Caught Between Kingdoms: Part Eleven
A gust of wind pushed up on his wings, sudden and fierce. It kept him from crashing into the gardens below, but just barely. The rose bushes came close to nipping at his feet; frantically pumping his wings kept the Eyrie inches away from their spiny stems. Setarian glided with the help of an updraft and attempted to keep himself hidden from the view of the night guardsmen. The first guard tower passed without incident. Not a jingle could be heard from the enemy's chainmail.
He struggled to maintain altitude as the winds grew soft and light. Too much noise, he quickly realized, would alert them to his presence. Even breathing too loudly might perk the sensitive ears of guard Cybunnies, Usuls, and Lupes who specialized in external threat detection. With every pound of his heart, Setarian shot nervous glances around the courtyard. Left. Right. Behind. No one was following in close pursuit. Not yet. It took every ounce of will-power not to shout when a frightened Whoot flushed from a nearby bush. Loud whoos echoed throughout the area. Shortly after, the complaints of half-asleep Neopians could be heard from almost every chamber window. Time was running out.
The General cursed under his breath as his head tucked down and wings pressed closely against his body. A whip of his wings increased his flight speed, but each movement further increased the ache in his shoulders. With such a gaunt frame, the weight of his body far outweighed the strength of his underdeveloped wings. Between a painful cramp and the cool air, it became harder and harder to breathe. A few times, he landed on the ground to rest for but a second a two. Adrenaline fueled panic set in; staying still too long would mean certain capture.
Tower and tower passed. After a few minutes of stop-and-go flying, the gargantuan white castle nearly cleared from his sight. He made a sigh of relief as he descended towards the well-built brick homes that the more nobly born Meridellians inhabited. They would provide excellent cover. For the slightest of seconds, he considered using wealthy hostages to aid in his passage out of the city. No, he thought, immediately scolding himself for such an idea, that would only confirm their suspicions about my people.
Setarian gasped. Air rushed above him. Something grazed his back, leaving a stinging pain in its wake.
With the last of his strength, he shot higher into the air. In no particular pattern did he zig and zag, hoping to Fyora his inconsistent movements might throw the archers off. The dim light made it all but impossible to predict their shots, making dodging all the more difficult. An arrow nicked the tip of his wing. Blinding pain sent him careening towards the ground where smooth cobblestone road met quickly with his body. Ouch! Chains and daggers, why must they be such good shots? Why now of all times? Despite the stinging pain he felt on his back and legs, Setarian hobbled forward. If he was found... he did not even want to think of the consequences. King Skarl had shown him "mercy." He knew all too well what would happen if such "kindness" was absent.
How was I found out? Did Kayla...?
Feeling betrayed, Setarian gritted his beak together, then promptly cursed his ability to feel such strong emotions. I thought I could trust her... he thought bitterly. I thought she would protect—but wait. If she did, wouldn't she be punished because of me? Censured because of my desire for self-preservation? The periwinkle glow of his eyes shone like beacons in the darkness. A dead giveaway if any. He all but closed his eyes, but the dim glowing remained just as obvious and as painful a reminder of who he was: an outsider.
After dashing through random back roads, Setarian came upon a gate leading to the darkened fields outside of Meridell proper. Guarded by a downward pointing rusty latch and a dangling wooden frame, it hardly looked like the passageway of any up-and-coming citizen. Good news if any. That is, if not for the weight of curious eyes. They looked upon Setarian through the slitted doorways of their well-locked hideaways. This alone made him uneasy. Not wanting to stay in the alleyway longer than needed, he attempted to get off the ground once more. Setarian anticipated the pain and cleared the gate, but not before snagging a back paw on the barbed spikes that dotted the city borderline.
He fell into the mud. The pungent odor of rancid vegetables and dirt flooded his nostrils, making him gag. No guards seemed to hear his coughing fit, thank Fyora. After calming down, even a cursory look at the gate proved that Skarl borrowed far more from citadel architecture than he cared to admit.
"Pig-headed king," Setarian grumbled, subsequently slapping himself for making a sound.
He walked on with a hurried stride. Torches blazed in the distance of the castle, some of them newly lit. Shouting could be heard. It sounded like they were saying, "find him."
Well, that went swimmingly.
It did not take long for Setarian to make it out into complete darkness once more. A testament to the Eyrie's luck, a sliver of Kreludor hid amongst a blanket of low rising clouds that night. Without light, the uneven grassy terrain was all the more dangerous. Symol holes littered the ground in no discernible pattern. Deep ditches strung along the hilly terrain from distant farms, making travel conditions even worse. Stumbling more than a few times, Setarian hoped no bone fractures would be in his future. Assuming he made it across the fields tonight and if no one intercepted his flight to the citadel, it would be relatively easy to slip into anonymity within the airborne city once more. He hoped.
From afar, Setarian could see pinpricks of light from the hovering citadel's candlelit homes and could even see the distant bonfires of Kass' troops blazing in the night. The sight was strangely nostalgic. After he had been spotted by a lieutenant to have military potential, Lord Darigan had often let him come up to his chambers. From the city's highest peak, he witnessed firsthand the citadel's power... and beauty. The spiked spires were always his favorite structures for reasons beyond their commanding presence. When Kreludor's rays hit them at just the right angle, they were a breathtaking sight to behold. Excluding the night of the new moon, the citadel's spires reflected light like ripples on a lake. Whenever a cloud would come, many would complain of the stifling darkness, but on the clearest, moonlit nights, even the poorest of Darigans felt pride in their city.
Long after Lord Darigan had vanished, Lord Kass would allow Setarian to gaze upon the city from his balcony just as he did before. It took the lordly Eyrie a while to understand Setarian's fascination with peasants and carved black stone, but in time, he shrugged off the behavior as a vestige of a childhood spent in the citadel orphanage. During each visit, he made it a point to barrage Setarian with unneeded compliments. Kass always did seem uncharacteristically kind at those times, almost insincere now that he reflected upon it.
I bet he thought I would listen better if he complimented my ability. Hah. Well, he knew me too well, I suppose. Too long was I a burden in the eyes of Darigankind. It felt so nice to be wanted...
While Setarian mused, he scarcely had time to dodge a projectile.
"Stop moving and we might just spear—I mean, spare you."
Setarian quickened his pace. He could hear something coming at him and somersaulted away. Something caught his back paw and pulled it outwards. The yelp Setarian made as he fell brought obvious amusement to the one who had wanted him captured.
"It's not safe out here." Unlike the deep, booming voice from before, this one sounded like a nasally baritone. He slung even more nets on top of the flailing Eyrie, making it all but impossible to squirm away. "You should have known that before—wait. Wait a second." Setarian struggled against the ground, uselessly flapping his trapped wings. His glowing eyes lit up the outline of a Nimmo, who stood above him with gaping maw. "You look just like General Setarian."
The Eyrie froze against the ground, and stared at the figure in silence, too scared to draw in breath. Luckily, although out of reach, the wand had not broken from the many falls he had survived that night.
"Are you two relate—"
"Beat it, nimrod." A large, jagged-toothed Grarrl pushed the Nimmo to the ground. "Why hello there, little intruder. What were you doing taking a stroll on this cold and cloudy night? You should have known that Darigans would be on the prowl." The Grarrl stared into his eyes as if she had been given a new toy. "And what's with those little eyes of yours, all icy blue and such? You'd think they were coming into fashion or something."
Why thank you for the compliment, foul-breath. For your information, I expected to see them strategizing around a bonfire as my generals always did. Apparently things have changed.
The Grarrl's clawed hand hovered over his throat, just out of reach of being kicked or bitten. He struggled some more, but the Darigan pinned his right arm down.
If she bends any closer, I'll be able to grab her dagger...
"So, before I take my prize for capturing—"
"Wait." The Grarrl turned back to see what appeared to be a Gnorbu holding a live blade against her neck. "Before you just give this child your dagger, I suggest you back away. Now, soldier, that is an order." The Grarrl growled, but complied anyway. "Good. We should at least learn who he is before proving ourselves to be the lawless, violent creatures Meridellians oft think us to be. Let him decide his own fate."
"Yes, General Malaner," she said, scraping her claws on the hilt of her sword.
Setarian recognized the name as a favored colonel of Lord Kass, known mostly for her willingness to serve him after Lord Darigan had disappeared. It seemed as if she had done especially well since his last encounter with her.
"So, who are you, anyway?" She had sheathed her sword, but seemed just as dangerous as before. The net kept him pinned to the ground.
"I'm no one special. Just an Eyrie that—"
"Happens to look like our missing general. I can see that. But who are you really, boy? You must think yourself someone special if you were foolish enough to come out here alone. That is, unless you have a death wish."
He thought quickly of Mariana, the Neopian he would have called "Mother."
"Just an escapee," he said easily enough, growing bitterer with each word. "Skarl did not like how similar I seemed to my... my F-father, so I ran away."
That was stupid of me. I said too much.
"Huh." She tilted her head and looked Setarian down. "Given that and the marks around your paws, you certainly don't seem like a Skarl sympathizer. You'll find no solace in the citadel, though, unless... what a second. That Father of yours. He's our missing general, is he not?"
Setarian had to swallow down his rage to keep himself from calling his bluff. By now, a large host of Darigans had been attracted to the commotion and gathered around. Many had their weapons drawn.
"Y-yes. He is."
"You'll take us to him."
"I wasn't asking a question. If you lead us to him and he is apprehended, I will reward you with your life."
"And Neopoints!" interrupted some money-loving soldier from afar, "lots of them, too!"
"Get back in formation, colonel! This does not concern you." He did as he was told, but glared at the two from afar. "Disregarding his rudeness, my soldier speaks the truth; Neopoints will indeed be involved. Your father, as I'm sure you are aware, has quite the bounty on his head. You would be doing a civil service by putting him on trial."
"Maybe." I'd love to see you on trial instead, you worthless fool.
"Oooh, you're angry, aren't you? Your father's eyes did the same trick. Well, if you're going to act that way," she slide the sword out of its hilt just a smidge, "I could end your life now. Would you like that?"
"No, no, that won't be necessary. How about if served Lord Kass instead? Is that a possibility?"
The Gnorbu scoffed. "If that is what you really want." When Setarian confirmed his interest, she continued. "Kass will need more men after this battle. If you prove yourself loyal to his cause, he will find use for you somewhere. But if you do anything to lessen my trust, or the trust of those under me, you will face the consequences. Are we clear?"
"Right. Men, untie him." They did as they were told, although none of them particularly seemed please to do so. "And Eyrie."
I don't like you.
"If you are keeping any secrets... you had best tell us them now."
"Come now, did you honestly think we did not know your identity, squire boy? Or of your friendship with Jeran? It's called playing dumb. Tell us his strategies and you keep your head. If you lie, we'll know."
With a heavy heart, Setarian let slip about the attack set to take place that night. She patted him on the shoulder and sent a messenger Weewoo, abnormally large in size and purple-feathered, back to the citadel.
"There. Was that so hard?"
Much harder than you know.
Malaner placed seven of her soldiers, including the Grarrl, Skeith, and Nimmo, to guard him. He could only see the most basic aspects of their features except when they dared to get close.
"I think I speak for all of us when I say we love fresh meat," said a third voice, the one who had once claimed no one liked Setarian and that he would be better off gone. He traced the voice to a smirking JubJub, one who stood only slightly taller than he currently was. "So, little squire, are you looking forward to when we punish your papa? 'Cause I hope you know that Kass will never accept either of you back. Not now, not ever."
When General Malaner spat at the ground in silent disgust, Setarian did not respond.
You're not disagreeing with him? Why aren't you disagreeing with him?!
They decided not to bind him, but kept spear points near his back at all times. General Malaner had given the order to continue the attack as planned, and that after the rogue general was captured, she would rejoin them. Setarian gulped. This does not bode well for me at all... He led them along a well-walked trail, and claimed that the general would be ahead. Their patience grew thinner and thinner. The lady general had to stop a few of them from taking out their frustration on his tired and cold little body.
Maybe I should tell them who I am now? But no, that would be foolish. If they did believe me, it would mean my head. He ruffled his feathers, wishing he had the time to swipe one of their weapons. I'm out of ideas, not good.
It was just as the sun began to rise over the rolling hills that the features of his six escorts became clear. Two of them seemed oddly familiar, he found himself thinking, a blue Skeith and an orange Draik, the latter of which had a scar riding across his eye. Unlike the other four, they did they not have the characteristic Darigan features. Underneath their spiked armor, they wore the crest of Meridell with a large gash carved in the middle.
Is it? Could it be those rogue Meridell guards? They did seem to enjoy holding those spears against his back. And the second he stopped moving, Setarian had the sneaking suspicion that they would not necessarily follow orders...
For miles, it seemed as if any of the remaining buildings had been burned to the ground long ago. He could see the evidence of former structures by the stone skeletons left behind. Tall weeds now inhabited the otherwise empty plots.
Miraculously, a farm house came into distant view. Its brickwork seemed worn and weathered, but the structure was still standing. He silently hoped it would be empty.
"Right up there," said Setarian. "He's in that farmhouse."
The Gnorbu glared at him incredulously.
"J-just, please don't hurt him, alright?" Setarian squeaked, playing at the child as long as he could.
After a gruff sigh, the Gnorbu barked orders to her soldiers, two of which (the familiar duo) whispered something in her ear. She appeared to agree with whatever it was they were saying.
Just as the Darigans readied themselves to storm the farm house, the door swung open. Out of it ran an Usul garbed in faded clothes and crowned with a red bonnet. Shortly after, the windowed were closed and shuttered by whoever remained inside. Setarian could feel his heart sinking as he feared for the innocent Usul's fate. Instead of running back inside and closing the door, however, she made a panicked dash towards an old barn house. The one she called to, not her Mother or Father, was a "Mr. Scary." Engrossed in the scene, Setarian hardly had time to react when a metal point poked at his back.
"OW!" he shouted, looking back at the Draik. "What was that for?"
"Doesn't feel nice, does it, little Serian?" he spat, his buddy covering the flank. "I hope you're happy now." Malaner gripped the offending Draik on the shoulder and shouted at him to stop to no avail. It took until she belted him with the flat end of her sword before they both ran off towards the rest of the group. All the while, they shouted exclamations that made even Setarian gasp. Was she not their commanding officer? They would have been punished for such behavior under his watch.
"It was out of line for them to hurt you, Eyrie," she said curtly, gripping the hilt of blade as she scrunched her face at the offensive guards. "They know it, too, the Meridell turncoats. It's a wonder I let them join my troops. Tch, I'll enjoy scolding them later. So will Master Vex, I gather." She rubbed her paws together and cackled. "Might be fun to see them squirm in the dungeons. But enough about them. For your sake, you'd best hope that father of yours is still inside. Come."
The lady general drove him closer to the action only to see a decrypted creature emerge from the shadows. Its long tattered bat wings and teeth flashed angrily as it hissed at the sight of the soldiers. Her men held onto the screaming child, who begged the demonic figure to save himself.
It did just the opposite. Even without any weapons, it tackled, punched, and bit its way to victory. For a skinny thing, it fought like a member of the Brute Squad. General Malaner suddenly seemed too flustered to care about her prisoner and joined the fray. He made short work of her, although she did manage to repel him far longer than the others there.
"L-lord Darigan?!" gasped a formally silent Darigan Skeith as he fell to unconsciousness. All it took was one strike.
What? It couldn't be. Lord Darigan has been dead for years!
The creature hardly seemed to believe it either. The lot of them stood in freeze frame for a few seconds before an expression of knowing passed over the bat-thing's face. He stared in horror at his skinny form before turning back to the scuffed but luckily still intact Usul.
"Sally," he croaked with a voice long unused, "are you alright?" When she nodded, he made a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness."
The stranger ran up to him, ragged clothing and all, and gave him a crushing hug. Setarian watched in shock as the creature bent down and patted her head gently.
"I knew you were good!" she chirped as Setarian crept around the unconscious Darigans.
"If only you knew..." he started, before jolting back. "Oh no. The Citadel! Who knows what sort of chaos has been wrought in my absence. I have to get back there!"
The citadel? Then you really are—
"Lord Darigan." Setarian looked on as the ragged figure procured a sword from the lady general's sword belt.
He eyed Setarian warily. "Lieutenant Dorian? No wait, that can't be right. He's been dead for years..." The Darigan lord exhaled. "Whoever you are, I have no time for idle chatter. And don't worry," he said to the farm girl pulling at his leg, "I'll be alright, thanks to you."
Setarian gripped the grass tightly, fearing for the worse. Lord Darigan scarcely paid him mind and puttered about, loosening a shield from one of the unconscious guards. Following closely behind was the Usul girl. She seemed happy enough, especially now that the door to her home had opened a crack. Someone appeared to be calling her back inside, but she willingly chose to disobey. Between entertaining the child, Darigan seemed to whisper words of apology under his breath with each acquired weapon.
Perhaps I am a traitor to waffle about my loyalties, but if I remember correctly... he is just. Maybe my trial under him will be fair. He'll pardon me, I think, perhaps even provide me another chance to live freely. It's as good a shot as any now.
"My Lord." Darigan stopped in his tracks. "It might be hard to believe, but I am his son. Although I never knew the lieutenant, Kass spoke of him often. Of course, all of these stories came after I had made my way from the orphanage. But it was Kass that decided to save me that day, wasn't it? After my mother Mariana had passed away?" That seemed to catch the Korbat's attention. The Usul child's too; she backed away and hid behind a tree. "I would be honored to serve the citadel under her true leader just as my Father, Lieutenant Dorian, did two decades ago. If nothing else, it would please me to see the citadel from your chambers once more. I do rather miss those sights."
"Setarian?" he said, clearly surprised, "Is that really you? What in Neopia happened to make you look so...?"
"We don't have time, my Lord." Setarian subsequently sucked in his breath for the rude behavior. "Deepest apologies, but Lord Kass is preparing to war with Meridell once more. If he is not stopped, I fear he will lay waste to their city and set forth what is sure to be endless turmoil for both our peoples."
Darigan sighed, then gripped his borrowed blade tightly. "Well, you certainly have changed. But Lord Kass, you say?" Setarian nodded. "That is most troubling. Such a quick exchange of power is a product of their handiwork, I fear."
"'Their?' Who else do you—"
"Seeing as I supervised your training as a youth, I know your level of approximate skill... unless, of course, it has decreased because of your current state. But enough chatter. If you are ready and willing, grab a weapon and prepare yourself. We are to enter a war."
It took some convincing, but after showing the Darigan lord his wing, he relented into flying him to the citadel's gates. Not happily, he made clear, but Setarian remained firm in his decision. In return, he told Darigan about the mysterious 'Boochi' and his experiences in Meridell. Sally seemed sad to see him go, whoever the Usul was. He would have to ask Lord Darigan about her, assuming they both survived. It seemed like quite the story.
From the moment they set foot on the citadel's dusty ground, chaos reigned. Hundreds of trebuchets lobbed boulders with such ferocity that they left craters in the ground on impact. Setarian narrowly avoided being crushed by one. A whirling storm of novas burst from the skies and poured onto the world below. Fires could be seen for miles in areas that they struck. Armed Darigans stood at the ready when a knight fell from his mount. Many were armed with freshly sharpened spears and swords.
They were more than prepared, thought Setarian, and it's all my fault.
Lord Darigan had asked Setarian to continue with his plans and that he had business to take care of in the citadel. The Eyrie dare not question what that business was, as the Korbat's borrowed sword was drawn… and tightly gripped. Once he had disappeared from view, it did not take long for Setarian to catch the sight of Jeran and his band of knightly allies. They darted about the skies on mounted Unis, narrowly avoiding the projectiles. All around, many of the Meridellians were engaged in combat with airborne Darigan fighters. Citadel archers and mages shot projectiles from turret tops. To their dislike, many of the knights had magical barriers that lessened their impact.
Please keep dodging, Jeran, he hoped, sneaking his way around.
The Darigans had not noticed him as he round about a turret wall, thank Kass. Deep, rumbling laughter echoed as the sounds of destructive Novas zoomed overhead.
"Destroy them! Destroy them all! Show no mercy! I want their castle burned to the ground."
"Lord Kass," Setarian whispered, edging to get a closer look. The lightest of purple fogs seemed to follow the well-decorated Eyrie. When he squinted hard enough, it almost looked as it three sets of eyes were watching him from afar.
Lord Kass turned towards the miasma, which, oddly enough, none of the other surrounding seemed to notice. "An intruder?" he said to no one in particular. Now the guards seemed nervous. One of them questioned Kass while Setarian pressed himself against the stone wall, scarcely breathing.
When Kass pointed towards Setarian, the guards drew their weapons and flew in for the attack.
Both were purple-skinned Skeiths with uniform dress and shields. They charged forward, spears in tow. Setarian jolted his head away from each of their jabs. Sparks jumped from the wall as the point scrapped the stone surface. Metallic shouts rang from the collision. The two drew away once more, and returned for a strike. Setarian drew his blade in that instant, parrying the attacks with a spin. They drew back, calling for reinforcements as they continued their volley of jabs. Lord Kass clapped with amusement from above.
Setarian fumbled with his jerkin pocket and removed the cedar training wand. When three others, two Skeiths and a Lupe drew their blades from afar, Setarian gripped the wooden surface, feeling the magical energy surge through his body.
"Navi," he hissed. As if caught in honey, the guardsmen suddenly exaggerated each step. The former general could feel Kass' glare as Setarian took to the air above the guards and clanged their helms together. They collapsed to the ground. He then took to butting his hilt against the remaining guards' paws; their weapons fell to the ground as they yelped in pain. With a heaving throw, their weapons had disappeared into the abyss hundreds of feet below.
Setarian glanced gripped his blade tightly, but Kass did not move from his tower. Kass' mages continued their onslaught. Plumes of ashen smoke rose from Meridell castle. Meanwhile, some of Kass' forces, he noticed, forced themselves into the defensive. Skarl's knights drew forward, landing on turret tops. The sounds of their clashing metal rang for miles akin to the pounding of rain against a metal sheet.
They are winning, he realized. And so did Lord Kass. The armoured Eyrie barked an order towards the boulder throwers. Within an instant, earthen rain fell upon the Meridellian soldiers. After a cursory scan, he spotted Jeran, now helmless but untouched by any of Kass' attacks.
Three projectiles headed towards Skarl's champion. He weaved about on his mounted friend, narrowly dodging a hit to the head. His mount was not as lucky. A large crashing sound could be heard as the Uni hurtled towards the ground. Jeran rolled forward as his Uni friend collided with two of Kass' soldiers. The mount tried his best to stand, but fell to one side, whinnying for Jeran to keep fighting. A mass of purple and black surrounded them both.
CLANG! Clang clang! It became difficult to see Jeran amidst the crowd. He appeared to be fighting at least four Darigans at once.
Meanwhile, a soldier snuck behind Setarian and lunged forward. Bracing his heels, Setarian caught their blade at a perpendicular. It quivered on impact. Arms burning, he twisted away. Their blade struck the ground.
He grabbed at Setarian's ponytail. Narrow dodge. A counter jab in the enemy's gut sent the reeling back. The two eyed each other, waiting for the next move.
Another lunge. Setarian slid under the hulking Darigan, knocking them to the ground with the whip of his tail. Upon one knee, the Darigan begged for mercy. Such a luxury was granted without hesitation. After the impact, they murmured apologetic words in a semi-conscious daze.
It had been a good fortune that Lord Kass still fought by priority, and even more so that few in his army labeled Setarian an extraordinary threat. While Setarian kept busy with his latest skirmish, the lordly Eyrie had taken wing from his tower and focused on more important matters: Meridell champions. Parting the crowd, the usurper lord clashed with Jeran amidst a ring of his followers. He fought with such ferocity as to seem possessed. It seemed almost unnatural how little he weakened after each times the blades crossed, but more so how not one seem to notice the dark cloud that loomed over his head. How Setarian wished he could watch the progress more closely, but the crowd may it all but impossible to get a better view.
Meanwhile, most of the towers had been captured. Darigans stood with their hands tied and a blade pointed at their backs.
I could have sworn Kass had a larger army. Setarian wiped sweat off of his brow, catching his breath for a moment after knocking another threat aside. Where did they all go?
The fighting only grew more intense. Jeran made aggressive cuts towards the Darigan Lord. He parried all of them effortlessly. There was little hesitation between strikes, and the surrounding soldiers had taken to watching the fight as a source of entertainment. With each ringing clash, Jeran was pushed closer and closer to the edge.
Please don't fall... thought Setarian, watching the knight struggle. His heart was pounding. You're stronger than this!
Jeran managed to avoid falling and came back with a furious assault. Both he and Lord Kass seemed evenly matched at the moment. That is, until Boris and Morris jumped into the fray. From behind they grabbed the Eyrie lord. Boris even tried to bite down on Kass' neck with his plastic fangs. For a split second, while Kass was thoroughly distracted, Jeran stepped away from the ledge and onto safer ground. He readied his blade for a finishing blow.
It could never be that easy.
With a decisive punch, Kass flung both of Lisha's friends off of his back and sent them rolling onto the ground. Instead of letting the two of them fall prey to a legion of Kass' troops, Jeran tore away from Kass and ran to help them out. How Jeran could still be so goody-goody... it was mind-boggling.
You're leaving yourself wide open! he wanted to shout, but he could not find the voice to say those words. Even the slightest word of alarm would alert Jeran to his presence. What are you doing, Jeran?! You know better than to turn your back on Kass!
Jeran fended his friends off from Kass' troops, valiantly plowing through them in order to save the foolish children from their act of bravery. Jeran had proven time and again to be an independent fighter, and a strong one at that. Helping meant getting in the way... and in a world of trouble. What about that did those children not understand?
"Jeran! Look out!" screamed Morris, who barely ducked from a spear strike.
It was too late.
Kass' blade struck against Jeran's armor. Never had Setarian heard metal crack like that before.
Jeran rolled to the ground and neared the ledge. A silver shimmer flew through the air, and Jeran was weaponless.
"Jeran!!" the old Ixi knight shouted. A tight grasp around a flailing prisoner's waist kept him occupied. His Uni mount kicked the Darigan officer and he subsequently slumped to the ground.
Lord Kass sneered, kicking Jeran in the side. One paw. That was all that separated the knight from a deadly drop. He now clung onto the ledge and was barely holding on. "Tell your fallen brethren I send my regards..."
"STOP!" Setarian took to the sky, ignoring the pain. Many of the surrounding men stopped to glance at him before continuing their battle.
Kass' men gave chase to the attention-seeking Eyrie. Setarian darted through the skies, evading their attacks. From the ledge, the usurper laughed.
"Blame yourself for his death, Eyrie." There came a moment of silence and a smug smile. "Oh. Why do you look so angry, Jeran? Were you surprised that your 'surprise attack' failed to surprise us? Thank the gnat above me. Nothing would have been possible without your precious little friend."
"WHAT?" He turned towards Setarian, teeth bared. "YOU TRAITOR! YOU MADE AN OATH! I—I TRUSTED YOU! I... I trusted you, Serian. Why would you betray me?"
Setarian narrowly dodged a spear and the slash of a battleaxe. His foot-long ponytail suddenly felt lighter. A jab of his hilt to the attacking Darigan's belly sent them reeling away.
With some fumbling, the wand found its way into his paw once more. "D-Dolor!"
Parroting the sleep spell he had heard spoken once seemed like a sound idea... for about five seconds. Instead of a green miasma, a blanket of white fog came shooting from the wand tip. It drifted slowly towards the airborne soldiers. Magical power shot in all directions, flinging him backwards. Tears filled his eyes from a stinging sensation; the others around him rubbed their eyes, complaining that they could not see.
"Enough of this," said Kass, stepping on Jeran's paw. The knight eyed Setarian with disdain, but swallowed silence. "Release my men and he won't fall." The other knights looked hesitant, especially when Jeran shouted his strained disapproval, but they loosened their bindings all the same.
When the Darigans retaliated, quickly tying them up, Lord Kass cracked a maniacal grin. "Now, where were we? Oh, yes." He released Jeran's paw, sending him hurtling towards the ground below. "Good-bye, Jeran."
To be continued...