A man walked in, he had soft blue eyes and white blond hair. "Welcome, are you here to buy?"
"Perhaps," the man answered, and had Danjel been quicker he would have noticed that the man was probing his thoughts. But as it was Danjel simply began giving the man a lecture about the quality of the beasts they sold.
At that same moment Althea stood in a forest clearing about a half mile from the dragon farm. She waited until she felt Angel lower the spells on the dragons, then she opened her mind to them. I have had you freed, by the honor which you are so proud of you must listen to my request.
We will listen to you, if you give us your name. Answered one of the dragon's.
My name is Althea. Please come to me so we can talk.
Within a matter of moments the entire clearing was filled with dragons that ranged from gray to green, blue to purple and mixtures of almost all colors aside from metallic and black, red and white. We are here. Now what is it that you would request of us, Lady Althea? For you are well known and well liked and we will serve you in any way we can.
If that is true than I ask that you come join a war. Althea hated using her influence with the dragons to further her own needs but she did not think she had much of a choice. Know that this is a request not a demand, she continued, and you are welcome to say no if you wish. Althea continued to tell the dragons what she wished of them and the dangers of the situation, afterward she told them if they wanted to serve her to fly to Snow immediately, if not they were free to do whatever they wished. She then opened her mind to Angel and the two vanished, returning to Snow.
The sun was setting in the east, today it had been the red sun, meaning that again it would rise the next mourning. It seamed all of Snow was in the courtyard to hear the announcement that King Lerel was going to present. Althea tried to ignore the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. All was going great. The dragon's had arrived and they had been allowed to choose their riders. The army was quickly becoming powerful in the one week that they had together. Most of the cities were already being filled with food and supplies for the siege, though it was slow and tedious work. Heaven had rallied together aid from several different countries, so, all in all, everything was far better than anyone had expected.
Hope was beginning to fill the hearts of everyone, and the nearer the Dark Night drew the more the people welcomed it, they would be victorious, they would soon be the highest power on Atlantis. But now the King stood before them, some huge announcement to tell. He had not told even Artemisa what it would be, and that, more than anything else, made Althea nervous.
Althea noticed a smile on his old, warn lips. She watched as he stepped forward and in a tiny voice mumbled something, the man next to her instantly repeated what he had said loud enough for the crowd to hear. "The King has found a way to stop this war." No one reacted to that statement. "He received a letter from Azure, Armand and Ares." Again the man paused as the King whispered something else. Althea felt herself turn red with worry, he was going to make Artemisa marry Azure! Surely this was a mistake, something had to be done. "All the Lord Azure wants from this war is." Even as he spoke Artemisa appeared on the stage, her eyes wide with fear. She interrupted the man there.
"Money. He wishes to tax every man, woman and child in Dragon- Snow!" Althea shouted.
"No, ma'am, that is not what he wanted," the man who had been speaking said quickly. "He wanted your hand in marriage."
Althea looked around at the faces of those that surrounded her. They were shocked, some angry and some looked relieved. Althea knew that Artemisa finally would be forced to defy her father, and they had been preparing for that moment.
"And what else does he want? Ask the King if taxes were not included in this demand?" Artemisa demanded. The King mumbled something and then the man turned to the crowd.
"Taxes were included but he asks for very little." The man said. Althea noticed that the King was saying something to Artemisa but the girl ignored him.
"Do you want to sign away your lives to this mad man?" Artemisa demanded suddenly, "are you willing to give him your money? Your thrown, everything?"
"We have no choice!" Someone in the crowd shouted.
"Yes you do! Already the battle is being planned, and I am willing to stand by your side until the battle is won. I am even willing to defy my father, for he does not see what danger he is putting us in if we allow Azure to take the thrown!" That comment gathered the response that Artemisa had wanted, word of Azure's cruelty and of his evil had traveled wide, and now everyone knew what sort of man he was. They feared and hated him. Not only was he a sorcerer he was also a vampire, and though Draven also was a vampire-demon mixture they knew that he was at least on their side. "I will not marry anyone who plans to harm my nation!" Artemisa announced, "and I ask now, will you follow me?"
The crowd cheered wildly, Althea felt her skin crawl, she turned and ran, the plan that they had hoped would never be needed had just been put into action. About half of the nobles would support King Lerel, the other half- supported Artemisa's cause, and now the half that fought them would have to die or be removed from power. Althea caught a glimpse of Heaven also hurrying off the stage to help Althea carry out the plan. Artemisa continued talking, her father turning red with anger. But the people supported Artemisa, they did not want to be led or taxed by the Black Dragon.
Althea made her way into the city while Heaven went to his fellow knights. Althea found Angel quickly and he stopped the meeting he was in instantly upon seeing the look on Althea's face.
"It is time, Angel, the nobles will start a war soon." Althea said, gasping for air.
Angel raised his eyebrows and smiled. "Well my men are ready. Do not worry Althea."
"How can I help it, Angel?" Althea asked annoyed.
Angel did not seam to hear her, he was already talking to his "men" in his mind.
Delilah heard the message from Angel and went to the home of a man, a noble who was backing King Lerel. She found him at dinner with his wife and children. Behind him was his noble friends who watched as she walked to the noble. She was dressed as a prostitute and her eyes sparkled wildly. She pulled a necklace that belonged to the noble family from her pocket and threw it on the ground. "You jerk! How could you! You promised that you would marry me." Delilah shouted. The noble lord turned red with anger and confusion.
"Excuse me?" He asked, but already his wife was staring at him in anger. She had seen her husband with this woman several times and her story was far from unbelievable. The noble man suddenly looked into her eyes and was struck with panic. "No, no, do not believe her!" He began to shout but already the other nobles were coming to hold him down. Delilah waited until she was sure that the man's fate was sealed, then she walked out of the room.
In this case the end must justify the means! Heaven thought as he walked toward a noble man his rooms. He was followed by two other knights and a noble. He knocked harshly at the door. It was opened to reveal a chubby man with dark eyes.
"Sir I am sorry but you will have to come with me." Heaven said coldly.
"What, I do not understand." The man argued, looking at the grim faces before him.
"I have gained some news that you were taking bribes. Sir, because of this you must come with me." Heaven said icily.
"No, this can not be real!" The man shouted suddenly turning red with rage. "I know what this is about. The Princess is an evil woman!" He shouted, Heaven responded by turning red, not with anger but rather guilt.
"And you add treason to your sins." With that the two knights that were with him grabbed the man and begun to lead him toward the dungeons.
Althea also helped in the massacred, along with Draven, Heaven, Artemisa and Angel. They used everything from lies to illusions to incarcerate or remove from power ever man and woman that opposed them. The few that were too powerful were killed. No one could prove that there was any foul play. Though everyone knew it. The King was left powerless and did not hesitate. Filled with fear and anger he retreated into his rooms and never again left them. Artemisa was filled with an incurable guilt. No one had anything to say that would cheer her up.
The power was theirs, and the Dark Night was near. The cities were ready. Almost everything was as prepared as it could be, but all knew that death was the next thing that would come upon them. Althea felt the days draw nearer and with them she heard a call from Ares. She was not sure if he was summoning her magically or if she simply wanted to return to the freedom which she had with him. But it did not matter, to return to him now would be death. And even over the few short weeks that she had known Angel, Artemisa, Heaven and even Draven, she felt as though they were worth her trust more than anyone else.
The sun was setting overhead. It was the white sun, a good omen. She looked at the warriors in front of her. Dragon Lords, and they were learning quickly. The dragonetts were happy to help, it being fun amusement for them.
Eclipse sat at Althea's side, his eyes on the dragons. "They are learning well." He said.
"So are you." Althea answered, watching as Pixie paced back and forth in front of them. The young dragonett had become especially fond of Draven and she was extremely "distressed" to be away from him. Althea smiled at the gold and red dragonett. She looked at Althea warmly.
"Leo hold your head high, and keep your stomach muscles flexed when you are fighting!" Althea shouted at one her especially gifted students. She hurried to his side and showed him how to hold his weapon more effectively. "When you are on a dragon you hold the joust slightly different than you would on a horse." She explained.
"Thank you, Lady." Leo said coldly, his gold eyes avoiding Althea as though he was ashamed.
"Althea!" A shrill voice stopped her from saying anything more to the man. She recognized it as Mischief even before she turned. The pastel colored dragonett flew to her side. His eyes a bright, excited green.
"Althea, I have a secret to tell you." Eclipse began.
"Yes?" Althea asked, walking to where Leo could not hear what was said.
"There is the most distressing news!" Mischief announced proudly. "The mighty army of Dark Night is distressingly near!"
"What? Who told you this, Miss?"
"Heaven. He said that I should come to you immediately. He said that I should tell you the distressing army is almost entering Dragon- Snow." Mischief again looked as though the news was something great. Althea knew that he was looking forward to the exciting adventure.
"Call a meeting of the council for tonight." Althea demanded, "tell some of the other dragonetts to help relay the message."
Mischief bowed his head in his submissive fashion then hurried away. Althea turned to look at Eclipse, who had heard the whole conversation from where he sat.
"What am I going to do?" Althea asked exasperated once she reached the dragon's side.
"I do not know, Althea." Eclipse answered, "though I will help however I can."
"I know you will, Eclipse." Althea said, looking at the small creature with love.
Pixie looked at them hopefully. "Does this mean that I get to see Draven! I have been distressed by being away from him for so long!"
Althea sighed, knowing that the word of the day was now distressed, she could not hide her amusement. She touched the necklace which Ares had given her, it seamed like years ago they had been together. She still could feel the power of the object. She trembled in want, it would take her to him. It would take her away from this life of harps and ballrooms, of deceit rather than simple power. Althea pushed aside her thoughts, she closed her eyes and thought of Angel, Artemisa and the rest. They needed her as she needed them.
Angel was in a room alone with Delilah talking when a knock at the door awoke them from their peaceful conversation. "What?" Angel demanded, knowing that as the war drew nearer he was placed in more and more danger. Some of the men he knew would turn on him. Some already had, he thought, glancing at Delilah wonderingly.
"I have a message for you from the Lord." Came an answer. Angel felt his hand touch the dagger at his side.
"Leave it!" Angel ordered, and heard the man hurry away. Soon as his magic told him that the hall was clear he opened the door. On the ground was a single scroll. Angel grabbed it and shut the door. He scanned the thing for magic and found none.
"What is it?" Delilah asked.
"Nothing of your concern." Angel answered, stepping to the side of the room her opened the scroll. It read;
Surely you remember me? I am dear Althea's owner, my name is Ares.
Now that the introductions are over I wish to ask you a favor. I see that my brother and Azure have gotten really close. I think that they share many secrets that I do not have the elite standing to know of. But I also fear that those same secrets will be my ruin.
Surely you know that me writing to you is one of two things, a trap, or a highly risky call for help. And I know that you also are wondering why you should help me. Let me put this simply, you and your kingdom will crumble if you do not have my help. And I will surely fall to my brother if I do not have yours. So we are even, both in need of each other.
I hope that you do not see this as a sign of weakness on my part. Because I am not weak, I am not a traitor or a coward, I am not a fool either. That is why I turn to you rather than my dear Lady Althea, or the Princess. They would never hear out what I have to say.
All I have to give you to show that this is honest is my word. And that even sounds like a desperate attempt to fool you. But it is all I have. If you choose to help me then I will help you. Think about this. And I will write to you and tell you what aid I need when the time comes.
Sincerely, Ares of Trinity
Angel read the letter twice then threw it into the fire. Watching as the paper sputtered in the flame. He turned back to Delilah. "Things may be worse than I thought."
He was about to say more when he noticed the form of a small dragonett at his window.
Leo looked at the Princess enviously as he practiced with his sword. He wished for one second that he was royal. That he had the power to start and stop wars as she did. He then turned his eyes to Althea. They certainly did not look like twins to him. Of course he had not seen a lot of twins in his life. They both looked like a mixture of Nymph and Demon. Though that could not be true, the King was neither Nymph nor Demon.
Though already there were many rumors that Artemisa was not the real Princess. Her and Rose looked nothing alike. They could not be sisters. But Leo did not say anything to Artemisa on the matter, no one else did either, for fear of the wrath that they would call upon themselves.
Althea announced that practice was over for the night. She told the dragons something privately then she hurried away with her "twin."
"I heard that there was a meeting of the war council tonight. That does not happen unless something is seriously wrong." One of the knights was saying.
"Look, the dragons!" One of the other knights said. Leo looked up to see four dragons take to the air.
"Looks like they are going somewhere." Another observed. "Knowing the way that little girl Althea rules this army them damn beasts know more about this war then we do!"
Leo felt his fists ball involuntarily, he hated when the men spoke such treason, though when he looked around he saw that that comment had offended more than just himself.
So Leo managed to ignore the comment in favor of the other knights and went to talk to them. He knew a few, Jason of Thlas, Myre of Riold, and even a girl, one of the few that served with them, by Althea's new allowance, Lady Katiya of Meadial. She caught his attention more then anyone else, and she also looked at him somewhat curiously. She was an odd girl, her heritage hard to tell, she obviously had some elven in her, but also some sprite, and the mixture of several other breeds that mixed in such a way to make her seem to have a little of everything. She had large royal blue eyes and short violet hair. Her features were strong but feminine.
"Fools! What do they think they are, I can not believe Lady Althea is not aware of their treason!" Jason was growling under his breath.
"I am sure she knows." Katiya answered.
"You overestimate her as much as they underestimate her, she has a lot to think about. She can not see everything." Myre said.
Leo was about to add his opinion when one of the other men, a rather large fellow, yelled for everyone to hear. "I can not believe we are being led by a girl!"
Katiya turned red with wrath, though no one was paying attention to her until she suddenly stepped before the man, who was known as Bear by many. "And what is that supposed to mean?"
"Kat get back here!" Jason shouted worriedly, but Leo grabbed his arm.
"It is her battle, let her fight it." Leo ordered, the man looked as though he was going to fight Leo's hold, but then he caught sight of the same thing Leo had seen, Althea stood in the shadows, watching.
"That means that you are all the same. Neither you or Althea should be anywhere near an army." He was saying, but before he finished his insults, Kat lunged at him with surprising speed and energy. Her eyes were bright with anger and her movements betrayed that she knew more than she had ever shown about hand to hand combat.
The Bear, though he was caught off guard, was far larger than Kat, and managed to take her attack without flinching then move away before she could do anything especially mean.
"You cower from me, what is wrong, scared?" Kat snapped, now into the fight.
"Never!" He answered and lunged at her. Kat dodged with a superior speed, managing to avoid his attack completely. She then waged another of her own, this time she drew her sword. Bear did the same, his eyes squinted against the glare of the sun. Leo was even scared for Kat when he saw the blood lust in the man's face. But with another glance at Althea he knew that he should not do anything to help her.
The battle continued, though no longer were there several attacks. The two warriors circled each other carefully, for once engaged a sword fight lasts only seconds. And neither soldier was ready yet. Both waited for the other to make some tiny mistake, one that would seal their fate.
Then suddenly there it was, Kat blinked, stealing a glance at the far end of the battlefield. Had the other warrior thought about it he would have noticed that she was not looking at anything, also he may have noticed that her muscles were flexed and ready. But he did not notice, for in battle you strike the instant you see the chance, there was no time for him to consider the possibility that this was a trap and attack after thought.
Soon as he moved forward Kat dropped to her knee and slipped her sword quickly into the man's gut. He fell to the side, his eyes rolling back into his head as he twitched and moaned in agony. The wound was fatal, but not quick, he would be dying for days. So the crowd began to shout, "mercy, mercy, mercy." In answer Kat slit his throat, watching coldly as blood trickled rapidly from both injuries.
The sound of a single human clapping slowly y turned all eyes from the dying man to Althea as she walked from the shadows. "Well done, lady." She complimented.
Kat bowed to hide her surprise then stood straight to face Althea, whom looked her over calmly. Kat was tall for a girl, she had short spiky violet hair that was common of her type of Sprite. She had pail skin and well-toned muscles, and her eyes were a mint green, they seamed to notice everything.
"Now this is the loyalty that I want to see among the Dragon Lords. And, just to let you know," Althea snapped, turning to glare viciously at one of the other men, "I do know what sort of respect you hold for me. And I will tell you this now, if you are not ready to be led by me then leave now or I will kill you myself."
In answer to that a couple dozen men turned and left. Soon as they were gone Althea turned her attention back to those before her. "I have a special surprise for all of you. I have another group of Dragon Lords being trained, there will from now on be two riders per dragon. For the sake of pure power in battle." After a pause Althea turned her attention to Leo. "Come here."
Leo obeyed, also bowing as everyone watched. "Because of the unfortunate fall of most of our nobles, I have a large shortage of generals at my side. Now I want to give you the power of a noble, the lands, the money. If you are willing to serve at my side."
"Even without the position I would serve you happily." Leo answered.
"Good, and there is another position open," she stated and turned her eyes to Kat, "and it only seams right that it should be filled by a woman, as I filled the same position in my old army. I wish for you to lead the Dragon Lords, Katiya."
"It would be my honor," Kat answered, bowing her head low.
"The rest of you get back to work, Kat, Leo, follow me." Althea said walking back towards the castle walls.
Azure paced his tent, his green eyes seamed to glow in the darkness. "So you think that they have a chance?" He demanded after a moment.
"Yes, I do." Armand said after a moment, he also sat in the darkness, though it did not seam he minded at all.
"Then I will send for more troops." Azure snapped.
"I do not know if that would be wise, Sir." Armand responded.
"Why wouldn't it be?"
"I have heard rumors that, even as we speak Artemisa is sending a legion of Dragon Lords to attack the Black Dragon." Armand did not seam worried by the news, though even in the darkness Azure's anger could be felt.
"Where are they getting the men to finance this? Where are they getting the pure numbers?"
"I do not know."
"Maybe this time it is you who is underestimating my soldier." Came a voice as the flap to the tent opened.
"You think Althea did this?" Armand asked, surprised.
"Perhaps, this sounds like a strategy that she would think of. You know it could be a bluff. But if you pull out your soldiers and it is not, we will be the ones starving and without any way to get supplies." Ares taunted.
"This news seams to please you, Ares," Azure said, keeping his voice low.
"When a pupil of mine proves her, or himself to me, I am always pleased." Ares answered.
"What is the difference, Dervish is with us. We do not need to out number our enemies anymore." Azure said, trying not to say anything of harshness to Ares.
"One black dragon will not win us the war." Ares said, not hiding the scorn from his voice.
"It will certainly tip the scales our way!" Armand answered for Azure, "and I think the war is already won."
"There is word that the King did not agree with Artemisa's decision to wage war." Azure added in agreement. "Certainly there is many who will side with our cause."
"I would not count on it." Was all Ares said and he walked out of the room.
"He sounds as though he believes more in them than in us." Azure commented.
"Perhaps, but my brother is interested in one thing, power. And he will get it anyway he can. Even if it means joining the enemy, we simply have to keep ourselves useful to him. As he is remaining useful to us." Armand said thoughtfully.
Artemisa and Heaven were the only ones who remained in the war room. They sat in silence for a moment, then finally Artemisa spoke. "Heaven am I doing the wrong thing?" Before he could answer she continued, "this all began with us. I wanted to marry you so bad, for my own reasons. I was often told that I would be faced with many sacrifices if I were going to be a leader. And marriage would be one of them. Heaven my choice to defy what was laid out for me may cause the death of thousands."
"You are not thinking about marrying Azure, are you?" Heaven asked after a moment.
"No, that would not help the kingdom. But I was offered the so much. If I would have sacrificed my lust and greed I could have stopped this war." Artemisa said regretfully. There was nothing that Heaven could think of to say, and luckily he was interrupted as Althea stormed back into the room.
"If you two are done with your precious moment would you please come out here? The damn nobles are arguing about who gets whose land. I do not have the patience to deal with it!" She snapped, her face red as though she had just been baby-siting a thousand hyper dragonetts. Eclipse stood faithfully at her side, listening and paying attention to everything that was done and said.
Althea then hurried away, leaving the matter to Artemisa whom handled it promptly. Althea found her way into the city, there she hoped to find Angel, she had much she needed to talk to him about. Though none of it was urgent she still felt the need to see him before the day ended, and though it was dark out, the city would be awake for many more hours preparing for the war that was soon to come.
Althea went to Angel's home, knowing that he stayed in after dark now, his home filled with assassins and others who sought employment, challenged or offered services to Angel. Althea knocked on the large doors loudly, and even though she knew Angel recognized the pattern, which she beat into the door, he still asked who it was.
"It's me, you big idiot, now let me in!" Althea snapped. In answer the door was opened to reveal Delilah.
"Hello love," Althea greeted her hugging. And after they talked for a moment she turned to Angel.
"Out for a visit Althea?" Angel asked bitterly, for he knew there was no time to visit anymore.
"Sure, aside from the fact that Artemisa wants to talk with you tomorrow." Althea told him. Angel sighed, it had been so much simpler when everyone could communicate through their minds, but with the tension now there were thousands, if not millions of spells that would hear any such conversation.
"Well it is late, you may as well stay in your old room." Angel said, and Althea thought back and realized it did seam like her old room. Even though she had slept in it for the first time mere weeks before. Angel glanced scornfully at the five dragonetts and the child-dragon that were with her, "they can stay in the street."
"I think that would not be such a distressing idea! Being that I can hardly stand this wreak that fills your abode, Sir Angel!" Snapped Trouble, almost in unison with Mischief.
"There was no smell until you came in here!" Angel answered, looking at Trouble as though he wished to devour the creature.
"Enough!" Althea said after a moment. "Give them something to eat." Althea ordered the one servant that Angel still had in the house, though the man was more like a bodyguard. He went to the kitchen and got some food for the dragon(ett)s.
"So how goes your harp lessons?" Angel teased after a moment.
Althea smirked in answer, "I'll say this much, they make me miss Ares." And though the comment had been meant as a joke both Angel and Althea grew silent for a moment.
Delilah finally broke the silence with her cheerful voice and soon all was back to normal. Though normal at that moment was still strained and uncomfortable. Filled with secrets and fear. The noise of the now cheerfully talking dragonetts soon filled the air, and even Angel, who had grown to dislike the creatures, found it relaxing. Like the innocent chatter of children.
Delilah left a while later to go to her room across the hall. Leaving Althea and Angel alone for the first time in a while.
"Do you think this war is a mistake?" Althea finally asked, "I mean, you know what Azure is capable of without Ares and Armand pushing him on. Do you think we have a chance?"
Angel shrugged his shoulders, "only the gods know. Althea have you ever wondered if maybe you are one of the Foreseen Ones?"
Althea laughed in contempt, "And you are Cupid! Are you serious?"
"A little, you know you both look like you have the ancestry that the prophecy spoke of." Angel said.
"Yeah but if you have not noticed we are not twins, Angel!" Althea answered, ending the conversation. She stood and went to her room.
Soon as she was gone Eclipse walked up to Angel. "You think that they are the twins, don't you? Well I do as well. And maybe I am young, but I can see fate when it is in my face." With that the little dragon, who was now a good three and a half feet taller than Althea, walked away, a small army of dragonetts following faithfully behind.
Katiya found herself in a fancy room in the palace that night. Though her mind was still not willing to allow herself to believe what had happened. After she had lived her life as a common orphan she now slept in a palace. With guards at the door and books lining the walls, all bound with gold and jewels. Kat closed her eyes but could not sleep, all she could think of were the royal twins, Althea and Artemisa. She had never had the chance to see them up close before, as she had that night. And both listened to her ideas as though they mattered as much as any of the other things brought up in the conversation.
Memories of the dinner with them filled her mind, but one stood out above all others. It had been about half way through the dinner when Heaven had raised his cup and tapped the spoon against it in the way that was proper for an announcement.
All eyes turned to him, and he had said, "you know me and my twin brother Angel had a bet when we were younger, who would be married first. Angel always said that he would, claiming that he was far better looking then I." This got a muffled giggle from the crowd, because the boys were identical in most ways.
"Of course I have to prove him wrong," Heaven had continued, and with each word the Princess seamed to turn a whiter shade. "And therefore now, with all you as witnesses, I will ask you, Artemisa, to be my wife."
There was a silent moment, Artemisa seamed unable to speak, then finally she raised her eyes to meet his. "Heaven I love you, and there could be nothing better for this nation then a new King, and perhaps, in due time, an heir." The little group had cheered, and Kat had felt her soul soar, this was the sort of thing happened in legends, not in real life.
"You are wrong about one thing, though, Heaven, you did not win." Angel suddenly cut in, "because me and," he paused and glanced around the room. "Althea are married, we have been for years now!" He said, putting his arm around Althea who struggled out of his grasp.
"Ha! You would never marry a noble lady, Angel." Heaven teased, "it is simply against your nature!"
Kat smiled again in remembrance. Filling oddly warm, there was something different about these leaders. Kat knew that it had to do with their youth and their love. Even Draven, who sat in the shadows and watched, had smiled when Heaven announced the wedding. It had filled Kat with hope, hope for herself, hope for the future.
They were kind leaders, and she knew that Angel, Heaven and Althea had all known what it was like to be a commoner, nothing could take that compassion from them. That alone was sure to make this generation of leaders the greatest. That is what the prophecy had meant, when it spoke of an end to war when the Foreseen Ones returned.
Though like everyone else Kat knew that the prophecy did not promise peace, far from it, it promised that Atlantis would be a dangerous land. But it promised that the dangers would come from smaller wars, little groups of bandits and the like. There would be no danger of genocide and the world war would be over. There would once again be peaceful cities that you could go to and find honest work. Atlantis would be like it was before the world wars had begun. Before countless had died for causes that they no longer cared about.
But Kat knew that it would be better. There would soon come a time when she could raise a family. A time when she could make a good living without lying or stealing. Kat fell asleep with this knowledge lightening her dreams. She knew that the future held hope for her and now she was willing to fight for Althea and Artemisa with all her heart.
Angel glanced around the city of Tiphereth. The streets were filled with people whom were hurrying to get the last of their cattle and reap the last of their plant foods, carrying the loads of food into the city walls. Angel knew that Tiphereth would be the first city to be hit by the Dark Night. And, though no one in the city knew this, would be certain to fall. Therefore a plan was already being put into action, Angel was supervising it. He looked at the masses of frightened people and felt his heart ache. Some had to know what was happening, all the best warriors had been taken from the city, though not so many as to make the city look unprotected.
Right at that moment he knew that his men were digging entrances to all the tunnels that they had created leading into the city (there were very few, and they were well hidden in the woods outside Tiphereth). Angel knew that soon as Tiphereth fell the army of Dark Night would take the city as a base, storing their food their and healing the wounded within the safety of it's walls. So they planned to create an easy way to destroy this potential stronghold.
Angel's thoughts strayed to Althea as he walked, he wondered again why the Princess trusted her so much. Angel knew from reading the girl's thoughts that she intended to stay loyal during the war, he felt somewhat ashamed for again invading her mind but he knew it had to be done. He could not risk her betraying them to the enemy. But the Princess had no reason to believe that she would be faithful. Neither did his brother, for Angel knew that Heaven had taken his oath of knighthood seriously and would never use his magic to invade the privacy of anyone, no matter what the stakes were. Though Angel knew Heaven relied on him to do this dishonorable deer and placed his trust in Angel to "sniff out the rats."
Of course he had to be a rat to find them, Angel knew, and sometimes he wished he could switch roles with his twin. He could be the courageous knight and Heaven could be the rogue. But that would never work, Angel actually smiled imagining his brother fighting with his conscious all the time as he lied, killed in cold blood, and made a living from stealing.
Angel finally went to the tunnels, they were hidden in the dungeons, where he doubted anyone would look. Though he knew it would make the attack of the place more difficult, having to break out of the dungeon before his men could attack the actual city. Though there were other advantages to the location. Not only would it be near impossible to detect but they could rescue anyone that was captured and placed in the dungeon.
The tunnels were long and wide enough to fit two men side by side. They had been working on the tunnel ever since the war had been announced and there were many other such tunnels in the other castles. Though they all had magical warning systems and traps, in case the enemy discovered them.
Angel found his men slaving to get the work done, they gave him nervous glances as he passed, as though to say, we are working as hard as we can. But Angel said nothing. He watched at the men worked at a furious pace, knowing that they would been done long before the army reached them.
Finally satisfied, and not wanting to stay any longer Angel chanted a few words, touching a ring at his hand, to transport himself back to his rooms. The spell made him a little weary, but if there had not been another ring at his destination the spell would have drained him off all energy for at least a day. That is why he wondered about Azure's appearance in the palace of Snow. Surely he had a magical object in the palace. And that meant two things, there were spies, which did not surprise Angel in the slightest, and also that all the spells that all the Sorcerrors in the palace had placed did not detect Azure's magical device. That bothered Angel more than the fact that there were spies, for this showed that Azure had more than one trick up his sleeve.
Angel sighed and poured himself some wine, deciding that he deserved a moment to sit and think. Of course now that he was in Snow he would not get even a moment of peace. An almost expected knock came at his door and Angel moaned his annoyance, then he mumbled, "who is it?"
And so his life continued as it had been for weeks now. Though he knew that even the war, which would most likely begin at dawn with the attack of Tiphereth, would not bring an end to the constant problems he faced with his people. He knew that if anything it would increase, which made Angel feel old and weary.
"Althea." Came the answer after a moment of silence, as though she too had been contemplating the war.
"Come in, 'thena." Angel said, relaxing into his chair, though he enjoyed Althea's company he knew that she too was busy and would not be there unless there was some news of consequence.
He opened the magical locks on the door and Althea opened the physical ones, for she had learned much in the presence of thieves. "What news do you bring?" Angel asked as soon as she shut the door.
Althea turned to him, without answering she walked to his table and dropped the contents of her pockets on the table. Angel looked down at them and saw a necklace with a small emerald on it and a ring with another emerald it lay in a pile of dried mushrooms. Which Angel recognized instantly.
"Althea we can't, it is not safe to let down our guards right now." Angel snapped.
"Look at it this way, Angel, it is going to be years before we can do this again. And the necklace will take us to the woods, hundreds of miles from here." Althea looked at Angel pleadingly as she added, "I found the place when I was a child. It is in the middle of the Emerald forest. Near the most beautiful rivers. No one could find it, not even Ares."
"He read your mind, don't you remember?" Angel demanded.
"I do, but I am sure he would not remember it, I have not thought of the place in years." Althea sat down on one of Angel's chairs. "Please, we need to relax a little. We aren't going to have another chance in who knows how long. Maybe never." Althea said repeating her strongest argument. "And besides even intoxicated we are two of the greatest warriors."
Angel sighed loudly, then looked into Althea's pleading face and finally nodded. "I don't know why I let you talk me into these things." He grumbled. "Let's go."
"Not yet, we have to wait for the others." Althea told him.
"Others?" Angel demanded confused and Althea only smiled in response, pouring herself some brandy.
A couple minutes another knock came at the door. "Who is it?" Althea chimed almost to sweetly.
"Who do you think it is?" It was Draven that answered, and Althea noticed Angel's face contort with annoyance.
"He is coming, I didn't know monsters like him could relax." Angel growled.
"Shut up Angel. Come in!" Althea said, the door opened a few moments later to reveal Heaven, Draven, Delilah, and Artemisa. Angel glanced at the mushrooms on the table. Noticing his glance Althea added, "there is more where that came from."
Soon as the door was again secured Althea grabbed the necklace and the shrooms then she waited until the group stood in a circle, all touching someone who touched someone who eventually touched Althea who was casting the spell. Everyone helped so that Althea would not have to carry their weight.
When the white flash of the spell was gone Angel looked around to see he was in an especially beautiful forest. The trees were covered with soft moss and vines. There was an especially clear lake and a waterfall leading into it.
"Where are we?" Artemisa asked after looking around.
"In the Emerald forest." Althea answered, it was a very general answer considering the forest covered thousands of miles. Though if Althea was to be honest she did not remember exactly how to get there, though she did not need to, she had the other third of the emerald on the necklace hidden in the clearing.
With that everyone began to eat the dried mushrooms they had brought. Everyone aside from Draven, who announced himself their guard, though Althea assured him that they would not need a guard.
Angel and his twin broke away from the group almost instantly, going to the water and stripping off their clothes and jumped in. Draven sat by the water and dipped his feat in. Delilah soon joined the boys, stripping off her dress and jumping in the water. She gasped loudly when she hit the water then whined about how cold it was. Althea and Artemisa stood aside and waited for the drug to kick in. While they did this they began talking about a subject that had been bothering them both.
"Do you believe in the prophecy?" Althea asked as they walked through the green forest.
"Now that you bring it up, I have been having my doubts. But we could not be twins, could we?" Artemisa answered, following a small stream on its path through the forest.
Althea looked at Artemisa for a moment. Artemisa was only an inch or two shorter than Althea was. Her hair had the same texture as Althea's, though it was not the same blue-silver color that Althea had. Her features also were very similar, though Artemisa had a golden tint to her skin. "I don't know." Althea answered, watching as the colors around her seemed to become brighter and more apparent.
Artemisa was about to say something else when she froze, "did you see that?"
"What?" Althea asked, her hand drifting to the sword at her side.
"Nothing, I think." Artemisa said after a moment. Althea did not feel so sure and kept her guard up as they turned and began back toward where the others were.
Althea was about to relax when a voice from the woods made them both jump. "Princess?"
"Yes?" Artemisa asked, her hand going to her dagger.
At that a girl appeared from the shadows. She was tall, a Sprite for sure, with silver tinted skin and large blue eyes. Her hair was long and whitish-purple. "I am Ryian." She said softly, "and I am honored to meet you." The girl bowed her head slightly. "I have been to Snow, and I know of the war. I would like to offer my services."
Althea was about to dismiss the girl but Artemisa interrupted her. "What do you have to offer?"
Althea looked at Artemisa surprised and noticed that the girl saw something in Ryian that Althea seamed to have missed. "I can see things, sometimes." Ryian answered.
"You are a prophet?" Althea asked.
"No, I do not serve any deity." Ryian smiled, "but they send me visions anyway."
"You may come, if you promise to do one thing." Artemisa said, much to Althea's surprise.
"Anything my lord!" Ryian answered, again lowering her head respectfully.
"Eat these and come with us." Artemisa ordered, handing a large bunch of the mushrooms to the Sprite, who smiled knowingly and began to eat the food.
When they returned to the clearing they found that Draven had disappeared. Althea watched Angel and Delilah diving off the waterfall for a minute then she went to find Draven, leaving Artemisa and Ryian together talking.
"I used to think a lot of the Black Dragon." Ryian said, "I thought that it was the most honorable of the kingdoms. But now I see that I was wrong."
"Remember it is not the actual king that is doing this. It is Azure. And can we talk about something else. This is the only 'vacation' that I will have in a while." Artemisa added politely and Ryian obliged.
"You want to join them?" Ryian asked, "I am sure you could swim in your underwear."
Artemisa smirked and stripped off her dress, "no, I am the Princess, I can skinny dip if I want to."
Althea found Draven almost immediately, he was sitting among some large, moss covered, tree roots. When Althea walked up he glanced at her as though he had been expecting her.
"Are you okay, Draven?" Althea asked, noticing that the tree seamed to be breathing, though she knew it was only a hallucination.
"I am fine, Althea. I just wanted to talk to you for a while." Draven answered, his black eyes finally coming to rest on Althea.
"Yeah right. You want to talk to me so you leave?" Althea snapped.
Draven smiled at her, he shrugged his shoulders and then pointed at a Phoenix that was perched in the tree watching them. "Do you ever wonder if all this is worth it?"
"You mean the war. Yes I wonder that all the time." Althea said.
"No I do not mean the war. I mean the sacrifices to be a warrior. The sacrifices to be a Sorcerror. Don't you ever want to raise a family?" Draven asked. His words seamed oddly directed at her, as though he meant, to raise our family.
"No." Althea said firmly, "I do not think it would be right to bring a child into this world. And if you are sure you are all right I am going to go back to the group and relax." Draven said nothing and Althea stood quickly, returning to her friends.
When she got there she found everyone in the water. She finally decided to join them, leaping into the icy liquid. Soon as she was in it she screamed, "something's got my foot!"
Angel hurried to her side as Althea struggled with whatever it was, though she had no weapons. Angel dove under the water and Althea soon felt what seamed to be some sort of water snake pulled off her foot. A second later Angel appeared at the surface with a vine in his hand.
"The vicious thing almost killed you!" Angel teased and Althea lunged at him in the water, her face red with embarrassment and anger.
Draven watched from where he was in the shadows. He watched Althea for a minute, then he turned his eyes to the rest of the group. He noticed Ryian, though he did not seam very surprised that Artemisa would make a new friend, even in the midst of the forest.
Draven felt his skin crawl with the knowledge that any of them could die. And most likely would during the war. He looked again at Althea and felt a pang of regret, wishing that he had never brought her into this.
It was almost dawn when the group finally decided to leave. They had sobered and spent a few hours napping in the dew-covered grass. Now they again performed the spell and arrived at Angel's home, where the third stone had been left on his table in a pile of mushrooms.
Soon as they looked decent they left the room. More than six letters were tacked to Angel's door. He ignored them as the group found their bodyguards and went together to the palace.
No one seamed to be awake yet, so they all went to their rooms to prepare for the fateful day that was about to begin. They were all curious to see how long Tiphereth would hold out, as though it were an omen about their own fate. So the few hours left of night passed slowly. Althea spent the time trying to contact Storm, though it seamed her dragon was still too far away to hear her. So finally she stopped and went to her bed, within moments she was asleep, though it was a fitful rest.
A knock at the door awoke Althea. "Come in." She ordered, glancing out the window she noticed that it was early afternoon. Althea grumbled angrily about the others letter her sleep in so late when Artemisa opened the door.
"I have news for you." She announced.
"Tell me," Althea said, sitting up slowly.
"Read it yourself." Artemisa handed Althea a scroll.
Dear Princess Artemisa;
Tiphereth fell at 10:00.
Are you sure that you want the bloodshed to continue?
The letter was short and clear, Althea felt her skin crawl. "It was expected to take them at least a week to take Tiphereth." She commented coldly.
"I know," Artemisa said, then, trying to hide her worry she added, "where are your dragonetts?"
"Who knows, I wouldn't worry though, Eclipse would not let them go far."
"Good, well the generals are meeting in an hour. Be there." With that Artemisa left the room. Althea rubbed the sleep from her eyes nervously. She was anxious to know how Tiphereth had been taken so quickly, she knew that their spies would be there soon. Althea tried not to allow herself to dwell on the doom that seamed to have peaked its ugly head out before her.
Eclipse walked behind the Puck, wondering why he was allowing them to lead him. Surely they were wrong about Althea, she would be in the palace soon. But still Eclipse had no way to be sure. Mischief was saying something about Althea and Angel being prisoners in the rogue tunnels under the city. Though the whole thing did not seam too likely. For the maybe tenth time that night Eclipse stopped.
"I do not think we should go down there, Mischief. I am sure Lady Althea is all right." He said.
Mischief stopped and turned to Eclipse, his eyes a determined steel gray. "Are you mocking (mock being the word of the day of course) my idea?" He demanded, "the lady is in trouble. And if you do not mock her life then you will hurry to aid her!" The little dragonett looked furious at the idea that Eclipse was not running down into what looked like sewer tunnels to save his damsel in distress.
Eclipse felt again ashamed at his hesitation, though he did not know what to do. "Can't we check back at the palace, just to make sure?" He finally begged.
"No, there is no time! She may be in serious danger as we speak. And unless you mock all that we stand for you must stop this now and come save the lady!" Mischief shot back.
Eclipse felt he had no choice but to obey, and so he followed the pack of dragonetts into the dark tunnels below. Soon as they were at the bottom Eclipse realized that somehow, for once, the dragonetts were right, these were not sewer tunnels. The walls were lined with torches and the ground was dry. Eclipse felt a tingle of fear, maybe they were right about Althea too, maybe she was in danger!
So without hesitating anymore Eclipse followed the dragonetts through the labyrinth of tunnels. But as the hours began to pass and the tunnels showed no signs of danger, aside from a death of starvation or dehydration. Eclipse began to loose faith in the little dragonetts. And he also began to loose faith in what he thought was one of his strongest qualities, his sense of direction.
Eclipse began to wonder how long the dragonetts intended to continue on this journey when he got his answer. "My stomach is mocking me with hunger."
"As is mine," another of the dragonetts added.
And with that they began to discuss how they would find their way out of the tunnels. It was about then when Eclipse felt something that made his heart beat in excitement.
"They are here!" Eclipse gasped, his eyes glowing a happy pastel purple.
"Oh do you always have to be so dramatic, Eclipse, you mock normal conversation!" One of the dragonetts snapped.
Althea felt the same feeling moments after Eclipse. And with it came a voice in her mind. We all decided to come, dear lady. Althea was in the war room when she gasped in response to the voice.
"What is it Althea?" Artemisa asked noticing her look of surprise.
"Look out the window." Althea answered. Everyone hurried to the window, everyone aside from Draven, who had known even before Althea what was happening.
Out of the window they saw one of the most beautiful and uplifting sights they had ever seen. A large flock of dragons were heading towards them. Even in the distance you could tell their colors apart. There were blue's ranging from deep sea blue to the lightest white-blue. One dragon even seemed part of the sky itself. There were greens of all shades, and yellows, browns and grays, and dragons with varieties of color. For a second they looked much like the pack of dragonetts, but as they drew rapidly closer their true size became apparent.
"Katiya go get the dragon riders together, we should give the dragons a warm welcome!" Althea announced. She herself hurried outside into the courtyard, Artemisa, Heaven, Leo and Angel at her side. She called to the dragons to by her for the large training yard was the only place large enough to fit all the dragons.
They soon landed there gracefully. Althea stared surprised, she had expected a far smaller number of dragons. She thought only half the five hundred would come, but to her surprise there seemed to be even more dragons then there had been in the beginning.
"Good day, I am glad you all made it." Althea greeted.
Good day, I hope we are not late. I am Onyx, leader of the freed dragons.
"Not at all. I actually thought it would take longer for you all to decide what you wanted." Althea said, smiling as she noticed Leo's eyes widen in surprise.
There was never any need to think about or discuss what we wanted to do. We have long waited for an opportunity to help free our kind. And you offer us this and more. I can see it in you. If you become the ruler of the. The dragon, a mighty creature that looked like it would be black had it not been for the navy blue outlines to its scales, paused as though searching for the proper words. Of the two leggers then you will bring dignity and freedom back to our people. All honorable dragons will help you to do this in anyway we can. As a matter of fact we found a small group of wild dragons that also wanted to join this cause.
Althea now realized that she was right. There were more dragons, around six hundred and fifty now, or so said a servant that was counting them. "Your riders will be here soon. But I am giving you the choice of who you will allow to accompany you on your battles. If you wish to fly alone that is your choice also." Althea stopped and looked around her at the mighty beasts, all of whom listened to her every word intently. Suddenly Althea bowed her head to them solemnly. "I am forever in your debt."
As we are in your debt, you have brought us freedom and hope. The dark dragon, who seemed to be the spokes man answered.
They continued to talk as the future Dragon Lords began to enter the field, the dragons turned to face them. Their eyes gleaming with knowledge. "I suggest you take your time. Get to know them before you make matches. This is the leader of the Dragon Lords, Katiya."
Kat bowed her head humbly before the dragons whose eyes glittered a respectful dark green. Be careful with her, she has only been a leader for a day. Althea added silently to the dragons. The dark dragon looked at her and she saw it's eyes turn a dark shade of brown-red.
Do you trust her? What are the chances that some of these two leggers are traitors?
The chances are good, Althea answered, knowing that the dragons were not traitors and most likely would never be, that is why I am putting your kind in charge. Humor them to an extent. To them you are equals, but do not trust them until you know their hearts.
Artemisa finally spoke, surprising everyone. Althea had all but forgotten that the girl was powerful enough to speak to the dragons. "I am Princess Artemisa," she said, bowing her head, "I welcome you all to my kingdom."
Hello Artemisa, Onyx greeted respectfully. I thank you for your hospitality and kindness and I hope that we can repay it well.
"I am sure you will, Onyx." Artemisa answered at the other dragons turned their attention to the dragon riders.
Very few of them can speak to us. One of the dragons commented as though the idea made him nervous.
"I am sorry, but few are strong enough to. I hope that it does not cause a large problem." Althea answered, watching as the Dragon Lords stood staring at the dragons in awe.
Heaven waited for the proper moment, then finally he spoke what he had been waiting to ask for some time. "One of our cities has been captured, and I would like to have a closer look at it, though I was afraid to go on any other mount for fear of capture. I know that it would be nice to keep your presence a secret but I am sure Azure has spies. So I do not think it would matter. So I would like to ask if any of you would take me there?"
Onyx bowed his head instantly, I would be happy to noble knight.
"I would like to go as well." Artemisa said quickly. Soon Angel, Althea, Kat and even Draven wanted to go, every dragon in the group volunteered to go but Althea insisted that it would be better if they went in smaller numbers and she asked for the strongest and fasted dragons to come. And thus they met the leaders of the group, dragons still believed that the leader should be chosen by physical and mental prowess, which in dragons generally came together in youth.
It took a while to prepare for the journey, and during that time the dragons and the human-like breeds talked to each other. The dragons chose their riders, as Althea had told them they could, and the group came together swiftly. A large female dragon that was a soft pink with baby blue and pastel purple designs on her scales befriended Artemisa. Her name was Shia. Onyx and Heaven got into a heated argument about the myths of dragons slaying, which led them to an instant friendship, Angel discovered a dragon that was probing all their minds with suspicion, and the two bonded over their devious ways. Althea, missing Storm a little, was told she could choose her mount, and she knew better than to turn down the honor. So she chose a delicate female that stood in the background. The small dragon was a color much like Storms ice blue, though it did not have the icy hue to it. The small dragon also had much power, Althea could sense it, though the little female preferred to stay hidden.
She was one of the wild dragons that joined us, Onyx told Althea, she fears two leggers more than she should. Though I am sure that fear will pass.
Soon as everyone had a dragon, and several decided to accompany them as back up, the group left.
These dragons, being the most powerful in the group, traveled with a surprising speed. At that rate the group would be at Tiphereth my midnight. Althea rode in the rear, listening to all the conversations for a while. Then finally she turned her attention to the dragon she rode. "What is your name?" Althea asked, trying to start conversation with the shy creature.
The sun was setting when the dragonetts finally discovered a way out of the tunnels. Though, much to Eclipse's disappointment, Althea was gone. Annoyed the little silver dragon finally decided to follow the dragon sense he had. And, to his surprise, he found a rather large group of dragons in the common area of the castle. The dragons were just as surprised to see him as he was to see them. And they began bombarding him with questions, ignoring the viciously protective looks from the smaller pack of dragonetts.
Eclipse recited the story of how Althea had adopted him even though he was of little use to her. He told of how she protected him and went out of her way to try to raise the dragon as its mother would have. Though Eclipse added that she was not intelligent enough to raise him, being that she was only a young two legger, even if she was a rather wise one. The dragons were surprised by this and became even more respectful toward Althea. Eclipse also told them of the kindness that the others had shown them. Artemisa with her gentle but firm leadership, Heaven with his protective nature and even Angel, who always spoke coldly though was as kind as the others. But Eclipse never mentioned Draven, he could think of little good to say about the Magician.
Althea and Rayn were the first to get in sight of Tiphereth, the little dragon had proven extremely strong and fast once she came out of her shell. The city was surely filled with soldiers, though many camped outside of the walls for lack of space within. They had stopped there for the night after no doubt a tiring day of looting, rape and cruel murder. Althea was also the first to see the most terrifying sight that she had ever beheld. Looking directly at her was a mighty dragon. The largest she had ever seen, its eyes were red as flame, it had several silver horns growing on its devilish face. And, worst of all, it was black as the night around it. The dragon seamed to smile as Althea felt Rayn grow cold beneath her.
Hello Lady of the Dragons, I have heard much about you.
In order to speak the dragon had to let it's spells of hiding down, and a wave of panic and horror over took all that were near her, both dragon and the mix-breed creatures on their backs. Althea's head throbbed with the power of the greeting, and she could not help but tremble. Though she kept her wits, Rayn asked her if they should retreat, though Althea knew it would do little good, so she told the small dragon only to slow and allow the others to catch up before she answered the dragon.
"What do you want with me?" She spoke out load and also in her mind so that the black dragon could hear. Compared to the mighty creature her words were a mere whisper.
Ah, foolish human, I want nothing with you. But I do want power. Like you. And I was offered much by the humans if I fought with them.
Althea shivered in pain as the dragon's words cut through her mind like a dull blade. "So are you going to kill me?" Althea asked, surprising Rayn with the blunt question.
I only wish I could, dear Althea.
Althea glanced back to see the other dragons and their riders nearing, then she answered the dragon. "It is in your power."
Ha! You are such a fool! The dragon snapped back, her voice loud with a cruel mirth, you do not even see the power you hold demon!
Althea did not know how to react, "I hold no power in comparison to you!" Althea argued, trying to coax more information out of the dragon.
That is true, fate does not want you dead, yet. And the deities that control your fate are powerful. More powerful than I. The dragon seamed to smile, now land, my masters are expecting you. Althea began wondering how they knew the group was coming when the dragon answered her, as though hearing her thoughts. Spies come in handy, my dear. Then after a pause it continued, hello Draven, I have not seen you in years.
"Hello Dervish." Draven growled. "Come Althea, we shall go talk to Azure."
"Are you crazy?" Althea demanded angrily.
"We have no choice." Draven answered, then he lowered his voice, shielding his words from Dervish with magic, "I have the power to allow an escape when the time is right. For now, I am rather curious to see what Azure has to say. Are you not?" The group had no choice but to listen. And Althea did the only thing she could think of that might help the situation, she told the dragons that soon as they landed the dragons were to leave and wait a distance away where it was safe. If the group did not emerge by noon then the dragons were to leave.
Onyx was the first to argue the idea, but Althea told him that if he respected her at all he would lead the others to safety soon as they landed, telling him that it would help no one if the entire group was captured. Even as she spoke she grabbed the necklace that Ares had given her, it still hung around her neck, the dragon with the ruby eye.
Dervish led them into the city, there they landed their dragons among a large army of ogres and ogrien dwarves, though it was hard to tell the difference between the two warrior breeds. The dragons flew into the skies as soon as the group dismounted. Soon as they were gone the ogres and first, and soon other breeds, began to move forward, there eyes sparkling with blood lust. Dervish did not do or say anything, she simply continued to lead the way toward a tower. Althea knew that the dragon expected them to fend for themselves, and this she did. Althea traded knowing glances with Kat, Heaven and Angel, and the instant that the ogres moved within their reach they drew their swords and began attacking with there magic. Artemisa did not even seem to notice the battle while she talked to Dervish, Draven raised an annoyed eyebrow and glanced behind him at the group, as though to say, why must you always busy yourselves in foolishness?
The ogres did not attack in full force, seeing that Dervish was not fighting with the intruders, but she was not defending them either. This made the ogres confused, though many did not think when they were confused, they simply did what would gain them the most. And in this case it they thought that the small group would be easily destroyed.
Althea found the fight invigorating, and was almost sorry to see it end when they entered the tower. Dervish was the last to enter, changing into the form of a Elven woman so that she could fit through the doors. Althea trembled at the sight, this was not illusion, it was real shape shifting, something that she knew only the most powerful of the magi kind could accomplish. She was not sure if even Draven could do it, though his calm reaction to the spell told her that perhaps it was within his power.
The tower that they entered was dark, the walls painted with symbols that were written in the language of magic, a language that they all could read. Dervish, in elven form, was a delicate looking creature. She had long black hair and black eyes that contained no other color, not even white. She had small delicate features typical of elven females and walked with an unparalleled grace.
She led them up a spiral staircase to a room at the very top. She did not bother to knock but opened the door to reveal Ares, Armand and Azure sitting at a small table. They looked up calmly, a smile even crossed Ares's lips, he looked at Althea in the eyes and spoke to her mind coldly, the prodigal lover returns.
Althea did not answer, rather she stepped forward with an authority that she no longer had and took a seat, gesturing to her companions, who did not seem to want to sit. Dervish smiled at them icily, "this all has taken far too much time. I will return to see our guest's back to their home. Call me when it is time."
"Thank you Dervish." Azure said, smiling he turned his attention back to the people that now sat before him. "Welcome, Princess, Sorcerer, Knight, Thief, and Dragon Mistress." He did not even seam to know that Kat was there, though after a moment he spared her a dirty look.
"Hello Azure, I have not seen you since this war began. How have you been?" Althea's voice was cutting with sarcasm.
"Busy, what with all the whining prisoners I have." Azure retorted coldly.
"What do you want?" Althea asked, turning to look at Ares for the answer.
"We want to meet with you, to discuss the terms we sent earlier." Ares said, his eyes locked on Althea.
"You already know the answer, Ares." Althea snapped, feeling herself tremble under his glare. Althea suddenly felt like a traitor and a coward. She wondered if Ares would accept her back.
"I am sure you know that we do not intend to stay here long," Draven said, his strong voice relaxing Althea a little, making her feel stronger in her decision to fight by Artemisa, Angel, Heaven and Draven. "So say what you are planning then we will be on our way."
Azure's eyes blazed with anger at the comment and for a moment Azure and Draven's eyes locked in a vicious glare.
"Very well, Draven of Demonlands, but know that you are only leaving here because I still need you to complete some of my minor plans." Azure finally said, looking as though it took all his might to speak those words.
"I am sure," Draven snapped sarcastically.
"Then, I will get to the point." Azure's drifting gaze finally settled on Artemisa, who shifted nervously in her chair. "I personally do not see why this battle must continue."
Althea noticed Artemisa turning red with anger at those words and before Azure could continue she stood, knocking her chair to the ground. "How easily you say those words, Azure!" Artemisa said, her voice commanding. Althea noticed Heaven's hand drift to the hilt of his sword protectively. Even Draven tensed noticeably. "But you are too much of a coward to follow even your own advice!"
Azure did not seem to react to the words for a moment, finally though Althea say a spark of anger in his green eyes. Her hand also drifted towards her sword. "You know very little of the world outside your walls, Princess. I am not the one that is cowering within' my city gates. I am not the one who has signed the death warrants for thousands of my followers."
Artemisa trembled in rage but before she could answer Heaven was on his feet. "You have no right to speak to her like that!" He shouted, "you are the one who is murdering. You are the man that cares for nothing but his own cold ambition!"
Ares stood to face Heaven, his lips twisted into a smile. Althea noticed Angel and Ares trade a meaningful look and felt her skin crawl. She rose quickly and turned drew her sword, keeping a wary eye on Angel.
"My ambition, ah yes, you may see it as only that. I do not know why I expected more from you, Heaven. I guess I judged you too soon. You are more of a barbarian than I would ever have guessed." Azure mumbled. Althea and Draven were the only ones who continued to pay attention to his words, for both knew that Azure was nearing some point. There was a reason he was allowing them to sit without a battle, and Althea had a feeling that he was about to tell them.
But before he spoke again Draven's harsh voice silenced everyone. "You serving the goddess Leatha!"
Azure smiled at him, "I knew you would see her power among us, Draven. You were always my equal, so I doubted that you would miss this, important, detail."
Althea felt her heart leap with fear. If the Dark Night had Leatha, one of the most powerful deities on their side, how could she expect to fight them? She knew that her friends were feeling the same sense of fear, Draven, though, seemed unaffected.
Artemisa's face was ashen, and she touched Heaven gently, mumbling, "please sit. I have disgraced us enough by allowing my emotions to show. You should not follow me in my foolishness."
Althea smiled, seeing a glint in Artemisa's eyes that she recognized. Artemisa had a plan of some sort to revenge her honor.
Soon as Heaven sat Althea and Ares also returned to their seats. Finally, once all was calm Artemisa spoke. "You say that you are serving Leatha's purposes."
"I am," Azure assured her when she paused.
"Then why don't you kill us?" Artemisa asked, her eyes shinning with challenge, "surely your goddess is powerful enough to destroy a small group of mix-breeds."
Azure's face flushed red, he could not directly answer her. He did not want the group to know that his attack on Dragon-Snow was not ordered or backed by the goddess. She had given him her blessing, Dervish had realized that before even Azure's powerful magic had, but she had blessed others as well. Dervish had told him, she had blessed Ares and Armand, but she had also blessed their enemies, Althea, Artemisa, Heaven, Angel and even Draven. "As I said before, my purposes are secret, though I still need your assistance." Azure finally answered, his voice strained, though only Artemisa noticed, for she had long ago become talented at reading emotions. "Again I will ask you. Do what is right and join me, Artemisa. We could rule together in fairness."
Althea watched as Artemisa turned white with guilt and confusion. Althea knew that the girl wanted no more bloodshed. But surely she would not allow Azure to take the thrown of Dragon-Snow. Althea did not wait for her answer, rather she turned her eyes to Ares, who was watching her intently.
"I have not seen you in a while, Althea." He said, ignoring the conversation between Azure and Artemisa. "Those clothes fit you well."
Althea flushed with anger, remembering that she was wearing a fancy short dress with expensive chain mail over it. It was fitted for her body and showed off her standing as a "noble" leader among the people of Dragon- Snow.
"Thank you, Ares, I wish I could say the same for those rags that you wear." Althea snapped in answer, her eyes blazing.
Ares smirked, he looked almost pleased. Althea was suddenly reminded of when they were younger. Ares had looked pleased often during those years. "Why did you come?" He finally asked, "you knew what you would see."
Althea sighed, not wanting to talk of serious matters. "I had to come, you know that."
Ares smiled at her again. "I hear that Eclipse is also blessed."
Althea narrowed her eyes in anger, "how do you know of him?"
"Everyone does. There are rumors about your baby dragon traveling the land like a wild fire." Ares answered, "you have become a legend of sorts."
Althea did not answer, she no longer could bare talking to Ares as though he was a stranger. Though she did not feel like it would be proper for her to talk to him as anything else, so she turned her attention back to Artemisa and Azure, who, to her surprise, were talking rather calmly, and there was even a hint of respect in both their voices. And, when Althea paid closer attention, she realized that they were arguing the ethics about the war.
"Though many think otherwise I am not a heartless murderer." Azure was saying.
"Then why are you killing the innocent?" Artemisa snapped in response.
"There are no innocent in war!" Azure answered.
"Aren't there?" Artemisa snapped angrily, "you call the infants and the children guilty? If so of what, Sir Azure?"
"They are guilty because they will grow up and they will fight for you! I will not harm the children. I am sending them to be raised by my people in the Black Dragon." Azure answered coldly, "they may suffer the pain of not knowing who they are, but they live, I assure you."
Artemisa looked at him coldly, "and then they will follow you in the battles."
"As I said there are no innocents in war." Azure snapped.
"So you kill using that as an excuse and think that you are doing the right thing?"
"I have not had anyone killed except in battle. All the warriors of yours are alive. The women and children as well. I promise you this, though I can not tell you where they are. For obvious reasons." Azure said coldly. Althea glanced out the window to see that the red sun was slowly rising.
"So they live?" Artemisa could not hide the relief from her voice.
"And they are being treated well. As I said, I am not a murderer." He answered.
Althea felt her heart sink, she could not decide whether or not to believe Azure. He was known as a cruel leader, but most people are not what are known as.
"Lady I do not expect you," he paused and glanced at Althea, "or you, to choose now. Just know that the offer will stand. When the suffering becomes too great you can come to me. We will end it in an instant if you accept our terms."
"It will never happen, Azure." Althea cut in.
"We shall see." His gaze was locked on Artemisa.
"Now I have an offer to make you." Artemisa said suddenly. Azure looked at her with an amused sparkle in his eyes. "Free my people and leave my lands and I will not destroy you and your puny army." Artemisa growled, her eyes firm with anger.
Azure smiled at her, then stood. "I expected more from you then empty threats, Princess. Though I am unsure why."
"Empty threats? You doubt my power?" Artemisa demanded.
"Doubt, no. I know this will be a brutal war. Perhaps the worst seen in Atlantis since the Days of the Deities, that means little to me, though."
The argument continued like that, but few were listening. On the other side of the table Armand and Heaven were arguing about something that meant little to anyone but them, honor about the war, about who was following the path of truth. Ares and Angel were discussing something in hushed tones, magically guarding the conversation, Althea trembled, wondering what Angel had to say to Ares.
Draven watched the whole thing in silence. Finally Artemisa said loudly, "I think that it is time we leave. If you are true to your word then you will allow us to go."
"Nothing has been accomplished, though." Azure said icily.
Draven turned his eyes to Angel and Ares, then glanced at Althea knowingly.
"I do not think anything is going to be accomplished either." Althea snapped, "it is time to go."
Azure bowed his head and led them to the door. He stopped Artemisa before he opened the door and kissed her hand gently, "think about what I have said, my lady."
"Think about what I have told you." Artemisa countered. Azure bowed his head in acceptance and opened the door. There stood Dervish in elven form.
"I hope all went well." She said, her voice surprisingly soft. Althea glanced back to see Ares and Angel exchange a few last words, she ground her teeth in anger.
Angel waited until he was sure Ares was done talking to Althea, and when most eyes were on Artemisa and Azure. Then he went to sit next to Ares, who smiled in welcome. "So you got my message?" He asked soon as the two both raised magical shields to keep their words private.
"I did, is it safe for you to talk now?" Angel asked.
"As safe as it is for you to speak to me, Sir."
"Then I have to ask, what do you want?"
"Power. But I fear that I will never get it if I keep with these two. They are as ambitious as I. And as powerful." Ares answered.
"And you think that I am weaker?"
"No, but I need to break this monopoly," he waved his hand at Armand and Azure, "and you are the only opportunity that I have."
"What about Althea?"
"She will return to my side in her own time. That can not be forced. But she has no solid power in Dragon-Snow. Not yet, anyway. You, on the other hand, could help me."
"And what would I gain from this?" Angel demanded, noticing Althea's nervous glance and probing magic.
"Much, an end to the war." Ares paused and followed Angel's look. "And perhaps a lady."
Angel flushed red in spite of himself. "An end to this war and the beginning of new ones."
"But they would not be wars directed at your kingdom, or your people."
"So what do you want me to do?"
Ares smiled, "when we attack Snow I want you to convince the others to attack full force, that battle will be the deciding one. My men will join you, ambushing Armand and Azure. I will leave with my forces when they are weak. Then the battle will be won, you may do what you like with the prisoners, though I am sure Azure and Armand will not be among them."
"You will be killed for your treason." Angel said, looking at Ares suspiciously.
"You underestimate me," Ares accused, "I have ways to remain alive, remember I am fighting my own brother. I know what I am up against."
Angel sighed nervously. This could win the war, it could, and most likely was also a trap. Angel looked at Ares, then glanced at Althea, realizing that she was the only one that might be able to tell if Ares was sincere. Finally Angel made his decision, "would you be willing to meet with me again?"
"When and where?"
"Meet me halfway between here and Dragon-Snow, tomorrow afternoon, in the clearing by the Golden River. I will bring only one other person."
Dervish led them through the army of ogres, who were now preparing for the day's battle and did not seem to care much for the group of intruders. Althea noticed the giants, true to their character the huge men stayed far from all the other races. Their beady eyes watching nervously. Among army she saw a few magicians, who looked at her group suspiciously. Though it was common during war for leaders to meet it was not common for the group to walk through the enemies camp. Though they did not seem willing to challenge Dervish, who walked with them in dragon form now.
Dervish said nothing, she was over twice the size of a normal dragon and offered to carry all of the six to their dragons. Telling them that the dragons were planning a rescue near the South Gate. Ares told me to make sure they were not harmed, though they have become quite a nuisance since you left their sides. Althea smirked, even with all of Dervish's bitter and evil she still reminded the girl a little of Mischief and the other dragonetts.
As Dervish had said they found the dragons by the South Gate hiding in the shadows as they waited for their riders. Dervish cloaked herself from them and allowed the others off her back. It is better that they do not see me. She explained and Althea agreed, surprised that Dervish spoke to them in somewhat respectful tones.
Althea found the dragons in the clearing that Dervish had instructed them to. Onyx stared at them uncertain. Althea did not hesitate, she opened her mind to them letting them see all that had happened, she hid nothing, for if she did the dragons would have been able to tell. The dragons asked no questions, though a few looks of suspicion passed Angel's way. The group mounted and headed home. Knowing that the army of the Dark Night followed behind. Though they would stop to attack the next village. They were nearing the city when Artemisa called for a halt. Once on the ground she turned to the others in the group in anger.
"It ends here!" She shouted, her anger so forceful that even Draven looked up at her and raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "We are going to attack the Dark Night."
"Artemisa we have discussed this." Heaven began.
"I do not care what we have discussed. I will not stand by and watch my people die!" There was a sudden feeling of relief at those words, everyone had thought the same thing.
"Then what do you want to do?" Althea asked, "and why are we discussing this here?"
Artemisa smiled, her anger calming, "I had to say it now. I do not know what we should do, but whatever we do we will do it soon."
"Good." Althea finally said, casting a suspicious look at Angel.
Angel waited until later that night before he approached Althea. She was outside watching the Dragon Lords, who, finally having dragons to practice on, were far more enthusiastic.
"Hello Althea." He said, glaring disdainfully at the Puck.
"Hello Angel." Althea said, avoiding his eyes.
"I need to talk to you."
"Yes, you do," Althea said, looking up at Angel to see his face drawn with worry.
He sat at her side, mumbled something about the dragonetts, then began. "I have had a, umm, brief relationship with Ares."
"I noticed," Althea said dryly.
"He sent me a letter."
"What did it say?" Althea asked suspiciously.
"He feels threatened by his brother." Angel answered.
"That's not surprising." Althea answered coldly.
"Then you understand why he wrote me."
"And you understand why I listened."
Althea paused for a moment, looking at the Dragon Lords. "Why are you telling this to me, not Artemisa or your twin?"
"You alone know Ares well enough to tell me if this is a trap." Angel answered honestly.
"You are wrong, I do not know him well enough to tell you if this is a trap. But I do know him well enough to tell you that Ares does not need you. He does not need anyone. He may think your help will make his mission easier. Nothing more, do not trust him."
"I don't trust him. If you could talk to him about this would you?"
"What have you planed?" Althea asked suspiciously.
Angel only smiled at her and Althea knew.
Ares paced his room, the army was in battle with Mesikali was taking longer than he had expected. But it gave him time to think. He was still undecided about whether he should join with Angel or betray him. He knew that if he was to join him the world would be lost to him, for the moment at least. The power of conquering Dragon-Snow would be thrown away. Though the problem he faced went beyond that. He wanted to rule, not to be ruled. He was sure that he could sabotage Azure and Armand enough to stop them for the moment. But that would destroy any future hope of battling with them.
Ares waited until the red sun showed signs of lowering, it would be dusk soon. Then he went out and called for his dragon, a large malevolent looking creature with a powerful build.
He mounted it and left, knowing that Armand and Azure were aware of his departure. They did not seem to worry much, and that made Ares nervous. It also made him nervous to think of seeing Althea again. It was almost unnatural to be forced to treat her like a stranger, and it made Ares wish for the earlier days when Althea had been more dependent on him for support.
Ares scanned carefully with his magic and his warrior's senses to make sure that he was not being followed. He was pretty sure that no one was following him, but he did not relax his guard in the slightest.
Ares found his way to the clearing that Angel had spoken of, he did not land right away, rather her circled the area for a while, searching it for anyone that may be a threat. When his search came up empty he went to the clearing. Two dragons were there, a small female and a medium sized male. He brought his dragon down and dismounted, faced with Althea and Angel.
"Hello Ares." Angel said before Althea could speak.
"Thank you for coming Angel. You also, Althea, I did not expect to see you." Ares said honestly.
Althea looked at him coldly then glanced at Angel. "Why not?" She finally asked.
Ares shrugged his shoulders, unwilling to answer. He then went to stand by the lake, Althea got a mental image of Ares diving into the pond with her and Angel as they had only a few nights before.
"What do you want to know?" Ares said after a moment, his back turned the Althea. She felt a pang of regret in her soul, she had loved Ares, and he had loved her. And she had, only a day before, thought that she did not love him anymore. Now she had her doubts.
"I want to know what you are trying to pull off, Ares?" Althea said, forcing a harshness into her voice.
Ares turned to look at her, Althea felt her knees grow weak. It was a penetrating glare that Althea had seen only a few times before. "Don't play games with me, Althea." He snapped, "you know why I am here. You know what I want. I am not trying to hide my motives behind the pretense of right or good!"
"I know what you want, but I do not know how you intend to accomplish this. How can I trust you?" Althea asked, rephrasing her question.
"I give you my word that I will fight at your side during this war. But I can not say anything for the future wars." Ares said. "I will also give you some information that you may find useful."
"What is that?" Althea could see a glint in Ares's eyes that made her tremble, something was seriously wrong, and even Ares looked nervous.
"Your dear Princess has sided with the enemy. The war will end with Azure the victor soon, if another force strong enough to battle both kingdoms does not arise."
"You are a liar!" Angel shouted, but Althea said nothing, her face red with worry.
Ares ignored Angel and looked Althea in the eye. "Artemisa was made an offer that she could not refuse."
"Then why is she attacking tomorrow?" Althea asked as Angel stared at her in shock.
"The people will not follow her blindly. Azure must do something to prove to you and all the others in power that he is worthy of your support. Then she will join an alliance with him."
"Marriage?" Althea asked.
"No, she is still faithful to Heaven. I am not sure what the arrangement is, though."
"Then what hope do we have of stopping this?" Angel finally asked.
"You have supporters, and you have as much power as your twin, Althea." Ares said, "at least among the common person. Also we have Dervish's support."
"The dragon? She is faithful to you?" Althea asked surprised.
"No, but she does not want a treaty, she will help us make Azure's offer seem as it truly is, simply a way for him to take control over Dragon- Snow." Ares looked Althea in the eye and smiled a little. "It will be nice working with you again, my lady."
"We never agreed." Angel growled.
Althea smiled in response. "Swear that all you have said is the truth, and that you have omitted nothing that would be of importance, swear it upon your fathers soul and the deal will be signed."
"I swear it." Ares answered. Angel turned red with anger.
"Then can you leave your army and come to the city to meet with the others today?" Althea asked.
"I can, Dervish is keeping my absence accounted for. Shall we go?"
"One more thing, can you produce any physical evidence for us?" Althea asked.
"Yes, ask the Princess, ask her to swear on her soul. Though I fear that would tell her that you know too much." Ares's words struck them like a blade, Angel felt himself redden with anger at Artemisa, how could she betray him, his twin, and the kingdom? As if in answer to his question Ares said, "she does not feel that this is a betrayal, she thinks that she is doing what is right."
The three returned to Dragon-Snow together. They took Ares into Angel's home and Althea went to find Heaven and Draven, the two that she thought she could trust.
Soon as she had them with her she knocked at the door. Angel answered it and allowed the three inside. "Please, sit."
"We have no time for this, Angel, we must prepare for the battle that Artemisa has planned. Where have you been?" Heaven said as he walked inside.
"What has been planned?" Althea asked.
"A fools quest," Draven growled in answer, "she wants to send all of our forces against the Dark Night tomorrow. We will not stand a chance, we are ill equipped."
Heaven was about to argue but Angel interrupted, telling them again to sit. They finally obeyed and then he began to talk. "Althea and I have uncovered a traitor. I know that you will have a hard time believing us," Angel said, looking upon his brother. "But we have a way to prove it."
"Well who is this traitor? He, or she, must be executed." Heaven said, but Draven fell silent, he looked at Althea expectantly, as though he already knew.
"All in due time, Heaven." Althea interrupted. "We will kill no one. But we will not allow this treason to succeed. We have found help among Azure's people."
"And you trust this 'help'?" Heaven asked, looking at Althea as though she had lost her mind.
"Yes, and you should as well, in this matter at least." Althea snapped, and then, as if on cue, Ares stepped out of the shadows. Draven was not surprised to see him, Althea guessed he had already noticed the shadowy figure. But Heaven leapt to his feet and drew his sword. Althea did not hesitate to jump between the two, her own sword drawn.
"Sit down Heaven, there is much to talk about." Angel demanded, Heaven hesitated, then, after looking around the room to make sure that Azure and Armand were not also in the shadows he sat.
"What is the meaning of this?" Heaven demanded.
"We need your help." Althea answered, glancing at Draven she smiled, "yours as well. The traitor has more power then you think. If we do not accept Ares's help then we have already lost."
"Who is the traitor?" Heaven asked, keeping his eyes on Ares as though he expected the man to stab Althea in the back.
"It is your beloved Princess." Draven answered bitterly. Heaven looked at him angrily.
"You lie!" He shouted, "I thought that you were not in on this! And brother, I did not think this possible of you." Heaven stood again, this time to leave. But Angel, Althea and Ares tensed instantly, Angel moving between his brother and the door.
"Hear us out, Heaven. You owe that to me, and you know it." Angel said softly.
"I owe you nothing! You are more traitorous than I ever thought you could be!" Heaven snapped.
"Sit down Heaven, are you so blind that you can not even consider she may have been mislead?" Angel demanded.
"I am loyal, a quality which you will never understand!" Heaven countered angrily.
Althea stepped to his side, "Heaven we are not asking for anything but for you to listen. Artemisa is coming here soon, she will tell you this yourself."
Heaven looked at her angrily, "you are going to have her trapped, or tricked."
"No, sit and I will tell you exactly what we want to be done, and you will be allowed to do it if you want." Althea knew that that would make him think twice, and therefore he turned.
"I will listen to you, but I will not trust you." Heaven said finally.
"That is all I ask." Angel said, he turned his eyes to Ares, who told them what he knew of Azure and Artemisa's alliance.
"She will think that she is doing what is right, Heaven." Althea finally added, "she is not truly evil, she is only innocent to what Azure wants."
"Perhaps not even that, Artemisa thinks that she can control the situation. She probably trusts that Azure will help her to keep her people safe, and alive." Angel added.
"What do you plan to do?" Heaven finally asked, his face pale with anger and worry.
"We plan to ask Artemisa." Althea answered.
"She will tell Azure that you know if you do." Heaven said in answer, Althea smirked and removed a pouch from her pocket, she handed it to Heaven.
"Do you know what that is?" She asked. He looked at it and nodded, "then you know what we plan?"
Heaven nodded, Artemisa would be there soon and Ares slipped back into the shadows. Soon Artemisa entered the room, Heaven looked at her with regret, she smiled, unknowing.
"What is wrong?" She asked.
"Sit, drink." Angel said coldly, handing her some wine, Heaven smiled coldly and looked away, he hated to trick her, but there seemed to be no choice. Artemisa sat and drank from her wine as the others drank from there's. She did not taste the herb that Heaven, who had traded Althea's for his stash of the drug to be sure it was not poisoned, had put into her wine. He knew that she would pass out in two hours, and remember nothing when she awoke of the entire day. Soon as she was done drinking they wasted a few moments in petty conversation. Then Heaven turned to Artemisa seriously.
"Princess, will you swear honesty?" He suddenly asked, Artemisa looked nervously at Heaven.
"Always, my love." Artemisa mumbled nervously.
"Then answer me this, what is the relationship you have with Azure?" Heaven asked, Artemisa looked at him worriedly and then turned her eyes to everyone else, Ares still remained hidden.
"I. how dare you ask me that? Azure is the leader of our enemy! What do you think our relationship is like?" Artemisa demanded faking anger, though everyone could see her panic.
"You did not answer, Princess." He answered.
Artemisa lowered her eyes, "I can not answer that." Heaven turned red in anger, that was as good an answer as he would get, or needed.
Ares stepped out of the shadows then and Artemisa turned red in anger. "You dare ask my relationship with Azure when you are conspiring with Ares?!"
No one listened to her though, Althea went to stand at the door in case Artemisa tried to leave and the group began discussing their plans.
"Azure is not backed by Armand in this, my brother does not even know. Dervish will handle talking to him." Ares was saying, "but my brother will not want Azure to know that he defied him, only I will openly betray Azure."
"What chance will you have?" Draven asked, his eyes blazing with curiosity.
"None, without your help." He said, turning his eyes to them. "All we need to do is stop him, then I will fight at your side until this war is over."
Althea looked at Ares skeptically, "what will you do after that?"
"I am not sure." Ares smiled, "but you are welcome to join my army again."
Angel shot Ares and icy look, then noticed that Artemisa was shaking with anger. She finally realized why they were not worried about her telling Azure. Heaven turned his attention to Artemisa. "I am sorry that we had to do this. But you have made a mistake."
Artemisa looked at him angrily, knowing that she would remember none of this in a matter of hours. "I am sorry that I trusted you to see what is right, Heaven. I did not think you would be fool enough to believe this warlord." She snapped and gestured at Ares.
"Then tell me that he lied, Artemisa, tell me that you are not with Azure?" Heaven insisted, again Artemisa turned away in shame and anger.
"I am trying to spare the lives of thousands." Artemisa said in her defense. "Forgive me if I value life over pride."
Heaven sighed loudly and turned his attention back to the plans that were being discussed.
Artemisa woke up in her room, it was late afternoon and she could not remember how she had gotten there. Her head ached as though she had a hangover, but she did not remember drinking. All she remembered was being invited to go to Angel's for one last celebration before the first battle. Artemisa sighed, thinking that she had to celebrate a little less.
A knock had awoke her, and now it came again. "Who is it?" Artemisa asked.
"Heaven," answered Heaven's distinct voice.
"Come in." Artemisa sat up slowly as Heaven entered the room, he held in his hand a tea made of herbs.
"Drink this, it will ease the pain, do you remember anything?" He asked, probing to see if she would lie.
"No, how much did I drink?" Artemisa asked.
"Enough, are you ready for the battle?"
"Yes," Artemisa said and sipped at the tea. Heaven's expression was one of pain and Artemisa wondered if it was because of the upcoming war. She had considered telling him that it would be over as quickly as it had started, but she doubted Heaven would trust Azure.
"There is a meeting tonight in the war chamber, to prepare for the battle." Heaven informed her.
"Tonight? We were supposed to send out the armies tonight." Artemisa argues.
"The plans have changed." Heaven said, looking at her earnestly.
Artemisa thought about that for a moment then nodded, "when do we send forth the armies?"
"Tomorrow mourning. Word is that the Dark Night is traveling in this direction. We will meet them along the way." Heaven told her, watching as her expression relaxed.
"Good," Artemisa sipped more of the drink as Heaven continued to talk, nothing he said made much of a difference until he told her that Draven, Angel, Althea and himself intended to go with the army into battle. "No! You can not!" Artemisa argued, "especially Althea." Artemisa remembered what Azure had said, he promised that the killing would be minimal but he also said that they, Artemisa, Heaven, Angel, Draven and especially Althea should not go, his warriors would surely recognize and kill them.
"Why?" Heaven asked, narrowing his eyes with what looked like anger.
"It is dangerous, and I need you all to help me rule." Artemisa answered, telling half-truths.
"We all have been in many wars, Lady Artemisa. We know the danger we face."
No you do not! Artemisa thought desperately, you do not know that it is a well-planned trap. If you go you may live, but Ares will surely kill Althea, or worse. "I must demand that you all stay."
Heaven looked at her surprised, "I will obey you, my Princess, but I know that neither my brother, Draven, or Althea pledge to serve you, they may not."
"Then I will remove them from their ranks!" Artemisa snapped angrily, "until they pledge their services to me."
Heaven eyed her with annoyance, then he knew a way to serve it, "without Althea the dragons will not fight."
"We do not need them!" Artemisa argued and Heaven narrowed his eyes suspiciously, his feigned suspicion had the effect he wanted. "I did not mean to say that," she quickly covered, not wanting to raise suspicion. "But I do not want Althea to go. Nor do I want your brother or the magician."
"I am sorry to tell you this, my lady, but I believe you have no choice." Heaven told her, smiling, "though I will stay with you." That had been the plan all along, though Heaven had wondered how he would explain his need to stay with her. He could not admit that he needed to watch her and the kingdom while the others were gone.
Althea felt nervous trusting Katiya after they had known each other for so short a time, but she had no choice. The dragons had already been told of the traitor and what the plan was, but a few of their riders must know as well.
"So the Princess," Kat began in shock.
"Yes, but say nothing." Althea snapped.
"I will not, the dragons know?" Kat asked.
"Yes, and this is what I need you to do, I am sure that somewhere near here is a group of the Dark Night ready to invade soon as we are gone. I am going to leave you and a hundred dragons of your choosing with riders, again of your choosing, to hold off the attack that is sure to come while we are gone." Althea paused, feeling guilty, but she and Kat both knew they could not leave more then a hundred of the dragons. The Princess would notice that some dragons were missing, as it was Althea already felt nervous and hoped no one would report the smaller number of dragons to her. "I know that it will be hard, and I am telling you now that you are not to attack, just keep them out of the city walls until we return. I am sorry that I can not leave you with a larger command, but we will also need every advantage. Heaven is going to remain here and watch the Princess so that she can not betray the city and allow the Dark Night in. I am sure that he and his small group of Knights will be able to handle the situation."
Kat bowed her head solemnly. "I am sure we can hold off the attack until your return."
"Yes. There is one more thing, Lady Katiya, do not think ill of your Princess, she thinks that joining with Azure is the only way to save the kingdom." Althea smiled at the girl, "she is a good woman."
Kat smiled a little, "I know, right and wrong are not always simple to tell apart, are they?"
"No, the only reason why I can defy her plans, which are actually good ones, is that I have found a large weakness in the Dark Night. One which will even the odds. Artemisa did not have that, and so she did what was right in her situation." Althea told her.
"I know, I am sure she made what was the wisest choice. But I am prepared to defend this kingdom and I am prepared to die doing it if need be. So please do not worry about us while you battle." Kat said, trying to hide her own worry.
"Thank you, Kat." Althea said grinning proudly. "And trust the dragons, they, more than their riders, will serve you with honor."
Eclipse, who knew of the entire situation, walked up then. His eyes dark with worry. "Lady the war council will start soon. Please come with me, you also, Lady Katiya."
Althea looked at the little dragon worriedly, he had his dragonetts to protect him, and three dragons that Althea had told to keep him safe. But she could not help her fear for him. Surely Dervish did not want the silver dragon to grow old enough to contest her power. And Althea wondered if it was safe for him to remain in the city. He had begged to be allowed to go with her into battle and she was still seriously considering it.
When they got into the war room they found everyone was there already. Althea smiled at the group as she entered with the Puck surrounding her like a cloud of little bodies. She touched the necklace that she still had, thinking of Ares as she did. She wondered if he was safe, had he been discovered?
Pushing aside her thoughts she sat with the Princess and her close rulers, who were Draven, Heaven, Angel, Althea and a few generals and nobles that Althea knew little about. Among them sat the Sprite they had met in the Emerald Woods, Ryian. Kat, who kept her eyes away from Artemisa, sat with the other generals.
"Welcome," Artemisa said gently, looking at the table in an attempt not to meet anyone's gaze.
"You all know why we are here," Heaven said soon as Artemisa was quiet. "Are all the armies ready to march?"
"Yes," one of the generals, Reani, answered. "Also there are armies from all the cities that can spare them ready to meet us."
"Good." Heaven said, turning his eyes to Kat he smirked knowingly and added, "are the Dragon Lords ready to fly?"
"Yes," Kat said and bowed her head, knowing when she looked at Heaven that she had a chance. With him at her side all would work out, or so she felt.
"Before tactics are discussed I must ask something," Artemisa cut in suddenly, still looking down. "I mean I must order that Althea, Angel, and Draven remain with me."
"I am sorry, Princess. I can not do that." Althea said quickly, "nor do I see why I should, I want to be with my army." This got a murmur of approval from the generals.
"I must go also." Draven stated.
Artemisa looked up finally, not wanting to argue, she did not have the strength. Nor did she have the right, Althea and Draven were helping her out of kindness, they were not her people, but Angel was, because he had lived there so long. When she turned her eyes to him he nodded, "I should stay anyway, I have, well connections that will prove valuable. But they are mostly here in the cities not in the war front."
The Princess nodded, giving Althea one last pleading look before she resigned herself to discussing the battle plans with the rest of the members of the table.
"Assure me her safety or I will call off my army!" Artemisa snapped to Azure, who had magically transported himself to her in the city, for after his first appearance Draven had put up guarding spells to keep him out of the palace.
"Are you so foolish that you will sacrifice the lives of thousands for the life of one?" Azure asked coldly.
"I am not." The Princess said after a minute, "but I am sure you can do something. You know she is there, hide her. Surely Ares will not expect his second turned traitor to go to war with him."
Azure smiled, "no, that is exactly what he expects, you know Althea, she would not miss this battle for the world. Ares knows that as well."
Artemisa felt tears flow down her cheeks. Azure pulled her close, hugging her warmly. "I am sorry things have to be this way, Artemisa." He whispered, "but war is not easy."
Artemisa looked up into his entrancing emerald green eyes. "Then call of this war, Azure, you have the power to end this all."
Azure pushed her away. "I also have the power to destroy you completely!" Azure snapped, "you know what you must do, Princess."
Artemisa was not surprised by his reaction to her request, rather she moved away angrily. "I will not fail you."
"Now then, who is staying here?" Azure asked.
"Heaven and his twin."
"Is that all?" Azure demanded, Artemisa nodded, "why are they here?"
"I ordered them to remain. I tried to order Althea and Draven to stay also but they are unwilling."
"Good," Azure answered, knowing that if Althea had caught on to the trap she would stay and try to guard the city, for it would be the only hope in a matter of days.
"Are you sure that this is the only way?" Artemisa asked, she had asked the same question several times, and always Azure smiled at her warmly and took her hand in his.
"Can you think of another way?" He asked.
The Princess shook her head and looked to the sky. "When will you have your army attack?"
"In three days, I will attack in the mourning, you will surrender at dusk." Azure answered.
"Good, and no one will be killed?" The Princess persisted, feeling herself blush as he looked at her.
"I can not assure you that, but I assure you few will be killed, it is better than the alternative."
"That it is, thank you Azure." Artemisa sighed, "I know that you have a pure heart, I do not see why no one else knows it as well."
"Pure, no, but we do have the same ambitions, Princess. I do not see why we should not work together. Though because of some words which you said, no one will trust me for a while." Azure smirked as Artemisa blushed a soft pink.
"I am sorry, I thought that I was doing the right thing, I never thought that this allience could bring peace to the world, I never thought that I could fulfill the prophecy." The Princess thought of the mighty kingdom she was creating with Azure, no one would dare uppose them if they joined together. The wars would end and the two nations, the Black Dragon and Dragon-Snow would be the main powers of Atlantis.
"I forgive you, my lady. But as you know I am tired, I have been casting spell after spell today and I must rest. I will talk to you soon." He again pulled Artemisa close in a warm embrace then playfully pushed her away.
"Good bye, Azure." Artemisa answered warmly as his image faded from her view.
Artemisa went back to the palace and found it as she had left it, chaotic. Armies and warriors were flooding through the gates, they all came from other cities in Dragon-Snow and had hurried to Snow upon hearing that there would be an attack. More were coming every second and surely more would meet the army on the road. But the new armies created a huge amount of chaos. They did not know where to go or who to follow. And as the gold moon began to set Artemisa noticed that Althea Had finally shown herself. She was riding upon her dragon, the only dragon in the city at the moment, and she called much attention to herself. She landed the dragon on a roof top where all could see and those who did not pay attention soon did, when Rayn's vicious roar filled the air.
Soon as everyone was looking at her Althea began to speak, using her magic to help her voice carry, it was heard by all, more in their minds then in their ears. "Today we are going to face a danger that has threatened us as a kingdom. Though I do not know the future I know that you are all powerful warriors with a faithful leader." Althea gestured at Artemisa who was trying to hide in the shadows, wondering why, of all things Althea had to call her faithful. "And we will win, or die nobly. Now all of you that are new, I would like you to join into groups. If you came here with an army find it and stay with it, if not find one of my armies." Again Althea gestured, this time to the well organized armies in the front. "And stick to it. I will send someone to each group to co- ordinate it."
Althea was quiet as the audience obeyed her, grouping themselves together. Althea watched as some of her warriors hurried forward to shout commands. Soon as this was done Althea sent for the dragons, who were still in their lairs in the mountains, which proved a powerful strong holds. Though the mountains seemed open to attack the dragons knew no one would come to them. The blizards and fog made the mountains as dangerous in day as at night, anyone who entered a mountain looking for dragon lairs that they would not see unless they were three feet away was a fool. And they would die. Therefore the dragons were safe there. Safer by far then they were in the city, Althea thought. Moments after she called them they filled the sky. It seemed like thousands, though there were only hundreds, of dragons came forth. Those that watched gasped in fear and awe.
The dragons began to land among their riders. They had to land in turns for there was not enough room for them all. As soon as they had their riders they launched back into the air and were replaced by another group. As this happened Althea watched the armies getting directed into organized lines in order to leave the city gates. The Pegasi Riders were the second into the skies following the dragons, they had doubled in number since Artemisa had told of the attack on the Dark Night that was being planned. They had traveled from near and far on the swift wings of their steeds. Flooding into the city like so many locusts.
The Griffin Lords took to the air last, though they had not doubled in number they had become a mighty force. And soon the sky was thick with the army, which was organizing itself into flight patterns. Althea then looked to the ground. The army was lining nicely, the horseback riders were in front and behind the rest of the army, the foot soldiers second to them and the supply wagons in the center. The whole procession was so huge that some had to line outside of the gates as well. Though Althea doubted there would be any danger so near Snow she still did not like the idea of having part of her army exposed.
Soon as all seemed in order she waved at the Princess, Angel and Heaven then nudged her dragon into the air. Only then did anyone notice the small silver dragon and the swarm of dragonetts that had been standing next to her.
The First Battle
By the second day most of the Pegasi were riding with the horse back army. Althea kept the dragons and griffins flying because it was less tiring for them then walking with the larger sum of the army. She had already separated the army, which was the tactic that Ares had suggested. The trap was set up for an army traveling as a whole, if the army was separated then the trap had to surround a larger area, which would make ranks of the attackers thinner and easier to penetrate. Once Althea could get some of her army behind the attackers she would have an advantage. Especially considering Ares would turn his army against that of Armand and the mercenary army. This would create havoc in the enemy ranks and free Althea to attack rather then defend.
She knew that it would all work well, but she was not sure if it would be enough. Against such a large army all she could do was hope for the best. As they traveled she noticed more and more small groups of warriors, tired and warn from their journey, joining them. The people wanted to help her, they were on her side. If the Princess was ever discovered there would surely be a civil war. Though Althea did not want to consider that at the moment, a large green dragon was coming into sight on the horizon and she had no doubt about who it was.
She asked Rayn to hurry forth to find him, and noticed that Draven on his dark gray dragon followed close behind. Ares was able to slip away almost whenever he wanted, with the armies scattered in the woods waiting to ambush Althea's army it was nearly impossible to find anyone. And if anyone did question about Ares Dervish would tell them that she had seen him or that he was busy. So now he went to tell Althea more of the enemy tactics. Which had been changed now that the spies reported the army was coming in tree groups, not to mention the well-positioned and prepared air attackers.
Soon as they met they landed their dragons, dismounting so they could walk and talk. Eclipse was there, but the entire Puck was somewhere among the dragons, amusing themselves by talking to the new members of the army, all of whom did not know how to react to the pesky little creatures.
When they landed they were instantly surrounded by some of the dragons and their riders that were sworn to protect their commanders. Those Dragon Lords knew about the alliance with Ares, though they did not know about Artemisa and Azure, only the dragons knew that.
"The army has spread out as I expected. They also moved from the valley into a forest. You should reach them in three days." Ares said as his dragon, who Althea had charmed into loyalty, in the process also teaching Ares that dragons were honorable and could be controlled by that as well, followed closely behind.
"Good, I would rather fight in a forest. Are there any clearings near bye that we could lure them into?" Althea asked, preferring to fight in the open.
"Yes but I think that would be more to your disadvantage. Remember the mercenary armies still out number us put together. And I dare not try to bribe them because they will surly report to my brother." Ares explained. "And I just learned of another problem. Actually in a way I learned of it from your dear Princess."
Althea knew that he meant he had spies, though she did not bother to ask who. "What did you learn?"
"Azure has another group of Dragon Lords, unknown to me before now, they are in the hills, they will attack when the battle begins. And there are rumors that there is another black dragon among them. Dervish will not deny that, and so I have to assume it is true."
"How many? And why does he keep them hidden?" Althea asked as Draven listened closely.
"I am not sure how many, but he intends to use them to scare you into surrender. The Princess wants this army captured to scare the people into accepting Azure, but she does not want it destroyed, nor does Azure." Ares informed her, "and that is our greatest advantage."
Althea shook her head, "soon as they realize we have a fighting chance of winning they will attack to kill. I think surprise is our best chance."
"What about Dervish, will she fight for us?" Eclipse asked, he had shown a surprising amount of interest in the black dragon.
"No, she is helping all she can without discovery. She wants Azure at her side, not at Artemisa's side. Therefore she will help by not attack your army in full force. She will give chase to a couple of your dragons and waste much time. But she will not fight for us." Ares explained, looking at Eclipse curiously.
Just then Trouble and Pixie flew into the clearing. "We finally found you! You have become distressing creatures! Vanishing all the time." Trouble announced from above.
"And the conversation seems to also vanish in our presence!" Pixie piped in soon as Trouble had finished.
"Well that is more then I expected from her." Althea admitted, Draven listened silently for a moment longer. Then he smirked.
"Althea, your pet dragon returns." He announced.
An instant after he said that, before Althea could answer, a voice invaded her thoughts. I am back just in time I see!
Althea could not hide her smile, "Storm!" She exclaimed out loud, then jumped onto her dragon, going to meet Storm.
Soon as she was gone Draven turned to Ares. "Why are you doing this, Ares. It does not benefit you as much as you try to say."
Ares smiled at him then watched Althea's dragon lift into the air. "No, it benefits me more. You see where would I be without someone to share my power with?"
Draven was not surprised by the answer. He had always suspected that Althea was another reason Ares had joined them.
Althea saw Storm and her following group of dragons rise over the mountain, and with them came a new hope. Althea, with the Puck and Eclipse at her back, hurried to meet the dragons. As she got closer she realized that there were around two hundred dragons flying with Storm. And to her surprise she spotted a mighty red dragon who flew toward the back of the group, it's large body seamed to glow in the light of the white sun.
Althea smiled in joy. The group joined with Althea and she had them land in a huge clearing, which was far from rare in the grassy lands that they were traveling at the moment.
Soon as they had landed Althea hurried to talk to Storm. The dragon and her greeted each other happily then finally Storm directed Althea to the red dragon as the rest of the army began to fill the clearing.
Althea bowed her head to the red dragon when she reached it. The animal seemed amused, lowering its head in response. "It is I that should bow to you." He answered, for like any other creatures the dragon male had a gruff, deeper voice then the female.
"Thank you, may I introduce myself, I am Mistress Althea, I no longer have a full title though."
"I am Flame. And you do have a title among my kind, you are called Mistress Althea of Dragons." Flame answered, then he glanced around, "I would rather my presence be kept somewhat quiet." He told her, noticing the mass of the army was coming into sight. Althea watched in shock as he began to fade and a more tangible looking form appeared within him. The form of a warrior Fire Sprite, with eyes that were completely red, giving away his true identity to anyone who knew.
"That is most impressive." Althea mumbled.
Flame smiled, now he was a very handsome creature and seemed also charming. Althea turned her eyes to Eclipse, who was watching from the shadows. "Your dragon can shape shift also if that is what you are wondering." Said Flame, "I would be more then willing to teach him how."
"I would be much obliged." Althea answered. She noticed Ares walk up then and felt suddenly nervous, would Flame look down upon her for siding with the enemy? She already noticed Storms angry glare and wondered if the dragon was going to yell at her. But instead Flame began talking seriously.
"There are many of my kind, and I do not mean dragons, I mean the more powerful breeds that are coming to join this war on one side or the other." Flame was saying. "A few others from where I live are on their way. Though they will not be here for a while."
Althea smiled proudly, but could not accept such great news so simply. "Why? The dragons have never before taken an interest in our wars?"
Flame looked at her as though deciding if she were ready for some secret, but he seemed to decide that she was and answered simply, "this has nothing to do with your petty wars. But soon there will be a war that involves us all. We want to make ties between you and us before then. The goddess has spoken, she has showed us what is coming and who we must join with to insure survival. She told me that all of her chosen would need a mighty mount."
"What goddess?" Althea asked, thinking of Dervish.
Flame looked at her with a smirk, "do not ask questions that you have already been given the answer to."
Ares took that opportunity to step forward, he, knowing Dervish well, knew that Flame was a dragon, even though he had not seen the man change forms. His eyes told his secret.
"Is that why Dervish was sent to Azure?" He asked after a moment.
"It is not for me to tell." Flame answered, then smiled warmly, "truthfully I do not know whom Leatha sent, and I do not know whom she sent them to serve, Lord Ares. Leatha wants us to choose each other, therefore we will have powerful ties."
Althea looked at Flame annoyed, he said that Leatha had shown him what was "coming" but she still had a hard time understanding why the goddess would send help to her and her enemy. It made no sense and Althea doubted that Flame would explain anything to her. Though she noticed that Flame also was young, not fully grown. And she wondered why Leatha would choose such young dragons, and people for that matter.
Althea, who was not worried about being late for her battle with the Dark Night, decided to stay in the clearing for the night. She had her dragons choose their riders from the army of men, in the end most that were chosen were foot soldiers. And though Flame offered his services she assured him that she would rather stick to Storm, since she had not seen the dragon in a while. Flame did not argue, and Ares and him soon came to the agreement that they would battle together.
That night Flame began teaching Eclipse about his magic, or so it seemed to anyone who was watching them. The two stayed up all night talking. Though Flame was young he had much news for Eclipse. He told the dragon the latest news of the other powerful dragons that lived together in the mountain of Icesis, a land where little could survive the temperatures and harsh conditions. There the dragons had used their magic to tame a few valleys and there they lived. They fed off of the plants and the animals that lived there, thriving in the calm weather of the dragon homes. There were many dragons there, of all colors. The most powerful were the white, black, red, silver, gold, copper and bronze and mixtures of the colors. There were dragons that were black and green, for example, but those were just as powerful as a green. Only mixtures like white and red would produce equally powerfully offspring. Flame also told Eclipse of the dreams that had sent him to join with Althea's army. And Eclipse told him of his own dreams, ones of Leatha and of Althea. "Then I think you have found your fate, what does she call you. Eclipse."
Eclipse, who was tiny compared to Flame, smiled in pride. "So have you, Flame."
"How long have you been in that form?" He asked, once they were out of hearing of everyone else.
"Too long, Flame. I even hatched!" Eclipse answered.
"Does Althea know?" Flame persisted.
"Of course, though she still could not understand why I kept the Puck around when she learned." Eclipse said smiling, "I told her they were the most amusement I have had in years."
Night passed quickly as they talked, and Eclipse was not surprised by anything that Flame told him. But he was surprised when, with the sunrise, came two more dragons. This seamed to have been what Flame was expecting, for he flew out to meet them, keeping an illusion on his color and size when he returned to dragon form. It was impossible for anyone but the dragons to know the colors of these new dragons. When they got there they both appeared to be a light shade of gray, but Althea knew better for the dragons let her see through their illusion, which hid both their color and size. Althea gasped at the sight of the mighty dragons. One was huge and as white as snow, the other was mighty and gold in color. They walked with Althea, Flame, Ares and Draven into the woods, where they took the forms of two elven, a woman and a man. One had gold eyes the other white eyes.
"Welcome Eve, welcome Seraph." Flame greeted warmly, then introduced them all, the female, the gold dragon who was now a beautiful elven woman with long gold hair, gold tinted skin a pure gold eyes, was Eve. The other, a strong man with white hair and the odd white, was Seraph. Althea looked at the three dragons proudly for a moment. Then she knew what she had to do.
"I welcome you, but I must ask for you do help me elsewhere." Althea said after they had been talking for some time. They were traveling with the army toward their trap.
"We are here to help you in whatever you need, Althea." Even answered, her voice soft and beautiful.
"Will you return to Snow. I had little hope that my little army of dragons could protect it, but with your help it will be possible."
"We will go, if that is your will. But I must warn you, there are others like us in the army of Armand." Seraph told her calmly, his white eyes making him appear blind.
"I know, but without Snow there will be no hope at all." Althea argued.
"Of course, you have made a wise and honest decision, we will leave tonight." Seraph answered.
"Thank you." Althea mumbled.
Draven was about to say something when Pixie, who had been flying at his side, froze, nearly falling from the sky, but Eclipse caught her. Somewhat worried Althea asked what was wrong and Pixie said in a weak voice, "Eve is a gold dragon!" And with that stunning announcement Pixie fell unconscious.
Seraph and Eve left in the late afternoon. They flew to Snow at a surprising speed. Of course they could have teleported themselves there, but it would have announced their coming to every wizard in a hundred miles. That usually was no big deal, but during times of war every magic user powerful enough for teleportation spells was seen as an instant threat. And the two dragons did not want to announce their coming.
Flame, because of his liking for Ares, had been the one chosen to remain. Though everyone knew he would be in more danger than Seraph and Eve. The two dragons did not have to wait for slower foot soldiers like the rest of Althea's dragon army. Therefore they arrived near Snow a little past dusk. They took elven form outside of the city walls, and, since the battle had not begun, gained easy access, saying that they were sent from Althea, which they proved by showing a letter with her insignia. Once inside the city they separated. Eve went into the palace in search of Heaven and Seraph went to Angel's home. It was midnight when he got to Angel's home. Althea had told him that he would have to get past the guards, which he was to do simply by telling them that he was a messenger from Althea. It did not prove so simple, though.
"I have never seen you before, albino!" One man teased.
Seraph, though powerful, was still very young, and his temper very strong. So within' instants Angel's home was set ablaze. Thinking that it was some sort of attack Angel came running from his house with leather pants and no shirt, his sword in hand and daggers in their sheathes. But he found the streets empty, aside from his men who were trying to put out the fire and a very large, very white, dragon.
"You must be Angel." The dragon said, his calm returning and with it is concentration. Soon Seraph was once again in the form of a Elven man.
"I am," Angel said, surprised.
"Hello, I am Seraph, Althea sent me to help protect the city, when the time comes."
Angel smiled and put his sword away. "Azure doesn't have a chance." Angel muttered, which Seraph countered by beginning to explain the situation. The two walked toward the palace as they talked. Angel putting up a spell so it appeared he had his armor on, with it the guards thought of him as a noble, though they would have recognized him, if they ever had had a good look at the King of Thieves.
Seraph told Angel about Flame and Eve, to which he answered, "Azure is in for a real surprise."
"Perhaps, but he has a surprise of his own." Seraph assured Angel as they came to Heaven's chambers.
"Althea told you not to tell Artemisa, didn't she?" Angel asked.
Seraph raised a surprised eyebrow, "no, she told us to tell her soon. Althea said that we are trying to buy time, not win a battle. Therefore the knowledge of our existence may be more valuable to this cause then even our help."
Angel smiled in answer as the door opened, revealing Eve and Heaven, who were talking together like old friends. That night there was a festival, which seemed to be a perfect opportunity. After all was arranged Heaven, Angel, Eve and Seraph went out into a courtyard, there the two elven's turned into two mighty dragons. And, with Heaven and Angel on their backs, they went into the crowd at the festival. They hid nothing, they were full in their glory. And though Angel and Heaven knew that even these two mighty dragon's could do little more then help slow the attack of Azure they were as filled with hope as the people in at the festival.
Althea paced her tent, that day was the day of the first true battle. She had separated her army into three parts. One was lead by Flame, who was going to join with Ares and their forces would fight together to break up the enemy ranks when they reached the trap. The other was lead by Althea, who were going to face the dragons and whatever forces they had. The third was Draven's, though he did not seem very interested in commanding, was going to try to destroy the enemy by, once caught in the trap, breaking through enemy lines and attacking from both sides. Draven, Ares and Flame were all working together on the ground, and, with all luck, would create the desired affect by working well together. Althea, though, was basically on her own. She had the main group of dragons, griffins and some pegasi. Many of them were also serving Flame and Draven. But no one could really help her fight the dragons that she knew would attack. No one but Eclipse.
And so they faced the final day. Few knew that the battle would come that day, Tiphereth was still more then three days away. They would not march for another hour, and Althea knew it would be unwise for her to warn the men, not until they were almost in the "lions den." But until then she made sure they were all ready. That they had their weapons sharpened, they were well rested and most of all alert, a quality which she had been stressing ever since they had began the journey.
Flame came to her tent for a while, he tried to calm her. And told her he had gone ahead in disguise to talk to Ares. He was ready, his men were not going to be told that they were traitors until a few moments before the attack. But Althea knew they would not question the orders so she did not worry. Also Flame told her that a dragon, named Shia, had arrived to tell them that all was well in Snow. Then Shia had left. Althea knew the dragon would most likely return to a battle. But there was nothing left she could do. She only hoped that Seraph and Eve had made it there.
After Flame left Althea went outside to Storm, who had become happier then Althea had ever known her to be in the presence of her fellow dragons. Though she knew the battle was coming that day she did not seem scared. And, much to Althea's surprise, she found the dragonetts giving her army inspirational speeches.
Finally the time came to march. And though few knew of what was to happen they all seemed to sense something was wrong. Althea often checked on the two other wings of the army. Flame had his army broken in half, they traveled on either side of Draven's army. It was a good plan, Althea knew, because when that attack came Flame would need to have his group join the fighting in the middle of the ranks. Draven on the other hand kept his army close. He had ten dragons that would aid them and a couple dozen griffins, but for the time being the flying animals remained with Althea. Flame's group on the other hand had the larger number of pegasi riders and several dozen dragons to help with their ground battle. Though Althea was sure within' the first hour of battle Draven and Flame's groups would be working side by side without separation.
Althea then glanced at Eclipse, just to be sure he was at her side, his silver eyes gleamed with joy as they flew forth. Althea relaxed a little, knowing that for once she had the advantage.
Althea was the first to see the forest where Ares had told them the enemy hid. Althea noticed it was perfect. The attack would happen in the forest then the Dark Night would force the smaller army of Dragon-Snow into the many large clearings. There the stronger army would surround and destroy Althea's group. But Althea had already remedied this. Flame and Ares would keep the battle where it was for as long as they could. Draven would move his army around during battle, but he would avoid the clearings unless he had no other choice. Althea would have her dragons attack the enemy if they tried to lure or force the battle to the clearings. And though the dragons were not as effective in the woods, the trees and limited mobility were an advantage to the smaller of the armies. The larger army would not be able to use brute force to destroy because they would not have the ability to trap the other groups as easily.
Althea swallowed back her regret. As they neared the forest, at the last clearing, the supply wagons were stopped and surrounded by a couple dozen dragons, most of the ones that Flame and Draven commanded, for Flame did not think they would be useful to them yet. If the enemy noticed that this happened they could do nothing, the Dragon-Snow army was too close. And then they marched forward. As they entered the woods swarms of dragons rose from where they hid in the hills that surrounded the forest. Filling the sky with the mighty animals.
Flames armies, being on either side of Draven, were hit first, but not very hard. Ares had stayed true to his word and soon as the army of ogres attacked Ares's army began to slay them from behind. Flame and Draven began to work their magic and within' moments the already confused enemy was in an utter chaos. The giants, who were at a severe disadvantage due to their size, soon crashed through the trees into the battle. It was then that the griffins appeared, being the most formidable opponent to the giants in the woods. They attacked with beak and claw. Ripping their enemies to shreds.
But the shock of betrayal and the prepared enemy did not last long. And soon the Dark Night was again on the offense. Their larger numbers were a larger advantage then expected and they soon had Draven's army surrounded. There was nothing that Draven could do but fight, so, working his magic and letting a general command the army, they barely managed to fend off the enemy. Mean while Flame and Ares were fighting side by side, trying to both destroy the enemy and cut a hole in the lines so they could free Draven.
The two armies worked differently. Flame's group attacked in small pockets of vicious warriors, while Ares's men used the advantage of the cover and attacked in groups of no more then four. Ares was the first to face one of the giants. The man was a little over twice his size with grotescly huge muscles and a crude, but lethal battle-ax. Ares had fought enough giants to know that there were only a few ways to kill them. One was magic, which Ares was already using too much of to confuse the enemy and control help fight the magic of the enemy magicians. The second was over powering them, which was impossible in that situation. And the third was out smarting them, which was actually not that hard. Ares knew that the giant's main advantage, even more then his strength, was that when Ares stabbed him he would not reach higher then the giants chest, the dragon on the other hand would hit his head if anything. So Ares grabbed the first tree branch he saw and swung himself up onto in, climbing higher and dodging the giant's attack at the same time. Soon as he was at eye level with the beast he attacked, thrusting his sword into the giant's throat. The giant stumbled and tried to grab Ares even as the blood drained from his neck. Ares jumped away from his reach, and then had to dodge his sword. The metal blade hit the branch he was standing on, sending him falling to the ground.
The giant had fallen by then, but soon as Ares was off his feet a swarm of ogres jumped at him. Each of them was a foot or so taller then Ares and held deadly weapons, which never touched him. Flame was there in an instant, his superior strength holding them back, even in elven form. Ares was on his feet quickly and again joined the battle.
Draven stood in the center of his men, a griffin and it's lord at his side guarding his carefully as he chanted the words of magic. He was doing little to save those around him because there was a purely magical battle already in progress and Draven alone was fighting it. Ares, who had helped for a while, had seen that Draven could handle it and was now using his magic to help his warriors to have the advantage. Of course that did not immediately help Draven's group, which was growing smaller by the second. Draven could hear the sounds of the battle raging around him. And then he felt a force of magic attack him. It was so powerful that Draven almost lost his concentration in surprise. Then he recognized it as the dragon. One who Draven thought was Dervish, and Draven wondered for a moment if he had been betrayed. But soon he realized that it was not Dervish, it's magic was not pure black but seemed to have red in it as well. Draven realized that there was yet another powerful dragon and feared for Althea.
Althea spotted the two dragons first, there was a huge dragon that was black and red, and for a second, much like Draven, she thought it was Dervish. Armand rode upon it, Althea noticed that right away to. And though Armand tried to hide his anger at the betrayal he was not doing a good job. Next to him came a dragon that was silver and white. It was that one that set its eyes on Althea and Storm while the other, Armand's mount, attacked her dragon's viciously.
Soon as the dragon was close enough to see Althea's eyes Althea decided to unleash her surprise. "Okay Eclipse." And with those words the baby dragon began to fade, and an image of a mighty silver dragon replaced it as Eclipse's shape shifting spell was lifted. Storm helped Althea climb onto Eclipse and in and instant, with a shrieking challenge, Eclipse was upon the white and silver dragon as Althea wove her spells.
Althea noticed almost instantly that her army was faring badly. Armand was wounding the dragons with ease, as though he attacked dragonetts. They fell to the ground dead or wounded horribly, and thanks to the magic of her dragons, most were just wounded. The other dragons could not help because they also fought their equals, the enemy army was still much larger then that of Dragon-Snow. And even though her old Dragon Lords had joined them, sent by Ares, it did not look like they had much hope. Althea considered calling on Flame, but she knew that he was needed to help even the odds below. His magic and strength would be able to keep their armies in control and order. Even in the danger they faced.
Althea was loosing hope when she spotted the mighty black dragon appear from the woods, her black eyes blazing with fury.
Dervish sensed Draven instantly and was quite taken by the man's power. She would have remained hidden and watched him if she had not noticed the battle above. Two dragons she knew had emerged to join the battle, Armand's mount Fury and Glory, the mighty white and silver dragon. She had not known that Glory was there and a panic filled her. What chance did Dragon-Snow have now?
She was about to give up, to allow the winning army to prevail. But then she again felt the magician Draven, and she felt a strong sense of dajavu. As though she knew him. And then she realized it was from a dream, the dream Leatha had sent her. After that Dervish finally knew her place, and, with a fierceness that comes with purpose, Dervish flew into the sky, attacking Glory so that Althea would be free to fight Armand, who, with Fury at his side, would be a more formidable foe.
Althea was surprised, but she knew what Dervish wanted, and without hesitation she bought Eclipse to face Fury.
Eve and Seraph kept the other dragons organized against the first wave of the attack. Artemisa seamed panicked, but Heaven kept her near, doubling with her on Eve. Angel was circling the city on Seraph, attacking anything that was foolish enough to come near the city walls. Everything seamed to be working fine until Azure appeared. He rode upon a black and silver dragon, and, making sure that he would attack one of the two mighty dragons at a time, went for Seraph first.
Angel was a powerful magician, but he did not equal Azure, and the battle would have lasted hours. But before it could the archers of Dragon- Show let a couple waves of poisoned arrows fly at Deus, Azure's mount. Though none of the arrows penetrated the dragon's scaled armor it still made Azure nervous for his own safety and he withdrew.
Katiya and her small army had entered the city that mourning when they were attacked, much to Princess Artemisa's horror. She knew then that Heaven and Angel had learned of her betrayal. And she was ashamed beyond words. There was little she could do but attempt to convince them that she was doing the right thing. That, though, seemed hopeless. And soon Artemisa found herself watched so closely that she did not even have time to scream. Not that it would have made a difference, if she had tried to open the gates now, while the people had a means of defense, which was not supposed to have been there, she would have been over thrown.
Angel had gathered a surprisingly large army from his rogues and Heaven also had a hidden supply of knights that were willing to fight. Though the group was not a great defense considering Azure's large scale attack, they had the advantage; shelter.
The word of Ares's betrayal and the battle got to Dragon-Snow within' hours after the battle had begun and so Azure did not assume Artemisa had betrayed him. Rather he continued to attack, hoping he could make the city fall before Althea could spare some of her army and send reinforcements to Dragon-Snow.
Althea glanced down as Eclipse fended off a dragon. What she saw tore at her heart. The dragons that surrounded the supply wagons had not encountered much fighting. So whenever a dragon fell from the sky injured two of the dragons would fly forth and rescue it, whether the dragon served Ares, Armand, or Althea, they would take them into the safety of their circle and help them heal.
Althea then glanced at the sun, it was a little past noon, she knew that everyone was exhausted and Armand would pull back his army soon. So Althea decided to carry out the final steps to the strategy. She had sounded the alarm and waited. Within' moments she saw Draven's army move out into one of the clearings as though they had been chased there, and soon they were surrounded by the enemy. Althea waited until the enemy moved forward into the clearing, then she used her magic to "shout" a command, all of her dragons abandoned the battle they had been fighting and dove from the sky, letting rain their mighty fire upon the ground. Draven had placed a shield around his men and so they lived.
Before the other dragons could counter attack Althea's group was in the air again, and though most of the riders were sick from watching their enemies being burned to ash, they still fought bravely.
Soon as the dragons returned to their battle Draven led his men in what was called the death search. They began to sweep the forest, avoiding the enemy as much as possible and whistling two short notes. Every injured soldier answered by whistling a three-note birdcall. Who ever was near them would take the injured soldier and help carry him or her toward the large clearing where the dragons waited. Flame and Ares did their best to hold back the army until the death search was done, then they also withdrew to the clearing. Soon as they were there Flame turned into his dragon form and Ares mounted, the two went to the sky and helped their dragons escape the battle. Soon all of the army of Dragon-Snow were in the clearing. Armand did not order an attack. His army was injured and confused. The giants and ogres had suffered little deaths. But the rest of the army was in a wreckage.
Dervish joined Althea in the clearing, asking if she could join their army, her betrayal would never be forgiven. It was Draven that answered, saying he needed her help. Dervish bowed her head in acceptance and what looked like relief.
"So the first battle ends." Ares said as him and Althea walked through the bloody bodies of the injured, helping all the soldiers that they could. "And you did not loose."
"But we did not win either." Althea said coldly.
Ares smiled, "there are never any winners on the first battle, if the odds are at all fair. Besides we did well, look, only about one fourth of your men are seriously injured. I expected far worse."
Althea raised her eyes to the army that surrounded her. There was not a person that did not have blood staining their armor or clothes. They all walked weekly, keeping a watchful gaze on the woods. Though Althea knew that she had chosen this clearing well, it was too large for archers in the woods to reach them. And it was filled with trenches and streams. Making it a good place as any for battle if the need arose. But Althea knew it would not. Armand was also camped with his army somewhere. Hurting as much as her no doubt. He had only battled her for a while, then turned to fight her dragons. Armand felt the sense of loss that she had felt before, he had been lied to by his own brother. Nothing could be worse then that.
Eclipse, now in nymph form, with short silver hair and eyes, came to them. "We lost over a dozen dragons." He told them sadly. Althea felt her skin crawl with anger.
"That is less then I had expected." Ares said calmly. "Armand was not able to control his army as well as I had thought."
Althea nodded, "he is leading an army of ogres, ogrien dwarves and giants, they are not easily brought to order."
Ares nodded, and Althea then noticed the look of regret on his face, a look he was trying to hide. But he had done what he had to, and Althea knew Armand would understand, even if he did not forgive.
"What about tomorrow, what will happen?" Eclipse asked.
"Nothing, I don't think." Ares said coldly. "I have a feeling Azure will call the army to him. They will storm Snow together. And if the Princess has anything to do with it, the gates will open."
Althea had also thought of that. Azure would want to get into Snow as quickly as possible so that he would have a worthy fortress. Althea would follow behind Armand and attack as they traveled, until they reached Snow, where the battle would reach its height.
Althea continued to help the injured until night fell. Even then few slept, though they all needed it. Rather Althea posted a large guard around her army and she went to one of the campfires. There she had seen Dervish, in elven form, and Draven.
"The battle went well." Draven commented when Althea sat with them.
Althea did not answer, glancing at the wounded and wondering how that could be considered well. "Yes. I am sure it could have been worse." Althea glanced at Dervish and added, "thank you. You saved the lives of many dragons."
Dervish smiled, "I knew all along that I would eventually have to fight Glory. I never did like that dragon."
Althea smiled at her attitude, she seemed happy with her decision. Althea wondered why until she remembered that dreams that the dragons had told her about, maybe Leatha had sent her to them. Or maybe she was a traitor to them as well. But Althea could not turn down her help. It was needed more then she could say.
Flame, Ares and Eclipse joined them a moment latter. The three walked together in silence, Ares's eyes were filled with worry. He sat with them, then after a while of pleasant conversation he spoke. "You know that I used you to further my own needs." He said, Althea nodded, wondering what Ares was getting at. "Now I wonder, what are you going to do?"
"We will continue to fight this war," Althea said calmly.
"But you have already lost, the Princess is not fighting anymore." Ares said coldly.
"No, there are many who will not give in to Azure's rule. They will fight with us." Althea argued.
"As will I," Ares said, "but you can not leave those that are faithful to you with Artemisa. They will be killed. I suggest you send for help from other nations, no one wants to see Azure become the most powerful force on Atlantis. And also you should separate those faithful to you from those faithful to the Princess."
Althea nodded, she had known this was coming but she had not expected it to happen so soon. She knew that they were at a large disadvantage. The people would fear betraying the royal bloodline even if they agreed with the cause. Then Althea remembered something. "The Princess is on our side!" Everyone looked at her as though she was insane, and Althea quickly added, "the Princess Rose. With her as our 'leader' many nobles and honorable citizens will fight for us. They will no longer fear that they are betraying the deities."
Everyone at the campfire seemed relieved. They had to return now, before the gates to Snow were opened. Althea finally made her decision. She would go, leaving Flame and Ares in charge of the army and taking Draven and Dervish. Draven and Dervish would send for help from the other nations, using Princess Rose's seal. Althea would organize and escape for all the loyal people in Snow. They left that night, Althea on Eclipse, Draven on Dervish. The two looked mighty together, the silver dragon and the black dragon flying side by side. Althea planned to send some of the dragon army in Snow to help Flame, including Seraph, she would keep Eve at the palace. Eclipse and Dervish were needed, Dervish to help them plan against Azure, for she knew much, and Eclipse to inspire faith in the people. Though silver and gold dragons were no more powerful then black or white they were considered blessed by the gods, and if the people saw a silver and a gold dragon together their faith in Althea would grow.
They arrived in Snow the next mourning, flying over the enemy camp and into Snow. A cheer rose from the crowd as sight of the two huge dragons. Althea screamed in triumph. Though four of the powerful dragons could not defeat an army they certainly would help. And the people needed all the help that they could get.
Seraph and a small group of dragons helped to clear a way through the enemy dragons, allowing Althea and Draven to pass without much of a battle. Soon as they were within the wall Seraph sent out the army of dragons with Kat in the lead of them and he called Eve from the field.
Neither Eve nor Seraph were surprised to see Eclipse in his true form, though they were surprised that the small pack of dragonetts were no where to be found. "They remained with the army, saying it needed them." Althea explained.
Seraph smiled, looking rather charming in his elven form. "Well, I am glad you are here. There has been a lot of problems. Angel is coming to join us as well. We should talk about this inside."
Althea nodded and Dervish and Eclipse turned to their smaller forms while the people watched. Seraph led them into an audience chamber where Angel joined them, Heaven did as well, saying the Princess could not do anything at the moment, she was powerless until the army of Armand arrived. The people would never follow her or Azure if they joined together, not yet.
Soon as everyone was seated Althea turned her eyes to Angel. "Is Rose still love sick?" She asked.
Angel nodded, instantly understanding what she wanted. "I will take her from here with Seraph tomorrow."
"You can bring her to Star. She will be safe there." Heaven added.
"She will need someone to tell her what is expected." Althea said thoughtfully.
"No, she is like her sister, she will be able to handle her role in this. And she will be happy to, she always hated being ruled by Artemisa." Angel said, and Althea noticed Heaven flinch at Artemisa's name. She knew from the look on his face that their marriage plans were over, their relationship also must have ended. Though they both faked it for the time being, neither wanted the Princesses betrayal to be known yet.
"Good, then leave with her tonight, Seraph. Angel I need you here, I am sure you can ask her to go alone?" Althea urged.
"Yeah she will go alone." Angel said.
"I will send a letter to the knights in Star. They will send us help. Seraph, will you will lead them here?"
"Yes," Seraph said reluctantly, "though I would rather stay and fight."
"Then send one of our faithful generals. Send Leo, he will lead the knights here." Althea suggested, "we do need Seraph, Armand will be here in a matter of days."
"Seraph is much help, but the dragons are definitely not tipping the scales in our favor, not much, anyway." Draven said coldly, "we could spare him."
"We do not need to, Seraph is a great leader, and we need leaders right now." Angel argued quickly.
"Seraph will accompany Rose and Leo to Star then he will return." Heaven said coldly, glaring at Draven. The situation was suddenly tense, Althea realized, no had been declared the leader and if there were any disagreements it would be disastrous.
Draven did not argue, he shrugged his shoulders uncaring and shared a look with Dervish, who smiled a little. Althea shifted uncomfortably and then looked around to see how Eclipse was reacting to the tension. The dragon did not seem to mind, his lips were pursed with thought. Noticing Althea's look he spoke his thoughts. "Ares was not aware of the other dragons, were you, Dervish?"
"Who, Glory and Fury? Yes I was, but I was told they were here, in Snow." Dervish answered.
"Then Azure and Armand expected your betrayal, and Ares's as well." Eclipse said coldly.
Dervish nodded thoughtfully, "then it is possible there are more surprises." She said, finishing Eclipse's thought.
"I think that we should evacuate the loyal from Snow soon, we can take back Tiphereth and Mesikali. They are near to each other and some mountains were the dragons can live. And they are basically abandoned, all of the Dark Night is either with Azure or Armand." Seraph said, "there we can put up a flag, one with a red rose on it. The people will understand and we can help the faithful come to us."
"We would have to show the Princess as a traitor." Althea said.
"She will show herself, soon as we lower our guard. We should send the dragons off, say they are heading for Ares's group to destroy the other army. We will stay," Eclipse said, meaning Eve, Dervish and himself, "and 'guard' the palace. When the Princess opens the gates, the other dragons will return, then we can carry all the faithful from here."
"We do not have near enough dragons." Angel argued.
"We can send for more, some griffins also, they will be able to carry the people from here in a matter of hours." Eclipse reasoned.
"Then it shall be done like that." Althea said, "tomorrow night we will begin the plan. Warn all those who are faithful and silent, but not until tomorrow."
Everyone accepted Althea's orders, which surprised her, they seemed to think her and Heaven should be the military leaders of the group. And Draven and Angel the political leaders, Draven for nobility, Angel for the commoners.
"But won't Azure see what we are doing?" Seraph said before the group broke up.
"I am sure he will, but he wants Snow, and he will not mind if we and those faithful to us are gone." Dervish answered calmly, "this plan will benefit both sides."
Flame and Ares heard Althea's plan at the same time, the main part of the army was to travel to Mesikali and take it over, then go to Tiphereth, both places would barely be guarded. Then half the dragons and half the griffins were to be brought to the mountains and hidden there until the gates of Snow opened. The message was short and well guarded from any listening ears. Flame and Ares knew that the army would face almost no danger, already they were half a days travel behind Armand's army and, even if he decided to give chase, the army would arrive at Mesikali before Armand, there they could hold up in battle. Ares was also told to have a red rose flag placed above the cities soon as they were conquered, Ares understood and sent the army, led by those faithful to him, toward Mesikali.
Flame and Ares took the dragon and griffin army, knowing it would be the more exciting of the two choices, toward Snow. They kept close to the hills and among the valleys so that they would not be seen, and even if they were no one would know where they were headed.
As Ares expected Armand did not give chase when he learned that the army of Dragon-Snow had changed direction. So when Ares arrived in the hills he was a half-day travel ahead of Armand, he was sure to arrive before the gates opened. Kat, who was scared that they did not have enough time to save all the faithful, met Ares in the mountains. But they would be together in the courtyard, and they would be ready to mount the dragons. Flame assured her that, between the magic of Draven, Seraph, Dervish, Eve, Eclipse and himself they could stall the army of the Dark Night for well over an hour. It would be plenty of time for the dragons and griffins to make two or three flights to the mountains were they would hide the small army until they were collected and everyone was out of Snow.
The plans had been changed slightly, Seraph and Rose would go to Mesikali for a day soon as Snow was evacuated, there Rose would talk to the people before she went to Star. Rose was thrilled by the idea, and she seemed firmly convinced that they would win. Althea was not so sure, but she did not tell that to Rose.
The day came too quickly. Althea found herself nervous the entire day, with Kat and the dragons gone she felt naked and defenseless. Soon as Armand arrived a full-scale attack was planned, it was then that the Princess did her part. Riding upon Eve, she went to the walls of the city and shouted, "there is no hope, open the gates and surrender your selves to Azure, he will treat those who do not fight with mercy! I have made a pact with him!"
The surrender was no surprise, all knew that it would come to that soon as Armand arrived, so the gates were opened. The instant they opened and the betrayal was affirmed by the Princesses own words a magical wall appeared where the gates had been. Three hundred dragons and an equal number of griffins appeared in the sky, they did not attack the Dark Night, rather they swooped into the city where all faithful to Rose mounted them and were carried away in waves. The Dark Night made no attempt to stop them, only one thing went wrong, rather then leave the Princess and help the evacuation, Eve flew into the army of the Dark Night, carrying Artemisa with her. The loss of the golden dragon hurt moral more then the actual plan.
All went smoothly, Azure did not try to break into the city, he was glad that most of those that did not serve him left. He knew that there were surely spies, but at least he knew most of the city was faithful to the Princess. He waited until the dragons had taken everyone they needed, men, women and children alike. Soon as they had done this they allowed the magical wall to vanish and Azure entered the city. He was welcomed by cheering, many had been counting the days until he became their King. To finish the affect he rode in on Deus with Artemisa on Eve at his side, she wore a gold crown, as did he. The message was obvious and the people rejoiced.
A Final Hope
"Mommy I am tiered!" Althea heard a small voice mumble, she looked down at the little girl that walked with the weary group of humans. She had wished she could walk them on the easy trails, but she knew Armand would kill them simply for revenge on Ares. So Althea was forced to bring them through the forests and the mountains. It was difficult traveling and the women, children and elderly outnumbered the dragons enough so that they had to take turns riding. The weakest and the sick rode most of the time, leaving the children that were old enough to walk on foot for more time then they could handle.
"May I?" Althea asked the mother, who looked at her in shock. Though Althea made a point to always travel among the people on her mighty silver dragon she rarely spoke to them.
"Oh please mother!" The girl urged, her eyes wide at the sight of the giant dragon.
"Sure," her mother answered uncertain. The girl shrieked in joy and Eclipse knelt so Althea could hoist the girl onto his back.
"Can we fly? Please!" The girl asked, again Althea glanced at the mother, who, though oddly pale, nodded warmly.
"Okay, for a little while, we'll scout ahead, all right?" Althea asked, the girl smiled in joy and Althea brought Eclipse to the first clearing large enough for him to open his wings.
Once they were in the air Althea pointed down at the group, they stumbled along wearily with the dragons helping all that were too weak. The men surrounded the women, children and elderly protectively. Althea then spoke to the girl. "Can you keep a secret?"
"Yes," she answered, stiff with fear and awe as they flew through the air.
"Look, see that little castle?" Althea asked, pointing, "that is Mesikali, we will be there by nightfall. But don't tell anyone, it is a surprise. Promise me you will not tell anyone."
The girl stared ahead surprised, her eyes wide with relief, then said barely above a whisper, "I promise, Lady Althea. And thank you."
Althea smiled, "I had to scout ahead anyway."
"No," she interrupted, "thank you for helping us. My mother said that Azure would have killed her, and dad, before he allowed them to live in Snow. She said you saved our lives."
Althea felt herself relax with joy. "Your very welcome." Althea answered after a minute. She soon returned the girl to her mother when they were only a few yards from Mesikali and then went ahead. As she expected Ares's army was there, some of them at least, the rest were headed toward Tiphereth. Flame and Ares were there, waiting for Althea's arrival. They welcomed her happily. Opening the gates to the people that streamed in relieved.
Soon as everyone was within' the city walls Rose stepped forward to make a speech. As she did this Flame and Ares took the rest of the leaders to the war room. "We have some problems." Ares said soon as they all sat in the room, a bottle of wine being passed between them.
"What are they?" Althea asked impatiently. Glancing at Eclipse who sat in nymph form, his eyes on Ares.
"The first is food and water. When the armies of Armand realized they had lost the cities they poisoned the wells, as they are trained to do. They burned the store houses and left us with nothing but a shell of a city." Ares was pale with worry.
"We have faced worse challenges then this, Ares, why now do you worry?" Althea asked, looking at him with concern.
"I had a dream, that I was fighting, you were at my side," he said, smiling weakly at Althea, "as were the rest of you. But so was my brother, and Azure. Even the Princess and Eve were there. What do you think it could mean? Do you think we made the wrong choice, fighting against them?"
"Sometimes a dream is just a dream, Ares." Heaven said coldly.
"There is good news." Dervish said before Ares could react to Heaven's curt answer.
"What is that?" Althea asked relieved by the distraction.
"Glory sent me a message. He asks if there is one among us with the name Heaven. For he is the one the goddess sent him to."
"And you believe him?" Heaven asked, knowing now that Glory was one of the other dragons, a silver and white dragon if he remembered correctly.
"Glory has many qualities that I do not like, but he is not a liar." Dervish said through clenched teeth. "I wanted to send him away, but I could not. We need him. And evidently he needs us as well."
Seraph smirked at Dervish's dark look, "I have heard of your dislike for the dragon, Dervish, and I praise you for not allowing your personal problems to control your judgment."
"Then you are allowing the enemy into our camp?" Heaven demanded angrily.
"You will be his rider, Heaven, you can watch him, and decide if he is trust worthy." Angel said thoughtfully, knowing that his brother would never turn down a challenge like that. Heaven bowed his head in acceptance, then added, "please keep some of the other dragons around Glory for a while, just in case."
Eclipse and Dervish both bowed their heads. "We will share that responsibility." Eclipse answered for them.
"Then we will send out the nobles and Rose as our diplomats tomorrow." Heaven said thoughtfully, he had already written a letter to the King and royal council of Star. "There are many nobles with us, we will send them to all the lands that have the means to help us. Already I hear that the Black Dragon is sending armies this way, the Princess called off our decoys there."
"So finally Azure knows we were bluffing." Althea said thoughtfully. "When do you think they will attack here?"
"It does not matter much, we can hold these cities from them as long as we need to. We, the dragons, can bring you food and water without problem. The only worry we have is moral." Eclipse answered.
"That is true. Azure has Deus, Eve and Fury. They will surely raise a following from other dragons as well." Dervish said calmly. "The other dragons of power (as the higher breeds of dragons called themselves) will not be coming to us, they think we are fools to help in this war. But there are many of the less powerful breeds that already want to fight in this war, and many are not on our side."
A knock came at the door, when it opened there was a messenger. "Yes?" Draven demanded annoyed.
"I have received a message from the Queen of Dragon-Snow." He said, Althea could not hide her anger, the king had died rather conveniently soon as Azure had come into power.
The messenger set the scroll on the table and added, "he came with the message." Out of the shadows stepped a vampire man with eyes of white and silver.
"Welcome Glory." Dervish said, "come, sit."
Glory did not look at her, his eyes were on Heaven. "I have been sent to you by Leatha. I have found my destiny."
Heaven looked at the dragon annoyed, "sit down."
Glory surprised Heaven by glaring at him angrily. "I offer myself to you as a companion, not a servant!"
Heaven, realizing he was acting in a less then honorable manner, bowed his head to Glory. "I am sorry, but I do not trust you, and with that distrust I seem to have lost my manners."
"I understand." Glory finally sat, avoiding Dervish's almost challenging glare. "I was sent here as a messenger, Eve alone knows that I intended to stay."
Eclipse took the scroll and opened it, reading out loud.
Dear Heaven, Althea, Draven and Angel: (the fact that Ares's name was not added also did not surprise anyone)
I am sorry for what I did. But I had no choice, I can not allow this chance to pass by me. I could full fill the legend! I have the opportunity to stop the wars and the suffering.
I do not want to fight anyone, much less my own people. Please meet with my advisers and me. I will come to you. And I will trust you to be honorable and treat me kindly.
I am willing to grant you almost anything, land, money, almost anything your hearts can desire.
Thank you Queen Artemisa of Dragon-Snow
Ps I know what you think, but the king died of natural causes. I loved him too much to let harm befall him.
"When is she coming?" Althea asked Glory after a moment.
"Tomorrow." Glory answered. "Armand and Azure want to fight. It is the Queen alone who wants this meeting. She is scared."
"She has lost what she was fighting to have." Althea commented coldly, glancing at Heaven, who looked like he was on the verge of tears. "Seraph I want Princess Rose out of here before they get here, the diplomats as well. This war is not going to end peacefully. Not with all the betrayals that have already happened." Her eyes went involuntarily to Ares when she said that. "And prepare this room for our guests. Have the dragons start sweeping the woods more carefully, make sure no one is out there."
Seraph nodded and went to Rose, he had not told Althea but he did not intend to transport her, he intended to use his magic to teleport her to Star, Dervish would teleport Leo. She alone felt the danger as Seraph did. And though sending the Princess so far would drain Seraph for a day or more of almost all his magic, he knew it would be necessary. He knew that he would be stuck in whatever form he took when he did the spell, as would Dervish, so the two took dragon form, knowing it was more powerful, and performed the spell.
Heaven found Althea talking to some of the newer soldiers. He smiled at her weakly, but did not try to water down what he had to say with idol chatter. "Artemisa is honest in her words. You know that, Althea, she does not want the death of anymore of her people. I think you should at least listen to her."
"I know that she is honest. But she does not rule Dragon-Snow anymore." Althea growled in answer. "She never did. She has a lot of power, I admit that, but Azure will kill her in a second if he ever feels threatened. He will not give us immunity, not when Ares is with us."
"Then send Ares away." Heaven urged.
"I will go with him, he helped us, it does not matter what his motives were. We owe him." Althea said coldly.
"We owe him nothing, Althea!" Heaven growled, "he used us and we used him. I am sure that we do not need him anymore. He is a castes a shadow of evil over our righteous objective."
Althea looked at him in rage. "Righteous? Who are you fooling Heaven? Certainly not I! We are just as righteous as Azure. We simply do not want him to have power. As he does not want us to."
Heaven looked at Althea, anger apparent in his clear eyes. "How can I serve this cause if it is crooked?"
"Because if you do not then all these people will die, Heaven of Star." Althea snapped, waving her hand at those around her. "And what else would you do? Go join Artemisa and her new love, Azure."
Heaven flushed red, looking at his feet while he tried to collect himself. "I regret having ever gotten involved in this."
"I regret that you are such a coward!" Althea answered, instantly regretting that she had said those words. Heaven turned red in anger and reached for his sword, Althea reacted by placing her hand on her weapon. But before she could draw it Heaven swung his sword at her. Althea dodged and heard a shriek from behind her. She turned to see a man fall to the ground, a small dagger clutched in his hand.
"These are times of war, Althea, learn to watch your back." Heaven said coldly and walked away.
Seraph was weak and he had to rest. He already felt his strength returning. Sending Rose over a two-week journey, even on dragon back, had been taxing. But he was strong and knew that he would be nearly as strong as usual by the time the Queen and her group, no doubt including Eve, Fury and Deus, arrived. So all he could do was wait. He paid close attention to what was happening around him as he waited. Heaven was talking to Glory, evidently they had taken a liking to each other soon after the meeting, and Seraph wondered if Heaven was as loyal as he liked to think.
Seraph felt the time grow closer, and with it came the dreams. He knew what was coming, as did the other dragons. But he could not tell Althea. Soon this would all mean nothing, but the wounds from the betrayal may prove the most dangerous weapon their enemy could use against them. He knew that others of his kind were gathering in the north. They also had a purpose, though they did not serve Leatha. Seraph mused, the very legend that had brought Althea and Artemisa together was bringing two others together. They were the true twins. They were the ones chosen to end all war, but it would not end the way that the people thought.
Seraph closed his eyes involuntarily. The other dragons and he would try to make sure none of the chosen ones died in these foolish battles. They would learn soon enough, probably before they were ready to learn, why they had been given the dragons.
The night passed to quickly for Althea. She felt dread fill her as the sun rose. And she wondered if Heaven would rejoin Artemisa. He loved her and the temptation may be too strong for him. But then again Althea was sure Azure would be there as well, which hopefully would be enough reason for Heaven to remain faithful to her cause.
Around half the dragons were gone, in search of help. Althea knew that soon all the nations would be gathering their armies, the world war was once again in full swing. Where before there had been much tension and an occasional small battle now there surely would be an all out war, the Queen knew that, and maybe that was why she had come.
Althea looked out her window to see Glory and Heaven walking together, she also noticed Eclipse near bye. He did not seem concerned about what they discussed. Althea sighed annoyed, her dragon did not seem to take this seriously.
It was around lunchtime when Althea saw the dragons. As she had expected, due to her trust in Artemisa's honor, there were only three dragons. Althea watched them closely. It was a disturbing sight, Artemisa rode in the lead upon her gold dragon. Her long dresses flowing around her. She looked pure and good. Behind her came two more dragons, one was black and red, with a man upon it dressed in black and red armor to match. On his breastplate was the painting of a dragon's shadow. Next to him rode another man on a black and silver dragon, he wore the lighter armor of a noble. A mighty black dragon imbedded in his shield and breastplate. As they drew nearer the Queen raised a white flag. Althea watched as her dragons went to meet them.
She noticed that none of the dragons had riders. She knew that no one wanted to face the Queen, Azure of Armand in the air. Already Angel, Draven (the only one who did not seem to care much for the coming meeting), Heaven, and Ares were waiting in the war room. She smiled proudly as Eclipse reached the group, his head high, as though challenging them to fight him. Behind him was Seraph, still somewhat worn from his magic, but full in his glory, his white scales almost blinding in the sunlight. Next to him flew Glory, which did not seem to come as much of a surprise, Althea alone noticed a hurt gesture that the Queen made toward the white and silver dragon. Behind them flew the black dragon Dervish and the red Flame.
The dragons together made an awe inspiring sight, even for Althea who had become used to dragons in her years she spent with them. Finally she tore her gaze from the window and went to sit at the table. She positioned her group carefully. Draven and Angel sat on either side of Heaven, Althea sat by Angel and next to her was Ares. She kept the warlord as far from Heaven as she dared, but also she kept the two in the group that Heaven respected most at his side. Althea knew that if anyone could keep Heaven faithful it was his brother.
Within' a few moments the group entered the room, the servants announced them one by one. "Queen Artemisa of Dragon-Snow." Artemisa entered the room and sat in the chair on the other side of the table and across from Althea. "Lord Azure of." the servant hesitated, not wanting to say what he read on the list of names. "Azure of the Black Dragon and Dragon-Snow." He finally mumbled. Azure entered, and was seated across from Heaven, purposefully to remind the knight what he faced. "Lord Armand of the Trinity." Again the servant paused, "and the Shadow."
Armand entered with a wide smile, ignoring the chair he was shown he went and sat next to Ares, in the seat that Flame should have had. Althea was about to force him to leave of go to his seat but Ares pushed her back into her chair. "I can handle my brother." He said softly.
After that the servants announced the dragons, whom had no titles, "Flame, Eve, Eclipse, Dervish, Deus, Seraph, Glory and Fury." They all took their seats around the table, placed strategically to help keep order if anything went wrong.
The servants brought food and wine and the Queen insisted they wait until they were served before the discussion began. Althea purposefully allowed the servants to remain, what they discussed in the meeting would not be a secret to Rose's people. Though she knew Artemisa's people most likely did not even know of this meeting.
"Welcome to our humble home." Draven began mockingly soon as all were served, his eyes locked on Azure.
"Thank you, Lord Draven." Artemisa said quickly, before Azure could respond.
"You have come to us with a purpose, and I hope you know it is a fools quest." Ares said, the Queen ignored him as though he was not even there. But Armand smiled in answer.
"You surprised me, little brother, I did not think you had a chance. But you have raised quite an army." Armand said, Althea smiled at him, she understood him. He, like Ares, was more like her. She did not understand the honor that Heaven was so proud of, nor the noble rules that the Queen followed. But she did understand the respect that warriors had for one and another when they were proven worthy. And Althea knew that Armand respected Ares and her as she respected him.
"I told you, Armand, Althea is worth more then you gave her credit for." Ares said, looking at his brother. Althea was surprised to see that they did not regard each other with any anger, rather both seemed proud to know the other.
The Queen quickly began to talk before Armand could respond to his brother. "I hope that I have not come here in vain. But I ask that you do not involve the rest of the world in this matter, it can be settled here." She raised her eyes to the group, though she carefully avoided Heaven's stare. She was perhaps the only person who was happy with the seating arrangement.
"I do not think anything can be resolved when we have to work with a traitor!" Heaven growled and Althea noticed the Queen grow red under her skin.
But she ignored the comment and added, "whatever you want can be yours, I offer you land, titles, anything."
"Anything?" Althea smiled, "then let your sister lead all those that do not want to follow Azure. If you do not attack us then the battle will be over."
"We can not accept that!" Azure interrupted Artemisa quickly. "The Princess does not have the right to rule the Queens people."
"Let the Queen tell us that, then." Heaven growled, looking at Azure angrily. Althea noticed that his hand was on the hilt of his sword and Draven's hand had drifted to one of the many magical charms he had in his pockets.
Artemisa finally looked at Heaven, her eyes pleading. "I must agree with Azure, it is not Rose's place."
"Neither is it Azure's place!" Heaven said before she could finish, "or have you forgotten? Only a King can rule with you." Artemisa looked away quickly, Azure smiled.
"This is ridiculous. Even for you, two leggers!" Seraph finally snarled, his white eyes seemed to glow with his anger. "Have you come here to settle the war or to argue about your petty differences?"
The Queen lowered her eyes ashamed and Althea noticed another smile cross Azure's lips. What was he planning? He cared nothing about their arguments. Nor did Draven, who had told her he only attended the meeting to watch Azure.
Finally Althea tore her eyes from him and looked at Artemisa, she was, after all, the only hope they had. "If you do not offer us freedom to rule ourselves then whatever you offer is not acceptable."
The Queen flushed with frustration. "I offer you freedom. But not a kingdom!"
"Then we would be obliged to follow your laws. And Azure's laws, if we accept these titles you offer?" Angel said coldly. "Do you truly think that we, and those that follow us, would be treated fairly?"
The Queen looked down, "I know that things will be hard, but I think that it is a sacrifice you have to make."
"Why?" Heaven said, looking at the Queen, his eyes filled with sadness and cunning.
"Because it is the only way. I can not loose such a large part of my people!" Artemisa said.
"You have not lost them. They will follow you, but they will not follow Azure." Angel said, following his brothers line of thought. The Queen looked as though she would cry.
"We are to be married, the people will accept me then." Azure said suddenly, his eyes on Heaven. Artemisa also raised her eyes, looking to Heaven for forgiveness. But she did not find it, rather Heaven stood, deathly pale, and left the room.
Glory watched him leave, then looked at Althea coolly. "You knew what would come of this, now are you satisfied?"
Althea shook her head, "it had to be done."
"Well congratulations," Angel growled furiously, his gaze on Artemisa.
"Yes, congratulations, that is rather delightful! Can I go the wedding? It would be delightful!" Came Trouble's cat-like voice from where he had been hiding under the table.
The Queen could not hide her grin, knowing delightful must have been the word of the day. Also she knew that the dragonett had not caught the sarcasm in Angel's voice. "I do not see why my people should suffer, they did not cause this battle. If anyone should suffer it is us." She said, trying to steady her voice.
"They are not your people anymore, Artemisa." Althea said, her voice cruel. "And we are not either."
Artemisa looked up at her hopefully, Althea had been like a sister to her. But Artemisa realized that even her own sister had turned against her. And again she wondered if she was making a huge mistake. She glanced at Azure, his eyes turned to meet hers. In them she saw the courage to go on, but she also saw his cunning and his detachment. He did not care about her people as she did. He wanted to end this rebellion as quickly as he could and get on with his life.
"So it has come to this." Ares said softly, though Althea heard only bitterness in his voice.
"Come to what? What delightful thing have we come to?" Trouble demanded, now that they knew he was there he thought he should say more. The group was extremely quiet and Trouble felt it his duty to remedy that.
No one answered him, though. Instead Azure spoke, his eyes cold. "Trouble, if you want to come to the wedding you are welcome. As are all of you. Especially Heaven."
"Azure stop!" Artemisa snapped, looking down. "I did not come here to hurt anyone. Especially not Heaven."
"Well you have accomplished that, if nothing else. I would say your mission here was a total failure!" Angel snapped. The Queen did not answer, she seemed to welcome the words, as though they relieved her guilt through the verbal punishment.
"Please, allow this to end." She said, looking at Althea hopefully.
"It is too late, your sister already has been sent for help. Along with many others, Artemisa if you wish to end the war you know the way." Althea said trying to avoid noticing Azure's smirk, "you also know that there are many people that do not welcome this marriage. So I will give you one piece of advice, watch your back."
"I hope that was not a threat." Azure snapped.
"It was a warning, Azure. Though if you want I will give you a threat. You are going to die in this battle if you do not cower first!" Althea growled in response.
"Is that a guarentee?" Azure asked, a teasing smirk on his face.
"I will make it come true now if you wish. Join me in the battle field."
"No!" Artemisa said quickly, "we came here in peace and we are not going to change that!"
Azure smiled coldly, "another time, Lady."
"Of course," Althea snapped, her eyes locked on his.
There was a moment of silence, and then everyone noticed that Dervish and Eve were talking. Surprised all eyes turned to them. Eve noticed the looks and answered, "though you are enemies we are not. Unlike you we are loyal, and that is what has bound us to you. It has nothing to do with the foolish causes of this war."
Glory smirked, "as I said, we dragons are not like you. We will fight to the death for this cause if we must. But we will not treat each other with any less respect then we would if we were not at war."
Althea glared at him angrily, about to shout a reprimand but Artemisa spoke first. "Glory and Eve are right. I see that there is nothing left for me to say. Let us finish this last meal together and then we will leave. But we will leave after having shown each other all due respect."
Althea glanced at Ares, who was relaxed now. Evidently his brother intended to kill him when the battle started again, but for now they treated each other well. As though making a peaceful agreement that they were not enemies and would not be in the after life.
"I have to use the rest room." The Queen said after a moment. "Do you trust me to go?" Her eyes locked on Althea pleadingly and Althea knew that she longed to find Heaven, so she nodded.
"As a sign of good faith I will allow you to go without an escort." She said softly. "Though I expect you back to finish this meal with us." Artemisa nodded and stood, leaving the table.
Now that Heaven and the Queen were gone no one even tried to pretend to be proper or noble. Azure, though still seeming very royal, joined the argument that had instantly began between Angel and Armand. Althea leaned back in her chair, forgetting about her posture. She did not care much for the argument. She had known, like Azure and Armand, that the meeting was more for Artemisa's peace of mind then anything else, nothing said there mattered, at least not to her.
But it did matter to Heaven. He knew that Artemisa would come looking for him, so he made himself easily found. Heaven heard her skirts swishing around her ankles as she came. He did not turn to face Artemisa, rather he mumbled, "what more do you have to say to me?"
Artemisa came to stand next to him on the balcony. She looked over the people below as they went about their duties. "I have come to ask for your forgiveness." She said in a soft, sad voice.
"You have done nothing that makes you need my forgiveness." Heaven answered.
"I have, Heaven." Artemisa answered.
"Then you have my word, I will not hold it against you." Heaven said softly.
"But do you forgive me?" The Queen persisted. Heaven did not answer, after a moment of silence Artemisa mumbled, "I still love you, Heaven. And I do not want you to hate me. I have wronged you, I know that. I never expected your forgiveness. But I still wanted to tell you that I know I did things that I should not have."
"Then why did you do them?" Heaven demanded, finally turning to face Artemisa.
"I am thinking of my people rather then myself for once!" The Queen answered, her voice lacked the conviction of her words.
"Who told you that? Is it Azure?" Heaven asked coldly, "those are not your words, Artemisa, I know you well enough to know that you do not think like that."
Artemisa looked down, trying to collect herself, she did not want him to see her cry. "They may not be my words, but they are the truth. Azure is not as bad as he seems."
"You love him, evidently, so he must not seem all evil to you." Heaven said.
"You yourself have said that no one is purely evil!" Artemisa snapped angrily.
Heaven sighed, "I also said that people can have purely evil motives."
Artemisa could see that this was going nowhere, and she did not like to talk about Azure with Heaven. She thought that it must hurt her more then it hurt him because she could hardly bare it. "His motives are not evil. Do you believe that I would allow that?"
Heaven shook his head, "I do not know what to believe about you anymore."
Artemisa had nothing to say in answer to that. Red with anger and sadness she hurried away, leaving Heaven alone with his thoughts.
Rose and Leo walked into the King's chambers, he was waiting for them, a grim look on his face. "Welcome Princess, and," he glanced at Leo, he did not wear anything to show his rank, "Sir."
Rose bowed and Leo followed her example. "King De'mal and Queen Seanna, I have come to you with the most urgent news."
King De'mal did not seem the slightest bit surprised. "Speak, my dear."
"First of all I would like to bring you the news of my father. He is dead." Rose said softly, knowing that that was the proper thing to say first.
King De'mal did not look grieved, he knew Rose's father well enough to know the man was a coward, greedy fool. "So Artemisa finally rules Dragon- Snow?"
"In a way. That is why I am here, highness." Rose paused, waiting for the King to urge her to continue, then continued. "Surely you heard of the war?"
"Yes, I did, is that why you are here, is the Princess, I mean Queen in trouble?" King De'mal asked.
"No, it is us that are in danger, highness." Rose said, choosing her words carefully so that the King would feel that the threat was related to him.
"And how is that, Princess Rose?" King De'mal asked, though he already knew the answer.
"Queen Artemisa has joined with Lord Azure." Rose raised her eyes to meet those of the King.
"What would you ask of me, in this case?" King De'mal asked, slightly pale.
"You know the danger that we will all be in if Azure gains full control over Dragon-Snow." The King nodded, "then you will see that this is our last hope, I lead many of our people, along with some of Azure's own warriors, we have taken a couple cities in Dragon-Snow and we are prepared to fight. But we need help. That is why I have come to you."
The King's face was now hard with anger and determination, he turned his eyes to Leo as Rose knew he would. "Tell me about you situation," he ordered.
"Yes, highness," he pulled a scroll from his pocket, "this is from Heaven, surely you remember him."
"Yes, I do." The King said, opening the paper, "I see that he is fighting on your side, Heaven is a good man, you have my total attention now, for he would not fight for an evil or lost cause."
"No, he would not. Highness I was a general when the war begun, and I thought then that nothing could be worse then a power so mighty as the Black Dragon and Dragon-Snow to be led by one like Azure. I knew that there was little chance the war would be won by either side, not for years anyway. I knew that by then both kingdoms would be reduced to weak, battle torn shadows of their former power." Leo said that knowing that was what all had hoped, by the time a leader was found the two kingdoms would no longer be a serious threat. "But now they have joined. I thought that there was not hope, until the Princess here led her people out of danger. This is our only hope, highness." Leo did not mention Althea or Ares, knowing the knowledge would hurt his cause greatly.
"You want us to come help with your battle?" Queen Seanna asked.
"This is not longer my battle alone, it is no longer a battle between Dragon-Snow and the Black Dragon. This is now a battle between dictatorship and freedom. And all are involved. I ask you now, do you want to live the rest of your lives at Azure's mercy?"
That did it, and the King began to call for his war generals, he smiled at the Princess and sent her to her room. Then he took Leo into the battle room with the rest of the men that were preparing for the attack.
"First things first, is that lady, the Princess, married?" De'mal asked, Leo had expected that, he shook his head. "No one will follow a Princess without a kingdom. Then we will wed her to my son. That will insure her power."
Leo nodded, "good."
"Now on to the more important matters. Who is fighting with you?"
Leo hesitated, then sighed, Althea had ordered he tell the truth, not omitting anyone. Though Leo was sure the King would not want to fight at the side of warlords, thieves and magicians of darkness. "Lord Ares of Trinity, Sir Draven of Demonlands, Mistress Althea, Sir Heaven, and."
"Great group," the King interrupted, "I am surprised."
"Yes, there is one more thing, there are dragons fighting with us."
"So I heard."
"No, I am sure you have not heard. We have a silver dragon, a black, a red, a white and a white and silver." The gained the desired shock and pride.
"Then we have won already!"
"No, there are three powerful dragons fighting against us." Leo looked at the King hopefully, "and their army outnumbers ours. We have sent messengers to ask for aid from other kingdoms as well. As you see this war is far from won."
The King sighed then turned to the generals, "we will deploy our army the day after tomorrow. I will give you a pegasus to aid your journey, return to your people and tell them that they should capture another castle, they will need the room." With that Leo was sent away with a group of twenty knights to insure his safety and send hope to Heaven.
The Dawning of a New Kingdom
Trouble and Mischief followed Althea and Eclipse on their scouting of the land. They chattered as they followed about what would happen if the castle was attacked, surely then Althea would have the dragonetts fight, for she had not yet learned their value in battle.
It was then that Althea spotted the army. Her eyes widened in alarm. "Whose army is that?" Althea demanded.
Eclipse moved in closer, "it is Azure's, there are no dragons, though." Eclipse moved even closer, "they hold a white flag, Althea."
"Land, but be ready to fight if we have to." Althea said softly as the dragon landed.
"If you truly come in peace then send your leader forth and no one else," Althea shouted soon as she landed.
A man obeyed, he was tall with soft brown eyes, clad in what looked like antique armor. "I would like to speak to one of your leaders." The man said, looking at the silver dragon nervously.
"Then you would like to speak to me, I am Mistress Althea."
The man bowed his head somberly, "we would like to pledge our services to you and your cause. We are from the Black Dragon." Althea looked at the man suspiciously.
"What could you possibly gain from joining with me?" Althea asked coldly, scanning the man with her magic.
"Freedom. A chance to be someone. In the Black Dragon the only way to have money or power is if you are born with it, or you are a murderer." The man lowered his eyes, "seeing that you have no nobles yet, I mean you have a beginning to a kingdom without nobles or leaders. It would give beggars a chance to have a decent living. It would give me a chance to feed my family."
Althea glanced back at the "army" which had moments before seemed dangerous, now she saw the it was basically a group of dirty, malnurished farmers and blacksmiths, widows and orphins, beggars and thieves. Althea sighed, but hid her disappointment. These people could be useful.
"Come with me, we just took another city, Kether, for the knights. But they will not be here for a while, it is yours." Althea smiled at the man's shock.
"You are giving us a city?" He asked in shock.
"Yes but there is a price for this, during the war you will give us some of your crops and you will be employed making armor and weapons for us. Is that agreed?"
"Of course!" He said shocked.
"Good, follow me." Althea led the group through the hills to Kether. It was a half day journey from Mesikali, but the people did not mind.
Unlike in Tiphereth and Mesikali Althea's army had taken the city before the people of Dragon-Snow could destroy their crops or pollute the water. The people from the Black Dragon were relieved, the farmers could easily take up where the Dragon-Snow farmers had left off. Althea relaxed, her worries about armor and food were fixing themselves. She decided to have some of the stronger in the group return to the Black Dragon and spread word of the new kingdom, which, because of the Princess, was to be called Crimson-Rose. Like both Dragon-Snow and the Black Dragon the second name would be the name of the capital. Therefore when the army took a large city in the border they named it Rose.
There time of concur did not last long, soon the armies of Azure and Artemisa came. Placing guards in the larger cities near where Crimson- Rose was beginning.
Kat walked the streets of Kether. The people spared her a glance and a smile when she passed. It warmed Kat to know that the people liked and accepted Rose as their leader. They also accepted the hardships they passed. Kether instated it's own government. It was lead by those that the people chose.
The army always stood above all the others in power. Even if the elected leaders did not like something Kat, or any of the other generals asked, they had to do it, or take up the matter with one of the high lords, as they had come to call Angel, Heaven, Althea, Draven, Ares, and their dragons.
Rose became more of a name then a person. And the people thought of the high lords as their kings and queen. It was a good system, and since Althea and the others hardly took any interest in Kether as long as it kept supplying them with some food and weapons, it allowed the leaders in the city to make almost all decisions.
The sun was rising when Kat came upon a man, he was young with bright blue eyes. He looked at Kat with relief. "Dragon Lady, please, I have news for the high lords."
Kat looked at the man annoyed, "what news? I will relate it to them."
The man looked at her nervously. "It is very important and I feel I should talk to them myself."
"Tell me the news and if it is important then I will bring you to them." Kat insisted.
The man seemed to think that was fair so he told her. "There are huge armies gathering south of here. The armies of Minerva and Diane." Kat looked at the man, not comprehending, until he added, "they are lead by a woman named Minervia, and Dienia."
"The Foreseen Ones?" Kat asked surprised, she had allowed herself to think that Althea, the other name for Minerva, was the chosen one. But now she doubted that. "Are you sure?"
"Yes ma'am. But there is a problem, they do not come in peace. They do not come to make peace either." The man swallowed nervously. "They come to start a war."
Kat raised a skeptical eyebrow, "what?"
"They come to kill, to take over."
"Where did you come upon this knowledge?"
The young man shrugged his shoulders, "I am a clairvoyant, I know much."
Kat knitted her brow uncertain. "And who do you follow, who is your deity?"
"The goddess Leatha. Mistress of Night and Day."
That caught Kat's attention, she knew that Althea had talked of Leatha as her goddess often. "Then come with me, sir. And tell me, what is your name?"
He bowed his head and followed Kat to the dragon she rode now, Shia. The two mounted and Kat took them to Rose to find Althea. She did not have enough sway with the other "high lords" to convince them to listen. But she was sure Althea would.
They entered the palace in Rose. Kat was, as usual, surprised. It seemed that in the two days she had been gone the palace became ten times more royal looking. The halls were filled with servants, who made good livings serving the high lords. The palace was decorated with weapons (Althea's idea because she said, "for once decorations could save our lives). The rooms had been changed, everything of much value that had been left there sold for food or weapons. The fancy gowns of the nobles had been either sold or given away. Althea kept some, cutting the skirts so that she would have more mobility in battle.
The high lords had chosen the west wing of the palace as their home, and there is where Kat lead the man. The halls were alive with people, hurrying to get one thing or another done. The man followed silently, his eyes wide with amused surprise.
Kat had to work at it but after a while she managed to flag down one of the servants. "Where is Mistress Althea?"
"She is in the war room, as usual, ma'dam." The woman answered impatiently wanting to finish her job. She did not wait for Kat to respond, rather even as she spoke she hurried away.
"Impatient lot, aren't they." Lyaki commented.
Kat smirked and went to the war room, she found two guards at the door. "Tell the Mistress that I am here to see her." The man looked at Kat suspiciously for a moment, not recognizing her. "Tell her that her Dragon Lord Katiya is here to see her!" The guard recognized her name and hurried to obey. A moment later he returned.
"Mistress Althea said for you to come in," he said, opening the door, but shutting it soon as Lyaki tried to come in as well. "She said for only you."
"Let him in with me, man, I have no time for this." Kat snapped angrily letting her hand stray to her sword hilt.
"I am sorry, ma'am, but the man." without waiting to hear what he had to say Kat drew her sword.
The other guard came to his aid and soon Kat was fending off two guards. Angel and Althea burst out of the door at the sound, followed by Seraph and Heaven.
"What is the meaning of this?" Heaven shouted.
"This fool will not let me in!" Kat snapped, her eyes ablaze with anger.
"Lady, you never said that the man could come as well." The guard argued.
Althea glared at him annoyed, then glanced at Lyaki. "What do you want, soothsayer?"
"I think that is something we should talk about in private." Lyaki answered.
Althea nodded, "and them?" She asked, gesturing toward the other high lords.
"They can hear." Lyaki answered, so him, Kat and the rest walked into the war room.
Not everyone was there, Seraph, Heaven, Angel, Althea and Draven were the only ones. They sat around a large black marble table. On it were maps and scrolls with seals from all around Atlantis.
Soon as everyone was seated Althea turned her gaze to Lyaki. "What news have you brought?" Unlike Kat her magic had told her instantly that Lyaki was a profit of Leatha.
"Much, the twins are here." He said coldly.
"No!" One of the dragonetts interrupted, "where did you get the astuteness to figure that out?"
Lyaki ignored the dragonett and continued, "there names are Minervia and Dienia. They have come to fulfill the prophecy."
Althea looked at Lyaki skeptically, "so the wars are going to end?"
"If," Lyaki's face was pale, "they succeed."
"It is Leatha's goal not to allow that. You see if the twins succeed they will bring ruin to the world. The only way to end war is to destroy, to rule by fear. And to rule with such power that no one will challenge you." Lyaki paused for effect, then continued, "you are the only hope Atlantis has. The people will see soon the evil of the forces of Minerva and Diane. They will follow you."
Althea glared at the man angrily, "me? Or us?"
"All of you, do you think Leatha sent you those dragons for no reason?" Lyaki looked at Althea angrily. "I am ashamed to know that my own kind are so sightless. You have thought that this all revolves around your petty fights with others. Do you realize what it would mean if Minervia and Dienia got control over Atlantis?"
"It could not be much worse then what would happen if Azure got control." Althea said.
Lyaki's eyes blazed with fury, "you are such a fool! Minerva and Diane are two of the cruelest, coldest goddesses that exist. They care nothing for you or your kind. They want to shape the world in their image. They there servants to rule over the land as tyrants, and they will succeed if you do not open your eyes. The armies gather in the south. Armies that will destroy every civilization, it is only a matter of time."
"We have the power to defeat them. We have the dragons and the armies, why are you so worried?" Heaven asked.
"You have nothing!" Lyaki shouted, jumping to his feet, "you have, what eight dragons? Minervia alone has seven times that many! And your armies will do nothing more then buy you time."
"So what do you expect us to do?" Althea asked, that seemed to calm the man for he returned to his seat.
"You will fight them." He said, a smile crossing his face as he relaxed. "Leatha sent me to tell you to join with the Queen again. You will need her help in this."
Now it was Heaven's turn to be angry. "Who sent you? Was it Azure, or Armand?" He demanded.
"I told you already who sent me." Lyaki answered, looking at Heaven curiously, "your pride is going to prove your undoing if you do not allow yourself some trust."
Heaven was about to answer but Draven held up his hand impatiently. "He is blessed by the goddess, Heaven, as are we. Think about that."
Heaven did not answer, he glanced at Seraph, who was smiling. "Finally." The dragon said after a moment.
"You believe this?" Heaven asked surprised.
"I have been waiting for it." Seraph answered calmly...
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Dear High Lords of Crimson-Rose;
I am sending you all an invitation to the wedding. I know that it will suit your perposes to come when you read this whole letter. The terms are agreeable to you. And they are agreeable to Lord Azure for he wishes all to be there. As a sign to the people.
Now here is the part that you will like. We all know that you are simply trying to hold off our attacks until your reinforcements get here. You, therefore, have our word that we will keep our armies off your land and the war will be at a halt while you are at the wedding and the formalities. All together the wedding and services will take a week.
I hope that you see this is to your advantage, but the only way we will keep up our half of the deal is if you keep yours. Everyone named must attend the wedding. You may bring guards if you think it is nessisary but you have the word of both Queen Artemisa and Lord Azure that no harm will come to you while you are here.
The people whose names are on the royal list are below, if everyone is not there then the armies of Dark Night and Dragon-Snow will attack you the night of the wedding. Those that are to attend are named below:
Princess Rose of Dragon-Snow (or should I say Queen Rose of Crimson-Rose?)
Sir Heaven of Star
Lord Ares if Trinity
Sir Draven of Demonlands.
We know that you need this to give you time. And we need this for appearance. Therefore I am sure you will be there. I look forward to the meeting.
Thank you, Sincerely; Armand ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The ball room was made of white marble. The nobles walked among it, talking happily as the future king and the queen sat on the large chairs in front of the room. The servants wondered the room, offering refreshments and snacks to entertain the nobles and royalty more then to stop their hunger or thirst. Lord Azure was whispering something when the doors to the room swung open. Everyone looked up, and the jovial mood vanished instantly.
Standing in the doorway was a small group, all dressed in simple black robes that were generally used for funerals. An obvious sign of disrespect, they walked into the room in silence. No one spoke to them until Armand came forward. "Welcome high lords, and you Princess, or should I say Queen?"
"Say what you want, it matters little to me," Rose answered sharply.
Armand bowed his head mockingly. "Well I am sure your sister would love to welcome you. If you would like to go talk to her."
"No, I have nothing to say to her." Rose said, glancing at Angel nervously.
"The Queen is to go nowhere without a guard." Heaven said firmly, knowing that the guard was more for Rose's mental health then for anything else.
Armand bowed his head, "as I thought."
Althea glanced at the room as Heaven and Armand talked. The nobles watched them coldly. Some looked on with fear and suspicion, others with anger. "Brother, you would not happen to have heard from a young man named Lyaki, now would you?" Ares asked after a moment, Armand smirked.
"So you have talked to the prophet as well?" Armand asked.
"Yes." Ares sighed, looking around. "This is going to be a long week."
"Perhaps. But your reinforcements are due here soon. So next week will be fun." Armand said, his eyes filled with mirth.
Althea finally strayed from the group, wondering the crowd. She noticed that the people were silent whenever she was within' hearing range of them, and she had no doubt what they were discussing. Ignoring their looks she went to one of the servants and took a glass of wine. "I am glad you are here." Althea did not have to turn to see who had spoken.
"It buys me time, Queen. That is the only reason I have come."
"I think that there may be more. Eve seems to believe the prophet. And I have found Eve to be very trust worthy."
"If it is the will of the Goddess that we join together then it will happen without our help, I am sure. I would not worry about it if I was you." With that Althea walked away, never looking at Artemisa, who watched her leave worriedly.
"The Princess is to be made a Queen this night. Please, follow me to the Royal room. There her father was knighted and made a King. There also his daughter will become the ruler of this kingdom!" Announced Armand, who had become one of the highest ranking nobles at the ceremony. Althea sighed, no wonder this all was taking so long, they were doing all the formalities that the war had caused the nation to neglect that night. The Crowning of the Princess was simply for show, but, even though they already called her Queen, most nobles would not accept her as such until the ceremony was done.
So they followed Armand as he lead the procession of nobles and foreign royalty to another room. This room was large, it had a stage at the front and no where to sit. On the stage stood the King of the Black Dragon. He reminded Althea of King Lerel during his final months on the thrown. He was weak, and looked like a beaten animal. But he still looked royal somehow.
There was silence until all the nobles had entered the room. Then King Heiracy began to speak. His voice was surprisingly commanding, but his eyes remained low during his talk. "Today I welcome the noble Princess Artemisa here to become a Queen." He paused as he glanced at Azure, as though asking if he was doing what he was supposed to, Azure smiled slightly and King Heiracy continued. "I knew King Lerel well. He was a good man and I morn his passing. But it was the will of the deities to have this woman take his place now. She alone can lead you, as her people into a time of happiness."
Althea stopped listening then and pulled aside one of the servants. "What happens after the crowning, tomorrow and the next day?"
"Tomorrow Azure and Artemisa begin the ceremonies of the wedding. Then in two days Azure will be crowned as King, afterward a treaty will be signed joining Dragon-Snow and the Black Dragon."
"Good, thank you." Althea said and let the servant leave. She knew that she had to stay for all the sickening rights and formalities. She needed the time. By the time all the ceremonies were over and the war could start again the armies of Star, Trinity, Luna, and Nieve would be with her army. The time for war would come soon. Azure knew it, that is why he was hurrying to become the King. Everyone knew, that was why the presence of the leaders of the rebellion had been demanded. The nobles of Dragon-Snow did not believe the army of Crimson-Rose would do anything while their leaders were away.
Althea watched Azure closely for a while. He looked calm, even happy, though he kept glancing at her group. He did not like it that all the dragons had come. Althea did not like it either. She would rather have some of her trusted companions with her army, but Glory had spoken Seraph, Dervish, Flame, Eclipse and himself when he had told Althea they were coming whether of not she wanted them to. They knew something she did not and that also made her nervous. Once again she had her worries about the loyalty of the small group of dragons.
Althea was pulled from her thoughts when finally King Heiracy finally announced Artemisa. The doors behind him swung open, allowing Artemisa and her procession to come from the doors. Althea was a little surprised by what she saw. Artemisa was walking her highest ranked nobles in front of her and her ladies in waiting behind. She had changed into a ceremonial white dress with gold trimming, it dragged behind her on the ground.
Althea's attention was only captured for a moment. It was not long before her eyes again wondered the crowd. There she saw, much to her surprise, Lyaki standing among the audience, a sad look on his face. Althea wanted to go talk to him, but movement and speech were forbidden until the end of the ceremony. So she remained silent and still until finally the crown was placed on Artemisa's head and the crowd cheered wildly. Then she turned to find Lyaki, but he was gone.
Althea and her group turned down the offer for rooms in the castle and found a place to stay in Angel's old home. It was now abandoned and locked up, everyone that used to stay there had left. Including Delilah, who seemed to have vanished off the face of the planet.
There they shared the room above what used to be a bar. Althea had Eclipse stay near Rose, which she did not seem to mind. Althea knew that Rose was scared for her safety. Angel studied the room and found all was exactly as he had left it, no one had even tampered with his valuebles.
"It feels like a ghost house!" Angel grumbled as he looked through his drawers.
Althea smiled, "it always did, you never were much for making this place homely."
Angel shot her an annoyed look then went back to what he was doing.
"Tomorrow is the wedding, isn't it?" Ares asked Heaven, who was sitting alone in a quiet courner.
Heaven shot him an angry look, "so I was told." He finally mumbled.
Ares sighed, "I am sorry, you may not expect this from me, but I do know how you feel."
Heaven looked at him but did not answer. Nothing was clear to him anymore. The sharp line he had drawn in his mind between good and evil had been destroyed in the last few months. Leaving him with a weak grasp on his own morals. One of his worst enemies had become a close ally and his own fiancée had become one of his enemies. He rode a dragon who could turn into elven form whenever he wanted and he was fighting to destroy the kingdom that he had been fighting to aid only weeks before.
Heaven wondered if anyone else felt as lost as him, but when he looked at the group he was with he doubted it. These people were used to changing sides, they were accustom to betrayal. Heaven had become a knight when he was fifteen, but he had been living with knights since the age of six. He did not remember when he lived as a thief with his twin and his older sister. So all he knew was good, trust and honor. None of this made any sense in his mind.
Ares left his side after a while of silence. But Heaven did not mind, he wanted to be alone, to think. The next day was bound to be the most painful he had expirianced in a long time and he had to mentally prepare himself for it. He did not want the Queen to see his pain.
Heaven sat awake all night, and being the only one awake he was the only one who heard Althea, Angel, Ares and Draven moaning in their sleep. All seemed to be having the same dream, at the same time.
Althea saw Artemisa out of the courner of her eye, she knew something was wrong, the wedding was about to begin but she felt deep in her heart that something more was about to happen. The air seemed filled with a powerful magic, her every breath filled her soul with the power that surrounded her. Then suddenly it was dark, the nobles vanished, the only people she could see were Artemisa, Heaven, Azure, Armand, Ares, Angel, and Draven. The darkness was so think that she could not tell where she was. It was parted by a voice, the voice was strong and demanding, but it held a comphorting and musical tone to it. "You did not heed my warnings!" She, whoever she was, said, though she did not sound angry or surprised. "I will not give you many more warnings, Althea."
"What do you want?"
"I want you to join Artemisa."
"I can not do that!" Althea said, regretting her words as soon as she said them.
"You will. Do you think any of this happened by accident? Do you think I make mistakes?"
"No, I do not, Lady Leatha."
"Then why do you still defy me?"
"I have to."
There was a moment of silence, Althea glanced around her, no one else moved, they did not even seem alive. "You do not have to do anything." Leatha said sadly.
"Then I do not have to serve your will?"
"No, you do not."
A knock came at the door. Heaven answered it, Glory at his side protectivly. Heaven stared in surprise at the sight of Artemisa, Armand and Azure at the door. "What are you doing here?"
"Did you have the dream?" Azure asked.
"I have not slept." Heaven answered, looking at Artemisa's bewildered expression.
"I did," came a voice from behind Heaven, he turned to see Draven and Althea standing together, both looked somewhat shaken.
"Then you know why we are here." The Queen said softly.
"Yes, and come in please, I think we need to talk." Althea said. Heaven watched in surprise as Armand and Azure walked past him in a trance like state, only Artemisa looked directly at him as she passed.
By that time Ares and Draven entered the living room as well. The other dragon's watched from the shadows and Queen Rose slept. Angel had everyone sit around his large table. They sat in silence for a while before finally Heaven, who was now completely confused, spoke. "What is going on?"
"You didn't have the dream?" Angel asked, it seemed that everyone who had been in his dream had had it as well, everyone except Heaven.
"I didn't sleep. What dream?"
"The dream about Leatha." Artemisa answered, her eyes on the ground. "Heaven I think that we have to put aside our hatred. Something is happening that we need to heed. We have been given our warnings, the Goddess can not force us to do what she wants. Or what is right. Only we can make that decision."
Another knock came at the door. Heaven was the only one who seemed to have heard it, everyone else sat stuck in their own worries. Heaven answered the door and was in no way surprised to see Lyaki at the door. "Welcome prophet." Heaven said calmly.
"Close your eyes, Heaven, and you will see what my goddess wants to tell you." Lyaki said calmly.
Heaven shook his head annoyed. "I do not need to see anything, prophet."
Lyaki smirked, "didn't I try to tell you. Both of you?"
"You did, we were too bull headed to listen." Althea said softly. "Why is it that she wants us?"
"Why don't you ask her?" Lyaki smiled again. "She promised that soon as you all accepted what she has told you then she will come herself to tell you why you have been chosen. All I can tell you is what you have been chosen to do."
"Then tell us, prophet." Heaven demanded.
Lyaki smirked at him, a look of control and confedance in his eyes. "You have been chosen to fight for the safety of all the people you care about. You have been chosen to fight for the freedom of the world."
"Fight what? Azure is the only thing that threatens the freedom of this planet!" Heaven said coldly.
Lyaki shot Heaven an angry look, then he relaxed, "that may be true in later times, my friend." Azure looked at Lyaki sharply when he said that. His eyes dark with thought. "But right now Azure and the rest of you are the only hope."
"You still have not told us what we will be doing for your goddess." Heaven said sharply.
"You will do what you are best at. You will fight and you will plot." Lyaki's voice was filled with contempt. "Never did I think such 'talents' would ever be needed. But my goddess knows best."
"And if we are not fighting each other then what? Will we still be fighting those twins you spoke of?" Artemisa asked.
"Yes, you will. You will fight the twins and their masters. The goddesses Minerva and Diane."
"How could we be expected to fight goddesses?" Angel asked softly.
"You will have the aid of a goddess. Besides I am told you all have more power than one of the two goddesses, if you ever put aside your petty arguments."
Heaven was about to argue when Lyaki stood. "I see that there is little left for me to say. Heaven if you keep resisting what you do not understand you will bring death to us all. Now take the hand of your twin and your love. And then pray." With that Lyaki left. Heaven looked at Angel and Artemisa, who were holding their hands toward him.
"Please," Artemisa finally said softly.
Heaven bowed his head respectfully and took their hands, completing the circle, he lowered his head and began to pray, "if you really are looking after us, then show yourself." He said so softly that no one could hear.
"Open your eyes." Came a soft voice from the center of the circle, Althea recognized it instantly. "But do not break the circle. Your faith is the only thing that is keeping me here."
Althea looked up to see the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. Leatha looked back at her, a prideful, motherly smile on her delicate face. She had long hair that seemed both silver and gold at the same time. Her eyes were large and calm, they were red with a golden ring around the iris. Her skin was glowing softly with an inner light and her body was thin and delicate.
"I am glad to finally meet you all in person." She said, her voice sounded like a snake hissing at it's child. Althea could not decide if she liked the sound or not. It made her feel both hated and loved at the same time.
"What do you want of us, goddess, for we are your servants." Heaven said softly.
Leatha turned her eyes to him, her eyes seeming to see into his soul. "I want your help. You are not my servants, Sir Heaven, you are my champions."
Heaven raised his eyebrows surprised. "What do you need, my lady?"
"You know what I need. And now you must understand why I have chosen you. And why I have revealed myself." Leatha looked at them as though she expected them to argue, but no one said anything, perhaps because of the look. "I have shown myself because I owe you all gifts. And I have come to give them to you, for you will need them soon. But first I will answer all your questions. Althea there was a purpose to all that has happened." She began, answering the question that Althea had only thought. "This war was far from pointless. You will be the main force that will battle, but the armies needed to be ready. They attack tomorrow. And this land will be prepared to defend itself." Leatha smiled, "and no, Heaven and Artemisa, you will not lead your people any longer. Not until this war is over. I have placed capable people to lead them. You eight, and your dragons, will be free to fight. Now if there is nothing else, yes Draven you will be rewarded, as I was saying." Leatha stopped talking then and looked at Heaven, "I will begin with you."
Heaven raised his eyes to her, feeling a shiver climb up his spine. "I have three gifts for each of you. The gift of knowledge, the gift of magic, and the gift of battle. Heaven rise, but do leave the circle." Heaven obeyed and Leatha walked to him. First she smiled, "the first gift I give you is the gift of knowledge." With that Leatha touched Heaven's forehead and Althea watched as his frown turned to a grin. Then she raised her eyes, "the gift of magic I give you will help you see the emotions of those around you." She smiled as Heaven seemed to relax, "and this sword is yours, it belonged to a great knight long ago and is blessed." She handed Heaven a sword that appeared in her hand. It was made of silver with a delicately carved dragon on the hilt. Heaven bowed his head and sat.
Next she went to Angel, she touched his head and gave him knowledge, then she gave him his magic, the ability to blend in almost any situation, the ability basically to be invisible. And the ability to make people forget, a talent which usually tired a magician but now Angel would be able to do it efortlessly. She then handed him a large dagger. Then she went to Ares, giving the man his knowledge and then his magic, the magic of power and battle. The magic of pain. She handed him a crude but powerful looking sword. To Armand she gave the power of defense and a magical and fancy suet of armor. To Althea she gave the magic of fire and earth and a fancy but light double edged sword. She gave Artemisa the magic of water and air and a matching sword, aside from the jewels that studded the hilts of the daggers, Artemisa's were pink like her eyes and Althea's were ice blue, like her eyes. When she gave them those she smiled, "I have given you the power to heal and to harm, Artemisa, use it well. And Althea, you have the power to destroy and to build. You both will need the good and the evil sides of these gifts. Ignore neither, for if you do it will prove your undoing." Then she turned to Azure and Draven.
"You both seem out of place in this circle of brothers and twins, do you not?" Leatha asked, glancing at Artemisa and Althea with a smile, as though trying to confuse them. Neither of the men answered. "You both know all that I can tell you. And yes, I will answer for you, you are demi- gods, though I can not tell you whom your deity parents are." With that she turned from them, and added, "I need you, but I will do nothing to further your power. Soon you will be the enemies that I fight."
With that Leatha vanished, leaving the group alone and confused. "What do we do now?" Artemisa finally asked.
No one knew the answer.
Mourning came slowly, it seemed to dread the coming of the day. The eight chosen walked together in silence. The air was tense with something. Some unseen danger lurked among them. Everyone could feel it but no one spoke of it. Neither did anyone speak of the gifts they had been given the previous night. The knowledge that had been given to them was theirs alone, knowledge that none wanted to share.
The splits in the group were even obvious then, in the moment of thought and worry. Althea, Ares and Angel walked together, they were the killers, thieves and dishonorable. But they were far from evil. Artemisa, Armand and Heaven already seemed to return to each other. They all had a strong sense of right and wrong and honor that bound them together. But in the shadows traveled Azure and Draven. Neither seemed surprised by what had happened the night before. And they alone seemed to have the ability to be evil.
The sunrise that mourning was a perticular color, the color of blood. The red sun rose slowly and shone upon Atlantis with an almost sad gentleness. Everyone felt that, and even if it was imagined, something seemed wrong.
It was barely mid-mourning when they heard the first blare of the trumpet. Artemisa closed her eyes with pain as she looked at the horizon. What looked like a cloud of locusts was rising above the walls. Artemisa was about to call forth her armies. But she did not have to do anything, out of the shadows appeared Katiya, shouting orders to both her people and Artemisa's. Althea did not stop to wonder how Kat had gotten there, or how long she had been there, Leatha had promised that the land would be left in capable hands, and already it was controlled by someone that Althea trusted.
"What are they?" Artemisa finally asked, Kat looked at her, her eyes calm but filled with pain.
"An army of gargoyles, dragons and other creatures. All of which will give their lives for their cause. Leatha told me much, and I can only wish you luck, all of you. Your path will not be easy." With that Katiya hurried away, Althea noticed two men following her, one had purely copper eyes, the other bronze. More dragons, Althea thought, not knowing if it was a good omen.
"What do we do now?" Althea finally asked, voicing everyone's thoughts.
"Do what is needed, you all know what that is." Came a voice from the shadows. Althea turned to see Lyaki, his eyes filled with sadness. "And goodbye. My life will end this day, but I know I have lived it well."
He left before anyone could answer. There was only a moment of silence before finally Ares said what everyone knew. "If we were still in command we would send a small group of warriors to kill the leader of this army and to destroy the moral and the cause, from within."
"And I believe we are that group." Althea said, finishing the thought he had started.