Carrying three armoured soldiers on one’s back was difficult work, and Eli could feel the exhaustion in Avilith’s very bones. She pat her dragon’s scales, urging her to hold on just a bit longer.
None of them had spoken since Elan had died. Teoh was still weeping, while Eli and Ejder managed to dry their tears already. And Eli felt guilty for it, she felt guilty for not crying, like Teoh was. She felt guilty that she was so cold. That she couldn’t cry.
“We-” Teoh began, stopping to wipe his face, “-we just left him… we just left his body there. The monsters will eat him!”
Eli turned around, sending Teoh a sad gaze. The boy was nestled between herself and Ejder. Eli felt bad for him; maybe Elan was ready for battle, but not Teoh, not yet.
Eli would go back for Elan, after the battle, she’d get him buried properly. But there was no way she’d allow Teoh to fight again.
Not even five minutes had passed before they came upon the elven army. How had they managed to get there so quickly?
As Avilith flew closer to the ground, Eli realised that every single soldier was on a horse, and many horses were carrying two soldiers at once. They were galloping towards Revera already, and the fact made Eli’s heart swell with gratefulness, and newly discovered hope.
Teoh had gotten quiet, not even sobbing anymore, as Avilith landed in front of the army.
And leading the charge, on a glorious white steed, was, of course, Rileigh. He had already dismounted and was running towards them.
Eli nearly fell down as she slid off Avilith, feeling excitement, an emotion she found very out of place for the given situation.
“Well, you seem alive, so I guess Avilith did her job back at the Queen’s castle,” Eli said as greeting, taking a good look at Ril. He was wearing a bit fancier armour, and a smile graced his handsome face. The scar on his face only made him look better, in Eli’s opinion, kind of breaking the elven perfection. But, to Eli’s dismay, he had cut his hair, the pure white strands barely reaching his ears. Even though she liked his hair long, she had to admit that having shorter hair showed off his sharp features rather nicely.
“I’m surprised you’re alive,” he commented nonchalantly as he scratched Avilith’s snout, his eyes locked on the dragon’s.
“I’m very disappointed you cut your hair, sir,” Eli said in the strictest tone she could muster, and Ril grinned, finally looking at Eli.
“I apologise profusely, and beg your forgiveness. But nobody mourns more than I, I simply had no choice, nobody could save that mess.”
Ejder cleared his throat and stepped between Eli and Ril, who were subconsciously drifting closer to each other. “If you two could stop flirting for a minute, we have more pressing matters to attend to. The Queen has redirected her whole army to Revera, her dragons are burning down soldiers as we speak.”
Ril nodded, his face turning serious. “We’ve guessed as much when they didn’t arrive; and when Avilith just frantically took off, so did we. It was good we waited to ambush them deeper in Linos, or we’d still be in Notrhl by now.”
Eli nodded, the reality crashing back down onto her. “If the queen dies, so do all the monsters. She’s on top of her dragon, so I’ll try to get her from the air.” She turned back to Ejder and Teoh. “Teoh, I want you to go with them, go find Tanya and stay by her, okay? Go now, don’t let her talk to me.”
Teoh nodded, and quickly ran towards the back of the army. Ejder sent her a pointed look. “Why won’t you talk to your sister?”
Eli shook her head. “It’s… not a good time. No time to say what I have to say, and I don’t want to leave in a hurry. We must be off, Ejder, you ride with them, too.”
Ejder nodded, albeit reluctantly.
Ril gave them a serious smile. “Good. You can take my horse, Ejder, I’ll ride with Eli.”
Both Eli and Ejder snickered at the same time. “I’m not sure you understood me correctly, mister commander, I’ll be attacking the Queen from the air, which means it will be dange-”
Ril quickly interrupted her. “Yes, which is why I’m coming with you. The Queen needs to die if we want to win this, and the chances increase if I’m with you, so let’s go.”
Ejder and Eli shared a look, before Ejder nodded in approval. “Don’t let her die, elf. She may be lucky, but even luck can run out.”
“I’ll make sure she stays in one piece.”
Eli ignored the exchange, barely suppressing the urge to tell them she could take care of her own life just fine by herself.
Ril went over to another general to give her some orders while Eli climbed back onto Avilith, who was in a much better mood since Ril gave her head pats.
Eli extended her hand to help Ril up, and once he was sitting behind her securely, Avilith took off.
“It’s only five minutes away, so get ready,” Eli said, trying to ignore the butterflies in her stomach which were a result of her back pressing against Ril.
“Aw, I was hoping to fly for a while, I quite like it,” he complained. Eli rolled her eyes, but smiled non-the-less.
“I thought you’d be afraid of it, with you being a white hunter, enemy of dragons, and all that.”
“Oh no, I love Avilith. You know, while you were with the queen, I flew with her every day.”
Eli snickered, feeling a mixture of jealousy and happiness. “That’s kind of adorable, really. Let’s hope there’s peace after this war, so I can take Avilith to you when you start to miss her.”
“There’s supposed to be, I discussed it with your king.”
“You discussed it?”
Ril sighed. “Well, my father decided to announce that I was a prince right as he was getting sick, which was about the time I got back with Avilith. Until he dies, I speak in his place, and then it will be his legitimate sons, but until they are of age, his wife.”
“Oh, so I can call you a prince in public now!” Eli said, grinning.
“And everyone knows you’re not a really guy now. Word spreads fast, you caused quite a scandal, but we’ve had an incredible amount of women volunteer to fight after the news, as well. You’re quite the inspiration, even among my people.”
A smile found its way onto Eli’s face, and she felt her heart fill with pride. “That’s… really nice, actually. I doubt anyone in Revera even knows my name, though, I bet my king said it was all his idea, or something.”
Ril snickered. “That wouldn’t be surprising. But hey, you’ll be a hero for the elves, at least. And, of course, my hero.”
Eli blushed, feeling her heartbeat quicken. “Oh, please, you were in that dungeon just because of me. I only replayed my debt.”
“My knight in shining armour!”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.” Ril’s hand suddenly shot out over Eli’s left shoulder, practically hugging her, as he pointed to the scene in front of them. “That’s the battlefield, right? Damn, that’s a lot of monsters!”
It looked a lot worse than when Eli had left. The Reveran troops were pushed all the way back to the bend, and they were trying to hold that point desperately. Mages were highly protected and doing most of the work, with shielding their allies from the deadly dragon fire and throwing out thunderbolts, fire, and even blowing away herds of harpies from the sky.
Meanwhile, soldiers were constantly moving around, fending off monsters with spears, and then fighting off the men with swords and arrows. Bodies littered the ground everywhere, and even flying so high above didn’t give Eli any release from the horrible stench of death and decay.
Even though the Reveran army was holding on well, it was only a matter of time before the Queen’s army broke through. The mages could only hold out so long, even with elixirs and rest. They were constantly throwing shields over their troops as the two dragons circled around the battlefield and wreaked havoc. There were no allied dragons left in the sky, but to Eli’s relief, they weren’t all dead, since she saw a few all the way back, surrounded by healers, with the other injured men.
“Even with our army coming for backup, this will be impossible. Even if we do win, almost every soldier will die. How much bigger was the Reveran army in the beginning, Eli?”
“The battle’s been going on for an hour, and more than half of our soldiers are dead, and at least half of the dragons. We need to get rid of the queen if we want to win this. The monsters are the biggest problem, because they don’t stop once they’re injured. They don’t feel pain, they require the most work to kill.”
“Exactly. What’s the plan now? You managed to discover any weaknesses while you were with the Queen?”
Eli shrugged. “I wasn’t ever alone with her, only with her and Nicholas together. But just before we flew off, I threw a dagger at her, and she stopped it in mid-air, threw it back at me with magic, and it pierced right through my armor.”
“You’re injured?” Ril asked, a hint of worry in his voice.
“It’s just a flesh wound. I don’t even feel it. My point is, she has a very good awareness of what’s going on around her, so we’ll need to distract her. Here’s the plan, Ril. You have a bow, so you’re gonna stay on Avilith. I’ll jump down onto her dragon, while you shoot her. Good?”
Ril tsked. “Not just like that. I brought the magic-negating elixirs. Take one, and a mage’s spells won’t affect you at all.”
He handed her a small vial of purple liquid. She took it, her hands slightly shaking. She was about to drink the most precious liquid in Alonia. She was going to be basically immortal. For regular humans, the elixir greatly negated the effects of mages, but for Eli, who had an innate resistance, it nullified them almost entirely. Such a small vial would barely last ten minutes, though, so they had to be fast.
Eli felt that Avilith was about to execute the plan, so she held onto Ril’s shoulder as she went from sitting to crouching, ready to leap down.
Avilith plummeted towards the great dark dragon, and Eli had to clutch Ril for dear life as they approached the beast. The Queen had noticed them, and had already thrown a spell, but Ril put up his blue barrier in time for it to harmlessly bounce off.
As the dragons nearly touched, Eli leapt.
Leaping from dragon to dragon was a lot harder than she imagined, and instead of a smooth landing, Eli just barely managed to grab onto a scale that was sticking out, her breath knocked out of her as she slammed into the dragon’s torso with her whole body, her feet dangling over nothingness.
She didn’t allow herself to feel anything, knowing that only a push was necessary for her to plunge down to her death. Ignoring the pain and the fear, Eli pulled herself up, and just in time, because the dragon had began trying to shake her off by violently turning to the side. Eli squeezed the dragon with her legs and tried to find a good place to hold onto, all the while assessing the situation before her.
She was all the way back at the tail, while the Queen was at the neck. She needed to get all the way there, which seemed impossible with the violent flight the dragon was providing.
Luckily, she still had Rileigh. An arrow whizzed by and the Queen managed to put up a barrier just in time, and the dragon stopped being dramatic at that moment. The pattern repeated several times, forcing Eli to think that maybe the Queen had to redirect her magic. To use her own magic, she seemed to take some off the dragon, maybe giving it less agility until her spell was done.
Avilith and Ril kept circling the dragon and firing more arrows, all the while Avilith easily dodged the dragon’s snapping jaws and a bit of fire it tried to use.
Eli waited for Ril to fire another arrow before she stood right up and sprinted aross the slippery scales on the dragons back.
The queen finally decided to face her, her face twisted in annoyance.
“Couldn’t you stay down on the ground, with the other roaches, where you belong?”
Eli had replaced her sword with two daggers, since manoeuvring with a sword would only hinder her. The queen extended her hands towards Eli, shouted something, and a blast of air shot out from her palms.
Eli expected to walk right through it, and get rid of the queen quickly.
Even though she drank the elixir, even though she was a rider, the force not only stopped her in her tracks, but blasted her away.
Luckily, her back hit the dragon, and she managed to hold on, but she had to drop one of her daggers.
What would have happened if Eli had not taken the elixir? She could imagine herself getting blown all the way to Notrhl.
But, much like a roach, Eli wasn’t down for long. She just had to power through it.
She got back up and charged at the Queen while she was putting up a shield. She seemed shocked to see Eli again, probably believing she had blown her away.
The queen shouted something again, and this time, it was fire.
Eli’s instincts screamed at her to leap away, to hide from the fire. And it would’ve been so easy to listen to them; they had saved her many times. But this time, she had to ignore them, she had to ignore the pure panic and dread she felt as she faced the fire, and kept running.
The heat was… not that bad. It stung, but she covered her face with her free hand until it was over, and she had reached the queen, who had gotten up in the meantime, now also standing mere inches from Eli.
Without a word, Eli started striking at the Queen, but only with magic, she deterred all attacks, spawning small shields at every point of impact.
Eli was relentless, keeping her balance perfectly and her breathing calm and even.
An arrow whizzed towards the Queen. Eli had noticed it long before it reached them, but the Queen was occupied.
It lodged itself into her neck, and just like that, everything fell apart.
As the Queen’s body went limp, so did the dragons. They were no longer suspended in the air, but plummeting towards the ground, the dragon already way bellow Eli.
So, this was how she would die?
She had faced death so many times that her survival instincts had gone rusty. She didn’t feel any fear as the ground got closer. She felt happiness.
She won. She fullfilled Elan’s dying wish. She saved Alonia.
Eli closed her eyes, waiting for impact.
But it never came.
A soft, warm hand clasped itself around hers, and her fall was broken. Searing pain passed through her shoulder, and she barely contained a yelp, finally opening her eyes.
Ril was leaning halfway off Avilith, holding onto Eli as Avilith corrected their course from plunging towards the ground to a slow descent.
Eli’s heartbeat had been completely calm up until the moment she looked into Ril’s eyes, the purple glow reflecting both fear and relief. He took Eli’s other arm, and pulled her up with it, since Eli couldn’t even move the arm he used to break her fall.
He pulled her up, holding her steady by the waist, sending shivers and butterflies crazy all over Eli’s body.
“We won,” Eli said, breaking the silence as the two watched the monsters drop dead all at once. The Reverans were still outnumbered, but the elves had arrived, and attacking from behind. It would be a quick fight.
“Eli, I swear, I really don’t know what to say to you right now. I thought you were dead.”
Eli ignored the pain in her dislocated arm, and turned her head to grin at Ril.
“Well, you saved me, my knight in shining armour,” she teased, copying what he had said just minutes before. Ril’s worried expression was replaced by an honest smile.
“You’re an idiot, and I love it. We won, all because of you.”
“Technically, your arrow killed her.”
“We can call it teamwork, then.”
Eli was still facing Ril, her back pressed against him, and she just got lost in his eyes. Her heartbeat sped up dangerously as their faces got closer.
But then, Avilith landed, jostling them and forcing them apart.
She landed on the side of the battlefield, just as the last of the enemy soldiers dropped their weapons to the ground and raised their hands in surrender.
Ril dropped off Avilith first, and then helped Eli down. She missed the heat of his body, and the thought of what was just about to happen between made her blush like a lobster. Ril found that extremely entertaining, and he just sent her a sly smirk and a wink, draping a hand around her shoulder as they watched the battle draw to a close.
Valda was emerging from the back of the Reveran army, the King and the Commander on her heels. Eli was shocked to see that the king was there; she expected him to be safely hidden away in his castle.
On the other side of the battlefield, Teoh, Ejder, Hatari and Tanya, also approached the middle.
“Let’s meet them. I bet we’re about to be showered with compliments, eh? And your sister can fix your shoulder, while we’re at it.”
When they got close, Tanya ran towards Eli like a comet, and Eli barely managed to hold her off long enough to explain her arm was dislocated and for Tanya to painfully push it into place and cast a spell.
Ril stepped forward and both Tanya and Eli shut up to watch as he shook hands with the Reveran king, who was flanked by guards. Ejder and Teoh were already by Valda’s side, and Eli noticed that Valda had her hand linked around Ejder’s.
“Good job to you, Rileigh, had it not been for your bravery and the quick reaction of your troops, I’m afraid this war would’ve been lost.”
Ril smiled, nodding at the king. “Ah, but I cannot take all the credit,” he said, motioning for Eli to join them. She did so, all the while avoiding the king’s gaze, until she was standing next to Ril. “Eli was the one who got rid of the queen, and because of her, all the monsters fell.”
The king’s gaze was cold when it fell onto Eli, but she stood straight and met his gaze with determination.
“About that…” the king stopped, and nodded at the guards, who took a step towards Eli threateningly. “Elindil, you are hereby sentenced to death for treason. You will be executed on the spot.”
Shock was an understatement for the emotion which everyone gathered around them felt.
“Are you serious?” Eli was the first to speak, rage nearly blinding her, pulsating right through her mind. “I risked everything for Revera, for you! I nearly died a dozen times today, my best friend died today, and I kept fighting for this kingdom, and this is how you repay me? If it hadn’t been for me, you would’ve been killed in your sleep, you fat, selfish-”
Luckily, Ril clasped his hand over Eli’s mouth before the king exploded from rage.
“With all due respect, Your Majesty, if you or your guards lay a hand on Eli, not only will there be no peace between us, but I will give the order for my army to attack right at this moment,” Ril said, moving his hand from Eli’s mouth and wrapping it around her shoulders protectively.
Apart from rage, disappointment, and fear, Eli felt happy. Happy that Ril was fighting for her.
The frown on the king’s forehead was bigger than Linos itself before he spoke again. “Very well, I will not have her executed. But Elindil, if you ever set foot into Revera again, you will be killed on sight. Do you understand?”
“As if I’d ever want to be anywhere near you and your filthy stench, you-” Ril interrupted her again, this time by speaking.
“Eli will be welcome in Notrhl, then. We’ll benefit with such a fine warrior on our side, and a fearsome dragon, as well.” Ril said, his usually calm voice now holding an angry edge.
The king cleared his throat. “Do what you want with her. I once again thank you for joining this fight, and I will be in touch about signing that peace treaty, once and for all.” He turned towards his guards and the bewildered Ejder, Valda, Tanya and Teoh. “We’re leaving.”
None of them listened, and they ran up to Eli instead. Tanya was already raining tears, and Hatari shot her a mournful gaze from the distance, but gave her space as she clutched Eli’s good hand.
“I can’t believe this! That jerk! He banished you!” Tanya’s words became incoherent as she cried more.
“Eli, we don’t have much time, so look at me,” Ejder ordered, and Eli obeyed. She found herself unable to speak now. She had so much to say, but she just couldn’t open her mouth anymore. “He’ll change his mind. For now, stay with the elves, and we’ll come visit you. I’ll work this out with the king, don’t you worry. And Tanya, stop bawling, Eli can visit the council at any time.”
Ejder’s words seemed to calm everyone down.
“It’s okay. Tanya, I’ll visit you, as always. Ejder said this wouldn’t last long. And you can come visit Notrhl anytime! Right, Ril?”
Ril nodded, forcing a smile onto his face. “Of course. You can even bring Hatari now, I’ve already lifted the banishment.”
It wasn’t all that bad, really. Eli would get to see all that Notrhl had to offer, and finally eat some elven food. And she’d have Ril to keep her company, and she couldn’t complain about that.
The group spoke for a mere fifteen minutes before they were forced apart. Tanya, Hatari, Valda, and the other mages left separately, towards the council, while the rest followed the king.
They won. Eli lost her homeland, but she got a new one, thanks to Ril. All was well.
However, what happened on the day the peace treaty was signed would change everything…