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Dragon Stories Part III


Kevin B. Duxbury

 A Time of War


The afternoon sun shone brightly as it warmed the plains below, and the gentle breeze whispered as it passed through the tall grass. But the peace about the plains would not last long, for war was in the air. To the east there marched a magnificent army comprised of many soldiers, many horses, and a brilliant dragon. Their armor and weapons shone brightly in the afternoon sun. To the west a less glamorous army marched, wearing tanned leather armor and painted faces. The two armies marched silently toward one another, never breaking the silence with words. Around the necks of many of the soldiers were the first combat medals of this war.

On the belt of every soldier was a round metal flask bearing a brass cap with a long leather tie. Within the flask was a Potion of Healing which would be taken only if the soldier was seriously wounded. After drinking the potion, the soldier would wear the brass cap around their neck as a symbol of having been wounded in combat.

The two armies continued their march until they finally met.

“You are short some within your ranks,” Kijo said quietly.

“The battle was fierce,” Hal said. “Many were wounded, and nine have left to be with the true God, but our village is free.”

Hal and Lurana pulled each other close.

“We’ve still a long journey ahead,” Kijo said calmly. “We must continue on if we are to get a decent night's rest.”

The two armies, now joined as one, continued their journey northward. Although both armies were victorious, there was no bragging or boasting of what had been done. Such conduct was only told of in stories. These soldiers still had the shock and fear within them that could only be inserted by the horrors of war, and often could never be removed.

On the north side of the island two entirely different armies were joining their forces. Centurion emerged from the woods to the west, followed by a mixed army of animated armor and dwarven warriors. From the rolling hills to the east Fai and her enormous battle cat walked, followed by the recently liberated halfling army and the remains of her animations.

The two magic-users greeted each other with a warm hug.

“What happened to your animations?” Centurion asked with concern.

“I had an unexpected visit from a green dragon,” Fai answered.

Centurion was lost for words.

“The predictable rarely happens,” Fai said with a subtle smile. “And the unexpected always does. Come, we must reach our rest area by nightfall if we are to give these new recruits some time to recover.”

The two armies merged together, the dwarves and halflings conversing amongst each other, and continued their journey south.

The Freedom sat quietly by the south docks, its sails collapsed and its crew moving about. On the nearby shore Aleena and Astain saddled their horses in preparation for their long, fast ride. Beside them, Astain’s Pegasus, Johntu, stomped nervously at the ground. The magnificent beast resembled that of a Paint, its white body and wings spotted with large brown blemishes.

“Master Sergeant,” the captain cried as he scurried across the dock carrying a rolled up map.

Aleena and Astain turned.

“I’ve plotted the course of the three enemy ships,” he continued as he unrolled the map. “The first ship we attacked will sink within the hour. I suspect the second ship which Vermithrex attacked will also sink, but it will take a few more hours. As for the third ship which the Avenger attacked, I believe it will stay afloat. That ship, along with any other beasts who have stayed afloat, will be pulled west by this current,” he pointed on his map. “In about two days time they will be pulled just south of this island, about 200 miles north of the Isle of Dread.”

“So those still drifting could survive?” Astain asked.

“Sharks are not known to be in these waters,” the captain explained. “If they can bear the cold water, then yes, they will survive.”

“Were any attempts made to rescue them?” Astain asked.

“We sent some lifeboats out,” the captain answered. “But they made it quite clear that they would rather die than accept help from their enemy.”

“What of the Avenger?” Aleena asked hesitantly.

“It too will be pulled by the western current, my lady,” the captain answered with sorrow. “But I suspect it will sink within the next two hours.”

Astain placed her arm around Aleena’s shoulders and pulled her close.

“Well done, Captain,” Astain said, taking the map. She folded the map into a small square, then placed it in a small pouch hanging from Johntu’s neck. “See that Kellvo gets this,” she said, kissing the animal’s cheek. “Be careful, my love.”

“Forgive me, my lady,” the captain said. “But your Pegasus will arrive at the battle site in half the time it will take you on horseback. Why don’t you both ride her there?”

Astain smiled. “A Pegasus’ wings are only strong enough to lift the animal itself,” she answered. “Such tales of people riding them are just myths. This is reality.”

She stroked the animal's mane one last time, then patted her shoulder. Johntu galloped into the tall grass, spread her massive wings, then took to the air.

“Come, Aleena,” Astain said calmly. “Let’s ride.”

The two mounted their horses, their armor shining brightly in the sun, then spurred them firmly and ran into the plains.

The stars shone brilliantly over the western plains, but with the absence of the moon all was dark. Within the darkness Kijo’s army silently stirred as they prepared to bed down for the night. Far in the distance the faint glow of campfires could be seen, and the rustle of troops could be heard as Dreadtar desperately tried to reorganize his shattered army. Kijo knelt down in the tall grass with Kepler, Luna, Hal, and Lurana by his side.

“We will light no fires tonight, and we mustn’t make any noise,” Kijo whispered. “Kepler, assure that our perimeter is well guarded. Hal, send out your observation team and tell them to camp about half way between our camp and Dreadtar’s assembly area. Tell them to keep their weapons sheathed to avoid reflection. They will serve as our warning should anyone come too close. We will use no tents tonight. Tell the troops to sleep on the ground, and to cover themselves and their armor with their blankets. It is crucial that we are not detected.”

The four nodded in compliance.

“We will wake the troops at the first sign of light,” he continued. “We need to be moving by daybreak.”

With that, they departed to pass Kijo’s orders on to their troops.

Within the darkness the individual soldiers began pulling wool blankets from their small packs and preparing to bed for the night. The lack of light and the absolute silence made for an eerie feeling, and the soft glow of the enemy campfires filled their heads with thoughts of what was to come.

Kijo turned to look over his glorious army, but the darkness allowed him little visibility. He sat instead, and thought of Aleena. A few moments passed, then the four returned.

“All is ready,” Hal whispered. “My forward team has just left, and Kepler has posted the first guard shift.”

“Very well,” Kijo responded. “I think we’ve been over our plan of attack enough. We should all get some rest. Sleep well, Major Sergeants.”

“And you, Master Sergeant,” Kepler replied.

The two paladins and the two elves stood, turned about, then walked off into the night holding hands with their spouses the way true lovers do. Kijo let go a sigh as his thoughts turned back to Aleena. He pulled a thick wool blanket from his pack and spread it out on the ground, then began the tedious chore of removing his heavy chain mail shirt. He lay down on half his blanket, then pulled the other half over his body and drifted off to sleep.

All was quiet and Kijo slept deeply until a soft touch on his face awoke him. He opened his eyes and saw Aleena looking down on him, her golden hair hanging about the dark blue overlay which concealed her armor.

“Aleena!” Kijo whispered with delight.

“Is there room enough under your blanket for a fair maiden?” She whispered with a smile.

Atop Darriac Point, Kellvo sat wrapped in a warm blanket with his graying dire wolf sleeping by his side. Behind him Johntu slept deeply, wrapped in the warmth of her own wings. Deep in the darkness the fires of the enemy camp glowed eerily. Kellvo looked upon his old friend and smiled. “At least one of us will sleep well tonight,” he said quietly. He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath of the cool night air, releasing his stress with a soothing sigh. He opened his eyes, looked to the stars, and thought of Fai. Kellvo and Fai were rarely apart, but when they were, their  hearts longed for each other. He reached into his backpack and pulled out a small quill, a small pot of ink, and a piece of parchment. He scratched at the parchment with his quill, writing all the words which came from his heart as he thought of his loving wife. Once finished, he rolled the parchment, returned the items to his pack, then lay by his wolf’s side and drifted off to sleep.

The sky to the east began to turn a deep royal blue as the sun slowly crept up to the horizon. Kijo and Aleena woke to the sound of a whispering voice.

“Master Sergeant,” the young soldier said. “The sun will soon be rising.”

Kijo felt the chill about his face, dreading the thought of leaving the comfort of his blanket and the warmth of his wife.

“Very well,” Kijo said in a grumbling voice. He cleared his throat.

“Begin waking the higher rankings and tell them to prepare their troops for movement..”

“Yes, Master Sergeant,” the soldier responded, then hurried off into the night.

Within the darkness the soldiers began preparing for the long day ahead, rolling blankets, eating their morning rations, and donning their armor. Aleena sat comfortably on the ground fixing her hair into a tight braid as she always did before any adventure. Kijo, fully dressed in his chain mail, sat beside her.

“You could have stayed with the ship,” Kijo said calmly.

“I know,” Aleena responded without looking at him. “I wanted to be with you.”

“But I will not be here. I will be in the sky with Orex and Vermithrex,” Kijo said.

“I know,” Aleena responded sharply. “And if you fall, I will be here to catch you.”

She looked upon Kijo with a tear and a smile. They leaned toward each other and held each other tightly. Aleena always pushed aside the thought of what life would be like if she were to lose her husband. Today, the chance of that grim thought becoming a reality was greater than it had ever been.

In an hour's time there was enough light to see clearly, even though the sun had not yet reached the horizon. Kijo, with Aleena by his side, looked upon his magnificent army with pride. The three long columns seemed to stretch the entire length of the island, and their brilliant armor still shone brightly even in the light of dawn. The horses stood tall in the third rank, their linens still clean and the colors still brilliant. The army stood ready, awaiting the order which would complete their journey.

“Good morning, all,” a voice said from their side.

Kijo turned to see Astain and his faithful dragon approaching them, both in there armor and quite ready for battle.

“Merfren, merfren,” Orex grumbled, delighted to see Kijo again.

“We missed you last night,” Aleena said.

“I thought you two would like some privacy,” Astain replied, stroking Orex’s long main. “So I spent the night with a warm friend. Kepler and Hal have said that all is ready, and they are prepared to move.”

Kijo took in a deep breath of the cool morning air. “Very well then,” he said quietly. “Let us begin.” He stepped forward and faced his troops.

“Soldiers of the Army of the Star,” he bellowed. “Today we will continue where our greatest grandfathers left off. Today we will liberate the people of this island and chase away the vermin which once enslaved them. Today we will bring spark to the torch of freedom and set ablaze an eternal flame which will shine brightly for the entire world to see! And we shall cry ‘Victory!’”

The army roared with excitement, raising their weapons high into the air.

“Soldiers of the Army of the Star,” Kijo shouted boldly. “Forward, march!”

Again the army roared with excitement as they took their first long steps in the final leg of their journey.

Dreadtar quickly looked over his shoulder to the south at the faint sound of what he thought were war cries. Reedex raised his massive head, his ears perked. About them in a large depression surrounded by rolling hills, Dreadtar’s officers were frantically trying to reorganize the shattered Dark Army.

“An army approaches,” Reedex growled. “Three miles from the south!”

Dreadtar walked angrily toward his dragon. “How many?” He bellowed.

“Their numbers are great,” the dragon hissed.

Dreadtar roared with frustration. “Captains,” Dreadtar bellowed throwing his arms about. “Move your troops to the south perimeter and prepare for battle, now!”

“No, you fool!” Reedex screamed. “We are not ready, and there are too many directions from which we can be attacked. We must move back to the woods and continue to reorganize the troops!”

“Watch your tone, Dragon,” Dreadtar shouted, clenching his hands into massive fists. “You will do as I say, or you will find your hide spread about my throne room floor!”

“You no longer have a throne room!” Reedex roared in frustration.

“Your arrogance will destroy this army and all that it has become!”

Dreadtar turned his back to Reedex angrily, waving his arms frantically, and continued bellowing orders to his captains.

An hour passed, and Dreadtar’s army was no better off than before. Abandoning the hazards of the depression, the Dark Army now stood on line in the open plains, its ranks hastily put together. The first rank consisted of the infantry, a mixed batch of beasts bearing an equally mixed batch of swords, axes, and maces. Their barrage of armor and shields bore no uniformity. Within the second rank were the long handled weapons.

The collection of menacing spears, lances, and polearms stood tall overhead, showing bared tips and sharp blades. To the rear, Dreadtar’s archers stood at the ready, arrows notched, awaiting to deliver a hailstorm of arrows on whatever army was approaching. Behind the formation of troops Dreadtar and his dragon captains sat high on the backs of their beasts, Barter and Raltin on their reds, Teterrag on his black, and Dreadtar on the mighty Reedex.

“You shall be victorious here today, Dreadtar,” the old witch croaked from below. “None shall ever defeat you. I have seen it!”

“Be silent, witch,” Dreadtar snapped angrily. “You did not see this!”

Verica bit her tongue.

The beasts of the Dark Army grumbled amongst each other. The first attacks of their enemy had come by surprise, but this time they were ready and eager for the fight. They continued scanning the rolling hills to the south watching, listening, and wondering what was to come. All were looking south, except for Reedex. The large dragon clawed tensely at the ground, frustrated with Dreadtar and his lack of reason. Reedex moved his large head about, scanning the nearby hills and listening, expecting the unexpected. Then finally, a panicked voice from atop a lone tree cried out.

“Army!” the kobold barked. “Army approaching from the south!”

In the not-so-far distance, Kijo's magnificent army toped the rolling hills in three long ranks which seemed to cross the plains, their armor and weapons shining brilliantly in the late morning sun. At the head of the army Kijo rode proudly on the back of his magnificent dragon. To Kijo’s right, Aleena and Astain walked gracefully, Aleena with her shield and heavy mace, and Astain with her heavy two-handed war hammer. Behind them, Johntu trotted nervously. And to Kijo’s left, Hal and Lunar walked, now wearing their shiny chain male armor and holding their brilliant swords and shields.

To the rear of the formation was the mighty Vermithrex who’s enormous claws
caused the ground to tremble with every step. Orex was a spectacle in himself, with his bright armor and his gem-like blue scales shining in the sun. Kijo lifted his long two-handed sword high into the air.

“Army,” he bellowed over his shoulder. “Halt!”

Simultaneously, the well-trained and well-disciplined army came to a quick halt. All was quiet again. Kijo sat high in his saddle, an intent look about his face.

Dreadtar eyed Kijo strongly, then scanned the army before him.

“The odds are in our favor,” Dreadtar stated quietly to his dragon. “We outnumber them by at least a third.”

No sooner had Dreadtar finished his words when Reedex whipped his head around to the north, his ears perked, then let go a ferocious roar.

“Army,” Fai’s strained voice shouted. “Halt!”

The mixed army of dwarves, halflings, animations, and armor came to an abrupt halt, then stood silently. Cat stood protectively close to Fai’s side and let go a low metallic growl, his eyes again turning deathly black.

Centurion too stood boldly, dressed in his elegant white robe trimmed with gold.

“Their numbers are great,” Fai spoke softly to Centurion.

“Ours are greater,” Centurion responded, crossing his arms. “And our army has greater skills.”

Reedex turned half a turn against the will of Dreadtar who struggled with his reins, then let go another ferocious roar. The flustered Dark Army turned about, confused as to whether to face their enemy at their north, or at their south. Dreadtar screamed with frustration.

“Infantry and archers, face south!” Dreadtar shouted. “Polearms, face north!”

The ogre captains began echoing Dreadtar’s commands, gaining control of their troops and establishing order. All was silent for a long moment, then an incredibly loud voice bellowed over the plains.

“Dreadtar,” the voice said.

In the distance atop Darriac point, Kellvo stood boldly with his giant wolf by his side, and though his lips did not move, his words shook the earth.

“I am Kellvo, Member of the Star and commander of this army,” he announced. “You will order your beasts to drop their arms at once. You will board your ships and you will leave this land, or you will die here today. These are your options Dreadtar. Which will you choose?”

Dreadtar roared in frustration. “None shall defeat me!” he shouted, drawing his massive sword. “None!”

Orex moved about beneath Kijo, clawing at the ground with his razor sharp claws. His usual happy looking face was now twisted and angry as he eyed the other dragons.

“Easy, Boy,” Kijo said quietly, confused by his animal’s behavior.

Orex grumbled and snorted, then took a deep breath and let go a cry so loud that it startled all on the battlefield. It was the dragon's cry of war. It was a cry which told the other dragons that the mighty Orex was prepared to take the life of another dragon, a rare occurrence in this realm. Reedex returned the cry with a roar of his own, echoed by the two reds and the black by his side. Then the earth trembled as Vermithrex let loose the loudest war cry of them all.

“Archers, ready!” Dreadtar bellowed

“This is it,” Kijo said. “Archers ready!”

“Draw!” Dreadtar ordered.

“Draw!” Kijo commanded.

The two armies aimed their bows skyward.

“Loose!” the two commanders bellowed simultaneously.

The hailstorm of arrows shot into the air, crossing paths at their highest point, then began falling to the earth at a deadly speed.

“Shields up!” Kijo screamed. “Take cover!”

The soldiers quickly knelt down behind their shields as the arrows rained down upon them, breaking against shields and armor. Within the ranks, screams of pain called out as some of the arrows found weak spots in the joints of armor. Then, as fast as they had started, the arrows stooped falling.

“Recover!” Kijo shouted as he looked about. “Archers, ready!”

Quickly, the archers began preparing their bows while others helped the wounded.

“Draw,” he commanded. “Loose!”

Kijo watched as the second volley of arrows launched into the sky, only to see a second volley flying toward his army as well.

“Take cover!” he screamed.

Again, a swarm of arrows rained on Kijo's army. Orex closed his eyes tightly and turned his head, annoyed by the arrows which bounced harmlessly off his thick hide. Astain's Pegasus stomped about, nervous and spooked as the falling arrows whipped by her. Within the ranks soldiers screamed, and a horse wailed.

“Enough of this!” Kijo yelled. “We will loose no more to arrows. Kepler and Luna, Hal and Lurana, prepare to charge!”

The four moved to the front of their detachments, their swords drawn. “Prepare to charge!” Kepler and Hal cried.

With that, the archers dropped their bows, drew their swords, and joined the ranks of the infantry.

“Army of the Star,” Kijo bellowed waving his sword. “Attack!”

The Army of the Star let go a war cry heard around the world as they began their charge toward the Dark Army. To the north, Fai watched and acted.

“This is it,” she said to herself quietly. “Attack!” she screamed, her arms extended toward the enemy. “Attack!”

At the center of the battlefield, Dreadtar began bellowing orders.

“Spread out!” he screamed. “Spread out! Let them come to you! Dragon Captains, to the sky!”

The beasts quickly found their distance between one another, then spread their massive wings and leapt into the sky. To the south, Vermithrex and Kijo watched intently.

“Dreadtar will use his dragons to destroy as many of our troops as he can before they reach his own,” Vermithrex bellowed.

“We shall not let that happen,” Kijo said confidently.

The two dragons opened their wings and leapt into the sky with Johntu close by their sides.

On the ground the Army of the Star continued its charge, with the exception of the Cavalry. They stood fast, their lances pointed skyward. The bewildered Dark Army decided to focus its attention on the charging infantry, widening their stances and gripping their weapons tightly. They were eager for this fight, and the opportunity to avenge themselves for the attacks upon them from the day prior. The ground trembled beneath the feet of the charging infantry. Kepler and Hal held their swords high above their heads for all their soldiers to see.

“Open ranks!” they commanded.

With that, the charging infantry began to spread out, lengthening their front line and leaving large gaps between each soldier. Bewildered, the Dark Army continued to watch as the distance between armies became dangerously small.

“Cavalry,” the Master Horseman commanded. “Charge!”

Thunder rolled from the land, and the earth began to tremble even more so under the stomping hooves of the Cavalry’s horses. The Dark Army became uneasy, and within a heartbeat, the armies were within striking distance. The Dark Army drew back their weapons, anticipating the first blow. But the swords of the infantry had suddenly become the long bared tips of lances and the charging horses of the Cavalry as they passed through the gaps of the infantry. Metal flashed, horses wailed, and men and monsters screamed as the two armies crashed together in a fury found only in war. The two armies hacked and smashed each other, slashing flesh and crushing bones. One by one bodies fell, crumpling to the ground in pain as their blood spilled.

Above the heads of the wounded, the fighting raged on. Aleena and Astain fought side by side, their skills far greater than the average Dark Army soldier. Spinning and striking, their heavy weapons found target after target, breaking bones and crushing skulls. Feeling the odds were still in their favor, the Dark Army fought diligently; then the second attack came.

Distracted by Kijo’s army, Fai’s detachment crashed into the battle, hitting the beasts unexpectedly from behind in a wave of fury. The armor and animations attacked with a silent fury of swords and polearms, followed by the war cries of the smaller dwarves and halflings. A new panic set in as the beasts found themselves surrounded by the enemy. Weapons continued to fly, and bodies continued to drop.

High above in the late morning sky, another battle raged on. The young, swift Pegasus dove and swooped in the faces of the dragons, flustering and distracting them from the troops below, while Vermithrex and Orex made swift, intimidating passes at their riders. Within a moment the two armies were engulfed within each other, and Dreadtar could no longer use the breath weapons of his dragons on the enemy troops. Frustrated, Dreadtar eyed Kijo intently.

“I shall take your worthless life,” Dreadtar said to himself. The dark knight pulled hard on the reins attached to Reedex’s massive horns, aligning himself with Kijo. He pulled a long lance from the side of his saddle, tucked the handle under his arm, then spurred his beast for more speed.

Kijo, spotting Dreadtar in the distance, also drew his lance, then donned his jousting helm. Orex began flapping his wings full, gaining speed at an alarming rate. The jousting helm greatly reduced Kijo’s visibility, allowing him only the sight to concentrate on his charging enemy. He could not see the other three dragon riders who were charging him from above.

Dreadtar however, had an excellent view of his captains, and the collision course they were on.

“No, you fools!” Dreadtar bellowed. “No! He is mine!”

Orex quickly scanned the sky and spotted the charging dragons, then retracted his wings and dropped like a falling stone. Kijo’s head flew back, the tip of his lance lifting skyward from the momentum of the unexpected dive.

The three charging dragon captains watched in awe at the blue dragon's unexpected move, then realized all too late that they were about to collide. Barter pulled back hard on his reins trying desperately to slow his beast, but to no avail. The large red dragon smashed into the back of Teterrag and his smaller black dragon, crushing Teterrag’s small body between the two beasts.

The impact of the two dragons launched Barter out of his saddle, sending him screaming and falling, heels over head. Raltin’s more intelligent dragon banked hard, avoiding the collision by mere feet. Though the red dragon’s move was the correct one, he could not avoid Teterrag’s deadly lance which still protruded from between the two collided dragons.

The sharp, bared tip of Teterrag’s lance punched through the red’s giant wing, then tore its way free as the dragon continued his flight. Raltin’s dragon roared with pain with every stroke of his wings as he tried desperately to control his descent.

Dreadtar looked on with rage as every one of his dragon captains fell from the sky. He focused on Orex recovering from his dive, then pulled at Reedex’s reins and set himself for another joust.

Barter’s red dragon, struggling to catch his breath, looked upon Orex with rage and humiliation. He rotated his massive body and began his rapid descent, smoke trailing from his nostrils as he prepared to lay fire upon Orex and his rider. From the sky above, the massive Vermithrex dropped like a meteor and planted both his massive claws into the red dragon’s back, snapping his spine. The lifeless red dragon plummeted downward, leaving a trail of thick, black smoke as his unreleased fire burned from within him.

Vermithrex then gave the black dragon an intimidating look and let go a powerful roar. Knowing he could not win, the much smaller black dragon turned and fled toward the ocean, shaking the deceased Teterrag from his back as he flew.

“Slow down, you cowardly lizard!”

Raltin struggled with his reins, trying desperately to control his beast, but the wounded red dragon ignored his rider’s commands and continued with his descent. With every flap of his wings the dragon was introduced to a new dimension of excruciating pain as the tear became larger. Raltin braced himself as the ground raced up toward him.

“Araahhh!” Raltin screamed.

The dragon slammed into the ground with tremendous force, causing the earth to tremble. Raltin was launched from his saddle, his body tumbled uncontrollably, flinging dirt and dust into the air until he finally came to a grinding halt. Raltin, laying face down in the dirt, slowly and painfully worked his way back to his feet. He stood and swayed with dizziness.

“You worthless wyrmn,” Raltin shouted as he drew his sword. “Prepare to meet your death!”

The large red dragon looked upon Raltin and curled his lip. He hobbled his massive body around, taking care not to use the front claw which he had just broken.

“Do not rise up on me, Dragon,” Raltin bellowed as he continued his approach. “Now roll onto your side and die like the coward that you are!”

The dragon backed away, then let go a ferocious roar. Raltin froze.

“Dragon,” Raltin commanded.

The large red dragon took in a long, deep breath.

“Dragon!” Raltin bellowed with fear.

The dragon lowered his head and released an inferno of flames, engulfing the now screaming Raltin. The intense heat of the red dragon’s fire welded the plates of Raltin’s armor instantly, leaving him frozen in place and screaming a blood curling scream as he was brutally cooked within his own armor.

Not far from Raltin’s brutal cremation, the battle continued. The two opposing armies continued their frantic hacking and smashing, staining the trampled grass with one another's blood.

Astain landed yet another well placed strike, crushing a goblin's chest and killing him instantly. She stood ready, awaiting her next challenger, but there was none. Across the battlefield she spotted a young infantryman down on his knees, desperately trying to hold back the blood which flowed from the gaping wound to his abdomen. In his other shaking hand, he held a healing potion which he slowly attempted to raise to his lips.

At first, Astain wore a smile, knowing the boy would heal once he drank the potion, but her expression quickly changed. A ruthless goblin warrior ran upon the boy and slashed at him with his sword, knocking the potion away and cutting off the boy's thumb. The boy yelped in pain, then looked upon the goblin in fear. The goblin drew back his sword, then slashed the boy's throat, sending him falling to the ground. Astain tried desperately to get to the young warrior, knowing that she could still save him, but both friend and foe stood in her way as the battle raged on around her.

Suddenly, a cavalryman ran up behind the goblin and drove his lance through the beast's back, the barred tip protruding from his stomach. The beast screamed a
blood-chilling scream as he fell to his knees and face. The cavalryman quickly dismounted his horse and pulled his own healing potion from his belt. Supporting the wounded boy's head, the cavalryman slowly poured the liquid into the boy's mouth, but his efforts were to no avail. Blood and potion spilled from his cut throat. The young soldier choked and died. Frustrated, the cavalryman threw down the half-empty flask, then remounted his horse and returned to the war.

High above the battle, Vermithrex hovered his massive body as he watched Kijo and Dreadtar face off for another joust. The two dragons stroked their wings and flew calmly as they closed the large gap between them.

“This is the moment, my faithful friend,” Kijo said as he eyed his opponent far in the distance. “Let’s have a good pass and be finished with this!”

Kijo tapped Orex with his heels, urging him on faster. In the distance, Reedex’s massive wings began taking full, powerful strokes. The wind blew hard against Kijo’s body as Orex continued to build up speed, pushing tears from the corners of Kijo’s eyes. Soon the two dragons were close enough for Kijo to see Dreadtar’s massive figure. His subdued armor and long black mace gave him an intimidating look upon the back of his large red dragon.

Visions flashed through Kijo’s head. All the training, all the practice, every little detail he had learned about jousting from the back of a dragon, the proper stance, where to hit an opponent, how to avoid an opponent’s lance, were now all applied and focused on Dreadtar. The two dragons stroked their wings a last few times, then quickly retracted them, launching themselves at each other with deadly speed. Kijo aimed his lance at Dreadtar’ heart. A lance snapped, and Orex veered away from Reedex the instant before Kijo’s lance could strike Dreadtar. Orex extended his wings and began circling toward the earth. Kijo struggled, trying to keep himself in his saddle.

“Drat!” Kijo exclaimed. “How could I have missed? Take us higher, old friend. I will not miss again!”

Orex continued circling downward.

“Orex? Orex!”

From the battle below, a young sergeant pointed his bloody sword to the sky.

“By the true God,” he shouted. “That dragon is in its death glide!”

Aleena, delivering a final blow to an enemy’s head, looked to the sky and gasped. A dragon, a faithful dragon, who had been struck with a fatal blow would open its wings with such force that their joints would reverse and lock. Even a deceased dragon would then glide slowly to the earth, thus saving the rider.

“Oh my God,” she whispered to herself in fear.

The flat side of an ax smashed into the side of Aleena’s head. She fell hard to the ground, blood trickling from her nose and mouth.

“Come on, old friend,” Kijo bellowed as the ground became uncomfortably close. “To the sky, to the sky!”

Orex did not respond and continued his descent, his head low and his legs and tail dangling. He completed one last circle, then at the last moment, raised his head and extended his legs. But the young dragon was traveling far too fast for landing. Orex plowed into the soft soil, throwing dust and grass into the air. The tip of Kijo’s lance dropped and speared the ground, splintering as Kijo was thrown from Orex’s back. Kijo slammed into the ground and tumbled uncontrollably to a stop. Coughing and choking, Kijo painfully rose to his feet and removed his helm, then froze. Orex lay on his belly, his chin on the ground, looking upon Kijo with happy eyes. Just
inches from Orex’s breast plate the broken half of Dreadtar’s lance protruded, blood dripping from its splintered end.

“Oh God, no,” Kijo uttered, his voice trembling. He dropped his helm and ran to Orex. Kijo fell to his knees by his dragon’s side, throwing an arm over his massive shoulders as he studied the wound. A strong wind blew and the grass began to sway as Vermithrex landed in front of them.

“Vermithrex,” Kijo shouted, running toward the golden dragon. “Orex is hurt. I am in need of your healing powers!”

“I do not know the powers of healing,” Vermithrex bellowed. “You must...”

“Then go and find Aleena,” Kijo ordered. “She can heal him.”

“Be at peace, Knight,” Vermithrex said.

“Go and find her. Bring Astain as well,” Kijo continued. “I will try to stop the bleeding until they come.”

“Listen to me, Knight...” Vermithrex said, raising his voice.

“Go now, Dragon,” Kijo interrupted again. “The wound is serious, and there’s not much...”

“Kijo!” Vermithrex bellowed, his voice trembling the earth.

Kijo stood silent, stunned by the dragon's tone.

Vermithrex let go a sorrowful sigh. “These are his last moments,” he said quietly. “He wishes to spend them with you. Spend them in peace.”

Kijo turned to see Orex looking upon him, his mouth forming a slight smile and his eyes half closed. Kijo, his clothes soiled and his armor dirty, walked to Orex and knelt by his side. Orex raised his head slightly and rubbed Kijo with the side of his face.

“Oh, Boy,” Kijo said, his voice choking with emotion. “I’m so sorry this had to happen to you.”

Orex snorted at the ground, blowing dust about. Kijo wrapped his arms around Orex’s thick neck, his white mane falling about Kijo’s arms, and hugged him tightly.

“You will always be my most faithful dragon,” Kijo spoke, forcing his words through tears. “My most faithful companion.”

Orex snorted and grumbled. “ friend,” his scratchy voice said. Orex rolled his head and snuggled up to Kijo one last time, then died.

Kijo buried his face into Orex’s thick white mane and cried silently, his body trembling as he sobbed. A long moment passed.

“Kijo,” Vermithrex’s low voice spoke.

Kijo wiped his face of tears, then turned.

“It is not finished yet,” he spoke. “This war will not end until Dreadtar himself is defeated.”

“But how will I fight him,” Kijo said, discouraged.

“I will serve as your dragon,” Vermithrex said.

“But I haven’t a lance,” Kijo said with little hope in his voice.

“Take the spear,” Vermithrex responded.

Kijo looked upon the finely crafted, undamaged spear, still firmly attached to Orex’s saddle.

“But Dreadtar has a lance in reserve,” Kijo stated. “I saw it attached to his beast when we passed.”

“Leave that to me,” Vermithrex said confidently.

A confidence and a will returned to Kijo’s heart. He stood boldly, his fists clenched. Kijo gently removed the spear from Orex’s saddle, then stroked his faithful dragon’s mane.

“I love you, old boy,” he said with a tearful smile.

Vermithrex lowered his massive body, allowing Kijo to climb upon his back. Vermithrex rose and turned half a turn, Kijo holding firmly to his mane, then looked upon the fallen Orex.

“May the true God carry you, faithful dragon,” Vermithrex said boldly. “I will see you in the Dragons’ Heaven.”

Vermithrex spread his massive wings and leapt into the sky.

Just over the rolling hills, Dreadtar set his beast down by the evil Verica. Together they watched as the battle raged on. Dreadtar clenched his fists in frustration as the numbers of his army slowly decreased.

“Why are you not down there in the fight, Witch?” Dreadtar bellowed.

“I’ve no business being down there,” Verica cackled. “One swing of a sword, and you will be short one witch.”

“If we lose this war it will be my sword delivering your fatal blow,” Dreadtar said through his teeth. “Now go, fight!” Dreadtar dug his heels into Reedex’s sides and urged him back into flight.

Verica watched as the two took to the air, then turned back toward the battle. She closed her eyes and slowly raised her hands while chanting harsh magical words. As her words became louder, her hands began to glow a dark blue. “Alaiea mas saham!” She bellowed as she spoke the final words of the spell. Thunder cracked, and lightning shot from her hands into the battle below. But the old witch’s powers were fading with time, and the bolts did not land where she had intended. Fifteen beasts from the Dark Army twisted and screamed with pain as the lightning tore through their bodies. Their screams stopped, and the smoking beasts fell lifeless to the ground. Verica looked about to see if Dreadtar had noticed her misdoing, then gave a delightful smile.

To the north, Fai and Centurion watched intently as the battle began to sway in their favor. Although many from both sides had fallen, the Dark Army was sustaining a great number more casualties. Fai quickly focused her attention on a smaller battle that had strayed from the main body. Ten beasts, goblins, orcs, and kobolds, had surrounded five Soldiers of the Star. The beasts stabbed and prodded at the soldiers, taking pleasure in the uneven odds. Two beasts thrust their blades into the small group, stabbing an older sergeant in his kidney, and a young female in her thigh. The two screamed and fell, leaving the other three with even greater odds. Cat let loose a metallic growl as he scraped at the ground.

“Cat,” Fai commanded. “Go!”

Cat scrunched down, then lunged down the hill toward the stranded party with Fai running quickly behind him.

“Fai, no!” Centurion hollered.

Disregarding her own safety, Fai continued on. Cat lunged into the battle and pounced onto two of the beasts. Face down in the dirt, they flailed and screamed as the enormous battle cat crushed them to death. Fai quickly followed, launching magical arrows from her sleeves, and lightning from her hands. The beasts twisted and screamed as arrows and lightning pierced their bodies. Cat turned his massive head and bit down on a third beast, violently shaking the screaming monster, then launched him across the field. Fai quickly looked about herself.

The small group of beasts lay scattered about, their blood staining the trampled grass, with the exception of one. A large goblin screamed hysterically, discarding his weapons and running for the open plains. Cat, knowing no mercy, scrunched down like a cougar about to attack its prey, then lunged at the screaming beast. The gap between them was quickly closed. The goblin let go one last wail as he was pummeled to the ground by the enormous battle cat, then ruthlessly torn apart.

All was peaceful in the sky above. Vermithrex glided gracefully on the strong winds, his massive wings extended to their full length. His large head moved gracefully to and fro as he searched the sky for Reedex and his dark rider. Upon his back, Kijo sat silently. With no saddle and holding firmly to the dragon's mane, Kijo thought deeply of what was soon to come.

The spear, no more than seven feet long, felt small in his hand compared to his lance. Within his heart he knew that this would be his final joust, his final conflict. Dreadtar’s lance, far longer than Kijo’s spear, would pierce his body and dismount him from Vermithrex’s back. He prayed that the true God would let him live just long enough to drive his spear into Dreadtar’s evil heart, and end his rein of tyranny. His thoughts then shifted to Aleena, and how he wished he could see her just one last time.

Thoughts of her fighting in the battle below flashed through his mind. If she were still alive, she would not be thinking of him. She would be concentrating on the fight at hand. Depression and sadness swelled within his heart.

Vermithrex let go an enormous roar. “There they are. Let us finish this,” he bellowed.

Reedex, hearing the gold dragon's roar, turned his head and let loose a roar of his own. Dreadtar strained his eyes, trying to make out the dragon’s rider.

“So,” Dreadtar said to himself. “You survived. You will not be so lucky this time.”

The two dragons rotated their massive bodies and aligned themselves with one another, then began taking long, full strokes with their massive wings. Kijo squeezed the dragon's body with his knees and held tight to his mane with his free hand, desperately trying not to be blown off Vermithrex’s back. Soon, he was once again able to make out Dreadtar’s massive form.

“This is the moment, God,” Kijo prayed aloud. “Give me strength!”

The two dragons stroked their wings faster and faster, building speed at a tremendous rate. Kijo leaned forward on the mighty dragon’s back, tears being forced from his eyes as he desperately tried to keep his seat. He raised his spear and took aim. The two dragons stroked their final few strokes, then retracted their wings, flashing by each other like passing meteors. In the blink of an eye, the mighty Vermithrex swung his massive claw and caught the tip of Dreadtar’s lance, thrusting it downward. The hilt of the lance rose under Dreadtar’s arm, forcing him to sit high in his saddle. And in that same blink of an eye, Kijo saw the eyes of Dreadtar, wide with fear. Metal clanked, and Kijo was flung backwards as the spear was ripped from his hand. He wrapped his arms around the beast's massive
neck, struggling to keep himself centered on the dragon’s back. He quickly looked over his shoulder. Still sitting in Reedex’s saddle, Dreadtar’s body sat slumped over, the bloody bared tip of Kijo’s spear protruding from his back.

On the ground below, the battle was slowing. Exhausted troops continued their fighting, barely able to lift their weapons as the fatigue of battle quickly set in. The intense screams of pain were now replaced with low moans of desperation as the untreated wounded slowly died. Those soldiers still standing turned their heads to and fro, weapons at the ready, looking for their next opponent, but there were none. The battle was over, and only soldiers from the Army of the Star were standing. Kepler and Luna, Hal and Lurana moved to the center of the battlefield, their hands and armor saturated with blood. Luna lifted her red sword into the air.

“All units, rally point!” she ordered.

The Army of the Star, their numbers still great, began moving south toward a nearby hill where they slowly regrouped. The once peaceful section of plains was now a grotesque sight of twisted beasts on a blood-soaked floor. Among the beasts, wounded soldiers of the Star awaited to be healed, and the deceased awaited removal.

Astain and her apprentices moved about, continuing to heal the wounded with potions and with powers granted by the true God.

“Major Sergeant,” a voice cried out.

Astain supported the head of a young soldier she had just finished administering a potion too. “Rest now. You will feel better in a moment.”

She stood and looked over her shoulder. “What is it?” she answered.

A young clerics’ apprentice, dressed in a brown robe and bearing a shaven head, ran to her. “There is a young woman here who has taken a serious blow to her head,” he said.

She walked beside the young apprentice for a distance until she spotted the fallen soldier.

“Aleena!” She cried, recognizing her crumpled body. Astain ran to her half sister and dropped to her knees. The ground beneath her head was saturated with blood, and her light blond hair was now stained dark red.

Astain quickly gathered herself, then gently placed her hands on the side of her sister’s face.

“God grant me the power to heal this woman,” she whispered. “God grant me the power to heal this woman. God grant me the power to heal this woman. God grant me the power to heal this woman.” She continued the prayer, never raising her voice, never changing her tempo. Beneath her palms and from between her fingers, a heavenly blue light escaped. The apprentice, kneeling by Astain’s side, fell back onto his buttocks in awe. The light faded, and Aleena began to choke. Slowly, Aleena began pushing herself up, Astain’s hands on her sides.

“Oh, my head,” Aleena moaned.

“Easy my love,” Astain said softly.

Aleena’s body tensed up, then she vomited.

The dust stirred and the grass swayed as Vermithrex made a quick landing. Kijo threw his leg over and slid off the dragon’s back.

“I’ve a matter to attend to,” Vermithrex bellowed. “I shall return. Well done, Knight.”

“I could not have succeeded without you, old friend,” Kijo returned.

Vermithrex scrunched his massive body, then leapt skyward and took to the air. Aleena, now on her feet and supporting her head, looked upon her husband and smiled. Kijo’s face lit up as he spotted his wife. He quickly walked to her and engulfed her in a massive hug, causing his chain mail to scrape against her breastplate. Aleena cringed as the pain shot through her head. He held her at arms length, then pulled her close and kissed her deeply.

Kijo looked upon his wife with a false smile as the rancid taste from Aleena’s mouth reached the back of his tongue. Aleena gave a sorrowful smile, and Astain let go a giggle.

“Kijo,” Astain said, reaching for her waterskin. “Would you like a drink?”

“Very much so,” Kijo said, maintaining his false expression. “Thank you.”

Far in the distance over the rolling hills, Reedex struggled and squirmed as he shook the saddle and Dreadtar’s carcass from his back. He then clawed anxiously at his horns, pushing off the brass rings which held his reins in place. Vermithrex dropped from the sky, landing hard and causing the ground to tremble. Startled, Reedex let go a roar, then calmed himself.

“I know you,” he said, concentrating on Vermithrex’s face. “We have met before.”

“Look closely Reedex,” Vermithrex bellowed. “And think back over a thousand years. You once took up with an evil wizard named Skopje.”

Reedex curled his lip as the memories returned to his head.

“It was Skopje who raided my cave, who captured me whilst I slept and enslaved me.” Vermithrex’s voice turned cold and unforgiving. “And it was you who watched him do it. And when he died of old age, it was you who stole my treasure and left me bound in my cave for over a thousand years.”

Reedex lowered his head and let go another roar.

“Today we finish it, Reedex,” Vermithrex bellowed. “Dragon to dragon. No magic, no breath, just claws and teeth.”

“I will rip your heart from your body,” Reedex hissed.

“Only from my cold, decaying carcass,” Vermithrex returned.

Reedex lunged at Vermithrex, his jaws open wide, but was met by a swooping claw which left him crashing into the dirt. Stunned and bleeding, Reedex quickly recovered. The large red reared up on his hind legs and slashed at Vermithrex with his razor sharp claws, cutting the gold dragon deeply on his shoulder. Vermithrex reared back, avoiding further slashes, then smashed Reedex in the head with yet another blow. He then leapt and pounced on top of the fallen Reedex, digging his hind claws deep into the red’s side. Reedex let go a howl, then firmly placed his hind legs on Vermithrex’s torso and thrust him backwards. Reedex quickly scrambled to his feet, bleeding and breathing heavily with exhaustion. Vermithrex eyed him intently.

“We can finish this,” Vermithrex bellowed, barely winded from the fight. “Or you can admit defeat and leave this land forever.”

Reedex let go a roar of frustration, then raised his head as he took in a long, deep breath. It was the wrong choice of attack. Vermithrex, like a snake striking its prey, lunged forward with open jaws and bit down on Reedex’s throat just below his jaw. Warm blood sprayed on Vermithrex’s face and ran down his throat. Reedex screamed in pain, releasing his fire harmlessly into the air. The huge gold dragon thrust and pulled at the red’s gushing throat, draining his life’s’ blood from him. Vermithrex then gave one final long pull, whipping the red dragon over his head and slamming his body into the ground. The earth shook, and the evil Reedex lay still.

Vermithrex released his hold, then let go a victorious roar over the fallen red’s body. Reedex lived just long enough to hear it.

Atop Darriac’s Point, Kellvo let go a sigh of relief. The war was over, and it was Kellvo’s army who claimed victory. He patted his graying wolf behind his neck.

“Come, boy,” Kellvo said quietly, picking up his backpack. “Let us join our friends.”

The two turned about, intending to take the trail behind them, but stopped. A rustling in the surrounding bushes cautioned them. The hackles on Dire’s neck and back stood erect as he growled a low growl. From the bushes, a large ogre captain appeared along with his squad of twelve.

Kellvo froze, then smiled calmly.

“Come to surrender?” Kellvo asked wisely, returning his pack to the ground. The beasts growled, baring their twisted yellowed teeth. With their weapons drawn, they slowly emerged from the shrubbery.

“Prepare to do battle, Peasant,” the ogre captain growled.

“Battle?” Kellvo said with awe. “This is hardly a battle. The odds are too great. Why don’t you go get some more of your friends. I will wait here, and then we will do battle.”

The ogre’s face twisted with anger. “Attack!” he commanded.

The twelve beasts charged up the hill, growling and screaming as they charged the unarmed Kellvo. The magic-user widened his stance and raised his hands. Kellvo released a volley of arrows from his sleeve, striking one beast with three, and another with two. The two beasts twisted and cringed as they fell to the ground. Kellvo then pointed at the ground beneath another beast’s feet. The grass grew wildly and wrapped around the legs of the confused goblin. His horrified screams became cries and whimpers as the enchanted grass pulled him to the ground, entangling his limbs and body, then wrapped around his neck and slowly choked him to death.

The next three came within striking range, their weapons drawn back in preparation to deliver deadly blows. Kellvo quickly waved his hand before them, then thrust his arm skyward. The three beasts launched into the sky like arrows from a bow, flying over the wizard’s head and screaming as they fell to their deaths. Dire turned and barked at two beasts, a larger goblin and smaller orc, as they tried to attack Kellvo’s flank.

The old wolf lunged at them with his massive body, pummeling them both and locking his jaws on the goblin’s throat. Warm blood sprayed from the beast’s neck, splattering Dire’s gray face. Knowing the goblin could do him no further harm, he released his bite and quickly turned on the orc. Dire bit down hard on the orc’s sword arm, jerking the beast's shoulder apart. The tiny orc fell to the ground and screamed in horror as blood gushed from his wound. But his screams would not last. Dire unleashed a second attack upon him, grabbing the beast by his small head and shaking him to his death. Thunder cracked, and the last four beasts fell, twisting with pain as Kellvo’s lightning bolts pierced their bodies. All became quiet. About Kellvo, twisted bleeding bodies littered the ground.

“Surrender at once,” Kellvo said calmly to the lone ogre captain. “I will not repeat myself.”

The stunned ogre slowly placed his long sword on the ground. Then, with one fluid motion, the ogre quickly rose and drew a notched crossbow from his back, loosing the arrow at Kellvo’s heart. The bolt struck Kellvo’s magical coat, and splintered. Kellvo examined the slivers of wood lying about him as the ogre continued to stare in awe.

“It is not too late,” Kellvo said annoyed.

The ogre pulled a large dagger from his belt and charged the magic-user with an angry roar. Kellvo waved his hand, and the beast fell to his knees clutching at his chest.

“Now it is too late,” Kellvo said, shaking his head.

The ogre took one last gasp, then turned to stone.

Kellvo calmly pulled a piece of cloth from his pack. “Well done,” he said to his wolf as he wiped the blood from his furry face. “Well done.”


A Humble Victory

Three long hours passed. The Army of the Star had moved far from the sight of the battlefield and was now at rest. The soldiers lay about casually, drinking water and tending to their own needs as the higher rankings tallied up their losses. Kellvo walked anxiously, his large wolf by his side, scanning the army for his beloved wife. A face in the crowd lit up just for him, and she ran to him with open arms. Kellvo held Fai tightly, relieved to be with her once again. Slowly Kellvo’s remaining friends emerged from the large group of soldiers. Kijo, Centurion, Hal, and Lurana all greeted him with warm hugs and smiles. Only Aleena and Astain did not show. They were still about somewhere, tending to what needed to be tended to. All were at ease, until a voice broke the silence.

“The witch!” A young soldier cried out.

Verica walked boldly through the resting army, her face shaded by her dark hood. The soldiers made way, fearing the old witch and her evil powers. A lone soldier gathered his courage and lunged at her with a swinging sword. Verica sneered and held out her pale, bony hand, freezing the soldier in his footsteps. He twisted in pain, then fell to the ground gasping for breath. In a moment, he was able to breath again. He watched the old witch with awe. Verica continued her path, then turned to face Kellvo and Fai. She looked upon them with her twisted face, then smiled.

“Fai, my love,” she said pleasantly. “How are you?”

“I am fine, Grandmama,” Fai responded with a subtle smile. “I’m glad to see you are well.”

“I will feel much better once I have removed this dreadful dark robe,” she said removing her hood. Verica’s face, pale and wrinkled, glowed with kindness. “Centurion, have you brought my robe?”

“I have,” Centurion answered. He reached into a large sack and removed a neatly folded, elegant white robe.

Verica removed her black robe and let it fall to the ground, revealing her simple peasant clothing. She then turned and held her arms back, allowing Centurion to dress her in the brilliant white robe of a lawful magic-user.

“Ah, that is so much better,” she sighed. “Come Fai, give your grandmama a hug.”

The two magic-users held each other gently. Verica gasped, then began feeling Fai’s abdomen.

“Fai,” she said excitedly. “You are with child!”

“Yes, Grandmama,” Fai smiled in return.

“Oh, my child,” Verica said, her face glowing. She felt Fai’s abdomen again, and smiled. “It is a girl,” she said with delight.

“Yes,” Fai smiled. “I know.”

“Oh, bless your heart,” the old magic-user smiled. “Tell me my love, why will you not wear the traditional white robes? How will people know of your lawfulness?”

“Grandmama,” she sighed, rolling her eyes. “We’ve been over this before. I do not need to announce my lawfulness. People will know by my actions.”

“Oh Fai,” Verica pestered. “What would your greatest grandfather say?”

“Legend has it that he wore a blue robe, and yet he was good,” Fai reminded her.

“‘Legend’ is a synonym for ‘lie’” Verica snapped jokingly. “I assure you, Marjac wore the white robes.” She turned to Kellvo and approached him with open arms. “This is all your doing.” She hugged him gently. “You always were the rebellious one.”

A young female soldier, her armor scratched and dented and her clothing soiled, approached the group.

“Commanding Sergeant,” she reported. “All is ready.”

“Very well,” Kellvo responded.

The young soldier turned and went back to her unit.

“It is time, my friends,” Kellvo said. “Let us go.”

The group departed, taking control of their individual detachments.

“Kepler, Luna,” Kijo called. “Prepare your troops for movement.”

“Yes, Master Sergeant,” the two responded.

The units of the Army of the Star sprang to their feet at the orders of their superiors, forming themselves into neat, orderly formations. Kijo approached Kellvo atop a small hill to the front of the massive army.

“This is your moment,” Kijo said. “Would you like to take charge and march your army?”

“‘Tis not my army, Kijo,” Kellvo said humbly. “This is our army, and they are their own army. It is because of their pure hearts and a will to do battle for good, that we are victorious today. And yes, I would be honored to march this magnificent army.”

Kijo bore a great smile.

“Army of the Star,” Kellvo commanded, his thunderous voice surprising most. “Forward, march!”

The army let go a thunderous victory cry, startling Kellvo as they took their first steps in a newly freed land. Like water flowing over a bed of stones, the massive formations of soldiers crossed the rolling plains, fatigued from the battle, and delighted to be alive. For the soldiers of the Star, the worst part of this war was over. From within the formation, an older sergeant broke ranks and approached Kijo.

“Master Sergeant,” he said. “With your permission, I would like to lead the troops with a victory cadence.”

“By all means,” Kijo said. “Please do.” Kijo bared a slight smile, but for the most part, seemed distant. The loss of Orex was still haunting his soul. Kijo fell two steps back, allowing the sergeant to take command of his branch.

The older sergeant sang loud and bold, pausing after each verse and allowing the soldiers to repeat his song, keeping in rhythm with his footsteps.

Listen soldiers and listen well,
To this story I’m about to tell.
About some soldiers in blue and gold,
Who paid a price, who paid the toll.

Jump from a dragon in the middle of the night,
Hit the ground and we’re ready to fight.
Arrows flying all around,
Keep your head close to the ground.

The price was paid by those so bold,
Who bore the colors of blue and gold.
And by my story you’ll clearly see,
Freedom is grand but it is not free.

March on soldier,
March on soldier.
Some day you’ll be all alone,
Way out there in that battle zone.
Some day we will be back home.

The detachment of soldiers sounded off loud and proud, much to the encouragement of the other branches which broke into songs of their own. They continued their march, their voices carrying far into the distance of the rolling hills. But as they topped the final hill and began their descent, the voices began to fade.

“Sound off, lads!” The old sergeant ordered, confused by the growing silence. Then the old sergeant topped the small hill himself, and stared in awe.

Stretching across a small field were the remains of the fallen soldiers of the Star. They lay peacefully side by side in the short grass, their hands placed over their hearts. Their faces and armor were clean, and their fatal wounds were hidden beneath picked wild flowers. At their heads their shiny swords stood, half sunk into the ground. Kijo took back control of the army.

“Army,” Kijo commanded in a voice just loud enough for all to hear. “Halt. Right, face.”

Kijo’s commands were echoed by the commanders of the following detachments until all stood on the plain facing the deceased.

All were represented among the fallen. Male, female, human, elf, dwarf, halfling, and even an occasional beast, all lay in peace amongst each other. Each had paid the highest price for freedom, and they had all paid equally.

At the center of the long line Fai stood wearing a royal blue robe and fresh blue paint across her eyes. To her left Cat stood quietly, while on her right the enormous Vermithrex sat boldly, a stern look about him. She stood silently with her hands joined across her chest. At either end of the line, Aleena and Astain stood, their armor shining brilliantly in the afternoon sun, their hands together in prayer.

The silence was broken as an older dwarf blew into his ancient instrument. He blew into a long stem and filled the small sack at his side with air, squeezing it with his elbow and causing the pipes to sing an ancient funeral song. Four clerics’ apprentices, two at the heads of the deceased and two at the feet, began walking the line as the music began to play. The lead two swung small lanterns, leaving a trail of gentle white smoke, while the second of the two carried large, woven  baskets filled with white rose petals. As they passed, a handful of petals were dropped on each fallen soldier. They walked slowly and gracefully, their feet falling in rhythm with the tender funeral song. Upon completion, the four turned and stood quietly by Astain’s side.

Unexpectedly, a young infantryman broke ranks. He walked slowly toward the body of a fallen kobold. The beast lay peacefully, his face half scorched and wildflowers about his throat. The infantry man pulled an elaborate medallion, truly of great value, from his neck. He leaned over the fallen kobold and placed the medallion around the hilt of the kobold’s sword.

“You are my friend for life,” the young soldier said. He then broke into tears as he walked back to his unit. Then a dwarf broke ranks, his shirt and beard stained with his own blood, and a finely crafted dagger in his hand. He walked to the remains of a fallen dwarf and placed the dagger by the blade of his sword.

“Good-bye my faithful friend,” the dwarf said with a sorrowful smile. He then turned and walked back to his unit.

One by one, the Soldiers of the Star broke ranks, placing gifts by the swords of their fallen comrades and giving final words of friendship, then returned to their formations. All was quiet again.

“May the true God carry you,” Aleena said as a final prayer.

With the completion of Aleena’s prayer, Fai slowly raised her arms, her palms facing up. The ground beneath the fallen soldiers began to moisten. Slowly the earth turned to mud, allowing the bodies of the fallen Soldiers of the Star to slowly sink. The earth quietly accepted the fallen soldiers, leaving only the picked wildflowers where their bodies once lay.

Fai then slowly lowered her arms to her side. The earth quickly dried and sprouted shoots of lush, green grass. The funeral song faded, then ceased. All was quiet, and all that remained of the fallen soldiers were their shiny swords and the gifts of the living.

Astain then stepped forward with a shiny silver four-pointed star on a long chain held in her hands. “Nayato of the Cavalry,” she announced. “Step forward.”

A lone cavalry man looked back and forth at his comrades with confusion, then dismounted his horse and stepped forward. He stopped in front of the cleric.

“When the battle was at its peak, you dismounted from the safety of your horse and rendered aid to a fallen comrade,” she said boldly. “Attempting to give him the healing potion from your own flask. For your sacrifice above and beyond what was called of you, we are awarding you the Medal of Honor and Courage.”

The cavalry man leaned forward, allowing her to place the chain over his head. He stood proudly, a tear in his eye, then returned to his mount.

“Today we have brought eternal freedom to an enslaved land,” Vermithrex’s deep voice bellowed. “But on this day that we cry ‘victory,’ we must remember those who fell. We must always remember the sacrifice if we are to truly appreciate the gift of freedom. Behind you, just over the hill, there is food and wine. Today we feast in honor of those who have fallen, as we will feast every year on this day. Go in peace. Go in freedom.”

Spirits were high, but humble. The soldiers of the Army of the Star turned and began climbing the small hill behind them. The Members of the Star slowly came together, to include Vermithrex, Cat, and Johntu.

“Kijo,” Aleena asked, her voice trembling. “Where is Orex?”

“Come,” Kijo said extending his hand.

Over the rolling hills in a small, secluded place, the eight friends stood together along with the gold dragon, the platinum battle cat, and the Pegasus. Before them, the fallen Orex lay peacefully, his mouth still showing a slight smile. About his body, picked wild flowers were scattered. Kijo and Aleena knelt beside their fallen friend, placing the last of the wildflowers by his side. Aleena leaned forward and kissed Orex gently while Kijo stroked his white mane.

They stood and stepped away, holding one another's hands tightly. Kellvo whispered a magic phrase and slowly waved his hand. Aleena wiped a tear from her cheek as the dragon’s massive body slowly became submerged in the thick mud. In a moment, the faithful Orex was gone, and the dark mud was replaced with lush green grass. But Orex’s spirit was far from gone, for within the lush grass small blue poppies bloomed, a flower which had never before been seen in this land. All was quiet. A gentle breeze blew, whispering as it passed through the tall
grass. The Members of the Star stood silently, their heads bowed, and mourned the loss of their close friend.

“My lords, my ladies,” a voice interrupted.

Kellvo raised his head and faced the lone soldier standing atop the hill behind them.

“Forgive me, my lord,” he continued. “But there is trouble to the south.”

The Members of the Star walked quickly behind the lone soldier, following him as he topped a steep hill. In the depression below, a dozen soldiers of the Star held a wounded red dragon at bay. Vermithrex sneered, eyeing the dragon intently, while Cat let go a ferocious roar. The wounded dragon twisted and turned, hobbling on his one good front leg as he tried to ward off the soldiers who prodded him with swords and polearms. His face cringed with pain as his torn wing continued to bleed and sting. Kellvo quickly walked down the hill.

“Stop!” Kellvo commanded. “All of you, back away!”

The soldiers looked back and forth from the dragon to Kellvo, confused by their commanding sergeant’s instructions.

“Back away!” Kellvo repeated.

The dragon hissed as Kellvo slowly approached him. “Who are you?” The dragon said, his voice hoarse.

“I am Kellvo,” he answered boldly. “Magic-user and commander of this army.”

The dragon hissed again. “You are no wizard,” the dragon argued.

“Do not judge me by my appearance,” Kellvo said calmly. “Things are not always what they seem, like the way that you are not an evil dragon.”

“Are you color blind?” The dragon said sharply. “Do you not see the color of my hide. I am a red! All reds are evil!”

“You are evil because you were taught to be evil,” Kellvo responded. “You have no compassion, no faith, because you were not taught compassion and faith.”

The dragon curled his lip.

“But I am here to offer you an alternative,” Kellvo continued. “You do not have to die here today. You can be healed and live a long, fulfilling life if you so choose.”

The dragon lowered his head and let go a sharp roar. “Do you realize I could burn you to ashes this very moment!” he hissed.

“And I could turn you into a cockroach and squash you into the ground,” Kellvo said firmly. “Not a very honorable death for a dragon, is it?”

The dragon’s face twisted with pain as he accidentally put weight on his broken claw. “What is your alternative?” the dragon asked quietly.

“Learn the ways of good and become lawful,” Kellvo said soothingly. “Learn to help and not to hate. Learn to live well, and enjoy a long, meaningful life.”

“It is not the way of the reds,” the dragon said calmly. “It cannot be.”

“Tell me Dragon,” Kellvo said calmly. “What is your name?”

The Dragon hesitated. “Xecth Ra Tachkt,” he finally said.

“‘The Most Evil of Three,’” Kellvo translated.

“You speak the dragon’s tongue?” he said, impressed by the magic-user.

“I do,” Kellvo said humbly. “And I would like to suggest a new name: Act Harte Doctre.”

“‘One Who Changed,’” the dragon translated.

Kellvo nodded. “You are your own soul,” he continued, approaching the dragon further. “It matters not where you come from or what you were taught. It is your life, and no man nor beast can tell you how you must live it. It is your decision.”

The red dragon looked upon Kellvo for a moment, speaking not a word. The big dragon then stretched out his body, startling the surrounding soldiers, then lay on his belly. “Please,” he said calmly. “Cease this pain.”

Kellvo looked over his shoulder and gave Aleena and Astain a nod. They both approached the dragon, Aleena examining his torn wing while Astain studied his broken claw. They examined the dragon’s wounds for a long moment.

“Healing potions will not close this wound,” Aleena finally said. “He’s just too big. But they will numb the pain and allow me to stitch his wing.”

The dragon snorted at the ground, rolling his eyes.

“I can splint this fracture,” Astain followed. “It will heal on its own so long as he does not walk on it for the remainder of spring. I need timber.”

Kellvo glanced at two of the surrounding soldiers. The two quickly nodded in compliance, and left to find the items the two clerics would need.

Within an hour’s time, Aleena and Astain had completed doctoring the middle aged dragon. His wing was now mended and sealed with an herbal paste, while his claw and ankle were rendered immobile with thick branches and hemp rope. The large dragon studied the mends to his broken body, then looked upon the group.

“What now?” the dragon asked humbly.

“Now, we feast,” Kellvo said with a slight smile. “Come, eat with us.”

The dragon shook his head slightly and smiled.

The husbands paired up with their wives, with the magic-users’ guardians close behind, and began their short journey back to the area of celebration. Vermithrex observed the red dragon cautiously as he limped by Kellvo’s side, trusting Kellvo’s judgment more than the red dragon himself. All was quiet, then the dragon finally spoke.

“Tell me, Kellvo,” the dragon said. “What is the key to lawfulness?”

Kellvo held firmly to Fai’s hand and thought deeply. “Hmm...” he paused. “Honesty. Yes that’s it. Honesty is the key to lawfulness.”

“How did you come to that?” the large dragon asked.

“If you are honest about one thing,” Kellvo responded. “Then it will lead you to be honest with other things. Eventually, you will begin being honest with yourself. By being honest with yourself, you will come to realize what is right and wrong, what is good and evil. Then, all things will come easily.”

Vermithrex smiled, pleased with Kellvo’s wise philosophy.

The red dragon thought deeply for a moment. “Yes,” he said softly. “I can see that.”

The group walked together in silence for a long moment.

“Kellvo,” the dragon finally spoke. “Since we are being honest, I should tell you that I have used all my breath weapons for the day. I’ve no fire left.”

“All is well,” Kellvo said. “I’ve no spells left for this day that would turn you into a roach.”

The dragon cringed, slightly frustrated with Kellvo’s earlier threat.

“I could cause you great pain by crushing you with my good claw,” the dragon said, raising his voice.

“And I could cause you great pain by kicking you in your bad one,” Kellvo said, not raising his voice at all.

The Days to Follow


The days to follow were wonderful times. Although the first two seasons were harsh, as starting a new land is never easy, by the end of fall all was in order. The elves, dwarves, and halflings returned to their clans and made hasty repairs to their own villages, then went farther inland to assist the newcomers. And it was there, a day's walk south of the great lake, that a new city was born. With timber brought from the forest and stones lifted from the ground, the inhabitants of the island built the new city. They worked together in peace, each making their own personal sacrifice to help build the city. And so it was called Duxbury, which meant “sacrifice” in some forgotten tongue. The city was great, and it attracted many a traveler as Kellvo had predicted it would.

As with any land there was a need for law, so Kellvo established a government. Of himself, his friends, and the gold dragon, he established a counsel. And from every colony a representative was appointed who would bring the word of the people to the Counsel. The people spoke, the Counsel heard, and the laws and fair taxes were established. All was good on the island.

Word of a land where all were free spread quickly. With time other colonies began emerging, dotting the land with new villages and flourishing the island with a barrage of cultures and beliefs. The economy flourished, and all was well.

In four years time all on the island was moving smoothly, and the Members of the Star found they had some time to rest. Kellvo returned to his writings of history and fantasy, while Fai continued with her wonderful poetry. Kijo wrote a symphony and some ballots, while Aleena pursued her passion in architecture. Centurion and Astain were so drawn to the great lake to the north that they spent many a day sailing its peaceful waters, thus it was named Astain Lake. As for Hal and Lurana, well they were elves, and all know the love elves have for the woods. They returned to their home village in the Ancient Woods, and lived there in peace. Kepler and Luna took their leave of the Army of the Star and returned to the Darklands to continue their quest, whatever it may be, vowing to return to the
island... some day.

Now word of Act Harte Doctre, the wounded red dragon who’s body and soul were mended, quickly reached the mainland. One by one, dragons began to appear on the island's shore. Some were wounded in battle, while others were chased by dragonslayers. But it was there on this magnificent island that they found mercy and refuge, regardless of the color of their hides. And in time this magnificent land became known as Dragon Island.

With its supreme army and heavy dragon population, the island became a safe haven, unchallenged by any foreign land. All lived there in peace, and happiness.

Time passed, and continued passing. The original Members of the Star had children of their own, and the bloodline continued. And like all things living, the original members eventually passed on. They all died peacefully in their homes, leaving a legacy to be told. Now the mighty Vermithrex lived centuries after their passings, but he too stayed on the island for the rest of his days, maintaining the government of the land and assuring that all things stayed the same. He eventually passed, and was buried by the magic-users beside Orex. Where Vermithrex’s body lay, golden poppies emerged. The flowers bloomed with a brilliance like I’d never seen, and spread across the land like wildfire.

As for me, well that’s another story. You see, this curse of mine began drawing attention to me. It seems others around me continued to grow old, while I did not. I decided, since I did have such a long life ahead of me, that I would travel the world. I disappeared for a few hundred years, then returned when I was long forgotten. I did this many a time and would return to my homeland periodically. I saw many wonderful things and experienced some wonderful adventures. These odd trinkets you see about my home are just some of the things I’ve collected on my journeys. One fine morning after a long adventure, my heart began to ache for the island as it always did. I decided to sail home, just like I’d done many a time before. I searched for a hundred years, but was never able to find my precious island again. Some say the seas rose and the island became submerged. Others say the seas fell, and that the island was now part of an enormous continent. I thought then that it mattered not, for I was fortunate enough to have had my  heart enchanted by this wonderful place, and I would carry that warmth with me forever.

I had long since given up my search for the island, until just recently that is. While going through an old chest I happened to come across some parchments dating back to the days of the Members of the Star. One was a poem written by Fai herself to her husband on that lonely night before the battle. I translated it, then took it to my friend Kim Carens. She changed the words a bit, but the meaning was still there, and she transformed it into a delightful song. The second parchment was a letter which Kellvo had written to Fai on that same lonely night. His words flowed with the love from his heart. I took a translation of the letter to my friend Brian Adams, and he too put the words to music and sang a wonderful song with his friend Melenie. But the most magnificent of the parchments was that of a short melody written by Kijo which he had titled “Friends.”

It took me years to convert the old style writings into modern day music. I took the completed interpretation to my good friend Joe Satriani, and a month later he invited me to his studio to hear the results. He played the melody exactly as it had been written, changing not even a single note. The familiar tune brought back a feeling of hope which I had not known for an eternity, and it was on that wonderful day that I decided to continue my search for the lost Dragon Island.

In my many years on this earth I have seen a lot change, but modernization doesn’t really impress one who once lived with dragons. I must admit though, I do like what has been done with the horse. Please, come outside and let me show you. This way, out the front door and to the street.

Ahh, there it is. Is it not brilliant? I must admit, polishing all that chrome and metal is quite tedious, but the results... it shines brighter than any treasure I’ve ever seen. And here, listen... it purrs like a happy dragon. The fine leather, shiny metal, beautiful detail... wonderful! I must say, Harley Davidson really does takes pride in his work.

Well, I’m off now. I’ve done much research lately and it seems as though the seas have fallen over time, and that my precious homeland may be somewhere in the mountains of California. So I’m off to continue my search, for such a wonderful place could never be subdued by time. I’m sure it is out there somewhere, and one day I will find my way home.

It has been a delight sharing this wonderful story with you. Why don’t you come again tomorrow and we’ll share another? Peace be with you my friend.

The End.

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