Hunt - Chapter Two
~ 2 ~
16 Arodus 4692 AR; Clydwell Plaza, Kenabres

“-test weakness is.â€

It was a question that Shayliss did not really want to speak out loud. She barely even wanted to think of it as she knew the answer. In fact, it was plainly obvious to her what her greatest weakness was and coming to terms with it was something she was not mentally ready for.

Strune did not seem to understand her facial expressions this time. Her mouth opened as if she was about to answer the question but her words were drowned out by the sudden uproar of cheers. The pure force of the noise threatened to crush Shayliss coming from all directions as it did. The strix turned to look toward the center of the arena and clapped in an enthusiasm the red-haired woman had not seen in the week or so that they have been travelling together.

Shayliss followed her gaze and watched as an armored man stepped out onto the rugged floor. The armor was of the style that was common with most of the Crusaders: plates of metal that covered chest, shoulder and waist. A skirt of cloth and leather fell to slightly below the man’s knees and gauntlets of layered metal plates covered his hands. At his side, strapped to a loosely hung weapon’s belt was a longsword within a very well kept sheath and at his back was a tower shield of metal and wood reinforcement. His leather, knee-high boots hitting the rug would not have been heard even without the crowd.

Once he reached the center of the arena, he waved at the crowd for a second before pulling off his helmet. Under the helmet, one could clearly see the contrast of tanned skin and white receding hair. A bushy moustache fell around his mouth and partly down into the neck of his armor. Scars lined his face, the worst one being the deep gash that raced diagonally up his cheek. It was a horribly deep one that could have only been healed by a cleric or other holy warrior. Yet, it did not detract from his wizened features. Shayliss could imagine how handsome he must have been in his youth.

Despite his age, he was moving and waving without any sign of wear and tear on his body. And his voice was something that was created to be carried along troop lines.

“Welcome citizens of Kenabres to Armasse!â€

The crowd went wild again, this time even louder than before. Shayliss wondered how they could be so loud. The power of this festival and the hope it brought its attendants must have been strong.

While they cheered, Shayliss leaned over to Strune and asked, “Who is that?â€

Strune, while clapping, leaned toward her and answered, “Lord Hulrun, prelate of Kenabres.â€

“By the audience’s reaction, I assume he is well liked?â€

She nodded, “Everyone loves him. The citizens practically begged him to take up the position.â€

“Today,†Hulrun continued once everyone quieted down, “We celebrate those who came before. Those who are. And those who come after. We watch as brave men and women prove to us that they have the will and commitment to fight alongside their brothers and sisters in arms. We also watch stories to excite, to hope and to cherish. But most of all, we come together and share the hope that our gods and goddesses bring upon us every day.â€

He pointed at what seemed like a random point in the city. Shayliss could see nothing over the high walls that separated Old Kenabres from its adjacent districts, “Once our clock strikes noon the festivities will begin!â€

The crowd cheered again and everyone waited for noon. Judging by the sun, Shayliss estimated that they only had five minutes to wait.

Unfortunately, that noon never seemed to come.

Two minutes later, a bright light shone from the west, Shayliss’ right. It was enough to shift and elongate Hulrun’s shadows sharply. The darkness caused by his body washed over the cathedral and covered it by the lack of light. The light was as if the sun was coming up from the wrong direction.

Everyone turned to see a pillar of red-orange fire, bright blue lightning and pitch black smoke. The lightning was unnatural, spiralling up with the pillar of fire instead of shooting outward. Black smoke roiled in a circle as if being blown in all directions. A mere second later, tremors shook the ground violently enough to crack the bleacher’s supports but not enough to break them entirely. People screamed and panic started to rise where cheers were only moments before.

But no sound was louder than a roar of pure hatred and rage. The roar shook Shayliss to the core and the primal instinct to run and hide shot through her system. She looked up just in time to see a form, a halfling woman with commoner clothing, rise into the air on wings just starting to pop out of her miniscule back. As Shayliss watched, the tiny woman swiftly shifted into an ancient silver dragon. Her scales glimmered in the great light as she raced like a dart toward the pillar of fire.

Strune, staring in shock at the dragon, muttered a word that Shayliss could only read from her lips, “Terendalev.â€

“That was Terendalev?†Shayliss asked as she was repeatedly shoved and hit by the fleeing citizens of Kenabres.

“That is the Kite.†Strune continued to mutter, “The pillar is coming from the Kite. But that would mean...†Her sentences trailed off as her train of thought apparently hit something she did not like at all. Her dark face blanched as one last word escaped her lips, “Wardstone.â€

As if her words were the cue, another roar from Terendalev cut through the noise. This time, it was answered in kind by another beastial growl. Shayliss turned to look and saw Terendalev being chased by a demon the size of five men.

His skin was the shade of blood just spilled from a body. Massive, bat-like wings spread out to three times his body width and four horns curved from his head, two from the top and two from his jaws. Each horn had a series of metallic rings wrapped around them and their tips looked like they could skewer a hundred bulls without issue. Four orange eyes came down in diagonals from the horns and he had no nose. Instead, his mouth opened to cover two thirds of his head.

Gleaming black plates covered his torso and legs and more covered his burly shoulders. His legs were backward kneed and ended in hooves like a bull. Muscles that made any body-builder feel ashamed that they had not worked out enough stretched his skin which only added to his frightful appearance. But what was the worst were his weapons. In his left hand was a longsword the length of a bridge and with a blade that ended in a sharp wedge that could cut a feather or a mountain equally. In his right hand was a fifty-foot long whip that seemed to be made out of pure fire. There was no substance to it but it was masterfully controlled as the demon snapped it forward.

Only Shayliss’s quick thinking prevented Strune from falling backward in pure surprise and horror. The red-haired woman could feel the Strix’s body shaking uncontrollably. With barely a whisper, Strune said, “Khorramzadeh.â€

The whip of fire shot forward and prepared to wrap around the dragon’s foot. Terendalev, with the grace given to a cat instead of a five story creature of heavy scale, spiraled to the side letting the whip only grace her side. She then curved around and sent a plume of icy steam raced for the demon. The demon endured the blast of winter that sent shivers of cold down Shayliss’s spine and raised his whip up to slam down.

Instinctively looking down the whip’s path of attack, Shayliss found that if Terendalev dodged the attack, the fire would crack down upon those in the staff corner who were immobilized with fright.

Without hesitation, she vaulted over the railing of the bleachers and ran as fast as she could toward the staff yelling, “Move out of the way!â€

She was too late. All the staff did was stare at her in confusion as the whip came down on top of their heads. Many were crushed under the weapon’s supposed weight. More were burned to death by its immense heat. Those who survived had severe burns and missing limbs.

Shayliss stopped in reaction to the sudden brutality. In one second, all of those men and women were lost. The rest were at risk of dying too.

From the corner of her eye she could see clerics still at the healing tent. Strune flew to stand beside her and her other companions were running from where they had been, near the judge’s tent. Shayliss was briefly relieved that they still lived.

“Mordria, Strune and Snaga,†she said, “Get those injured toward the healer’s tent! The rest of us will-â€

She was interrupted by more tremors and the sound of stone crumbling to gravel. Everyone in the group turned to see that rips were starting to form in the ground. Demons of all shapes and sizes then started pouring out of them like water from a fountain. Screams of demonic joy rose in the air followed by screams of terror and sounds of combat.

“Go!†Shayliss yelled, “The rest of us will cover them! We need to protect the injured and the healers!â€

The group moved to follow Shayliss’ orders. Each of the stronger ones of the group grabbed two staffers and as a mass shuffled them toward the healer's tent. Others, if they could move, joined with the group while Shayliss, Kaira and Blueeye protected them against the demons who had sensed weak prey.

It was obvious that the situation around them frightened the group as a whole. The shifting of winter cold and summer heat from above was a constant reminder that the only reason they were alive right now was because of the ancient dragon willing to protect them from the worst. Without that protection, no one would be alive right now.

However, that did not mean the fight down below was easy. Babaus, Invidiaks, Nabasus and more rushed at the group trying to find easy targets. To their surprise, they found that the wall of Shayliss, Kaira and Blueeye was hard to break through. Especially when Strune and Snaga assisted with their occasional spell when they could spare the attention. While fighting, Strune was telling them how to avoid the worst of what each demon had to offer and Shayliss used that information to direct them forward.

They could only get halfway toward the tent before the worst happened.

A roar of pain shook the air above and Shayliss had the chance to look up at the sky. Terendalev, the guardian dragon of Kenabres, fell. She crashed hard into the Cathedral of St. Clydwell and could not get up again before Khorammzadeh slammed her back into the ground. The balor lord’s crash sent a rift racing through the plaza.

And right under the group’s feet.

The ground opened to swallow the group whole. Demons were able to fly upward, but stones and injuries prevented Strune from doing the same. Only darkness was below the group and Shayliss was sure that it would be certain death that finds them.

However, while Khorammzadeh stood over the silver dragon with sword ready to sever, she turned toward the group. The image was the same exact one from her dream. A taloned hand rose and an arcane rune formed. Shayliss could feel the magic take hold of her and soften her descent.

The last thing she saw before the ground closed again and darkness took hold was the demonic longsword cut into scale and flesh. The ancient silver dragon’s head fell.

Terendalev was dead.

Shayliss stared down at the runed scale. It pulsed slightly with subtle power. As it did, she understood the gift that Terendalev had given her. She could use the scale to levitate in the air. It was not the power of flight, but it was probably the best that she would be able to get without powerful magic.

She kissed the scale and closed her eyes, “I will protect them for you, Terendalev.â€

The scale pulsed again then faded. That is when she noticed more flashes in the rubble. With work, and caution around the limbs, she found four more scales, each with different runes etched into them and each with differing pulse rhythms. But she could feel that each called out toward a person in the cavern. She looked back to find that Strune and Mordira were just starting to help a third survivor stand up.

He was a tall man with long white hair and a thinness that some would consider frail. Long ears poked out of the hair showing his elven heritage. His blue, maroon and black robes with white fur were ruined from the attack and fall and the staff next to him was elegant but dirty as well. However, that was all tame compared to his face. Blood caked practically every spot of skin that was not already covered with layers and layers of bandages soaked with even more blood. The only things uncovered by bandages were his mouth and nose which he used to breath in shallow breaths of pain. Strune and Kaira must have run out of strength to heal the man.

In Shayliss’ hands, the scales each seemed to be pointing toward a specific person: Mordira, Strune, Snaga, or Kaira. It was as if the scales chose each of them to hold and use their power.

She started walking back toward the others.

“I know it hurts.†Strune was saying, “We will take care of you as soon as we gain back our strength.â€

The elf nodded, “I understand. We need to get moving. There is no telling what kinds of dangers are lurking here.â€

Strune smiled while Horgus growled in annoyance, “Of course Aravashnial.â€

By then Shayliss returned to the group and silently started handing out the scales in reverence. Each of the chosen looked down at the scales and seemed to remember. Strune closed her eyes, filling with tears, and started whispering a silent prayer to Iomedae. While Shayliss did not hear all of it, she understood that the woman prayed for Terendalev’s safe passage to the afterlife as well as the safety of them and those who survived above. Snaga, silent as ever, closed his fist around the scale. However, she could feel the pure anger that radiated like heat from his body. It caused her to take a small step backward. His reaction, coupled with the fact that he was currently merged with his eidolon, Nephalim, the creature a translucent outline over his body, was something that Shayliss did not want to unleash.

Mordira looked down at the scale and she did not try to hide the anger in her body. Her sharp teeth snapped together in a snarl and she said, “I will kill that demon.â€

Kaira, however, fell into a thoughtful haze. Blueeye did not seem to understand what was going on with his master, but he seemed to be able to sense something. He padded over to her side and sat down leaning against her leg. She patted his head twice then shook herself back into reality.

Shayliss expected the others to make some kind of comment. Especially the grumpy noble. Yet, minutes passed and everyone was silent. None of them made a remark and Anevia was even praying along with Strune. That surprised Shayliss but she did not mention it not wanting to break the reverent silence.

When it was done, the others seemed to have gathered themselves enough to move on. Shayliss had planned what they would do in the meantime silently with Aravashnial. They had decided to have Strune, with her light, and Mordira, with her darkvision, take the ends of the group. The three survivors would stay in the middle. Shayliss and Kaira would take lead behind Strune while Snaga watched the rear with Mordira.

Before they moved, though, Aravashnial said, “I need someone to help guide me. I cannot see anything.â€

Anevia quickly offered, “I’ll do it. You all need all of the focus you can get to help us all get out of here.â€

Horgus nodded and Shayliss had hoped he was finally willing to tolerate the others. Instead, he looked daggers at Anevia and Aravashnial, “Also, to help me escape any dangers the cavern may hold,†he emphasized the word â€~dangers’, “I will reward you with one thousand gold.â€

Shayliss blinked at that. While she was not doing this for the money that was a lot to just throw at the group. The man really wanted to get out of here. And was really suspicious of the other two.

She shook her head and said, “Let’s get going. We have a long trip ahead of us.â€
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