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21.3 Banyan

# 2373 12 - 16 mins. 9

Malcolm stood atop the doom drake as it let out a devastating roar. The ground shook and all attacks stopped for a moment as we waited to see if the worst had actually happened.

The doom drake stood tall, still taking advantage of the momentary reprieve, with Malcolm commanding it. The drake raised its arms and a purple glow emanated from them. Everyone tensed.

"I control the doom drake now," said Malcolm. His voice was magnified by the doom drake's illusion magic. I was pretty sure at least everyone on the battlefield could hear him speak. "I am Malcolm Mortem, and I am a direct descendant of Shayde Mortem, the man who created this monster long ago. He made it as a weapon, a weapon to use against his enemies. With a creature this powerful under his control, he could have ended the wars long before they started. He could have forced the feuds to end."

"I too seek peace—peace for my people. We have attacked and killed for far too long, and this is where we put that to an end. This is a tool for Humans, and Humans only. So, for all of you fire-wielders, join my side. Help me clean the world of these other races that seek to destroy us—to destroy our families. And in turn, I will show you how to truly use your magic, and magics that you have never dreamed of using before. Join me and help me save our people from destruction.

"As for the rest of you—those who stand in my way will not be tolerated. You have seen the doom drake's power. Combined with my own, you don't stand a chance. This is your end, and I advise you to give up and make this easy. I don't have to make you suffer, but I will if you oppose me and the rest of the Human race."

A silence hung in the air. I looked around the battlefield, looking for other Humans. I hadn't talked about Malcolm in my message to everyone. I hadn't mentioned that someone was trying to control it to better the Humans only—that he would wipe out the rest of us if given the chance. Did his success in taming the drake also mark the end of our tentative alliances? Is this where it all falls apart, where people stop looking out for each other and turn back to only looking out for themselves?

There was silence on the battlefield as Malcolm's words sunk in. A few Humans talked amongst themselves. I didn't recognize them. They were probably from the group that volunteered to help recently. They must have come through the massive portal at the illusion veins.

Others looked tense, afraid that a fight would break out among the warriors. Some prepared, covering their backs in case things turned for the worse.

"Hey scumbag," said a voice. I looked over to see Geralt standing on one of the eruptions of stone scattered about the battlefield. He yelled as loud as he could to make sure he was heard. A nearby Gnome used his magic to boost the sound as well, broadcasting it to the rest of the warriors and no doubt Malcolm as well. "I kind of like these people," Geralt said. "And you've killed more Humans than I can count. You're not doing this for us, you're doing it for yourself. You want glory and power.

"But I don't think you fully get what's happening here. Your greatest mistake in waking that thing is that you gave us all a common enemy. You taught us to work together, and whether or not you are stronger than us, we'll surivive. Maybe not me, or the others in this battle, but there will always be other races. There will always be more of us. And we'll fight for actual safety as long as we breathe. So, you want to destroy the other races? Then get ready for a war."

There was another brief silence as Geralt finished his speech. And then, a cheer erupted. It was small at first, but it grew to a thunderous roar that rivaled that of the doom drake. The other Humans joined in with the cry, and it was clear that we were not shaken. We already knew that we could hurt the doom drake, so if Malcolm wanted a fight, we'd give it to him.

Malcolm was too far away for me to see any features of his face, but I could imagine how angry he must have been at the response, and the doom drake echoed that anger with its response. Malcolm raised his arms and pink magic flew into the monster's head. In an instant, it roared and threw its massive arms forward while it flexed its wings. Red glowed from the doom drake, and the earth shook. But this wasn't an attack with earth magic. Red meant fire.

The ground started to split, showing small cracks. There was a loud explosion from the mountain behind the drake—the volcano.

Smoke billowed into the already cloudy air, and more red glow showed at the peak of the volcano. Another boom came and red lava began shooting from the volcano's mouth and bubbling down its sides. Like a trebuchet launching boulders, the firey rocks slammed into the ground around us, taking down large groups of our army. I watched as one of the lava rocks slammed into a treant's shoulder. It knocked the treant's arm clean off and lit the creature's foliage on fire. It fell to the ground as Saurian's rushed to its side to douse the flames.

But that wasn't the extent of the attack. The doom drake. clawed at our people and directed lightning at them. Those who were trying to douse flames were now being electrocuted in turn.

That's when I heard the flapping of wings. Malcolm's dragon, now free from ferrying him after the doom drake, swooped down, joining the fight. It flew by, grabbing an Elf and a Dwarf, one in each claw. It flew higher into the air and then dropped then. A Gnome was able to catch the Dwarf, but there was no one close enough to catch the Elf.

This turned for the worse very quickly.

What do we do now? I looked over the battlefield as all of our advantages were removed from play. Malcolm was right, he had the upper hand now, and it showed in how much damage he was doing to our army, whether or not it was growing.

But I couldn't dwell on it. We had hurt the doom drake, quite a bit even. Maybe we could get back to that point and take it out for good. Maybe we still had a chance, somewhere, somehow. I couldn't think of anything that would get us back to a level playing field, and then I heard the dragon roar. That was something I could help with at least. I had stopped it once before, and maybe I'd have a better chance now with my vine armor.

"You up for taking down the dragon?" I asked.

"Let's do it," said Lolan, as he pulled an arrow from his quiver.

I ran across the battlefield to where the dragon had landed. It was attacking a unit of Saurians, who were having trouble pinning it down.

"Coming through!" I yelled as I charged toward the giant lizard. In my vine armor, I was about half of its size. It wasn't great, but at least it was better than me taking it on with just the small plants that I used to grow. Lolan dove off of my shoulder before I got up to speed, and then I slammed into the dragon, grabbing its head and slamming it into the dirt. The dragon screamed and sucked in a deep breath. I remembered what that meant, but I thought I had disabled its fire breath.

The dragon released and a puff of flame blasted the back of my vine armor, burning and snapping several of the vines. I was quick to try and replace them, but it exposed my back. If it got another hit off in the same spot, it would not be good.

I wrestled the dragon's head, trying to direct it to somewhere less dangerous if it did shoot fire again. It was stronger than me though. I heard it take in another breath, and I was terrified. I did all that I could, punching the monster in the throat. Instead of another puff of fire, the dragon choked and coughed up smoke. I was safe from that one at least.

The dragon then pushed off of the ground, standing on its hind legs. It swung a claw at me and tore through most of the vines that protected my torso. I fell to the ground in my torn vine armor and was sure it would attack my back next.

But the attack never came. Instead, there was the cracking sound of ice and a wave of cold air that passed by me. I picked myself up to see the dragon held just out of reach by several ice spikes. It screamed and started slashing through the spikes.

"Get out of there," shouted a Saurian.

I listened and backed up to join their ranks. Lolan fired arrows at the dragon and Tigala flew above, circling, waiting for an opportunity to strike. The dragon was angry. It looked at me, and I swear it saw me through the vines. It remembered me. The one to take away its flame.

It crashed through the remaining ice spikes and charged me. I ran toward it to keep it from reaching the Saurians that had just protected me. I began growing more vines as I ran. When I was about crash into it, I ducked down and slammed into the lizard's throat again. With the impact, I unwrapped the extra vines that I had been building and wound them around the dragon's neck as I swung up onto its back. The Saurians added to the fight with their own ice attacks.

The dragon breathed in again, and I tugged as hard as I could on its neck. It choked back the fire again, spouting smoke. The dragon saw it was losing and flapped its wings, picking me up into the air with it.

I grew more vines, snaking them around the lizard's neck and torso, but it wasn't enough.

There was an impact and the dragon screamed. I looked down and saw one of Lolan's arrows stuck in its shoulder. We were hurting it, but the dragon had the upper hand as long as it kept me in the air. It could fly, and if I somehow lost grip of it, I might not be as lucky as I was last time.

My vines were beginning to reach its wings, so pulled trying to steer it. It wasn't as simple as steering the wyvern though. The dragon screamed and reached its head back, snapping jaws bigger than me. It snapped a few of the vines near my right arm, and I had to regrow to ensure my grip.

What do I do now? I thought. I didn't have any of my normal resources.

Then there was a cry below. It was familiar. The cry of the Dwarves. They lobbed stones into the air that pelted the dragon and the doom drake too. The dragon roared down at them and continued to climb higher.

I needed to do something before we got too high up if I wanted any chance of survival. I focused on my magic, the only thing I had at my disposal. Vines were a staple of my magic, and to make them more dangerous, I had always given them thorns. So I did exactly that, focusing on the extensions of my body rather than the part where I was held. The thorns stretched out of the limbs, scraping against dragon scales, but not breaking through. So I squeezed.

More rocks pelted the dragon. Another arrow flew at it. Ice slammed its hide. Flying Beastfolk swarmed it. I wasn't sure if it was all to save me or to collectively take out at least one of our opponents. The reason didn't matter though. We were working together. We were overcoming our differences. That was what mattered.

And to top it off, the squeeze proved helpful. My thorns began to slip between scales, eating into flesh. The dragon began to falter. It screamed and puffed out more fire breath, but its recovered fire attacks had no distance to them and dissipated before they offered any danger to anyone.

The dragon tried to keep its altitude, but it was too much for it to handle. The beast roared and plummeted toward the ground.

I didn't let up. I couldn't let up now. We couldn't afford to fight Malcolm, the doom drake, and a dragon. I held on as tight as I could and the dragon fell.

We slammed into the ground with a violent crash. The dragon's body hit first, taking most of the impact. My longer vines snapped and sent me catapulting across the ground ahead of the lizard. I tried to get up but found myself too weak to stand.

🌱

I opened my eyes to a swarm of warriors on a mound behind me. I tried again to stand, and couldn't move any of my limbs. I searched frantically around me with just my eyes and remembered I was bound by my vine suit, even if it was in a sad state. I pushed out with my magic and told it to put me on my feet. The vine limbs were mangled and smashed, but were still strong enough to support me and give my actual body a small amount of protection.

I slowly found the energy to walk myself toward the swarm of people, and found beneath them the dragon, breathing its last breaths. We did it!

But there was no time to celebrate.

The scream of the doom drake behind it shook me to my core.

We had defeated the dragon, but we had only just begun.

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