by Luna Manar
The wolflords were upon them in an instant. Two of them, snarling and growling, leapt from the bushes they had been hiding behind, and before either Warren or anyone else could react, were in front of them and attacking at full strength. One of the creatures lunged at Dirk, only to crash into the unseen lucid barrier. The quick witted youth took this advantage and threw one of his daggers, which he generally kept hidden away in his belt, at the dazed creature.
To his surprise, the wolf-thing brought up its clawed hand and, before the weapon could reach him, caught it in mid-air and threw it back with equally deadly accuracy, but the blade only bounced itself off the barrier and clattered to the ground.
Warren had his hands quite full with the other wolflord, who had drawn a sword and was circling him with a deadly intention. It seemed hesitant, though, as if considering the fact that he was dealing with a knight of legend.
Drek's shrill battlecry rang out, and the forest erupted in a splendor of dark clouds, and electrical discharges. They congregated over the battling four, and thunder rumbled menacingly.
"Warren! Dirk! Move it!" the sprite shouted. His magic was cast, and he could do little to control this kind of spell. "Or else you're gonna get fried!"
Taking the sprite's suggestion to heart, the Mana Knight and Dirk leapt out of the way of the sudden magical storm, just as the thunder rumbled once more, and twin bolts of lightning shot down toward their wolf-like targets.
They never hit them.
There was a growl from above, and a huge, blue dragon soared under the cloud, caught the two lightning bolts with its steely hide. Being a creature of wind, the electricity had little effect on it, and it seemed to brush away the attack almost without notice.
This dragon was longer and more immense than the red Warren had seen at the falls. It certainly looked no less vicious. But it did seem older, perhaps a bit more on the experienced side. Numerous dents and scars on its strong scales marked its frequent battles, and one of the spikes at the end of its powerful tail was missing where there should have been two.
Another rumble came from behind the house, and the animal that had been waiting behind it rose to its full height and approached the battle itself. It was the second creature out of a nightmare. Its colorful scales did not make it look any less powerful or vile. Its two draconian heads, which swiveled about on long necks, screeched and screamed their challenge. Its name was as ridiculous as its appearance.
"Jabberwocky! Attack!" one of the wolf-figures called. The animal shrieked its delight at the command, and turned toward Warren, Dirk, and Drek, who were standing back-to-back, trying to find the best way of dealing with their situation.
"Not good," muttered the sprite loudly, "Definitely not good."
Indeed, their situation was not one of favor. The two wolflords were approaching either warrior, and the jabberwocky was making its lumbering way to the sprite. That in itself wouldn't have been too much of a problem, Drek knew, he had faced worse odds before, but for the dragon hovering over them. He knew the jabberwocky's weakness was fire, for it was a creature of water, but he couldn't cast a good fire spell here without setting the whole forest ablaze. Plus, the creature was too close to the house and to him to risk any kind of spell at all.
They were trapped.
One of the wolflords, the one facing Warren smirked.
"Well, isn't this just a dandy little trio?" he barked, "Donovan will be pleased with you." He took a step toward the Mana Knight.
He didn't notice he had his back to the house door.
He also didn't hear it open.
Silently the door slid open, and there was a small pause before there was an angry roar, like that of some wild cat, and the startled yelp of the wolflord as Neko's claws embedded themselves in its back.
The creature fell, shuddered from the long slashes that arched down its back, then vanished. Neko stood, his usually retracted claws stretched out, his fur sticking out, and his teeth bared. Despite his age, he looked quite impressive, indeed.
The jabberwocky lunged at him, but the old cat's quick reflexes and powerful feet brought him atop the creatures back, and it buried one of its two faces in the dirt. Roaring in anger, then in pain as the cat clawed its back, the animal whirled, turned its heads to try and snap the annoying creature off its back. Its snapping jaws came inches from Neko's face, but the cat only looked up and let out a scream that would have matched a cougar's in defiance. He had positioned himself in a place he knew was out of the monster's reach.
Dirk and Warren took advantage of the diversion to attack the remaining wolflord, who backed up, suddenly having more enemies than he had bargained for.
There was a sharp yowl of surprise as the jabberwocky's heads billowed forth clouds of sleeping gas onto the meddling Neko. With a small huff, the old cat went limp, then slid off the monster's back and to the ground, unconscious.
Joch came out of hiding from inside the house and stepped out in front of the two-headed beast.
At first, he did nothing but stare at it, caught its attention. Then he locked the beast's four-eyed gaze, and started to chant softly, the same words, over and over again.
The jabberwocky, despite itself, was lulled by the sage's strangely soothing words, fought the notion to fall asleep, and lost, collapsing into a heap in front of the house.
Joch ran to try to awaken Neko, as did Drek, who, not being able to cast any spells on account of all of them being too powerful for their own good, had stood idly as he had watched the bird-man hypnotize the great, two-headed jabberwocky.
The wolflord was in a serious dilemma of its own, Warren and Dirk were closing in on it, had managed to back it into the wall of the house.
There was a sudden roar from above, and the huge blue dragon landed not far away on the other side of the clearing, then began to swiftly approach the battle its side was losing.
Dirk, seeing the beast, blindly charged it in his battle craze, threw his last dagger at the dragon. The dagger hit the dragon's steely scales, then bounced off, dented and useless, to the ground.
The blue dragon chuckled, then sneered at the youth before him.
"Really, now. Is that the best you can do?" the dragon bellowed, then made a move so swift and unexpected, even the agile Dirk could not move to avoid it.
Before he could even move a muscle, the blue dragon had reached toward him, broken through the magical barrier, and snatched him up in its jaws. He felt himself being moved, positioned. He nearly cried out when he realized what the beast was preparing to do, but held his breath at the sudden command,
"Hold, Xenos!" came the wolflord's barking voice, "Do not kill him until I say its fit!"
The dragon grumbled, and Dirk could feel the creature's hot breath on his side, but he forced himself to stay calm.
Which was difficult. Though he had been dealt no injury as of yet, the potential was clearly there. The dragon held him in such a position that one side of its jaw, which bore huge, razor-edged teeth, was positioned directly over his chest, the other side over his stomach. The dragon was in the perfect position to break him in two.
Below, the wolflord stepped out from between the house and the Mana Knight, who held his sword threateningly. The jabberwocky suddenly began to awaken, one head opening its eyes slowly, then knocking the other head awake on the other side.
"You are quite the fighters," said the woldlord triumphantly, "I can see why Donovan needed us to capture you. Shame about Trellix..." he glanced over to where the other wolflord had vanished, "I'd never have guessed he would meet his end at the hand of a cat. Oh, well. I suppose I'll just have to take up the position of second in command.… and bring you to Donovan."
"And if we don't happen to want ta go?" asked Drek, walking boldly up to the much taller figure of the wolflord.
The creature smirked at the sprite, the pointed up to where Xenos held the helpless Dirk.
"Than your friend will die."
Warren's mind reeled, what could he do? As much as he wanted to, he couldn't attack, if he did, he would watch the blue dragon, Xenos, break Dirk in two. He knew he couldn't let that happen. But if he surrendered....
Joch's words came to him in his mind, unbidden. He must have been using some kind of telepathic spell or power...
Immediate action is not always necessary, knight.
He looked to Joch, who nodded ever so slightly.
Slowly, he lowered the Mana Sword.
"Fine," he growled, "Take us to your Donovan."
At a command from the wolflord, Xenos reluctantly set Dirk down.
The companions were herded over to the dragon by the wolflord and jabberwocky, which was now fully awake. Neko had also regained consciousness, but was still a bit groggy and leaned on Joch's shoulder as he walked. The tall cat's weight was much more than Joch was used to carrying, and it was all the bird-man could do to hold Neko up.
Warren walked to stand next to Dirk, who was brushing himself off in disgust.
"Are you alright?" he asked.
"I'm alive. Unless you call being covered in dragonslobber 'alright', no, I'm not alright."
Before any further conversation could be allowed, they were forced upon Xenos's spiny back, and the dragon spread its wings in preparation to take off.
But, before it did, the wolflord, being more coherent and brighter than his werewolf cousins, took note of the Mana Sword in Warren's left hand as he climbed the dragon's scaly side (it hadn't bothered to lower its wing).
"You won't be needing this!" the creature snarled, and struck the back of Warren's wrist.
There was a snap, and Warren cried out in pain as the bone broke.
The Mana Sword clattered to the ground.
It wasn't a long flight to Donovan's "hideout," but it was long enough. The morning became brighter with every minute, and it seemed to Warren like his wrist was throbbing more painfully every second. He had never gotten so beat up before in the course of a week – or ever, for that matter.
He looked back towards where they had lifted off, thought of the sword he had left there. How was he going to get through this without it? If he hadn't been so reckless-
A voice in his head echoed through his thoughts. It was Joch.
It wasn't your fault, Warren. I gave bad advice. Don't worry. something will come up. We'll think of something.
Warren gazed backward at the bird man who was riding behind Drek, who was riding behind Warren. He gave Joch a quizzical look. He wondered if the spell or power that Joch had worked both ways.
Why didn't you just hypnotize the dragon like you did that two-headed thing?
Dragons are brighter than jabberwockies. It would not have worked. I am taking a risk talking to you now. I don't know if the dragon can sense me speaking to you or not. I simply had an idea. Did Flammie give you his drum?
Warren's eyes widened. He hadn't thought of the little toy in his pocket at all. Without answering Joch, he slowly moved his right hand to his pocket, withdrew the object.
No. He couldn't use it here. If Flammie came and attacked the blue, and the blue fell, so would everyone on board. He quietly put the toy back into his pocket.
"Look!" Drek whispered behind him, pointing in front of them, "Is that what I think it is?"
In front of them, a building hovered in mid-air at about their altitude. The sprite gasped at the sight of it, vivid pictures of the Mana Fortress running through his mind.
But that couldn't be it. It was too small...
As they approached it, though, Drek could see it was clearly made of the same material, but the shape was wrong. It was shaped like the ships they had fought when Zerlina had panicked.
Only much larger. It had ports and doors on all sides, and could clearly hold several of the tiny ships that attacked them. It must have been their mothership. As Xenos approached, the flat top side of the structure opened up, apparently for him to land within it.
The blue dragon carefully gauged the distance around the circle that opened up underneath him, and when he judged it large enough, lowered himself in.
The dragon landed on a hard iron surface, was quickly surrounded by werewolf troops.
The wolflord slid off the dragon's side, and the werewolves parted before him respectfully, but closed in again when he was through.
A silky voice spoke.
"So, you come at last, Mana Knight… I see you've brought a few friends."
As the five companions slid off the back of the blue dragon, the voice that had spoken came into view.
Dirk snarled at the sight of the man.
The raven-haired man stood a few yards away, smirking in triumph.
"Welcome to the Trinaut, gentlemen."
It was at this moment that Warren whipped out the drum.
Flammie's ears twitched at the familiar sound of his drum rattling across the skies. It would not not have worried him so much if the drumming hadn't had such urgency in it… he could tell. The sound was louder and faster than usual, and it was stopped abruptly.
He quickly got up and lumbered over to where Arno and Zerlina slept, side by side.
"Hey! Get up! We have a problem."
The two opened their eyes sleepily, Arno nearly bowling Zerlina over when he stretched.
The unicorn looked up at the griffin irritably, then stood up and turned to Flammie.
"What's the problem?"
Flammie looked to the sky.
"I heard my drum – the one I told you about? It sounded louder, urgent. It didn't come from Neko's house. It came from… well, I'll show you, but it stopped, so I'm guessing that what ever the problem seems to be, it's just gotten worse," he finished.
The unicorn looked up at him, studied his face, then realized with sudden fear that the dragon meant everything he said. Arno only looked confused.
But Flammie would waste no time. Launching himself into the air, he turned and shouted.
"I'm going to them! I know where they are, and it doesn't comfort me in the least! If you're coming, then come now!"
Arno was already in the air. If the white dragon's Mana Knight was in danger, then so, too, was Dirk.
Zerlina hesitantly joined them.
"You'll understand if I'm a little bit more skittish about this?" she asked. When Flammie nodded, they sped off toward the east, where Flammie had heard his drum sound.
Warren was instantly jumped upon by two werewolves and thrown back against the wall, where the drum was torn out of his hand. The wolves brought the child's toy to Donovan, who took it from them and examined it, a slight smile on his face.
"All this ruckus over a toy drum?" he chuckled.
Breathing heavily and holding his wrist, Warren snarled quietly.
"That toy drum is more powerful than you think, Donovan."
The raven-haired man's amber eyes fixed on the opening in the ceiling. If the toy was a beacon, a calling device of some sort...
He immediately turned to one of his wolf servants and whispered orders. Whatever would be coming this way, they would be ready for it.
Then he turned and motioned for the werewolves to return the Mana Knight to his friends. They roughly did so, with snarls and grunts of 'Now he's done it.' and 'We're in for it now.' Apparently the wolves knew something more of the dragon drum than did Donovan. A few of them were already planning out escape routes in their heads.
Warren stood in the center of his companions, Joch and Neko to his left and Drek and Dirk to his right. He wished he could think of something he could do. Flammie was quite a capable fighter, he had learned that, but this ship-the Trinaut, as Donovan had called it, was huge, probably had weapons similar to those the smaller ships they had fought had. Only much stronger. If only there was something, anything. Without the sword, though....
Warren was suddenly over come by drowsiness. He felt weak, sleepy. Had a spell been cast upon him? No. No one else seemed to be having the same problem. But he felt weak, couldn't stand..
Dirk caught him as he slumped dizzily to the floor. He laid against the wall of the Trinaut.
"What's wrong?" asked the youth worriedly, "What happened? Are you okay?"
Warren sighed. He didn't feel any pain, other than his wrist, which throbbed hotly, but somehow, he knew there was something wrong with him. Something different... "
"No," he answered, trying to keep awake, "I don't know what's wrong… I just..feel so tired."
Joch, a frightening thought crossing his mind, felt Warren's neck for the life beat. It was slow...
"His pulse is getting weak," he said, then looked up at the others.
"He's dying," he said gravely.
Drek shot Joch a worried stare.
Joch shook his head.
"I'm not sure. It's only a guess, but perhaps… Warren, you were the one who placed the blade in the hilt, were you not?"
Warren nodded feebly.
"You could say that."
Joch looked thoughtful for a moment.
"It's possible that at that moment, you and the sword were...were linked somehow. This may be a result of you being deprived of it for too long."
Neko stepped in on the conversation.
"Then… if he doesn't get the sword before long..." the old cat began,
"Then Warren will die," finished Joch.
A screech caused all of them to look up. Through the opening in the ceiling, they could see Flammie and Arno attacking the ship.
Flammie screeched and dove at what appeared to be a mini-Mana Fortress or a jumbo triangle ship or both. There was no doubt in his mind that this was Donovan's ship, and that his friends were being held inside. He and Arno had split up, Arno, being just a bit smaller and more agile than the white dragon, tried to draw the ship's fire, which it was firing at a full intensity of green beams.
Flammie had already been hit by two of the powerful blasts, and his side and right paw now throbbed painfully. But he was far from beaten. He could take a lot of punishment and still fly. He had to get to the opening in the roof of the ship. If he could just get inside, he could do more than just raise havoc.
Speaking powerful words of magic that he know knew existed, he stopped and hovered for a moment, letting the magic of light course through him. He seemed to glimmer for a moment, then he opened his maw.
Where fire would usually be emitted, a thick beam shot from the dragon's mouth, screeching though the green beams of the triangle ship and slamming into the thing's side.
The ship was pushed back by the force of the shot, and Flammie smiled in satisfaction when all the laser pods on his side of the ship stopped functioning.
He had them now.
Donovan nearly fell over as his ship was knocked sideways by the tremendous force of the white dragon's magic. Calling out commands to his servant wolves, he tried to regain his balance. He ordered all the weapons on the port side of the ship disabled.
It was time to bait the trap.
Flammie called Arno over to his position. The griffin, who had skillfully dodged the huge tri-ship's weapons for some time now, flapped up to the white dragon, breathing heavily.
Flammie motioned to the ship, which now hung idly in the air.
"I think I've disabled this side. If we attack the opening together, we have a better chance of breaking in."
Arno nodded, then asked.
"What 'bout wing-horse?" He still couldn't manage to say Zerlina's name.
"If we're lucky, we won't need her help."
With a nod, the two turned and flew toward the huge tri-ship, as they had named it.
Donovan watched with satisfaction as the dragon and the griffon flew straight into his trap. Meters from attacking the open ceiling of the ship, he had deployed an armada of tiny 'tri-pod' ships to greet their attackers. The ships had surrounded their guests, then deployed a net of green laser beams around the creatures. Unable to turn anywhere without scorching themselves on the beams, Flammie and Arno hovered in mid-air.
Donovan smiled. Before too long, the beasts would fall from exhaustion, loose altitude and kill themselves on the beams. His ships had far more fuel then the animals would have energy. He sighed, watched, and waited.