"What do we know," I asked, looking around at the leaders who had gathered around us at the edge of Birdsbane. Behind me, the trees stood like towers, shading us from the sun.
"It showed up in Brighton," said Rodrigo. "It attacked without warning and destroyed the city. We don't have much information from the town, but it sounds like there were very few survivors."
Very few survivors, I thought. A few months ago and that could have been me. The city where I had spent most of my time over the past 7 years was now wiped from the map. It was the town where I met Chipry. And now it was gone. I was beginning to think that we were never going to have enough people to take on the monster.
"What do you mean 'without warning'," asked Tigala.
"It just appeared," said Rodrigo. "Last we knew it was on Daegal. Then it showed up in Brighton. Our source didn't see it arrive, but he said he definitely didn't hear it coming. There were no earthshaking steps, and there was no destruction leading up to where he started the attack. It wasn't there one moment, and then it was."
"So it can teleport," I said. Great. As if taking down a stationary enemy that was capable of destroying the world wasn't enough.
"That's what we assume," said Rodrigo.
"Do we have anything else?"
"We have seen the remains of Brighton with our magic," said Arayoo. "Based on the wreckage, we are fairly positive that it is using multiple types of magic. There were patches of broken earth, flooded areas. There was a forest of thorns tearing through buildings. There is likely no limit to the kinds of magic it has."
I stared back at them, unsure of what to say. I knew that I needed to be focused. I needed to give hope to those who had none. I needed to inspire them and convince them that we could win this fight, but to be honest, I didn't believe it myself. How were we supposed to stop a world-ending monster that knows all of our magic better than us? How could we stop something so massive with only the slight support of some of the races?
My eyes lowered as I tried to think through our options. I needed time to think. I needed time to gather more people. I needed help.
"Is there anything else?" I asked, afraid of the answer.
"Yes," said Arayoo. I winced at the word. "The doom drake is on the move. It seems that its next target is Briqor."
I took a deep breath and looked back up at the group. "What do you propose we do?" I asked. I looked around, and my eyes settled on the Dwarf present. It was Cairn, the Dwarf who lost her husband in the collapse at the earth magic veins. She looked tired. She must have just gotten back from trying to convince Dwarven leadership to join the fight.
"We have to go," said Cairn. "I think we have all of the help we're going to get at this point. And the longer we let that thing rampage, the fewer potential people we have to help."
I nodded. "I agree." I scanned the faces in the group. They all watched me, wide-eyed. "Let's move. We get everyone that we have on the battlefield against the drake." I took a deep breath and looked at Tigala to my right, and Lolan to my left. I looked at Palem on Bubba, Rodrigo, and Tallesia whose head was still bandaged from the cave in. "Whatever happens out there, it's been an honor working with all of you. I'm proud to call you my friends."
They looked back at me with apprehension. Rodrigo was the one to break the silence. "It has been an honor following you." He looked at the rest of the crowd and said, "Now let's go show that thing what we're made of!"
There was a cheer in response.
"Follow me," I said. "Anyone that can fight, we leave via the portal at the center of town. I'll talk to Amara about redirecting our incoming militaries to the battlefield."
The group dispersed with a new sense of urgency. I started to walk toward the town when I realized I still had an army of trees behind me. I turned back and looked up at Grollok.
"We'll figure out how to transport you there as well. For the moment, stay put and rest up. I think the Gnomes should be able to figure something out."
Grollok nodded his head and then went still. The trees slipped into their resting state and I turned toward the town.
We stood in an open field, watching the horizon intently. It was only a matter of time until the doom drake crested over the hill. I was so nervous. Was this a suicide mission? Maybe. But we had no other choice. We had to stop it. We had to stop more people from getting hurt. We had to stop it from tearing more families apart and creating orphans. We had to make the world a better place than the one we were given.
Our army was huge. It looked bigger than I expected it to. The Avians were there in formation. They brought a couple hundred soldiers. Many carried spears, but they had units of archers, as well as others that carried leather sacks with rocks in them.
The Dwarves were there in the greatest quantity. Their forces might have been closer to 500 or so, with more joining the group by the moment from the city we protected behind us. They wore ornate armor. There were even a few that wore stone suits like the one Marv had found in Crag. Was that a common thing? Or were they pulling out all of the stops for this fight?
The Elves were there in a strict formation. They wore their yellow and gray robes with tall decorated helmets. Above them, the wind whipped about, a storm prepared for the monster. Some held staffs with wings attached to them by their side as they awaited the monster.
The Beastfolk still hadn't shown up. Maybe we hadn't had enough time to convince them. Or maybe they refused. I hadn't had a lot of time to look into each race's issues over the past few days. We were on a time limit and it was starting to show.
The Saurians were in a very loose group, with no clear leaders of the group. Most carried crude bone weapons, even the ones that I knew to be magic users.
As for the Gnomes, there was only a handful of them. It might have been about 50, with about 10 of them in mechanical suits that I had seen being used to excavate the doom drake in the first place. I was hoping there were more that I couldn't see due to their illusions, but I couldn't tell. Maybe Amara wasn't as committed to this as I had thought. Maybe she was only willing to help so long as it didn't mean sacrificing her people. Whatever the case, it was something that could cost us.
The Humans were the last race present, aside from me and Palem. They also stood in a strict formation like the Elves, but their stances were more readied, less casual. They were a see of red cloaks, staring at the horizon. They even brought two catapults with them that held balls of what looked like hay.
As for the wandering forest, I guess the Gnomes were having trouble moving creatures that big. They were nowhere to be seen.
Our army wasn't enormous. Still, it was amazing to see. Never in my life had this many people of different races come together for a common goal. And to think, it was all because of the work we did on Daegal. I looked at Tigala and Lolan. It was the result of our group working together and showing that it could be done. Now the test was to see how large of a scale it would work on.
"Are you ready?" I asked looking at Tigala and Lolan.
"Can you really be ready for this kind of thing?" asked Lolan.
"I don't think so," I said.
"I don't like this," said Tigala.
"Me neither," I said. "But this is our way forward. If we want to have any kind of life, it can't be with that monster rampaging through the world taking down city after city."
"It's not that," said Tigala. She breathed out and shook her head. "I'm tired of losing people. I've lost so many, one after another. I don't want this to be just more loss."
"I know what you mean," I said. I didn't want it to be more loss either. I didn't think I could handle losing either of them. It nearly killed me to lose Zef. And that was after losing my whole race. We couldn't let this thing wipe us out and just cause more loss. "I don't know what to say. It's not like I can make any promises that we'll make it out of this."
"We will," said Lolan.
"Huh?" I asked.
"We'll make it out," he said. He looked at me and smiled half-heartedly. "There's no other option in my mind. We need to make it out of this because if we don't, there's no more world anyway."
That was a morbid way to look at it.
"Yeah, I guess," I said.
"But really," he said, "for the rest of my life, I'm never going to forget you two. If either of you dies, I won't let your story die with you. This is too important. Stopping this monster is only part of it. What we really did here is show the world that we are all the same. We may have different races. We may have different magic. But we're all people. We all want to be loved and to be safe. We just need to figure out how to look past our differences to see each other as people."
He was right. This wasn't about just stopping the monster. This was about showing others that it could be done. It was about us working together—doing what no one thought was possible.
I looked over at him. "Well said. I'll do the same for you two as well. And for Zef."
Tigala didn't say it, but I could tell by the look on her face that she agreed. This was our chance to prove what we had found on Daegal, family among other races. And as scary as it was to wait for the monster to crest the horizon, I knew I'd be okay if this was where it ended.
"But let's not give up just yet," said Tigala. "We've still got a giant to topple." She grinned as she said it, ready for the challenge.
I nodded back at her. "Right."
Something shook the ground. It was subtle, but definitely something. My composure faltered slightly as I looked toward the horizon. Murmurs echoed through the army as they wondered if this was it.
In a moment, a dark figure peaked over the top of the hill. Its massive head glowed with pink magic—the metallic black scales reflecting some of the light. Curved grey horns framed its eyes which glared at us with a pale green glow. It lurked forward. More footfalls shook the ground, each one harder than the last.
The tall purple fins appeared as it continued, swaying back and forth with each step. In the distance, I could also make out the silhouette of Malcolm, riding his dragon. He still was trying to control the monster. Had he made any progress? What was the end goal here? How long did he expect it to take? Would he gain control eventually?
This was my first real look at it when there wasn't dust covering the area. It was massive and horrifying with its lethargic movements.
So you're the one that wants to take my family from me? I thought. I stared at the monster, and for a moment, I thought it looked directly at me. We're not giving up that easy, I thought.
The monster continued glaring in my direction. Then, it raised its head, took a deep breath, and released a howl so loud that it was hard to keep my footing.
He was ready too.