Torshael and Tayne's Story: A New God for a New Mission
Written in Collaboration with Dragonflight
It was with relief that Torshael felt the satisfaction from his bond-- tempered with a vaguely ill feeling that he couldn't identify a cause for except, maybe, the fashion in which the lich-mage finally "died"-- that signaled Ishtar's destruction. It couldn't have come at a better time, for the small pack of infernals had almost closed in on the dully waiting undead dragon, and the too-small figures perched on her brow. Besides, he didn't think he could draw any more power-- or hold what he had for much longer, either. It was too strong, too bright, and too eager to cleanse.
So, it was even more of a relief to let his Purification go, at last. He caught sight of the massive Tulau Ko giving a mighty thrash, still animated but now without control, before the light engulfed her and the infernals now scattering from her flailing. He felt, with immense but weary satisfaction, his power not only dissolve the infernals into nothingness, not only break through Ishtar's barrier like sand, but also cleanse away the taint of undeath from the great creature's body. It turned into horror a split second later when, charred and smoking, Zu herself broke upwards out of the hemisphere of destruction, something small and garbed in white and blue clutched in one great forepaw.
That was when Haiiro's terror hit him, as he realized just who had snatched him out of the air.
Tayne, exploding out of the light in full supernal form, himself, surged after her with a roar.
That wasn't even to mention the tidal wave that was approaching swiftly, now, the knowledge of which hung in the back of Torshael's mind like a vague dread he couldn't focus on just yet. He'd warned Ein it was coming, letting him decide how best to array his wards and personal back-up mages to protect the city, but there was nothing else he could do except get out of the way. His temporary mount, calming now that Tulau Ko was slipping silently and harmlessly back under the water but who had been remarkably steady while he summoned his power despite her fear, would be directly in its path. ::Go,:: he told the dragoness and her bonded knight, gathering his feet under him. He had to go after his bond, but he couldn't ask the Order knights to chase after Zu. ::Before the wave gets here.::
The dragon nodded once and, once he launched himself from her back and shifted, veered away to safety. He flew frantically, far below Zu but not at all behind-- actually, he was a little ahead of her, because she was aiming back for the city. She looked down at him, gave him a dark, infernal grin, then back-winged viciously, stalling in mid-air for just long enough to launch her tiny burden-- with frightening force-- straight down--
In a blind panic that was half his own and half Haiiro's, Torshael dove under his falling bond, curling around just in time to catch him in the soft fur of his mane, and to cradle him safely with his forepaws. Even then, the force of the catch knocked the wind out of him, and he hovered breathlessly, Haiiro clutched and clutching to his chest. Haiiro was shaking violently, panting even more breathlessly than Torshael, and had his eyes squeezed shut and as much of himself buried in soft, white fur as he could without suffocating. ::It's all right,:: Torshael sent soothingly, checking silently for wounds, but it seemed like Zu hadn't so much as scratched him. ::I've got you. You're safe, you're all right.::
For a moment, Haiiro just shivered against his mane, but then he went stiff quite suddenly and struggled to get free, clambering up onto Torshael's shoulders. "She has my sword!" he cried.
::Sword?:: Torshael repeated blankly, obligingly leveling out to let his bond settle on his back. He instantly, in answer, got a picture in his head of the knife elongating into a sword, and then of Zu with the sword in her claws.
"She's taking it somewhere-- what if Yaashir's in the city?"
Well, that was obviously not a good thing. With Haiiro holding securely to his mane, Torshael dove through the barrier, aiming for Zu and a massively size-increased Tayne, who had latched onto her back. The rapidly melting ice clinging to her wings-- and her own sudden expansion-- showed that she was determined in her goal, and not about to let Tayne or anyone else stop her. Yaashir, or someone worthy of a god-killing sword, was definitely in the city.
Haiiro, huddled nervously on his back with his eyes fixed on Zu, sent a wordless assurance that he had an idea-- though it was so tinged with fear that Torshael wasn't sure he could go through with it, whatever it was. "Get underneath her!" Haiiro called, just barely loud enough to be heard over the wingbeats-- but probably not loud enough for Zu to hear. The quick assurance that Zu probably wouldn't was less fearful-- Haiiro was doing his best to hide them, or at least himself on Torshael's back, if his abilities couldn't hide someone so much bigger than he was.
::I don't think I have much power left, Haiiro,:: he warned.
That, though met with a resigned disappointment, didn't seem necessary. "Just get me under her. I need to get that sword. Then maybe try to slow her down, at least, like Tayne's doing."
However ineffectually Tayne was doing it, of course, given his attempts at freezing her wings met with enough heat to keep them moving. He'd moved on to trying to shred her wing-sails with his hind claws, making it hard to fly in another way. Torshael thought, if he shifted larger, he could probably at least weigh her down. He dove under her, smaller than usual and hoping he could go unnoticed, whether it be because of the great infernal's focus, distraction in the form of Tayne, or Haiiro's ability.
He survived getting into position, but then Zu dipped one wing and tilted as she passed a building, crunching Tayne into it and very nearly unseating him. His claws remained sunk into her wing-arms, though one wing came away from the building missing feathers and hanging oddly and one ram horn wound up with someone's curtain hanging from the tip from where it had torn through someone's wall. Haiiro took the opportunity while her claws got far too close for comfort to stand up on his bond's back and snatch the blade however he could, grabbing a hold of one end of the cross-guard and tugging with all his weight in an attempt to yank it free. Torshael just did his best not to bob as he flew and leave his bond without a foothold.
When the sword finally came free, just as Zu tilted the other way in an attempt to dislodge Tayne against another building, Haiiro fell back onto Torshael's back. Hot infernal blood went with him, hot enough to sting even through fur, as the sword sliced across her fingers on its way out, and Zu let out an infuriated, pained bellow. Torshael veered away as quickly as his wings could take him, narrowly avoiding being swatted into a wall by one massive, black fist, and Haiiro clung on with one hand, the other full of that odd, light blade.
"Get above her!" he hollered over the sounds of Zu's roar, Tayne's snarling, and multiple wing-beats from three different fliers. Torshael wasn't entirely sure what good that would do, but since her claws were below her, above her he went, taking off as quickly as his winds could take them.
Even when one was focused on flying-- or fleeing-- it was impossible to miss something as huge as Zu suddenly vanishing. Torshael back-winged as much out of surprise as wariness, Haiiro clinging to his mane to keep from being thrown off, just in time to avoid getting a set of elongated claws to the face. If he hadn't stopped, they would have gotten him in the eyes-- as it was, he caught the tip of one across the muzzle, opening a painful gash. She was much, much smaller now-- smaller than he was, in fact-- half human and half infernal, black scaled and spiny but bipedal and with a horribly human face. Torshael roared and swatted at her, hoping Haiiro had some kind of contingency plan for this.
At least Tayne, below them now, wasn't completely out of commission. He managed to make a controlled crash into the road below instead of an uncontrolled one, despite having only one working wing, but that was enough to keep him from being dazed by the fall. He struggled to his feet from amidst the wreckage of the warehouse that had broken his fall, rearing up to his hind paws, and lashed out at Zu with both forepaws. She avoided him easily, much quicker on the wing now, and pressed at Torshael again-- at Haiiro, obviously not caring about his current mount except as an obstacle. He backwinged again, mane fluffed to protect his bond, and slashed again, claws out. He didn't have enough power left to make them glow.
Zu let out a shriek, and Torshael recognized it immediately: her sound magic. No one was here to dampen it this time, and he was right in front of her. Whining, half-dazed and with a suddenly aching head, he veered back haltingly, shaking his head in an attempt to clear it. Tayne, farther away, roared to cut across the sound and batted at her again, keeping at least one paw between her and Torshael. ::Focus, brother!:: he growled in Torshael's head as Zu momentarily focused her attack on him, drawing blood from his paws and forelegs. ::Get your butt up before Haiiro slides right off!::
That was a more jarring thought than even the magic, and Torshael swerved out of Zu's next attempt at getting past him, taking a set of painful claw marks along his shoulder, far too close to Haiiro's leg for comfort. He leveled out and clawed at her to drive her back again. His head still hurt, but it was bearable. ::Haiiro?:: The dazed, frightened response he got did not bode well. ::Haiiro, are you all right?::
He felt a slightly steadier affirmative, to his relief, then heard a startled yelp as he had to veer back yet again, twisting his head viciously to block Zu's claws with his horns-- she had almost gotten past him again. She was steadily driving him back, and Tayne only had so much room in the street to follow them. ::Any ideas, Haiiro?:: he asked. ::You're the one with the sword, here.::
For a long moment, he heard, and felt, nothing, as he and Tayne battled to keep Zu at bay. Torshael wound up with one ear in shreds and so much blood in his face that he could hardly see, Tayne with one paw all but useless, the tendons cut clean through, and a few face-fulls of spiny infernal tail. Torshael's head was still pounding, and his wings were starting to hurt from the hovering. Then, finally, he felt a sense of resolve that wasn't his, and Tayne let out a roar that said either he felt it, too, or he had an idea, himself. ::Whatever happens, brother, be ready to get in so Haiiro can reach her!:: he said, and for a split second Torshael wondered what he meant.
Then Tayne crouched and leapt in one rapid movement, one good wing beating and his broken one flapping feebly, arching up over Zu. She half-turned in the air with a snarl to face him, but he was gone. --No, not gone, shrunken and human-shaped, shifted too quickly for any of them to see. Zu, not as surprised as one might have hoped, managed to bring up her hands before he landed on her-- onto her waiting claws-- and tangled up in her wings, arms, and legs. Somehow, she still stayed aloft.
Haiiro's demand, though wordless, was clear. He didn't have time to hesitate. Torshael surged forward as Zu grappled with Tayne, and Haiiro went with the motion, leaning dangerously off his bond's shoulder. Grinning wildly, Tayne spun her just enough for him to plunge the sword right into Zu-- right through Zu-- and out the other side. Into Tayne, whose grin was half grimace now, but who didn't let her go. She coughed with surprise, claws stuck into his shoulders, and Haiiro, gasping as if he were the one with a sword through his middle, yanked the slim blade free. Her body jerked with it briefly, claws releasing Tayne reflexively, then vanished in a burst of black flame as soon as the point was clear of her back.
Torshael didn't know how he managed to get underneath Tayne before he hit the ground, but he did it somehow. His brother landed heavily on his back, knocking the wind out of him, but somehow he got to the ground without crashing. He hardly noticed the blood in his face now, or the horrible smell of singed fur, or that his right forepaw wouldn't hold his weight.
"Tayne-- Tayne!" He crouched, letting Haiiro off to stagger away and be violently sick a few feet away. Haiiro was safe, Haiiro was uninjured-- Tayne was not. He carefully slid his brother down one wing and to the ground, leaving a bloody trail across the feathers. He had his eyes shut tightly and his hands clenched across his stomach, and Torshael added a pitifully glowing paw, charged with all the healing power he had left-- which was as pitifully little as the evidenced glow-- pressing down as hard as he dared against the steady bleeding.
::Did we-- get 'er?:: Tayne's asked weakly, not even trying to get words out past his own labored breathing.
"She teleported," Torshael told him. "She might die of it, I don't know."
::Damn-- what else is-- happening?::
"I don't know. Don't talk... we'll get you a healer...."
A rumbling sort of roar that had been building during the fight, but he only now noticed, finally crescendoed and drowned out Torshael's intent to shush his brother again, and he looked over his shoulder, through the gap between the buildings. A towering wall of water rose over the harbor, over the tops of the buildings, thick with broken masts and bits of debris, roaring as it came. Torshael instinctively crouched down in shock at the sight, wings open in scant protection over brother and bond, the latter of whom was staring transfixed at the final approach of the tidal wave, as well.
When it hit Ein's wards, it was like being trapped under the largest waterfall Torshael had ever heard. It felt like the ground shook with the force of it. There was a roar more impressive than even Zu could have managed, even Tulau Ko, thunderous and deafening, and the water surged up over nothing at all, an invisible wall that reached up hundreds of feet, and arched back over the harbor district's rooftops. Everything dimmed as the shadow of the wave fell over them. Torshael could see bits of wood pounded to splinters on Ein's wards, could sense the magic trembling under the sheer force-- the sheer weight-- of the water. But all that made it through were a few, fat drops, like a scattered fall of dirty, salty rain, and a more steady but still harmless stream around the farthest edges of the reinforced shield. Even as Torshael watched, it started subsiding, slithering back down the shield and into the ruined harbor where it belonged.
Looking back towards the city, the last of the infernals were fleeing, vanishing, and being brought down by the scattered remainder of the Order knights. A few fires smoked in distant districts, but they were swarmed with dragons dousing them with water and spells.
"It's over," Haiiro coughed, wiping his mouth and staring in disbelief. "It's... it's over."
Torshael smiled at him, exhausted but proud.
Tayne did nothing, because he was unconscious.