Zhala was bleeding out. Her skin was turning deathly pale at an alarming rate. If Liana didn't work faster than she had in her life, the witch was going to die. She couldn't die; they would never find their way without her.
Liana scrabbled through her satchel, periodically glancing behind her to make sure the creature wasn't getting close and remained distracted. Finally, she found what she was looking for. The pulled out the jar and forced open the lid, recoiling momentarily at the smell. No point being precious, the girl was dying and Liana was the only here who could save her.
She scooped out a generous about of the concoction and smeared it on Zhala's wounds. They weren't quite as deep as initially thought but they were deep enough. Back in her satchel she bought out her handmade bandages and wrapped hem ad tightly gas she could around Zhala's neck without strangling her.
Another vial, a potion of sorts she'd made out of juniper, basil and blood she'd collected from a injured unicorn she had then patched up and sent on her way. She poured it into Zhala's mouth and forced her to swallow. There was nothing more she could do right now,, not with the imminent danger.
Liana leapt to her feet, picking up her hunting bow and turning towards the creature. She had never seen anything like it. It looked like a bear that had mutated into something much larger than it had any right to be. Claws too long and teeth too sharp, and far too fast for it's size. In any case, Bork was putting up a good fight but Liana feared he wouldn't be able to kill it.
She cocked her bow and drew, searching for the creatures eyes. When she found one, hidden among it's hick flesh and loosed her arrow. A direct hit. The creature thrashed, throwing Bork off of it; Liana heard him whimper when he impacted with a tree. When the creature regained control over itself, it turned towards Liana and stared her hard with it's one good eye. She could see the rage there; if it could, it was going to kill her.
It wouldnt, thought. She notched, pulled and released another arrow.
Once Lucas realized what was happening to Zhala, he ran over to the scene as fast as he could. It seemed almost impossible to get between Bork and the creature to reach his fallen comrade, so he had to wait for an opening. Once the time was right, Lucas quickly rushed in and picked up Zhala-but not without the monster noticing. It turned towards him and sprawled, most likely wanting to catch him off guard.
The only thing Lucas could do was to swing his tail; subsequently, hitting the creature just enough to knock it off balance and allowing him to reach Liana. After laying Zhala down by the healer, he returned his attention to the battle. The monster seemed to have started attacking Bork again, and Lucas started to think of a new strategy to kill this thing...
Lyra panicked and scrambled to get out her sketchbook. She flipped through it, and stopped at the page with Bork. It was detailed to the point it looked as if it was alive, and the outline began to glow. It was golden, and soon spread to Lyra and Bork's eyes. Bork snarled at the beast and attacked it, managing to knock it off of Zhala. As Bork fought the creature, Lyra snarled and bit at the air with Bork, and gained all the injuries Bork was given.
Zhala looked down at her feet and rolled her eyes for the millionth time. Her boots were caked in mud and with the fading sunlight she was relying more on her tracking instincts than her map. Glancing behind her she mentally counted the steps between her and Liana, ensuring she wasn't walking ahead too far, but keeping a safe distance from the girl. She wasn't prepared to get guilt-tripped into some forest dweller again about 'saving the world'.
Suddenly, hearing the footsteps behind her stop, Zhala spun to face the others, prepared to - once again - tell them off for slowing her down. The noise of breaking twigs stopped her midbreath and she held up a heavily ringed hand to stop the others walking. Something was closing in on them, she wasn't well trained in combat and certainly, couldn't tell the animal from the noise emanating from the trees. But it was big. Big and heading straight towards them.
[b "Theres something-" ] Zhala barely finished her warning to Lyra and Lucas before a black shape burst through the trees and slammed into her, throwing her flat on her back, knocking the wind out of her lungs. Pain engulfed her back as she hit the uneven forest floor. She couldn't see what the creature was, only felt it's hot, pungent breath on her face, causing her to gag. [b "Get - off - Fuck - "] She shouted broken words at the others as she reached one arm out, trying to grab something to hit the creature with before it did any damage other than pressing its huge weight on her ribs and chest.
It was too late, the thing sunk it's razor sharp teeth into her shoulder. That pain was intense and she could feel the hot blood spilling out, stinging the puncture marks. Her vision sparkled with black dots, threatening to render her unconscious. She couldn't see the others or hear anything over the deep groaning of the thing.
From a distance, Muran looked as any kingdom city should: majestic, impenetrable, [I safe]. Only now Liana knew that no matter how high the walls or how wide the moat, no where could escape the kind of sickness that was currently ravaging the land. The further they went, the sparcer living trees became and the rustling of small animals became ominous slinking and scratching. Waiting.
Zhala was walking ahead, their guide of sorts, though she seemed to want to make everyone perfectly aware that she wasn't happy about it. Liana looked behind her to make sure the other two were keeping up.
Lucas was trailing a little, from choice she thought. Liana wondered about him. It had been a long while since she'd seen a taimed dragon of any species, he must be one of the last who had his wits about him. How long for, though? How long until he too becomes tainted with evil? She would have to keep an eye on him, for any tiny signs that something was wrong and that they needed to run. Or attack.
It was no good worrying about that now. After all they needed all the help they could get; and if that help came from a ticking time bomb? So be it.
There was more strange noises coming from the shrubs, closer than they had been before. All of Liana's track and hunt instincts kicked in. They didn't help. She didn't recognise these sounds or movements; there was something [I wrong] about them.
She did know something, though.
It was here.
As Lucas walked out of the throne room with this...intriguing group of partners, he sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Well, that went [b great]." He said with as much sarcasm as possible. While walking down the hallways again, he began to wonder how the others would soon start reacting to him. They'd be scared of him, there's no doubt about that. He is a dragon, after all...and the entire kingdom is filled with feral ones.
Lucas rubbed his forehead yet again, going into more thought. What would become of him on this journey...and how would it affect how others view him? He could answer none of those things, only brood and ponder upon them. Soon after, realizing that he was falling behind the group, Lucas regained his composure and caught up with his new acquaintances once again. "So...how are we planning to have this play out?" He asked as he glanced at everyone.
Lyra honestly had no idea what to say. She decided to stay quiet. She made sure she had everything, and headed to the door, ignoring any questions. She didn't want to stay there any longer than she had to. It just...didn't feel right. Bork followed her, his tail proudly held high. They knew where to go and they told the king, so they might as well start!
Zhala threw her head back and laughed. This wild girl really believed they could help. This misfit group? As if. She had been standing a step behind the others, observing the king up until now. She got that feeling, the dark swirling in her gut that she got around people with a negative aura.
Pushing her dark hair out of her face as she bent her head, she rummaged through her satchel. The wild girl had mentioned the marshlands which was as good a place to start as any. [b "Theres a rich history to the marshlands, it used to be inhabited a long time ago by a tribe who died out from a strange curse." ] Zhala pulled out her hand drawn map of the kingdom and looked over it for a moment before turning to the others.
[b "If you're serious about trying to help then I suppose I can take you there. But once we're there I'm leaving." ] She paused, frowning slightly. [b "I've already told you I think this is futile, but no one knows the marshlands like I do" ] Not waiting to see if they replied, Zhala started walking away, leaving the King staring after her.
It was a long walk east and she wasn't prepared to make friends with the strange people or get their hopes up about what they would find there, it was nothing more than a desolate stretch of bog now.
"Okay, that's enough introductions," said Liana, trying to sound less annoyed than she was ,"we don't need to be wasting more time with pointless details. All that matters is that we want the same thing: to stop whatever it is that's causing all this suffering so we don't lose more than we already have."
"That's all well and good, girl," said the king, "but [I how]? I've had my best people on the case and they're stumped, not a wisp of an idea between them. What makes you think you could do any better?"
"I can't speak for anyone else, but I grew up among those trees that have shrivelled with disease and the rabid animals that are now roaming the wilderness with nothing but feasting on their minds. Those animals were my friends, I saw them change and it didn't happen over night and it didn't start in the kingdom."
The king seemed incredulous. "So where did it start?"
"I'm not sure exactly. Somewhere out east, beyond the marshlands. I don't think this was a natural occurrence so I suggest heading out there and hunting for the source. After all, there's not better place to begin than the start."
Lucas slowly stepped forward, allowing the king to get a good look at him. "I think introducing ourselves won't take up too much time." He was obviously directing that at the ruler in the throne, and Lucas continued speaking. "Sire, I am Lucas Mui. As you can see, I am a Shadow Drake...a tame one, at that." He did a small little bow out of respect and stood straight back up, his tail swiping against the ground slowly. "I am here mostly due to actually being one of the few tame dragons left out there...and I want to find a way to help my brethren, if possible."
Lyra sighed. The room was enough to make herself sick, not to mention the luxurious meal beside the ruler. She suddenly understood why Liana was so mad and tense. Lyra felt like she was going to be sick. She gulped, stood straight, and looked into the king's face.
"I'm Lyra Shadow, a beast summoner. This is Bork, the topaz wolf."
The wolf walked up behind Lyra, and sat beside her. He was the size of a direwolf, and could pass off as one if it wasn't for his bright color.
Liana fought the urge to roll her eyes at the sight of the king, flanked by guards as if he wasn't living in the most secure building in the entire kingdom. Nothing about the man was impressive except for the things he had payed for while his people had nothing to eat. At least her own conscience rested easy knowing she had never liked the man, even before the Sickness.
A guard at the door motioned for the group to approach. They must have been quite a sight, the elf girl, the dragon boy, the feral outsider and the witch but if the king was phased, he didn't show it. Instead, he smiled in a way that made Liana feel sick, almost serenely though false as a poorly forged document.
As they made their way down, Liana felt herself getting tenser and tenser with every step. She curled her hands into a fist, digging her nails into the palms of her hands so hard she was worried she would draw blood. By the time hey we're standing in front of the king, she could barely focus on his face. Then he was addressing them.
"You all know why we're here, yes?" He didn't wait for a response. "Good, good. Now, let's get down to business. How are you fine, err, people planning on fixing our little problem?"
Lyra looked at him, still in a bit of pain from the black marks on her arm. She felt bad for him, she knew what being alone and forgotten is like. Halfling elves aren't exactly very well respected...
She opened her mouth to speak, but closed it, for the doors had slowly begin to open. A look of shock spread across her face, and she slowly entered the throne room.
It was more than likely the largest room, as well as the emptiest. There was a red carpet leading up to a golden throne. The king was of average height, and had white hair and a beard. Two guards worked beside him.
It almost seemed as if no one had even noticed Lucas. He was half-dragon, specifically a Shadow Drake...and yet Lyra seemed to be the only one who truly took any consideration of him. "Hmm...it seems that we are quite the diverse bunch of individuals." He said slowly as his scales illuminated a lime shade of green. "Must we bicker when the entire fate of this kingdom is at stake?"
Liana stood away from her companions lest someone tried to touch her again. She could still feel where that Lyra girl had grabbed her as if her hand was still there, burning her. The new one, the loud one, she didn't look of this world. Not in the way Liana did, a little feral, wild, someone who obviously didn't live the way other people lived. No, this girl looked like she wasn't of this plain of existence; a place of mystery and magic.
She was wrong, though. It wasn't too late, not by a long shot. She knew what death looked like, and this wasn't this. Not yet.
They had move fast.
"Clearly," said Liana, trying to keep calm the way she could when she could when tracking through the forest, remaining unseen, "if you really believed we were completely without hope, you wouldn't be here. And if you're just trying to make a point, no one cares, we have bigger problems to deal with."
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