Another screech sounded as they turned away from the keep and down the hill towards the town of Bellkeep. In the distance, the bright blue flames of the Blue Forest burned high above the treetops like a beacon, calling out its fury.
What the forest was calling to its aid, he didn’t know, but he was certain it wasn’t good. Another dragon lumbered out of the forest and down the highland towards the remnants of the town as the dragon above flew out to sea, screeching.
His heart thundered. Beasts of the land and air like dragons only went over water to feed or to call up their distant relatives, the leviathan, from the depths. What had brought them down from the mountains and out of the forest like this?
“On the left!”
The shield rippled and shifted, deflecting the bolt of lightning into the ground beneath the hill.
“On my mark, divide. One mage to every unit around the perimeter as fast and as far as you can. Raise a barrier to contain these beasts. Central battalion with me. We’ll beat them back into the containment field or kill the ones we can’t.”
“Yes, sir!” The knight chorused over the crash of thunder.
A dragon turned to them, screeching and peering down at them with great burning eyes of fury.
It opened its mouth and a bright violet light began to grow.
It grew until they could feel the heat in the air.
The violet light rushed towards them and the central guard lifted their swords, projecting the Belrose shield as the four units split up from them. Valon’s unit turned towards the waterfront as they broke apart, guiding their assigned mage towards the waterfront. He heard the woman chanting and raising a barrier as they rode. Her voice was steady. Riquel was panicked, trying to break formation in terror.
“Easy, Riquel, we’ll be just fine,” he promised her, feeling her panic. “We’ll be just fine.”
Riquel had never been to battle before. Neither had he, but they would make it. She seemed to calm a bit, following Balros and Queste’s lead towards the waterfront. He felt his magic roiling in him, growing like a tide and slipping into Riquel to calm her even as he focused it into his armor.
“Griffin to your left!” Asher yelled.
Valon aimed through the air at the griffin, beating it back with a burst of light as Mage Filas’ wall rose to meet another mage’s wall. The griffin tumbled through the air with a pained shriek.
Asher sent a demon bat back into the area where they would raise the barrier as Balros and Queste continued to lead them. His heart thundered as a large head rose out of the water.
“Leviathan!” Valon yelled. “Change course!”
The leviathan turned its head and roared into the lightning. The shockwave burst through the air, catching them all and sending them tumbling over. Mage Filas cried out in pain somewhere nearby as Valon landed. Riquel tumbled to a stop nearby and someone else cried out in agony.
He sat up and turned, hurrying towards Philip as he panicked, clutching his arm. Mage Filas lay unconscious, bleeding and her staff half broken.
“Your Highness!” Balros called as he and Queste staggered to their feet, and Asher raised his head.
“Your Highness?” Asher asked, eyes wide with horror.
“I’m fine!” Valon said, coming to where Asher, Philip, and Mage Filas had landed, “Let me see.”
Valon sunk to his knees beside Philip and created a magic splint before scrambling over to Mage Filas. She was still alive with a minor concussion, but she wouldn’t be waking up any time soon. He turned back to look towards the sea where the leviathan was coming onto land, screeching at the dragons nearby. The dragon that had been in the air was breathing fire at the barrier, glaring down at the central battalion. The walls were going up, but if they didn’t seal off the side near the waterfront, it wouldn’t mean anything.
Valena would kill him if he died here, but he was the only one with enough magical power and training to finish the barrier among them.
He grabbed the mages staff and bound it to his sword. Asher came to him and offered his sword.
“It will be better than that one.”
Valon shook his head, “You’ll need your sword. Balros, are you coming or not?”
Balros grit his teeth, “I am telling Ezra about this.”
Valon smiled and whistled. Riquel came to him as Asher and Balros mounted their own horses.
“Stay with them, Queste. When you have a chance, get her back to the gate or to another mage.”
She nodded stiffly, “Don’t die.”
“You are sworn to secrecy should anyone ask,” Valon said to the other knight and mounted Riquel. She neighed. He pet her flank, “It will be alright.”
“We finish the wall and recircle with the knights,” Balros said.
Valon nodded and let Asher lead as he lifted his sword and picked up the incantation. The wall shimmered and rippled with the change in ownership before following him down towards the coastline. The leviathan screeched at the dragon as they worked and soon the wall was closed containing the creatures over Bellkeep and creating a wall up the coast to block the leviathan. The staff twitched and sparked as they circled back. Quest had gotten the mage and the other knight onto her horse and led the other two horses back to meet with the rest of the knights.
“The mages believe that there is something in Bellkeep drawing them. Maybe a poacher’s bounty or something, but they aren’t sure,” Captain Belrose announced to the group of knights as they rode up. He turned to them. “Report!”
“The wall is closed on the east side and a barrier has been raised up the coast,” Balros said. “Has our mage and the other part of the unit made it back here?”
“They were sent on to the keep. Good work, Sir Uriet, Sir Milrac,” his eyes turned to Valon. “Sir Esther, are you a trained mage?”
“Yes, sir,” Valon said.
Captain Belrose’s eyes widened just a bit, “Gemini smiles upon us. As the highest ranking mage among us, you will take lead and take Mage Filas’ place until she has recovered.” He turned to the rest of the mages. “The plan is simple, find out what is drawing them and get rid of it. If the fire spreads much further, it will bring more dangerous creatures out across the entire forest.”
The leviathan screeched and lumbered onto land, towards the Blue Forest.
“Chimeras on the west boundary, Sir.”
“More griffins coming from the mountains!”
He cursed, “Why? They never…”
Valon grit his teeth. Griffins rarely came down from their mountain perches, but even more rare did chimaeras leave theirs. They were either being drawn out or forced out, but by what? The only things that would have done so were bees or dragonflies. Neither of which would have chosen to nest in the Blue Forest given its proximity to the coast.
Still, if it was luring a leviathan onto land and lighting the forest’s tree in warning. They were the only options. Which was it?
“Can you see where or why with a seeking spell?”
Mage Barlow shook his head, “Not at this distance. There’s too much magical disturbance. Nothing is clear.”
Captain Belrose grit his teeth, “It would seem that the only option then would be to survey it on foot. Two mages will stay behind to keep an eye on the barrier. Sir Esther’s unit and another mage will investigate the situation along with the central unit.”
Balros’ eyes bulged and Valon’s stomach turned as he looked at Balros nervously. He grit his teeth and looked at Valon with a stern glare.
“How far in can you see?” Captain Belrose asked.
“To the caves nearby. The area beyond it is relatively calm.”
“Then to the caves we go.”
Following Captain Belrose, they rode to the edge of the barrier and along the protected path into the Blue Forest. The protections on the road were still holding to Valon’s surprise. The rain had not let up, but the air was a great deal different, charged with energy that had Valon’s stomach churning nervously.
The central guard’s knights cast revealing spells on the road, lighting the hundred of footsteps that had taken the path before them. The brightest of them mostly headed towards Grigari or back towards Bellkeep, but there was a collection of tracks headed into the forest and off the track.
“Human… at least four people, maybe more.”
Valon grit his teeth looking further down the path and seeing other relatively recent sets of tracks turning off the road.
Mage Castillo beside him growled, “What could be so worth it to risk the lives of the entire alliance?”
“We’ll find out soon enough,” Captain Belrose said. “We follow the tracks, they seem to lead towards the caves.”
They turned into the forest. Valon’s heart pounded, but he kept his attention on the forest around him. The flaming trees were just a warning and as they reached the caves of the Blue Forest, Valon felt it. There was an eerie chill coming that he knew well enough. He smelled something sweet, beguiling even in its sweetness with a subtle bitter scent. He had hoped it would be dragonflies, yet his gut had told him that it would be bees.
On the floor of the cave, he saw the thick, sticky black honey and grimaced as the glowing footsteps led straight through them and into the cave. If there was enough honey to flow out of the cave like that, there was a large hive inside. How long had they been nesting in these caves? How much longer would it be before their bounty wasn’t enough and they left to find more?
What the hell was the sinaki thinking?
“What is that?” Asher asked.
“Bees,” Valon replied, feeling his stomach turn in fear.