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DRAGON ATTACK

This work was inspired after a critic said that I need to go copulate with myself fervently, and that my work was a gigantic turd—she didn’t say “copulate” and she didn’t say “fervently”; but I think you get the idea.

Another critic countered the prior critic by saying,

“Who is the asshole who said you work was a “gigantic turd.” I imagine
his turd is as large as the “Colosseum ”…

I was inspired to write the following on behalf of both, and as always, I leave you to decide the integrity of my work.

I would like to say at this time—for a limited time only, “Darkness Within” the Complete Edition, is available on e-book for $4.95! 500 pages of visceral horror-fantasy the way you like it…!!!

http://timothygoodwinadvocate.blogspot.com/p/da...

9

It was a half-hour past noon when Queen Siilver’s party was celebrated and went into full swing, there was the cutting of several cakes, and gifts were exchanged. This was one occasion where the presents were quite remarkable. The children of Palimaar and Freeland became so excited by their gifts that eating became a secondary priority. There were toys for the youngsters the like of that which had seldom been seen before in the land, all of them beautiful and enchanting, and not just a few of them having magical properties, apparently having been ordered years before, coming as far away as the Dwarven Mountain of Karnsh and the Elven city of Silverwillow. As for the adults there were mostly sundry items of wealthy and even eclectic tastes, there were gems and jewelry, and articles of fine clothing. And when every guest had arrived and been welcomed finally inside the gates of the Royal Palace, there followed games, music, songs, dances, food and drinking. When the festivities for the afternoon finally subsided almost three hours later, most of the crowd retired to their homes to prepare themselves for the evening’s entertainment, namely that of Xaneth and his band.

The coaches that showed up then by the dozens had fanciful carved bodies gleaming with glossy colors of black and red and gold. Below their side panels fenders ran from the front wheels to the back, curled rather elegantly, and both ends dropping in the center to form running-boards. Atop the coaches, richly adorned in brocaded coats, red cummerbunds, black breeches, and plumed hats sat the coachmen, taxiing people out to the Nial’ni. Attire for the concert was a combination of regal assortments, and outfits colorful, pristine, comely, reserved, and salacious, covering the bodies of men and women alike. The revealing and suggestive clothing was worn mostly by the women who had painted their faces and spent the remaining hours working on their hair. Most of the men carried a dagger or sword on their person as well as the women that were also Blademasters; each knowing that to draw a weapon during the concert without proper provocation would indict the most serious of charges. An hour before Xaneth was scheduled to go on stage people had already gathered at Nial’ni, and the Queen’s Convoy of skyships graced the skies, looking like a combination of streamlined insectoid avian fish moving gracefully through the air, while dragons with scales and eyes the color of gold, silver, azure, emerald, and ruby, patrolled the skies and guarded the Royal Flagship that would hover one hundred feet above the crowd, allowing for a most advantageous view of the concert. The gypsies and rovers played their share of music on their instruments, singing with sweet voices well into the afternoon evening, an almost insignificant prelude of what was to come, however pleasant nonetheless.

The crowd that gathered as suspected was even larger than last year. People stretched for a quarter of a mile toward the east, the north, and the south of the stage, pushing beyond the outer perimeter of the Woods that surrounded Nial’ni. People of every race and class were assembled together that day as the sun began its slow descent toward the ocean. Those that would rather not find themselves within the congested and confining area of the audience would observe the show from outside the doors of their house, standing high up on the terraces that wound over and through the canopy of the trees.

The boisterous audience that had gathered there on the Nial’ni was all at once hushed by the sound of li’jhiris chords originating from the sky; they were woeful, and strong, originating from the center of the stage. All turned and gazed in the same direction, focusing their undivided attention. But there was no one yet visible on the rostrum. And for a time nothing else was heard. The plain of Nial’ni was quiet with anticipation. After a time the music seem to come from a great distance away. Beyond the grassy plain. Beyond the Freeland Woods. Perhaps drifting in off the waves of the ocean, like the song of whales. With deliberation the music drew closer, the melody slow, haunting, entrancing. Another chord was struck, followed by another. And then a calabariis keyboard joined with the li’jhiris, followed by mandariis percussions, and a slowly developing melody took flight.

Those watching the stage were not certain if it was the light of the setting sun that played tricks on their eyes, or if it was something else. The air on the stage seemed to ripple with a strange sort of distortion, rolling in and out of focus, while the plain of Nial’ni glowed brilliantly as the sun touched the ocean’s horizon, presenting an enchanting moment indeed. And then images on the stage, ghostly, and inchoate, began to form, solidifying from nothingness. The cheers started, and then all at once the band was there, and as it played the crowd went wild.

10

The leader and eldest of the band was Li’reigh, his instruments consisted of a double neck steil li’jhiris glowing with mystic energies and his fallen angelic vocals. Wearing attire that was all at once wild and of noble regalia in nature he sang with a voice that complimented each. He moved and gyrated in a manner sometimes seemingly unseemly. Music spilled out into the audience in waves, and as it did so, small iridescent dragons materialized from columns of colorful smoke that meandered throughout the audience, the small creatures fluttered roundabout, periodically alighting on the shoulders of individuals within the crowd. The fiery avians were as harmless as the glowing nymphs and sprites that followed, slightly smaller than the pseudo-dragons, waving wands and sprinkling pixie dust. Then, scantily dressed woman appeared on the stage to either side of the bard, dancing to the rhythm and percussion of the current song which, by the by, spoke of tragedy and triumph. Tears from even the stoutest of hearts fell capriciously.

Without prior warning, twin fireballs to either side of the stage discharged explosively, launching upward into the starlit sky simultaneously, then they burst into a brilliant pyrotechnic display of fireworks that rained down harmlessly on the audience.

The sounds of melodious composition sent compelling waves of arousal that rose and fell throughout the crowd. Voices cried and cheered while chords, vibrations, and stimulating harmonies reverberated, and scintillating lights danced, wavered, and twisted in bursts of stupendous spectacles. Harmless walls of blindingly beautiful fire erupted and climbed high into the air; architraves, entablatures, columns, rose brilliantly, effulgently, surrounding the audience. There was a moment of efflorescence followed by expulsions that painted a living representation of the Royal Palace surrounded by the Freeland Woods. There followed scintillating fountains of fireflies and butterflies that flew glittering from trees with dark trunks rising up from the ground, and their leaves opened like the blossoming of Spring that seemed to solidify for an instant and then fade in a scattering of fireworks and tendrils of colorful smoke that acknowledged the birthday of the Queen.

A kaleidoscope display of palatial grandiosity rippled through the crowd, glimpses of wide, graceful plains, and radiant mountains gave way to an image that remade the Freeland Woods with an aura of glistening crystal starlight, where pixies danced and sprites fluttered about. And then the ground seemed to disappear, and the audience floated for a time, apparently in the sky amidst the floating skyships, while fiery dragons and flying equines circled around them. Lattices of indescribable splendor whipped back and forth, flashing and fading and blending into the natural substance of the surroundings. Magnificent castles that appeared in the sky then followed the presentation, and as the structures rose higher and higher amidst the avians and skyships, the crowd found its feet on the ground once more.

The stage was aglow with rainbow wavering brilliance that reflected the passion of the band, the voice of the bard. And the music played was aspiring enough to bring the gods and nature herself to weep.

People then saw what they wanted to see, what their heart desired to behold, treasures longed for. Aspirations, dreams, loved ones long gone appeared before the eyes of those that would summon them for the moment of the song, a moment wherein they could dance. Tears spilled freely and smiles made countenances glow. The crowd became one with nature, one with the cosmos, one with the spirit. And the surrounding aura was as resplendent as it was enrapturing.

The song grew to a growing crescendo, chromatic flames flashed rapidly, and then in an instant, it was all gone. The song had finished. And the audience again went wild.

The sky was dark and glistening of starlight while the bard sang a ballad about a queen that could not shed tears. Before he was finished the rhythm and cadence of the song picked up the tempo and the instrument and her owner screamed passionately. Suddenly the clouds were seared by a brilliant flash that exploded around the band, and in that moment the audience saw them; black shapes, huge bat-like creatures with sinuous necks and heads like serpents of rock, awesome and oppressive, with riders wearing armor and carrying sable shields. Copperheads, there were dozens of them, filling the air. Dragons and their riders, and they were not part of the show.

As soon as this was considered, even before the first cry of utter surprise and terror filled the air, the sable and copper avians unleashed a barrage of fire from their mouths, a torrent of flames swept over the audience.

Arrows and crossbow bolts whistled through the air, either hitting their marks, or clinking against shields and armor, glancing off stone, thudding into wood. And that is when the screams began.

The dark shapes wheeled out of the sky seemingly as one. They descended like a body of great bats, their movement appearing surreal, their numbers seeming prodigious. An instant later and they separated, scattered, began to choose targets. Some, breaking off from the group, flew to the east, to the north, and to the south, far into the Woods, miles away from the open plain of Nial’ni; the Dragons of the Realm gave chase. The rogues that remained unleashed torrents of flames from their jaws setting the surrounding woods ablaze.

It was the cries of men and women that pierced the air mostly as flames turned their bodies into fleeing torches that would stop abruptly, jerk spasmodically for brief moments, and then drop with finality. Some of the younger children that were not among their parents in the crowd were either in the palace, the Freeland Woods, or Whiispiirheart, being looked after by adults that had volunteered their services earlier that day. They would be considered the lucky ones.

Cries of horror, high-pitched howls of agony filled the air, even as the bard, seemingly with a purpose, started into a new song. The Imperial Guard on deck the skyship Iqariis moved to protect the Royal Family, gathering around the Queen and her daughters with shields, archers firing their arrows at those creatures venturing too close, while they hurried the family toward the safety of the cabins below deck. At least that had been their attempt. But the attack by the enemy had been too precise, and as the Iqariis banked and pulled away, the trio of dragons watching over the Flagship was drawn out, and suddenly one hundred feet from the aft to the cabins seemed like such a great distance to run, especially while bombarded with dragonflame. Queen Siilvers’ daughters were able to move more swiftly than their mother. And Sefarini chanced a glance over her shoulder as she was hurried away, what she saw next filled her heart with an inconceivable horror. Fires ignited on the deck as the rogue avians charged in, and even as the skyship veered out of the way of the other incoming dragons, one avian, looking like a pincushion marked with bolts and arrows, managed to slip in beneath the ship’s defenses.

(Time slid sideways…)

Queen Siilvers stumbled unexpectedly and as she did so the Rhiin Staff slipped inexplicably from her grasp, and then the Queen witnessed a wall of fire rushing toward her. The roar of flames drowned out the sounds of all of those who would be around her. Time, for the briefest moment, stood still. And then fire crashed down and engulfed the Queen. Her scream was lost in the roar of the flames.

The Queen is dead! Sefarini’s mind screamed. By the gods, no! My mother is—and then a howl of misery burst from her lips and followed her down into the safety of the cabins below. “Mother! MOTHER! No…NOOOOO…!”

And he, who would have saved the Queen by trying to push her away from the incoming torrent of flames, lost his footing and his life as well, as dragonfire embraced and consumed him. Men and women scattered, and the daughters of the Queen were then forced below the deck of the Iqariis, their screams of horror-laced sorrow were screeching bursts from their terror-stricken voices, cutting through the hall of the Queen’s cabin, reaching out into the night.

12

The captains, pilots, and commanders of the skyships had to take particular care when firing the larger weapons on their vessels, as they were well aware that there was a crowd far below them that could easily be crushed by the falling bulk from a dying avian, the result of a ballistae missile finding its mark. For this reason they relied primarily on noth’los bolo-nets, in order to capture the creatures in mid-air and force them to the ground. As the Iqariis left the scene, flames dancing about her deck’s aft, four other skyships moved in to take her place: the Kitaria, the Katarina, the Corsair, and the Vistra’valkyrie

Now it was not uncommon for Dragons and dragonkin to appear in Narth’ues; Palimaar had a regiment of nine Sovereign that often times escorted the skyships; dragons of gold, silver, emerald, azure, and ruby; three of which had guarded the Iqariis. However it was uncommon for dragons to appear in such great numbers as they did that night, especially this far south. The number of dragons made for a considerably formidable adversary. Many men and women would fall that night.

Among the dragonkin came dragon lizards, creatures about half the size of the dragons but without the ability to breathe flame; instead they relied on their swiftness, their cunning, their dexterity, their poisoned teeth and claws, and a barbed tail that had the bite of a scorpion’s sting. The dark lizards were ridden by men and Stra’malos, goblinoids either leaping from their mounts in thirty foot bounds, or unleashing macro-spheres. These items were slavecatchers; sable discs that would be thrown and then transform into a sphere of portable space. The victim would be caught in the sphere and pulled into an area not unlike a cage that resided somewhere between the macroverse, the prime-material plane, and the ethereal plane. Once this was accomplished, the sphere would revert back to a disc, and return to the one that had thrown it.

Yana joined the fight, her aim true, two arrows whined and hit both of their marks; two copperheads roared in exquisite agony as Yana’s arrows found the eyes of the avians. People scattered away from the border of the Woods as the black dragons lost their sense of direction and flew into the trees, trunks snapping apart like broken kindling as the creatures rolled through them.

Those that had heard the dragon’s roar trembled and threw themselves to the ground; some briefly, while others couldn’t have been peeled off, fighting their fear, fighting against inevitability.

A horn of battle gave its call as people spread out, running, darting from the belching flames of swooping dragons and the sting of dragon lizards, while the Imperial Soldiers charged in to confront the enemy. Some of the people fell under the feet of those racing blindly toward the Woods, the palace, and the sea. And there followed more cries as those who were not swift enough to evade the enemy either lost their lives to the avians’ infernos, or found themselves plucked from the ground by the macro-spheres.

Those that were in the Woods, those that had listened to the music from a distance, standing on balconies and terraces, were hardly safer than the others as they soon discovered Stra’malos, and…something else, leaping up to snatch them from their perches, embraced by stygian spheres or covered in sacks and nets. The malformed creatures ran, sometimes upright, sometimes on all fours, seeking easy targets.

The Kitaria and the Corsair managed to trap a handful of dragons between them, while the Vistra’valkyrie came in from behind. And with their targets marked, the skyships unleashed their ballistae at the avians. The dragonkin were pierced in the wings, chest, and took hits to their throats. The beasts coughed gagging cries, and spiraled toward the ground.

A rain of arrows whistled toward the incoming dragons, while crossbow bolts and arrows stormed down from the riders of the dark mounts. Again and again did it go like this. People were burned alive. People died. People were snatched away by the dragonkin and their riders. And archers fired their arrows, and the enemy returned their fire.

In the midst of the crowd Sebastian gazed overhead as dragons swarmed in and then spread out in order to capture the fleeing knots of people. His heart grew cold and filled with dread even as his eyes closed slightly, studiously scrutinizing everything around him. He suspected without reservation that the dragon attack had been planned, it was the only way that Palimaar could have been caught off guard in the manner that it had. It was too easy. He also suspected that the attack last night was related to this one now, and that the enemy was quite desperate to locate the key for the Translation Gate.

He further suspected that a spy was involved; what better way to ensure the success of the planned attack? This information he would bring to the Queen’s attention later, if there was a later.

Behind the mage, far to the east behind the Nalarach Mountains, clouds began to form, light bruises against a velvet sky collected together in a significant mass, growing in size. A moment later and thunder could be heard rumbling in the distance.

To the wizard’s left a man cried out as a macro-sphere loomed before him. Blue-white fire exploded from Sebastian’s hand and slammed into the sphere, vaporizing it. A second attack from Sebastian and the dragon and rider flew apart explosively.

Sebastian knew that if a miracle didn’t manifest itself and quickly more people were going to die or be captured. This final thought brought the wizard to spin the staff of Imperios, once, twice. Then he slammed the base and pommel of the artifact down into the ground, and all at once Sebastian went rigid. A cool blue light suddenly pulsed and surrounded his body, then the staff of Imperios flared brilliantly, when the radiance was gone so too was the wizard and his staff, Sebastian had vanished.

He closed his eyes and washed away the travesty that was unfolding from his consciousness. He gathered his magic up and into him, and he went deep down inside himself. In the equidistance of his being, where he touched the macro-verse, and then formed an image of himself. This simulacrum was dispatched from him in a slow and deliberate exhale of breath.

Gathering glistening thunderheads now blotted out the starlight in the east—driven by Xaneth’s song; the clouds were accumulating and moving swiftly, billowing toward the west, coerced by the preternatural properties of the bard’s scintillating li’jhiris.

And Sebastian knew it to be the work of Xaneth.

To the naked and untrained eye it would look as if the wizard had materialized from nowhere, having apparently stepped through an invisible door between dimensions. And that which emerged, having the form and substance of the wizard, suddenly took flight, rising swiftly into the sky.

There were Stra’malos and there were lycanthropes, scattering throughout the woods to take down the hapless. Daniel Bravos and Xanphre were currently tossing and cutting down both as the creatures rallied against them. The first creature to reach the schri-lun unscathed swung its shortsword, wherein the warrior ducked, dodged, and came up swinging his own weapon, decapitating the Stra’malos with his silver crystalline sabre, as well as the one coming up quickly behind him. The next in line slashed at the schri-lun and Daniel grabbed the arm that brandished a sword, with his other arm that did not. The schri-lun pulled the creature to him and severed its arm, then Daniel spun around and smashed it in the face with his elbow.

During the assault Xaneth continued to play his instrument and sing. For his was the power of nature, the wind and the skies, of wishes found in song, and his music could influence the storms of the air.

The Katarina swung around in a swift arc, pursued by a dragon belching flame. Although the skyship was fast, the avian was faster, and it was only a matter of time before the vessel zigged, when she should have zagged. The Katarina erupted like a Nha’mor candle. Her trajectory sent her on a flaming course that would broadside the Kitaria. As masts crumbled from the surrounding flames, the Katarina managed to dip down so that she slid under her sister, while the Kitaria banked and moved out of the area. The burning vessel fell like a slow moving comet, headed toward the beach. The skyship was able to hold together long enough to allow her pilot to bring her down into the waves of the oceans. Her hull split and fractured on impact, and beams and planks of wood flew apart in fiery splinters. Those still alive abandoned the flaming vessel for the water.

Three dragons, gold, azure, and ruby wheeled around and went after the copperhead responsible for the death of the Queen. After a combination of dragonfire, tooth and talon, the rogue fell in flaming tatters, crashing through the tops of the aspoors, and finally hitting the ground with the sound of thunder. Then the trio pursued the dragon that had dropped the Katarina. An instant later and it joined its partner, wings burnt and twisted, flesh torn and bleeding. It ripped down the front of a residential structure with the weight of its body, crushing the roof, and pulling wooden beams and planks down in a flurry as it slammed heavily to the earth.

Daniel leapt into the air performing a vidnas raka, he flipped in the fashion of an elegant backward swan-dive, and as a goblinoid raced passed under him, Daniel put both hands on his sword and brought it down in an arch, cutting through the top of the monster’s head like a melon, slicing it in twain. Daniel’s momentum brought him to hit both of the creature’s shoulders with his feet, he rebounded from the falling monster, flipped once more, landed on his feet.

Thunder was rumbling in the east now. Lightning flickered and flashed among the mountains, clouds were drawing near.

Then all at once the sa’dhris that covered the rostrum like a veil, shimmered and glowed and a flowering burst of fiery energy exploded brilliantly, setting up an undulating series of waves that was a myriad of color which swept past the bard and over into the crowd. The earth trembled in response to its manifestation. Almost immediately, driven by magic, tentacles reached out from the sa’dhris and grabbed those individuals that were still close by, pulling them under the multi-colored veil that was forming over the audience. A blast of dragonfire rushed against the wavering shield and was quickly absorbed and extinguished.

Sil’s mind was spinning with the activity that was going on around him, and he did his best to see to the safety of Lorna, when he spotted a little girl, alone, huddled near a tree trunk. She was crying hysterically for her parents. What would happen next was as swift in its presentation as it was instinctive on Sil’s part. He spotted Mat and Sandaras nearby even as he acknowledged a dozen incoming Stra’malos. He called to his brother and raced toward the girl. And in a sweeping motion, Sil gathered up the child into his arms, and, as he called again to Mat, he pitched the girl to him. The child flew over the mass of approaching Stra’malos that, by their expressions, were not expecting someone to come in at the last moment and snatch away the child. Their looks of surprise were quite remarkable. However they were quick to fade. Then they smiled as they saw that fate had given them a good strong man for the slave pits in place of the small and frail child. Mat saw his brother disappear under a knot of the goblinoids, even as more dropped down from the trees to secure their prize.

Thunder roared in the East, significantly closer now.

Dragons flew with precision, sometimes appearing erratic, flame rushed back and forth across the sky.

Lightning flashed.

And again thunder roared in the East, closer still.

Twenty yards to the south of the fallen man, Xanphre was fighting his own group of Stra’malos. He kicked one creature in the chest then followed through with a side arcing swing with his sword that easily decapitated the Stra’malos. As another creature rushed in behind the Li’reigh, Xanphre ducked under the creature’s swinging blade, and performed what Daniel would call a ka’dea-ti, kicking his left leg deftly under and over behind him, Xanphre swiftly planted the heel of his boot into the goblinoid’s face. In the next instant a dragon-lizard flew a little too low, a little too close, and the Li’reigh reached up and grabbed the straps holding the rider’s saddle in place. And as he was lifted from the ground, Xanphre pushed his blade upward into the belly of the beast. A caterwauling wail spilled forth from the creature as the Li’reigh spilled its guts. The avian lost its strength to fly and it fell toward a cropping of terraces. Xanphre dropped from the dragon-lizard before it slammed into the structure, tearing it from it moorings, lanterns above and plumbing beneath, and beams reduced to splinters from two houses to either side flew everywhere. Xanphre landed safely in the trees and made his way quickly to the ground.

Aarin Caldaraas executed a superb mra’pu, followed by a ti’lau-cha ni, and had Daniel seen the execution he would have asked the man where he had learned the technique. He had beaten the man in dh’a-ni-dh’a; hand-to-hand combat, but it had been no mean feat. If Aarin had bested the schri-lun priest, Daniel would have been certain that Aarin was the one in whom he searched for. Known now only to the Stra’malos in which he attacked, Aarin fought the creatures with a sword burning with red flames.

From the ground looking up, it would appear as if Khol’shar exploded. There was a huge, booming cough, and the shockwave could be felt in the earth. Fire burst outward from the wizard, a blue-white streak slammed into the nearest dragon and viciously tore it apart. Then the fire found a second beast and carried it away like leaves upon the breath of a strong wind. The dragon roared, a bellow of shock and panic. And then it disintegrated.

The second flash of lightning overhead was followed by a series of coruscating bolts that lanced into the swarming dragonkin, along with something else. Lightning flared, and something moved with the lightning, within the lightning, glowing blue-white, encased in the color of dhei’hres, undulating and serpentine in nature, something alive. As the first beast was lit up, illuminating the night sky, another nearby dragon-lizard seem to somehow conduct the electricity, drawing it into itself, where it whirled and hammered and flashed radiantly, the rider shuddered spasmodically; then the manifestation within the lightning raced to another beast, like a searing bolt, it briefly wrapped itself like a ribbon around the avian, and then the creature flew apart. It happened so swiftly that it looked like a chain-reaction of latticed lightning, jumping from one dragonkin to the next. Another and another was hit, creatures exploded brilliantly, dragonflesh and bone scattering everywhere, turning to ash. A half -dozen creatures literally disintegrated under the onslaught of the living chain-lightning.

For a moment it seemed to hang in the air, crackling and hissing with unnatural energies, the arcs of blue-white fire leapt toward the trees, and the leaves and the branches were set alight while blue webs spun through them harmlessly, reaching the ground and tearing across the earth until they reached the enemy on the run. Stra’malos and lycanthropes were frozen in agony as arcing bolts exploded from them, setting them ablaze briefly in silvery fire.

A fireball flew from the prismatic veil and slammed into the dragon nearest to the sa’dhris. The creature screamed as it erupted into a winged pyre. The battle horn blared again and more arrows were unleashed. The cries of the enemy now joined those of the Li’reigh. Dragons coughed and discharged geysers of fire against the veil that covered the people and again the flames were brushed away. Then a hail of fire and lightning rushed into the huge avians, discharged from the royal dragons, and the rogues burst apart explosively.

Those individuals that had, in a moment of panic, put themselves too far out of reach of the sa’dhris, now ran helter-skelter through the woods. Like a tumultuous crashing wave the Stra’malos gave chase, running them down, sometimes using the very branches of the trees to their advantages, nimbly running across them, scuttling like crazed spider creatures.

The Stra’malos used nets, whips, macro-spheres, manacles, and large sacks, to render their catch helpless. Dragonkin came in and the riders picked up the hapless, securing them to their saddles, carrying them away.. And those riders with a quota of six or eight captives veered away from the assault and flew off into the night. The Vistra’valkyrie and the Corsair pursued them.

It was at this moment that yellow green flame burst explosively outward and engulfed the temple of the Le’igro and subsequently the other surrounding temples. This phenomenon was immediately followed by the clerics of the temples putting their hands to their eyes and falling to the ground screaming that the darkness had overtaken them, and they had been struck blind.

Their cries were drowned out by the roars of the dragons and the flames of the surrounding fires that were slowly extinguished by the rain that had begun to fall.

Huge, towering clouds now loomed over the Woods, over Palimaar, blocking out any traces of the moon and sky. Soon shattering sheets of rain showered down upon the woods, a tremendous spectacle of lightning tore brilliant fissures in the sky, and thunder rolled through with the sound of cannon fire.

It became apparent that Dimensional Doors and other portals of Shadow were being utilized to bring many more Stra’malos into the Woods, and extricate captives. In an instant they were everywhere, their numbers overwhelming. But as quickly as they appeared they disappeared, and those captives that did not return with them through the magic portals were carried away by dragonkin.

Back and forth across the Woods flew the monstrous black creatures, their leathered wings pushing against the winds of the storm. They somehow avoided the lightning and the creature within. Recognizing the threat that Khol’shar presented, they converged on the wizard. The mage could appreciate the great size of the dragons as they surrounded him, ready to unleash their fire as they swept in and pulled their heads back to attack.

Sebastian summoned his magic and wrapped himself in its scintillating cloak, stirring the air around him with its power, feeling the heady sensation that often times came with the use of such power. He brought up his staff of Imperios in a sudden sweep, summoning every last ounce of strength and determination that was within him. And then the dragons roared and heaved geysers of fire, directing the flames at the wizard with deadly accuracy and efficiency. The barrage from the dragons was swift. But Khol’shar was swifter. Staff linked to wizard like servant to master and the magic of Imperios surged in an unraveling arch of prismatic energy that surrounded the mage and engulfed all in its path. It slammed into the fire of the dragons. It smashed into the dragons and their riders, all of them; even those that had at the last moment decided that their attack against the wizard might not be the most prudent of ideas. The magic consumed everything that it touched. It incinerated men and monsters, burning them to ash, and then it stole away their lives and began feeding them back into the holder of the staff. The magic returned to the wizard, filled now with the lives of its victims. The power surged into Khol’shar, renewing his strength.

It was over almost in a moment’s breath. The enemy that had surrounded Sebastian had been destroyed in brilliant flashes of multi-hued energy. What fell to the earth were bits of flesh and bone, clothing, weapons, armor, and vast piles of ash. There hung in the air briefly the aroma of burning flesh, the rain of the storm was quick to wash it away.

A crossbow bolt bit into Yana’s right shoulder, throwing her back, spinning her sideways. Then a macro-sphere crashed down on her from above, pinning her arms to her sides and she was pulled from the ground toward the sky. The cries of the people fell away replaced by the air and the rain surrounding that seemed to rush at her from all sides, pushing against her. She saw the Woods aflame, growing smaller, she could hear the trees weeping. And then there was darkness.

13

The siege was over. And with it a price. Men and women had fallen and/or been stolen away. Hundreds of them. A scattering of bodies, trees, and homes, still smoldered in the Woods to mark the passing of the siege, extinguished under torrents of rain. The abomination and its work could not be gauged in terms less than that of its namesake and travesty. It would take months to repair the structural damage brought about by the fire, it would take years for people to recover from the loss of their loved ones.

It would soon become evident of what the intents of the dragon riders had been. People were missing, stolen away by the riders. It would be assumed that it was for the purpose of slavery. But even as the fortuitous rain fell on the Woods dousing the flames that would burn it, yellow-green light glowed within the walls of the palace, and within the Woods, the hellish fire burned around the temple Jha’pe, of the Le’igro.

Those that were able gathered together with those around them, almost as if their closeness, their familiarity, could drive away the memory of the evil that was done this night. It would not. But there was security in numbers. And people huddled together for that security. The Imperial Guard and Militia would investigate the hellish lights in the palace and discover that each temple was enveloped in a sphere of glowing energy. While the Militia moved about the palace, soldiers also moved about the Woods, some accompanying the Seliist toward the temple Jha’pe.

As they drew within sight of the Garden temple they slowed. Stopping abruptly. The rain had put out the fire but not before the leaves and branches of the Silvren could be badly damaged. As one the group ran in haste toward the wondrous tree.

The sight that greeted the men and women was a cold one. The tree had put up a fight. There were victims broken and dangling in her branches, bodies tossed around like discarded rags. But she looked dead, leaves burned way, and she looked grotesque, a skeletal outline in the green light behind her casting its sickly glow across her branches.

In time it was discovered that putting a hand to the shields surrounding the temples gave proof that they were solid. Neither could hammers, nor battering rams break them, for just as they appeared to be light and insubstantial, they were very solid and mightily strong. The trees in the Woods still wept, for they knew what some did not. The trees knew that the Silvren had been badly damaged and would require healing that could only be provided by the Le’igro, they also knew that raiders had entered the temple and poisoned the Garden of the Life, and she was soon to die.

This work was inspired after a critic said that I need to go copulate with myself ferverently, and that my work was a gigantic turd—she didn’t say “copulate” and she didn’t say “ferverently”; but I think you get the idea.

Another critic countered the prior critic by saying,

“Who is the asshole who said you work was a “gigantic turd.” I imagine
his turd is as large as “empire state building”…

I was inspired to write the following on behalf of both, and as always, I leave you to decide the integrity of my work.

I would like to say at this time—for a limited time only, “Darkness Within” the Complete Edition, is available on e-book for $4.95! 500 pages of visceral horror-fantasy the way you like it…!!!

9

It was a half-hour past noon when Queen Siilver’s party was celebrated and went into full swing, there was the cutting of several cakes, and gifts were exchanged. This was one occasion where the presents were quite remarkable. The children of Palimaar and Freeland became so excited by their gifts that eating became a secondary priority. There were toys for the youngsters the like of that which had seldom been seen before in the land, all of them beautiful and enchanting, and not just a few of them having magical properties, apparently having been ordered years before, coming as far away as the Dwarven Mountain of Karnsh and the Elven city of Silverwillow. As for the adults there were mostly sundry items of wealthy and even eclectic tastes, there were gems and jewelry, and articles of fine clothing. And when every guest had arrived and been welcomed finally inside the gates of the Royal Palace, there followed games, music, songs, dances, food and drinking. When the festivities for the afternoon finally subsided almost three hours later, most of the crowd retired to their homes to prepare themselves for the evening’s entertainment, namely that of Xaneth and his band.

The coaches that showed up then by the dozens had fanciful carved bodies gleaming with glossy colors of black and red and gold. Below their side panels fenders ran from the front wheels to the back, curled rather elegantly, and both ends dropping in the center to form running-boards. Atop the coaches, richly adorned in brocaded coats, red cummerbunds, black breeches, and plumed hats sat the coachmen, taxiing people out to the Nial’ni. Attire for the concert was a combination of regal assortments, and outfits colorful, pristine, comely, reserved, and salacious, covering the bodies of men and women alike. The revealing and suggestive clothing was worn mostly by the women who had painted their faces and spent the remaining hours working on their hair. Most of the men carried a dagger or sword on their person as well as the women that were also Blademasters; each knowing that to draw a weapon during the concert without proper provocation would indict the most serious of charges. An hour before Xaneth was scheduled to go on stage people had already gathered at Nial’ni, and the Queen’s Convoy of skyships graced the skies, looking like a combination of streamlined insectoid avian fish moving gracefully through the air, while dragons with scales and eyes the color of gold, silver, azure, emerald, and ruby, patrolled the skies and guarded the Royal Flagship that would hover one hundred feet above the crowd, allowing for a most advantageous view of the concert. The gypsies and rovers played their share of music on their instruments, singing with sweet voices well into the afternoon evening, an almost insignificant prelude of what was to come, however pleasant nonetheless.

The crowd that gathered as suspected was even larger than last year. People stretched for a quarter of a mile toward the east, the north, and the south of the stage, pushing beyond the outer perimeter of the Woods that surrounded Nial’ni. People of every race and class were assembled together that day as the sun began its slow descent toward the ocean. Those that would rather not find themselves within the congested and confining area of the audience would observe the show from outside the doors of their house, standing high up on the terraces that wound over and through the canopy of the trees.

The boisterous audience that had gathered there on the Nial’ni was all at once hushed by the sound of li’jhiris chords originating from the sky; they were woeful, and strong, originating from the center of the stage. All turned and gazed in the same direction, focusing their undivided attention. But there was no one yet visible on the rostrum. And for a time nothing else was heard. The plain of Nial’ni was quiet with anticipation. After a time the music seem to come from a great distance away. Beyond the grassy plain. Beyond the Freeland Woods. Perhaps drifting in off the waves of the ocean, like the song of whales. With deliberation the music drew closer, the melody slow, haunting, entrancing. Another chord was struck, followed by another. And then a calabariis keyboard joined with the li’jhiris, followed by mandariis percussions, and a slowly developing melody took flight.

Those watching the stage were not certain if it was the light of the setting sun that played tricks on their eyes, or if it was something else. The air on the stage seemed to ripple with a strange sort of distortion, rolling in and out of focus, while the plain of Nial’ni glowed brilliantly as the sun touched the ocean’s horizon, presenting an enchanting moment indeed. And then images on the stage, ghostly, and inchoate, began to form, solidifying from nothingness. The cheers started, and then all at once the band was there, and as it played the crowd went wild.

10

The leader and eldest of the band was Li’reigh, his instruments consisted of a double neck steil li’jhiris glowing with mystic energies and his fallen angelic vocals. Wearing attire that was all at once wild and of noble regalia in nature he sang with a voice that complimented each. He moved and gyrated in a manner sometimes seemingly unseemly. Music spilled out into the audience in waves, and as it did so, small iridescent dragons materialized from columns of colorful smoke that meandered throughout the audience, the small creatures fluttered roundabout, periodically alighting on the shoulders of individuals within the crowd. The fiery avians were as harmless as the glowing nymphs and sprites that followed, slightly smaller than the pseudo-dragons, waving wands and sprinkling pixie dust. Then, scantily dressed woman appeared on the stage to either side of the bard, dancing to the rhythm and percussion of the current song which, by the by, spoke of tragedy and triumph. Tears from even the stoutest of hearts fell capriciously.

Without prior warning, twin fireballs to either side of the stage discharged explosively, launching upward into the starlit sky simultaneously, then they burst into a brilliant pyrotechnic display of fireworks that rained down harmlessly on the audience.

The sounds of melodious composition sent compelling waves of arousal that rose and fell throughout the crowd. Voices cried and cheered while chords, vibrations, and stimulating harmonies reverberated, and scintillating lights danced, wavered, and twisted in bursts of stupendous spectacles. Harmless walls of blindingly beautiful fire erupted and climbed high into the air; architraves, entablatures, columns, rose brilliantly, effulgently, surrounding the audience. There was a moment of efflorescence followed by expulsions that painted a living representation of the Royal Palace surrounded by the Freeland Woods. There followed scintillating fountains of fireflies and butterflies that flew glittering from trees with dark trunks rising up from the ground, and their leaves opened like the blossoming of Spring that seemed to solidify for an instant and then fade in a scattering of fireworks and tendrils of colorful smoke that acknowledged the birthday of the Queen.

A kaleidoscope display of palatial grandiosity rippled through the crowd, glimpses of wide, graceful plains, and radiant mountains gave way to an image that remade the Freeland Woods with an aura of glistening crystal starlight, where pixies danced and sprites fluttered about. And then the ground seemed to disappear, and the audience floated for a time, apparently in the sky amidst the floating skyships, while fiery dragons and flying equines circled around them. Lattices of indescribable splendor whipped back and forth, flashing and fading and blending into the natural substance of the surroundings. Magnificent castles that appeared in the sky then followed the presentation, and as the structures rose higher and higher amidst the avians and skyships, the crowd found its feet on the ground once more.

The stage was aglow with rainbow wavering brilliance that reflected the passion of the band, the voice of the bard. And the music played was aspiring enough to bring the gods and nature herself to weep.

People then saw what they wanted to see, what their heart desired to behold, treasures longed for. Aspirations, dreams, loved ones long gone appeared before the eyes of those that would summon them for the moment of the song, a moment wherein they could dance. Tears spilled freely and smiles made countenances glow. The crowd became one with nature, one with the cosmos, one with the spirit. And the surrounding aura was as resplendent as it was enrapturing.

The song grew to a growing crescendo, chromatic flames flashed rapidly, and then in an instant, it was all gone. The song had finished. And the audience again went wild.

The sky was dark and glistening of starlight while the bard sang a ballad about a queen that could not shed tears. Before he was finished the rhythm and cadence of the song picked up the tempo and the instrument and her owner screamed passionately. Suddenly the clouds were seared by a brilliant flash that exploded around the band, and in that moment the audience saw them; black shapes, huge bat-like creatures with sinuous necks and heads like serpents of rock, awesome and oppressive, with riders wearing armor and carrying sable shields. Copperheads, there were dozens of them, filling the air. Dragons and their riders, and they were not part of the show.

As soon as this was considered, even before the first cry of utter surprise and terror filled the air, the sable and copper avians unleashed a barrage of fire from their mouths, a torrent of flames swept over the audience.

Arrows and crossbow bolts whistled through the air, either hitting their marks, or clinking against shields and armor, glancing off stone, thudding into wood. And that is when the screams began.

The dark shapes wheeled out of the sky seemingly as one. They descended like a body of great bats, their movement appearing surreal, their numbers seeming prodigious. An instant later and they separated, scattered, began to choose targets. Some, breaking off from the group, flew to the east, to the north, and to the south, far into the Woods, miles away from the open plain of Nial’ni; the Dragons of the Realm gave chase. The rogues that remained unleashed torrents of flames from their jaws setting the surrounding woods ablaze.

It was the cries of men and women that pierced the air mostly as flames turned their bodies into fleeing torches that would stop abruptly, jerk spasmodically for brief moments, and then drop with finality. Some of the younger children that were not among their parents in the crowd were either in the palace, the Freeland Woods, or Whiispiirheart, being looked after by adults that had volunteered their services earlier that day. They would be considered the lucky ones.

Cries of horror, high-pitched howls of agony filled the air, even as the bard, seemingly with a purpose, started into a new song. The Imperial Guard on deck the skyship Iqariis moved to protect the Royal Family, gathering around the Queen and her daughters with shields, archers firing their arrows at those creatures venturing too close, while they hurried the family toward the safety of the cabins below deck. At least that had been their attempt. But the attack by the enemy had been too precise, and as the Iqariis banked and pulled away, the trio of dragons watching over the Flagship was drawn out, and suddenly one hundred feet from the aft to the cabins seemed like such a great distance to run, especially while bombarded with dragonflame. Queen Siilvers’ daughters were able to move more swiftly than their mother. And Sefarini chanced a glance over her shoulder as she was hurried away, what she saw next filled her heart with an inconceivable horror. Fires ignited on the deck as the rogue avians charged in, and even as the skyship veered out of the way of the other incoming dragons, one avian, looking like a pincushion marked with bolts and arrows, managed to slip in beneath the ship’s defenses.

(Time slid sideways…)

Queen Siilvers stumbled unexpectedly and as she did so the Rhiin Staff slipped inexplicably from her grasp, and then the Queen witnessed a wall of fire rushing toward her. The roar of flames drowned out the sounds of all of those who would be around her. Time, for the briefest moment, stood still. And then fire crashed down and engulfed the Queen. Her scream was lost in the roar of the flames.

The Queen is dead! Sefarini’s mind screamed. By the gods, no! My mother is—and then a howl of misery burst from her lips and followed her down into the safety of the cabins below. “Mother! MOTHER! No…NOOOOO…!”

And he, who would have saved the Queen by trying to push her away from the incoming torrent of flames, lost his footing and his life as well, as dragonfire embraced and consumed him. Men and women scattered, and the daughters of the Queen were then forced below the deck of the Iqariis, their screams of horror-laced sorrow were screeching bursts from their terror-stricken voices, cutting through the hall of the Queen’s cabin, reaching out into the night.

12

The captains, pilots, and commanders of the skyships had to take particular care when firing the larger weapons on their vessels, as they were well aware that there was a crowd far below them that could easily be crushed by the falling bulk from a dying avian, the result of a ballistae missile finding its mark. For this reason they relied primarily on noth’los bolo-nets, in order to capture the creatures in mid-air and force them to the ground. As the Iqariis left the scene, flames dancing about her deck’s aft, four other skyships moved in to take her place: the Kitaria, the Katarina, the Corsair, and the Vistra’valkyrie

Now it was not uncommon for Dragons and dragonkin to appear in Narth’ues; Palimaar had a regiment of nine Sovereign that often times escorted the skyships; dragons of gold, silver, emerald, azure, and ruby; three of which had guarded the Iqariis. However it was uncommon for dragons to appear in such great numbers as they did that night, especially this far south. The number of dragons made for a considerably formidable adversary. Many men and women would fall that night.

Among the dragonkin came dragon lizards, creatures about half the size of the dragons but without the ability to breathe flame; instead they relied on their swiftness, their cunning, their dexterity, their poisoned teeth and claws, and a barbed tail that had the bite of a scorpion’s sting. The dark lizards were ridden by men and Stra’malos, goblinoids either leaping from their mounts in thirty foot bounds, or unleashing macro-spheres. These items were slavecatchers; sable discs that would be thrown and then transform into a sphere of portable space. The victim would be caught in the sphere and pulled into an area not unlike a cage that resided somewhere between the macroverse, the prime-material plane, and the ethereal plane. Once this was accomplished, the sphere would revert back to a disc, and return to the one that had thrown it.

Yana joined the fight, her aim true, two arrows whined and hit both of their marks; two copperheads roared in exquisite agony as Yana’s arrows found the eyes of the avians. People scattered away from the border of the Woods as the black dragons lost their sense of direction and flew into the trees, trunks snapping apart like broken kindling as the creatures rolled through them.

Those that had heard the dragon’s roar trembled and threw themselves to the ground; some briefly, while others couldn’t have been peeled off, fighting their fear, fighting against inevitability.

A horn of battle gave its call as people spread out, running, darting from the belching flames of swooping dragons and the sting of dragon lizards, while the Imperial Soldiers charged in to confront the enemy. Some of the people fell under the feet of those racing blindly toward the Woods, the palace, and the sea. And there followed more cries as those who were not swift enough to evade the enemy either lost their lives to the avians’ infernos, or found themselves plucked from the ground by the macro-spheres.

Those that were in the Woods, those that had listened to the music from a distance, standing on balconies and terraces, were hardly safer than the others as they soon discovered Stra’malos, and…something else, leaping up to snatch them from their perches, embraced by stygian spheres or covered in sacks and nets. The malformed creatures ran, sometimes upright, sometimes on all fours, seeking easy targets.

The Kitaria and the Corsair managed to trap a handful of dragons between them, while the Vistra’valkyrie came in from behind. And with their targets marked, the skyships unleashed their ballistae at the avians. The dragonkin were pierced in the wings, chest, and took hits to their throats. The beasts coughed gagging cries, and spiraled toward the ground.

A rain of arrows whistled toward the incoming dragons, while crossbow bolts and arrows stormed down from the riders of the dark mounts. Again and again did it go like this. People were burned alive. People died. People were snatched away by the dragonkin and their riders. And archers fired their arrows, and the enemy returned their fire.

In the midst of the crowd Sebastian gazed overhead as dragons swarmed in and then spread out in order to capture the fleeing knots of people. His heart grew cold and filled with dread even as his eyes closed slightly, studiously scrutinizing everything around him. He suspected without reservation that the dragon attack had been planned, it was the only way that Palimaar could have been caught off guard in the manner that it had. It was too easy. He also suspected that the attack last night was related to this one now, and that the enemy was quite desperate to locate the key for the Translation Gate.

He further suspected that a spy was involved; what better way to ensure the success of the planned attack? This information he would bring to the Queen’s attention later, if there was a later.

Behind the mage, far to the east behind the Nalarach Mountains, clouds began to form, light bruises against a velvet sky collected together in a significant mass, growing in size. A moment later and thunder could be heard rumbling in the distance.

To the wizard’s left a man cried out as a macro-sphere loomed before him. Blue-white fire exploded from Sebastian’s hand and slammed into the sphere, vaporizing it. A second attack from Sebastian and the dragon and rider flew apart explosively.

Sebastian knew that if a miracle didn’t manifest itself and quickly more people were going to die or be captured. This final thought brought the wizard to spin the staff of Imperios, once, twice. Then he slammed the base and pommel of the artifact down into the ground, and all at once Sebastian went rigid. A cool blue light suddenly pulsed and surrounded his body, then the staff of Imperios flared brilliantly, when the radiance was gone so too was the wizard and his staff, Sebastian had vanished.

He closed his eyes and washed away the travesty that was unfolding from his consciousness. He gathered his magic up and into him, and he went deep down inside himself. In the equidistance of his being, where he touched the macro-verse, and then formed an image of himself. This simulacrum was dispatched from him in a slow and deliberate exhale of breath.

Gathering glistening thunderheads now blotted out the starlight in the east—driven by Xaneth’s song; the clouds were accumulating and moving swiftly, billowing toward the west, coerced by the preternatural properties of the bard’s scintillating li’jhiris.

And Sebastian knew it to be the work of Xaneth.

To the naked and untrained eye it would look as if the wizard had materialized from nowhere, having apparently stepped through an invisible door between dimensions. And that which emerged, having the form and substance of the wizard, suddenly took flight, rising swiftly into the sky.

There were Stra’malos and there were lycanthropes, scattering throughout the woods to take down the hapless. Daniel Bravos and Xanphre were currently tossing and cutting down both as the creatures rallied against them. The first creature to reach the schri-lun unscathed swung its shortsword, wherein the warrior ducked, dodged, and came up swinging his own weapon, decapitating the Stra’malos with his silver crystalline sabre, as well as the one coming up quickly behind him. The next in line slashed at the schri-lun and Daniel grabbed the arm that brandished a sword, with his other arm that did not. The schri-lun pulled the creature to him and severed its arm, then Daniel spun around and smashed it in the face with his elbow.

During the assault Xaneth continued to play his instrument and sing. For his was the power of nature, the wind and the skies, of wishes found in song, and his music could influence the storms of the air.

The Katarina swung around in a swift arc, pursued by a dragon belching flame. Although the skyship was fast, the avian was faster, and it was only a matter of time before the vessel zigged, when she should have zagged. The Katarina erupted like a Nha’mor candle. Her trajectory sent her on a flaming course that would broadside the Kitaria. As masts crumbled from the surrounding flames, the Katarina managed to dip down so that she slid under her sister, while the Kitaria banked and moved out of the area. The burning vessel fell like a slow moving comet, headed toward the beach. The skyship was able to hold together long enough to allow her pilot to bring her down into the waves of the oceans. Her hull split and fractured on impact, and beams and planks of wood flew apart in fiery splinters. Those still alive abandoned the flaming vessel for the water.

Three dragons, gold, azure, and ruby wheeled around and went after the copperhead responsible for the death of the Queen. After a combination of dragonfire, tooth and talon, the rogue fell in flaming tatters, crashing through the tops of the aspoors, and finally hitting the ground with the sound of thunder. Then the trio pursued the dragon that had dropped the Katarina. An instant later and it joined its partner, wings burnt and twisted, flesh torn and bleeding. It ripped down the front of a residential structure with the weight of its body, crushing the roof, and pulling wooden beams and planks down in a flurry as it slammed heavily to the earth.

Daniel leapt into the air performing a vidnas raka, he flipped in the fashion of an elegant backward swan-dive, and as a goblinoid raced passed under him, Daniel put both hands on his sword and brought it down in an arch, cutting through the top of the monster’s head like a melon, slicing it in twain. Daniel’s momentum brought him to hit both of the creature’s shoulders with his feet, he rebounded from the falling monster, flipped once more, landed on his feet.

Thunder was rumbling in the east now. Lightning flickered and flashed among the mountains, clouds were drawing near.

Then all at once the sa’dhris that covered the rostrum like a veil, shimmered and glowed and a flowering burst of fiery energy exploded brilliantly, setting up an undulating series of waves that was a myriad of color which swept past the bard and over into the crowd. The earth trembled in response to its manifestation. Almost immediately, driven by magic, tentacles reached out from the sa’dhris and grabbed those individuals that were still close by, pulling them under the multi-colored veil that was forming over the audience. A blast of dragonfire rushed against the wavering shield and was quickly absorbed and extinguished.

Sil’s mind was spinning with the activity that was going on around him, and he did his best to see to the safety of Lorna, when he spotted a little girl, alone, huddled near a tree trunk. She was crying hysterically for her parents. What would happen next was as swift in its presentation as it was instinctive on Sil’s part. He spotted Mat and Sandaras nearby even as he acknowledged a dozen incoming Stra’malos. He called to his brother and raced toward the girl. And in a sweeping motion, Sil gathered up the child into his arms, and, as he called again to Mat, he pitched the girl to him. The child flew over the mass of approaching Stra’malos that, by their expressions, were not expecting someone to come in at the last moment and snatch away the child. Their looks of surprise were quite remarkable. However they were quick to fade. Then they smiled as they saw that fate had given them a good strong man for the slave pits in place of the small and frail child. Mat saw his brother disappear under a knot of the goblinoids, even as more dropped down from the trees to secure their prize.

Thunder roared in the East, significantly closer now.

Dragons flew with precision, sometimes appearing erratic, flame rushed back and forth across the sky.

Lightning flashed.

And again thunder roared in the East, closer still.

Twenty yards to the south of the fallen man, Xanphre was fighting his own group of Stra’malos. He kicked one creature in the chest then followed through with a side arcing swing with his sword that easily decapitated the Stra’malos. As another creature rushed in behind the Li’reigh, Xanphre ducked under the creature’s swinging blade, and performed what Daniel would call a ka’dea-ti, kicking his left leg deftly under and over behind him, Xanphre swiftly planted the heel of his boot into the goblinoid’s face. In the next instant a dragon-lizard flew a little too low, a little too close, and the Li’reigh reached up and grabbed the straps holding the rider’s saddle in place. And as he was lifted from the ground, Xanphre pushed his blade upward into the belly of the beast. A caterwauling wail spilled forth from the creature as the Li’reigh spilled its guts. The avian lost its strength to fly and it fell toward a cropping of terraces. Xanphre dropped from the dragon-lizard before it slammed into the structure, tearing it from it moorings, lanterns above and plumbing beneath, and beams reduced to splinters from two houses to either side flew everywhere. Xanphre landed safely in the trees and made his way quickly to the ground.

Aarin Caldaraas executed a superb mra’pu, followed by a ti’lau-cha ni, and had Daniel seen the execution he would have asked the man where he had learned the technique. He had beaten the man

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