Status: Updates on Saturdays

The Vacant Shadow

Chapter 14

The wind seemed to pick up as the sounds of the leafs of the great trees filled Koveer’s ears, it had already been a few hours since the battle with the beatles and she felt as though that particular battle had been utterly pointless. Certainly, if Koveer had died either then or before it would most likely mean that there would be no chance for the gryphons in defending their home. But the battle had been pointless in which no answers were gained, no ground was gained, Empress Valra was still somewhere out there. The swarms of insects that had attacked Twigleaf were still out there. The only thing that had changed in the last few hours that Koveer had even noticed was that the smell of ocean water had started to become mixed in with the smells of the forest.

While it was clear that they were close to the ocean, the forest was still to thick for Koveer to actually see any sea water or even the coast. She glanced back at Saurus who had slowed a great deal since they had been moving. Koveer gave her a worried expression “Are you alright Saurus? You’ve been moving slowly.”

“I am fine, just tired of walking is all. I could have flown to this other gryphon settlement and prayed to the gods for aid by now.”

“Then why don’t you?” Koveer asked.

“Because I do not wish to leave you out here alone, your Majesty.” Saurus answered back, but there was a fatigue in her voice that betrayed her. Saurus was not well, even the color of her scales had started to drain away as they had moved. Koveer shook her head at the dragon and came to the realization that even with whatever was wrong with the ice dragon, she would continue to move forward. Her pride as a dragon wouldn’t allow her to forsake what she considered her duty.

“Maybe we should stop and rest for a moment.” Koveer suggested, in an attempt to at least give Saurus a moment to regather herself.

“No, the sooner we get to Stonerest. The sooner we beg the gods for their help, Valra just being alive again is a crime against the gods. The dead should be at peace, and the justice of the gods will be swift in remedying that.” Saurus pushed past Koveer and kept walking.

“I did not know dragons were capable of begging.” Koveer retorted as she frowned at the ice dragon.

“Have you not been begging your Unnamed goddess for aid?” Saurus replied back as she slowed and glanced over her shoulder at Koveer.

The red feathered gryphon sighed and continued forth “Every moment I pray that the Unnamed will stop those creatures from harming anyone else, that she’ll fix all of this.”

Koveer looked away and sighed, her false sense of courage was slowly eroding away. None of her learning had prepared her for a war, nor for protecting the gryphon people from a force that was supposed to be long dead. She closed her eyes tight and gritted her beak, Koveer wasn’t strong enough to face such evil. As she started to fall into a flurry of self pity a shadow suddenly loomed over her. Koveer slowly opened her eyes and glanced up to see the ice dragoness looking down at her.

There was a hardened expression in Saurus’s eyes but also compassion and understanding “Do not give into doubt, but don’t think that it’s not alright to either. You are Queen of Syutha, you have a people to lead.”

“I’m not worthy of this.” Koveer uttered and shook her head, her ears twitching as she tried to fight back the tears. The overwhelming stress of the last day and a half came bearing down on her as if great boulders had come crashing down in her mind.

“Your goddess would not have chosen you if she did not deem you ready, correct? I imagine your rise to the throne of Syutha wasn’t a mere accident. Gods do not make mistakes after all, if they did then they would not be worth worshipping.” Saurus spoke in a tone that suggested that the great ice dragon was once in the same position as Koveer currently was at one point in her life.

“Now let’s hurry, the gryphons need to see that their Queen is alive and well.” Saurus offered a clawed hand for support and Koveer couldn’t help continuing to doubt herself. She looked at the offered hand and gave a nod, her paw resting in the larger hand as Saurus gave a soft smile and glanced around at the forest.

“Enough walking, spread your wings Queen Cardinal-Wing. It is time that we turn this conflict in our favor.” The ice dragon shifted around and spread her large wings, she moved along the path at a faster pace and gave her wings a flap, the blue scaly skin underneath seemed to catch the air as it was pushed under the dragon. She caught the gust that her wings created and Saurus pushed herself into a trot, the trees seemed to open up a bit as the dragoness pushed herself forward. Her nostrils flared as Saurus gave her wings a flap and leapt taking to the skies, she pushed herself upward and gave a satisfied nod. Koveer blinked and unfolded her own wings, unlike Saurus where she had needed a running start. Gryphons were much lighter then dragons, she gripped the ground with her talons and felt the wind lift under the feathers of her wings. Koveer took a deep breath and shot upward.

The rush of air wrapped around Koveer almost like of bubble of an invisible force, her wings cut through that force as Koveer flapped her wings and followed after Saurus who was already far ahead of her. Koveer could see the edges of the subcontinent sticking out as the sea brought great waves of sea water onto the shores. When Koveer looked further out she could see a great storm swirling and twisting, the clouds were bearing toward Syutha as the wind pulled up trails of water in the form of waterspouts. She watched as the dark black clouds seemed to move quickly, it was not an uncommon sight but there was something about the storm’s power that made Koveer feel at ease. She was a Cardinal-Wing after all, the wind was her’s to command and she wondered if she could control such a monster of a storm.

The sound of thunder crackling in the distance and the flash of purple light flashed through the thick blackness. Koveer didn’t know if she could harness lightning, she had never tried. But as she watched the thunder arch through the clouds Koveer could hear it’s whisper, not in her ears but on a deeper level. It was something familiar and yet as the same time new, Koveer reached out to the storm with her mind and she felt the energy crackle across her feathers. Then the energy stalled out and fizzled out, but there had been a connection and she now wondered just have far the gifts of the Unnamed could go.

Saurus suddenly veered back and appeared at Koveer’s side as she looked at the gryphoness “You look far more comfortable in the air then of the ground your Majesty.”

Koveer laughed at that and motioned her beak toward a series of stone structures on the far western coast of Syutha “Let’s just say that the wind’s whispers have cleared my head.”

“That’s good because Stonerest may need you sooner then later, look toward the forest.” Saurus commented.

Koveer’s eyes shifted down toward the forest canopy and she gasped, hundreds of the bone white insects were marching across the forest, leaving a black trail of decay and destruction. She cursed to herself and nodded to Saurus “They won’t have time to rally a defense!”

“Aren’t Cardinal-Wing’s supposed to be able to summon the Unnamed’s power? Now would be a good time your Majesty.” Saurus said with a slight hiss in her voice, realizing quickly that they might have very well led this army of shadows to the gryphon dwelling of Stonerest.

Koveer felt the storm whisper into her very being again and she nodded “Hurry to the dragon temple and summon your gods Saurus, I have a plan.”

“Might I know this plan Queen Cardinal-Wing?”

“That storm will be arriving within an hour roughly, it will bring rain and thunder. I… I keep getting this tingle, I think it wants me to use it’s power.” Koveer said with an uncertain expression.

“Can you even control a storm of that size, that is nothing short of a hurricane.”

“No, it is a hurricane and I’m going to bring is directly to Valra’s forces. If I don’t return arrive back at Stonerest, then I want you to lead whoever is down there. Evacuate Syutha if you have too, but the gryphons do not die today.” Even as the words escaped Koveer’s beak she felt certain that this was what she had to do.

“Don’t die my friend, I’d like to share a future where gryphon and ice dragon live as comrades eternal.” Saurus said with a slight smirk.

Koveer reached for the feathers on her neck and pulled several from her neck, she grunted in slight pain as she looked at her friend. Koveer blew the feathers across the sky toward Saurus and nodded her head “Use my feathers to get their attention, they will listen to you then.”

Saurus nodded and catch the feathers in her hand, then she gave a respectful bow of her head and veered off using the momentum of her body to angle herself down toward the city of Stonerest. Koveer let out a deep breath as she watched her friend flying down to the only gryphon city left.

Her ears twitched as she heard the thunder crackle again and she nodded to herself, somehow deep within her soul she knew this was right. Koveer gave her wings a flap and dove downward toward the forest. The white insects had created a large blackened clearing that would serve Koveer perfectly for what she had planned. But that alone wasn’t enough, she didn’t just want to decimate Valra’s army she wanted to get the Empress’s attention fully.

Koveer landed just outside of the clearing, the smell of decay was heavy in the air as she moved forth. Almost as if on cue the wind started to pick up from the oncoming storm and torrents of rain suddenly swept through the forest. Koveer stepped into the clearing, the army of large white insects were on their way across toward the gryphon Queen and she took a deep breath and let it out as she felt the tingling under her feathers and her skin “Unnamed guard me as I take this step, guard me as I defend my people and my home.”

She moved to within sight of the large swarm of insects moving across the land, they were a mix of the beatles that she had faced before and the large swarms that had wiped out Twigleaf. Koveer tilted her head and gave a glared as the swarm got closer and closer, now only a few yards out.

“Valra! You can see me can’t you!? You can see through every monstrosity that you create!” Koveer knew it was a gamble, she knew that if her plan failed and everything went wrong then the insects would kill her and move onto Stonerest and slaughter the Snow-Owl gryphons and any others that had made it there.

But as the insects neared they suddenly stopped only about a yard away from where Koveer was. She breathed and nodded her head “That’s what I thought.”

“Cardinal-Wing… Yes, when my empire ruled this land there was also a Cardinal-Wing who opposed me. Shame I never exterminated your whole line then.” Valra’s voice rang out from the insects.

“That’s not how it works Empress, to be a Cardinal-Wing isn’t from a bloodline. It isn’t passed on through generations, we are chosen as the vessel of the Unnamed Goddess’s will. So long as there are gryphons there will always be a Cardinal-Wing.” Koveer answered back.

The insects all clicked and cackled impatiently as Valra suddenly chuckled “When I am finished Cardinal-Wing, there will be no gryphons left for your goddess to inspire.”

The wind and the rain suddenly increased in intensity as the hurricane began to sweep across the whole of the clearing. Koveer gave a shake of her head as she felt the storm whispering to her, strangely enough she could understand it.

“Cardinal-Wing… Chosen…”

It was a whisper but it sounded like a roaring in her ears as Koveer started to understand “Tell me Empress, did the Cardinal-Wing of your time ever know victory against your armies in open battle?”

“Ha! The Cardinal-Wing of my time would never dare to openly challenge me! Instead he struck from the shadows! Stealing away slaves and assassinating high ranking generals of my armies! A mere insect in the ears of my great Empire!” Valra retorted, though she were not actually there her words couldn’t help bring a smile to Koveer’s beak.

“So never once did he face you openly?”

“Did you not hear me the first time rat!?”

“Oh no, I heard you perfectly.” Koveer answered back, chuckling.

“You mock your own approaching death!?” Valra let out an audible growl that somehow managed to escape the insects all at once.

“I just want you to know that I am not that Cardinal-Wing, I’m coming for you Valra. I dare to challenge you openly, I dare to face you in open battle. When I decimate everything you have to offer, I will show you that the gryphon people do not fear you. You’ll see that we are not the same gryphons of old, the mistake we have made in the past is that we sheltered ourselves from the mainland. No longer, when I am done ending your threat to my people gryphons will go to the mainland. We will establish ourselves as a part of this world.”
Valra merely laughed at that and Koveer got the sense that she was tilting her head at the red feathered Queen. Though the sounds of the storm was making it increasingly harder to hear not that she would need to in a moment.

Valra seemed to sneer in amusement “Your people are nothing more then rodents from another land, rats! When I have erased your kind from this world they will thank me for it.”

“You’ll see Empress, you haven’t seen what we can do yet. But I’m done talking to a tyrant, when I drag you through the forest you’ll understand that the Unnamed did not choose my people for nothing.” Koveer said, now spreading her wings. She could already feel the air wrapping around her, could even see it as grey gusts.

“Your Unnamed picked poorly.” Valra answered back, the insects started to let out various clicking sounds as Koveer felt Valra’s presence seem to amplify. It was clear that Valra intended to watch her army pick Koveer apart, and that was fine by Koveer. She wanted Valra to see everything that she was about to do, she wanted Valra to feel the same doubt she felt wandering through the forest.

The storm above crackled as thunder flashed across the sky and drops of water dripped from Koveer’s body. She glared and the storm seemed to roar ever stronger, Koveer felt each and every feather on her body stand on end as she took a deep breath. Koveer gripped the now muddied ground and she pulled on all of the magic she could muster. The insects suddenly charged forth and Koveer felt energy tingle across her body.

“Unnamed guide me, give me the power to inflict justice on those who have wronged my people.” Koveer uttered to herself, and the storm began to swirl and grow more angry. The clouds twisted and bolts of lightning struck rapidly around Koveer’s form as she pulled the energy of the storm down toward her.

“Do you feel it Empress! The storm beckons!”

“Enough of your stalling Cardinal-Wing!” Valra echoed back as the swarms surged forth at Koveer.

She nodded in agreement and Koveer planted her feet hard in the mud and felt her vocal cords tingle as she extended her talons out like a lion. Koveer felt lightning tingle across her body and she took a deep breath, as the swarms charged her she gave a loud echoing screech that the wind carried across the clearing. As the sound moved and touched each and every insect and monster, the storm above reacted and a massive surge of energy fired down from the clouds. The lightning struck the insects as it impacted down in the center of the swarms and began to surge outward. Volts and volts of energy surged through Koveer’s body as she acted as the conduit in which the raw power of the storm flowed. Koveer had never known the power that the Unnamed had given her, she had always assumed that her power over the wind alone was her gift. But know as she watched lightning and thunder arc between the insects burning holes in the larger beatles and completely vaporizing the smaller ones to dust.

The swarms of insects that neared Koveer were zapped by an energy field that appeared around Koveer’s body it was as though her own power or rather the power of the Unnamed would not allow her to be harmed. Koveer let out another screech and a tornado began to descend from the storm as entire trees were lifted up by the wind and flung into the army crushing more insects. The tornado slammed down on the insects abruptly and tore it’s way through hundreds upon hundreds of foes, until it grew unstable and could no longer hold it’s form. The tornado vanished and it gave Koveer the opening that she needed, she lifted up onto her hind legs and slammed her paws down hard on the mud. A wave of lightning echoed across the ground toward the remaining swarms and surged through them wiping out Valra’s insect army in what was only a matter of minutes.

Koveer shook her body, rain water sprayed in all directions from her as she felt her body cackling with raw power. Koveer surveyed the damage that she had done, the very ground had been charred by her lightning and while the storm still echoed above it began to move on into the center of Syutha. Koveer let out a deep breath and nodded her head, she took a few steps forward and heard one of the beatles clicking their mandibles. Koveer looked at it’s ghost white shell now burned from the energy, it didn’t have long to live but Koveer approached it anyway.

“Are you still there Empress? Did you see what just happened to your army?” Koveer asked, confidence now oozing from her words.

There was no answer, and as the insect began to die and return to the shadows it was born from Koveer uttered one last message to Valra “I’m coming for you.”

***