Chapter Four: A New Threat
"I still can't believe we have to deal with something this bad!" Cynder lamented the next morning at their breakfast in the Dragon City. "I just wanted to try and get through the next few weeks—maybe months, even—before we would have to be forced into some sort of battle!" She sighed, and took a sip of the milk from her glass. "Ignitus did tell me a little while after he saved me and helped me back to full health that there was another threat, though he didn't tell me much more than that. So I wasn't sure what I was supposed to think. I just wish this didn't have to happen."
"It could be worse," Spyro said. "At least you weren't hurt more. As much as I hate it, Malyf is wanting to kill you for killing Zyla, which we would find totally wrong, but she finds our actions morally wrong. It's all so strange, but it's something we now have to deal with." He sighed as well, and looked across the table, where Hunter was dining as well. "Hunter, would you mind passing the muffin?" he asked the Cheetah warrior, who passed it down to him without saying a word. "Are you doing okay, Hunter?"
"Yes, I am," Hunter replied calmly. "But I wish we did not have to deal with another battle. The last time we did so, we did not have to worry quite as much. But then again, it was not against Zyla herself. We do not know what will happen next. I hope it will not become like that of the battle in Kasi. I may not have been there, but that does not mean that I do not remember the aftermath of the battle and the outcome of the events…including Mara taking over, your supposed death, and more. But I'm sure there will a point in this new battle that we will be able to find a way to end Malyf. I am sure that we will win without much trouble this time around. Or so I hope." He took a long draught of the wine in his silver goblet. "This wine is strong. That is why I do not drink it much, or else it might affect it me too much." He got up from his seat and began his exit. "I will see you sometime later."
When he was gone, Spyro turned to Cynder, whom he saw had rings under her eyes, something he hadn't seen since before their last fight with Zyla. He could see already that this was all taking a toll on her, and he couldn't blame her for that, although it did concern him. As long as you're kept safe, he thought, then I won't blame myself for any of this. But that doesn't mean that I can't help but think of doing something like that. It's hard not to, especially in a time like this. I just want her to be safe. But there's too much going on, and I don't know if that's possible. No, don't think of that! You will keep her safe until this is all over. You won't have to worry about a thing. It will all work out in the end. I just know it. There's no way this will end badly. We already went through so much, so we should be able to go through it again, without much trouble. Cynder may be wounded, but that doesn't mean it'll be like last time. I'm sure this will end well for once.
Terrador entered the room, and as soon as she saw him, Cynder sighed. "What does he want?" she muttered under her breath. "I'm too tired for anything like this at the moment."
"Terrador's just wanting to help right now," Spyro told her. He noticed that something was different about her. "What's going on with you? Is your mind working differently or something? Look, I'm just trying to help."
"I know, Spyro, and I thank you for that. Thank you for all that you've done. You've done more than anyone, and I don't know how I would have gotten through all I have without you or any of the others. But as for Terrador, when I see him, I feel like there's something really bad that's about to happen. I don't know why. That feeling just hits me, and I don't know what to do about it. Do you have any idea?"
"No," Spyro said. "I know you don't want to have to deal with whatever he says, but for the time-being, we're going to have to. The Council is definitely going to need our help. We have more experience than anyone when it comes to all this crap. I know you hate it. I hate it too. Trust me, I know you very well. I know your hatred for a lot of this. I've been your mate for a while. Over a year, by now. That means I can understand you better than anyone. Please, let's just see what he wants to say, and then we can tell him what we think of it. Even if it has to do with the Council, let's just deal with it. They need help from us right now. They haven't had to deal with so much of a threat since Malefor returned."
Cynder sighed. "Alright," she said. "But don't be surprised if I start dozing off not long afterward. I haven't been able to sleep too well. It's not easy, you know? It hasn't been easy for a while, then again. I think the last time I got such a good night's sleep was the night after I returned to the Temple with you. You usually help to make everything so good for me. But it seems that not even you are enough when it comes to this horrible crap. That's just horrible, but it seems it's true! What in the name of God is this world coming to?"
Spyro smiled and stroked her cheek. "I understand that this is hard for you, but I'm going to tell you now, nothing lasts forever. Except that might change soon. Malyf will be defeated, and the peace will come. That peace will last forever. Just listen to me, because I'm telling the truth right now." He kissed her, and she returned the kiss passionately.
There was the sudden sound of a throat being cleared, and the two broke apart to find Terrador behind them. There was a stern expression on his face. "The Council would like to see you," he told them with barely any emotion in his voice, not even anger appearing. After telling them this, he walked away.
Spyro and Cynder got up from their seats and followed him out of the dining hall. When they finally arrived in another room farther down the hall, this one being large enough to hold more than a thousand, likely, the two Dragons found the Council sitting in seats around a stone table. Looking around, Spyro found no trace of Hunter or Mara.
"Hello, Spyro, Cynder," said Aden. "I do not believe you understand why we have asked you here."
"I think we do, but please, tell us," Spyro said. "I do not wish to jump to conclusions, just in case."
Aden nodded. "Wise of you, I must say," he admitted. "Anyway, the reasons behind our calling of you to come here is, as you might have already guessed, the appearance of the Pink Dragoness not very long ago. We attempted to track her down, but our party returned early this morning, with only a few things to tell us."
He nodded to Adela, who took over from there. "The search party was beaten and battered, and three had died from wounds they received. They said there had not been much sound made during the battle for some reason. All that many of them remember is the sight of blood and and evil voice, which we took to mean the Pink Dragoness. There was a search party of fifteen, and three of them died there. Five more of them have died from wounds they sustained in a battle. None of the survivors were able to give us an answer on where the Pink Dragoness has gone."
"You sent a search party to fight Malyf?" Cynder retorted. "What in the name of God were you thinking?"
"Cyn..." Spyro said warningly, but Cynder cut him off before he could say anything more.
"No, I'm saying what the truth is here, Spyro! You saw what Malyf was able to do on her own, and yet you sent a freaking search party of only fifteen without a freaking thought of what might actually happen if Malyf had an army, which she most likely did, and does! There is something wrong with you Moles if you thought you would be able to succeed!" She groaned as a headache appeared. She didn't feel as if she was going to be able to take any of it much longer. This was so stressful, and with all the stress of the last few hours alone, she wanted to find a place to lay down and sleep. "Look," she finally said after a few minutes' silence, "I know you're only trying to help, but what you did was just stupid, and I'm sorry if that offends you. Spyro and I know better than you do when it comes to...all this. Please, if you want an army to fight against Malyf and whatever forces she has, let us train them. We can help them. Just allow us."
The Moles came together and whispered amongst themselves. Cynder nursed her headache as they did this. She saw Spyro look at her with concern, and she told him, "It's just a headache. Nothing more." He bought this, and she felt good, because she was at least telling him the truth this time; not a fraction of the truth, or a complete lie.
Finally, the Moles turned back to the Dragons. Aden spoke for them all once more, as he had the last few times. "I believe you're speaking the truth, Cynder," he said. "And we understand that we need to be prepared for whatever battle is about to come. We do have an army, and while we've fought Malefor's forces before, we need someone to train them even better. You two know how it is to be out there, fighting against these monsters. You've done it so much before, and I want you to help us. We need to make sure there is no trouble when the time to fight finally comes. So will you help us in this?"
Spyro and Cynder turned to each other and stared into one another's eyes. They knew their answer automatically as they did so. So Spyro turned back and told them, "Yes. We will help to train your army. We know how it feels, to be unprepared for something bigger than you can imagine, as we've both gone through it so many times by now. But that's not going to happen again. We're going to be ready for whatever trouble comes. It won't find us. We'll find it. And we'll end it."
"Well put," Terrador said. "How large is this army of yours, Aden?"
"A thousand strong, at the least," Aden said. "I don't know if that's too much for two young Dragons to do, but—"
"They won't be alone, however," Mara's voice said. She appeared alongside Terrador, Hunter behind her. "We will help them train the soldiers, and we will be sure there are no surprises coming. This city is sacred. We already nearly lost Kasi to the other side's forces, and it is thanks to Spyro and Cynder that such a disaster was averted, though it came at the cost later that night, after the battle was ended. I will not go into specifics, as you already know it all, from our last meeting."
Adela nodded. "Yes, that is true," she said. "And we will not question further, because, as you said, we already know it. Now, how many of you are there? I believe I count seven. That would not be an even number of soldiers training under the same person."
"While there might be seven, you have forgotten something," said Spyro. "Hunter and Mara are the leaders of their own army, which is already well-trained. So that means five groups of at least two hundred soldiers. That will be easier for all of us."
Aden nodded. "Yes," he said. "That will work. I will send word to our army's leader. While he is already well-trained, I am sure that he will be needing even more for what is to happen in the coming days or weeks." He whispered something into the ears of Adela and Gregor, both of whom nodded. Then he walked off toward the door. It could be seen that he was in a rush to get to wherever he was going. As he did so, Spyro turned to Cynder and gave her a soft hug, which she returned.
"I know we'll get through this," she said. "There's a lot of terrible things that could come out of these situations, but I'm sure we'll be fine. I think that as long as we have faith, nothing bad can happen. Well, nothing too horrible at least, but—" She stopped herself before she continued. "Nevermind. We don't need to be talking about any of this. We just need to keep our minds on training the soldiers, and we can worry about the rest later."
Spyro nodded, and then kissed her. "There's too much at stake, I'll admit, but we're going to get through this. I still don't understand why everything has to happen this way, but if that's what's intended to happen, then I'm going to deal with it. Nothing lasts forever, except for the peace that will come after this war has reached its very end."
Hours later, under a hot sun, the groups had come together. The soldiers were ready to train. Spyro and Cynder stood before their group of two hundred soldiers. "Alright," Spyro called out to them. "Now, just so you know, and I'm sure you all can see this, Cynder and I cannot hold blades, as we walk on all fours. So instead of showing you what to do ourselves, we will instead call on two of you to help show the rest of you the best ways to fight. Now, who would like to volunteer?" Almost every soldier raised their hand. Spyro was surprised by this, but Cynder was not. "Okay, you right over there—" he motioned to a soldier in the front, a Mole with green eyes and golden-brown fur "—and you, all the way near the back. Do you see me? Yes, you. Come over here!"
The other Mole had blue eyes and dark brown fur.
"What are your names?" Spyro asked them.
"Sharik," answered the green-eyed Mole.
"Karn," answered the blue-eyed Mole.
"Okay," Cynder said, taking over from Spyro. "Well, Sharik, Karn, I want you both to turn to each other and bow. It's a sign of respect. Even if you don't like each other, still be respectable. It's the best thing to do." The two Moles did as she said. "Good. Now, raise your swords in front of your faces." They did so. "And now...you will spar each other. Just do it for a few minutes, until one of you decides you can spar no longer, or one of you is defeated. Do you understand me?" The Moles nodded. "Good. Now...go."
The Moles clashed their blades together. Sharik slashed at Karn, who blocked it. They hopped away from one another, hoping to get enough distance between them so they could build up enough speed and strength with their next movements and blows.
It was Sharik who began his run first. He ran as fast as he could at Karn, who wasn't expecting the speed of his opponent. Even Cynder thought about how she had never seen someone move so fast, but then retracted that thought, as she had actually seen such speed before, and that had been from Spyro and Hunter, as well as herself. She couldn't help but feel a little prideful as she thought of herself being fast, too.
When the two of them collided, their wooden blades clashed and each of them struggled to gain the upper hand. It was obvious that, despite one of them being faster than the other, neither of them was the strongest. It seemed they were both equally matched in that case.
They're not bad, Cynder thought. Honestly, I haven't seen very many sword battles in a very long time, not since...Kasi. As well as...back then.
She was thinking of when she had been corrupted. She sighed for a moment, tired of all the past events and the old thoughts flooding her mind, but then returned her attention to the sparring match.
As Karn parried, Sharik slashed as hard as he could, nearly knocking Karn off-balance. Cynder could see he was a good fighter. She smiled a little. So long as they remained good fighters, that was all that mattered. So long as neither of them became fearful or attempted to run away from their opponent, then Cynder believed this might work even better than she had hoped.
By the end of the sparring match, Sharik lost as he stumbled backward and went sprawling onto the stone beneath him. Karn held the tip of his wooden blade to his neck. "Yield," he said.
Then the two Moles smiled, and Karn helped Sharik up.
"Well done," Cynder said. "Now, I know you can do better. I believe you both did great, but if you're going to go up against the forces of Malyf, then you're going to need to make sure you don't stumble like you did, Sharik. Understand?"
"Yes," he said. "So, would you like us to do it again?"
"Yes," she said. "Just attempt to do better than you already have. You've done swell so far, but we don't have much time, and there's still a lot of soldiers behind you. Understand me?"
Both of the Moles nodded. Then they got into their ready stances and began the sparring match once more.
From a distance, Spyro watched. He could see Cynder was doing well with her teaching. He was somewhat surprised that she was such a good coach when it came to swordplay, but then he decided that she was a fast learner.
That, and she's seen a lot more than I have, he thought. I don't like thinking about it like that, but it's true. She's seen a lot more swordplay than I have through her years, and so she knows more about this than I do. I vow I'll make sure this battle is easier for her than the last few. She doesn't need anymore hardship. She's already gone through enough.
He felt guilt as he saw her broken leg, but knew it was best not to dwell upon it much longer. Blaming himself was not going to help him very much when the time came to fight.
He returned his attention to the two Moles sparring before him. He could now see there was a victor in the fight, as one lay in the dust, though the defeated Mole had not yielded just yet.
"Don't make it harder than it already is," the victor Mole said to his opponent. "I wanted you to win, but it seems that I have beaten you. Please, yield so that we can finish this battle. There are many more that need to be trained, you know?"
In that instant, the supposedly defeated Mole thrust his wooden blade forward, and if the blade had been made of real steel, the supposed victor would have been impaled. Instead, it drove all his breath out of him, and he had begun to sputter.
"You underestimated my power," the now-victor told his opponent. "You let your guard down when you had the chance to lop off my head and leave my decapitated body in the dust. That's pretty much suicide, you know?" He laughed.
Spyro couldn't help but smile; the victor knew what he was talking about. The defeated Mole had the chance to win, but letting your guard down in battle was a very stupid thing to do. He had done it himself. Maybe it hadn't been what many would believe to be letting your guard down, but he did.
During the battles with Zyla, he continuously let his guard down to help Cynder. That was how he thought of it, at least. It had been worth it most of the time, but it had also proven to be something he'd regretted at times. He then shook his head, thinking it had not been something to regret.
He'd only been hoping to protect his mate, who had been injured during those battles. He'd needed to protect her, or else something could have happened to her. He still thanked God everything had worked out somewhat, that despite their issues, they had been able to reunite with one another. Even despite the new threat, he felt everything was better now.
But there's still a lot to go through, he thought. I'll have to deal with this threat, and so will she. I'll try to protect her again, but I'll do my best to protect her. I've thought this so much before, but I will make sure I stay true to that vow.
Hours later, under the hot sun, Spyro and Cynder had finished with all their soldiers, as had Hunter, Mara, and the Guardians. When it was all over, Cynder limped over to her mate and laid her head against his chest. He touched her neck and felt her sweating.
"You should go and rest, Cyn. It's done now, so we don't have to worry too much. Just go and sleep. You don't have to worry anymore. I'll join you soon. Maybe you should wash off, though. You're sweating a lot, and you need to cool down a little."
"I might do that," she said. "But I want to help you with whatever else there might be to work out with the Moles. And there's probably dinner, too, you know what I mean?" She sighed. "After that, I'll go and rest. You don't need to worry."
He smiled. "I'll try not to," he said.
Sixteen Hours Earlier
The leader of the battle-group was on its way through the forest. Though Aden had not been sure where the Pink Dragoness had fled to, he'd had a suspicion, which had been the forests outside Warfang.
These forests connected with those of Avalar, although there was a great difference between them, Hereward knew. He'd been in that Realm before, and he'd seen just how beautiful they were: green, filled with life, both plant and animal, and with the great river running through it. It was a supreme beauty.
As for these forests, they were brown and shriveled and seemingly dying, though they had been in such a state since Hereward's birth. He was repulsed by the appearance, though he'd developed a small liking for it due to its usefulness as a place for peace and thinking.
"How long until we reach the destination?" asked one of his advisors.
"Wait," Hereward hissed back. "And silence! This forest is filled with enemies! We cannot give up our presence here! We must catch them by surprise, Dunstan! Do you understand me?"
Dunstan spat on the forest floor. Though he had not seen it, the sound of it was unmistakable. He'd been the leader of this squad for a decade now.
Hereward was now thinking of retiring, but he didn't know exactly how long it would be until the time became perfect for that. There was too much at stake for the time-being. He had to at least carry out this mission, and then he would give Aden the heads-up. After ten years, he needed a break. He had no family, but even so, he believed he had reasons for it. He was no more than five-and-thirty, but his past battles had taken a great toll upon him, including a limp in his right leg due to the attempt on his life four years ago, when a soldier of Malefor had broken into his squad's bunker and tried to execute him with their scythe.
The attempt was unsuccessful, with Hereward lopping the soldier's head off, but not before being slammed into the concrete wall hard enough to crack it. His knee had been shattered, and it had been believed for some time that he would never walk again.
Take that, he'd thought to those who had been plotting his downfall.
His foot crunched a large leaf, and the sound echoed through the forest. He cursed himself for his carelessness. "Blast," he whispered. He quickly took a look around, hoping there were no enemies around them, those that had been lying in wait. If there were, then he would blame himself.
There was no one, much to his great relief.
He sighed softly, and then continued stepping forward. He looked back to his squad, seeing all but Dunstan staring at him with bright faces. Dunstan was the only one who seemed angry (or something of that sort) towards him. The rest, younger soldiers in their twenties and even those of eight-and-ten, the minimum age for the enlistment.
There's a clearing ahead of here, he thought. It's the only beautiful place in this God-forsaken place! Filled with green grass and a small brook full of clear, running water that one can drink...it's like Heaven. It's a haven for the thirsty and the weak.
That thought left a good taste in his mouth—
—which disappeared as the sound of an arrow being loosed filled the air, then sank into flesh. Something spilled out onto the leaves, sounding like water being poured.
He whirled around, seeing Leofwine with a bolt in his belly. He was gasping for air, before falling and hitting the ground.
"BLAST!" roared Hereward. "PREPARE YOUR WEAPONS! THE TIME TO FIGHT HAS COME! THERE IS NO TURNING BACK NOW! IF YOU TURN YOUR BACK UPON US, THEN YOU ARE NO MORE THAN A MAGGOT-FILLED, DOG-MOTHERED, YELLOW-BELLIED COWARD! STAND WITH US IF YOUR BRAVERY IS TRUE, AND KILL THESE ENEMIES WITH US! AND NOW...ATTACK!"
Unsheathing his Mole-made blade, which was small to some but large to his kind, he ran forward, toward the dark beasts that had appeared before him. He slashed one's chest, his diamond-edged blade cutting through their armor, and the silver metal being stained crimson.
He lopped one's head off, and gutted another. Great growls and roars broke what had been a silent night at one time. He had little time to prepare for the giant green troll that ran toward him. He acted in reflex, succeeding in taking off a thick arm, and then thrusting the blade through the chest, where he expected the heart to be located.
And for a moment, that was what it took to defeat the beast. But as it was about to fall, its black blood cascading down the blade, something hit it, and the beast seemed reinvigorated, indigo sparks emanating from its body. Its eyes had turned from luteous to violet.
A great fist crashed into his head, and for a moment, all went black.
When he opened his eyes, he found himself surrounded by his squad.
They were all dead.
Their eyes had turned to glass, and terrible wounds had torn apart their skin. Hereward could only stare for a moment, before his vision went black again.
When his eyes opened once more, he found himself surrounded by dark beasts, which were illuminated by torchlight. The area was bathed in a red light.
"One of the Moles' squad leaders," said a voice, feminine and chilling. "How great. It is good to see you here, amongst our ranks."
"Who—are—you?" Hereward forced out.
"Malyf," she replied. "I am surprised you do not remember me. I'm the reason you're out here in the first place. I am the reason another war is coming upon you and your race and all the other races. Especially the Dragons."
"You're the monster that attempted to kill Spyro and Cynder!" Hereward growled. "You attempted to kill our saviors!"
"Saviors?" Malyf spat. By this time, Hereward could see the Pink Dragoness, her scales glistening in the torchlight as if they were wet. She seemed calm, though she was obviously not pleased with Hereward's choice of words. "Those monsters sealed away my master! They sealed away Malefor, leaving this world to suffer the wrath of the incompetent fools that attempt to rule it! And you call me a monster." She spat again, and Hereward felt it hit him. "No matter, though," she finally said. "You aren't going to be alive much longer, anyway. You have done well, I must say. Killing several of my forces without being scratched...impressive. If only it would help you now."
There was the cold laugh, and then the claws coming down.
Blood poured from the gaping wound in Hereward's neck, and he fell.
He felt no pain.