“Easy now, dad.” Pyrrus placed a massive paw under his body as he tried to lift his bulk. His shredded armor lay off to the side, and his scabs and scars on his body cracked as he took on his own weight.
The massive dragon had regained consciousness two days after they had reached Poenari Castle. He had wavered for a couple hours, but amazingly, Kiesah had been able to stabilize her mate. No Pyrrus was attempting to walk outdoors again, so he could see the sun and sky. His four wings brushed the walls of the keep as he groaned, the pain in his body making him shiver and shake.
“Stop worrying over my wellbeing, daughter. I have had far worse before. Although I can’t really remember when.” Kiesah rubbed against his side, purring, and helping to support him.
“You should remember the last time, stud.” He smiled sheepishly at his mate, but lumbered quietly outside, allowing himself to be herded by his family. The sky was a clear crystalline blue today, and it made their spirits soar. Agera had authorized low altitude flights for her squadron in the valley below. Janus now led a race along the highway, soaring at super low altitude. Jiza and Guin trailed him closely, racing their flight mate around the bends.
“Come on you two!” the male called back as he ripped around a tight hairpin corner, blowing dust into the air from his ground effect. Guin used a micro burst from her element and dived ahead of him, trailer a streamer of light.
“Come on Janus, I thought you were always slick around females!” she taunted back.
“Yeah, I am, but then, you know, I just love chasing tail.” He shouted in retort, nipping at her spade. She smacked him across the nose. The duet passed over the ridge neck and neck.
“I am victorious!” Janus shouted, punching his fist into the air.
“Yeah right! That race was SO mine!” Guin said smiling, “Hey lead, who won that one?”
“What do I look like to you, a zebra?” Agera shouted up at her from the walls of the castle. She turned to the trio emerging from the interior. Pyrrus’s blood red scales reflected light over the rest of them, dappling them all in brilliant crimson hues. His flaming emblems tattooed into his scales danced in the sunshine, and when he finally lifted his wings, they towered overhead. His armored crest and breastbone were polished to a shine. No matter how he struggled, Pyrrus believed in having a good appearance, something that the rest of his family took to heart. He peered at her from under his horns, and despite his fearsome appearance, Agera could see his eyes twinkle with joy and mirth.
“Well met, daughter-friend.” He said, his voice rumbling the ground. Agera knew from his hiss that Pyrrus was ages old. In fact he was likely older than any living dragon. But despite his age, he was no less of a warrior. Pyrrus had some of the old blood in him, from the days when dragons stood as tall as mountains at the creation of the earth. He was Head-Guardian, and was charged with an area of land greater than any other, basically the entire continent of Europe, and some of northern Africa.
“Well met, old drake.” He laughed at her.
“I suppose I am at that.” He settled down on the walls, resting his head in his paws, stone cracking under his weight, “What has transpired since my vanquishing?”
Kiesah lay down next to him, leaning into his body, “Berlin has fallen, my love. We had a good run, didn’t we?”
“Aye, it was a fine game indeed. We had tactics and strength of warriors, but they had the numbers advantage. We both knew we could only hold out for so long. Ach, no matter, what be our next step?”
"Aren't you worried about your people though?" Agera asked, startled.
"Why should I be? I ordered the evac a week in advance thanks to your Guinevere's thumping good intelligence. The only ones who died were the ones who stayed to fight, and I gave my warriors the option with no loss of honor. Nothing wrong in guarding the civilians." he replied looking out over the valley, "So what's the next step?"
"Orders were SAR operations in these areas. The place is crawling with Void, so it's a good thing it's such a big place." Agera replied, "With no word from the GM or any other units in the area, we need to move on."
"How do we move on?" Venus asked, cradling her crushed paw, "Nearly all of us are wounded. Pyrrus can barely walk."
"We need a transport, and in these mountains, it's going to have to be a heavy lift dropship. The problem is we have no contact with command, so until we do, we dig in a -"
"Contacts!" all present turned towards the valley entrance, where two scouts took one look at the assembled dragons and turned hard, flying back the way they had come as fast as their wings could carry them.
"Scouts. No way are we going to catch them." Guin said over coms, "Orders lead?"
"Change of plans. We have two options stay here and be over-run or we run and live to fight another day."
"Pyrrus can't move Agera." Kiesah said quietly, "And if you think I'm about to leave his side..."
"I'd sooner kill myself. Can you walk Pyrrus?"
"I'll do my best." he rumbled, heaving himself to his feet.
"Venus, you'll be flying tight over watch. The rest of us will be flying CAP around you. Omega, meet up at sector alpha seven."
Agera took off and met up with the others. Venus flew slower, to protect her injured limb.
"Four, five, fall into a pattern twenty miles out. Stay low, and report anything. Three, you're with me in the inner cap zones, ten miles out. Six, fly in a counter posing orbit, and keep an eye on the Lord and Lady. Report anything that makes your scales crawl. Begin your CAP now."
The group split off in their opposite directions, Janus and Guin flying out in the direction of their movement, and Vienzo and Agera moved against the flow. Venus and Jiza turned sharp circles around the spot where Kiesah and Pyrrus were moving through the now thawing forest.
"Lead, five, private channel." Guin chirped at Agera. They both adjusted frequency.
"Private channel, go ahead Guin." Agera said scanning the skyline.
"Something's wrong if we haven't heard from command in a week. Standard protocol is to check in every forty-eight hours."
"I know Guin, I've been trying. There are only two explanations. Either local command has orders for radio silence, or -"
"Or they've been whipped out." Guin growled, soaring past her in the opposite direction.
"There's an additional problem as well."
"That being?" Guin asked.
"Where the fuck do we go?"
"Away from here."
The next several hours passed in relative silence. Janus got bored until he started trying to play chicken with Vienzo as they passed by each other. That was until Guin and Agera herded them into a collision. With dizziness in their skulls, they resumed their orbits. Finally, Jiza broke the silence.
"Lead, six. The Lady is requesting a stop for the night. She's worried about over-working Pyrrus."
"Roger, we'll turn in for now, but we have to work swing duties through the night. I don't want Void sneaking up on us."
The group landed, and Pyrrus lit a small, smokeless fire. Game was plentiful in the forested hills, and Venus was able to make an impressive catch of a young buck. Then with fire roasted venison filling their stomachs, Jiza and Janus volunteered to take first watch.
It wasn't till Agera was roused from her slumber that she realized what kind of danger they were in.
"Lead get up, we got more than a tiny patrol bearing down on us!" Agera tugged herself into awareness and jumped up, ready for combat.
"The void, they come, in uncountable numbers." Janus said in a hushed voice, unusually serious.
"Rouse the others." Agera turned and jumped into the trees, climbing carefully. She poked her head into the canopy, and peered out towards the sky, under cover of camouflage.
The sky was a sheer roiling mass of grey wings, so many different units that they moved as a great churning cauldron of enemies.
"Ancient give us wings." Agera leaped from the bough she was resting on, half gliding, landing softly on the ground.
"Get up! We’re moving!" Pyrrus was the first to wake, and his movement woke his mate, who had taken to sleeping next to his stomach, under his massive wings.
"What be the problem, Omega?"
"We've got ourselves a regular pursuit, sire." Pyrrus smiled.
"I always did like a good race."
Three days of no sleep is bad enough. But when you have to run combat air patrols constantly during that time period, the exhaustion really gets to the wings.
Agera was amazed after counting that fight that it was one of her hardest fought battles, even though she never engaged with Voidwings. She carried her heavy chest plate with her everywhere, and the winds often fought against them.
But no, the biggest opponent, far and away, was themselves. The body rebels against exhaustion. Twice Agera dozed off while flying, and only came to when someone caught her several miles off course and shouted at her. They could never get more than a couple hours sleep on the back of Pyrrus, who seemed an unstoppable force of nature.
Only when she woke on the third day and saw how close the void were, how she could count their individual numbers, did she truly wake, and start panicking.
"We're never gonna be able to outrun them." Agera finally said.
"Are we finally admitting defeat?" Janus said sleepily over the radio as if he could truly care less, "Good, that means I can get some shut eye."
"Yeah Janus, you'll shut your eyes and never wake again. Maybe that means we can finally get some peace around here."
"Can it six." Agera ordered over her radio, "We're all a little strung up right now. So cool your jets."
Venus was still limping along with them, and Agera could tell it was killing her.
"Ma'am, the capital of Romania, Bucharest, is only a half days journey from here. Perhaps we could lose them there?" she panted, groaning against the pain.
"That sounds as good an idea as any. Let the guardians know."
As the afternoon wore on, the Voidwings detached a small contingent of around a thousand wings to hunt them down, all of them assault class. They bore down on Omega squad throughout the afternoon into early night time. When Bucharest finally came into view, they were only two miles behind them. When Omega reached the city limits, they had closed that gap to three football fields. Reports had come in from all Omega members of elements being shut down.
"Go go go!" Agera egged the trio on the ground as their top cover hovered overhead. Pyrrus by now was full on sprinting, there was no other word for it, and Agera had somehow figured out a way to support Venus and run flat out to keep up at the same time.
"Find some cover! Anything!" Kiesah dived into a side shop with boarded up windows just as the sun was setting. The rest landed as they entered the door, and Agera shut it behind them. Pyrrus dragged himself to the back room, and Venus collapsed next to him, Vienzo going and settling in by his mates side. Guin and Agera took places behind the counter, ducking down and tucking wings tight to body so that they couldn't be seen from the door.
Wings rustled as their pursuers landed, downdraft from the touchdowns rattling the boards and the door. Agera had never been close enough to a Voidwing to actually put her knowledge of their language to the test, but now she heard every word clearly.
"Spread out! Find them! Bring them to me alive!" there was a few roars of assent and many claw beats moved off down alleys and streets. Shadows passed in front of the sun behind the boards of their shops.
"Really though? One thousand of the Berserkers for a single squadron? We outnumber them a hundred to one!" a smaller complained. He was the one who pushed open the shop door. A bell chimed in the corner, and the male grabbed it with lightning reflexes and pulled it off.
"You’re too jumpy Asimov. Calm down a bit." the elder said walking in.
"I'll calm down when these dragons have their heads upon their tails in the city square. You should be the same way. We're hunting dangerous fugitives, that's the only explanation for all this power." the one called Asimov replied. Agera could smell their foreign scent from here. It stung her nostrils, and she stifled a sneeze.
"Hey check this out!" Agera peered through some rotting wood work at the second one who had found a hat. Agera realized the shop was a hat shop now, and the Voidwing had found some leftover relic, a felt bowler hat, something native to Romania. He placed it on his head.
"How do I look?"
"Like a dumbass. Check the back room." the larger laughed and dropped his souvenir on a low table.
"Seriously though. Why hunt these dragons down? Why not just leave them be? From reports, their seriously battered. And they're not much more than an annoyance. Kind of the same instance with the presence we have in the sun worlds. Why throw ourselves against all of them? By now their will has broken, and they're just trying to stay alive as long as possible. Why finish them off?"
"Because they deserve to die! They are the ones who caused the downfall of our race!"
The larger one stopped at the door way to the back room. Agera held her breath as he turned to look at his comrade. If he looked around fully, he would see Guin and she hiding right next to him, "Do you really believe that, Asimov?"
"With every fiber of my being, Ronan." Asimov said quietly.
"That's naive and foolish, brother." Ronan turned back to his friend and spoke to him head on. From this angle, Agera got a perfect view of Ronan's features. He had an air about him that gave off compassion, a kind expression that said he loved everything around him. His form was gracefully built, with large strong horns that curved back perfectly from his head, and full billowing wings that bulged with muscles. Despite being Void, he was probably slightly larger than Agera. Unlike most of his brethren, his grey skin was not dull and colorless, but gave off a silver sheen, like a cloud on a bright clear day. It looked similar to Agera's grey camo scheme she used while flying.
"These dragons are not so different from you or me."
Asimov snorted, "How so?"
"Well for one, they don't give up easily, and second, they love life. They love the feel of the wind beneath the wings, the sound of music in the evening, and enjoy the passion of their mates at night. They live like we do. From what I've seen the only difference is their elements and skin colors. You might want to learn the distinction between enemy and opponent."
Agera couldn't believe what she was hearing. This was a Void speaking?
"JUST - check the back room..." Asimov responded. He looked like he was about to puke. Ronan turned to look into the room the others were in...
And turned right in to Agera's gaze. They stared at each other for a full five heartbeats, Agera's hearts pounding in her horns, her teeth clenched hard enough to draw blood, her eyes wide with terror, and every muscle tensed in her body, pleading with her enem - opponent silently.
He finally turned to look fully into the back room, and then turned back to Asimov.
"Nothing here, should we search the other buildings?" Asimov shrugged, and proceeded out the front door. Ronan was about to follow him, but Agera heard him stop.
"Fly safe..." he said quietly, and then left.
Agera didn't dare breathe until Guin nudged her from behind, at which point she jumped about three feet.
"Move!" she hissed, and they belly crawled around the corner of the doorway into the back room.
At about midnight, there was a great rush of air and Agera heard Void soar overhead. When the night was still and silent, Agera finally breathed freely. She heard the others let out sighs of relief.
Pyrrus spoke first.
"Their language sounds just like Drashish." he marveled quietly.
They all slept like hatchlings, literally and figuratively. Kiesah curled up next to her mate, Venus on her father's back, curled up next to her mate, necks crossed with Agera. Jiza and Janus curled nose to tail tip on the other side of Vienzo, and finally, Guin flopped down on their tails. Protocols be damned, they didn't even have any watches. Agera slept for seventeen hours straight, and she was the first to wake.
When she felt how sore her muscles were, she was surprised she hadn't woken sooner. Stiff joints cracked and popped as she stood and hopped down to the dusty floor.
Agera peered outside, and found the sky and air was crystal clear, she emerged onto the rooftop, keeping a wary eye out for enemy patrols. Salty air from the black sea met her nostrils, and she took a deep, long, satisfied breath. The sounds and smells reminded her of Cayman.
"Nice day, isn't it?" Guin said, coming to sit by her, "Whatcha thinkin' about?"
Agera shrugged, "The Voidwings. Or I should say The Voidwing."
"Ronan be his name." Guin said quietly.
"Does it bother you that a Void could seem so..."
"Normal? Compassionate?" Agera rubbed her horn, "Draconic?"
"Yes! Draconic. He seemed so much like us. I mean besides the obvious?"
"You mean the fact that he didn't rat us out and our guts are still in a big soggy bag where they should be?"
"Yeah. I've never known a Voidwing to show mercy. Sorrow at what they have to do perhaps, but never mercy."
"It hasn't ever happened, not that I know of. And if it had happened, then I'd know of it." Guin said quietly, "Whoever he was, he was different, thank the Ancient for that."
"At the end of this damnable war, the survival of an entire race is going to depend on exactly that, mercy. Some think we should take as many of them out as we can. I used to think the same way, and I dedicated my life to becoming the best warrior possible, despite my handicap, just so I could kill as many of them as possible..."
"But now I'm not so sure."
"This is Captain Agera Krigsman, calling command. Command, please respond." no answer, again.
"Still nothing lead?" Vienzo asked, climbing onto the roof. The stars twinkled overhead, slowly circling in their everlasting formations.
"Always nothing. They recruit us, and then forget us? Are we really that broken here? I thought the UEAF still had some presence on their home planet."
"Apparently not. I'm starting to think we should just strike out on our own." the earth dragon said quietly, staring into the distance with dead eyes.
"We wouldn't make it two months out there on our own. Besides, Pyrrus needs medical attention, and unless you want to learn how to mate with a dragonelle that only has three limbs, then so does Venus. We're in a bad way here four. We need command. We need stability."
"We need help..." he turned back to the stairs down into the shop, "We're turning off the power. Are you coming?"
"No, I'm going to stay out here, my helmet's coms probably gets better reception up here." Agera said, looking up at the stars, "You and the others ge -"
"Omega lead, please respond, this is SAR flight zero seven." Agera's head shot up at the voice suddenly in her horns.
"This is Omega lead!!! SAR zero seven it is DAMN good to hear your voice!" she said, almost crying, "We're currently holed up in Bucharest, hosting a party for the Voidwings."
"Awesome Omega lead. You got any beer left, or are we too late?" the communications officer jested at her.
"Sorry, we're fresh out, but if you send us a ride home with a chaperone, I'll buy you and your boys as many rounds as you can drink when we get back to the house." she responded, smiling wide.
"You're on, Omega! Transport in fifteen. Give us a flare in twelve." he said happily.
"Roger that." she pulled her helmet off and growled with satisfaction, then turned to Vienzo.
"Get the others. We're going home!"