The Queen’s Deception – Chapter Five (Part One)

5

The oceanic moon of Ishaela made her first appearance in the newborn night sky, among distant stars and the thin ring that encircled the realm of Imarel. Known as the Ring of Falling, legends speak of a time when there was no ring, but a second moon, a fiery moon known as Vocoria. The ironic thought that this was a beautiful night to die to had popped unwittingly into Ashya’s mind as she remained crouched in the nook of the large tree branch. The crack of the branch had been the first of much movement coming due west of her position, but did little to deter the Tashrani gypsy from the possibility that their pursuers had finally caught up with them.

Ashya drew one of her basilards and took it in an inverse grip. Her plot was to wait till the Wraith of the Wood funneled Sir Belas here, then she would simply drop on him from above, slit his throat and be done with it. If she did everything just as she imagined, she would also have a body shield against the dragon prowling around in his hybrid form, or the Wrath, should he decide to continue their dance a little early. The voices she heard earlier were closer now and with the Wrath and these Ziyn he was telling tales about having yet to make their collective appearances, Ashya was growing more than a little concerned. She wasn’t sure she was quite high enough in her tree to avoid brushing the top of that dragon’s head should he wander her way!

“Their scents linger here, especially the female,” Magarathran informed his smaller companion as they pushed through tangled branches. “But there’s something else.”

“Something else?” Belas repeated. “These are woodlands, there are probably several hundred somethings lurking here and about. Can you tell what it is?”

“Unfamiliar to me,” Magarathran rumbled in response. “Oily and unclean.”

“Possibly Jackalares. They’re known to linger in the woods near ruins like this. They are a deceptive lupine race, that steals the form those they encounter by eating their hearts.” Belas offered, while motioning to move into the ruins.

“This isn’t the smell of a dog-thing, Elf.” the dragon hissed derisively. “This is a reptile.”

“Reptile? Here? I’ve nev—“ the sentence was never completed for the flash of boromandite spear that very nearly impaled Belas’ head to a tree, were it not for the dragon pushing him forcibly to the ground.

“That’s a royal spear…” Belas murmured as he stared at the very thing that nearly took his life, from his sprawled position on the ground. “What’s that doing here?”

Magarathran’s response came with a swiveling of his great head and a blast of freezing breath that tore through trees and branches like a gale force wind. After a second or so, many of these trees simply cracked and fell over, then shattered on the forest floor for the absolute cold they had been exposed to. Both the dragon and the Kiris Miran Reaver seemed confident that they would find something dead in the wake of that destruction, but there was nothing. Only the uncertain silence lingered for them to ponder upon.

Belas got to his feet and ripped the spear from the tree and glanced up at his draconic cohort. “This came from the direction of the woods. I will go flush the owner of this fine spear into the ruins here. The few crumbled bits of structure will do little to save them from your power, my friend.”

There was a nod of agreement from the dragon, but no words. It had occurred to Magarathran that to throw a spear, which did not have a particularly long range and still manage to escape the long swathe of destruction he just carved into the landscape meant either the thrower was injured in some way, or had prepared cover. This prompted Magarathran to lumber into the frozen wake his breath weapon made and look a bit more closely, while Belas played in the woods like a good Elf. The predatory nature of the dragon craved a good hunt, as opposed to standing around like an oafish brute, waiting for the enemy.

Flash-frozen branches cracked and crumbled under Magarathran’s considerable weight, as he walked along the path he had hewn with his breath weapon. While his eyesight was keen an his sense of hearing reasonably good, it was his sense of smell that was the most sharp. Dragons could smell prey from long distances and could triangulate the location of prey within a few yards if the wind was favorable. Magarathran was still smelling the oily, dirty stench of the unknown reptiles, but it was vague, elusive in the air. The scent that interested him was the one they had been following. The dragon knew the scent of this one’s blood and could not easily quell the primordial need to devour warm, fresh meat.

Following the scent with slow and careful step, Magarathran came upon a most curious sight. A hole in the ground, or perhaps more appropriately, a hole in the roof. Magarathran hadn’t realized the ruins here had subterranean levels as well. The scent was strong here; his prey had been here recently. While perfectly capable of seeing in the dark, the dragon hesitated to peer into the section of collapsed roof, though not for a lack of fear of what he might see. Given his considerable weight, the idea of falling through the roof of this weakened section wasn’t exactly appealing, but did explain how his prey escaped his breath weapon. Magarathran was both impressed and annoyed by the revelation.

Magarathran heard the shifting of stone underneath him and knew he had fallen into a trap designed with him in mind. The whole roof began to give way with holes forming everywhere, exposing the subterranean world of the Screaming Halls. Magarathran howled in outrage as he attempted to shoot skyward but found no footing to leap into the air.

His own weight set against him, the Xannti wyrm fell with heavy stone debris pelting and pummeling him. Jagged pieces of rock did little to scratch the thick scales of his powerful body, but the sheer weight of them, coupled with the harsh landing smashed his left wing to uselessness. There would be no flying out of here for at least a few hours, depending on how long it took or the damaged wing to regenerate. He’d have to find a way to set the broken bone, as to assure it regenerated together correctly as well. Magarathran let out a blistering roar of anger at his present plight that rattled the stone pillars that managed to survive the roof collapse and echoed through the vast dark that sprawled before him.

Belas would be on his own to deal with survivors. If the sound of shifting and slithering against the stone was any indication, he would have enough of his own problems to deal with.

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