Eltrys ventured out with the three boys who could hunt. Two young spearmen and an even younger marksman. With his assistance, they returned back with plentiful game and firewood. It seemed that fortune was on their side. How long that would last? He didn't know.
"Master Eltrys?" The youngest one, Kell, asked. Short but stocky, he held a long bow in his hands. The weapon was crafted with fine materials, Oak laced with steel. A hunter's weapon in all regards.
"Just Eltrys," The more people that addressed him as 'master' the more difficult it was for Eltrys to take himself seriously. Lirian told him that it was a sign of their respect, but he didn't like that particular precedent being set.
"Eltrys," Kell corrected, "Do you think anyone else made it out alive?"
How do I say this without destroying all hope in the lad? Eltrys asked himself nervously.
"I can't guarantee anything, but at last count three groups made it through Lyra's back gates," Eltrys swallowed, "So I haven't given up hope, I will not."
Kell nodded despondently and a look of disappointment crossed the faces of the other two boys. They were brothers, Ryke and Lune and their parents were missing.
"Listen to me, all of you," He said, an edge of anger rising in his voice. Anger at what happened, anger for how he failed those that had perished. Anger to fuel his actions. "These people we have, they are your family now, just as you are mine now and I am yours,'
He clasped his on Kell's shoulder, "You're a pretty good shot with that bow." He smiled, proud of his marksmanship.
Then onto Ryke and Lune "And those spears are in good hands."
"We aren't safe here and something is coming to get us be it bandits or monster," Eltrys said it all matter-of-factly as if it was just another daily occurrence.
"But, we can put up a fight if we work together and if we are ready," Eltrys finished. They all perked up a bit, Eltrys included. He was happy with what he achieved and how it was achieved. No promises that he couldn't keep. Just the truth.
A comfortable silence filled the air. Eltrys told them to get ready for the night and they ran off. Lark called him over to where he was… whittling. It was a ridiculous sight to Eltrys's eyes at least.
"Having fun?" He asked dryly. The old man's hands were calloused and scarred from age and hard work but they handled the thin knife with surprising dexterity. It was quite mesmerising to watch the wavy patterns form as he gutted the sides of the wood.
"Not as much as you it seems," Lark remarked looking over to the boys. They were talking to some of the other survivors. Kell headed the conversation, looking quite animated. Atta boy.
"It's a little too quiet for my tastes," Eltrys said. As Ceran's personal guard he had been exposed to the troubles on the road. Amongst all fighters, it wasn't a good trip without an attack from monsters or bandits. Lark pointed up towards a hilly structure at the exit of the ravine. On the top, a circle of stones was neatly laid down. Black liquid was splayed onto its side. Wyvern's blood. I knew it was too easy.
"Well, that's not good," He said, trying to hide his sudden panic.
"Why hasn't it attacked yet?" The pitch in Eltrys's voice rose.
"It's smart, it knows these lands better than us, and I think it's the sole reason other monsters haven't attacked us yet," Lark deduced. In the twisted world of monsters, winged beasts ruled supremely. Their ability to see and track was unparalleled. They called the shots and no other land faring monster dared compete.
"Tomorrow our path will take us out of the ravine and into the surface above and that's where we'll make our stand… the boys with spears will be with me and the archer will have to poke a few holes into its wings," Lark said all this with confidence.
Eltrys gave him a pointed look before settling down and sitting next to the old veteran with a sigh.
"You make it sound easy," Eltrys noted. He rubbed at his temples, feeling a pulsing sensation flow through his head.
"No, I make it sound simple, this will be far from easy," He corrected, "But having you on our side gives me hope."
They sat there for a while, the orange of dusk bouncing off the ravine walls brilliantly. Eltrys took his time to look over his group. They were far from a cheerful bunch. How could they be anything else? But they had come far enough for the pain to numb and for the base instincts of survival to settle. They talked now to each other comfortably, discussing things of little consequence. To the left he saw Lirian in deep conversation with a young couple. Those two, Brune and Elissa, were very lucky. To have someone they still cared about was a precious thing. Eltrys laughed internally. Well, at least you've never needed to deal with that.
Clang. Larkas dropped his knife. Snapping out of his thoughts, Eltrys moved to retrieve it and passed it back to the old man without looking.
Lark grunted his thanks and continued slicing away methodically. Eltrys propped himself up against the ravine wall closing his eyes. Now it seemed his exhaustion caught up to him. The weeks filled with fright, terror and learning had finally taken its toll. It also gave something in return. I am an Earthbreaker. He knew this for all his life, but now? Now it felt real, like the name had a lofty weight to it.
Vetra was close. For the survivors it meant safety but for Eltrys? It meant answers. The famed hall of Kirikal and her keeper might hold them. It would not be easy however. Not without Ceran. Eltrys's lip curled as he thought of Ceran. Ceran was perhaps his greatest confidant. Everything was kept between them, his powers were no exception. I need you now brother, more than ever.
"Ha! Done," Lark exclaimed excitedly in his own gruff way. He held up the once piece of wood, now beautifully carved into a staff. At the top the wood was twisted, snaking into itself till it reached the handle, a curved piece that was adorned by the symbol of the Earthbreakers. Then to the bottom, the staff was rounded, ending off into a downwards pedestal shape.
"You'll need it for tomorrow," Lark said, handing the staff to him. Eltrys accepted it with eager hands. It felt fine in his hands. Not luxurious or uncomfortable, just right.
"The Earth breathed life into the trees that spurn wild in this world and so that is why magic channeled through staffs and the like is more powerful," Lark explained.
"I never took you for such an artisan," Eltrys said, still gripping on tightly to the weapon. He flipped it to his left hand, his dominant hand and it somehow felt even better.
"Life underneath Ceran wasn't too bad, between all the fighting and the research, I was afforded much free time," Lark responded modestly.
"Thank you, Larkas," Eltrys whispered, his voice shaky. It was so strange. Lark, in many ways was his hidden guardian. Eltrys wondered what else Lark did for him during his time in Lyra but that didn't matter for now. Whatever he did, he was grateful to have such a man by his side.
"We're going to be attacked, Lirian, tommorow," Eltrys said, seriously.
She nodded. Silence filled the air.
"Wanna say anything?" He asked incredulously. That usually isn't the most normal response.
She shook her head, a smile crossing her face. For a woman of her age, she still had a wicked sense of humor. Maybe morbid was the more apt word. He smiled as well.
"Then can I ask you a favour?" Eltrys asked, lowering his voice "When I give out the command, keep yourselves out of sight," and out of my mind, Eltrys thought.
"I can do that," She said calmly. She ran her fingers through her long hair.
"I won't fail them, Lirian," He promised her and himself.
"You've given us no notion to believe otherwise, Master Earthbreaker," Somehow and someway Lirian knew the right things to say and the right way to say them.
"I don't have the answers you seek but I know whatever god chose you to hold this magic, this responsibility… they made the right choice," She said astutely, embracing him.
"Well, let's hope so," He said, returning the hug in full force.
It was time. The arena had been set. A rocky plane encased by mountains. The spring air of the morn was fresh. To the north light glinted out behind thin clouds, yet to the south the clouds rolled in heavy, bringing the roar of thunder. In the middle of the plateau laid a desecrated monument to Karak. Eltrys took in a breath, closing his eyes.
A piercing screech, not unlike the Skywraiths. Eltrys drew in another breath.
A thud resonated through the ground.
Another breath and Eltrys opened his eyes. Grasping onto the stony monument, it screeched again. It scales were dark brown and muddy. Its eyes were dark brown and seemingly bloodshot. It twitched its head sideways, its horns sharp and talons long. The beast's razor sharp teeth were stained black with blood. It stayed there for a while. Just twitching.
"Shit, it isn't alone!" Lark shouted. And then he saw it. Shriekers forming from black shimmering voids in the ground. Their faces malformed, attempting to imitate a human's. Their naked greyish bodies lanky and disproportionate. All in all ten of them stared down the five survivors.
The wyvern screeched again, this time a short burst of sound and at its call the Shriekers charged. They didn't run like any normal being instead they staggered, a limp in their steps. Still though, they approached with significant speed. To his side Kell knocked an arrow. Eltrys shook his head.
"No, focus your attention on the wyvern Kell, they can take care of those!" Eltrys commanded. He drew in a deep breath and slammed his staff into the ground. He felt the surge eject from his body, a burning sensation left behind in the void of energy. The plateau shook and grumbled, knocking some of the creatures to the ground. Four of them still stood, charging.
Lark raised his great sword, Void, and dashed forwards, his cloak flapping wildly in the wind. Lune and Ryke followed suite. They engaged the four, a dance of stabbing spears and a cleaving sword. Ryke was quick, almost quick enough to match the speed of the two Shriekers that he fought off. He jabbed high aiming at a Shrieker's face. The monster nimbly ducked its head but Ryke had already predicted the move and quickly brought down his spear, slashing down its face. The monster stumbled back, let out a pained yell and slammed the ground, disappearing back into a black void.
Lune was much slower than his brother but more precise most days. He circled around the fight, lithe and silent. Lark, grunted and swiped away at the two monsters in front of him. One jumped to the left, impaling its face into Lune's spear as he threw it. He ran towards the fallen beast and yanked the spear out.
Eltrys continued his quakes, controlling them, shifting his power towards the shriekers that were already stunned. However, the wyvern had enough. It dashed into the air, quick as a hummingbird and crashed down in front of Eltrys and Kell. The force of the crash disrupted Eltrys's channel and the quakes stopped.
"At its wings Kell!" Eltrys yelled, slamming his staff once again. Kell nodded and loosed an arrow towards its left wing. It didn't find its mark as the wyvern's barbed tail deflected the arrow. It flew low, soaring at Eltrys with its claws out reached. At his command the earth split in front of him, a tower of stone formed up, underneath the wyvern and knocked it up into the air. Eltrys felt a feverish haze cast over him. Have to keep myself in check, he thought, wary of his stamina.
The wyvern circled above them and revealed the fight ahead. Eight on three, they fought. Larkas still swung away, his strikes calculated and methodical but the two untrained boys were growing sluggish. Their jabs and swipes slowed and their blocks came in at the very last moments. In their moment of distraction, the wyvern took its chance, redirecting itself and sweeping down in front of the three. It landed, knocking Lune to the ground. A shriekers made its way on top of him, swiping at his chest. To his left, Lark charged at the beast, knocking it off of lune, and slashed at its head, decapitating it. Eltrys and Kell ran as fast as their legs could take them. As they arrived, the wyvern twitched its head at them. Teeth bared it gave out a screech and spit toxic matter at them. A Vilir.
Eltrys slammed the ground, forming cover for the two of them.
"Kell, get Lune and Ryke out of here," He said, his voice leaving little room for arguments. Kell frowned, his hands taut on his bow.
"No! Keep yourselves safe, Lark and I can handle this… I promise," Eltrys wanted to believe his own words so badly it hurt.
He cut his focus and the wall of rock crumbled. From its remains he cast stones at the wyvern, hitting it on its head. It stumbled a bit but was not harmed. He could hear Kell, yelling for Ryke and Lune to follow him and to his peripherals saw the three running away from the scene.
Lark dashed around the wyvern, staying clear of its swiping talons and regrouped with Eltrys. Seven shriekers remained and that bastard Vilir.
Gritting his teeth Eltrys slammed his staff down, continuing the battle.
They climbed up to the plateau, hearing the Beast's calls of death. They heard crackling, screeches and yells. They felt the world quake.
And then they saw them. A Vilir, a poison spitter, reinforced with seven shriekers. They were engaged with a fighter of large stature and… Elene's eyes widened at what she saw. A hawk faced man in rags with staff in hand casting rocks and earth into the sky. She nodded at her team, running towards the fight. Maryse bounded by her side, keeping pace with her as Raa and Rythe trailed them. She whipped out her cane, the ornate patterns glowing red. Alikir was ready.
"Raa! Rythe! Keep the Vilir on you and let that man pin it down!" She yelled. They splintered off bounding diagonally towards the Vilir. Elene and Maryse continued on, crashing into the line of shriekers. Maryse was a whirlwind, wielding a pair of short swords. She cut her way through to the elder fighter, removing limbs as she did. Two shriekers leapt at her from both sides but they only met the cold steel of her blades.
Elene was no slouch either. She bashed at a monster's chest over and over feeling bones break underneath like twigs. A growl sounded behind her but before she could even turn, she heard the sound of a sword cleaving through. She turned around seeing the elder in full view.
"Lark?" She asked shocked.
"Later!" He responded taking on the last few remaining creatures. Whilst Maryse and Larkas fought, Elene turned her eyes upon the Vilir. The hawk faced man was still fending it off on his own, bringing rocks down upon the wyvern, forcing it to dive low. She bolted towards him, leaping up at the last second and pounced onto its barbed tail, pinning it to the ground with her cane. Clicking a button, a small blade came out from the bottom, puncturing through the beast's scales. It let out a deafening screech thrashing around in pain. She slid off the tail, yanking her cane out, hard, and landed next to the man. He was panting and leaning over his staff. Raa and Rythe stood next to him, eyes squinted as they studies their enemy.
"We need to take its head!" The man yelled an edge of frustration in his voice.
"Raa, Rythe, circle it and keep it around us!" They nodded at Elene's command and charged towards the beast, splintering off into opposite directions in a circle. The Vilir kept low, its tail dragging against the ground injured, as it tried to spit poison at the two.
"They can buy you time, imprison it in stone but leave its head exposed!" She yelled. It was a gamble, for she knew the limitations of the Earthbreakers but not one untrained.
Eltrys took his staff in both hands and with a mighty bellow struck it down. Eltrys felt an electrifying surge pass through his chest, spanning his entire body. In that moment he felt invincible, godlike even.
This time the earth didn't just split. It exploded with power.
He willed a giant deposit of earth into the air spreading it out. It spread so large it blocked out the sunlight. He jabbed at the deposit with his staff and a flash of brilliant yellow erupted from his staff. A large thunderous crackling was heard in the sky as the bolt made contact. The deposit turned to stone.
"Ready!" He yelled. The man in white and the large knight ran towards him and the Vilir followed. Eltrys flicked his staff down and the mass came soaring down upon the Vilir. It howled in pain and terror, its eyes bulging. He kept it down as the woman next to him approached the beast, her cane glowing red. She brought down the weapon, severing the beast's head clean off.
It was done.
Then it hit him, hard, the pent up stress, exhaustion, and adrenaline. Not to mention the heavy amount of magic he had just performed.
Eltrys collapsed face first into the ground.
That'll hurt… later. He thought, before passing out.