to consult but the grizzled old veteran had taken the other wounded members of Alasdair's company through the portal on his master's orders. That was when Alasdair had fully expected to follow them. He wondered what Ranaulf had though when the portal had losed without Kyrie and himself coming through it.

He knew what he would do back home he'd ask the Ancestors. The great spirits of the land. And then it clicked in his head. Quietly he shifted, waking Kyrie with a quiet kiss, standing and making his way to shake the other's awake. Quietly he and Khafi outlined the plan, such as it was. They would get on the horses and when Alasdair gave the signal, they would make for the throne room with every bit of speed. Astor swore that all they would have to do was reach the throne and the way would be there, the moment the portal stone came close enough the gate would open and them moment the stone passed through it the gate would close again. There would be no hoard of dead following them to their safe haven.

With sluggish movements the bone-weary crew readied themselves, none more so than Alasdair. He stood, holding Kyrie and Aaern tightly, memorizing their scents. Their feels. The sound of their heartbeats. If things went amiss...this was the last moment he would have with them. "Go. Saddle the mare, she will keep you safe. And I will be with you."

As they turned to make their preparations, he made his. He knelt just before the doors, putting his hands flat against the earth and sending out a plea. A tired cry for aid and succor. For the power of this fertile but sleepy land. He knew the spirits had been awakening, he'd felt their pleas and cries. He felt it more acutely now, the agony of the very ground he stood on. And as he reached for it, he was answered by a torrent of power. Untapped for an age, asleep and dormant, it had woken in pain. It had woken in fury.

Raw energy surged into him, boueying his flagging reserves. He'd pay for this later. No power came without cost. But for now he was a new man and he expressed this by putting forth the energy to reach the lesser form. A form slightly larger than a man, with the posture and carriage of a man, but with the shape and being of a dragon. Covered in night black scales, adorned in gilded spines and talons, a tail like a whip, and wings black as night. A dragon-man, the creature of myth.

Glancing back at them with his slitted, inhuman eyes, he waited until they were ready. At a signal from Khafi he placed his hands against the barred door and threw it wide, splintering wood and rending iron. Savagely he tore at the dead beyond, a howling gale of power unleashed from his outstretched talons as the spirits that made up the land of Leyond surged around him. Like a wave breaking across the shore, a flood wave sweeping away the chaff before it. The dead shrieked in pain, tumbling back and away as Alasdair and the spirits continued their terrible advance.

Where he stepped grass grew and flowers blossomed, life trailing his his wake as he repealed the dead. His heart slammed in his chest and his lungs were on fire. He hadn't gone twenty yards yet, halfway across the courtyard with the band of desperate riders behind him. He gritted his fangs, unleashing a savage bellow and pressing forward, ignoring the burn in his body. This...this could very well kill him. Too much power, raw and furious. These spirits were not the Ancestors of Rhimefaust, well used to interaction with creatures of frail mortal flesh. The spirits of Leyond gave not a care for the limitations of his mortality, he had offered himself as a vessel and they filled him with their rage.

He flung aside the ranks on the stairs, the spirits horrible in their vengance, powdering bone and splintering skeletons. Bloody froth bubbled with every breath he took, wings hammering more dead like a blacksmith might metal upon his anvil. They were only halfway down the hall and he felt like he was coming apart. He was shaking and twitching, blood running from his nostrils and searing holes in the flagstones below. But he didn't stop. He could not. The spirits would not release their grip upon him long enough for him to catch a breath.

By the time they reached the great hall he was weeping blood, unable to hear the world around him through the ragged pounding of his own heartbeat. The horses surged past him as he stood on the stairs of the throne dias, roaring with the fury of Leyond herself and his own pitiful anger at the hissing horde of the dead. And suddenly he was swept up, the dark black form of a horse knocking into him, driving him up the stairs and to the throne proper. He couldn't see, his vision coated in red. He couldn't hear, deafened by his own blood.

But suddenly the power of the spirits was gone. He was given the impression of grass against his plain human skin, of sweet earth under his fingers. The whisper of the spirits as they retreated in apology. The caress of the night breeze their parting kiss.

Someone wiped his eyes and he could see long enough to note that the moon and stars were in a different pattern than was normal for Eresinne. Could see the forbidding stone keep carved from a mountainside. And then they closed in slumber. But he fell into oblivion with a smile on his face knowing that his family was safe.

The portal at the throne had taken them to Malvang, the Iron Keep. The ancient bastion of Leyond and her people. A place humming with enough magic to keep the seasons at bay. A great power lay here, so the old legends said, and Alasdair could only trust that it was power enough to protect his wife and child while he slept. Because he desperately needed to sleep...
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There you have it folks, our heroes remained until the last. But now Eresinne is given to the dead and Malvang has become their shelter. Alasdair is out of the game for an unknown amount of time, Kyrie is weak, Astor's health is failing, and everyone's been beaten to the edge of collapse. And now what? Who will they call on? What aid will they find? Will this force Astor to consider his choice of heir? Or is the next army waiting just over the horizon? Only you know, the course of their lives is yours to chart.
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And there you are folks. They survived the last stand but was the price too high? Either way I'm sure great things are in store. Hope you liked.
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Shillelagh



Joined: 11 Mar 2010
Posts: 398
Location: Kansas

Posted: Sat May 19, 2012 11:13 pm    Post subject:  

I really feel like we don't know enough about Malvang in order to really respond to this DP very well. Other than "a place with a lot of magic", I don't really know anything about this place. So, how can I comment on what they'll find, and what aid they could get? These open-ended DPs drive me insane sometimes.

So. I'll say that no, the next army is not around the corner. They'll have some time to rest and recoperate. The four will be able to send out messages to their respective homelands and/or the escaped people, if need be. And although the heir to Eresinne is a moot point, Astor's brush with death has probably made him decide to specify who it will be. But, because this may split the unity of the four, he's going to pull that one person aside and tell him/her in secret.
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Lilith



Joined: 10 Feb 2007
Posts: 1597
Location: Happily curled up in a Daemon's lap

Posted: Sun May 20, 2012 4:42 pm    Post subject:  

Of course Astor's not going to be choosing his heir after this. He still hasn't shown us what he's got up his sleeves, and I think it should be somewhere in Malvang that Astor brings the best he's got in him. Kyrie and Alasdair are going to be down for the count for a long while I think. Aaern is probably the only reason they'd get out of bed. As for Khafi, Lukan and Tessa, those three should be working to keep the people calm while the big guns rest, and Astor heals.
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Astaar



Joined: 10 Jan 2012
Posts: 7

Posted: Mon May 21, 2012 6:58 am    Post subject:  

The two dragons should start teaching but also learning from the baby, but mostly they should recouperate.

I feel that all the children of Leyond should start learning of their purpose as a unit, the king would reveal the need for them to work together.

Also, since this new place is the old fortress, they all should start learning about the old ways of fighting/defending against undead.

Great chapter, btw...:) Only thought the spirits anger section a bit of overkill but still really nice.
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Kalanna Rai



Joined: 21 Jan 2006
Posts: 3075
Location: The Frozen North

Posted: Mon May 21, 2012 9:50 pm    Post subject:  

The purpose of Malvang and a bit of it's history will indeed be revealed in the next few chapters.

And yes, I was going for overkill with the spirits. I needed to put both dragons out of commission for a while and I needed something a little over the top to emphasize that they were both down for the count. Otherwise what would be to stop all of you from just saying 'Unleash the dragons' in response to the next challenge the team faces.

Nice suggestions all. Will leave it open to comments for a couple more days before this one goes for voting. Also, keep your eyes on the forum, I've got a treat coming in the next few days.
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Kalanna Rai



Joined: 21 Jan 2006
Posts: 3075
Location: The Frozen North

Posted: Thu May 31, 2012 12:38 am    Post subject:  

Oh look, a poll.

And don't forget folks, I've got something special for you intrepid readers in the next day or so. Keep your eyes peeled.
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Lilith



Joined: 10 Feb 2007
Posts: 1597
Location: Happily curled up in a Daemon's lap

Posted: Thu May 31, 2012 2:35 am    Post subject:  

Voted. Where's this surprise you're talking about? XD
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