Torshael and Tayne's Story: A New God for a New Mission

Chapter Forty-Six

Written in Collaboration with Dragonflight


The sun was barely rising over the ocean when the call went out. Thankfully, rising early had become habit, in part because there just seemed to be so much to do, in part because there was too much to think about to sleep, and in part because, by now, Zu was surely ready to march, and could strike at any time-- could, and did.

Tayne, Torshael, and Haiiro were in the middle of breakfast when Tayne suddenly went rigid, eyes wide. Torshael and Haiiro stared at him in surprise-- and concern. Tayne was the one in contact with the Sentinel's watchmen, and his expression couldn't mean anything good. Neither could how he shot out of his seat, downing the last of his morning juice in one gulp, and sent rather than said, ::They're here!::

By the time he made it to the door, Haiiro and Torshael were only a half-step behind him, and Haiiro was glad again that it had also become habit to tuck his knife into his belt as soon as he got up in the morning. Going back for it now would waste time they didn't have.

Stepping outside could have been a disaster. High above the city flew a coordinated mass of infernals in far greater numbers than those the Order had listed as residents of the planet, and fire was raining down on the rooftops. If they hadn't been warned, there could have been mass destruction, panic in the streets, and stampeding of civilians and military alike. But they had been warned: Ein's wards kept the fire at bay; the bulk of the civilian population had been shuffled into secure locations, instructed in getting to a secure location quickly and without fuss at a moment's notice if they hadn't actually been moved, and advised not to go outside except when necessary; and the military was prepared. Flights of Order dragons would already be taking wing, though Haiiro couldn't see any of them from this corner of the city.

Tayne was already shifted when Haiiro stumbled out into the street, grown so huge that he barely fit in the broad street with his wings open, crouched to take off. "Tor'?"

"They know where to find me," Torshael promised, referring to his psuedo-entourage that would protect him while he did his work. "Get out of the way, so they can meet me."

Permission obtained to join the soon-to-be battle, Tayne leapt into the air, the leap itself sending him high enough to clear the buildings, before beating down with his wings and catching the air, rapidly gaining height. Torshael watched him-- or maybe he watched the infernals even higher in the sky, still breathing down fire-- for a moment before turning to Haiiro. "Just having you here is going to make the city braver," he told him.

Haiiro swallowed, and nodded. "I'll make sure they see me."

Torshael smiled at him, putting an arm around his shoulders in a brief hug, then moved off to join the Order dragons winging to meet him. He'd decided-- wisely, Haiiro thought-- to stay in human form and ride, instead of fly. He would be less conspicuous that way, and so he'd have more of a chance to get started with his purification before the infernals realized just what was happening. Haiiro, however, didn't have that option. Not yet, anyway. He shifted, clothing-- and knife-- disappearing into whatever place they disappeared to when he wasn't in a form capable of wearing them, spread his wings, and with a cantering start took to the air.

He could see now, from the air, the Order rising to meet the threat, some falling back defensively and some surging forward towards the foe itself. He could also see that Torshael was right: his very visible presence spurred them on, made them braver and prouder and more able to fight. It made him feel a little guilty-- it felt like manipulation, offering them some kind of false hope just to get what he wanted-- but only a little, because perhaps their bravery wouldn't be in vain. Maybe if the manipulation led to their victory, to fewer lives lost and more saved, it wouldn't be so bad. If only he could find Ishtar....

Quickly he realized that flushing out Zu was likely to be a lost cause. She was being too clever in her hiding, camouflaged among her minions as an ordinary infernal. Torshael was keeping an eye out for her between explosions of bright, holy power, but every time his Purification simply knocked an infernal from the sky rather than incinerating it-- proof that the First had to be near, sharing her moderate invulnerability to his purification-- Zu's presence would immediately move elsewhere.

He seemed to be doing some good, though, otherwise: the numbers of infernals in the sky were slowly dwindling as waves of pure holiness hit them, as Order knight pairs met them in battle, and a rapidly size-shifting Tayne tore as many to shreds as he could. The infernals were clunky and slow in the sky, and the smaller Kyneese dragons swarmed around them with speed and agility they simply couldn't match. The offensive knight pairs were warded against fire, safe from infernal magic, and the defensive lines-- born of the Kynnese element Fire, like Haiiro himself-- immune to it entirely. The wards were holding, with Tayne, fire mages, and ordinary citizens on water brigades were quick to swoop down and douse any fires that managed to get through. Even so, however, Haiiro saw knights falling from the sky along with infernals, though he hoped the majority of them were controlled plummets.

So far, it was a stalemate more than a route, and neither Zu nor Ishtar had been flushed out. Haiiro was starting to get nervous. Something had to happen, something big-- preferably for their side.

Unfortunately, the other side managed the big event first. One of the Kynnese dragons caught Haiiro's attention and directed it to the harbor, where the water, strangely, was churning wildly, like a whirlpool starting up or a wave trying to break on the ocean itself rather than the shore. Or, Haiiro realized with a sick feeling, like something was coming up from the depths, something nearly as big as the giant, gods-created sea turtle Zharr that carried the gates to the dreamworld. Ships rocked, a few of the smaller ones capsizing, as larger and larger waves battered the harbor, until the thing finally surfaced.

The beast was massive, larger than any creature he'd seen on Kynn so far, even the sea turtle-- and they could only see about a third of it rising out of the water, the rest still submerged. It resembled a dragon, albeit with four eyes instead of two. Its scales were a silvery blue, tipped with darker shades, so it looked like it rippled much like water on its own. It looked as though it had wings, manta-like and half-submerged, and its great black claws seemed webbed with rippling water itself. Fins and spikes of ice lined its back, with similar horns on its head. It would have been beautiful-- elegant, even, a true guardian of the sea-- if not for the dark blotches or rot and protruding bones of twisted necromancy.

The thing let out a deafening, challenging roar, and for a minute Haiiro quailed at the thought of going up against something so huge and powerful and wrong. But even this wasn't as frightening as Zu; necromancy and ice was combatable in a way ancient evil and infernal power was not. Not everyone seemed of the same mind, however, for many of the Order dragons, in unthinking panic, shrank away from the harbor and its undead occupant. That left Haiiro to do something, since he wasn't doing anything and he wasn't so afraid.... 

He threw a thought at Torshael, who answered with the largest blast of directed power yet, a half-sphere exploding out and up from his perch on his transporting dragon for a full mile, aimed at destroying and disabling a huge number of infernals at once. The Order could clean up as many infernals as were left; this seemed like a bigger threat. Tayne came racing towards him, as well, possibly alerted by knights, Torshael, or just that horrible roar. ::Well, that's one ugly perversion of nature,:: he grunted mentally. ::Get me some back-up, brother, we'll see how necromancy reacts to fire and purity.::

But Haiiro stopped listening, then, for his sharp eyes picked out the one thing he'd wanted to see, on the beast's forehead. A tiny speck compared to the creature itself, there crouched Ishtar.

"Keep the beast distracted, if you can!" he called over the wind and the sounds of fire and battle, trying to reinforce the words with the most applicable emotions and images he could. "I want Ishtar!" With that sending went the vision he alone had, of the necromancer clinging to her creation's brow, and the surety that he, at least, knew what to do.

Tayne understood. ::Gotcha. Distraction, ahoy!:: He dove at the thing's back, and even shifted as hugely as he could he looked like a mouse attacking a horse, heating up the ice caked there with as much power as he had-- not that it seemed to do much good, creating clouds of steam but not even catching the beast's attention. Haiiro hovered a moment, wishing his wings still worked in his human form. He couldn't wield a knife without hands-- he couldn't even get to the knife without shifting-- but he couldn't get close enough to her without flying. And Torshael was busy on his borrowed dragon-mount, pulling up another Purification aimed at the beast while the dragon shuddered fearfully under him. There didn't seem to be any help coming from the Order, either: the dragons were all close to panicking, terrified of whatever the sea creature was, and keeping as much distance from the coast as they could without leaving any of the city open to infernal attacks. Haiiro was half-certain he'd just have to dive out of the sky and hope he landed where he needed to, turned back to stare unhappily at the massive enemy, when the sound of wings coming up behind him and a familiar shout caught his attention again.

"Need a lift, Haiiro?" Soul Catcher called over the wind and battle sounds, seated astride Vespacia, the bondless lady dragon whose companion had died on their first day on Kynn. Whether out of loyalty, sheer nerve, or even a desire for revenge, she was battling her own terror to approach him. Chi, clinging behind her on Vespacia's back, waved a wing with a trill of sound that carried even better than Soul Catcher's voice.

"High One bless you!" he replied, and with one powerful wingbeat surged over the dragoness and shifted, falling and just barely managing to grab ahold of her mane on the way down, rather than smacking into a wing and throwing her off. This time, he even managed it with his clothes on. He sent the two friends who could understand it a warm, if hurried, thank you, then scrambled aboard. "I need to get to Ishtar; she's perched on the thing's forehead! I'll make sure they don't attack us-- unless that thing's an undead demigod, it can't see through my magic."

And, as he turned his gaze back on the creature, he added, "And we'd better make it quick." The beast's maw was slowly coming open, its immense body slowly rearing back-- still oblivious to or ignoring Tayne's frustrated attempts at melting it, clawing at it, even landing on it to catch it's attention-- and gathering power so raw and strong that it was visible as a deep blue light that crackled like electricity. Whatever that blast of power was going to be, it was aimed at the city.

"That 'thing' is Tulau Ko, the Tsunami Dragon, one of the eight progenitors of dragonkind on Kynn!" Soul Catcher yelled over her shoulder at him, even as he shrouded them with his magical twisting of perception, even as Vespacia raced towards the beast. "How she fell to Ishtar's corruption, I do not know, but she is little more than a puppet in that state. It won't matter if she sees us."

Haiiro cringed at the very thought. Then cringed again as that power unleashed itself, spewing from the tsunami dragon's mouth and punching through Ein's wards like a warm knife through soft butter. It left a trail of frozen desolation in its wake. "Oh, High One," he moaned, looking over his shoulder at it.

::Haiiro,:: came Torshael's voice in his head. ::Ishtar worked some kind of shield over that thing, my power can't reach it. Are you dealing with Ishtar?:: At his wordless affirmative, Torshael added, ::I'll keep building. Let me know when you've got her, and maybe then the shield will fall. If not... well, maybe it'll be strong enough to get through her shield by then.::

Then let's go, Haiiro thought, and let Vespacia carry him invisibly towards her-- hopefully before the next blast.

As Vespacia pulled up, trembling under her passengers at the proximity to the great dragon, Haiiro saw Ishtar make another motion-- not one that culminated in Tulau Ko bringing together another blast of magic. All he saw was a dissolution of the crackling power from her body-- Tayne yelped and leapt off again before it swept past him-- into the water, resulting a rumble in the far distance. "Tsunami dragon". Tsunami dragon. Oh, High One, this is not good.

Haiiro gave Vespacia a grateful pat, then gathered himself on her back, drawing his knife. "Fly away as soon as I'm over there," he suggested. "I can't hide you if I'm not touching you, and Ishtar might attack." And if he was lucky, Ishtar would focus on their retreat and not what they had possibly brought to her.

With that, and a deep breath and silent prayer to both his father and his bond's silent god, he leaped across the last distance between Vespacia and Tulau Ko's great, icey head. He landed in a crouch, not a foot from Ishtar herself, and Vespacia veered away and around out of Tulau Ko's field of vision, visible again but at least apparently safe. The second he took catching his balance again, however, was a second wasted: Ishtar summoned up a cold, dark staff-- thankfully on the other side of her than he was on-- her posture tense and waiting. She couldn't see, hear, or sense Haiiro, but she guessed he was there. Still, she couldn't guess which direction he would come from-- or where he would strike. He just hoped she didn't have particularly fast reflexes, because not even his magic could hide him when he was trying to attack someone.

With another quick breath, and another wordless little prayer, he sprang for her, blade raised and aiming for her dead eye.

Her staff snapped up and down again so quickly that it looked like a blur, but even that wasn't quite fast enough to block him-- just fast enough to make him miss his mark. The knife thudded home in her shoulder rather than her eye, and her staff half-trapped his hand there, pressing down uncomfortably on his wrist.

"Well, well, look who it is," Ishtar crooned.

Haiiro gave the knife a vicious tug to get it free of dead flesh and staff. "Nice to see you, too," he answered, and made another lunge for her face. He wasn't the best at hand-to-hand or knife fighting, but though Tayne had taught him a few things and he'd practiced a little on his own, Ishtar was far older and had probably practiced more. It didn't seem particularly difficult for her to block him again, though she also didn't seem particularly concerned about getting hit anywhere except her face, for when she knocked his second attack aside, the knife sliced down across her other shoulder.

"If you give in," she said, "you might still escape this alive."

"I'd be more worried about yourself, if I were you," Haiiro pointed out through gritted teeth, making another attempt, but pretty sure he'd be deflected again.

He was right. "If you say so," Ishtar chuckled, batting him aside again, this time without even taking a hit. Haiiro wished heartily that he'd practiced more, or at least was more athletic. Ishtar was a hand shorter than he was, slighter, and she still managed to defend the one thing he wanted to hit.

And it got even worse as, to his surprise, his next strike she didn't deflect, but grabbed. He gave a startled tug, but couldn't free the blade, though he did cut deeply into her undead fingers. She didn't seem to notice, much less mind. "In fact," she purred, "let me help you with that."

And then she spoke-- something. Some word Haiiro couldn't even begin to understand, but it was so obviously a magical word of some kind that he instinctively yanked back again, this time freeing the knife and very nearly loosing his balance. As it was, he staggered back a step, and almost dropped the knife in shock as it started-- shifting. Wriggling under his fingers oddly, like it had suddenly turned alive and wanted to squirm free. And it was glowing. He clapped his other hand onto it, afraid to loose it-- it was his blood that made the thing, and it was the only weapon he had unless he wanted to head-butt her-- and stared as the short blade suddenly shot up, elongating and sharpening, straightening out from the slightly curved dagger to a real sword, a light blade that felt surprisingly balanced in his hands. Even the hilt and tiny cross-guard, previously a blue and silver version of the original red and black knife, morphed into something both larger, more effective, and more elegant. It looked more like the holy weapon it probably was, now.

Haiiro looked from the new sword to Ishtar and back again, confused, but since she didn't do anything but smirk at him, he didn't think she'd somehow made a mistake. "Well, if you want to make me a better weapon, I suppose I won't protest," he shrugged, and slashed at her face again.

Ishtar turned her face just enough that he missed her eye, cutting her cheek instead. "Good boy," she purred at him, making him falter a bit. Why in the world would she want him to hurt her?

The tip of her staff flared briefly-- but not in attack. Ishtar actually stepped back, and Haiiro lowered his new sword warily. What was going on here?

::Haiiro, you have incoming,:: Torshael warned in the next instant, sending an image of several infernals breaking away from the battle over the city and turning towards Tulau Ko and her two passengers. ::I can't help you! I need this power for the dragon.::

::I can,:: Tayne growled, and leapt from behind an icy spine, human-formed now, to tackle Ishtar from behind. She crumpled, and he pinned her down with a growl that might've fit better in a lion's mouth than a man's. Haiiro glanced nervously over his shoulder at the approaching infernals-- for infernals, they were flying fast-- and decided that, even if it was what Ishtar wanted, he had to do something. He went down on one knee, grabbed Ishtar's hair to pull her head back up, and drove the sword point-first into her dead eye. It buried itself to the hilt, and went all the way out the other side, the cross-guard smashed up against the bridge of her nose. She let out a furious shriek that was painful to hear, and her body started crumbling, turning a hideous shade of ashen gray and dissolving on the wind. Though Tayne scrambled back in disgust, and Haiiro winced back from the sight, he couldn't let go, not until it was finished, and she managed one last sadistic smile, her good eye meeting his squarely.

"You haven't won yet, little one," she croaked with a decaying throat. "I'll be waiting on the other side for you...."

There was one last twisted, choking cackle, and the last of Ishtar's body blew away like sparkling blue dust.


Chapter Forty-Seven

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