|This week's most nominated character:|
Jade "The Angel"
Season 2, Part 4
The moment Queen Zayra left the room, Aurelle felt her senses return, and she immediately went for the body.
Korsan lay stretched out before her, his robes torn and his sides scraped by the huge claws.
She looked up at the dragon with tears in her eyes.
"You did this!" She snarled at Erlis, choking on her sobs. "How could you?"
Erlis dipped her head in remorse, glittering tears brimming in her own golden eyes. They splashed down onto the wounded wizard, hissing as they made contact with the bleeding skin. A foam built up, and as it dissipated, Aurelle saw that it left behind whole skin. Her claws had damaged him, but now her tears healed him.
Korsan inhaled a long, shaky gasp laced with pain. His hands immediately groped for the glowing blue talisman.
"Korsan!" Aurelle cried, grasping his shoulders.
"Aurelle..." he muttered weakly. "What—" his gaze fell on the dragon in the room. "How—"
"It's Erlis," Aurelle explained. "The mad Queen, Zayra, forced her to propose a blood transfusion, to heal her damaged mind."
Korsan shook his head. "It will take more than Dragon's Blood to cure that one!"
Aurelle scowled. "Yes, we've noticed that. Anyway, the transfusion caused Erlis to become wholly dragon," she glanced up into those eyes. "At least in appearance, anyway."
Korsan met the dragon's gaze as well, peering deeper with the aid of his magic. "True, the Erlis we know is still in there, buried underneath this fearsome appearance." Damaris helped him to his feet as Aurelle asked, "What about you? Last time we were together, you said you had some important business—so how did you end up getting caught by Queen Zayra?"
Korsan sighed heavily and wagged his head. "So much has happened, Aurelle. I fear—"
A commotion in the atrium interrupted his words.
"I must see the Queen!" A female voice declared.
"Not a chance!" Growled a man. "You said if we got to the castle you would heal her, now she's almost dead, so you've got just SECONDS before I crush the life out of you!"
Aurelle, Damaris, and Korsan hastened out of the damaged throne room.
Of the three people standing in the atrium, Aurelle recognized two: Edri, who had been the unwitting bait in a trap laid by Zayra, and the pale, bleeding body laying on the ground.
"Stand back!" The man stepped in front of her, his hand open toward her. Aurelle felt the push of energy hampering her movements, and she did not resist. The man's eyes lit up when he saw the Mage.
"Korsan!" He cried. "You're alive!"
His hand flew up and the door to the north tower slammed in Edri Rodan's face. Justin switched his concentration to the soldier herself, dragging her slowly to him. Once they stood practically nose to nose, he seethed through clenched teeth, "And just where do you think you're going?"
"Justin!" Korsan stepped forward and laid a hand on his shoulder. "She isn't doing this on purpose. It is what Zayra did to her. She doesn't know!" He raised his talisman, muttered the words of a spell, and touched Edri's forehead with it.
Her eyes lolled, eyelids fluttering, and finally she took a quick breath. "Wh-wh-what?" Her eyes fixed quickly on Velora. "Oh! That's right, I need to heal her before she dies!"
Edri looked down at her body. "Um, why can't I move?"
Korsan shifted into Justin's line of sight and nodded solemnly. Justin released Edri.
The young healer immediately crouched at Velora's side. "She barely has any life left. I hope I'm not too late!" She splayed her right hand, watching the skin turn blue all the way up her arm. Through a rip in the shoulder of her blouse, everyone could see the glowing blue light around her shoulder.
"Here goes," said Edri resolutely, and pressed her hand firmly on Velora's chest.
The young woman cried out in pain almost immediately. Her wounds knit so quickly, it almost looked like the blue hand absorbed the wounds as a sponge absorbs water. Still, Velora screamed, and her limbs thrashed of their own accord.
"Edri!" Justin warned. "It's done, you don't need to go further!"
"No!" Edri retorted. "Not yet! I need to—"
Velora heaved one deep, rasping breath, and the next sound to issue from her mouth was distinctly a wolf howl. Justin and Korsan together yanked Edri away as Velora's body began writhing and changing. Grey fur sprouted from her skin, and her arms and legs shortened while her nose lengthened and her chin all but vanished. When the growling and snarling ceased, Velora the woman was gone, and a large, grey alpha wolf stood amid the tatters of her clothes.
Before anyone had quite recovered enough to say anything, a black cloud slipped in through a nearby window, and as everyone watched, it solidified into a pair of black-gloved hands, which clapped slowly as the rest of a body appeared in thin air: a black-robed man, clean-shaven with straight dark hair and glinting eyes. He finished applauding and laughed.
"Well done!" He crowed, pointing to the wolf. "Now that was brilliant!"
Justin gaped. "You're the one I needed to warn everyone about!" He pointed at the stranger. "You're Jade's brother!"
"The shadow?" Korsan gasped.
The man smiled and gave a flourishing bow. "One and the same! My name is Troy, though I must say I am not the shadow, mind you, just a Shadow—for there are many shadows in this realm, wouldn't you agree, Sir Mage?"
Damaris peered at him from behind Aurelle. "What happened to your chest?" He pointed to the very distinct rip in Troy's tunic, on the right side and very distinctly stained with blood.
Troy waved a hand. "Only a minor setback, I assure you it was well intended. Not everyone likes what I can give them."
Aurelle didn't like the feeling this man gave her. "What do you mean, what you can give?" She demanded.
Troy only grinned wider. "I see you've acclimated to your upgrades nicely, my dear—though the same cannot be said for your friend, there." He winked at Damaris, walking toward them purposefully. "I'll bet you are the one responsible for this throne room, eh?"
Aurelle prepared to stop or divert him if he got too close, but a moment later, he had passed right through them as easily as one of her illusions.
He stopped and gasped as Erlis roared at him. "Ah, and there's my prize! My dear, you selfless thing! I've been searching everywhere for you!"
Erlis the dragon snarled at him and breathed fire in his face, but Troy only waved it away like a puff of smoke. "Now, let's not have that!"
Korsan dove between them. "You will not touch her!" He said, brandishing his staff as the talisman flared.
Troy stopped and spread his hands with a magnanimous smile. "Oh relax, Sir Mage. I'm not here to cause trouble just now. I am here to help."
"What could the likes of you possibly want with helping us?" Aurelle asked. "And why are you so keen on Erlis in particular?"
Troy tilted his head, a strange gleam in his eye. "Erlis... so that's her name..." he mused. When Damaris built a flame in his hand, Troy continued. "I want to help for the same reason I gave your friend there shifting powers." He gestured to Velora. "The truth is, I see your potential—and your pitiful Gifts could be so much more, if you let them!"
"More?" Korsan echoed dubiously.
"Shifting?" Asked Justin, glancing at the wolf.
Troy shrugged. "I suppose she just needs to figure out how to get out of that form. This one, though," he turned back to the dragon with a sly grin. "She can do it, so she deserves the change." He gathered a cloud of shadow in his hands, so black that it seemed to absorb all light and color, and touched the cloud to the dragon's chest.
Erlis threw back her head and roared in pain. The dark cloud continued to expand and grow, overtaking her whole body, until her head dipped into the cloud and the dragon vanished completely.
"What have you done to her?" Korsan cried.
"Oh, relax, old man!" Troy spat. He held out his hand to absorb the cloud, and when it was gone, a lone figure covered in a robe bearing the royal crest lay huddled on the floor.
"Erlis!" Aurelle ran forward and touched the woman's shoulder.
She flinched back and snarled deep in her throat—but then Erlis noticed the difference. She looked down at her body, noticed her hands... both human hands. Erlis gasped and raised her hands to her face, where she felt no scales.
"I'm not half-dragon anymore!" She said.
Troy grinned modestly. "Not if you wish it," he affirmed.
Erlis allowed Aurelle to help her to her feet. "Not if I—" she looked down at her hands again. Concentrating very hard, she made a fist and flexed. The skin color deepened to vibrant blue-green and rigid scales appeared like a gauntlet. When she released, and thought about her human hand again, the scales vanished, and she was whole. She stared at Troy in astonishment. "Who are you?" She asked.
"What have you done to my dragon?" Cried another voice.
Everyone gathered in the atrium to witness the approach of a young woman wearing the crown that until recently had been on King Beren's head.
Troy whirled around and gave a flourishing, deep bow.
"Your Majesty!" He gushed. "How wonderful to—"
Zayra raised a finger. "Hush!"
Troy fell silent at her command. The Queen glared at everyone present until her eye fell on the captain.
"Edri!" She cried.
Edri looked up, and their eyes met. The captain gasped and immediately threw herself forward, down on one knee, and presenting her sword. "Milady," she said softly, "I have returned to your service."
Zayra smiled, even as she glared at the rest of the group. "And so you have. Stand with me, Captain."
Edri stood up, and took her place at Zayra's side.
The Queen's eyes searched the crowd. "And what have we here?" She admired Justin. "Another soldier of the Realm?"
Justin raised his head, the same enamored glint in his eye. "Yes, your majesty."
Zayra nodded. "You two shall serve me well together," she said, and Justin slowly ascended the steps to stand opposite Edri.
"Where is the King?" Korsan asked, stepping forward.
"He is deposed," Zayra said, lifting her chin. "I am Queen of the Realm, and I have no use for insubordination!" Her eyes grew wide and she flung her hands straight out. "YOU WILL ALL KNEEL BEFORE ME!"
Everyone crouched except Troy and Korsan. His talisman shone brightly. Zayra's face tightened. "KNEEL, WIZARD!"
Korsan raised his staff. "I WILL NOT KNEEL BEFORE ANYONE BUT THE TRUE KING!"
Troy took a single step, and instantly appeared at Zayra's shoulder. He whispered gently in her ear.
Zayra smiled. "Wolf!" She ordered, and Velora snapped to attention. "Attack!"
Immediately, the wolf rounded on Korsan and lunged for his throat.
"NO!" Erlis cried, leaping for them, but it was too late to do anything. Korsan and Velora crashed to the ground, and the whole room erupted in a brawl.
Aurelle, Erlis, and Damaris did everything they could to try and separate Korsan and Velora before she wounded him too severely.
Zayra gestured to the two soldiers. "Go, my guardians!"
Justin thrust out his hand, and Erlis flew back against the wall. Edri gave a mighty leap and roared, her sword at the ready to enter the fray.
Damaris flung balls of fire at the wolf, keeping her occupied, till a scaled hand gripped his arm. "Come with me!" Erlis looked at him with yellow eyes.
Damaris glanced back at the fight. Aurelle threw an illusion that flashed brightly in everyone's eyes, and when it cleared, she and Korsan were gone.
"AFTER THEM!" Zayra screeched. "FIND THEM!"
Damaris and Erlis ran from the castle. Justin, Edri, and Velora raced south, toward the forest, but the Dragon and the Phoenix headed east, toward the Wilderness.
"Wait!" Damaris cried. "Stop!"
Erlis slowed her pace as they hid in some bushes just beyond the castle wall.
Damaris flopped down, panting heavily. "Why..." he gasped, "why did we run?"
Erlis still watched over her shoulder, eyes wide in fear. "That man, the one with all that power..." she whispered.
"Troy?" Damaris asked.
She nodded. "He was the one to poison King Balwyn all those years ago. He posed as a Healing Mage and called himself Chelom, but it is definitely him."
Damaris shoved his hands in his pockets. "So what does this mean?"
Erlis sighed. "If he's back, and he's more powerful than any of us realize... this could be dark times for the Realm."
Damaris tensed and his face blanched.
"What?" Erlis asked him.
"It gets worse." Damaris lifted a trembling hand from his pocket. Hanging from a frayed cord was a familiar blue stone.
"Korsan's talisman!" Erlis gasped.
Damaris started to tremble. "It must have broken off when Velora... When the wolf attacked him."
"Oh, this is bad," she murmured. "You saw the way it protected him from Zayra's Gift, didn't you?"
Damaris gulped. "And now that I have it..." he mused.
The healer flinched when someone called her name, but before anyone could do anything, two people emerged from the forest: a young man in fine clothing (if a bit muddy, scuffed and torn as if he'd been walking through the forest a while) and a young woman dressed in white, with a pair of large white wings at her back.
Erlis and Damaris both bowed to him.
Beren stepped forward and took Erlis by the hand. "Erlis! You're back! I mean," he stammered, "you're, erm, human!"
Erlis nodded. "King Beren, it is good to see that you are well," she said, "when Zayra proclaimed herself Queen, we feared the worst."
Beren nodded. "Well, to be honest, the worst very nearly happened! Zayra did try to throw me off the tower," he gestured upward, "but Jade was there to save me," he gestured to the Angel standing next to him.
Erlis peered at her closely. "Have I seen you before? I should think I would remember an Angel."
Jade smiled. "The last time we met, Erlis, you were half-Dragon and I was shrunk down to the size of a fairy, unable to communicate with anyone except Beren, whom you knew as Harlock."
"Yeah, about that," Beren interrupted. "How did you get rid of the dragon form?"
"I didn't," Erlis replied. "That was the work of the Shadow, who calls himself Troy."
Real terror showed plainly on Jade's face. "Troy is here?" She whispered.
Erlis nodded. "And he's helping Zayra take over."
Beren's jaw tightened. "Tell me something, Erlis: while you were there, did you see my brother Jaran, or another beautiful woman there?"
Erlis shook her head. "There was only Captain Edri, who has returned to Zayra's thrall, and it was she who also turned out friend Velora into a wolf."
"Velora was there?" gasped Jade. "There should have been two there with her, an older Mage and a younger soldier."
Erlis nodded. "Justin is under Zayra's thrall, just like Edri."
"And she has them all chasing after Korsan," Damaris supplied.
Jade shook her head. "The Mage can protect himself—"
Damaris held up his hand. "But I have his talisman."
A chill silence fell upon them all.
"So without his talisman," said Beren slowly. "Does that mean he's vulnerable?"
Jade nodded soberly. "More so than with it," she answered. "We need to find him and make sure he's safe."
"Safe?" Beren snapped. "What about Jaran and Azelie? How are any of us safe with your brother is in league with Zayra, if he's as dangerous as you say?"
"I say that because I know your potential!" Jade burst out. "All of you together are stronger than he is! We still have a chance, if we can unite against him!"
Potential... Erlis smirked. "Your brother said the same thing," she remarked. "Only, he seemed convinced that we needed his help to achieve them."
Jade wagged her head. "Therein lies my brother's power. If you accept the change that he gives, then it allows him to hold power over you, to keep you from ever using it against him. But the truth is, the Gifts are powerful enough as they are. He wants to divide, scatter, and destroy. We must fight him!" She looked at the three earnest faces before her. "Are you with me?"
Beren nodded. "Let's get that crown back!"
Erlis and Damaris exchanged but a single glance and nodded.
"We stand with the True King, Balwyn's Son," she affirmed.
Damaris smiled with flames in his eyes. "Let's go rescue the Mage!"
"Six shillings a body!" Said the harbor master.
Denahlia handed over the money and accepted the writs of passage. She sauntered over to where her companions waited by the local inn, smirking at how conspicuous the twins were.
The Hunter had to wonder whether the two youngsters didn't get out much before they arrived at the castle. Certainly they hadn't spent their lives on the streets like she and Rayne had. They sat, as impeccable as if the dust dared not mar the sheer blackness of their clothing, their hair still coiffed and their eyes straight ahead.
"All right!" She announced as she plunked down next to Rayne. "Passage is booked, we'll be out past the nautical border by sundown."
Kaidan looked up at her and nodded his approval. "Your continued loyalty to us has been appreciated and will not go unrewarded, Madame Hunter."
Denahlia shrugged and took a pull on the stein before her. "Let's get one thing straight: I am loyal to only one person, and that person is me. You two are merely paying clients, and the moment you are satisfied that I have fulfilled the assignments you gave me, I am free to do as I please. Now," she gestured to the case at Javira's feet. "You have the armor that was stolen, and as far as I know, the Mage is on his way to imprisonment or death at the Castle. Do you consider these terms acceptable?"
Both twins looked up and met her gaze. Their eyes looked strange and glowing. When Denahlia blinked, looked down at her drink, and returned her eyes to the pair before her, the weird glow was gone—but so also was her apprehension about working with them.
Kaidan quirked a smile. "I do hope your commitment to autonomy does not preclude you from joining some friends whom you played a part in rescuing—"
"A part? Get real, I pulled off just about the whole darn thing!"
"Whom you rescued," Kaidan amended, "in drinking before we go?"
Javira signaled the barmaid and she brought over four fresh foaming steins. Denahlia gripped the wooden side, but still toyed with the decision whether to actually partake. Javira calmly slipped her hand over Denahlia's, giving her a reassuring squeeze.
"Please," she whispered, "Stay with us. Fight with us."
Denahlia snorted and jerked out of her grasp, taking a gulp of the ale. "Fight what?" She sneered.
"I'm so glad you asked!" Cried a voice that made Denahlia tense. Beside the table, a young man dressed in black clothing materialized out of the shadows.
The Hunter swore and went for her dagger. She'd cut him once, she could do it again.
Troy raised his hand. "Good to see you again, too, Madame Hunter," he grumbled.
The Twins stared at this newcomer. "Who are you?" Javira asked.
Troy smiled. "One who has stood by and watched long enough, little dewdrop!"
Kaidan and Javira both gasped upon hearing their mother's special name for Javira. "What do you mean?" He asked.
Troy leaned on the table. "I mean that there is entirely too much waste of power in this kingdom. King Balwyn couldn't figure out how to integrate a people who were not meant to integrate—Gifted and UnGifted. Then the Council comes along and tries to control and manipulate the Gifts," he turned his gaze on the Twins, "then you two come up with the grand idea of banning the Gifts—but look how well that worked out for you!" He gestured to the tavern with a shadowy hand.
Javira grasped her brother's hand. "Our Gifts are not our own," she declared, a hard edge to her voice. "There was no other way to prevent the gross misuse of power that was exercised over us, than to get rid of the Gifts entirely."
Troy smirked. "What if the trouble wasn't the Gifts, but the small-minded ones who wielded them?"
The Twins sat silent, and he continued. "My dears, I am here to show you how to achieve your full potential, and return to you the prestige and power you deserve!"
Episode 3: "Swiftly Tilting Odds"