22440 YD (1096 CE) The Valley of Whipping Tails, Cydrithenna
“I’m going to fight four Stone Giants!” said Jemier, thrusting a stick into the air.
Renny jumped in with a stick of his own. “I’ll fight forty!” He thwacked Jemier’s stick, and the two played at swords while Varin crossed his arms and stared at the encampment, which had emptied of soldiers.
“None of you will be fighting anything,” Varin whined, kicking his toe into the downtrodden grass. “We’re not even with them.”
“Maybe not!” I grabbed a stick of suitable length using my off-hand, and prodded Varin, who swatted me away. I gave him a shrug and joined the Jemier-Renny duel.
“Make way for the blades of Foundry!” Eleric ran toward our three-way battle with a stick that had a tuft of shriveled leaves for a hilt. He had a roguish sparkle in his eyes, a devilish smirk, and a rosy-white complexion, with sun-gilded brown hair cut short and neatly coiffed. It did not stay so neat once he entered the battle. Jemier dodged; Renny parried. I hopped back.
We clashed sticks back and forth while those we served clashed blades on yonder battlefield for the second day in a row. Renny knocked the tip of Jemier’s stick so hard that it now dangled by woody threads, and all but one leaf remained on Eleric’s hilt. I’d already been disarmed once and hastily picked up another stick nearby after what I thought was the most daring somersault ever made in Drakon history.
Our fight wove between tents and smoldering campfires, the sounds of our play bouncing off barrows and earning giggles from service staff. We uttered whooshes and booshes with every swing and connection.
Eleric smirked and ran for a small, two-wheeled cart, which he scaled with ease. He balanced himself above the axle, daring someone to join him.
“You’re mine, Foundry!” I ran and leapt to join him, and we fought like debonair rogues.
“Not the prince!” shouted Jemier, and to Renny’s chagrin, he charged for our duel and jumped up beside me, causing the cart to seesaw and nearly topple Eleric onto our feet. Renny came to Eleric’s aid, and we balanced precariously on the wooden vehicle until I fell, and Jemier caught me. Our newly allied opponents hopped down, forcing the duel to the ground, and we continued our whooshes and booshes until we circled back to Varin.
Our mistake. He awaited us, clenching a teenaged branch.
“And then the gallant prince came to break up the war,” he said, smacking our sticks with every word, “and peace and quiet came back to the lands!” He cackled when the last of our sticks fell to the ground, and we were left rubbing the jolts out of our wrists.
“I found the perfect stick!” Corian rounded a tent, holding her sword like a warrior. When she saw us standing around Varin, who’d parted us with his fun-killing declaration of so-called peace, her shoulders dropped.
Her eyes narrowed.
And her shoulders squared again.
She raised her stick-sword and charged at Varin, who raised his branch-sword, and when their blades met, I swore I heard the clanking of metal. Splinters flew. Corian gained ground.
As she advanced upon him, Varin grew more irritated, his thick brow wrinkling and his cheeks dimpling into a sneer. With a forceful grunt, he shoved her to the ground.
“It’s just pretend, Varin!” I said. “You can’t use your real strength when you pretend!”
He held his branch against her neck.
She didn’t flinch.
He smirked. “I know it’s pretend. I pretended to shift into a dragon, so I’m stronger.”
“Dragons can’t hold swords!” I protested.
“I parshifted,” he said. Of course he would use a technique as dangerous as a partial shapeshift. “I still have my arms and everything, but I’m stronger.” He bared his teeth and pressed the branch into the ground. “See? I can still hold a sword.” He looked at her. “Do you yield to the peace offered by the gallant prince?”
She grabbed the branch and twisted her body, destabilizing Varin. He toppled to the ground.
“You can’t grab a blade!” he said, trying to recover. “Just ask my brother!”
“I’m wearing magick gloves!” she countered. She wrested the branch free, turned it around so that she held the hilt, and subdued Varin. “I will not yield.”
Our cheers drowned Varin’s response. Jemier even concocted a jingle about the gallant prince’s demise, which Eleric and Renny joined him in singing.
Varin stood, brushing himself of grass and dirt. “Fine, if you fools want to sit here and play, then so be it. I only wanted you to stop so that we could watch the battle, but I guess I’m going by myself.”
Renny perked up. “You’re going to watch the battle?”
“Uh-huh. You can’t see real swords and real Giants when you play.”
“I want to go!” said Renny.
“Me too!” said Jemier.
Varin gave me a smug grin. “How about the girls?”
“Shut up,” said Corian. “Of course I’m going. Someone needs to make sure you all don’t die.”
Varin rolled his eyes. “We’re not gonna die, Scaleborn. Give it a break.” He folded his arms at Eleric. “Well, Eleric of House Foundry? Are you coming, or are you staying behind with my damaged brother?”
Eleric looked between us. “Prince Solin? Are you coming?”
My head lolled back, and I groaned at the sky. “Fine, I’m coming.”
“Ha hah!” Varin clapped his hands together. “Wait here.” He dipped inside a tent not belonging to him or our father and emerged with a sheathed sword. “This should do!”
“You can’t!” I said.
“Oh, why not? We should be protected. I’m a prince, and all of this technically belongs to me anyway. Just don’t go grabbing the blade with your bare hands this time.”
Renny chuckled again.
“That’s not what happened,” I said.
“Oh, shut up, little brother, and follow me.”
Varin took us around the edge of the camp where we darted out of sight of those remaining. It seemed impossible for the six of us to huddle so close, especially when we came upon breaks in the bushes and transport vehicles.
“We are never going to make it, Varin,” said Corian.
“Shut up. Of course we will. We just need the soldiers to look the other way.”
“It’s their job to look in our direction,” she said. “Mostly to protect you and Solin!”
Renny shushed us and pointed. We clustered closer, our breath collectively stilled, behind the flowering shrub.
“I’m going to fall,” I whispered, having been nudged by whoever was behind me.
“No, you’re not,” said Jemier. He wrapped his arms around me to steady me.
“Why won’t she leave?” said Varin of the soldier who really wanted to stay at her post.
“I have an idea,” I said. “Everyone be quiet.”
I shut my eyes and focused, drawing up the first animal that came to mind. A spritely dog of caramel fur and floppy ears darted past the soldier.
“What the hell is that supposed to be, little brother?”
“A dog,” I said.
“Dogs don’t run like that,” said Renny of the awkward way the dog galloped.
“Who cares,” said Varin. He pointed to the soldiers as they sprinted after the dog. “Let’s go!”
We scrambled away from the shrub and toward the tree line where we kept up with Varin, who ran as though he knew where he was going.
“Do you hear that?” said Jemier, who ran alongside me. Thunder rolled in the distance. “The roar of our ancestors!”
Varin hadn’t steered us wrong. We broke out of the woods and came face-to-face with the clamor of battle. Massive Stone Giants, their skin the wan grays and browns of boulders, barreled down upon our fellow Drakons and our allies. On yonder field, Daemons hovered steadfast behind an Elven unit, their bodies alight with colorful power. The magick of the elements soared over the heads of soldiers while bodies fell underfoot.
I had never seen anyone die before. They fell, and they never got back up. It seemed…wrong. Doll-like.
“I want to get closer,” said Varin. “You can’t see anything good from here.”
“What good is there to see?” said Eleric.
Renny and Jemier roared with delight as they ran with Varin toward the fray. Corian took a more cautious approach, and Eleric trailed after her. I walked with unease toward the cacophony, feeling as though someone had to watch them or else they would all become dolls, lost forever in death.
Yet we drew nearer until we were at a natural barrier of the battlefield: a broken fence that had once sheltered the land’s crops. We stayed behind the crossed wooden beams, watching Drakons fell those we were told were our enemies, and Varin whooped.
“I want to take one on myself!” He unsheathed the stolen sword and placed one foot on the lower beam of timber.
I grabbed him by the arm. “Wait!”
A horde of Giants tromped by us, flanking the unit of Drakons that we observed.
“Get back!” shouted Corian.
I yanked my brother off the fence. He dropped the sword, and we ran as a Giant tumbled toward us, colossal and heavy. The thud of his fall could not cover up the agony of his screams, and we froze, horrified and transfixed on the bloodiness before us.
“He’s in agony!” said Renny.
Corian thwapped my arm and pointed. “It’s the king!”
My father, King Karrdil, slew Giant after Giant, wielding a sword heavier and taller than Varin. Beside me, Jemier howled with glee, and Varin clenched his fists and pumped them in the air as though this were a spectator sport. Renny blanched, and Eleric grimaced, watching from between knitted fingers. Corian trembled but stood strong. I tried to mimic her.
My father’s blade plucked foe after foe from existence. Supported by General Othuron Wraithstone, Jemier’s father, the two destroyed the pack of Giants that had attempted to flank the unit. Their focus narrowed by the battle, they strode right past us but not before thrusting a sword each into the writhing Giant who’d nearly crushed us.
“I want to do that,” said Varin, grinning with a curled lip.
The field trembled.
“Earthquake?” said Renny.
“Magick,” said Corian.
The ground beneath us shuddered. Clumps of dirt entangled with grass levitated into the air alongside sharp pebbles. We ran backward, tripping over the chunks of land that rose to meet the sky, smelling the moisture once buried in the luscious soil and watching worms fall like raindrops. Boulders shimmied out from the dirt and launched at my father and the general.
My father shoved Jemier’s father aside and grasped his pendant just as the boulder hit.
“No!” I cried out.
“Father!” shouted Varin.
“Wait!” said Jemier.
The boulder cracked like thunder into a plume of dust and dirt shrapnel. We shielded our eyes from the onslaught of shattered land on our heads. A gale cut through us, and the battlefield soughed. Through the shouts of battle and the clinks of metal on metal, a dark mass emerged, winged and graceful, before being joined by another.
Jemier hollered with joy, leading the cheer for the dragons. I smiled, watching as dragon after dragon ascended to the sky, their wings beating hard against the air, their roars mighty, their foes soon to be defeated.
“I want to do that,” I said. Drakanthropy. The gift of the Last Dragons to our Gaian ancestors. The bane of the Stone Giants, who had helped their Fire and Frost kin hunt the Last Dragons into extinction.
“We need to go,” said Eleric, the only one amongst us who would never shift. No one from House Foundry could. “We need to go now—whoa!”
We spun around to find ourselves face-to-face with a Stone Giant.
“Tiny Drakon children,” he said, or so I thought. I’d only just begun studying the language.
We collectively froze. His foot looked as big as one of us, and the spikes on his mace were longer than my arms.
“Tiny royal children!” He raised his mace over his head. “I think I’ll smash you!” He let out a cry, then stopped mid-swing.
I glanced at those around me. Sweat poured down our faces. I held my finger to my lips. Renny breathed too hard. I breathed too hard. If any of us made a peep, the illusion I’d just cast would break.
“Chairs?” said the Giant. He leaned down, peering at us, bringing his face closer and closer to those of us in the fore-ranks.
My stomach stirred. Blood drained from my face, and my feet tingled. Two more Giants approached, staring at their comrade as though he were crazy.
“What is wrong with you?” said one. “This is no time for mourning the dead.”
“Why are there chairs in the middle of the battlefield?” he replied.
She shrugged. “Perhaps the foolish Drakons thought this a sport.” She wasn’t entirely wrong. “Come on, let’s go!” She and her comrade tugged on our predator, and the three tromped back to the battle with a mighty cry.
I gathered my breath. “Everyone…” I whispered. “Everyone…run…now.”
The illusion broke. Varin dashed ahead, his legs slightly longer, his body slightly stronger. Renny followed, waiting for Corian, who zipped past him. Eleric shook himself of the moment and ran.
“Come on, drathos!” said Jemier. “You don’t have to wait for us!” He grabbed my hand and we ran, legs pumping harder than they had ever pumped, until our lungs were aflame and our bodies were safely back in camp.