I've liberally flirted with trouble throughout my adventuring career, but this will be the first time I do it literally.
For several months now, I've been nose deep in scrolls and grimoires and textbooks related to curses. When I razed Doomgrove Hollow and officially left the Darkovian family of vampires and dracopyres, I knew that if I would someday break the darkness over Darkovia, I would first have to break vampirism. The curse is tied to the magic of Doomgrove Hollow, each protecting the other in a symbiotic relationship. After hijacking a vial of The Cure and Safiria's ritual plans during the War of the Fangs I became familiar with the magical and biological structure of the curse- but only my particular strain. Being a dracopyre, a beast with the blood of dragons and werewolves in addition to that of a vampire, I don't have the clearest picture. I've been wanting to get as close to the original strain as I can, and even though I did help save Safiria(and Constantin, too) during the Blood Moon war earlier this year, I don't want to risk getting close to her after what I did the last time I was in Castle Darkovia. The first generation of her children wouldn't do, either- those guys are seriously hard to find.
Then it hit me: there was an easily accessible person who had a strong likelyhood of carrying the same version of vampirism as Safiria, who, as an added bonus, did not want to kill me on sight. I prepared a sort of diagnostic spell, one that would record the curse's information when activated by touch, and placed it on my old Longsword. Before I could go off trick-or-treating for Mogloween, however, I felt the X-Guardian emblem on my necklace softly pulse with warm vibrations. I jumped about a foot in the air; this hasn't happened in months.
"You okay over there?" Asks my wife, Marna. She was on the other side of my study, reading through one of the lost Paladin Scrolls. Her eyebrow is arched, a lock of her dark hair over her face.
"Yeah, I'm alright. Forgot my usual protective spells, got shocked when I touched my Longsword," I lie.
"But if it shocked you, how will it work on her? Won't she be suspicious?"
"I'll just say it's like one of those old drakel buzzer rings if she asks." With a wary "if you say so" look on her face, Marna turned back to her scroll. "Hey, I'll be heading out for Mogloween. Is Lucy still with Jakob?"
"Still with Jakob, sleeping like the baby she is," Marna replies without looking up. Good. I've been worried about the safety of my daughter since before she was born, and I relax slightly as I say goodbye to Marna and hurry off to mount up and fly to Battleon.
Most people think the existence of the X-Guardians is a myth, and the ones who don't: think it's just a shiny necklace and a little extra gold. They couldn't be more wrong. The X-Guardians take strict oaths of secrecy and loyalty, and make incredible sacrifices to keep Battleon(and the rest of Lore) safe. Those seated at the round table are hooded or masked, shadows cast by the candles on the walls. Her fingers steepled, from across the table she speaks a short sentence: "War is brewing in Darkovia."
"With Constantin and Safiria freed, that was inevitable," Says a masked figure to my left.
"True," She acknowledges. "But this time, the werewolves are in possession of The Cure. Their grasp on it was weak in the years since claiming it in the last war, but now it is firm."
"What would a total werewolf rule do, though?" Asks a man across the table to my right. "I know the situation is delicately balanced, but wouldn't it bring more stability?"
"Many, if not most, of the villages in Darkovia are populated by the infected and cursed," I answer him. "So while there are a number of mostly human villages, the werewolves would sweep over Darkovia and root out the vampires wherever they may be- regardless of who got in their way."
"So then, what about a vampire rule?" Asks the same man. "Wouldn't it be just as bad?"
"Potentially." Says a woman to my left. "Vampire operations are generally more covert, but the fear of random feeding incidents would be a heavy burden on the humans."
"So no matter what, the humans get the short end of the stick on this one." He says.
"Correct," I answer him. "At least in the short term, while old tensions are being erased, and the two sides are adjusting to the new balance."
"Who would keep the aggression in check after a victory, though?" Asks the woman who began the meeting. "The humans, it seems, would require extra protection no matter what."
"There some of us at this table," The masked figure to my left says slowly, "That have moved beyond vampires and werewolves." There is a short silence that greets this statement, as while we may have general ideas of each other's identities, nothing concrete is ever disclosed at meetings.
"I... am in contact with a powerful and charismatic werepyre," I say. Last year, shortly before the birth of my daughter Lucy, a werepyre named Evelynn appeared on my estate. At that point the spell circle on my estate was drawing magic from Darkovia, something that put out a call of sorts to any with vampire blood in the area- and Evelynn came in with her inner circle to perform a ritual sacrifice. I had thought those were her only followers, but it turned out she was the head of a large movement looking for a safe Darkovia, regardless of curse or humanity. She is loyal to WolfWing, and still in close contact with him; I'm more of a somewhat respected equal aiding her in her quest for a safe Darkovia than her superior(or landlord, as she now has a small hut in my hunting grounds). "They remain loyal to the powerful werepyre that turned them, and may be able to persuade them to move in at the end of the conflict."
"What of NightReign, GraceFang, and their kind?" Asks a man on my left. "Surely they would sense the opportunity, too."
"GraceFang's goals are... similar to ours," I say carefully. "I would expect the forces under her control to keep watch over the mostly human villages during the conflict."
"And NightReign?" Asks the woman to my left. "He still seeks the rule of Darkovia for himself."
"I'm fairly certain his forces will leave the bulk of the fighting to the werewolves and vampires," I say. "He might try to set himself up as a political alternative instead of a military one, as his forces aren't quite large enough to be a serious threat."
"The Cure," The woman across from me says after a few moments of silence. "I am still convinced that with it in control of either the werewolves or vampires, there will not be balance in Darkovia."
"That sounds an awful lot like us picking a side," A man across the table from me says.
"Short term, yes it does," I reply. "But in the long term, having The Cure free is more beneficial."
"That leaves one problem." Says the masked figure to my left. "The werewolf troops outnumber those of the vampires."
"Not quite the last problem," Says the woman across from me. "Does our loyalty to the order come first, or not?" An uncomfortable silence settles in the room after this.
"I will contact Kairula."
"I will enlist help from Trescol."
"I will bring my guards," Says another, and the room falls silent again.
"The last obstacle is the werewolves' sense of smell," I say. "They will sniff out any fear or anxiety among us. There will need to be a few of us on the front line to... keep them busy."
"And if we meet on the front line?" The man to my right asks.
"We'll just have to hope The Boatman is occupied."
"Very well. Should we hold our armies and guards in reserve to keep the element of surprise?" Asks the masked figure to my left. There is a murmur of agreement from the rest of us in the room.
"It is settled then. The deployment of our forces will be called Order Sixty-six," The woman across from me says. "Remember what we are fighting for here. Battle on, compatriots."
I wanted to go trick or treating for longer, but I only got enough candy to fill up one large sack- and having it stuffed to the top was key. I'm carrying my Longsword in one hand and have a loose grip on the candy sack with my other as I walk into the town square.
"Ready to trade?" An adventurer asks me. They have a large grin, hauling one full sack over their shoulder and five more in a cart pulled by their pack burro.
"Yup! I've just started, and I'm looking to break my haul record from last year!"
The young man squints at me, then his face lights up. "Wait, you're the guy who brought in over a hundred K candy and fought the horde of Grand Pumpkins! No way!"
"Yeah, that was pretty wild," I say with a chuckle. "Hey, Trouble, you got a second? I want to trade for a mask."
"Thanks. Uh, could you hold my Longsword for a second?" Trouble shrugs, and takes my Longsword by the handle and middle of the sheath as I use both hands to dump my candy onto the scale. She's looking at the scale read out when a brief look of surprise flashes over her face. She looks at my Longsword, then scowls and turns back to me.
"Sorry I didn't tell you just a second ago, but there's been a price increase on our masks."
"Well, I've got about two thousand candy, that shouldn't be a problem. I'll take the paper bag mask."
"Paper bag mask?" Trouble asks, still staring daggers at me. "That'll be ten thousand candy."
"What?! Ten thousand?!"
"How much would the smiley face mask be?" Asks the adventurer, coming up behind me.
"Oh, that's at a discount of five candy right now." Chortling, the young man grabs a handful of candy from his sack and hands it over, Trouble gleefully giving him the mask.
"Okay, well, fine. I'll take a smiley face mask, too."
"The discount just expired. That'll be twenty-nine thousand candy." Trouble says, still smiling.
"Seriously?" I sigh. "Okay, whatever. I'll just take my Longsword and leave." I hold out my hand for it, but Trouble doesn't return it. "Could you please hand me my Longsword?"
"Yulgar hands these things out for free to experienced adventurers like you. I think I'll keep this one." It appears I severely underestimated Trouble. If she could sense the diagnostic spell activating, she could also probably tell what it was looking for, and have a few ideas of what I'm trying to do with that. I don't know if she's in contact with any of the others who share the original strain of vampirism, but if she is, I may have just jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak. I hate to do this, but I have to have my Longsword back: I use a minor teleporting magic(mainly for changing equipment in battle) and call the blade into my hand, and then take off like a bat out of Heck, whistling for Cyclonus, my wyvern mount.
I don't stop until I'm back home at my hunting grounds. The smoke I see rising from the center of the hut is a slight relief, and Cyclonus touches down just a little outside. I hear someone coming out, and it is indeed Evelynn.
"Uskius! I thought you would be out trick-or-treating until late at night." Evelynn's long auburn hair(which I'm not sure she's ever cut in her life) is pulled back into a ponytail, and she's holding a spatula.
"I would have been, but I've learned that war is approaching in Darkovia."
"Vampires and werewolves, again?" I nod, and Evelynn invites me in. She's grilling a few cuts of meat over the fire pit in the middle of the room, and it smells absolutely fantastic. I'd never really known she could cook. "So what's the cause this time? I can't imagine there's much left for them to fight over."
"Lost time," I say. "With their leaders gone for years and so much new blood in their ranks, they want to test themselves. And for the werewolves, I'd imagine they want to keep control of The Cure."
"But how much of this is really Constantin and Safiria? Why on Lore would they waste their troops on a pointless war so soon after returning to power?"
"I think this one is more to do with the new vampires and werewolves," I reply. "If I was Safiria, I would of course hit the ground running after getting back, but focus on where my opponent was weakest instead of directly on them." I think for a moment, and Evelynn silently flips over one of the steaks. "Or not. That woman is always ten steps ahead of everyone else." It takes me a few moments longer, but the idea strikes like a lightning bolt. "The Hollow!"
"What about the mechanic?" Evelynn asks, eyebrows furrowed. "He's never set foot in Darkovia, as far as I know."
"Not the mechanic. I meant Doomgrove Hollow."
Evelynn sighed. "It's what I've said from the beginning: cleansing Darkovia is a fool's dream, Uskius. Now that she's back it'll even more impossible."
"I'm not going directly at Doomgrove Hollow- I'm content to let her physically have it for now- there's something else I've been working on."
"No, I haven't been able to even uncreate a rock," I lie. I need to keep both my uncreation and curse knowledge a strict secret for now.
Shaking her head, Evelynn says, "As always, you're making little sense. But I do think Safiria controlling a place like the Hollow could end up being a dangerous shift in the balance of power, something she'd want a distraction from." Sprinkling a pinch of salt onto one of the steaks, Evelynn asks, "And I assume you'll be headed out to the battlegrounds?"
"Yes. I'm a much different man and dracopyre than the last war in Darkovia, and I aim to do my best to take the outcome into my own hands."
"Have you forgotten what Armstrong and Hydra did in the last war? They were totally unstoppable, and yet the vampires still lost."
"That was then, and this is now. Few of the old pack are still around," I answer Evelynn. "They may have The Cure, but they're fewer in number."
"I'm not questioning you making an impact," Replies Evelynn. "I know how powerful you are. It's about picking your battles well."
"This is the time, and this is the place," I say. "I know werewolf tactics now. I've grown into my powers as a dracopyre, and I have a cause to believe in."
Evelynn thinks on this, and flips another of the steaks. "...It's just hard to be optimistic. As long as I've been turned, I can't remember the vampires winning a war against the werewolves. I've lost more brothers and sisters in my pack than I can count, and the collateral damage is always so indiscriminate and thoughtless..."
"The humans and other innocents will need someone to protect them. I won't be able to hold down the front line and cover them at the same time."
"True." Evelynn sighs. "Enough of this for now," She says, looking up at me. "How are Marna and Lucy?"
"Things are getting settled again. Marna still looks after Lucy the most, but she's gotten back into training; Lucy still loves magic more than anything. I'm actually scared of when she'll find out she can do it for herself," I say with a small chuckle. "Though that's still a ways off."
"Raising another mage?"
"Lore's a magical place, and I'm just trying to prepare her for that. If she wants to learn magic when she's older, I'll teach her."
"And how are Tristan's studies?"
"Still learning basic metamagics from Warlic, and doing very well, from what I hear."
Evelynn gives a small smile, and turns back to the steaks. "Would you stay for dinner? I wasn't planning on having all of these tonight, and don't mind sharing."
I definitely wouldn't mind having some of Evelynn's cooking, but I need to get back to my house to talk with Marna about the war. "No thanks, I think I'll head back home for now. There's a lot I need to do to prepare."
Evelynn nods. "Alright. Goodnight, then."
"Goodnight, Evelynn. I'll be in touch soon."
The conversation with Marna turned out to be brief, as Warlic sent his messenger raven nearly as soon as I got home. He was concerned with Darkovia also, but more for its magical climate than its political one. He wanted me to go in undercover! By how urgent it sounded, there just wouldn't be enough time to properly explain the difficulties and dangers of me going undercover and possibly come at the situation from another angle, so with a half mumbled "You owe me for this one" I set off.
Night has fallen, so I have to rely on my magical senses to tell when I'm in Darkovia. I just left the barest of plans with Marna, and there's not much I'll be able to do once I'm in- I'll have eyes on me from the moment I talk to the vampires.
The familiar spires and towers begin to peek up from the trees, and that's when I hear the first out of place twig snap. "Let's not waste each other's time here! Show yourselves!" No one does. I continue to feel watched me as I near the castle, the scouts doing less to hide their presence, but remaining out of sight. I begin to think of what could go wrong with trying to go undercover in Castle Darkovia, but I have to stop that soon- if the answer isn't everything, well, it's pretty close. Instead, I focus on the angle I'll take to build up my cover. Establishing a new diplomatic link? Risky. Looking for complete restoration of ties? Riskier. Acting like I've never left? Riskiest, and that's the one I go with.
It's still several more moments before I arrive at the bridge, which looks exactly as it did before it was destroyed in the last war. The vampire scouts finally show themselves, assembling in a line at the front of the bridge. "State your name, trespasser!"
"MoonBiter! I haven't been by in a while, and I thought I'd stop in for little bit."
"MoonBiter?" Asks one of the scouts on the left end of the line, confused.
"That sounds like a name a dracopyre would take," Says a vampire next to them.
"I am one." I say. "But I fought on your side in the War of the Fangs. I've stayed loyal."
"War of the Fangs?" Asks another of the scouts, surprised. "I didn't think there were many of you left."
"There aren't," I say truthfully. The vampires lost almost all of their warriors in the conflict. "I was one of the lucky ones, and barely managed to get away." I say, lying.
A couple of the vampires lean close, whispering, which I pretend I can't overhear. "We'll get caught up inside, MoonBiter. Dmitri and I will walk you in." I'm waved in and walk forwards as the scouts part.
"Welcome home, cousin," Says Dmitri, a short man with spiky blond hair.
"It's good to be back."
"We could use a fighter like you," Says the vampire who brought me in, a woman with eggplant purple hair and broad shoulders. "Things have been getting tense lately, and we have so much new blood that haven't faced the wolves before."
"Oh? Things are headed towards war again?" I ask, doing my best to feign surprise.
"That's how it looks," Dmitri says glumly as he signals ahead to the gate guardians to let us in.
"I've been spending so much time in Battleon. I had no idea."
"It's fairly recent," Answers Dmitri. "Ever since our queen returned, things have been heading towards war so fast. Training, going over tactics..." The guards push open the large doors, and my magical instincts immediately alert me to danger- I know who at least one of the vampires in the hall is without having to see them.
A group of vampires is huddled together, having an intense whispered discussion. One of them, Viktor, looks over to see who's arrived. He does a double take, eyes snapping back to me in recognition and alarm. "What are you doing bringing him in here?!" He yells, pointing at the vampiress with purple hair. All activity in the hall stops, and the huddle of vampires close ahead turns towards me.
"MoonBiter is an ally, just here to-" The purple-haired vampire begins, but as soon as she says my dracopyre name she is interrupted by Viktor.
"Get him out!" He shouts, striding forwards. "Lusamine, Kronwald- get him!" Two more vampires break from the group, who I recognize as some of Safiria's elder children. I have a strong urge to unleash my dracopyre from and strike them down, but I can't risk doing that and blowing my cover- especially not now.
"Is this how you greet an old friend, Viktor?" I say, raising my hands. The hall has sprung back to life as more vampires recognize me, dozens moving in to possibly assist Lusamine and Kronwald.
"Someone who moves to undermine the vampire brood and resist our rule is no friend of mine!"
"Our rule?" Says Safiria, ever so slightly raising her voice. Viktor stops in his tracks, and the ring of vampires parts to let their queen through.
"He's done a lot to maintain your holdings in your absence," I say to Safiria.
"As any competent housekeeper would," Safiria says, golden eyes locked onto mine. It may be my nerves or her exerting her vampiric powers, but I begin to feel shaky and a little clammy. "Now vhat's this I hear of you betraying me? Surely this can't be true?"
"Of course it isn't," I say with a nervous chuckle- that was a lie, and the both of us know it. "Some of your children have... had their own ideas of how to rule Darkovia in your absence, and I was just defending my estate grounds against them."
"Vell. Matters of rule are now out of question, so those events will be put behind us." Looking to Lusamine, Safiria orders, "Proceed as discussed. MoonBiter and I vill rejoin the ranks in a short while." Uh-oh. Snapping her fingers, Safiria abruptly teleports us into her study.
With a flick of her wrist, an invisible force slams me against the bookshelves. In a blur she closes in, and bites deep into my jugular. "...Now there's a blood I've not tasted in a long, long time..." She says quietly, staring into my eyes. "I see you did not merely mean to betray my plans for The Cure when you sought out Constantin and his mongrels during the last war. I could almost applaud your ambition, Uskius." Safiria steps back, and sharpens her gaze on me. I gag as a fear explodes within me, so sharp it feels as if my bones are made of fire, and nettles are my blood. "I once considered you as a wayward child, Uskius. Going through a rebellious phase, and in need of firm direction; but it is clear you no longer seek my guidance. Vere any other to meddle with the magic of Doomgrove Hollow, I would simply laugh at their efforts. Who vould be so foolish? But it seems as if I have forgotten, when a new threshold of idiocy has been crossed, there is only one person who could be responsible." I begin to involuntarily shudder now, my breaths shallow and constricted. "You have heard this saying, yes? 'Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer'? I take note of all the Chosen who move through my lands, but now, you force me to vaste my time by making certain you do not step out of the place you are so desperate to escape. ShadowBlood and her pack, your servants, your wife and your daughter, Lucy, must be vatched also; so many expendable weaklings that would otherwise not be vorth notice. But for now," Safiria says with a sigh, "Ve have a common enemy to address. You will fight them, as you would fight for the lives of your wife and daughter. They are depending on you, Uskius."
Safiria releases her invisible grip on me and I collapse to the floor hyperventilating. My nerves are completely shot, and the fear is still surging through me. "Rise. It is my vill for my army to see a confident MoonBiter fighting the wolves." I try and fail to roll onto my hands and knees, and then Safiria's magical grip yanks me upwards into a standing position. I try to look away, but my head is wrenched to face her by the same force. "Remember that I do not make threats, Uskius-"
"Go to Heck," I manage to croak out, spitting at her. In a brief moment, I see my spittle sizzle and be vaporized out of existence before it can land on Safiria, and then a sharp pain lances back through my eyes, and I pass out.
I wake up to an earthquake. My ear is to the ground, and the rumble is growing closer- then my eyes fully open, and see that it's not an earthquake, but a charging army of werewolves. I spit out a few curses I learned during my days as a pirate while scrambling to my feet. I check my hips and back for any weapons, and only find my sword Gyrfang in its place sheathed on my left side. My pack burro Fred's not nearby, and the sealed cases containing Lightbringer and the Celestial Sunflash are all the way back at my estate, so I have just a small handful of options available. I draw Gyrfang and look down at its starmetal blade and fire ore hilt; since I had the current blade forged, this sword has not let me down once, and it appears I'll have to lean on it again.
Though still shaking from my encounter with Safiria, I steel myself and take on my dracopyre form, letting out all my rage and frustrations into a sky-rattling roar. The sudden sharpening of my senses is slightly disorienting in my current state, and by the time I take control, the werewolf front line is less than a stone's throw away. I breath out a bright beam of purple-white energy towards them, and charge in. The front line breaks easily, and I'm quickly surrounded. I batter away werewolves with my wings. In my blindspot a feel a blade scratch deep into my hide and kick out with my foot, sweeping Gyrfang around in a wide arc to face them. It's a thin, young looking werewolf, and one stroke of Gyrfang is enough to end them. I see another werewolf closing in with my peripheral vision, and use my tail to trip them up before I jump to another spot in the werewolf ranks.
I crumple one werewolf beneath me as I land on them, and cut down those within reach while they are surprised. The cacophony of battle begins to dim as I slowly ease into my focus, my strikes becoming more precise and lethal. I begin to loosen up and accelerate as the effects of Safiria's terror fade. An Alpha Werewolf steps into my path, and I bite deep into their jugular and fling them away, thrusting into one of their pack with Gyrfang and skewering several others with a blast of my energy breath. Time begins to slow, and I work deeper and deeper into the werewolf. I'm briefly surprised by encountering an Alpha Dracoglin- I didn't think the Werewolf King would bring outside forces into his army like this. Though it's a tenacious little warrior, I'm still able to quickly overwhelm it with a few slashes from Gyrfang. I see the pack it led scatter, and streak after the other dracoglins and werewolves to cut down their retreat. Their panic spreads, and I see more and more werewolves breaking ranks to retreat now; with the enhanced speed of my empowered dracopyre form, none of them are able to escape me. It's a small shock when I notice the entire company is gone. I'm much farther into Darkovia than when I started. This particular stretch of the forest is familiar to me, and I remember the vampire forward camp is a short flight away. I shake out my wings and mane and leap up, flying over the canopy and away.
The vampire camp isn't exactly pleased to see me. A vampire lord, who by her long blond hair I'm guessing is Lusamine, immediately rushes over to me, her subordinates not far behind. "This is MoonBiter!" I say, showing them Gyrfang and shifting back into my human form.
"Where have you been?" Lusamine hisses, staring daggers at me.
"What do you mean 'where have I been'? I've been about ear-deep in werewolves for the last couple of hours."
"'Couple of hours'? It's almost dawn!" Lusamine closes her eyes and sighs angrily, muttering something about "warmongers" and "sense of time" under her breath. She opens her eyes, and stares up at me with her piercing green gaze. "Listen: the reinforcements will be here any minute, and-"
"Reinforcements?" I ask.
"If you were here with us like you should have been then you'd know!" Lusamine shouts, her fangs showing. "Things are progressing faster than projected, and we weren't quite prepared. Again: the reinforcements will be here any minute, and when they arrive, you'll lead them to the western flank."
"Fine. You'll have a moment to recoup here; the werewolves will be clearing out the field and scouting before they advance again."
"Good." Lusamine holds my gaze for a moment longer, and then I turn and walk away and get started on cleaning off Gyrfang. It's heavily stained with a number of various fluids and substances, and it'll take a while before it's clean and fully sharp.
I'm most of the way through my second pass at wiping off Gyrfang with my sock when I hear a commotion picking up behind me. I look over my shoulder, and hear someone shout "SunEater!" SunEater- that's the name my wife Marna takes as a dracopyre! I put my sock and boot back on as fast as I can, and hurry over.
"She's with me! Lady SunEater is with me!" I say, raising my voice. I push my way through the camp, and find Marna leading Fred and my house guards. Marna is in her dracopyre form, all slender and sinewy corded muscle. "The cases?" I ask, referring to the sealed cases holding Lightbringer and the Celestial Sunflash. The Lightbringer is a sword of my own forging, made with Bright Aura Gems, using the same mythical construction method as the Sunflash blades; it's aura of power isn't regal and oppressive like other blades imbued with Bright Aura Gems are, but rather, one of unstoppable purpose. The Sunflash blades were ancient weapons made from pure crystal from the Light Realm, with pure golden hilts refined in a star's heart, that were wielded in the war between Light Demons and Darkness Angels. The Celestial Sunflash was the most powerful of them all, made to bear channeling the power of an Avatar of the Light Lord; after the war, it was sealed away to prevent mortals from abusing its might.
"With Fred," Marna answers, gesturing with her head. "Your blood?"
"No." I jog over and embrace Marna, who carefully and gently hugs me back. "I wish I could've stayed longer to get things coordinated better."
"Our guards and the twins are here. I'm here. That should be enough, for now." I nod, and we separate.
"I'm be heading over to the western flank. Will you be coming with me?" I ask.
"Later. I want to get a feel for the scene myself before joining up with you." Says Marna, looking back towards Fred and all our equipment for a moment. "Which one will you take?"
"Number two, as always," I answer, referring to which of the sealed cases(they have no lids or other openings) containing Lightbringer or the Celestial Sunflash I'll take. I've never been able to handle even holding the Sunflash for more than a few moments, let alone using it in battle, as Marna has, so I'll be carrying Lightbringer. "And are you sure you don't want to start over towards me?"
"To be honest, I was thinking of the image," Marna begins. "The appearance of both swords on the same field taking away from the individual impact." Marna tilts her head. "Is it looking like we'll need to use them together?"
This is surprising. Though Marna and I are often separated on the battlefield, she's always put combat first, and never worried about how the message she was sending looked. "Not at the moment, but it may be heading that way."
"Alright," Marna says with a nod. "Stay strong, love."
"I'll do my best." As Marna signals to some of our house guards and heads off towards the northern flank, I can't help but feel a little worried, even though she has the Celestial Sunflash with her. My wife is so phenomenally strong it's hard to imagine any of the remaining werewolf soldiers overtaking her, but the memory of the one time she died is still sharp and painful to me; I never want that to happen again. I sigh, and then whistle over Vulcan, my Fire Dragon house guard. "Cleanup." He snorts a quick puff of smoke in recognition. I motion over Fred, and dig out my old Chieftain's Ironthorn shield from the burro's gear packs.
"You know, I'm not sure if I should be relieved or slightly offended you got by fine without me," He says.
"Well, I don't have to be operating at peak efficiency to deal with most of these new werewolves," I tell him. "And now that you're here, things'll run a lot smoother."
"If you say so."
I keep looking through Fred's saddle bags, finding my Legendary Shadow Crystal(and object that contains the essence of powerful Shadow monsters) and then closing things up. "I think I have what I need for now. Would you mind hanging back at base?"
"Easy. I'm just a pack burro, not a war machine like you adventurers."
"Thanks, Fred. I'll touch base with you if I need to change things up."
"MoonBiter!" Lusamine is calling me over. "The messenger bat from the reinforcements has informed the the column got lost, and is already almost at the western flank. Just go head and meet them there now." I take my dracopyre form and glare down at Lusamine. I'm not keen on being ordered around, even if I am undercover. I raise my arm and signal for my estate guards to follow me, and stalk off.
It's easy to hear the chaos the western flank is in before I get there: the high-pitched voices of the healer moglins, the vampire soldiers being directed towards the medical tents, and the reinforcements arriving. I cause a small commotion when I emerge from the trees. "Hold! This is MoonBiter, here to provide assistance!" I explain, holding up Gyrfang.
"Where's Lusamine?" Asks a vampiress, adjusting her breastplate.
"Back on the central field. She anticipated a werewolf assault on this flank, and wanted me over here to deal with it."
"A known traitor appearing on our weak side?" Asks another vampire warrior. "You can't really expect us to believe you."
"Look, Lusamine's tied up commanding the central field, Viktor's off leading the push into werewolf territory, Nikolai is who knows where working his magic, and if any of you could get a hold of Vlad and tell him to get over here, you're welcome to. I'm who you get right now. The central field is still being cleared right now, and I'm almost certain the next big werewolf push will be down on this flank."
"Do you really think they'd risk coming through Doomgrove Hollow?" The vampiress asks, her armor all straightened out.
"The hollow is dead space. The werewolves should be able to easily overrun anyone you have scouting it out." I take a breath, and look around at the vampires in front of me. They're exhausted, their armor bloody and dented. "I'll be working ahead of the ranks. Keep forming up!" I walk through the camp out into the darkness. I will be the first(and hopefully) last fighter the werewolves see. Once Fred is a little closer, I use a minor teleporting magic to call Lightbringer to my hand, leaving Gyrfang in its place. I stick it point first into the ground and rest my hands on its pommel, waiting for signs of the werewolf advance. The sounds of the camp behind me begin to fade as the rest of the reinforcements make it in. I begin to focus in on the sounds of Darkovia, and after what feels like only a few moments I hear out of place rustles and snaps far ahead. After that, I catch the scent of the werewolves. Breathing in as far as I can, I exhale a long blast of my energy breath with a shout, catching one of the scouts off guard.
Sensing the scout activity pick up, I pull Lightbringer out of the ground, taking up a ready stance. I look at the runes on the crystal blade and the ethereal pale blue flames of the blade; as I have known since I forged it, this is not a weapon that was meant for me to wield- but it has a power that surpasses even Gyrfang's that remains strong and even regardless of what I'm facing. With a few rustles and snaps, I hear an arrow streaking towards me- I snatch it out of the air, and as I do so, hear an Alpha's howl. They're here.
I walk, then jog, and then run, roaring. I sense the advance scout's presence off to my left, and weave through the trees to confront them. They are downed with one swift slash. I continue running, cutting down the retreat of the scouts, until I abruptly appear right on the edge of the werewolf forces. I don't wait for them to recognize me, and immediately get to work with Lightbringer. The front line offers little resistance, but as I swing Lightbringer towards a werewolf soldier, it gets stuck in a tree; the tree then begins to fight back. I'm confused for a moment until I realize I'm fighting a Deathwood. I pick it up and fling it at the werewolf, and use the spell Destruction Burst, blasting them both to pieces in a burst of dark flames.
More Deathwoods materialize out of nowhere as I tear through the werewolves. Their grasping roots are only momentary, small distractions, but such a distraction might be all a werewolf needs to attack me. I feel a scratch on my left shoulder, and see that it's an alpha dracoglin leaping up from a blind spot. I batter it down with my wing and kick it away, and realize I'm surrounded. Backflipping towards the vampire ranks, I breathe out my energy breath, the bright beam of purple energy causing a shockwave that takes the dracoglin's pack off its feet. I gather my focus and cast Raze, a fire spell that focuses on igniting large swaths of land instead of brute force. Howls of fear and surprise fill the air. I dive back in, hacking left and right and all around with Lightbringer.
Eventually I make it back through the flames. The werewolf ranks have stalled in front of the blaze, and I roar as I take them by surprise. The werewolf ranks begin to break, but I still haven't quite driven them into an all out retreat. Just ahead of me I hear an Alpha barking out orders, and head straight for them, slashing apart the werewolf soldiers between us. Once the space is clear I lunge towards them with Lightbringer, but they block the thrust. I test them with a few more attacks and am shocked as I realize that they're wielding a Darklaw- the swords rumored to be the only thing capable of stopping a dracopyre. Though I haven't been confronted with one before, I have used one against a dracopyre- and it was effective enough that I'm forced to be more cautious here. I try to press the Alpha back with my physical advantages, hammering down on them with overhead slashes and wide, sweeping cuts. Still the Alpha's guard holds up, and I fly into a rage. I take two clean cuts to my torso, but the follow through has finally given my the opening I need, and I snap forwards and bite into the Alpha's shoulder, drinking their blood. I yank the Darklaw away from them as I lean back, the sting of my wounds beginning to fade, and use the Darklaw and Lightbringer in a scissoring attack to execute them.
With the fall of the Alpha, the werewolves begin to retreat. I sense there are still soldiers behind me far to my left and right, and head back to cut them down before they can pull back. They fall like grain during the harvest, unaware of my presence until it's far too late. Very suddenly, as it happens, I realize I'm back at the front of the western flank. There is another slight panic as I appear, and I have to identify myself. "This is MoonBiter!" I realize that perhaps the only thing scarier than a dracopyre is a dracopyre drenched head to toe in blood and other fluids. "They're on the run! We can wipe them out if we advance now!"
"It's the wrong moment for a chase!" Shouts a vampire lord, who I'm guessing is one of Lusamine's officers. "I just got word that the northern front is being overwhelmed!"
"No one's coming through the central field?"
"I still haven't heard back from Lady Lusamine," The officer replies, running his hand through his hair.
"Do you have anyone to spare? This could turn into a disaster if the werewolves break through to the central field."
"No one to spare. We'll do it anyways."
"Alright. I'll take a squad with me to the northern front. Form up and move out! Double time!" I don't wait for my squad, and march off right away. I notice on the way that it's daytime in Darkovia. Just how long was I fighting on the western flank? I hear my squad get in formation behind me, and not long after I hear the sounds of the battle- the lines have already been pushed back. "Charge in once you see them!"
I sharpen my focus, and can pick up explosions and fragments of spell incantations in the distance. I can also sense the Celestial Sunflash is near, but its light is still out of view. I roar loudly to let Marna know I'm near. After a few more moments, the line comes into view, and I call for the charge. We catch the werewolves off guard as we slam into them; the vampires are surprised, too, but quickly rally to us. The charge continues to make progress, with the main body of the vampire forces pressing in behind us and giving extra weight to the push.
I begin to separate from the squad and work farther North. Though still no match for my empowered dracopyre form the werewolves are especially ferocious, throwing themselves at me with unbridled fury. I make use of my stolen Darklaw, deflecting slashes and feinting to open up more space. I begin to settle into my focus on the new field, zeroing in on the openings that pop up and striking quickly and efficiently. The sting of the Darklaw's earlier cuts has faded, regenerated away, and I get back to fighting at full capacity.
Now that the initial surge has faded, it's easy to see the desperation that both the vampires and werewolves are fighting with. They're both in need of their old heroes, almost none of whom are present. The last War of the Fangs was so vicious many of them passed from Lore into legend. Even though I'm going through werewolves at a breakneck pace, I'm still only one man; I can't be everywhere at once, and the vampires are still taking heavy losses. As I skewer another werewolf warrior and toss them to the side with Darklaw, I catch a bright flash on the edge of my peripheral vision. Just that small glimpse of golden-white light is instantly recognizable, and puts a thrill of hope and fear in me. I work towards it, shouting quick encouragements to the nearby vampire warriors as I pass. Cutting through another Alpha dracoglin, my wife Marna is in sight, covered in red much as I am, only identifiable by her wielding the Celestial Sunflash. Though she normally fights barehanded or with a spear, Marna wields the Sunflash like she was born a swordsman, graceful and swift and deadly.
"There were too many for me to hold them all back!" She shouts over to me before I can call out.
"No!" Marna slashes with the Sunflash, a blindingly bright crescent of light sweeping from it and slicing through the nearby werewolves. "Are you sure it's good to team up right now? It's only been a few hours."
"It's the next day- things are moving a whole bunch faster than everyone anticipated!" I reach Marna's side, the presence of her and the Celestial Sunflash reinvigorating me.
"Do you think the vampires still have a shot?" Marna asks. I think back to the secret X Guardian meeting, and the council's plans for the war.
"...We have a chance, but we're going to have to fight as hard as we can!" I kick a werewolf warrior away, and continue fighting beside Marna. With us watching each other's blind spots, it's hard for the werewolves to approach us. This gives the vampires some space to reform behind us, and we begin to push back. Though Marna was concerned with the image of the Lightbringer and Celestial Sunflash together, it seems that they're actually turning the tide against the werewolves. I can feel the momentum shifting. My focus becomes crystal clear and sharp. Several frenzied moments pass by, and time is beginning to blur when I catch the scent of an approaching Alpha Were.
The spirits of the werewolf soldiers begins to lift. I hear triumphant howls, and wonder who this alpha is- it's not Constantin or Xander. Then, far ahead, they appear: a hulking mountain of fur and fangs, far larger than any Alpha Were I've seen before. Is this how far the weres have advanced while in control of The Cure? As the titanic alpha closes in, the vampire warriors beside us become apprehensive, some cut down prematurely as they focus on the approaching alpha. The massive were locks eyes with me for a moment, and I catch the light glinting off of a familiar pendant nestled in their thick fur- that of the X Guardians. The werewolf warriors part to let their alpha through, but MoonBiter does not hang on formalities during war, and I draw on my mana to modify my energy breath into an enormous geyser of flame aimed directly the approaching alpha.
The alpha was spared the worst of the blast by their unfortunate comrades, but their fur still shows signs of being charred and singed as they charge straight ahead at me. I feint left in preparation for a straight thrust with Lightbringer when Marna streaks in ahead of me, landing a shallow thrust to their arm before grabbing the arm and spinning around to slam them into the ground, the forest floor shaking with the impact. Wasting no time, she brings down the Celestial Sunflash in a short arc towards the alpha's neck. At the last possible moment the Alpha Beast gets its arm between the incoming blade and its exposed neck as it rolled out of the way. The wound is deep, but not crippling, and the alpha is back up in a flash and ferociously clawing at Marna. I'm momentarily in shock at Marna's breathtaking offensive, wondering which of the X Guardian council members we're up against. I shake myself out of it, remembering the sacrifices us on the council have to make, and step back in, leading with my stolen Darklaw.
The quick thrust is deflected. The Alpha Beast proves themselves up for the challenge, our fight becoming a wild and chaotic dance of violence. Marna's intent is clear and terrifying, and it keeps the other werewolf and vampire warriors in the area well away; I'm only able to interject a few quick slashes and thrusts here and there before shifting out of Marna's way. The alpha has a powerful regeneration and stamina that have kept it in the fight long after most of it pack would have been totally annihilated, and agile enough to sneak in aggressive claw swipes while on the move. As I step out of the Marna's way again, a brief shout and flash attract my attention: Illuminate Ultra, the spell's explosive blossoms of light speeding towards where I was about to step. Using a brief work of meta-magic I inhale the spell and its power, and again make use of my energy breath modification technique- this time, to breathe out an eruption of golden-white light. Just before releasing the blast I dart in as fast as I can to tackle the Alpha Beast away from Marna, and mounting up on them, I roar out the light magic directly at their heart. The explosion tears up the ground, and is large enough to knock the nearest vampire and werewolf warriors off their feet.
As the light fades, I can see that the Alpha Beast has been heavily wounded, but is still living. I stand up and switch the Darklaw and Lightbringer into a reverse grip, preparing to finish the fight. I stare into their eyes, and they nod, but when I raise up my swords I feel a warmth and a slight buzz on my chest. I look down, thinking I've been hit with a lightning spell or perhaps an arrow, but my chest is whole- it's my X Guardian pendant alarm being activated. The alpha's pendant is glowing faintly where it lies on their wound, and they appear shocked. Near us, the battlefield has grown quiet and still. This is a critical moment, and before I can overthink it, I call up waters from the Pool of Immortality to heal the Alpha Beast. "Marna! Take the right, I'll head left!" Calling on the full power of my dracopyric curse, I unleash the fear of the night in a crushing surge over the werewolf army, many of them fainting clean away before I reach them.
While the werewolves had put up a fight before, this was now an unmitigated slaughter, one that only accelerated when the Alpha Beast gets back to their feet and the weres find that their champion has turned on them. A panicked retreat begins, and I pause a brief moment to raise Lightbringer into the sky, channeling a signal flare of light magic through it. Hoping that my clones Stan and Steve saw the beacon and remembered what it meant, I go on the chase, running down the werewolf retreat. Several moments into decimating the fleeing werewolves, I begin to see fire dragons, goggs, shadow monsters, and fluffy little sheep join the vampire push. All of a sudden I find myself among the charred stumps and low growth of Doomgrove Hollow, and only scattered handfuls of werewolves are in sight. The Alpha Beast is a long stone's throw away, and the echoes of them shouting "South-East!" reach my ears. I shake out my wings and take flight, going up over the canopy and back towards the central field and the Werewolf Lair. Along the way I see even more dragons, and I'm pretty sure I spot Bishop Finch somewhere in the mix; near the back of the vampire ranks I can make out swirling, starry holes in space-time through the branches.
The Alpha Beast has kept up with large, bounding leaps. The central field has been cleared, and is in absolute chaos. It's hard to make out who is on which side, but there's a general movement back towards werewolf territory, so I begin working in that direction. I keep a steady pace, striking once quickly and cleanly, not stopping. Once the vampires forces rejoin the central field things clear up a bit, the werewolves and their allies more easily spotted. Chaos turns to pandemonium, and pandemonium into another retreat. Time flows around me as I rend through the floundering werewolf retreat, pushing past the central field and into werewolf territory, and on towards the ritual grounds. The standing stones of the site come into place, but before I can walk in and claim them for the vampires, my magical senses alert me to multiple strong presences.
"ShadowBlood!" The werewolf's shout take me by surprise- that's Evelynn's werepyre name. Even from here I can feel the terror and blood lust radiating out from her, and werewolf and vampire alike begin to back away from her and her pack as they march to the ritual grounds. I don't wait for Evelynn and her pack to stomp out the last of the werewolves' will, and bolt to the stones at full speed. I smash aside one of the werewolf guards and speed in, slowing to a halt at the center.
"Not today, dracopyre! This is as far as the werewolves will let you go!" A werewolf warrior with winter blue fur shouts as he leaps out at me from behind one of the stones. I am not in the mood for this, and deflect his golden sword as I literally kick him out of the ritual grounds, sending him high over the tops of the standing stones and past the canopy. As I turn back towards the center of the site, an Alpha Beast with golden yellow fur stomps over, intending to avenge their comrade. I find that they have the same powerful regeneration and stamina as the Alpha Beast I encountered earlier, but they don't have the raw strength to contend with me. I can see the growing realization in their eyes as we trade blows, and with a mighty slash to their torso with Lightbringer, I end the fight.
An electric tingle rushes over my hide, and I see Safiria materialize from the shadows at my left, WolfWing himself calmly walking in ahead of me, Evelynn behind him to his left. WolfWing guffaws, and gloats, "As usual, you and the pup have worn yourselves to nothing fighting at the first opportunity! Even with these ritual grounds hypothetically under your control, how could you ever hope to make your rule of Darkovia total if this is the best you can muster?"
"I do not expect vone with the blood of wolves in their veins to understand my methods or goals," Safiria replies nonchalantly.
I step between her and WolfWing. I suspect most of us left in the stone circle know what's really going on here, but I have to do this anyways. "It won't be hypothetical for long, WolfWing. At the very least, I'll make sure the ritual grounds stay out of werepyre hands!" WolfWing laughs, loud and hearty. "You claim to be unbeatable, but I think we both know better." The laugh stops, and WolfWing looks at me with annoyance. I raise Lightbringer and my stolen Darklaw, but Safiria waves me back.
"No, Uskius. My army cannot hold the site at this moment." She says, looking towards WolfWing. "I vill allow you this small moral victory, Erimus, as my forces return to Castle Darkovia for the time being. Uskius, cover the retreat." I look from WolfWing to Evelynn, then nod and back out of the ritual grounds.
I'm currently in my study, the results of the diagnostic spell that I failed to "secretly" run on Trouble floating in the air over my desk. Many elements of the curse are familiar, but configured in ways that look very little like the vampirism I'm most familiar with. I turn the globe of glowing chains and runes to get a better look and the anchoring strings of it. In the weeks since the war of the fangs and the execution of Order Sixty-six, this particular section has stood out me as the point at which I'll attack the curse. I've studied The Cure alongside this strain of vampirism, seeing how it interacts with the original curse, but the curse reformed whenever I applied the magical version of The Cure. Both of them seemed so close to being complete, but had small missing parts that prevented the curse from being broken. While throwing my brain at the curse for the umpteenth time, it comes to me in a flash: the magical version of The Cure I've been using still has the configurations for lycanthropy included in it. I hastily remove them from the spell and rearrange The Cure's language, and things begin to make much more sense; there's less waste, and the magical cure will be more able to directly connect with the curse, the spell energy not being wasted on unnecessary functions. This is it. I can feel it. I don't even have to apply the magical cure to the curse to know it'll break it. I rest my head in my hands as all the emotions of the past few weeks I've shelved while working on this begin to flood through me: the conflict of interests surrounding the War of the Fangs, the shame of being confronted by Safiria, the unease at seeing my wife Marna fight all out as a dracopyre, the seas of frustration and trial and error I've waded through to reach this place with The Cure. It's too much pain for it to be worth it, but this one small glimmer of hope will allow me to live with it.
Link to the discussion thread!
< Message edited by Uskius -- 1/10/2018 7:15:03 >