To Drakenstead — Part 3
“Reporting in, commander! We’ve got a code red from Fort Grandarr. They’re requesting us to sortie immediately. Two demons of unknown origin and affiliation have entered our airspace. Our dragon knights tried to intercept them, but apparently, they made the wyverns freak out with some sort of spell and slipped right by.”
“Damn it, soldier, I’m off duty.”
The man referred to as the commander, Zellirum, groaned in annoyance as he leaned back into his chair and set his fork down on the table. He was very unhappy. His subordinate had burst into the restaurant while he was in the middle of a meal on one of his few rare days off.
“I’m terribly sorry sir, but this is important. We have no idea what their intentions are, and for all we know, they could be headed for the capital and up to no good. It looks like the higher ups have decided that we’re going to need you to help us stop them.”
“How many casualties were there?”
“None whatsoever, sir. They disoriented our wyverns, but didn’t attack us. The only issue is that they’re flying too quickly for us to keep up.
“What’s their goal…? A show of force, perhaps?” Zellirum pondered out loud. “I’ll go take a look. Get the unit ready to sortie.”
“Preparations are already underway, sir. We should be good to go at any moment.”
Zellirum’s subordinate stressed the second sentence to push his superior to get to work as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the message either didn’t go through, or was intentionally ignored, as Zellirum didn’t bother standing up.
“You’re all so eager and organised…” He drank deeply from his cup, raised his voice, and called out to the old lady managing the store. “Could I get the bill? I’ve got to go.”
When Zellirum arrived at the scene and joined the formation encircling the suspicious pair, he found them in the middle of some sort of argument.
“This is all your fault! None of this would’ve happened if you took two seconds to think before scaring their stupid wyverns shitless!” The man shouted at his companion without even the slightest hint of restraint. “What the fuck are we supposed to do about this now!?”
“My actions were far superior to yours! You failed to arrive at any solution! At least mine allowed us to make some degree of progress!” She screamed right back. Her choice of words was a bit odd. The manner in which she spoke seemed ancient, almost regal in a way. “And I see not an issue in the first place! There is little stopping us from flying straight through their ranks!”
“How about you grow a pair of eyes and look around you. We’re totally surrounded. They sicced like three whole platoons on us!” Meanwhile, his tone was much cruder and more laid back.
The way they yelled at each other almost made it seem like a couple’s quarrel, a fact that led many a dragon knight to heave sighs of exasperation.
“You can’t be serious… This is what we sortied for?” groaned one.
“Right? I can’t believe Fort Grandarr’s guys let these two of all people past them… The hell is wrong with them, eh, commander?” said another. “Wait… commander?”
Unlike his men, Zellirum was far from relaxed. He was frozen with his eyes wide open and all the hairs on his body standing on end.
Tremors of fear and dread pulsed through his body.
She terrified him to such an extent that his mind automatically began seeking out a path to survival.
He knew that, though she looked like a dainty young lady, she was the very embodiment of raw, primordial energy. The overpowering aura that radiated off of her body had his heart gripped with dread.
His first thought was that she had cast some sort of spell, but further analysis led him to realize his folly.
She had done nothing.
This was her natural state.
Her overwhelming superiority was the sole driver of his terror—and likely the reason that Fort Grandarr’s wyverns had failed to listen to their riders. Unlike their human masters, the monsters that the soldiers rode were much more capable of instinctively discerning the difference between the weak and the strong. And that, to Zellirum, was the biggest red flag.
As a senior commanding officer, he was given quite the bit of special treatment. His mount was special. It was a zilant, an apex predator amongst the demidragons. No average demon was anywhere close to being a match for it. But even the zilant was shivering with fear.
It knew that, despite all the violence it was capable of, it could do nothing to harm her.
To make matters worse, she wasn’t the only threat. While the man was clearly her inferior, his presence was no less bone chilling. If Zellirum was to place him on a scale, it would be hers. He too ranked amongst those that no wise man would dare to defy, as it was fairly clear to the longstanding commander that he was capable of wiping out every dragon knight present without breaking a sweat.
Zellirum swallowed the lump stuck in his throat and forced himself to carry out his duty. He activated Analyze, the skill that he had actively relied upon to climb his way all the way up to the position he now held.
And in doing so, he finally understood the source of all his terror. Rather than freezing up a second time, Zellirum took control of the situation as best he could.
“All units stand down!” He barked a set of orders, both to his platoon and the other two that had helped form the encirclement. “Do not do anything under any circumstances whatsoever!”
The men were confused to see the stark contrast between his usual attitude and his current demeanor, especially given the seemingly inconsequential situation. Still, they did as he said. He was the highest ranking officer present. Failing to obey his orders would lead to rather unpleasant consequences.
Zellirum heaved a sigh of relief, then forced his zilant to slowly advance towards the pair, who had continued to argue in spite of the current circumstances.
“What manner of man is so concerned with details so insignificant!?” screeched the girl. “Do you mean to act as would an evil step-mother!?”
“Why, I never, dearie! You just don’t know how much I care about you!” He replied to her in a shrill tone, as if to play out the role she had just mocked him for. “Don’t make me out to be such a monster. I didn’t raise you to be this ungrateful!”
“That is disgusting! Cease that immediately, you are making me uncomfortable!”
For reasons beyond the commander’s comprehension, it almost seemed like they were having fun.
“Excuse me, would the two of you happen to have a moment?” he interjected himself into the conversation following a brief lull. “I’m Zellirum, a commander in the Northern Territories’ army. Would you mind if I asked for the reason you two are here today?”
His voice brought the pair back to reality. They stopped arguing, seemingly out of embarrassment as they realized that they’d been turned into a spectacle.
“Just passing by,” said the man after clearing his throat. “We’re just heading to one of her old homes so we can see some of her old acquaintances.”
He didn’t need to spend too much time racking his brains to realize that their destination was most likely Drakenstead, a region that lay beyond the country’s borders. Once he figured that out, the soldier attempted to discern the man’s identity. Unlike the girl, he didn’t quite seem to be a dragon. He didn’t have any features reminiscent of beastkin either, which meant that those at Fort Grandarr guessed correctly upon reaching the conclusion that he was most likely a demon.
That, however, did little to truly identify him. The commander didn’t quite understand his relation to the girl. He was tempted to suspect that the man was some sort of attendant, based on how he was communicating on her behalf, but that didn’t seem quite right.
Zellirum began contemplating the possibilities, but stopped himself short before he got too carried away. The man’s precise identity didn’t matter. If the pair was just passing by, then the best course of action was to simply to let them go on their way.
“I understand. In that case, I’d like you to take this.” He handed the man an emblem. “It’ll effectively serve as a document that’ll let you come and go as you please. I’ll pull a few strings to make sure everything goes smoothly.”
“Commander, are you sure!? That doesn’t see—”
One of Zellirum’s men shouted in surprise, but the veteran silenced him with a glare.
“Oh, sweet, thanks. This’ll make things a lot more convenient. Honestly, I didn’t really think you were planning on letting us pass,” said the demon. “Oh yeah, that reminds me, could you do us another real solid favour and tell us if there are any decent places to spend the night around here? It’s getting a bit late, so we were planning on calling it a day.”
The commander’s poker face almost broke. Almost. He managed to catch himself just before he lost control and twisted what would have been a dismay filled frown into a lighthearted smile, even in spite of the fact that he wished for the two to get on their way.
“There’s a nice hotel about ten kilometers ahead of us. Would you like me to show you the way?” A bead of sweat trickled down Zellirum’s brow. He was worried that the pair would be offended, as he was in effect asking if they minded being observed.
“Sounds good to me. What about you, Lefi?”
“I see not any issues.”
Fortunately, neither seemed to have noticed.
But just as Zellirum was about to breathe a sigh of relief, the man spoke a line that revealed that his assumption couldn’t have been further from the truth.
“No need to be so tense,” said the man. “I get that you’re worried, but just chill. We’ll be gone first thing in the morning. It’ll be like we were never here.”
The commander froze up, then screamed internally. “Damn it! I was supposed to be off duty today!”
As frustrated as he was, his overstressed shriek was left forever unheard.