"Hold the line!"
The dragons roared furiously as another wave of armored apes lunged for them. The dirty, smelly baboons swung their bladed weapons wildly, cutting into warm dragon flesh. The wounded dragons only seemed to become more enraged by the blows and slashed with their claws, tearing their foes to shreds.
"Death to the dragons!" The ape king howled and his brutish warriors whooped and hollered in blood-thirsty excitement.
Behind the line of adult dragons, a young white dragoness no more than six years old sat shaking in fear with her friend of the same age, Arcadia. Crona and Arcadia were the only two hatchlings left of the fifteen that had been alive before the surprise attack. They had been pushed to the back of the dragon lines by the elders and protected by the already wounded in the first assault. Now those same dragons were rushing back to support the more able-bodied adults as the masses of apes clawed their way through their lines. The barbaric creatures were not much of a match in terms of strength in comparison to dragons, but what they lacked in strength they made up for in tenacity and numbers.
A large ape leaped high, trying to vault over the lines of dragons. A single fire dragoness spotted him and sprang into the air. She snatched the filthy ape out of the air and bit down hard. The ape's spine snapped and his body was torn to shreds. A group of apes immediately pounced on the dragoness, stabbing her repeatedly with their daggers and swords.
"Ashe!" A male ice dragon cried when he heard his mate's cries of pain.
"Mother!" Crona screamed, taking a few steps forward.
"Crona, don't!" Arcadia protested, putting herself between her friend and the other dragons.
Crona's mother bellowed furiously, hearing her little girl's voice, tearing the apes away from her badly bleeding body. But for each one she threw off another two would take its place and the stabbing would continue.
"Ashe!" The ice dragon roared and knocked away a group of apes trying to cut him off from assisting his mate. Kryos snarled and released a blast of ice, freezing several of the apes where they stood before smashing them to bits under his heavy paws. He was so focused on his mate that he didn't see the volley of spears coming his way.
"Kryos, get down!" One of his comrades shouted as several flew past him. The ice dragon turned and ducked but not before several of them hit his side. He roared in pain and fell to the ground, four spears sticking up out of his shoulder.
The sound of Ashe's dying cry hurt Crona's ears and she looked up to see her mother fall from the sky. The apes had ducked out of the way before the spears hit their mark.
Crona stood frozen in shock as tears fell down her cheeks and plopped onto her tiny feet. The older dragons moved to cover the hole in their lines, blocking her view of her fallen mother's body. Suddenly, Crona felt a violent shove and a terrified scream. The white dragoness looked up to see several apes break through the last line of dragons and begin tearing at their backsides. One had grabbed Arcadia, who had shoved Crona out of the way, and now had her by the tail. Crona was still in shock as the ape smiled evilly. A split second later he plunged his claws into her tiny body. Arcadia screamed and blood spattered across the ground and Crona's white scales. The dragoness could only watch in stupefied horror as her friend was ripped apart before her very eyes. The ape dropped the mangled remains of Arcadia and turned his dark eyes on Crona.
"Run," Crona screamed at herself in her mind. "Run!" But her body wouldn't move; all she could do was stand there trembling. Her eyes widened even more when the ape raised its blade high. "Mother...Father..." She squeaked in her mind.
The ape swung and missed. Crona had bolted for the forest, her tiny legs working double overtime to carry her away from the horrors she had just witnessed. The ape hooted and chased after her. The barbarian swung his chained weapon at her, smashing large chunks of trees to bits and breaking logs into piles of splinters. Crona couldn't outrun him forever. She banked around a bush; the ape skidding and tripping over a tree root bought her the precious couple of seconds she needed to scramble up the largest tree she could find. The ape spotted her as she scrambled onto the highest branch she could reach. He shouldered his chained blade and started to climb. Crona screamed in fright when she saw him claw up towards her. The ape swung at her with his claws and missed. Crona started to climb higher, her body already at the point of exhaustion but filled with adrenaline. The branches creaked under her weight as she climbed higher into the canopy. When she grabbed the next branch, it snapped under her weight. Crona squealed and clung to the trunk, digging her claws into the bark.
Down below the ape was closing in, slobber dripping from his jowls and sweat dripping down his face and tainting his matted fur even more. Crona cried pitifully when the image of her mother suddenly flashed into her mind, causing something inside her to snap. Crona dropped from the tree trunk as the ape made a final leap towards her. She evaded his swing almost skillfully and latched her tiny yet powerful jaws onto his throat. The ape made a gargled cry and fell back through the branches with Crona still attached to him. Crona shut her eyes and prayed for a quick end as the wind rushed past her and the tree branches snapped as her enemy fell to the ground.
"Gah!" Crona sat straight up on her pillow cushion, gasping for breath. She looked around, expecting to see forest, but found herself safe in her room. She sighed as she caught her breath and placed a paw on her head. It had been years since the war with the apes and almost two years since the defeat of Malefor the Dark Master, yet the dreams and visions still haunted her. Crona got up and walked over to the mirror that hung on her wall and stared at herself as she did every morning. She picked up the gauntlet that was set on a small pedestal in front of the mirror. It was gold with red markings and was almost an exact replica of the one her mother had given her as a baby. Crona rotated the jewelry in her talons before sliding it onto her left horn as her mother had before. She looked herself over to make sure it looked okay on her before picking up a breastplate with a green gem in the center of it. Crona had to stand on her hind legs to sling it over the back of her neck, but once it clicked, it hung comfortably against her hide.
"Crona, I'm home," Her father, Kryos, called from the other room. Crona gave herself one last look in the mirror to make sure she was presentable to her father. She knew how much he would often worry about her and the more she primped herself the less he seemed to worry.
"Morning, Father." Crona yawned as she padded into the living chamber of the dragon pavilion.
Her father smiled at her. "Crona, it's already early in the afternoon."
"It is?" Crona opened a drape covering a window and turned to look at where the sun hit the carpet. Sure enough, her father was right. "Why didn't you wake me up?" she semi-scolded him.
"You seemed to be fast asleep." Kryos gave a gentle smile. "I didn't want to disturb you."
"Would have done me a favor," Crona muttered to herself. Her father didn't hear her, but he saw the sad look on her face and immediately regretted not having done so. It pained him to see her still unhappy after so many years had passed. Part of him felt responsible for what had happened to her.
Crona the white dragoness was in her mid-teen years, nearly an adult dragon now. Her sleek white scales were generously peppered with grey spots and her horns and talons resembled the color of onyx. In contrast, her eyes were as blue as the sky yet seemed so dark with pain and sorrow. Kryos had tried his hand time and again to help ease his daughter of her pain but each attempt had ended in failure in his eyes. He had seen her grow so much over the years, yet she seemed so distant from everyone around her. Crona was shorter than most dragons her age but was extremely smart. Crona had always been the best and smartest in her education from the elders of the dragon cities. Kryos remembered when the elders had begun implementing breath attacks into the young dragons' training. Crona had been unable to conjure up any sort of element and seemed to feel extremely out of place because of it. Kryos was thankful that she had gotten over the disappointment, but he could still sense a feeling of alienation in her.
"Crona, is there anything I can do for you today?" Kryos asked, breaking the silence.
Crona looked up at him with a blank stare and thought for a long moment. "I'm not sure." She sighed. Her stomach growled and her white cheeks turned a deep crimson.
"How about you think about it after you get some food," Her father suggested. Crona continued to blush but nodded anyways. After a long breakfast she went out to the balcony to sit with the scrolls that she had collected during her travels and began reviewing the notes she had taken. Crona always made it a priority to better herself every day, no matter what the activity was, though most of the time it involved reading and writing.
Crona spent a couple of hours reading over her notes from her travels and waving her paw into the air as if reaching for something that was in front of her. She sighed and closed her eyes. She had spent the last month and a half studying her personal scrolls and adding minor notes here and there to them but hadn't made a tremendous amount of progress. After a few minutes she looked off into the distance beyond the balcony. Her father had pointed in that direction many times before and talked about the great dragon city that lay beyond the mountains: Warfang. Crona had only been there twice in her lifetime. Once when the surviving dragons of the war with the Dark Master had gathered to nominate a new fire guardian and the second when the guardians had made their decision and had elected candidates for earth, lightning, and ice. During that time she had kept to herself by her father, unable to sneak away to the vast libraries she had heard about in the city.
"Father," Crona called back inside. She rolled up her scrolls and put them away in her room before finding her father in his study looking over some maps he owned from his old scouting days in the war. "Father, I think I'm going to take a personal vacation."
Kryos looked up at her in surprise. "All by yourself?" He raised a skeptical brow.
"It wouldn't be the first time," Crona pointed out. "I was just thinking that when we went to Warfang I never got to spend any time by myself there." Crona shifted her front feet slightly, almost nervous to ask, afraid her father would deny her request. "So, I was sort of wondering if you'd let me take a trip there by myself. I know you're busy with the council having you run between the eastern and western city, so..." Her voice trailed off. She was thinking too much again. Though if she continued to ramble on, he may grow bored and accept her proposal.
Kryos looked into his daughter's eyes for a long moment. He knew how much she loved her privacy and how much she adored reading. But as of recent weeks there had been reports of enemy wolves going around and terrorizing the peaceful villages and dragon cities. The western city where they lived had not been hit yet, though Kryos feared an attack any day now. According to the reports, the elder guardians had sent the guardian candidates out to investigate some possible wolf activities at Dante's Freezer, a place Kryos remembered all too well from the war. The candidates had not been heard from since.
However, Kryos' need to please his daughter and make her happy overruled even his strongest parental instincts. He got up and walked over to her and placed a paw on her head. "Alright Crona, you can go on one condition."
"Really?" Crona almost squeaked with excitement.
"As soon as you arrive, you have to send word that you made it safely. The world may be free from the Dark Master but there are still dangers out there. And I want you to avoid any possible dangers in the meantime. Understood?"
"Father, that's two conditions."
Kryos smiled and nuzzled her affectionately. "You've always had a sharp little mind."
Crona giggled and kissed her father on the cheek before running off to pack her scrolls and bags. Kryos watched her go and sighed, somewhat dejected. All he wanted was for her to be happy. He just prayed that one day she truly would be.
Crona soared over the treetops of the landscape. She had left early in the morning after barely sleeping a wink the previous night. The dragoness had stayed up most of the night packing her large side-bags with scrolls and notes, bundling them all neatly together so they wouldn't fall out during the flight. They weighed heavily on her sides but she didn't care. She was so excited to be out on her own and on her way to a new sea of knowledge that she couldn't help but smile anxiously as she flew along with the thermal currents that blew across the horizon.
Her father had indeed seemed hesitant about sending her off, possibly in fear of her getting lost again. Crona had begun to act as if she were going to have to forfeit her personal holiday but her father at last gave in to her will after several pleas to go. Deep down she felt bad about playing such a card in front of her father whom she knew loved her dearly and only wanted the best for her. But Crona knew that he would have given in sooner or later had she stayed anyways.
After the first day of flying, the dragoness settled down in the enchanted forest to rest and check her maps by the early morning sunlight before flying off again. She was making good time: extremely good time. She was exhausted each night but when she awoke each morning her energy was fully restored and after the third day, she could already spot the dragon city of Warfang in the distance.
Crona glided in low over the treetops and squinted into the distance. She could see the battery emplacements along the walls as a main defense against invaders. After a moment of private thought she decided it would be best to land and proceed the rest of the way on foot; no sense in alarming the guards that were on patrol to a dragoness coming by air. She had heard about how elegant the city was from the elder dragons she had grown up around including the former guardian of fire Ignitus. Each testimony had proved more than true when she had visited with her father. She had even gotten to see the legendary purple dragon, Spyro, from a distance; though it had not been the first time she had seen him in her life. However, he would never know she existed; he couldn't. Not with the past she had.
As Crona walked at a quickened pace through the forest she found herself looking up at the mountainous city. Her stare came to rest on a large hole burned into the side of the mountain, and a large portion of the upper levels of the city melted and burned away. The dragoness raised a worried brow.
"Was there an attack?" She thought aloud. "What could have made a blast like that in a city this size?"
The white dragoness's private conversation was interrupted by the sound of hushed voices close by. Crona halted and stopped to listen. The speakers were being careful not to be overheard but Crona could tell they were close. She turned and crept towards the sound and soon a foul odor filled her nostrils. The stench made her curl her lip on instinct as she drew closer to the source.
All at once she froze. Up ahead, no more than ten yards away, were large, fur-covered bodies; wolves, dozens of them. All were spread out and forming around a single grey-furred Alpha male and young black dragon close to Crona's age covered in scars and burn marks. Judging by the way they were huddled down in the underbrush, Crona was immediately certain they weren't friendly forces. Just beyond the trees she could see a line of cheetah warriors and villagers walking past, completely unaware that they were being watched.
"Scraunch," the black dragon whispered darkly without raising his voice. "Yes master?" The Alpha wolf was immediately down on one knee with his head bowed.
"Keep your head up," the dragon ordered harshly. "Did you see that cheetah scout break away from the rest of his tribe?"
"Yes," the wolf nodded.
"I want you to send your next in command and send half of our forces after him. I have a sneaking suspicion he may be going to seek out Spyro and Cynder, wherever they have taken refuge."
"It shall be done." The wolf bobbed his head and swished his tail three times. Another large, copper-colored wolf crept up to them.
"I want you to track him for the time being," the black dragon continued in a low voice. Crona noticed he gave a wince of pain and suddenly black shadows spread out from around his feet and spread through the darkness of the forest. Crona took a frightened step backwards. She had never seen or felt an energy so evil before in her life. The wolves didn't so much as twitch a hair from the sudden dispersal of energy.
A manifestation of Malefor, the Dark Master, looked at Scraunch with grave yellow eyes. "Make sure that your warriors remain unnoticed at all times. I suspect that feline is the sole reason Spyro and Cynder survived the catastrophe at the Well of Souls. If he found them then, he surely is capable of it now. Do I make myself clear?"
"Crystal clear." Scraunch bowed his head again before backing away with the rest of his pack. He turned to the red wolf and pulled him aside to speak in private. "Listen to me, and listen well Tuerto." Scraunch narrowed his yellow eyes at his subordinate. "You and our brothers are to follow that warrior and keep him in your sights at all times. But under no circumstances are you to let him spot you! Is that clear?"
"I understand." Tuerto nodded obediently.
"You are not to attack him until he has located for you the purple dragon and his friends. When you have found them, eliminate them. And be thorough about it! I don't want anyone in my pack making the same foolish mistakes that imbecile Snarl from the Northern pack made! I will not tolerate failure from wolf or dragon for any reason! Is that understood?"
"As you wish." Tuerto nodded with a couple vigorous sweeps of his tail.
Crona stifled a shocked gasp and took a step backwards. A twig snapped beneath her feet and she froze. Every head turned, including the black dragon's. The sounds of footsteps could be heard fading away as Crona turned and slipped back into the underbrush, hurrying away as fast as she could. She had to get to the outer wall of Warfang and warn the guardians and inhabitants of what was going on.
Behind her several of the wolves growled suspiciously. Tuerto raised his hand and pointed it like a spear in the direction of the disturbance. He flicked his fingers four times and four of the mutant wolves slipped into the forest in response to his silent command. The beasts charged after the fresh scent that had been so close to them moments before that they were amazed they had not noticed it sooner.
Up ahead, Crona was struggling to push through the thick underbrush of the forest because her bags and scrolls kept snagging on branches and thorns.
"Damn it!" She cursed aloud and immediately realized her mistake. The sound of her voice alerted the mutant wolves to her presence and they snarled excitedly. They burst through the undergrowth and barreled toward the white dragoness. Crona gasped and rolled away as they swung their crude weapons at her. The nearest wolf turned and slashed with his claws, tearing away Crona's bright crimson cape that draped over her back. The dragoness staggered back as another wolf leaped over her, blocking her path of escape. He reached down and snatched her up in his claws and Crona screamed. On instinct she slashed with her talons and raked the wolf's eyes. The mutant growled irritatedly and dropped her as he stumbled back into a tree, clutching at his face.
Crona rolled across the ground, evading another heavy blade as it slammed into the ground where her head had been a second before. These wolves were no ordinary warriors; they were far more vicious than the apes she had remembered. Another attacker reached out and grabbed her bag of scrolls, trying to pull her closer to his deadly weapon. Crona jerked and tore away from her harness, her scrolls and notes falling to the ground. The wolf gave a low bark and stepped on them, moving closer towards the dragoness. Seeing her hard work get trampled underfoot by the beast infuriated the white dragoness. As the wolves closed in around her, Crona let her eye lids droop as she began to concentrate. In her mind's eye she could see the magic flow of the world around her; the blue mist. The energy began to take physical form around her and the wolves paused a second to glance nervously at one another. Their hesitation was all Crona needed. With a cry she unleashed the magical energy in a devastating shock wave. The wolves howled and were flung through several trees before coming to a stop along the smoking ground.
Crona stood panting from the sudden exertion. She hadn't had to use this sort of attack in a long time and she was clearly out of shape, although her magic skills never seemed to fade with the passage of time. Crona walked over to her scrolls and notes and looked at them sadly. They were all the ones she had gathered and written on using magic from the world. She began to gather them up as best she could into her torn side-bags which she loved so much.
"Brutish beasts." She grumbled to herself as she inspected the damage they had caused. A rustle from behind her caught her attention and her head snapped around. The mutant wolf lunged for her, claws outstretched and Crona gasped. She squeezed her eyes shut and the wolf stopped in mid-leap. Crona cracked one eye and saw the sharp, deadly claws only inches from her. The wolf stared at her, its body and blood-lustful expression frozen in time; but only temporarily. Crona moved to the side and released her hold on time. The wolf hit the ground and ate dirt. Immediately another wolf sprang at her and Crona dodged again. The third wolf came barreling out of the trees, swinging its claws wildly. Crona ducked under a swipe and rolled into the canine's backwards knees, knocking it to the ground. The fourth wolf dropped from the treetops and Crona's eyes widened. Time slowed down and she ducked out of the way before letting the mutant swing its weapon to hit nothing but air. The first wolf lunged again and Crona dodged; the second followed close and soon all four were diving at her, trying to land a single strike, but Crona's ability to control time was proving to be the key to her survival.
However, the more she used this ability, the more exhausted she became. Crona's vision was beginning to blur as her body and mind began to reach its limits. The closest canine swung its bladed weapon and Crona slowed time to leap over it. She had just barely cleared the blade's range before it whistled beneath her paws. The white dragoness hit the ground and wobbled on her feet. Another swipe came from behind and she ducked below it before slamming her tail across the attacker's muzzle, snapping his head around violently. The mutants were closing in more and more, leaving her less and less room to maneuver.
It wasn't until Crona backed into one of the mutants that she realized the seriousness of the situation to its fullest extent. The canine she backed into pinned her down and another held her fast to keep her from getting away. Crona's mind was too flustered to tap into the magic around her again. She had already used up too much energy manipulating the flow of time. The two standing wolves grabbed their blades that stuck into the earth and stared down at Crona with blood-thirsty anticipation shining in their yellow eyes.
Crona's heart stopped when she saw them raise their blades over their heads. "Father!" She sobbed in her mind as a few tears escaped her eyes as she thought back to her poor father at home wondering if she was all right. "Father!" She screamed and suddenly the ground shook. The mutants staggered back as the white dragoness began to glow and her energy covered the woods in a pure, white light. The energy detached from Crona and hovered above the group of combatants. After a moment the orb of light flashed brighter and swirled into a portal with billowing blue and white clouds. The wolves barked and yelped in surprise as they felt themselves get pulled towards it and dug their weapons and claws into the earth to get a better grip. Their efforts met in failure and after releasing Crona, all five of them were sucked into the light which vanished a split second later. Crona wailed helplessly as she tumbled head over heels, beating her wings madly, trying to turn herself upright, whichever way was up in this place. The wolves howled and barked in confusion but stopped when they spotted the dragoness. They turned their attention to her and snarled menacingly. Crona saw what was coming and curled her lips at them, showing her teeth. She gave an angry roar and suddenly the wolves were blasted backwards. The force sent Crona tumbling and flailing again. She continued to scream until a brilliant flash of light turned her world dark.