A Change of Plans
With a sudden flash of blue light we frozen in place. Portal’s opened around us and we were surrounded by LightningCat warriors, dressed in dark black amour with orange soulstones set into their breastplates. The leader approached us and removed his helmet. The dark orange fur was swept upward into two spikes over his ears. He looked us over for minute, his clear grey eyes searching. We looked back with mixed emotions, Alex, Star, Cassius, Dameon and I were calm, Brandon and Hawkeye were also calm faced but I could see confusion in Brandon‘s eye. Briseis’s confusion was a little clearer. The LightningCat snapped his finger’s and we were free, well free to talk.
“Who are you?” he asked.
Brandon opened his mouth but it was Dameon who answered, “I am Dameon, Prince of Valhall and heir to the throne of Ezona.” He pulled back the right sleeve oh his shirt to reveal the golden dragon tattoo.
The LightningCat nodded, “Greeting’s Prince Dameon.” Another snap of his fingers and we were free, “I knew your Mother well, better than your father. We mourned her passing.”
Dameon nodded lost for words. The LightningCat’s eye roved over the rest of us coming to rest on Brandon.
“General Brandon, it been a long time.” He bowed his head.
Brandon frowned, “I’m sorry, have we meet?”
The LightningCat chuckled, “I’m not surprised you don’t remember me, I was little more than a cub when we meet and you were more intent of the battle.”
Brandon stepped forward and studied him for a minute, “I remember you, you saved my life at the Battle of Carrion Hills.”
The LightningCat nodded, “That was me.” He moved on to Hawkeye and bowed from the waist. “Lady Hawkeye, you have returned. We have long awaited this day.”
Hawkeye bowed in return, “Captain Tygrus, it is good to see you again.”
“I’m Lieutenant Colonel now,” Tygrus stated proudly.
Hawkeye looked impressed, “Congrats.”
“We can talk more once we reach Nightspire,” Tygrus said turning towards the rest of us. “I think it would be best if you came with us. This place will not be safe for much longer. The Mind-Bender’s will return and in greater numbers.” He turned around and held a quick whispered conference with two of the LightningCat warriors. After a minute he turned back to us and handed a small white stone with a curling blue design on it to Hawkeye. “This is a Teleportation stone it will ensure that you get to Nightspire safely,” Tygrus explained. “Just talk to me when you’re ready.” Hawkeye nodded.
“Are all in agreement?” she asked turning to us. Cassius, Alex and I shrugged. Star and Briseis looked equally unworried. Dameon muttered something but relented. Hawkeye turned back to Tygrus and nodded, “We’re ready.” Tygrus nodded and held a hand over the white stone and muttered a few words under his breath. The blue rune began to glow. With in a few minutes the glow brightened. With a soft explosion a blue portal opened in front of us. As we stepped through the last sound I heard was the other LightningCats activating their own Teleportation stones.
Limbo, a world of white and shifting shadows. I landed in a crouch and stood up looking around.
“I hate Teleportation,” Alex declared, landing beside me closely followed by Dameon.
“It’s not the best feeling,” Cassius agreed, appearing beside us.
“When have you Teleported before?” I asked.
Cassius diverted the question with a shrug and turned away.
“How far is it to Nightspire?” I asked Hawkeye as she and Brandon came out of the light, closely followed by Star and Briseis.
“Hard to be certain,” She answered.
There was another flash of light and one of the LightningCat warriors’ appeared in front of us. “It is about eight score clicks to Nightspire. We should arrive in the next ten minutes.”
Alex and I exchanged a glance.
“Something wrong?” Cassius asked.
“No…” I began.
“That’s just unusually fast,” Alex finished.
“How fast do normal Teleportation Stones work?” Star asked from behind me.
I shrugged, “It varies with race but the general rate is four clicks per minute.”
Eight minutes later Cassius sharp sense of smell picked up the scent of running water and the same time Alex and I heard it. We stood as a bright light appeared in the distance growing closer with every passing second. As the light surround us we felt ourselves lifted into the air as we were pulled forward. Dameon, Alex and I landed in identical crouches, Cassius stumbled a bit as he landed but Star caught his arm and helped him up. Briseis and Lynx came out side by side with Lightning padding along behind them. Brandon and Hawkeye emerged last, shading their eyes on reflex.
I stood slowly, looking around. We were standing in a broad square in front of the central Spire of Nightspire. The city itself, shaped like two crossed lightning bolts, spread out around us. The Spire where the LightningCat King and his family lived was located in the centre of the city. The last three floors of the sixty-floor tower were private rooms for the king and his family. The rooms located below were conference rooms, guest rooms, and personnel training rooms. The main kitchen was located on the ground floor with the general mess being in the adjacent building. The Kings rooms had their own private kitchen and dining rooms. As I gazed at the Spire the sun flashed in my eyes, reflecting off the glossy sheen that seemed to lay over the tower. The two buildings adjacent to the Spire held the mess and the Barrack’s for the LightningCat Elites, warriors trained from a very young age to wield all kinds of weapons. The Elites were often from common born families and formed the Kings personal guard.
Across from the Spire was the main inn, The Spires Retreat. It was a well-lit, tall, three storied building with the common room, and kitchen along with the living and dining rooms for the inn’s owners and staff on the bottom floor. The upper two floors were full living quarters for the inn’s customers, complete with bathroom, bedroom and living room. Next to the inn was the blacksmith and on the other side the pottery. Logical, I thought, they probably worked closely together.
The western arm of the city, The Military Strike, was where most of the warrior’s and their families lived. The Archery Range was closest to the wall, while the sword-master’s guild was near the centre of the city. The stables/aviaries were half way between the wall and the centre Spire. The LightningCats didn’t ride horses but giant Dragon Hawks. Behind and to the left of the Dragon Hawk enclosure was a large open space with several magically suspended perches and obstacles were the Dragon Hawk Riders trained.
The eastern arm, the Merchants Strike otherwise known as Lightning Market was where all the Craft-master’s and their families lived and worked. Even though it was just midmorning the Lightning Market was already a thriving, bustling place full of sights, sounds and smells.
The northern arm, shorter than the other’s housed the Stonemasons, the Shipwrights and the Chariot Builders. The Lightning Harbour was located at the end of the northern arm where it intercepted the calmer water of the Sarabus River.
The southern arm, The Mystic Strike housed the Schools of Magic and the Tower of Bolts. This was where the mages and sorcerers practiced and lived.
My attention was drawn back to the front as Tygrus appeared in front of us. “Please follow me.”
He led us toward the Spire. As we drew closer I saw the Spire was made out of smooth obsidian, giving the glossy black sheen I had noticed earlier. We passed through the doors and I glanced around in surprise, the Spire was a lot larger than I first thought. We were standing in a large open space about eighteen by nineteen meters. In the middle grew a huge tree of immense proportions. The upper limbs of the tree provided a roof for the first floor. It took me a second to notice the bark of the tree was black and another to realize the leaves were a dark, blood red. Seeing my frown Hawkeye leaned down and whispered in my ear, ”It’s a Night Tree, a strange kind of tree that grows only in the darkest places of Ezona. Many say the LightningCats were born from these tree’s through ancient magic.” I nodded, still slightly confused. Through a door to the right I could detect the smell of fresh bread and several other dishes I didn’t know, along with smoke, steam and burnt wood.
Tygrus led us directly toward the Tree. A door in the base of the tree opened as we came up to it and Tygrus held it open for us. We filed in one by one. Tygrus entered behind us and closed the door. For a minute nothing happened then we felt ourselves gently lifted off the floor as we began to rise.
“Tiger will see you first. He has given you priority over other matters.” Tygrus explained we floated to a halt. A door in front of us opened and we stepped through finding ourselves in the waiting room in front of the Kings reception room. After a second the doors opened and Tygrus waved us forward. We entered and knelt before the throne. Tiger surveyed us for a minute before bidding us to stand. Standing I looked up and met the topaz gaze of Tiger. After a minute I looked away to take in the reception room. It was about six by seven meters long and about twelve feet high. Tiger stood behind a large desk made of black oak. A semi-circle of six chairs was arrayed in front of the desk. The walls were hung with rich tapestry’s depicting important parts of LightningCat history. Directly behind Tiger a long, high window was open to the sky. After surveying us for a minute Tiger seated himself behind his desk and motioned for us to take seats as well. Alex took the seat to the far left and I perched on the arm of his chair, Briseis took the seat next to us, Lynx sitting before her while Dameon took the middle one. Hawkeye and Brandon took the next two seats, Cassius offered the last one to Star but she shook her head and morphed into wolf form, before settling down on the floor. Cassius shrugged and took the last seat himself.
“Greeting Hawkeye,” Tiger said nodding in her direction, ”It is good to see you again.”
Hawkeye nodded in return, “Likewise Tiger. I was sorry to hear of your father passing.”
Tiger nodded, “My thanks. Though it has been several years I still wish he were here. The are some… troubling concerns.”
“Can we help in any way?” Alex asked impulsively.
Before Tiger could answer the doors to the lift banged open and a young LightningCat staggered in one hand pressed to his forehead as blood leaked from a cut above his eye. “My Lord, the Mind-Bender’s have lunched a major attack on the Lightning Market.”
Tiger stood buckling a sword around his waist. “We could use your help now?” he asked. We nodded and stood. Tiger strode to one of the wall hangings and moved it to one side revealing a portal sunk into the walls of the Spire. “This will take you directly to the Market place.” He stepped through without another word. Alex and I exchanged a glace and dived through together, Cassius a step or two behind. Star plunged through with Hawkeye right behind her. Briseis hesitated looking at the wounded LightningCat for a second who was now slumped against the wall. Making a snap decision she moved to help him. Brandon stayed behind to guard them.
I rolled to my feet with Alex beside me both swords bared. The Market was filled with LightningCats in black and orange armour and Mind-Bender’s in brown and red, iron braced leather. Spotting a small circle of Mind-Bender Mages engaged in the act of Summoning one of their many demon demi-gods, I set out to stop them, Alex at my back. We were still two far away as they finished chanting. A giant whirlwind appeared out of the air in the middle of the circle and a dark shape rose within it. The whirlwind dissipated and Ciros steeped through. He had taken the shape of a young man with long black hair swept backward from the two, two foot long red horns on either side of his forehead. He torso was bare and each arm ended in wickedly tipped claws. He wore a travel stained pair of cargo pants over scuffed black boots. We could see the muscles of his arms and chest moving under the red skin. He charged toward us one arm raised to strike.
Cassius landed lightly and unsheathed both swords, flicking the short one into the Shien reverse grip. He looked around for a second, orientating himself. Seeing white smoke rising from the harbour he set off in that direction, dodging fighting groups. He emerged into the harbour in time to see several Mind-Bender’s succeed in getting a flame lit. They moved towards one of the smaller piers intent on burning the fishing boats and destroying one of the most profitable sources of LightningCat commerce. He took the first two down with throwing knives, ducked under a third, ran a fourth through with his long sword while deflecting attacks with his other sword.
Star and Hawkeye emerged from the portal and climbed onto a low wall from which they gained access to the roof of a nearby building. They quickly crossed a catwalk that led to the third floor of the lighthouse and, gaining the top balcony, took up sniper positions where they could eliminate any Mind-Bender’s that were looking extremely dangerous.
Back inside the Spire Briseis crouched before the wounded LightningCat who was now slumped unconscious against the wall. His eye’s were closed and his golden fur dull and stained with blood. She gently laid a hand on his shoulder and, using magic reached out, searching for the full extent of his wounds. He had other superficial wounds on his arm’s and chest but the worst was the wound on his head so she focused on that one first.
As Ciros swung at us Alex threw up his sword in a block. Ciros’s arm slammed into it and the blade shattered. My amulet blazed to life, surrounding us in blue light again and pushing Ciros’s arm away. Alex dropped back and withdrew his Sword of the Dragon. I darted forward and swung both swords of Ciros. He blocked them with one arm and swiped at me with the other. I summersaulted over his swipe and attacked again. This time he trapped both swords and sent me flying with another swipe. I crashed into an abandoned stall full of Elf Stones. As I rolled to my feet I noticed a white Elf Stone decorated with swirls rolling away from me, a Wind Stone. I snatched it up and pulled one sword toward me. I flicked out the Fire Stone and slotted the Wind Stone into its place.
Cassius was surrounded, his swords moving in an icy blur as he cut, slashed, blocked and parried. Suddenly arrows were falling around him as Star, seeing his predicament decided to take a hand. The rain of arrows stopped and only three Mind-Bender warriors remained standing. Cassius blocked one man’s cut, kneed the other in the crotch as he ran the third one through. Kicking the second Mind-Bender away he stamped on the knee of the first, snapping it before driving both swords through the man’s neck.
Star, her arrows exhausted was using long-range magic to take out any targets that Hawkeye missed. After and few seconds their area was clear and they moved around the tower to help Alex and I with our battle.
Briseis closed her eyes and began to chant slowly under her breath. The wound stopped leaking, and then the blood began to run backwards, coming out of the fur and running back into the wound. A few minutes later the wound began to knit itself together, healing without a scar. The gold fur slowly brightened as the other wounds on the arm and chest closed.
I charged back into battle, whirling both swords in small circles, a shield of lightning fire formed on one side and a powerful whirlwind formed on the other. Reaching Ciros I slammed both swords together, hilt-to-hilt forming one long bladed sword. The whirlwind disappeared. Stamping on the edge of discarded shield I caught it on my arm and fused it with the shield of lightning fire. Ciros swiped at me again but I blocked it with the shield and unleashed the full power of the lightning whirlwind into his chest. Blown off his feet, he flew backwards, hit a wall and slid to the ground. The whirlwind dissipated as the Elf stones ran out of power. Ciros charged towards me but suddenly Alex was between us, sword ablaze with blue fire. My pendent responded and supercharged my Elf stones. I joined in the battle beside Alex. Ciros growled in frustration and changed form. Tentacles whipped around us, I tossed the shield to Alex and flicked both swords into the Shien reverse grip. Alex danced in close, blocked one tentacle with the shield while hacking at another one. I leaped forward summersaulting over several tentacles, severed one as I came down, ducked another swipe and flipped backwards out of reach. Alex landed beside me in a crouch. We looked at each other and nodded before leaping back into battle. Looming through the smoke I caught a glimpse of the giant bulk of the monster that faced us. Arrows rained around us as Hawkeye took a hand, encasing Ciros in ice. Alex, marking several frozen tentacles that formed a rough stair, gained the top and leapt skyward. Turning around in the air he opened his wings and hovered above me. Ciros growled and lifted his body up tentacles reaching. Alex wove and dodged, hacking off tentacles that got to close. Ciros cried out in pain and lunched himself at Alex. From my position on the ground I could see that Ciros’s underside was partly transparent and I could see the top corner of his heart through on of the clear spots.
“Serah,” Alex cried fending off tentacles, “Now.”
I nodded, tapped the Elf stones, fused my swords into a spear and launched it at Ciros’s heart.
Up on the balcony of the lighthouse Star raised an eyebrow in surprise as Hawkeye’s hands moved in a blur as she froze Ciros in ice. They both watched as Ciros smashed the ice and leapt after Alex.
Star stepped forward. “My turn,” she said climbing onto the low balcony rail.
“Don’t you think about it,” Hawkeye warned, reaching for her.
Star flashed her a smile, “Never do.” She launched herself off the edge of the balcony. Transforming in mid-air Star initiated Midnight Flame. Dark sparks leapt across her fur igniting it. Flaming wings formed as she leapt forward, following the spears path to Ciros’s heart.
Cassius ripped both swords free and turned around just in time to block the remaining Mind-Bender who had armed himself with two blades. Cassius growled exposing fang like canines and flicked his longer sword into the Shien reverse grip. The Mind-Bender attacked, one sword aimed at his head the other at his chest. Cassius spun into the attack, ducked the first sword, blocked the second and jabbed backwards with his shorter one. His sword skated of iron leaving a rent in the Mind-Bender’s chest plate. Ice crystals swirled around him as he flipped over a second attack. Dancing back out of range he studied his opponent. He could see at a glance that the Mind-Bender wasn’t very adept at wielding dual-blades. Cassius darted in and attacked from both sides. The Mind-Bender blocked before catching both of Cassius’s swords in between his own. Cassius dropped both swords and rolled away, he came to his feet pulling the hunting knife from his belt. Suddenly pain erupted inside his head. Cassius fell to his knees, dropping the knife as he pressed both hands to his forehead. Dimly he registered what was happening and began to throw up protective wards but it was too late. Through the haze of pain Cassius looked up to see the Mind-Bender standing over him, sword raised above his head. As the sword blade plunged down Cassius threw himself to one side. The sword missed and the Mind-Bender stumbled forward. The pressure on Cassius’s mind lifted slightly and drawing on reserves of strength he steeled his mind and shook it loose from the Mind-Bender’s hold. As the connection was severed the Mind-Bender stumbled backwards, off balance. Cassius moved fast, rolling forward, scooping up his shorter sword, he came to one knee and thrust his blade up, sending it through the Mind-Bender’s throat. With a strangled cry the Mind-Bender fell and suddenly there was silence.
Back inside the Spire, Briseis ended the spell by sending the LightningCat in to a deep sleep to finish the healing process and recuperate. After ordering two of the guards to take him to the infirmary she stood, swaying slightly and leaned against the wall for support.
“Are you alright?” Brandon asked, laying a steading hand on her shoulder. Briseis nodded though in truth she was feeling slightly nauseous, “I just need to lie down.” Brandon nodded and supported her to the door where a guard awaited to escort them to the quarter’s that had been prepared for them.
The spear lodged in Ciros’s chest but wasn’t able to penetrate due to my aim being a little off. I hit the scale just below the clear patch. A second later Star soared past overhead. She landed next to the spear and dug her claws in. Gripping the spear in her mouth she pushed it into and through Ciros’s heart. Ciros’s roared in pain, Star pulled the spear out and let go, falling away, transforming as she did. Alex dived out of the way as Ciros’s shot past him, spewing flame. Ciros’s rose higher and higher, glowing red, then white before he exploded into dust that drifted away on the wind. Star landed beside in a crouch, flicked her hair out of her eyes and stood, passing my spear back as it diffused into two swords. Alex landed to my other side and as the last of the attacking Mind-Bender’s were killed or driven off, silence fell over Lightning Market.
 Dragon Hawks – giant creatures that look like a cross between a dragon and a Hawk.