Large doors swung open as a figure in a hooded cloak walked down the long corridors of the Avatasc castle towards the throne room. The figure was small compared to the guards that continuously opened up the large heavy doors at either side of her to let her through but her fast pace showed the certainty of her path. As the final set of doors were opened, she came upon the massive green hall of the throne room where the Snake King sat on high over the golden pillars that stretched nearly to the ceiling. She walked over the padded green throw rug until she came to the rise of the dais where two golden serpent statues hung down from the ceiling. As she came to a stop before him she did not bow, she did not need to.
“Young daughter, a use for you as the court’s Caller has come,” the King spoke in his eerie voice, the top of his face draped in shadow as his right hand grasped his long green scepter.
The girl wasn’t his daughter, but the King liked to think of her as so. After all, he was married to her mother and could not conceive a child of his own. She was the bastard child of the queen and her first lover, whom she barely had any memories of.
The girl raised her head to him. “What will you have of me?”
“The necklace you have is the key to a great power, however, it is only half of what you need to gain it. It is known that the other half is owned by someone high up in the Kingdom of Terrathyest.” He fingered his long crooked nose and smiled, looking at the chain hanging around her neck. “You are to find him, kill him and then bring both keys back to me before the moon turns a complete red, understand?”
“What is this power?” the girl asked.
“You dare to ask….” The Snake King looked down on her but, seeing that his reaction to the question had no effect on her, he quickly changed his tone. “Being a Caller you should know of the Melkairen, which is home to the Melkai that you, like your kind, can call upon. When the moon turns red, the Melkai without a pact to a Caller will be broken free of their prison and whomever wields this key will have the power to control them. With the power of a Melkai army, it will be possible to end this phony treaty and finally take hold of Terrathyest.”
Laine smiled, ideas blazing to life as she heard that this power would be in her hands first. If this was the case she had no intention of handing it over to a person she hated. She had no loyalty to the King. She used him just as he used her.
“I understand,” she replied and the King cocked his head in confusion.
“You think you do, but eventually you will.” The King chuckled and the girl’s face grew troubled. “And to make sure of your loyalty these two will be accompanying you.”
From the shadows at either side of the dais appeared two of the King’s knights, two of the largest she had seen in his army, Kinson and Bronus. They walked forwards and came to her side, solid and intimating, seeming to tower over her. She didn’t look at them but just nodded and turned towards the entry. She did not leave.
“The other person with the key may be a Caller as well but you must bring it to me at any cost, and these two will make sure of it.” The Snake King smiled as she began to walk out of the room. He knew her ambitions but had a measure to prevent it. “Bring it to me and I will permanently put an end to this war.”
She nodded, her back still to him. “As you desire your majesty,” she replied.
With the two knights following at her side, she walked from the throne room as the doors closed loudly behind her.
“Princess Laine,” the knight Bronus started as they continued down through the corridors, “you must understand the King. He only wishes to end this war.”
The princess smiled as they walked down a set of stairs to the castle entrance. “Yes but only if it ends with him on top, all he cares about is power… but then again what man is any different?”
“Bronus,” Kinson laughed, “what they say about the princess hating men is true after all.”
Laine shook her head. “Only those who feel that their own power makes them superior. But why am I telling you this, like you would listen to a little girl right?”
Kinson shrugged as though agreeing with her. He and Bronus opened the main doors that led out into the courtyard. Outside, the sky was dull with grey clouds as though to warn them that rain was coming, justifying Laine for wearing her hood. They made their way through the gardens to the stairs leading down into the outer-settlement. The city was an incredibly morbid place, even by her standards. The only people well off were the soldiers who fought for the King. It had been this way ever since King Kissick had taken over the throne from his brother. He dedicated most of his power to expanding the quantity of his land while not improving the quality. This meant of the people as well, the farmers having to live mostly off their own produce despite how much was taken from them by the court.
They came through the mud and hardpan of the city. Wooden cabins and shacks were spread out around them. Laine hated what the city had become. It used to thrive but was now neglected. As they came to the edge of the city they passed the farmlands that led up a hill into the Kydian Forest which spread through the hill into the mountains which walled off the Knownlands. It was said that long ago the legendary warrior race of the Senadonians crossed those mountains to form their own country. The people believed that one day they would come back to help return the kingdom to its former glory. However, it was only speculation among the peasants that kept these rumors alive and Laine for one didn’t buy them. Life here wasn’t that easy.
“Remember princess, we’re here to protect you so you should try showing us some gratitude.” Bronus sneered suggestively. “If not, we’ll have to force you to show it tonight. We know your true relationship with the King, he doesn’t care about you. For all we know, this journey he sent you on is just to get rid of you.”
He laughed and Kinson peered at her as though agreeing with Bronus. Being young didn’t matter in this country. She knew they had intentions to rape and murder her and return back to the kingdom, despite their orders. It was just that kind of way in Avatasc now, the King’s loyalty ran thin and men’s desires ran wild.
“You’re serious,” Laine retorted in disgust, this was another reason she hated men.
“What do you think, Kinson?” Bronus asked. “Am I serious?”
“I don’t know,” he teased. “Depends if she beha… ha….”
Suddenly his eyes went up as though seeing something horrifying in the sky. They were just reaching the borders of the forest but something made Kinson freeze in his steps, his eyes widening in fear. They looked up to see what he was seeing. Bronus stopped in front of Laine. High in the graying blue sky, up past the clouds was something big enough that even at a distance it could be seen clearly. It looked like a thick S of muscle and scales with large hind and front legs and two wings that spread a great distance.
“I-I don’t believe it.” Bronus awed, gripping the hilt of his sword in horror. They watched it fly up and then turn towards them. “It’s a dragon!”
As though then seeing them out in the middle of the field the dragon swooped down over the forest trees and, in less than three powerful flaps of its mighty wings, flew towards them. Laine could tell her two guards were shaking as it came down in front of them and landed with a thump before spreading its wings and letting loose a shaking roar.
Kinson hesitated but Bronus drew his sword as though he could defend himself against such a monster. “Dr… dragon, stay back princess!” he uttered.
The dragon bared its fangs. “I have found you.”
Laine heard this but for some reason she didn’t think the others could. At that moment, Bronus seemed to lose his sanity in his terror and charged towards it yelling with his sword raised to strike. The dragon swiftly swatted him away with one clawed hand as he flew backwards, landing hard against the side of the hill. Kinson followed in turn and charged at the Melkai, the idiot not even drawing his sword but just running toward it, screaming like a lunatic.
The dragon spun, Laine found it hard to believe such a massive thing could move so fast, and its heavy tail hit the man hard enough that he skidded ten meters on the wetland mud before coming finally to a slow stop. Moaning and still alive, Bronus came onto his hands and knees but the dragon’s hind foot came down upon him, crushing him to death as he screamed again. After he had gone still and silent, the dragon finally turned its gaze to her. Laine remained completely still as though frozen with fear and the dragon came towards her.
“I have found you!”
Laine stepped back and grabbed the collar of her long hooded cloak, another victim for the dragon it seemed, if it wasn’t for what she was wearing.
“This cloak is my Pact Item,” she said. “Would you like to meet him? This is Terachiro.”
The dragon took another step forward but before it could attack her, Laine suddenly gripped her cloak and pulled, ripping it off from around her shoulders and then threw it at the dragon. As it flew, the cloak quickly transformed. The ragged tail becoming the wings, the hood becoming the head and the space between growing the claws of what looked to be a giant Melkaiic bat. It toppled headlong into the dragon, claws reaching. As it collided, they rolled over and over one another before they separated and then went to the air. They circled each other and then flew together again as Laine watched from the ground as her Melkai fought the one in the sky.
The two Melkai clawed it out in an aerial duel. On the ground Laine was summoning her own power into the blades of her hands as they began to glow a bright blue. It was an advanced ability and she had taught it to herself vigorously when she had seen another Caller do it, but even he hadn’t perfected it to her level yet.
Two Melkai fought in the air, equally matched in their struggle. From what she knew of dragons, for a reason she could not comprehend, it hadn’t used its flames yet. They came together again, the bat’s claw raking the dragon’s armored scales as the dragon’s mouth attempted to snap at its head before they both pulled back again.
Laine’s summon had completed and she pulled the blade of her hand up and swung it in the direction of the dragon. As the dragon sailed back, it was unaware as the glow from Laine’s hand shot up towards it in line of light and with a yelp it hit the dragon’s left wing. However, the force of the strike also flung it back and, with the combined momentum of its movement, it flew over the horizon of the forest and with a dull thump, vanished into the trees. It seemed that as soon as the dragon had gone the rain that the grey clouds had been holding in began to pour over the countryside. She sighed, knowing that in this weather tracking it would be impossible.
The bat Melkai was just about to follow in after it but Laine quickly lifted her hand and called, “Terachiro, to me!”
Swiftly, the bat changed direction and headed back to her. In a couple of flaps it flew down and, as it reached her, simply transformed back into her cloak and settled itself around her shoulders. The glow from Laine’s hand faded as she returned it to the tail of her cloak, using her other hand to replace the hood back over her short brunette hair.
“Hmph, this might just be a more interesting journey than I’d first thought,” she muttered to herself with amusement.
Settled with the matter, she turned and entered into the deep shadows of the Kydian Forest.