Author's Note: Well, here's the third chapter, I guess. Normally I would apologise to everyone for the long wait, but since I have no present audience leaving me reviews it might as well be dedicated to myself. Thusly, therefore, and consequently, sorry for taking so blooming long, me. I swear I'll make it up to myself.
Sarcasm aside, I hope that you guys and girls would enjoy this chappie. This has been my first chapter involving monsters since, uh, that other time. I really should get a few hours' sleep before publishing. Anyway, happy reading, everyone.
Boomerang Chapter 3: Failed Intentions
Cormag often cursed his own folly for not bringing rations. A wyvern as conditioned as Genarog could fly for six days without feeling the pangs of hunger, but he felt them after a few hours since he left. The sensation started as a quiet gnawing, an ignorable gnat which nibbled at his stomach lining, and ignore it he did.
Over the progression of two days, the gnat grew in size and rapacity. The commander lusted for food so much that the deer he espied in Renais thickets tempted him with their presence, no matter how much he told himself that there was no flint or tinder. Even water was out of the question. Every lake the two flew over was tainted by the passage of roaming hordes of undead, fating them to ride on without hydration.
The third day was worse yet. Without a single drop of water to cool his tongue, his throat grated with every swallow and his stomach burned like liquid fire. All thought of food and water drove his body into a terrible disquiet, and so he struggled constantly to drive it from his mind.
Even with the emptiness caged within his ribs, Cormag searched for an explanation of his brother's death. No matter how he looked at it, the thought of Eirika slaying his brother was an impossible feat. Bringing down a wyvern rider with a blade required either unearthly finesse or a paragon's understanding of the sword, and as far as he knew she was neither cunning nor dexterous.
Searching for Eirika proved more difficult than it appeared. The destruction caused by the war and the mindless undead sprawled across every town and city he came to view, and there were too many trail signs in the undulating fields of grain and grass below to follow any definite path.
Upon reaching the Pelyn Mountains the following morning, some good finally revealed itself to the travelling duo. A freshwater spring spilled out of the mountainside and into a basin, allowing the two to slake their throats by drinking their fill. A second boon came hours later when Genarog caught sight of a trail of dead monsters littering a mountain path, proving that an army had passed through. Curious, Cormag instructed his wyvern to descend so he can fetch a closer look.
The smell was already overpowering when they descended halfway, hundreds of times worse than that of the Grado Keep nesting grounds. The commander was forced to cover his mouth with a handkerchief to breathe to prevent from gagging, and even that was not enough.
Genarog refused to land around the bodies, leaving Cormag to walk on his own among the corpses. Every passing monster had a noxious odor that eventually wormed through the linen cloth pressed against his face
All these wounds are different, he thought as he scanned the grounds, and were wrought by every magic and weapon I know of, yet only monsters were killed. Such variance appears to be the work of renegades or mercenaries, but some or all of them would have died against such a number. Besides, there is Frelian fletching on some of the arrows found on some of the bodies. Does this mean Frelia has united with another nation to attack Grado? I cannot imagine any other tactician than Innes who wins without loss.
The commander mused back to the young prince of Frelia, a gifted spymaster, tactician, and expert archer. It was only a year since Emperor Vigarde introduced the two to each other, but the memory of the young prince was fresh in his mind. He was a man who made a fine ally and a fierce enemy, and if Eirika travelled beside him Cormag had to be cautious.
Genarog snarled warningly across the clearing and brought Cormag back from his musings, the commander scanning his surroundings like a hawk searching for prey. Spotting nothing unusual, he turned toward the wyvern and launched toward it a look of inquiry.
"Something wrong, old boy?" he shouted over the distance. "See something I can't?"
The wyvern ruffled its wings in annoyance and shifted its head toward the cause. Streams of pebbles interwove with each other along one of the mountain's steepest faces, their sounds so low that Cormag had to focus to hear them, and looking up further were a number of intimidating cave openings. Even more intimidating were their occupants, however.
Several wolfish heads with large fangs and blood-hued manes peered down from the inky blackness, each bearing a likeness to some of the corpses lying on the path. They were the mauthe doogs, hounds of legend become reality, but even worse than their horrific faces were the three luminous sets of too-close eyes shining forth from deeper within the dark. He did not have to squint to notice the flame-red gaze looking back at him, forcing his legs to turn to jelly.
"Please don't be what I think you are . . ." Cormag pleaded.
A gwyllgi stepped forth from the shadows. It was the mauthe doog's rarer cousin, a Cerberic monstrosity oft considered a harbinger of tribulation, yet other than size very little semblance remained. Ashen fur was shed to reveal ebon skin wrapped taut against a bony frame; the mane spanned the entire back; and the rat's tail had replaced its protective sheathe to reveal excrescent vertebrae glistening with a secreted poison the commander did not want to test.
Cormag dared not look any further, running towards Gen with all his might. He could hear the first members of the pack scraping against the steep slope, and many more soon followed. A unnerving howling dirge rang far throughout the valley and bounced along its walls, the pack a chorus that sung his doom and urged him to look over his shoulder.
Doing this was a mistake, he realised; all he caught was a brief glimpse of the drove scaling the mountainside before he tripped on a terrene rise. Cormag righted himself instantly and continued, wincing every time he used his right ankle. Pain or no pain, however, there was no chance he would allow a sprain to turn him into some creatures' supper.
"Gen, to me!" he cried out between hobbling motions. "I don't think I can make the distance on my own!"
With an ear-rending shrill and large beating movements, Genarog took to the air. Cormag stole a second backward glance and noticed the pack bounding toward him at full speed, the gwyllgi already at the base of the mountain with its three heads hung low in pursuit.
His wyvern reached the commander first. Cormag shielded his eyes from a torrent of scattered dust and scrambled into his saddle as quickly as possible, a difficult feat with a twisted ankle. Pulling a leather noose around his waist and grappling the reins, the commander was more than ready to leave the blood-drunk mountain.
The triple-headed monster had other plans in store for the two. Before Genarog flapped his wings a second time, it caught the wyvern's leg between its centermost jaws and dug deep. Cormag quailed where he sat, the resulting screech and the following triumphant howls from the pack so intense that his mind locked in place. He was sure that the creatures were too far away to catch up; he must have taken too long. Now Gen was suffering for his actions, and he was going to make things up to him in one way or another.
Loosening the reins by an arm's length with his free hand, the commander leaned backward along the saddle. There he saw the abomination dangling off the wyvern's flank, trying to sink its teeth deeper in an effort to ground them both. With a scowl, Cormag let go of the reins completely to roll further along Genarog's body and angled the lance's tip for the heart of the beast.
"Die, mutt!" he shouted, struggling to keep his arms steady whilst he thrust his weapon toward the creature's heart.
The spear's aim was poor, striking the right side of the gwyllgi's chest instead of the left. The abomination clenched its jaws harder in response. Cursing, Cormag pulled the weapon out and mimicked his previous actions, striking true this time. Impure blood gurgled through its mane in waning surges, and within seconds the heads lolled and the body fell lifelessly to the ground.
Gen seized the moment to climb into the morning sky, his wings beating faster and faster until the Hadean wails no longer reached his ears. The two rose by three hundred wingspans above the mountain, but neither were relieved by the end of their ascent.
"That was close . . ." heaved Cormag, snatching the reins once the two had summited. "Too close for my liking. I hope you didn't notice that my saddle strap was the only thing that kept me from plummeting to my death."
Genarog said nothing, only his wings and a light breeze striking Cormag's ears.
"So you did notice?" he huffed. "Good to know everything isn't out to kill me today. What in blazes were you thinking, taking off without me being ready?"
The wyvern stared at him with one eye, the gaze wordlessly saying "If I wasn't sure that you'd still be alive, I would have waited."
"Mm-hmm, right," Cormag replied mockingly. He stuffed his feet in the stirrups for extra measure before pulling a handkerchief from his saddlebag. "While down there, I got a pretty good look at your wound. How about I make things right between us by patching you up once we land, maybe letting you hunt afterwards? Just bring me something as well. I'm starving."
The wyvern lifted its head eagerly, and the commander smiled in like while he wiped the blood from his spearhead. Regardless of whether the meat was raw or not, the meal was assured to be Elysian compared to grass or leaves.
"My esteemed Sunstone is dead?"
The question fell upon Valter like shattered glass, uttered by the rattling throat of the Silent Emperor. The general licked his lips furiously, finding it difficult to keep his calm in the dim light of the magefires positioned so poorly around the palatial hall. The teal embers twisted one's features into a death's head, making the emperor's gaunt face seem gaunter and his eyes more sunken, but on the brighter side they did not give off enough light to betray his unease.
"Your Majesty, he let the fry escape from the hook. Eirika's host left the mountain unscathed by General Glen's forces, and when he confessed his traitorous actions I put him down, as the law dictates."
"No such law was made in my country or any other. Do you take me for a fool?"
Valter's tongue darted over his colourless lips again, but before he could respond the emperor continued.
"While I commend your action, there was no point killing him. He had purpose. The Cinnabar and Topaz divisions of Grado are now leaderless."
"Ah, that is exactly why I came here from the front," The Moonstone spoke with new life, eyes twinkling in the dark. "With the nation's best wyverns grounded, your cause is heavily weakened, but what if a new, existing leader was put in charge? Why, the problem would be solved, and communication between the remaining generals will be simpler to uphold. Let me be general of all wyvern wings."
Vigarde's head lifted, his features unreadable except for the slowness in his jaw as he tried to form words. Valter caught this within a heartbeat. If this slowness was found throughout the emperor's body, he might have a chance of slaying even the emperor once everybody else has been put to the sword.
"No," the emperor dictated flatly. "You will remain general of Wing Jade until further notice."
"But—but why, Your Majesty?" Valter sputtered in confusion. "I have the most experience in the field, the best skill with the lance, and—"
"You don't hold the men's admiration, Moonstone. Your skill may be noteworthy, but Cormag resembles his brother in many ways. He holds the same trust and, soon, the same title."
The general was silent. The denial of his promotion was not part of his long and winding schema, and that assuredly meant that he would have to plan his revenge a second time. However, not all was lost yet, and his eyes beamed with a new spark of hope.
"Your Majesty, our young commander has left the keep four days since on the brink of madness. My scouts say he left the border and was flying northward. Now, I hadn't told Cormag the details of his brother's death, but I assume he turned traitor as well and fled the country."
"What are you saying?" interrupted the emperor, stern eyes piercing into Valter.
"He may have joined the Renais brats or left on a flight of his own fancy, but if he does not return within a week's time it would be safe to assume he is an enemy of the state."
"That would indeed be suspicious, yes. Very well. I give you permission to lead all three wyvern divisions until Cormag returns, but on one condition."
"Yes, Sire, and what is that?" Valter asked, the excitement growing within him becoming increasingly difficult to hide.
"Unless he returns within the allotted time, you shall lead, otherwise you lose all rights to your new title and return to being a lesser general."
"I understand, Your Majesty," The Moonstone uttered with a concealed smile.
"Then go to Jehanna with my blessing, Wyvern General. Bring those desert rats to Grado's knees and crush their Sacred Stone. Generals Caellach and Riev will assist you."
Valter managed an impetuous bow and took his leave, eyes glinting with achievement. Unless Cormag impossibly returned, the title was sure to be his, and neither man nor beast was ever going to strip it away.
"Wyvern General Valter," he laughed gleefully under his breath. "How I like the sound of that!"
Dusk came early to the lands south of the Pelyn region, flushing the V-shaped canyons with the hues of persimmon fruit before being replaced by gloom. Even still, Cormag rode on. The lassitude born from three days and nights without rest plunged his mind and body into a state between consciousness and unconsciousness, and only the constant desire for vengeance kept his chin from dripping onto his breastplate.
"Where are you?" he muttered, eyes restlessly scanning the ground for any sign of passage.
He unknowingly moved a hand to his queasy stomach, the meat he had eaten hours ago roiling within. Once Genarog brought back a bear leg from his hunt hours ago, Cormag found its thigh meat to be so ropy and fetid that he gagged on its taste and texture, and even after he swallowed four or five globules it was a constant struggle not to retch. After he was finished, the commander tossed the leftovers away from him with disgust. Gen devoured the remaining flesh with relish shortly afterward, but it was far easier for Cormag to watch him enjoy the meal than enjoy it himself.
"Where are you?" he murmured again, a loud whisper over the hum of sweeping wings.
The sun dipped fully beyond the furthest western canyon wall, heralding night's full emergence. The ruby borderlines of clouds above the slumbering sun glowed still, and the dark valleys below harboured sinuous rivers that twisted and wound like the slashes of swords. Like Eirika's sword, he thought.
"Where are you?!"
His scream was more akin to the croak than anything human, but his voice volleyed among the poorly vegetated cliffs all the same.
Genarog gave the commander a questioning stare that made Cormag regret putting voice to his thoughts. If Gen knew that his brother was dead, there was no telling how poorly he would take the possible loss of his nest-mate. Kaczo and he were almost inseparable, nurtured and fed alongside one another like the best of friends, and Cormag would rather suffer alone than torture his companion with the terrible truth: she may not be coming back.
"Sorry, old boy," he apologised, hiding his words behind a shell of weariness. "I think I have been riding too long to think straight."
The stare gave way to some other notion, and Genarog banked into a spiral once he turned his head. The commander snatched at his reins to regain control but found steering an impossible task without being tossed about in the air. He had to wait until the maneuver was finished. Easier said than done, he mused inwardly, feeling his stomach lurch with every revolution.
The two landed onto a patch of sawgrass six wings away from the silty banks of a river. Cormag tried to guess his companion's actions, yet no matter how much he scanned the horizon he could not spot trouble.
"Why did we land?" he asked. "I don't see archers, flyers, or monsters, so what has gotten into you?"
Genarog rested his head and belly against the sharp grass without a wince, head tilted aloofly.
"I see . . . you want us to rest for the night before continuing, is that it?"
The wyvern snorted with approval and waited patiently for its rider to leap from the saddle. The waterlogged earth sagged beneath Cormag's boots like a squelched sponge. He decided to count this as a mixed blessing. The location may have been unsuitable for sleep, but without the grass he might have been sucked into the ground within the minute.
"Ugh, not exactly a choice location for a restful place, but I doubt anything I say would change your mind, right?"
Genarog resituated in his nest of crushed grass, curling away with mock disinterest. The commander shook his head in frustration.
"It seems I'm not the only irritable one present. You had better not fly away while I sleep," he grumbled as he approached. "Now hold still and let me loosen this saddle for you. You need all the comfort you can get before we leave at sunrise."
He completed the sentence with a mental "as do I" as he scanned the area for a suitable place to pass the night. With stinging grass as bedding and flooded soil his only mattress, the night held no promise of sleep beyond a draining catnap.