Side Story Three
Two Years Ago
Esen Peak Three
“Prince Alban! I am so sorry for your loss.” A statuesque sylph greeted them at the shattered doors of Esen Peak’s central palace. “You’re lucky; we’ve recovered his body.”
“That’s lucky? Karen asked sharply. She still had one arm protectively around her heart friend’s shoulders.
“When dragons are involved, yes,” the sylph replied equably. “We saw dragons taking away some of the fallen. They wouldn’t bother if they were dead, so where there isn’t a body we have to assume they’ve been captured. It doesn’t bear thinking about.” She shuddered briefly. “We didn’t find many bodies.”
“And we found no survivors from among the troops,” Matthias said. “The dragons who swept in after those kids were very efficient.”
“What about non-combatants?” Sarah asked. “We found a few survivors in the area the kids jumped into.”
“They don’t seem to have been as interested in non-combatants,” he said. “They took some while others were raiding the crowds of fleeing. The quarter you jumped into was the worst, but it also seems to have the most survivors. Something strange happened there. I’ll let Kona here tell you about it.” He gestured to the sylph.
“From talking to the survivors who witnessed what happened that girl you faced seemed intent on killing everyone,” Kona began. “Two dragons jumped in to collect the survivors, saw what she was doing and one of them immediately disappeared again while the other carried on with his task alone. That’s why less non-combatants were taken there.” She shook her head. “You arrived not long after and the dragon withdrew.”
“What about the one who jumped out?” Sean asked.
“Ah, yes,” Kona said. “He seems to have jumped straight to that grey haired young woman and sent her to stop the first one. He looked furious – probably about the loss of potential meals.”
“But he didn’t stop her himself?” Kyle asked. “Mustn’t have wanted to fight someone who could fight back.”
“How am I going to tell mother and Salia that father’s dead?” Alban’s voice cracked and he gasped in another sobbing breath. “He was so kind, he didn’t deserve this!” Matthias reached out and squeezed his shoulder.
“Let Sarah and me do it,” he said. “But first…” He trailed and looked at Mystral, who was being levitated between them by Sean and Jason to avoid disturbing her injuries. “First we should see to getting this one stabilised enough to move to Waldhafen.”
“Waldhafen?” Kona asked. “Why?”
“Because she’s not going to survive unless we get her to a life affinity zone. Waldhafen is the closest and has lots of healers. Plus, I can warn them we’re coming.” Sarah moved to attend to Mystral’s injuries and looked around at the shattered remains of the city. “You might want to consider moving any other injured survivors there as well. It doesn’t look like you have the facilities to deal with them here.”
Kona grimaced and nodded. “That’s not a bad idea. We’re sending all the survivors to the Eyrie at the moment. There aren’t enough to overwhelm them but they don’t have a lot of healers. If Waldhafen will take the injured they’d stand a far better chance of surviving.” She looked around sadly. “I think we’ll have to abandon the city. We don’t have enough people left to rebuild it and I doubt we’d ever feel safe again if we did. I don’t understand why they targetted us. We’re not important.”
“That’s a point,” Sean said thoughtfully. “That Julie girl referred to this place as ‘a strategically important enemy stronghold’ but apart from holding the high ground, I don’t see it. Why would she say that?”
Kona shook her head. “I don’t know. The only remotely important thing we have here is a potential liminal gate to Gaia, but it’s keyed to someone. Since it’s been dormant since around the time of the first dragon war whoever the keyholder is is probably dead. The Eyrie is far more significant to the defence of the region. It holds all of the local anti-dragon defences that Speakers can use. Maybe it was a mistake?”
“It doesn’t feel like a mistake,” Sean said. “There must be something important to them here that you’re not aware of.”
“Okay, she’s stable,” Sarah said into the ensuing silence. “I’ll get her to Waldhafen and have them prepare for more injured.” She paused and her eyes crossed. “And you’d better go and pick up Hannah before she gets herself killed,” she said to Matthias, who had much the same expression on his face. “Once we both get back, we can go break the news to Val.”