The air of the forest was cool and damp, fragrant with moss, pine and clean wet earth. Minerva, exhausted, carried on. The foxfire, that rippled and spat, at the tip of her staff was not the usual steady light it should be. She was pushing it too far but being as far away from the valley this night was best right now. There could still be leftovers from the enemy forces that might track her.
But there was only so far, she could go.
She pulled her cloak about her in the crook of a tree, tipping her hat down.
As the sun set behind the mountains the shadows, already long by then, deepened to a sullen flicker; lit by the fires of the battle as they guttered out to angry embers.
Gently, she wove a healing spell around the deep gash in her side. Hissing in pain from both the weaving, and the healing of her torn flesh.
It took too long; she was tired and weak, and the spell took its own toll. But she sighed with relief when it was finished. Straightening her wide brimmed hat, and picking up her staff, she made leave of the battlefield.
Minerva knelt in the ash and mud. Driving her gauntlet into the earth as fires raged around her.
A tear ran down her cheek, carving itself a clear path across her face.
She was the last of the battlegroup. The rest were gone, but at least she'd managed to take the last of them down.
Blood-soaked mud squished between her fingers. Pain wracked her frame as she slowly stood, leaning against the ruined wall of the church.
She looked out across the shattered battlefield. The evening sun was just setting behind the valley walls, drowning the valley in red.
Tellerick examined the shell-shocked cadaver. Most of his rotten finery had been removed by Tamryn when they'd captured him. All that remained were grave-stained shirt and long pants tucked into loose boots.
"Marakel, do you remember me?"
The Lich looked up. "Yes. She... I am fate-bound with nothing more than a word."
Tellerick nodded. "Yes, yes she did." He sighed. "Never cross a Dragon."
"What happens now?"
"Well... William is the Augury of Destiny. Now we wait. The weapons of war will come for him. We must be ready to advise them and defend ourselves and Will."
The Dragon curled up, wrapping her tail around her. "Wake me up when my ingredients arrive. I've done too much today and must sleep." And with that she closed her eyes, tilted her head and opened her mouth so she could breath properly.
Tellerick and Tamryn rounded on Marakel.
"I should put him back in the ground Tellerick." Growled Tamryn, his book of the White Saints held firmly in his paw.
"I don't think you can anymore. Amethyst has wrapped him in fate and destiny. It's thick around him."
"You could dip him in chocolate sauce, he'd still be evil."
Marakel flinched as Kralla moved in behind him menacingly.
"Let go of the boy."
Immediately he let Will go. The parchment paper skin of his face was now a mask of horror. "What have you done?" He whispered, over and over as he just stood there.
Amethyst turned a bleary eye towards Will. "You are a very exhausting to be around boy. The Lich is as much a guardian now as your friend Kralla and master Tellerick. But beware. He is not your friend. Trust is earned, never bought or coerced. He may be undead, but he will help you."
"What? What have you done!" Marakel dropped Will to the floor. "No! No! What have you done!?"
"You are bound, lich." Hissed the dragon. "You make one move against William, or those who are entwined with his fate, and the magic that binds your spirit to your form will be broken." Amethyst pulled her wings back. "And now I'm going to throw up..." She span around and promptly emptied her stomach into the woods, melting a large patch of ground and turning it into an evil smelling pool of steaming, bubbling, fluids.
"I hate being ill." She said, collapsing slightly.
Amethyst landed heavily behind Marakel. Her wings cupped around, plunged the tableau into darkness except for the infernal, purple glow coming from the dragons eyes and mouth. The clawed tips of her wings dug deep into the ground around them, ensuring no easy means of escape.
"LIIICH!" She hissed and drooled. The latter sending up acidic whisps of smoke as it burned into the ground.
Marakel span around, holding Will up as a shield. "He's mine dragon!"
"NO." Burbled Amethyst. "MY WORD IS MAGIC. I BIND YOU LICH. I BIND YOU TO THE BOY. YOUR FATE BELONGS TO HIM NOW."
Kralla's huge paw-hands flashed as the Lich looked down on Will. Her knife flew between the space separating them in a single heartbeat, only to be caught and casually tossed back. It clattered across the stones on the path.
"Not bad kitty." Smirked Marakel. "Not bad. But you are still no match for me, even on a bad day."
"It must be a bad day then for you to need to hold a child between us. You sad old bag of bones. You can't even..."
Suddenly the space around them turned dark as Amethyst, roaring, plummeted from the sky."
"So, what's the deal here bones?" Snarled Kralla as she paced back and forth. "You're drained of power and just need the boy as a hostage? A bit low for the so called lord of miserly."
"That's Lord of Misery dearest kitty cat. Originally it was that, but even I know real power when I handle it." The lich lifted young Will higher up the withered remains of his chest.
"Hah! The boy has no powers bones. He's just that. A boy."
"Oh no miss kitty. No, no, no." He cast his gaze downwards. "He's so much more than that!"
A beat of distant wind caught Kralla's ear as they swivelled in irritation. She was hot; and now she was exceptionally angry at the Lich, Marakel, as he held young William close to his chest. She snarled and leaned as if to strike.
"Ah, ah, aaah! Don't think I won't!"
"You don't have the balls, Lich"
"Neither, fortunately, do you miss Kitty."
Kralla started prowling. She couldn't help it. Pacing back and forth as the Lich kept all his attention on her.
"Mine are considerably bigger than what's in your dried up sack."
"Oh, I absolutely don't doubt that cat!"
Marakel dodged again, but it was obvious now that he was struggling. The child was here, he could feel him close by but it was dull, covered.
Kralla struck out again, this time catching him with a leg as she pirouetted around her last sword thrust. Marakel careened across the clearing and struck one of the charcoal drums, tipping it over and spilling Will and his father into the fray. Instantly Marakel reached for the boy and drew him close.
"Ah, ah! Kitty... You don't want to hurt the boy do you?"
Kralla roared as she skidded to a stop.
"Mmph! Mmmmfrah!" Amethyst realised that she was not only clenching her teeth, but also her fist. The one with the priest in it. She relaxed and Tamryn's head popped out between her claws, panting for air. "Hell's teeth dragon! Warnings! And if you call me a rabbit again...!"
"You'll do what exactly?" She said loudly over the beat of her wings. She looked down. There were numerous small clearings with cottages and other small-holdings scattered along the edge of the woods.
"There!" Shouted Tellerick. "Down there!" The flash of steel in sunlight told he where to go. She dove.
Amethyst launched into the sky, powerful wings beating down. The downdraft sending monks, foxes and rats scattering.
"Bloody hell missy!" Shouted Skaran from a pile of hay. "E're? Where's this woodcutter's shed then?"
Barnabas spat hay as he too crawled out from the stack. "Bleurgh! P'th, p'th! Not far, but it's going to be a bit of a run."
"Last one there gets to dig 'is bonieness's 'ole where we bury his skinny arse in the ground!" And with that, Skaran leapt out of the hay stack and streaked across the yard before stopping. "Er... Which way fox?" Barnabas pointed.
The heavy sound of one of Kralla's blades embedding itself into the side of a tree rebounded across the small clearing in front of the woodcutters wooden cottage.
"Tamryn must've done a real number on you lich." She snarled. "You're slow."
"Oh! Come now! One should always play with one's pets dear kitty."
The wood splintered heavily with a crack as she twisted the blade from the tree. She sprang at Marakel, brandishing both blades. He fell backwards and feinted to one side as one of them narrowly missed his arm.
"No magic yet?" She hissed, as she lunged again.
The monk ran across the courtyard with a large leather satchel and deposited it before Tamryn, before rushing off again. The old badger opened it to check its contents before looping it over his head. "Where's my horse!?" He bellowed before turning to Tellerick. "You think he's gone after your boy master Tellerick?"
"Aye. the woodcutter's boy. We need to get there quickly."
A shadow crossed the pair; Amethyst's head came close. "Point the way Master Tellerick." An enormous hand-paw grabbed him. "You too little bunny." As her other hand-paw engulfed Tamryn, cutting off his cry of indignation.
The small house of the woodcutter appeared cold and silent as Kralla came up the track. This was what she was born for. The hunt. Her nose flared, sampling the breeze. The boys scent was here, fresh; but mingled with the dust of ages. The musty smell of the tomb. Marakel, the lich, was here, somewhere.
Suddenly she span around, simultaneously unsheathing her swords with a loud metallic slish.
"Oh, ho! You are still a nimble little kitty aren't you!" Laughed Marakel behind her.
"Why don't you come here and find out bonesy. Taste the edge of my blades?"
Kralla sped off down the road. Right now, she needed strength when she got to the boy, so she quickly settled into a long loping run that her pride used when running down plains lizards. It conserved energy while still allowing a fair amount of speed. Of course, she was far faster than anyone at the monastery. Except maybe for the dragon as she could fly.
But the dragon didn't know where the boy lived. She did.
Pads and claws dug into the packed road dirt, kicking up little puffs of brown dust as she sped towards the woodcutters' house.
Tamryn continued to bark orders into the disarray until Tellerick placed his hand on Tamryn's shoulder. "What do you mean, the lich escaped you? Marakel?"
"Aye, Marakel. That smug, nasty un-life." Snarled Tamryn. "Gerald lost focus on him and fell asleep on the job, while that bundle of bones that calls itself a necromancer slid off into the night."
Tellerick paled and turned to Kralla. "Will." They said in Unison.
Skaran's jaw dropped open, "Oh shit..."
"He's at the woodcutter's on the edge of the old town Kralla." Said Tellerick. "Get to him quickly, I'll be right behind you!"
As they passed through the portal, returning to the hallowed ground of the monastery the bellowing of an angry honey badger filled the air.
"Where the blazes have you been boy!" Tamryn stomped across the courtyard. "What in hells teeth happened to our barn?!" He stopped as Amethyst squeezed through. "What!" He yelled at the fox. "Are you doing with a bloody dragon?!"
Barnabas opened his mouth to start. "Oh shut up boy! We have a situation here!" He turned. "You and you." He pointed at two monks. "Flasks and Candles" He turned back to Barnabas. "The lich escaped us."