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Dragon Hunters

Book Two: The Path of Honor

© 2001-2002 Draconus / Stratadrake of NEWST

Chapter Thirteen: The Path Is Clear

Skylark jumped down from his perch on treelimb. "What just happened??"

Strato had run out of threats to shout, and by now it wouldn't matter anyway for Andrake was out of sight. Strato turned back to his fallen companion, Talon. Strato buried his head in his arms over Talon's body and mourned the loss.

Everyone else was stunned. It was like back in the city of Border, where Strato had given himself up to the Honor Guards after they had told him the threat to Talon's life, and when Strato had gone berserk after the judge ordered Talon to be executed first.

Kindra looked back to Strato. "Strato..., what happened?"

"What does it look like!?!" Strato exclaimed angrily. "Talon's dead; Andrake slew him, and you--" Strato pointed at Hunter then Kindra. "you--" Strato couldn't finish the sentence.

Hunter walked closer as well. "Strato?"

"What?!" Strato shouted back. "Can't you leave me alone? I-- I have to bury Talon. Leave. ...please..."

Strato began dragging Talon off elsewhere, but Talon's weight made it a slow pull. "Don't you have better things to do than hang around this graveyard?" Strato asked them. "If I were you, I'd hurry back to Sareille -- because that's where Andrake is headed next."

"How do you know that, Strato?" Hunter inquired.

"Trust me on this, Hunter. Andrake will spend some time repairing from that blow I gave him. But once he's healed, he'll head straight for Sareille."

"Why Sareille?"

"Your avian friend can tell you all about it -- now leave me be!" Strato continued dragging Talon's body off to somewhere else for burial.

Hunter looked back to Skylark for an explanation. Skylark didn't have one, but he suggested they get going anyway.

"Let's be off, then," Kindra suggested. He waved and led the way, everyone else following. Falknyr was waiting for them at the east entrance in his phoenix form. Hunter recognized the bird for the same one that he had encountered earlier, and Kindra introduced him momentarily. After another moment, Falknyr transformed back into his human form and joined the group. Now with six members -- four human, one aerissan and one wyvern -- they set course for Sareille.

By the time night fell, they had travelled about one-third of the distance to Sareille. Falknyr cleared an area for sitting while Marcus and Vrynn set up a nighttime fire.

"So you are Hunter and Marcus," Falknyr started. "Kindra had told me a lot about you."

"He did?" Hunter asked.

Kindra laughed. "Not really.... I kept reminding Falknyr that I had to find you two, but he wouldn't let me out of his sight."

"I was concerned about losing you, nothing more," Falknyr responded to Kindra.

"I for one could have used a little less concern and a little more help searching," Katra stated back frankly.

"Enough of that" Hunter interrupted. "There are more important things to talk about." Hunter looked at Falknyr and then Skylark. "Strato said that Andrake would attack Sareille. Whatever for?"

"Haven't a clue. But, with a demon monster like that Andrake, we should assume he's right and go protect Sareille."

"That creature called Andrake is not to be taken lightly. It is the same monster that our history warns about."

All eyes were suddenly on Falknyr.

Falknyr nodded. "Doesn't Sareille's museum currently have the Resonation Crystal on loan from Threshings?"

"Yes," Skylark responded. "They are going to ship it back to Threshings the morn after tomorrow. But what does that have to do with history, or that Andrake demon?"

"There is a prophecy handed down through the White Dragon shires, and it is recorded in the books of history. That crystal has everything to do with it. The prophecy foretells of a great disaster, the return of a dark and powerful enemy. There are five signs, five warnings to herald the return of that enemy:

Falknyr laughed for a moment in an embarrassed fashion. "Either way, the Resonation Crystal discovered two years ago in the Shoshone Caverns constitutes that first warning. Andrake is definitely the third warning. Since the prophecy foretells each sign to occur in order, the second sign must already have occured, and the fourth may not be far off."

"If so, then who is the warrior foretold in the prophecy?"

"There are two possibilities...." Falknyr was looking across the fire at Kindra.

"Me?" Kindra said, surprised.

Hunter looked at Kindra as well, and Kindra looked back at Hunter, his dragon-eyes glowing slightly. "Kindra, now that I think about it, your eyes are different than before, aren't they?"

Kindra smiled. "You could say I have my father's eyes...."

Falknyr nodded. "Quite true, for the son of a dragon that is...."

"What?" Hunter asked in surprsie.

"Nevermind that...," Kindra said, shaking his head. "Falknyr, what was the other possibility?"

"Unbelievable as it sounds, Strato could also be that warrior. There are many rumors surrounding his family and his heritage. Supposedly, he has dragon's blood flowing through his veins and fights like a dragon because of it."

Rumor or not, that news was definitely unbelieable.

"But moving on...," Falknyr started back up. "The five warnings are also accompanied by other, smaller signs and portents. One of them is that the enemy being the third sign -- Andrake in this case -- will obtain the crystal is the first sign. That is why we should return to Sareille. Andrake may appear, and try to steal the Resonation Crystal from the Museum or as it is being shipped back to Threshings."

"Then we should get some rest now, shan't we?" Skylark asked.

Falknyr and everyone else nodded, then bedded down for the night.

The next day was spent travelling the rest of the roadway back towards Sareille. The climate shifted from Nathos's warmer climate to Sareille's colder climate, and snow gradually began to appear once more along the ground. It was nightfall by the time their group arrived back at Sareille. Back at the Ranger's headquarters, Skylark spent some time informing Ravisse about the last few days' events. Falknyr introduced her to Kindra, then told her about Andrake and their concern for the Resonation Crystal that was going to be shipped back to Threshings. Ravisse offered them a place to stay at the headquarters, which they accepted gratefully. Ravisse said that she would call on them in the morning so that they could guard the Resonation Crystal on its trip to Threshings.

Ravisse woke the group up bright and early the next morning and after serving a short breakfast, she lead them to Sareille's museum and told the couriers about their assignments. Skylark would keep pace on the ground, while Falknyr, in his phoenix form, would keep watch from the air and alert Skylark should Andrake be sighted anywhere near. If Andrake did indeed show up it would be Hunter, Marcus, and Kindra's responsibility to fight.

About noontime, their preparations paid off as Falknyr gave a warning signal to Skylark: Andrake was approaching, all right, from the sky to the west. Skylark gave warning to the couriers to defend themselves, and to Hunter, Marcus, and Kindra to ready for action.

Just a minute later, Andrake arrived, flying in overhead and then touching down. He drew the Atom Blade as he shut off his thruster pack. He looked at Hunter, Marcus, and Kindra with hardly a surprise. "Well, well, well; if it isn't you three, my lucky opponents." Andrake pointed the Atom Blade directly at Kindra.

Kindra looked back at Andrake in a powerful glare. "You've come for the crystal, haven't you? You'll have to go through us first." Kindra charged his sword with its power of fire as well.

Andrake looked at the blade. "That is no Dragon Buster. Where did you get it?"

"My father gave it to me," Kindra responded.

Andrake sneered, then attacked. Kindra blocked the attack and knocked Andrake back a few steps, while Marcus backed off a step to draw his bow. Andrake came at Kindra again; Kindra blocked the attack too. Next, Kindra decided to attack. Andrake blockd and countered; Kindra saw it and deflected the counter as well. Andrake jumped back and into the air for a moment. Marcus fired an arrow straight into Andrake's thruster pack, and he came crashing back into the ground.

Andrake endured another hit from Marcus's bow as he stood back up. He caught Marcus's third shot, however, and sent the arrow directly back for Marcus, missing by but an inch as Marcus swirled aside. Hunter assembled his bow in a quick second and then, having a clear shot at Andrake, took it and fired an arrow directly into Andrake's left shoulder.

Andrake backed up for a moment, then swung the Atom Blade backwards, carving clean through a grand fir, then stepping aside as the tree began to fall. Everyone cleared the area as the tree came crashing down onto the ground in front of their path.

Skylark had an idea and drew one of his chakrams.

Kindra chased after Andrake, who diverted to the side and sliced another tree down, it falling aside the road. Andrake then grappled across the road to the other side, slicing a third tree off at about ten feet up. This tree fell across the road on the other side, trapping the shipment in an area between two timbers.

Marcus drew his newer bow and strung an arrow for use. Andrake saw this and charged straight for Marcus. Marcus fired the shot. A streak of flame erupted from the arrow as it took flight, and the arrow impacted Andrake squarely in the chestplate, then exploded. This explosion knocked Andrake down into the ground, head first.

Andrake flipped back to his feet and then backed off. He fired his grapple directly at Marcus but missed, instead hitting the cart which carried the crystal cargo. In retracting the grapple, Andrake tore the side of the cart over, and several boxes of cargo for shipping spilled to the ground.

Kindra came back on the attack, and the Atom Blade deflected another attack. Kindra attacked a second and third time in quick succession and scored a single hit on Andrake's armor, leaving a visible scar on Andrake's right shoulder.

Andrake charged Kindra and bowled him over, then pinned Kindra to the ground, threatening him with the Atom Blade. "This time there'll be nothing to stop me from --"

Suddenly, out from nowhere visible a chakram hit Andrake on the left arm, cutting the Atom Blade out of his grip before returning to Skylark who had thrown it. The Atom Blade fell harmlessly to the ground and Kindra grabbed it. The Atom Blade energized when Kindra held it, and in a quick move, Kindra sliced through Andrake's left leg. Andrake fell to the ground again, and Kindra stood up, his sword in one hand and the Atom Blade in the other.

Andrake's left leg was still somewhat functional, and he rolled backwards then flipped to regain his footing. Andrake paused for a moment in surprise. "How on earth...?! Not only do you deflect the Atom Blade, but you master it too?"

Kindra smiled slightly, and dropped his sword to the ground, right in front of Andrake. Neither Hunter nor Marcus knew what Kindra was planning.

Andrake lunged for the sword, and in that moment Katra whirled forward and thrust the Atom Blade right into Andrake's right shoulder. Simultaneously, Kindra released the Blade and grabbed his own sword from the ground, just moments before Andrake would have grabbed it.

Andrake fell down and rolled a few times, stopping on his right side. He separated the Atom Blade from his right shoulder and looked at the damage. Damage to Andrake's shoulder was serious. Andrake stood up, steaming. "You win this battle, young one, but I swear I shall return!"

Andrake then activated his thruster pack and shot into the air. That was the last they would see of Andrake for a while.

Hunter marveled at Kindra's feat. "Tell me... how did you actually block the Atom Blade?"

Kindra sheathed his sword. "Remember what happened in Border, Hunter? Andrake's Atom Blade energized my medallion somehow. In short, we may not have that Dragon Buster of legend, but we may no longer need it, either."

"What about the shipment?" Hunter asked.

The couriers checked the cart and re-assembled the broken side. The Resonation Crystal still lay in the middle of the cart in its magically-sealed shipping crate. "The crystal is safe," one of the couriers stated.

"Good," Hunter replied. "Now to clear this road...."

Everyone turned their attention to the felled trees blocking the road. Skylark flew back to Sareille to recruit some help, while Hunter and Marcus began cutting up one of the trees to clear the road to Threshings. After clearing that log away, they turned towards the log blocking the way back to Sareille. All in all, it took two hours to clean up the mess, including a few human and requato Rangers that Skylark had found in Sareille willing to help.

It is an interesting note that, with the Atom Blade, Andrake had in mere minutes created a mess requiring two hours to clean up. A mental image became clearer now -- it must have been Andrake who had covered the road from Calcutta to Sareille in fallen trees. Hunter, Marcus and Vrynn, Kindra, Falknyr, and Skylark then decided to head back to Sareille -- the other Rangers whom Skylark had found would oversee the rest of the shipment to Threshings.

It was almost sunset by the time Hunter and his group returned to Sareille and reported about what happened. Ravisse was relieved to hear that they had actually driven Andrake from combat, and that the Crystal was safe. Ravisse gave several thanks for their help and offered dinner at one of Sareille's finer establishments.

Now, while the city of Sareille does have a number of cafés and restaurants, each one has its own distinct style, namely because of the four races that live in Sareille. The particular place Ravisse chose for dinner was one best suited to her kind, the aerissans, though it is owned and tended primarily by dracans and located on one side of the courtyard. The construction of the place was solid, but the inside was quite spacious. The places to sit were denoted by tableaus about two and a half feet high, each carved from solid rock and with intricate, feathery designs etched and painted into their top surfaces. Cushions and mats were everywhere in place of chairs; some made out of fibers like cotton, but most being either straw or feather. The ceiling was perhaps twenty feet high, supported by an intricate, fireproofed-wooden framework, small chandeliers hanging from the major intersections of the rafters. The walls were almost completely supplanted by patterns of abstract stained glass framework, and although there was no sunlight to shine through them, they still offered an impressive view of the courtyard in the Rangers headquarters.

Afer they had settled upon what to have for dinner, Ravisse placed their order and footed the bill. It was about twenty minutes later when their order was brought out to them on a wheeled cart by one of the servants. The food was well prepared. Ravisse had selected a fair array of both meats and plants for the meal: general dishes such as ham and quail, common foods such as cabbage leaf and azura plant (a favorite dish among Aerissans), as well as a few more extravagant dishes including some ethnic specialties like "wolfpaw" and baked feathers (the latter apparently having been intended for Vrynn). Drinks were water and assorted juices. No wine or other alcohol was available considering that it is dangerous to the dracan kind.

Most of the dinnertime conversations were discussions between Hunter and Kindra about where they had been and what they had seen, whiel Falknyr conferred with Ravisse about matters more prophetic and magical.

After they had finished, Aurex found them right outside the Rangers' headquarters. "Greetings, all."

"Aurex! What a surprise," Ravisse said when she noticed him. "What brings you here?

"I was flying over this way for some business, and you may not believe what I saw, but there was a metal monster, the same as the legendary demon monster, 'Andrake', and it was injured. I saw that monster going down into the Shoshone Caverns from its entrance just a mile or two south of here."

"The 'Caves of Hell' ?"

Aurex nodded. "Absolutely. He knows about the Resonation Crystal discovered down there two years ago. He may go looking for it."

"Impossible," Ravisse promptly stated. "The crystal is safely back on its way to Threshings where it belongs. These three, Hunter, Marcus, Kindra, they fought and defeated that monster."

"Defeated, yes, but not destroyed, " Aurex replied. "No one knows what all lies buried in the Shoshone Caverns. He could find something to heal with, or perhaps something more dreadul."

"That's it!" Falknyr stated loudly. " 'The ancient demon shall descend into Hell and bring to life one he calls ally', that is the fifth sign, the final warning prophesied in legend."

"Yes, I've heard of it. Andrake, whether he knows it or not, may be trying to complete the fifth step of that prophecy."

"But," Falknyr interrupted. "The signs are prophesied to occur in order. Andrake can't complete the fifth sign without the other four occuring beforehand."

"And what if they have?" Aurex asked.

"I doubt it," Falknyr stated. "If ever there is a dragon the color of darkest night, that news would spread worldwide quickly. Such news hasn't, therefore the fourth sign has not passed."

"Not yet, that is," Aurex stated back. "Either way, Andrake's appearance in itself is the completion of the third sign. There are only two more signs, two more warnings that may hold the world at peace. We must be prepared for when the last two signs come to pass."

Aurex turned his attention to Hunter. "Hunter Antare, I see you have enlisted with our Rangers. That will protect you. And you," Aurex waved at Kindra, hoping for a name.

"Kindra, son of Draconus," Kindra responded.

"Yes. You are among the Nathians; that also protects you. But you--" Aurex pointed at Marcus. "You are not prepared for what may come, at least not yet."

Marcus looked back inquisitevely as Aurex explained.

"The legend speaks of the Guardians -- powers too terrible to simply ignore. If you do not take a stand for one of their causes, you cannot stand against any of them.

"I had a dream last night, and it concerns you three," Aurex said, indicating Hunter, Marcus, and Kindra. "Many things happened, some that I do not know if I can understand,even -- but I did get one message from it. Beware that the enemy you fight can not be killed in fire. For if that enemy should be reborn, it shall spell doom for the world."

"The question is, that dream speaks against the prophecy, so only one can be true. I feel that the dream is an important message, but I do believe the prophecy to be important as well."

Ravisse nodded. "Either could be true. Prophecies are dreams that have come to pass; if they do not, then they are just dreams."

"I would rather believe the prophecy," Kindra spoke up. "The seven White Dragons exist in our world, after all, holding the Guardians. And our legends say that a 'demon from the past shall arise to destroy all, starting with those who preserved the world three thousand years ago.' I'd bet almost anything that Andrake is that demon."

Hunter nodded. "So, then, what next? Andrake must be stopped."

"I know what next," Marcus said. "We should take a little exploration of those caverns ourselves."

"What??" came an almost universal response from the rest of the group.

"If we're going to stop Andrake, there's hardly any sense in sitting around talking -- we should get a move on. We can camp out by the entrance for the night, and head down there next morning."

"I'll go with you," Aurex responded. "Dangerous as it is, if you want to go down into those caverns, you'll need someone with the dragonsight to help you see."

"I could do that," Kindra stated. Aurex looked him straight in the eye for a moment, noticing Kindra's dragon eyes. "I suppose you could," Aurex said back. "But I am still going with you. Those caverns are dark, and dangerous, and if anything happens to you--" Aurex pointed at Kindra. "--then you'll need a second one with dragonsight."

"Shall we get going, then?" Marcus asked.

When sunrise came the next morning, Hunter, Marcus and Vrynn, Kindra, and Aurex were prepared for their next trip -- straight into the Caves of Hell. They proceeded slowly, Kindra using the fiery powers of his sword to provide light. Hunter used the magical skill Ravisse taught him to power up his own sword for a secondary light source. Aurex led the way to the caverns' upper levels. It was dark down here, and the only signposts for navigation were travel markers affixed to various points in the wall, each made out of reflective crystal. These markers dotted out safe paths of travel through this upper level of the caverns. After about ten minutes of travel across this path, they arrived at a large, open underground area. There was a large hole in the floor here, and a nearly-solid line of travel markers had been placed on the precipice as warning. Three natural stone pillars projected from the ceiling to unknown depths below. Aurex grabbed a small rock and tossed it down; the rock fell for nearly seven seconds before they heard the echo of it landing on the bottom, lower levels. Though the main path veered to the left around this area, there was another path that spiraled down and to the right. Aurex led them down this path into the deeper levels.

There was a faint, strange smell in the air, which Kindra identified as smelling a bit like char produced by the Atom Blade burning through a surface. Kindra was right. A medium-large sized shape had been burned into the stone wall at this point. It was the lowercase letter alpha; apparently Andrake had burned it into the wall to identify where he had been.

Andrake had been through there, and recently. Aurex led them further down the path, proceeding about two complete spirals down before they arrived at the bottom. Several tunnels led off in various directions. A lowercase letter beta was burned into the wall here near the path climbing upwards.

They were definitely on the right path, the one less travelled by.