Sleep is a funny thing.
I drift in the emptiness.
Memories are pieces of crimson glass, spinning by me one by one. They are a timeline of my life, a string woven of many years. Defeats and victories both, projected onto the shards as if these moments were simply illusions reflecting off the surface of a lake.
Illusions hold a power of their own, a power that truth cannot touch.
This is the virtue of imagination, of fantasy, knowing that what takes place is no more than a bad dream that will melt when you wake. Illusions are freedom.
Truth is captivity.
And these splinters of glass are truth, each part of a larger picture.
I drift towards one in particular. One with white cracks spiderwebbed across it and flaws refracting in its core. I can hardly see the memory that plays, but I know which one it is. Oh, how I wish the memory were as fractured as its vessel, marred too much to hold. But the red glass is an illusion, a fantasy I have molded around my mind.
I touch the shard, and my world shatters.
* * *
The year is 1410 DA.
Our mission is to conquer the rogue factions of Keyed and Leitafar and take back our land.
Location: Northeast Pyrdia.
Here there are flat-topped pillars of stone that pierce the sky, hundreds of vantage points upon which our army camps. In the valleys below, enemies may stalk the deep forests and trap the rivers, but up here we are safe.
Rindar has set sentries nonetheless, watches that change every hour. I can see a few of the patrolling dragons high above, blue and green gems that flicker and shift.
This is how I plan my tactics; I take a look at my surroundings and look for inspiration like a painter studying his subject.
To the south is our enemy. Hundreds of miles west, two enormous ridges wind side by side, flanking a mighty river. The river flows south to where the ridges end and spreads into a huge delta. There a forest grows, a forest so gargantuan that the tops of the tallest trees can be wreathed in ice while it is summer on the ground.
Beyond this forest lies a great fortress, cut right into the stone of the trailing ridge. Vyreheim has never been taken since its birth a millennium ago, but it will fall today if I have anything to say about it.
From one of the camping spires, a red shape shoots up into the sky, turning to dive right towards me. I get to my feet.
Rindar brakes with his wings, leaning back and letting the air fill their cupped forms. Even still, he slams into the flat top of the pillar with enough force to send small avalanches tumbling to the forest far below. A long leather sheath is strapped to the main spar of his right wing.
I stumble but do not fall. “Rindar, not all of us are so large as you. Maybe a little slower next time?” I speak Pyrdian. Rindar likes it.
The beast laughs, a tremendous sound. “Then you should get bigger—start packing in the pies and soon you might be able to take one of those big furry things they have down here. What are they called again? Squirrels?”
I give Rindar an unamused look. He knows full well what squirrels are.
The Dragon rattles the ruff of spines on his neck, “Nevermind, we don’t have time for joking—the Pyrdians opened the gate. Nyrin is keeping them occupied, but we have to leave now to get there in time.”
I wrinkle my nose, “Nyrin can’t hold for more than a few hours.”
“Yes, which is why we need to leave now.”
I run and jump, catapulting myself high on a springboard made of magicked air. Landing lightly on Rindar’s back, I drop down between two of the large white spines where his neck meets his body. Hard leather guards protect my soft thighs from his ripping scales.
Rindar doesn’t wait. He flexes massive shoulder muscles, and with a whoomph we are airborne, soaring fast and high.
The Dragon breaks his climb and glides, lifting the tips of his wings. He roars words, and I amplify them, sculpting air like one might shape clay. “Riders, Dragons, to arms! To battle we go!”
I watch as a multitude of figures begin to stir far below among the camps. Dragons rouse from slumber and stretch their wings, men sprint to assemble their gear.
Within a minute, several thousand rider-Dragon pairs are ready to fly. I watch as they lift off, the Dragons’ wings producing a thrum that shakes the very air. The horde rises, climbing until they reach the same altitude Rindar circles at. Five lieutenant pairs zip about, ordering and organizing the swarm like queen bees presiding over the drones.
Rindar’s chest rumbles, “We head south! Formation delta three-ninety!” He flicks his wings and whirls about, stroking so hard I fear he might churn the air to butter.
Strangely, the edges of my sight seem to be splintering, my peripherals fracturing like glass into tinier and tinier pieces of red. It’s of no consequence. Adrenaline has been known to distort sight.
I look back, making sure the army is following Rindar’s direction. The formation codes are simple but not infallible. Delta is the shape, “three” is the number of dimensions, and “ninety” is the degree of angle the point of the delta should hold. The lieutenants appear to be doing their job well. The confused mass of dragons is slowly shaping into a sleek triangle. It resembles a gigantic wedge of colorful cheese. A deadly wedge.
I smile and turn back forwards, the thrill of battle already beginning to rise in my stomach. Though we fly at well over a hundred miles an hour, the wind does not touch me with it’s freezing tentacles.
I thump my hand against Rindar’s side. “It’s a good day to fight!”
* * *
The memory abandons me entirely, crumbling away into red dust. I am aware of myself again, floating through the dark eternity of my consciousness.
Though that portion of fractured truth left me with a happy feeling, it sours as I think of what comes next.
The illusion of peace can only hold for so long.
* * *
The present, 1450 DA
I reach out with my magic and connect to Tayo’s mind. A swift tap to his neural cortex and he falls limp, limbs splayed.
I am still, wings half spread, legs in a wide stance. My tail lashes the floor behind me, sinuously curling back and forth.
I should kill Tayo. He betrayed me. He continues to betray me.
It would be so easy, so simple to extinguish his life. Death has a beauty to it, a simplicity of knowing that you are merely sending someone away for a while until eventually, you join them as well. In a way, death is the ultimate version of walking away from a fight.
I should kill Tayo. But even though he betrays me, I will not betray him.
Betrayal is a funny thing.
I break stance, avoiding the chunks of shattered pillar to go and stand by Tayo’s quiet body. He is so small compared to me, no larger than a toe on my foot. Yet, he stands firm in his folly, even against such a foe as I. Is that not the true nature of courage?
I suppose he also had the courage to betray me on that day, so many years ago now. Tayo has fought beast after beast, champion after champion, sometimes more than one in a day. He has spent years on end in a dark cell, where his only companionship was the rasp of the food tray. He even spent one of his months in a blocked off volcanic cave, subsisting on lichen and worms. And yet he still holds on to this illusion.
Illusions are funny things.
In a way, they are stronger than the truth for they are the lenses through which we look at the truth, and the means by which we judge it.
I hope that my own lens is as close to reality as possible, but I cannot be sure. I cannot betray myself, but the only alternative is to betray my friend. I must, and yet I cannot.
And because I am not sure, I gently pick up Tayo’s small body in one massive talon. As I fly across the boiling landscape, I flash back to that one memory that started all this. The inciting incident in our grand cycle, oh so long ago…
Okay! Finally done with this installment--working on Pt. 3!
Unless I get any last-minute critiques, this will be the final version, so please give me everything you've got as far as critiquing goes!