The distant sounds of stone bells roused Maria from her slumber, causing her to groan as she shuffled deeper into the covers of her bed. It was a cold morning in the forest, and she didn’t want to go field-running right now. She sighed as she felt and arm lay over her frame, a supple body press up against her back.
“I think they’re calling for you,” Angelina said as she kissed Maria’s shoulder, her mocha colored skin a vibrant difference from Maria’s slightly green hue. Both elves were from the same city, though they would rarely call each other allies in any regard.
“But I’m warm! And it’s probably just a false alarm like last time!” Maria whined, turning to scoot into her lovers embrace. “I wanna stay here with you.”
“As do I, but you signed up for the town guard, not me. You respond to the bells,” Angelina said, tucking a few stray blonde hairs behind Maria’s ear. “Tell you what: you go and handle the big baddie like I know you’ll have to and I’ll make us dinner tonight after I close my stand.”
The thought of Angelina’s cooking made Maria’s stomach gurgle, causing both women to laugh and slowly rise from the bed. They dressed in silence, Angelina in her market robes and leathers, Maria in her chain shirt and leather padding. After buckling the sword around her waist and Angelina’s dagger at her wrist, Maria swooped down on Angelina for a final kiss before leaving the through the front.
Standing high in the trees, ramps and causeways built into the trees like deep-forest lichen growing off the bark, Maria stared off in the distance of the church and the ringing bells. Her eyesight picked out over a dozen rangers running along the vines towards the western walls for the city below. With a grimace Maria leapt up and onto the vines, some two-hundred feet off the ground, and began running along the thick cord of plant-life towards her destination. As she was running, eyes facing forward so as not to lose her footing, she heard a familiar cry come from her right.
“Maria?” Called Paulo, another ranger, from his own vine leading from a small market in the trees. “Do you know what this is about?”
“Something must have approached the western walls,” Maria called back, unsheathing her sword as her vine ended on a terrace overlooking the paved streets below, where human men, women and children shrieked as they fled from some unseen danger. Smoke and ash filled the air as rubble the size of small wagons flew through the air, colliding with the trees hard enough to almost knock a ranger off.
Long haired and barrel chested, Donahue stood next to the railing with his bow out, arrow at the ready. “We don’t know what it is. Most of us just got here.” He said to Maria as she walked up next to him. “But whatever it is it’s taken down the wall into pieces. The path to Vita is open for almost anything to come along and attack her.
Vita, a divine spirit of the land and the forest, dwelled in a large central tree at the center of the human settlement of Relmut. Due to her presence, the elves had naturally followed and built a city of their own high above Relmut. The two traded constantly, and most of the guard duties fell to the elves, leaving the humans defenseless. Maria sneered as she watched five men, clearly untrained in how to use a blade, march down the street towards the billowing cloud of detritus, blades raised high.
“Morsels…” Grumbled an earthen voice, the sound of a landslide over an earthquake. “Tiny specks of flesh and bone that have come to face me?”
Maria’s sneer fell from her face when a large tail, some forty feet long, and thick as the boughs of one of the oldest trees, lashed out from the clouds of dirt, catching three men by surprise in the sides, their ribs cracking as their bodies were thrown against the stone walls of a store in a heap. None of them moved, and from what Maria could see, none of them breathed.
“Humans!” Roared the thunderous voice, a cacophony of birds taking flight following its outburst. “Relent and allow me to pass and you shall yet live. I seek no quarrel with your kind, and your foul sweat-flavored flesh is hard enough to pry from between my teeth to make it worthwhile to offer you this chance: stand aside and allow me passage!”
By now the bulk of the rangers had arrived, all with bows gathered and arrows distributed. The dust was beginning to settled over the thick, black plates of iron and flesh that made up the titanic form that dominate the place where the western wall once stood. Perhaps eighty feet wide and a hundred long, the rocky form of an earthen dragon rumbled forward, glittering jewels embedded in its hide from years, decades, of life below ground. The horns, a tainted white ivory, curled like those of a ram, and the eyes, glittering dark orbs of malevolence, were set back in a skull-like head that gave the dragon the appearance of constantly sneering. Perhaps it was. It’s short neck and rocky maw made the creature appear to be a hellish mixture of bat, turtle and mountain, all colored black and brown.
The dragon tilted its head up, eyes closing partially as it gazed up at the gathered rangers. “So you are the Rangers of Zac-Haroon,” it said, referring to the orders roots as defenders of a now dead empire’s elite guard. “I must say I’m not impressed.”
“Leave dragon!” Donahue shouted down at him, arrow nocked and ready to be fired. “Leave before we are forced to drive you away!”
“Drive me away? With what elf, your words? Your feelings? Face it monkey, you don’t have what it takes to stand against a true force of nature. Unlike the humans, whom I actually have a grudging respect for; you can’t change or alter your ways. Your kind are as rigid as the very earth itself. You failed the Emperor, you’ll fail here too.”
Donahue let loose a scream of rage, shooting down with his arrow at the dragon, prompting a rain of barbed and hooked razor sharp arrows to fall down upon the dragon. Slowly it pulled its extremities into its body, leaving just a rocky shell for the barbed arrows to break upon.
“Keep up the firing!” Donahue shouted in Elvish before snagging Maria and four others by the shoulder, pulling them away. “We go down, right now, and crawl in its shell and kill it.”
“Are you crazy?” Maria asked, looking at Donahue. “It’s shrugging off our arrows as if it were made of stone. What makes you think our swords will do any different?”
“We have to try!” Donahue raged, moving his face an inch from Maria’s. “You weren’t born yet, but I remember the Emperor Zac-Haroon. He was a kind man, a man that took our people in and allowed us the honor of protecting him. We let him down. I will not let down the Vita.”
“How do you even know that’s what it’s after?” Maria asked.
“Why else would it have ventured so far into the woods?” Jordan, a hot-headed younger elf asked. He pulled his scimitars and swirled them once. “I’m with you Donahue.”
The others murmured an agreement, leaving Maria the lone dissenting voice. “Fine. But if this falls through, I’ll see you on the other side and let you know it’s your fault Donahue.”