Chapter 4 Reunion
High in the towers of the Keep, the brass war bell sounded. Its deep cry reverberated over the battlefield and through the Keep halls and corridors. Kaira turned from the display of maps strewn over a heavy oak table and dashed to a Warded window just in time to watch the Guardian archers release a rainbow of arrows from above her on the roof. They arched gracefully, seeming to hang suspended high overhead before falling into the front ranks of the advancing army. The front line faltered as several undead fell under the silver tipped and blessed arrows of the clerics and archers, but soon reformed, moving inexorably onwards as they deftly trampled their fallen underfoot. Ahead of them, guarding the Keep stood the Guardian's main force. The cavalry, consisting of mounted knights stood to the sides and behind. In front of them, a line of rangers, and acting as the front line were the pikemen and knights on foot. Though the assembly was positioned with their backs to the Keep where she was, Kaira knew the front line looked intimidating; with each knight in full, brightly burnished armor sending brightly dancing prisms of light through the clearing.
A loud, booming voice rang out over the assembled troops. Kaira spotted the source: a man in full armor astride a large and muscular dappled warhorse. Atop a pole fastened to his saddle was a flag bearing the crossed swords of the Knights flanked by the Guardian's gold dragon. It was Gray Stormblade, leader of the Knights Sect. The response to his call was immediate, in disciplined unison the front line of knights dropped to one knee and planted their shields firmly in front of them, revealing the archers ranks. A fraction of the clerics, safely concealed behind the mounted knights released their bless and protection spells simultaneously, allowing the rangers to loose their arrows within a heartbeat of being revealed. Once more the front line faltered as numerous undead fell under a second onslaught from the archers stationed on the Keep's roof, allowing the rangers time put away their bows and draw a mêlée weapon of their choice. With that, the brass bell rang once more, signaling the charge. All at once the clearing erupted into battle as first the cavalry broke away from their flanking stations and charged, slicing their way through the advancing ranks. Close behind them, the knights and rangers followed, fanning out to cut off any further advance by the attacking force. From the woods behind more rangers emerged, closing the rear and perfectly executing what was referred to as the hammer and anvil tactic.
Kaira turned away, leaning against the cold granite as the sounds of engagement filled the Keep. Inside, the healers prepared beds and makeshift litters in anticipation of the wounded that would begin to filter in through warded portals any moment. She turned to watch the mages file out the large double doors in four orderly files. Outside they would separate and join their cleric guildmates in casting from behind the lines.
A deep rumbling vibration brought her to look back out the window, a sense of dread at what that could mean welling in the pit of her stomach. A wave of dizziness forced her to grab the sill for support. Kaira blinked several times, trying to bring her surroundings back into focus when her eyes were drawn to the sky. Kaira nearly laughed at the irony of nature, below people were fighting and dying, but above the sky was a clear azure with few cotton white clouds to mar it's pristine beauty. It was a completely alternate reality to the death below.
Suddenly the sky flared into a blinding white. When it cleared Kaira blinked in disbelief at the sight outside her window. Everything had an almost ethereal glow to it; colors seemed surreal and muted. She stood at the window gaping at the sky, filled with hundreds dragons. Metallics with mounted riders battled with riderless Chromes. She recognized the silver and blue clad dragonriders as Guardians. Below on a bloodstained battlefield Guardians fell to an enemy she couldn't see. The air was thick with smoke and blood and other remnants of dragonbreath and magic. The air buzzed with the live conflicting energies of light and dark. Kaira knew the Guardians were fighting a losing battle, but she was at a loss at what to do. She was frozen in place by an overwhelming sense of malice. Somehow Kaira knew she was there as a mere spectator.
Learn. A breathy voice murmured.
Her eyes were drawn to the sky once more as a Chrome dragon glided by her window. This red however, unlike the others bore a rider. The woman wore a coat of armor unlike any Kaira had seen before, its obsidian black surface gleamed as if in firelight and watching the way the rider moved it appeared to weigh nothing! Kaira stepped closer to the window, somehow drawn by this lone dragonrider. Somehow she knew this rider was a woman. Together the red and rider moved with an effortless grace through the chaos of aerial battle seemingly in charge over the Chromes and. The woman riding the red turned then, looking straight into Kaira's eyes. An elf! Kaira took an involuntary step backwards. The dragonrider was an elf!
Another blinding flash cleared to reveal a black clad figure glaring menacingly with an accusing finger pointed directly at her before the light consumed her vision once more.
Released by the sights Kaira stumbled backwards, narrowly catching herself on the wall. Firm hands grabbed her waist, helping to steady her. She passed a shaky hand over her eyes. "Thank you." She mumbled.
"Kai - what's wrong?"
She sighed inwardly. It was Daren. How does he always manage to show up when I look like a frail little elf-girl most?
"Kaira?" Daren sounded worried.
Kaira straightened, leaning slightly on the wall. The cool granite felt good against her sweaty hand. She took a deep breath, meeting his gaze fully. "I'm alright." Her gaze drifted to the sky outside. What was that all about? ... A warning perhaps?
Daren frowned. "You were just standing there, staring out the window. Kai you're white as a sheet."
"What are the chances the Dragons could be pulled into this?" She said quietly.
She could feel Daren shift his weight; he was still standing so close. "Next to none. The Dragons don't care about mortal escapades. Kai, what's this about?" Daren placed a hand on her shoulder, glancing out at the field.
"But the Guardians have the ability to call on the Dragons, don't they? In an emergency?"
After a moment of thought he responded confidently. "In a situation of the utmost importance or need, the Metallics would come to us. I don't know exactly how it works. You could ask Shi'ar about it, though. Her being the guildmaster and all, she would know. I think it has something to do with the bond the leader of the Guardians shares with Aragos."
Kaira nodded. She knew all about how certain Guardians were chosen by dragons to be their companion. Only full ranking Guardians could be chosen, and once selected, they were bonded for life. It was said that the dragons could see straight into the soul of a person, and those chosen were of the most noble hearts. One particularly wise gold dragon, older than memory, chose the guildmaster of the Guardians. The bond between Shi'ar and Aragos was strongest of all.
Daren gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "Not to fear, though. I hardly think this will amount to anything the Guardians can't handle."
Kaira shook her head, gazing out over the field. "What am I doing in here?" She grumbled. "Those people are out there dying... and for what?" The discontent was evident in her voice.
"You have to stay where it's safe. Besides, you are just an initiate, guild law forbids you from participating in battle until you're deemed ready and capable by your trainers and Sect leader."
Kaira gritted her teeth, trying to keep the irritation from her voice. Men and women - people! - were out there dying in battle, and she was expected to stay inside and twiddle her thumbs in some corner obediently just because a bunch of old fighters past their glory thought she wasn't ready? "Do any of them even know why they're out there? Do they?" She grated, trying to keep her voice even.
"Come on, Kaira. Think! There is a very large possibility that this goes beyond you! Why must you think that this is over you? Over a novice mage?" Exasperated, Daren swept his arm in a wide arc, indicating the raging battle.
Kaira bit her lip to keep from retorting. Daren must have seen the fire in her face because he sighed, passing a weary hand over his face. "They're fighting because they were called to uphold the honor of the guild and the charter against the Dark Queen's minions."
Kaira shook her head disbelievingly. "To hell with this." She muttered through clenched teeth. Turning away from the window, she snatched her katana from its sheath, and stalked down the stairs.
A hand on her arm spun her about to face Daren. His blue eyes flashed. "Kaira don't be stupid! If you go out there you're not only putting yourself in danger but also disobeying a direct order placed upon you by the highest order of this guild! Do you know what that would mean?"
Kaira's violet eyes flashed angrily as she locked eyes with Daren. "All I know is that my fellow guildsmen out there fighting a force they can't comprehend and dying for a purpose they can't understand!" She hissed. "They're being used as pawns, Daren, and if that is what the Guardians is all about, then I don't want any part of it. This may or may not be because of me, but either way I'm not sitting around on my ass while my friends die simply because they hold seniority! I'm battlemage, Daren! This is what I've been trained to do by my people for over a hundred years! If anyone holds seniority, I do!"
"Kindly release my arm, Cleric Daren." She said icily.
Daren let go with a sigh of resignation. Kaira's cold and determined eyes held his for a moment before she finally spun on her heel and glided to the door.
Kaira stepped out of the Keep's safety into absolute pandemonium. Instinct honed by years of training snapped into life immediately as she ducked and ran her silver katana through an undead warrior, turning just in time to see another crumble to dust right behind her. Daren swung his staff back into a defensive position, a stupid look on his face. "Can't leave you alone for a second."
Had the circumstances been any different, Kaira would have laughed. Daren always seemed to come through for her. Instead she turned to catch another undead warrior as it closed in on a ranger fighting three.
The ranger kicked one out of the way, taking the second out with a deft swing of his mace, catching the first in its momentum and sweeping a fistful of dagger into the third. Marshall grinned as he turned to face Kaira with a salute of his mace. "Thanks, lass."
"Say," The big ranger paused to bash another undead that tried to sneak up behind him. "Shouldn't you be inside, mage?"
Marshall shrugged, laughing. "I don't blame you, lass."
Another group of undead warriors descended on them, Kaira spun and lashed with her sword at two, taking them down, but wasn't quick enough to stop the next from slicing her sword arm. She dropped to a knee, releasing a fireball in its face.
"Looks like you need to return inside, mage." Marshall stated, knocking aside another undead.
"Not a chance." Kaira shifted her lightsword to her left hand, tearing a strip from her cloak she wrapped it tightly around her wounded arm. "And it's battlemage."
The ranger gave an approving chuckle.
Sweeping his staff out in a wide circle, Daren appeared beside them. Kaira Felt him weaving a protection spell. Marshall grunted his greeting, too busy with a lich. Almost absently she dispersed the blade spell Marshall's lich was weaving before sweeping her katana into an undead pikeman.
"The clerics and mages had to pull back. Avery has them regrouping on the roof." He said shortly, referring to his second in command of the clerics.
Marshall reappeared. "Well it's about time." He grunted.
Kaira nodded, they both knew what that meant. Once assembled in a safe place, he magic users could begin casting the larger, more beneficial spells.
"At least I don't have to worry about washing blood out of my uniform." Marshall joked, swinging his mace clear through an undead pikeman.
"You? Washing?" Kaira smirked.
"Kaira, watch out!" Daren's sharp warning gave her enough time to narrowly avoid a flying spear. Turning to the attack revealed a large group of undead warriors heading toward them. Daren swore.
An idea sprung to mind. "Daren, quick give me the line to that bless spell you just cast."
"Just do it!"
Taking the magical fabric of Daren's bless spell, she wove it into her own attack, making it all the more powerful against the undead group bearing down on them. She cast her power out, selecting the spell more on reflex. Immediately, a wall of flames sprung up, glittering with the blue traces of Daren's magic, and swept outwards burning the group to dust.
Daren shook his head disbelievingly. "Incredible."
She shrugged. "Not really."
He swung his staff out, decapitating a lich. "Why do you always choose fire magic when you fight - even against that higher daemon in the Underworld, you still used fire."
Kaira shrugged again, dodging an arrow. "Fire comes easily to me, never thought of why. It does the trick every time so why stretch my energies for other spells?"
"That makes sense." Daren conceded.
Kaira grinned. "Of course." She almost laughed at the look that crossed Daren's face at that point. Almost.
She knew this playful banter was part of Daren's attempt to boost morale. In truth, she did feel a sense of confidence having him nearby, but she couldn't help but wonder what could restore the damage that had been done.
The battlemage crouched, bringing her lightblade into a defensive position, but there weren't any undead nearby that wasn't already engaged. She took the opportunity to glance around, taking mental note of where her comrades were positioned. She smiled grimly; it appeared that their attack tactic was working. But not without it's toll; the once green clearing that had been labeled peace grounds by the Guardians, was now nothing more than a war ravaged wasteland. Strewn with seemingly endless bodies and blood the clearing was dotted with fire and other remnants of magic and destruction. The smell of blood lingered in the air, carried by the cool autumn breeze and the ring of colliding steel mixed with cries of battle and death.
All around, the sounds of metal on metal rang out drifting with the cries of the fallen. It was eerie in a way; they fought a battle, full of death. But other than the clash of weapons and sizzle of magic, the only battle cries to be heard were those of her fellow Guardians. Their enemy fought and died silently, giving no noise but that of their old weapons.
The battle raged on, seemingly with no end in sight.
Ahead, a lich mage broke from the mêlée and headed toward Kaira. It bore no weapon other than a dust-bitten staff, but she could already See the magic it was weaving.
Sheathing her lightsword, she wove a shield around her. A lightning bolt sizzled as it arced through the air towards her. Kaira focused her shield at one point as she spun to the side. The bolt caught her shield and threatened to disperse but the Lich Mage had remarkable control over his magic and Kaira's shield shattered under the pressure of the live lightning as it sprayed in every direction. A startled cry of surprise escaped her as she dropped and hit the ground with a roll, narrowly avoiding the wild lightning sparks. Kaira came out of her controlled fall to the Lich's left, releasing a water spray directly in it's face just as it cast another lightning in its hands. The Lich Mage convulsed under the electrifying waves of lightning and water before crumbling to dust.
A hand grabbed her arm, pulling her up. Kaira's head snapped around, a spell ready to cast but it died at seeing it was Daren.
Her companion said something, but Kaira didn't hear him. She was almost floored as she sensed a familiar presence she had not felt in nearly a century. It had resurfaced about a fortnight ago when she wandered through the forests beyond town but it had been different then. Now, now it was no longer distant and faint, now it was stronger - closer.
The young mage broke away from a startled Daren and spun, sword in hand. Standing not far from her was a black clad magic-user. An odd tingle ran through her, the cowled figure before her eerily resembled the menacing mage from her vision. She forced the thought from her mind, focusing on the reality. A quick glance told her that he had no guard save a single skeleton captain.
Kaira hesitated as she fought to regain her voice. "A-Alin?"
Violet eyes widened as a familiar human face emerged from the voluminous depths of the obsidian black hood. A young man, not much older than she appeared, gazed back at her. His dark brown hair brushed his temples concealing bright green eyes. His high, defined features belied his purely human bloodlines.
He gave a self-assured smile, bowing his head slightly in acknowledgement. "It has been a long time. You look well - sister." He chuckled softly, obviously pleased with himself. "Surprised?" Kaira paled. "I - I thought - I thought you were - dead."
Kaira shook her head ruefully. This isn't my Alin. This is not my brother. The Dark Queen has destroyed him now, no doubt.
Alin laughed, his violet eyes dancing. Watching him, Kaira felt as if someone has stabbed her in the heart; it was the same light hearted, jovial laugh of the once innocent child he'd been. But now... the once melodic lilt of his laugh had become a horrible rasp that grinded the nerve. Kaira bit her tongue, fighting back tears. He still looked the same. Older - but the same. The people of the human village they grew up in had known and feared their father yet, at the same time adored his children. Kaira and Alin had been closer than twins. Only Kaira's elven features told that they were of different mothers.
"Yes. You reminisce now, sister." Alin's voice jolted Kaira out of her thoughts.
Once again he'd read her mind, just like when they were little. His tone, however, surprised her. It sounded almost - wistful.
"As for being dead, well I was" He paused in mock thoughtfulness. "Or-maybe, I am." He laughed again, sending the pain through Kaira again.
Kaira's eyes narrowed slightly, she adjusted her grip on the hilt of her sword. Oddly enough, none of the fighting was coming close to her or Alin. "Get to the point, Alin."
He laughed, regarding her with mixed amusement and spite. "Well, in any case you can thank the Dark Queen for this pleasant little reunion of ours here."
"So why all this? Why all this killing? You and I-"
"This is for you - Kaira." He spat. "And you may forget about us." He spoke softer.
Kaira flushed with fury. "Why? Why because of me? You had me in your blasted underworld and you let me go!" She suddenly became aware of Daren's presence as he stepped up behind her, placing a comforting hand on her trembling shoulder. She stopped, taking a breath she silently thanked Daren for being there. She'd almost forgot he'd been there. Him and Marshall, who was flanking her other side.
Pleasure and perhaps amusement shone in Alin's eyes, as if noticing Daren only now. "Well indeed, you did escape did you not? But you have the human to thank for that." He gestured expansively towards Daren, his eyes dancing. "It seems the weakness of your mother has become yours." He mocked.
"Or was it your father's weakness?" Kaira said calmly.
His face darkened. "Either way, she paid for it. Even her God cannot save her now. They are both paying for their indiscretion." Alin's eyes glittered now with something else Kaira hadn't seen before - insanity.
All at once it hit her. "It was you! She took you in, raised you as her own son when yours abandoned you with your scum father and you repay her - with, with..." Kaira trembled violently, her grip on her sword tightened as she fought the roiling hate and anger rising in her.
He shrugged. "She should be dead." He hissed. "I suppose her God did not fail her completely." Alin watched intently, interest gleaming in his eerily bright eyes.
He's pushing me to fight. She realized, struggling to relax her stance. Daren must have sensed her struggle because he put his hand over hers, pushing the blade towards the ground. For the first time she took her eyes off Alin. Her eyes met Daren's firm gaze and he shook his head slightly.
Kaira took a steadying breath and slid her sword into its scabbard, deliberately locking her defiant gaze with Alin's. A fleeting image of disappointment and annoyance flashed in his eyes. "No Alin. I refuse to become like you." She said coldly.
Alin smiled. "Oh, on the contrary, my dear, naive little sister. I see the very battle within you this very moment as we speak. I can feel you rage and see the potential in your eyes, Kaira. You cannot fight it. I have no wish for you to fight me. I've been watching you. The way you wield that elven monstrosity you call a weapon. The skill in which you handle the blade is the eagerness to kill." His eyes narrowed. "It feels good, does it not? To feel that smooth, keen edge slide through your enemy." He chuckled. "You know what I speak of. I am just here to make sure that our father's half wins this little battle." He took a step towards her. "You are a daughter of the red dragon after all." His voice was dangerous and low. "You poor thing. You have no idea who - what - you are."
Kaira stood her ground, her voice impassive and devoid of all emotion. "That may be true, but I am not weak like you." She spat.
Alin's grin faded.
Until now, Alin's companion had remained silent. Kaira had almost forgotten he was there. "The red dragon we seek cannot be this woman." The skeleton captain beside him rasped scornfully.
"No!" He yelled. The skeleton captain shrunk back, afraid of suffering the dark mage's wrath. Alin paused a moment, as if composing himself. His confident smirk rose again. "Let us see, Captain."
Slowly, the red mage rolled up his sleeve. "I, Kaira, unlike you was born with neither the power, nor the mark of the red dragon. I attained it." His voice was full of bitterness.
"And look at the price! That's what lost you to the Dark Queen." Kaira hissed. "I have no wish for this curse, Alin. I have no wish to become you."
Alin merely smiled, the same smile that lit his childlike human features. "The power is your heritage, sister of mine. You have no right to deny what the Gods have deemed to gift you with. You shall see, soon, how ignorant you have been."
Raising his hands he revealed the glowing symbol of a red dragon embedded in his right wrist. He pointed his bony fingers at Kaira. "Prepare to witness the power of the Red Dragon!" He screamed, eyes wide.
Kaira's breath caught. "No! Alin don't!" Frantic to guide Alin's attack away from Daren and Marshall she dove to the side, throwing a shield up over herself.
There was no reasoning with Alin and Kaira had a split second to throw up her shields before a stream of white-hot lightning her. Then, with a flick of his wrist sent Daren and Marshall flying backwards against a tree.
To her dismay, Kaira's hasty shields failed and shattered under the force of Alin's mad assault. She cried out in pain and dropped to one knee, clutching her sides.
"Hmm, you will be difficult." He purred, contemplating over the pair.
Just then, the song of a cleric of the Bright One filled the air.