Book VI Holiday Special: The Legend of Midwintre Part I
Kelangazed up at the great golden eagle as she preened her feathers.
Aqk, his goddess and master, was prone to leaving without warning for months at a time; she never discussed where she went, but she always seemed to have new wisdom for him upon her return, about the ways of the world and the things to be found within it.
Gently, she placed a talon atop his head. "Kelan, there are many forces in the world; forces of great good, forces of great evil, and the creatures caught within their midst. I observe, and do what I can to ensure evil can never consume the warmth and light in the world."
She sighed. "Perhaps..."
"Perhaps? What do you mean--"
"Perhaps, it is time you learned to do the same."
He remembered their conversation as though it had been yesterday; truly, it had been years.
Since then, he had begun to wander much as his master did, taking his sonValdrenwith him once he was old enough.
The two of them traveled the wild and secret places of the world, observing life in growth and motion. They met with spirits of the forests and fields, communing with the planet as they stumbled upon places of such great beauty and serenity that they could be nothing less than sacred.
As Valdren grew, his wings became strong, and he learned to carry Kelan upon his back.
Freed from the chains of gravity, they made their way over the sea, eager to discover what awaited them beyond the boundaries of their homeland.
They found lands where nothing but seas of golden sand stretched on forever, lands where intense heat and freezing cold existed side by side, encouraged by the elemental creatures who called them home.
They found sprawling mountains that guarded the world beyond them like a great and stalwart sentinel, lands of shoft, thick grass and endless swamp and rolling hills.
And at last, they swept down upon a great continent draped in deep snow, its trees and shrubs thorny and sickly. The forests were ailing, the wildlife sparse and silent.
Concerned, the Flamekeeper and the Flarion Prince landed, creepng through the eerie place to see what they could find.
"This land feels... wrong," Kelan murmured softly as they traveled over the hard, icy ground. "Something has been draining the life from this place for quite some time-- can you feel it?"
"I can't feel it, no, but I can see it just as well-- wait. Father, did you hear that?"
Kelan and Valdren pricked their ears, listening as the sound of screaming drifted by on the frigid wind. Without another word, the pair raced across the snow, fur-lined capes billowing behind them.
As they ran, a small village came into focus just up ahead, people dashing through the gates and scattering into the sparse woods nearby in search of shelter. Shadowy shapes swooped past overhead, one occasionally dropping from the sky like a rock to take hold of some poor villager before carrying them away as they kicked and screamed in mortal terror.
A chill deeper and more sinister than the southern frost cut Kelan to the core; he gritted his teeth and followed the sensation with his mind, intent on claiming it as his own, learning what it meant.
Ever since his transformation at the hands of his friend and his mysterious crystal, the ebb and flow of life seemed irrevocably anchored to him; in his gut, he felt the people nearby as their lives were cut short, though he could not determine how.
Still, it was more than enough.
"Valdren," he began, but his son had already rushed into the fray, vaulting over the stone wall like a phantom.
"Hurry-- these people need us!"
His heart growing tight in his chest, Kelan raced after him, gently loosing his twin swords-- two halves of the transforming bowLifesedge, a gift given to him by his goddess and master-- in their scabbards as he went.
A foul stench suddenly assaulted his nose and he nearly gagged, pulling his swords just within the village gates. Pulverized and broken bodies lay in the street amongst overturned carts and lost parcels, brains dashed, faces melted away, chests torn apart.
Amidst the gore, shambling and loathsome creatures mulled about, devouring the fallen, tearing at the earth with clawed, grimy hands, and dimly glancing up to stare at theChapterwith sunken and rotting eyes.
"What... what manner of horror is this," Kelan gaped.
Before he had had time to think, he felt himself running forward, clearing through theghoulswith his blessed swords, parting their heads and limbs from their rancid bodies.
Valdren charged across the road in dragon form nearby, smashing rocky, winged creaturesinto pebbles and dust with powerful blows of his paws.
"These things are elementals of the earth and sky, but they're kidnapping these people as though they've been possessed," he mused aloud.
"I don't know what's going on here, but--"
"You're trespassing, that's what," droned a cold and smarmy voice; Kelan and Valdren alike froze in place, lifting their heads to find a lone figure standing atop the battered town hall.
The man's eyes were a vivid, raw red in stark contrast with his charcoal-black hair and bone white flesh; wrapped in a fine grey cape, he glowered down at them with undeniable threat.
"This is my village, and I shall not suffer your presence. Leave now, and I will pretend this incursion never came about," he hissed.
"'Yours" or not, you are responsible for the attack upon these people, and I won't abide that!" Valdren growled, standing on his hind legs to spread his wings imposingly. "What manner of dark magic is this that you wield?"
"Necromancy," the stranger said, smirking faintly.
"Should you like a demonstration? I would be delighted to add you to my collection, dragon."
"Like hell you will," the Flarion Prince snapped, drawing his head back before releasing a great shot of white fire from his maw, blasting the rooftop and instantly setting it alight.
But the strange man seemed to fly out of harm's way just as the attack connected, dropping onto the ground before them as the blaze illuminated his pale skin.
"Mmm, that shall prove helpful, indeed," the vampire clucked. "They only just finished rebuilding it again this past month. A pity."
Valdren bristled, his frill rising atop his head.
"Valdren, no," Kelan urged him, moving forward to touch the angry young dragon's side.
"There's a good boy. Now, do me a favor and die."
Without warning, the ground erupted at their feet; hundreds of skeletal hands scratched and clawed to the surface, grasping their ankles, threatening to draw them down and consume them.
Valdren shouted, taking hold of his father before launching into the air.
Furious, he circled, pulling in a deep breath before spewing forth a blast of flame sufficient to ignite the mass of animated corpses and everything around them.
Winging away, he swore profusely as the vampire's laughter echoed in their ears.
"These are the unholy creatures Aqk has told so many tales about," Kelan lamented. "Have we stumbled upon their nest?"
"Those people they were attacking... they were innocents," Valdren pointed out. "And yet, the beast said they'd just rebuilt that town hall. Do they really stay here and endure this sort of thing regularly?"
Kelan sighed. "They may have no choice. Valdren, survey the area and find somewhere we can set up camp. There has to be a way to free these people, and there may be others like them in this light-forsaken country."
With a trumpeting shriek, the Flarion Prince soared high above the treetops.
Next Chapter: Book VI Holiday Special II
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