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."
"This is where we part ways master Albrecht. I look forwards to visiting your shop in the near future."
"Mistress." Albrecht bowed deeply before Amethyst. "I thank you for honoring the agreement. Also, for not broiling my idiot page."
"Think nothing of it. Although I would remind him that revealing the secret of Hoardmouthe has a deliciously... crispy ending." To which the page visibly turned pale as the blood drained from his face.
Albrecht wrapped a thick, muscle-bound arm around the page's shoulders. "Come along boy. Let's get settled in for the night. There's lots of work needs doing!"
Amethyst brushed at her wing, dislodging dust and dead scales. "We should not dally here. With automata abroad in the world it is clear that change is on the horizon."
Tellerick looked back at the portal. "I should return to the boy. There are forces at play that none of us are truly prepared for."
"Especially Will." Replied Kralla. "He's a just child Tellerick. He shouldn't have to deal with all... All this!"
"The augury simply won't have to mistress Kralla." Said Amethyst gently. "That is what we are here for. That is why we are bound to his presence."
"Wot the bleedin' hell's teef was that!" Screeched Skaran, as the group picked themselves up from the ground.
"That, rat." Said Amethyst. "Was a dragon slaying automaton. They are skin wearers.
"Skin wearers?" An edge of terror skirted Barnabas's voice. "Really?"
"Yes, fox. The flesh of a person stitched over the cold skeleton of iron cogs and springs. Intricate in their monstrousness. They are magical constructs of incredible ingenuity and require knowledge, that I thought was out of reach for a good thousand years."
"That was quite the light show." Tellerick brushed himself down. "A lot of magic used there."
As the creature inside the cage started whistling like a kettle beginning to boil, Amethyst quickly placed one enormous paw underneath the cart and launched it out over the bay.
"Shield your eyes!" She shouted as she brought a wing around the group. There was a brilliant flash, so bright the individual bones in Amethysts' wing were clearly visible. Followed by a hot wind that picked up grass and dust from the ground.
Amethyst looked down on the stunned group. "Is everyone alright?"
Everyone in the crook of her wing blinked the dark spots and dust away from their eyes.
"Oh my! I haven't seen one of these in nearly a thousand years!"
As it approached the group, the man inside the cage hissed and clanked as he railed against the bars of his cage.
Amethyst sat down and peered through the bars as the cart stopped in front of them.
The man wasn't a man. Underneath the ragged clothes the skin hung loose, revealing filigree iron metalwork. Artisan nuts and rivets, over precision gears levers and hissing pipework.
It reached and scrabbled for the dragon, intent on getting to her but unable to understand the bars blocking its way.
Towering above them all the apex, Machiavellian, predator that was Amethyst looked smug. "Yes rat. Yes I am."
She looked down the towards the village as a small cart approached. On the back was a cage containing a man.
"What is this Siegmund?"
"Ah. The children captured a pirate. As you are here, I thought you would want to talk with him before he's put down."
"I'm tired Siegmund, and I have a raging headache. Why do I need to talk to a pirate of all people?"
"Well, this one is a little odd Ma'am."
"Really? How odd?"
Skaran sat down with an audible thud. His tail straight out and a look of disbelief on his face, as the audacity of the whole thing sank in.
The dragon had infiltrated the dragon slayers guild completely, hoarded the best and even started supplying the guild with the most highly trained dragon slayers in the world. She'd then used those self-same dragon slayers as her personal police force to keep the other dragons in line.
It was... Spectacular. Not to mention, as an elder, the guild would only send her the best to slay her.
"Dammit Missy. You're good!"