A Different World Chapter 5
Michaels hand automatically went for his sword. He drew it and stood defiantly before the looming darkness. It looks like youve saved us the trouble of finding you.
The voice from the darkness burst into horrible inhuman laughter. Saved you trouble, Dragonmaster? More of the laughing. You do not know trouble, Dragonmaster, but perhaps I could enlighten you in trouble.
Before either party could speak again Ghaleon emerged from the inner walls of the fortress. To his right stood Lucia, and to his left stood a young priest that Michael knew by face but not name. The god resonated with angry power. You dare challenge me here? this place that my power is the strongest? Zophar, your foolish arrogance this day shall cost you dearly.
The darkness burst into laughter once again. Do you say so?
Ghaleon stood resolute. I do.
Michael could feel it gathering in the air. Magical energy from both sides was crackling all around them like a lightning storm. It was invisible lightning, but equally deadly. Nervousness like nothing he had ever felt crept into his being. Then he caught Ruby out of the corner of his eye, she gave him a smile, and his nervousness vanished. In its stead was utter confidence. It didnt matter how much power Zophar had. Michael was the Dragonmaster of Ghaleon. With him were his three loyal dragons, his best friend, and the god that he served.
And is this pathetic being, this human, this Dragonmaster, going to make me pay for my foolish arrogance?
Yes, Ghaleon answered simply.
Really? The darkness chuckled. And what power does he have that you believe will challenge me?
My power, Ghaleon said. The power of the dragons, and my power flow inside of him.
Then I suggest we settle this right now, the darkness said.
Michael moved himself into a battle stance. Those around him followed suit.
The darkness let out its terrible laughter again. Not so hasty my friends. First I must choose a form that I believe would be suitable to fight one as powerful as you. Oh! I know just the form. Laughter. This one came from Lunars glorious past.
The darkness suddenly condensed down and took the shape of a man. At first the man was as black as an eternal nightmare, then color replaced the blackness.
Michael gasped at what stood before him. Dear god it looks just like me! Was his first thought. Then he realized that it didnt look like him. It was dressed in the armor of a Dragonmaster and had brown hair, that much was true, but the face had distinctly different features. And it had green eyes.
How do you like my new form, Ghaleon? The Dragonmaster-thing demanded. The voice had changed along with its shape. It now sounded as human as it looked.
A great sorrow passed across Ghaleons face, quickly it was replaced with a much stronger emotion. Anger. As long as Michael had been a Dragonmaster he had never seen Ghaleon angry, and for that he was glad. They could feel the anger flow off of Ghaleon in great waves. The young priest who stood next to the god took several reflexive steps backward.
You will pay for mocking Dyne, Ghaleon promised.
Zophar-Dyne laughed. It was still unpleasant sounding, but Michael thought that anything sounded better than its natural voice and laughter. You seem to recognize this body. I thought you might. The shadow of the past shows many interesting things. And I wonder Ghaleon can you kill him again?
The comment struck Michael as odd. Dyne wasnt killed by Ghaleon. He was killed by the Magic Emperor.
Dragonmaster, destroy this thing, Ghaleon ordered.
Yes! Zophar-Dyne challenged. Destroy me, Dragonmaster! Zophar thrust his sword into the air. The mock blade resembled the sword of Althena, except that its hilt and pommel were pitch black and not golden. The air around the entire fortress began to shiver; within seconds the fortress was surrounded by black winged monsters.
The creatures looked vaguely reptilian. They had long slender claws and razor like teeth, their wings spread out the full length of two men, black scales covered their entire body except for the leathery wings. The only part of them that was not black was their eyes which contained a red glow, like the embers of an uncontrollable fire.
The Dragonmaster charged Zophar and all around battle broke out. Some of the black winged creatures continued to circle around the fortress in the air, but many of them landed. They were met with the swords of Ghaleons elite guard; the spells of his elite wizards.
Lucia was among the first to spring into action. She launched a bolt of blue energy through one of the black creatures tearing it in half. Two more of the black creatures were instantly incinerated by a wall of flame she conjured up. Sensing a threat some of the nightmarish beasts tried to strike her from behind, but they too found death at the end of her blue energy lances.
Kevin watched this display with a mixture of respect and jealousy. Not one to be shown up he jumped into the fray. A trio of well placed fireballs killed two of the creatures and wounded a third. Though the burns on its side were far from fatal, Kevin finished it off with a lightning bolt.
After finishing off another set of monsters with his potent lightning magic Kevins gaze returned to Lucia. She continued to cut through the enemy ranks one at a time. Relentlessly killing them with an almost effortless speed.
Grunting with frustrated determination Kevin redoubled his efforts and summoned a hale storm of razor sharp ice shards. Over half a dozen bloody corpses fell from the skies. Several other wounded creatures were quickly dispatched by the Elite Guards.
Another glance at Lucia told Kevin that she was still slaying far more than him. One, two, three. They continued to fall to her at an uncanny rate.
Kevin shook his head with frustration and pulled up his sleeves. It was time to pull out all the stops. Thrusting his arms into the air he screamed the words of the most powerful spells that he knew. The skies exploded with jagged streaks of lightning, pillars of fire burst out of nothingness, razor sharp chunks of ice blew wildly through the air.
Kevin looked on in exhilaration as his enemies dropped from the skies by the dozens. He cast a triumphant gaze in Lucias direction, but to his undying annoyance she seemed not to even notice his brilliant spell. Without pause she continued her relentless and deadly assault.
And all around them more creatures came. Every monster they killed was replaced with another. And another. And another.
* * * *
The three dragons transformed from their human guises to their true form. The three massive beasts formed a triangle around their Dragonmaster and his nemesis. As Michael charged Zophar-Dyne he felt the power of the dragons surge into his veins. Michael thrust his sword forward and Zophar parried. The Sword of Ghaleon clashed against the mock Sword of Althena; in the chaos and cacophony the ringing of steel cried out.
Fueled with the power of the dragons Michael lashed out with his blade. His movements were faster than human capability, his movements were a blur, but still Zophar parried the strikes and contributed attacks of his own.
The two foes circled each other like wild beasts, each one waiting for an opening. Every time Michael thought he had one Zophar would prove him wrong. Michael ducked an overhead slash and countered with a thrust. Zophar side stepped attack and spun around to Michaels back side, almost scoring a blow before he turned around himself and blocked it with his shield.
Dynes twisted features broke into a wicked grin. You seem pretty good. Evenly matched wouldnt you say?
I would hardly call us even. I can already tell that victory will be mine, Michael said, his tone was matter-of-fact.
Oh? Chuckled Zophar. Please, enlighten me.
The three dragons pulsated with energy. From the Blue Dragon I find speed, Michael shouted. From the Black Dragon I find power. From the Red Dragon I find courage.
What pretty poems you humans can make up, but what does that spew even amount to? Zophar taunted.
Michaels mind had gone elsewhere and he didnt hear Zophars words. When he returned he could feel it within him. The full power of his dragons. The sky above was exploding with lightning, fire, and ice from Kevins spells, but Michael hardly noticed. The Dragonmaster attacked again. This time the rate of his blows had tripled, each one with several times more force than before. Zophar stumbled backwards overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught.
It only took a moment before Zophars defenses failed him. With a brutal thrust Michael plunged his sword through Zophars gut. A look of surprise appeared on the mockery of Dynes face. Then a wave of magical energy pulsated up through the Sword of Ghaleon and into Zophar.
The mockery of Dyne stumbled backwards and burst into flame. Michael lowered his sword and took a deep breath, wanting to claim victory, but hardly believing it to be that easy.
Indeed Zophar was not finished. The demon inhaled the fire that had engulfed his body. Once the last bits of flame vanished down his throat his eyes began to glow as if the fire had gone inside of them. Then they cooled back down to green.
Zophar eyed Michael curiously. Did you truly believe destroying me would be that simple?
I stabbed you once; I can do it again. Youll eventually perish. The Dragonmaster said.
Zophar raised his sword and readied himself for another strike. He didnt respond to Michaels statement, but the Dragonmaster felt a sudden chill. Zophar seemed different somehow. He still looked the same, but he somehow felt different.
I must confess, Zophar said. Ive been holding back. To me you and your dragon power are nothing.
The two joined battle again. Michael had hoped he was bluffing, but he could feel the difference instantly. He no longer dominated the fight. In fact Zophar seemed to have the upper hand. To Michaels dismay Zophar continued to build up momentum.
Then Zophar broke through with a slash to Michaels side. He stumbled backwards for just a second, just long enough for Zophar to smash him in the face with his shield. In the next instant Michael was on the ground with his right hand -- his sword hand -- pinned by Zophars boot. A crazed smile of insanity and triumph was painted across Zophars face, his sword was raised in the air ready to come down at any instant.
From the Blue Dragon I find speed Michael started the mantra again, hoping to find some last ounce of power, but their was none. Red Dragon I find courage. As he finished the line Zophar swung his sword down for the killing blow.
The sword was stopped halfway. The sound of steel on steel rang out again as Zophars mock sword smashed against the true Sword of Althena. Having appeared out of nowhere a man stood over the fallen Dragonmaster. The newcomers short white hair blew softly in the breeze and his crystal blue eyes shone with fierce determination.
And From the White Dragon you find truth, the man said.
Michael looked up in astonishment. Nall had saved him. Nall the White Dragon who had shown him nothing but contempt in the past had saved him from death. The irony was not lost on him.
Using surprise as an advantage Nall threw Zophar back with a swing of his sword. Michael pulled himself up and looked at Nall. He looked at the White Dragon and said, Nall, I
Never mind Dragonmaster. We can talk later, first lets take care of him.
Now that all four of the dragons are here youre finished. Michael said, glaring at Zophar.
Yes, I am finished, Zophar agreed. And you are finished. Playing this game that is, but dont worry. I have another good game to play.
A black aura appeared around Zophars body as he spoke. Without warning the aura burst outward in all directions. On reflex Michael raised his shield up to his face, but the wave of blackness rushed past like it was nothing more than a burst of air.
What was that supposed to accomplish? Michael asked.
Zophar smiled. The smile of the devil when he has your soul, but you dont yet know it. Why dont you ask your dragon friends?
Michael turned to Nall in confusion and asked, Whats he talking about?
Nall gave no response. His eyes were locked straight ahead, his body stood rigid and unmoving. Then Michael noticed that Nall was now covered with a faint black aura that clung to him like a haze.
In a sudden panic Michael looked at the other three dragons. All three of them stood completely still, the black aura restraining their movement. Then Michael realized what the really strange thing was. All three dragons had been forced back into their human forms.
What have you done? Michael demanded.
I have neutralized your dragons. They wont interfere with our next game. Zophar rose into the air and hovered above the battlefield with outstretched arms. In the palm of each hand ball of energy began to form. Its a game I call choice.
Choice? Michael asked. What kind of choice?
A simple one. You see, in each of my hands I hold a sphere of highly condensed energy. One of these Im going to throw at Ghaleon, your liege. The other Im going to throw at the Red Dragon your love.
Michaels mind seemed to seize up on him. Zophar knew? How did he know? Throw the energy balls at her and Ghaleon? Michael looked over at Ruby, still frozen in the black aura, then at Ghaleon. The gods eyes were closed and he stood as still as the dragons, but his stillness did not come from a spell or curse. Ghaleon had gone within himself and was focusing all of his powers outward. He was ensuring that all of his followers were fighting this war at a hundred percent power. From the mighty Dragonmaster and the dragons down to the lowest ranking clerics and mages.
Michael had heard about this state before, but until then he had not actually seen it. Ghaleons battle state was usually safe, because no being had enough power to cause any real harm to him; however, Zophar was not your average foe. If anyone could cause harm to Ghaleon it would be him. Then it struck Michael like a sharp blow to the head. They were both helpless. If Zophar threw his energy spheres at them they would have no way to dodge or deflect the attack.
Zophar continued. By now youve no doubt realized that the two of my targets are an equal distance away from you, more or less. Judging from your speed if you start running at the same time I throw youll be able to save one of them. The other one will of course be killed, and dont think that my attack wont be fatal. Not even a god can survive the power I have stored in these.
Cold sweat covered Michaels body. Zophar had him trapped in a corner. He couldnt forsake Ghaleon. His primary duty as a Dragonmaster was to protect him. If it had been one of the other dragons Michael could have chosen Ghaleon without hesitation. It was a heavy sacrifice, but it was one that would have to be made. This situation was different. Ruby was more to him than just a comrade or a friend.
Michaels mind raced for answers but came up blank. It just kept repeating the original question: How did Zophar know? And after a moment of stunned silence he voiced his question. How do you know about me and Ruby?
Zophar laughed with absolute glee. Foolish Dragonmaster! You of all people should know the value of knowing your enemies. I have had years to observe mine. I watched you become a Dragonmaster, and I watched you fall in love with a dragon. It was then that I knew how I would crush you. Love has always been the greatest weakness of your pathetic race.
Too stunned to speak Michael just shook his head. He felt dizzy and sick. He felt like he was stuck in the middle of a nightmare. Only he knew that this was real. Feelings of hopelessness this great just didnt manifest themselves in dreams.
Ive given you ample time to make a decision. Love or Honor, Dragonmaster. Choose!
The red energy spheres rose above Zophars hands, hovered for just an instant, and launched themselves in opposite directions.
In the horror of that instant Michaels mind almost froze. For second he thought that he had frozen and could do nothing except watch as Zophar killed both Ruby and Ghaleon. Then he realized that he wasnt frozen at all, and that he had already started running as soon as the energy spheres moved.
The red sphere exploded against the Dragonmasters shield numbing his arm instantly. The force of the blast caused him to slide backwards over two feet, but his stance was grounded so firmly that he didnt stumble.
The black auras around the dragons vanished instantly after the two spheres made contact. Nall and the others sprung to life. The feeling of helplessness had been overwhelming. He had been able to see and hear perfectly. The only thing that he couldnt do was move.
It was true that Nall had never scene eye to eye with Michael, but watching him get forced into such a trap was almost unbearable. Now that it was all over Nall felt great relief flooding into him, and his face broke into wide smile as he looked at the Dragonmaster standing protectively in front of the one he had chosen to save.
When they first met Nall had coined Michael as being a militaristic knucklehead who would never amount to anything but one of Ghaleons little lap dogs. He never figured that Michael would have time for anything as trifle as love. It turned out that his first impression had been wrong. Michael had chosen to save Ruby, the one that he loved.
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