Tomorrow’s Demise: CH37

Sorry for the delay today. Life gets in the way sometime. Enjoy, my friends.

THIRTY-SEVEN

Of Wizards and Dragons

The Viper rode back into the dale just as the sun was dipping below the horizon. He had an ill look on his face, as if he was confused. A chill went down his spine. Due to the height of the dunes and rock outcroppings, the temperature dropped much quicker than the setting suns. The assassin shook off the chill, staring into the growing shadows for signs of their enemy. The twisted figures looked back at him with the woeful stories, reliving past nightmares. Strange. They reminded him of….

“I’m thinking it’s time to move out,” the Viper warned. “These statues are starting to give me the creeps. It’s like they’re watching us.”

Nathan nodded his agreement.

Kane stepped forward. “We are not alone, though what watches us, I cannot say. It is best to leave now. There is an evil here.”

Vile eyes watched them from the growing gloom. Camouflaged by sand, the beast lay hidden. It smelled their doubts and fears, for they were so strong, it awakened it. How long had it been since it last dined on human flesh? The creature snarled at their frailty. A growl of anticipation escaped its jaws. Soon, there would be more decorations to muse its indulgences.

As much of a hurry as they were in, the horses seemed almost lethargic. Something was wrong. They were acting skittish and nervous, a clear indication of danger. A thunder stretched out across the world before Kane had the chance to warn the others. Strong winds shifted jets of hot air through the dale. A blood red sun hung on the far horizon. Disaster was coming.

“Wizard! What is this?” the Viper tried to ask above the rising howls.

“Quake!” Snake Eyes yelled.

“No. It’s something else. Wicked. I can feel it!” Gage said.

The disturbances stopped suddenly. The air remained hot despite the void left by the setting suns. Kane moved them quickly, drawing them into a tight circle around the wagon. Charging ion rifles hummed. Nathan prayed in the brief time he had left, hoping the end wasn’t going to be overly dramatic and drawn out.

“Look!” Xill yelled.

They followed his fingers into the sky but found nothing. Colors clashed together in a beautiful display. Dark clouds added contrast to the swirling lavenders and light blues. The winds had stopped blowing altogether, and the air screamed louder. A horse reared back in terror. The sound of beating wings flooded the depression. And they finally caught sight of it.

The sand dragon was the most fearsome predator stalking the deep deserts, and it had come to make a meal out of them. It sailed through the skies unchallenged. Leathery wings spanning two hundred feet raked through forming clouds. Long talons curved for killing flexed with anticipation. Its eyes were the cruelest evil, for it was the worst plague to have ever graced the world.

“Run! Everyone, run!” Gage ordered and moved into the dragon’s path.

“Do it,” Kane echoed. “Split up and prepare to open fire.”

The realization that they weren’t going to be able to escape without a fight suddenly hit Nathan, and he found himself locked in fear. Clouds of sand kicked up by the dragon’s wings trailed in a wake. Fire flamed out its nose, curling over its snout and evaporating in the night. Time slowed, each second agonizingly drawn out. Seeing Gage standing in the open inviting it, the dragon circled once more and dove in for the kill.

Ancient incantations passed his lips, and Gage pointed towards his foe. The breath of wizard’s bane flared up towards the dragon, narrowly missing it and exploding in the sky. The great dragon roared its rage, a wrath so loud it rattled the house of the Gods. The Viper’s horse screamed, twisting and struggling to win free. All the strength he had wasn’t enough to keep the stallion from ripping the bridle away and bolting off through the mounds. A short scream later, he knew it had been roasted alive.

The assassin was the first to open fire. Ion rounds sped through the darkening sky. The dragon effortlessly dodged them, snarling with pleasure at the struggle being given. Long had it been since its last conquest, and the thrill of the hunt enlivened it. Nathan watched the dragon swoop in for the kill and opened fire. The heavy cannon belted round after punishing round into the night. Enemy infantry would have ducked for cover, but the dragon kept coming, even after a few struck its rear legs and tail.

Coming in so low its belly scrapped the sand, the lizard bowled the Viper over. Keeping aware of the situation, he rolled onto his back and pushed a full charge of rounds into the dragon’s belly. As tempting a target as he may seem, the dragon rushed passed the prone assassin to snatch up the soft-skinned alien struggling to escape. Klaa’s screamed echoed through all their minds. Gage staggered and then fell from the strength of his mind link. Seething hot air, the dragon clutched the frail Kordite tighter, rending the life from his small form and discarding the broken body atop the glassy sand.

Nathan knew he didn’t have to be a genius to figure they were all going to end up the same way if somebody didn’t act fast. He jumped down from the wagon, abandoning the overheating ion cannon, with a weapon in each hand.

“You’ll be killed for sure,” Xill warned him.

“God damn it, we’re all going to be killed if one of us doesn’t do something.”

Xill growled but knew the human was right. He kicked the front panel of the box beneath his seat, pulling out the three round rocket launcher he was keeping for dire occasions, and jumped down with Nathan.

“What changed your mind?” he asked with a twisted smile.

“No one should die alone unless they’re ready,” the Crendaphidian replied.

Again, the dragon blasted in to catch the assassin, but the Viper was too quick. Klaa’s broken body lay next him as a reminder of what may happen. The assassin cursed. He was supposed to die at the hands of the Berserker horde, not in the desert taken like a fool in a trap. Dropping his empty blaster in exchange for the heavy rifle, the Viper came up on one knee, prepared to do as much damage as possible in the little time he had left. The dragon was already gone. There was no sign of it anywhere in the rich black sky. Darkness settled in alarmingly fast, and there were still a few hours before the moons rose. They all knew it was up there, waiting for the moment to strike down another of them. The Viper gave the lizard credit for the incredible patience it had to wait them out like this.

“Everybody stay still,” Kane warned. “It’s waiting for us to move.”

Minutes later and tired of the wait, Kane strode forward to the center of the defense. His silver eyes watched the sky for any betraying trace of their hunter. A whisper of wings. A shadow in the clouds. He wasn’t surprised to find nothing. Then the skies filled with the colors of flame.

“There it is!”

Claws poised to strike, eyes burning anger, the dragon plummeted towards them. In that moment, Kane knew he was dead. Aiming his blaster, he fired. No one saw the Mad Hosking leap up from obscurity with a shoulder-fired rocket and take aim. The missile howled into the night, striking the dragon in its broad chest. Three more rockets fired in quick succession from across the perimeter followed into the growing hole. The dragon whined in pain. A chorus of ion rounds sped into the aggravation, compounding the damage.

Kane was smiling, even as he struggled to avoid being hit with the steaming blood washing the sand. The dragon barely managed to escape but wasn’t about to give up. It circled in a slow arduous pattern, breathing heavily and losing blood. It knew death was coming to claim it and could only hope to take a few of them with it. The dragon’s vision started to fade, and it made its final attack.

Half a dozen rifles and heavy firepower erupted in unison against the beast. Chunks of flesh were blown off. Scales drifted down. The dragon roared, a mottled cry verging on death. Warm blood rained on them. The Mad Hosking reloaded and fired again and again. Smoke and ion haze clouded the battlefield. Kane finally yelled for them to ceasefire. It was over.

“Look out, it’s falling!”

Eyes rolled white in death’s throes, the dragon’s lifeless body dropped. Fifty tons of flesh was rocketing towards them. Kane ordered them to flee, else the impact crush them as well. Mountains of glass shattered upon impact. The well collapsed in on itself. Bits of glass and hardened sand pelted them, slicing through their clothes and biting their skin. They could hear the dragon’s last roar as it reared up on its haunches. Already dead, the great predator sank to the ground amid growing columns of dust and died. The battle was over.

The Mad Hosking raised his rocket launcher to the heavens and roared in victory. Klaa’s broken form lay at his feet as if in testament to their will. The dragon’s collapse rendered the ground unstable, and it wasn’t long before Klaa’s body slid down one of the few remaining mounds to lay at the wizard’s feet. Gage slumped. This was all too much for his old heart to take. He and the Kordite had been fast friends, and neither had really expected to outlive the other. Klaa had never wanted anything more than to serve him as well he could. Realizing that his actions may have helped cause his friends demise, Gage had to put that aside and focus on the living.

They were all blistered with a rash of cuts and minor scraps — none life threatening, at least. Exhaustion and fatigue slowed them all. He cast his senses over them, quietly inspecting for major injuries. They were healthy enough, for the most part, though Nathan had a shoulder thrown out of joint when he dove away from the crashing dragon.

All in all, it was a tremendous victory. They’d been at each other’s throats a few short days ago, and now those differences were gone. The loss of one of their own reminded them of their own mortality and the need to work together if they had any hopes of succeeding. Less than two weeks separated them from the Berserker Hive, and they could finally call themselves a team.

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