It was funny, in a really morbid and absolutely hopeless kind of way , how an organised army sure of victory could turn into a startled flock of birds so quickly. In a flash, soldiers who were bravely charging with confident smiles on their faces had those same smiles now twisted in horror and desperation, and those who weren’t immediately mowed down by the dragon fire were running for their lives, the morale of their enemies returned and monsters on their heels.
Eli was stunned, unable to move as the world fell around her, as her allies burned and monsters devoured soldiers alive, as human stabbed human and as chaos took over.
Luckily, Ejder managed to keep a clear head. He grabbed Eli’s wrist and pulled her along while pushing the rest of her friends up front, away from the midst of battle and towards the side. Eli’s legs felt like they were made of lead, and she tripped on loose rocks and dirt, unable to focus on one thing and unable to look away from the horizon, where another army of monsters and queen’s men was coming to overwhelm them.
“You three listen to me. You’re going to the council, now. Eli knows the way. The queen has won this battle.”
Something snapped in Eli’s mind, and she was grounded once more and emotions passed in and out of her mind until she could think clearly again.
“No,” she said, pulling her wrist from Ejder’s grasp, who in turn sent her a stern look. “Something’s very wrong here, Ejder, this wasn’t the plan, I think she sent the entire army here. There’s no chance for us to win this!”
Elan put his hand on Eli’s shoulder, his gaze resembling Ejder’s. “That’s exactly what he’s saying. We need to get out of here, get help. The elves are working with us, we just need to warn them, they’ll come to help us.”
“It’ll be too late. Look, I bonded with a dragon,” Eli said, feeling the presence of Avilith in the back of her mind. She knew her dragon was close. “We just need to hold on for a bit longer, and she’ll be here. We need to help the others while we’re here!”
Ejder seemed to consider her idea. He shared a look with Elan, who seemed to have become Ejder’s right hand in Eli’s absence. Meanwhile, Teoh looked like a lost puppy, with eyes full of fear and Eli could see that his hands were visibly shaking.
“Okay, Eli. We’ll stay away from battle until your… dragon arrives,” Ejder decided. He had brought the group to a small hill occupied by a single tree, and they were relatively well hidden from the enemies.
“How the hell did you bond with another dragon? I thought that was impossible?” Elan asked, shooting anxious glances towards the battlefield as he spoke.
“Well, maybe cos she’s a girl? Or she’s not even a rider, she could be a witch like the queen, who knows? Since he- no, she- is full of secrets, apparently,” Teoh jumped in bitterly, frowning at Eli. She grimaced, trying not to get angry.
“I understand your frustration, but if I told anyone, I’d either be killed on experimented on. I was planning on telling you, but then you ditched me and replaced me with Blaed, so boo-hoo.”
Teoh looked away, but Elan was grinning. “There’s the Eli we know and love! You’d gotten way too serious.”
Ejder cleared his throat. “As happy as it makes me to see you bond again, now’s not the time. We’re getting overwhelmed, we need to move further back before we’re noticed.”
The group followed Ejder down the hill, and they couldn’t see much of the battlefield anymore. When Eli looked up at the sky, she saw the dragon riders’ dragons circling and desparately trying to attack the queen’s massive, dead-and-ressurected dragon, but it either dodged every attack, or the attacks didn’t do much to stop it. Meanwhile, Eli noticed that there was one less friendly dragon in the sky, and when she looked towards the backline of her army, she saw that it had had to land, and mages were probably healing it. Eli was unfamiliar with how healing dragons worked, but Tanya said it was the most complex creature to heal, where even attempting to heal one required years of training.
A group of harpies suddenly seemed to notice them as they locked right on target and dove for them. Eli was reminded of her first encounter with a large group of them, in Linos, with Ril, and then again in the battle in the capital of Notrhl, where one of them sank its claws deep into her stomach.
Normal harpies were well organised and attacked in order, together, intelligently. But these dead, rotting corpses with missing limbs and pale skin just threw themselves at Eli only, all six at once.
All six fell lifelessly to the ground.
“Well, that was easy,” Teoh said. “Pretty useless attack.”
Eli shook her head, a sense of dread overwhelming her. “No, this was a perfect attack. She-”
Eli was interrupted by a roar of another dragon swooping in from the horizon, flying like an arrow straight at them.
“Run!” Ejder ordered, his voice lacking the calm that usually filled it, which made even more adrenaline flow through Eli’s veins as she ran faster than she’s ever ran before.
She was expecting the beast to unleash hellfire right on their backs, to burn them alive. The queen’s two dead dragons were easily double the size of a regular female. Eli could clearly remember the pain of getting burned. She didn’t want to die by fire.
But surprisingly, when she turned around, the dragon was no longer flying at them – it had instead landed nearby, and its rider dismounted.
The queen herself had entered the battlefield.
“We need to kill her! If we kill her, we win!” Eli yelled, stopping her mad escape and turning back to face the enemy. “She’s come for me, anyways. I have to fight her now.”
“Eli, she’ll destroy you, we need to retreat!” Ejder said, roughly pulling Eli back, and Elan joined him by grabbing Eli’s other arm.
But they suddenly stopped in their tracks.
“What the….” Elan trailed off, looking down at his legs.
Elan’s, Ejder’s, and Teoh’s feet had ice growing over them, rooting them in place.
“Eli!” the queen’s voice ran out loud and clear through the chaos of the battle.
Eli was the only one who could move. “It’s okay. Try to release yourselves, and run. Get one of the riders to warn the elves.”
Nobody said a word. There was nothing else anyone could do. If Eli didn’t come to the queen, the queen would burn them all at once, which she could’ve done already. She wanted to talk to Eli before killing her. To bask in the sunlight of her success.
She walked forwards towards the queen, drawing her sword, which baited out a smile on the merciless ruler’s face. “Eli, Eli, Eli… I’m quite disappointed, I must say.” Eli was more afraid of the Queen than she was of the dragon standing a mere few feet behind her. It was a menacing thing, with a jaw so wide it could swallow Eli and her friends all at once. It had scales so dark they barely reflected the sunlight, and the only thing that gave away the fact that it was dead was its eyes. It had none, and at place sat two dark voids.
Eli scowled. “Oh, don’t be. You’ve clearly known all along. I’d rather have had you kill me than let me think I’d won.”
The queen shook her head and motioned for Eli to come even closer. “Oh, but I was stupid. You reminded me so much of myself, so headstrong, brave, so hopeful… I wanted to trust you, Eli, I really did.” She stopped to look Eli over from head to toe. “But I wouldn’t be a Queen if I blindly trusted every stranger… as soon as my monsters saw you ride off, I changed course and came straight here. I am so very disappointed.”
For some reason, having the Queen be disappointed in her actually stung Eli. “I was doing what I had to save my home.”
The smile on the queen’s lips turned into a scowl. “Stupid girl! Your home? Those scoundrels would have raped you and mutilated you since you were a little girl if they had known you were a woman! Even now, Eli, if you had won, you wouldn’t get any recognition, he’d take it all. Because people like us, Eli, we don’t get anything here. In this world, we’re nobodies. It’s different across the ocean, Eli. I wanted to make it like that here, as well, and you were going to be a part of it. But you were blinded by stupidity.”
Eli was speechless. The Queen really did have a point, and Eli could feel her heart ache at the thought of what could’ve been. A new world, a nice world, a world of peace…
But Eli knew better than to believe that. The Queen would be just as bad, probably, maybe even worse, in a different way. Seeing as how she treated her people, like mere pawns, Eli could only imagine what she would do once she had all the land to herself. She had a feeling that it would only be a change in leadership, and the common people wouldn’t notice a difference, apart from scorched lands, plague and famine. The Queen couldn’t be allowed to enter Revera. Only devastation would follow.
“Eli, it’s not too late yet. You can join me, if you believe in my cause.”
Eli shook her head without second thought. “You know I can’t do that.”
The queen smiled, looking at Eli with sparkling eyes. “I know, dear. If you had told me you’d join me, you would’ve been a liar and I would’ve skinned you alive. I understand, Eli. You’re wrong, but I understand. And I know you understand that you’ll die, you and your friends, and this big army you’ve gathered.”
“And you understand I won’t go down without a fight.”
The queen’s reflexes were quicker than Eli expected. As soon as the dagger Eli had sneakily got out of her pouch left her hand, aimed at the Queen’s neck, the queen reacted. The dagger stopped in mid-air an inch from the Queen’s skin. She just grinned.
“You’re precise, I have to admit. But predictable.”
Suddenly, the dagger turned around, towards Eli, and sped towards her faster than an arrow. Eli had barely enough time to move so the dagger would miss her neck, and it lodged itself into her shoulder, instead, somehow passing through both thick leather and chain-mail until the tip broke through her skin, enough to draw blood but not enough to get her out of the fight.
Eli stumbled and pulled the dagger out, wondering how in the world had the Queen managed to do that… With magic, she flung it so hard it passed through Eli’s armor like butter. The bloody dagger clattered onto the ground as Eli raised her sword, ready to fight again.
The Queen just smiled and began calmly walking towards her dragon.
“Hey, where are you going? Fight me!” Eli yelled, charging towards them, but as soon as the great beast opened its mouth and Eli saw rows of sharp teeth, each as big as her arm, she stopped in her tracks.
“You’re not worth my time, Eli! My loyal followers will take care of you.”
The dragon lifted off, nearly knocking Eli down with the wind it created with its wings. Ejder, Elan and Teoh had apparently been freed, because they ran up to Eli immediately.
“Thank the great sisters you’re alive!” Teoh said. Eli couldn’t look at him. She felt empty and full of rage, and the world began spinning as soon as she even thought about what had just happened.
Not worth her time…
Before Eli could speak to her companions, the Queen’s ‘loyal followers’ showed up. It was a person clad in heavy armour and a helmet covering their head and face, another warrior wearing lighter armour and a long, metal spear, and two weaponless elves, a girl and a guy, likely both mages. They wore the same robes, and the girl looked strangely familiar, with piercing blue eyes and pale hair.
Eli turned to look at her friends, and as soon as she saw Elan’s bewildered expression, she realised why the elf was so familiar… It was the elf which Elan had been seeing all those years ago, the one he had written a poem for, the one who was the reason Eli lost all her friends. It was…
“Feryal,” Elan muttered, and Ejder and Teoh also looked at him.
“Long story,” Eli said quickly, putting her sword up defensively as the group started circling them, the mages already muttering something.
“Feryal, it’s me!” Elan yelled out suddenly, and Eli felt like she was struck by an anvil.
“Elan, don’t,” she said, but the look Elan gave her made her wish she ahd never spoken a word in her life.
“Eli, for once, stay out of this. You ruined it once, don’t do it again.” Elan sheathed his sword and lifted his hands up in a defensive motion, approaching the group slowly.
“Elan, what are you doing, get back here!” Ejder said angrily, already moving to stop Elan.
Eli felt her heart tear. Of course she wanted to stop Elan, of course she knew that what he was doing was stupid…
But she was wrong before. She had to trust him, for once. She owed him that.
Eli grabbed Ejder’s wrist and pulled him back. He sent her a bewildered and angry look. She shook her head.
“He knows her. I… saw him with her, many years ago, and she ran away. They had been meeting in secret, and Elan hasn’t spoken to me because of it since. We have to let him do this, I’m afraid.”
A million emotions passed through Ejder’s eyes, while Eli’s heart felt empty. She couldn’t feel anything anymore. Everything was falling apart. Elan was an idiot, the queen was winning, and Avilith was still not here.
They watched as Elan and Feryal locked eyes. The male elf seemed as confused as Ejder and Teoh, his gaze darting from Elan to Feryal. The two warriors didn’t attack Elan, but they didn’t let him pass through, either.
“Feryal… I’m sorry, for everything, okay? I loved you, and I still do.”
Feryal pressed her side against the male elf, who in turn wrapped his hand around her waist. Elan’s form slouched slightly, and Eli could feel his pain.
“Remind me, who are you again?” She asked coldly.
“I-I I’m Elan, don’t you remember?” He asked, desparation clear in his voice. Eli gripped her sword tighter.
Feryal shook her head. “I don’t. Kill him.”
Both Elder and Eli had been ready to move a long time ago, so when the two warriors charged at Elan, they were already on the way. Elan fell back as Eli and Ejder took his place, Eli parrying the blow of the heavily-armoured warrior while Ejder sparred with the one in lighter armour.
Eli caught a glimpse of the two mages, who nodded at each other before they started chanting words.
“Teoh, Elan, get rid of the mages!” Eli ordered as she dodged a blow from the warrior’s greatsword. They were a bit taller than Eli, but a lot slower. Their movements took great effort, but in spite of that, their strikes were clear and precise.
As Eli danced around their blows, searching for openings, she came up with a plan. After ducking under a blow from the sword, she charged forward with her shoulder and slammed herself into the armoured warrior, bringing them down. From there, plunging a dagger through an opening at their neck was child’s play. She tried not to look as she got back up and wiped the blood off of her pants.
Ejder seemed to have gotten rid of his opponent around the same time as Eli, and he gave her a nod of approval.
To Eli’s dismay, Elan still seemed to have been trying to reason with Feryal, all the while Feryal and the other mage were throwing various spells at Teoh and him.
“Why are you doing this? Please, stop it! I know you remember me, Feryal!”
It was a sad sight.
“Elan, she doesn’t care!” Eli said, trying to get her friend so see some sense. When he turned to look at her, he had tears flowing down his face.
“I know, Eli! I can see that! But I refuse to fight her, I can’t do it.”
Feryal let out a high-pitched laugh. “You’re lucky your friend stumbled upon us when she did, Elan. All I wanted was to infiltrate the rider school, to get you on our side or kill you while you were young. I never cared about you!”
The mages linked hands and yelled out something in the mage tongue. A blast of hot air emitted from them, knocking Eli, and likely all the others, off their feet.
Disoriented, Eli couldn’t break her fall. Her vision was impaired and her ears were ringing, and she hit her head hard onto the ground upon her fall. The edge off her vision was dark, and she tried to sit up, but the world kept spinning. She could make out two wobbly figures approaching her, and apart from the ringing in her ears, she could hear quiet chanting as the two mages approached.
She tried to get up, she tried to move, but her brain refused to cooperate. She simply couldn’t muster enough strength.
So, she was going to die not by the hands of the queen, but by those of some random mages who didn’t even know her name.
“No!” The loud shriek sent pangs of pain through Eli’s head, just as two large shards of ice shaped like spears emerged from the mages’ hands, heading straight for Eli.
Her vision was clear, albeit a bit wobbly, but she still couldn’t move as she was about to get impaled.
Until a body found its way between herself and certain death.
Eli forced herself to move, and this time, her body obeyed. Her sword was not in her hand anymore, but she didn’t care.
Elan was lying on the ground in front of her, two thick ice spears having passed straight through him, remaining lodged in. Blood was pooling on the ground under him, already melting the ice which was the only thing keeping it in, and bleeding more and more with each moment.
“Elan, no!” Eli said, able to hear, see, and move normally again. She fell to her knees next to Elan, who was already deathly pale. All Eli could feel was dread, accompanied by the wild racing of her heart.
He looked at her, blood flowing out of his mouth, and grinned.
“You were right all along, Eli. I’m sorry.”
“You idiot, you killed yourself! What were you thinking?” Eli said, trying to cover his wounds with her hands.
He let out a whimper of pain before coughing up some more blood. “You risked your life for us, Eli, to save all of Alonia. And I was selfish, if I had listened to you and attacked them, this wouldn’t have… wouldn’t have even happened. It’s…” he stopped to caugh again, his voice getting weaker. “It’s my fault, so I took responsibility. You’re my friend, you always were, so forgive me.”
No, no, no. He couldn’t die. Eli was panicking.
“I forgive you, Elan. But- but you’ll apologise to me later, okay, when all this is over. I’ll get you to safety, I’ll get a healer, you’ll be fine, I pro-”
Eli obeyed Elan’s wish, tears now streaming down her face freely. She recalled all moments of adventuring with Elan and the others… he was her brother. She cared about him, even though they had stopped being close…
“It’s okay. All I want you to do for me… is win this war.”
“Okay, I will,” Eli said through tears, her determanation getting stronger. The last bit of reluctance and even admiration for the queen were gone. All she could feel when she imagined her face was rage, rage so intense it made her vision go white, and hatred so deep it made her heart ache.
Eli held Elan in her arms, her clothes bloody, as the ice melted and his breaths became slower and slower, until not a sound came from him.
When she looked back at the battlefield, she saw the bodies of both mages on the ground, and Ejder and Teoh were already by her side. Teoh was weeping, whimpering with grief, and even Ejder let out several tears.
Eli felt a sudden thug – Avilith. She reluctantly placed Elan back onto the ground, his blood covering her hands and legs. When she got up, she nearly fell back down instantly. Her legs were shaking so much that standing became a very difficult task.
“My dragon’s here,” she said, and was shocked to hear her own voice. It was… ghostly, empty, and sad.
Eli avoided Ejder’s and Teoh’s gazes, and she avoided looking back down at Elan’s body as she picked her sword up from the ground. She instead took in the state of the battlefield: the Reveran army was pushed back, there were two dead dragons on the ground, everything was on fire, and they were running out of time.
Avilith emerged from the clouds at incredible speed, her crimson scales glistening in the sun. Her wing had already completely healed, and Eli wondered whether Ril got some healers to patch her up.
Such a majestic beast didn’t belong on a battlefield, didn’t deserve to stand among the rotting corpses of men and beasts. Whatever spell was put on riders so long ago was nothing more than a way to weaponise the free spirit of a dragon. Eli could sense that Avilith was willing to fight, but it wasn’t really real…
With heavy hearts, they climbed onto the dragon and flew off towards the horizon.