Chapter Four – Midnight FlightMature

In the two days that Tristan and Daeranyx had spare before they embarked upon their journey, to determine the message of the Divine Creator, they spent most of their time in each other’s company. Tristan would read extracts from Great Beasts of Aelidar to Daeranyx, they would spend hours upon hours flying over Sharkbay and the countryside beyond. It was the evening of the second day and Tristan had just finished practicing his sword play on the various manikins towards the end of the training ground where Daeranyx slept. The Grand Knight Paladin was waiting for him at the edge of the field with another, much younger man. From afar Tristan could only see the colours of his clothes, the deep blue of the ocean mixed with the grey of shark hide, all trimmed with cloth of silver. Getting closer Tristan saw the expression on the young man’s face, serious with high cheekbones that looked sharp under his pale grey eyes; his mouth was a flat line betraying neither joy nor sorrow.

When Tristan finally reached the end of the training ground he could see the intricate workings of the sword at the man’s waist. It was held in a grey scabbard that Tristan assumed was shark hide, the cross guard was designed to look like the long fins of a shark where the pommel was the open jaw of a great white, it’s eyes were flawless sapphires. After Tristan had put his undershirt back on the man’s expression changed as if he had had dirt thrown in his face. The silence stretched on until Tristan looked at the Grand Knight Paladin.

‘Count Riker Serim, may I present to you Heishi Tristan Aldred, called the Bold and Rider of Daeranyx. Heishi Tristan, this is Count Riker Serim, Castleton of Sharkbay and Lord Admiral of the Golden Fleet.’ Lord Riker’s expression was now that of a pruning wolf.

Tristan gave a low bow that was almost low enough to be considered exaggerated; he reached out to kiss the Lord Admiral’s ring and kissed the air just above the sapphire gem as was custom. Lord Riker seemed surprised at Tristan’s display of court etiquette.

‘I had been told that you were from common stock and had been raised by those lack wits called the Infernal Terrors, I am surprised by your level of formality, nevertheless I name you well met Heishi Tristan Aldred, may I offer you my sincerest welcome to Sharkbay, if I may ask where is your beast?’ Tristan had made the decision he did not like Lord Riker in a second.

‘Daeranyx is out hunting at the moment, Lord Riker, he does not like to sit idle for too long and the promise of game is strong in your lands.’ Riker seemed insulted that Daeranyx had hunted without his permission but dared not voice his complaints.

This bastard wouldn’t know subtlety, or the word thank you, if it came and slapped him across the face and kissed him

So I’m guessing he’s not nice?

Nice? Daeranyx he referred to you as a beast

You must remember Tristan that there hasn’t been a dragon in the world for thousands of years, don’t be surprised if people are afraid or even violent towards us. I shall be back soon nevertheless and I shall meet this Count Riker personally.

‘If you would like to meet Daeranyx, Count Riker, he shall be back soon.’ Tristan gave a low bow to humour the man.

‘I came to meet the two of you, I shall wait.’ The Count stood with his right hand clasped around the shark head pommel of his sword and his other fist clenched resting against his hip, as if waiting like an impatient child.

I come.

‘Count Riker, Grand Knight Paladin, you may want to take a step back, and steady yourself and cover your eyes.’ On cue Daeranyx landed in the training yard, sending tremors through the ground and whipping up dust and dirt.  

The coughing and complaining coming from Count Riker suggested that he had not taken Tristan’s advice. Serves him right the prick. After the dust had settled he could see the colour had drained out of Count Riker’s face and he had backed up to one of the pillars that supported the roof.

‘Greetings Count Riker, I am Daeranyx The Magnificent, First of the Fierce People and Those Who Ride The Air, it is an honour to be greeted to Sharkbay by the Lord Admiral himself.’ In what must have been a bow, Daeranyx extended his left leg and bent his head so that it nearly touched the ground.

It took Count Riker a long time to recover from the awe of seeing a dragon.

‘Uh- yes I-ah, of course, you are- uh- welcome, Flamebringer, Sharkbay has never had the honour of the presence of one of the Fierce People and you are a welcome guest.’ Count Riker swept his sword around his back and extended his own left leg, bowing at the waist.

See he’s not so bad now is he? Tristan couldn’t help but smirk.

‘Flamebringer Daeranyx, Heishi Tristan, I invite you both to attend a dinner tonight, we must toast your welcome to Sharkbay and your departure for tomorrow, it would honour my city and myself if you would accept.’

Daeranyx replied.

‘Of course we accept your invitation, Count Riker, we shall accompany you back to Sharkbay Castle, give Tristan some time to prepare and we shall depart.’ Daeranyx looked at Tristan; he knew he wasn’t looking forward to this evening.

Oh come now Tristan it won’t be that bad at all really, at least we’ll be able to eat well instead of the simple fare we are given here.

‘Yes, if you will excuse me Count, Grand Knight Paladin, I shall change into attire more suitable.’ Although what that will be is beyond me. Tristan had no court clothes to speak of, he had been wearing his plain wool clothes or the modified Apprentice’s clothes since he arrived.

When he opened the door to his room there was a small part of him that wasn’t surprised to find several packages placed on his bed, with three new pairs of boots varying in formality below the bed. He unwrapped the first package by his pillow, within it contained a silk shirt with cufflinks in the shape of the sun, a coat that was the black of night with equally dark matching trousers and a cloak, all adorned with white velvet around the cuffs. The coat was particularly expensive Tristan could tell from the numerous hidden pockets within the coat and the design on the coat which covered it with patterns of white velvet thorns. Tristan splashed some water on his face from the wash basin, buckled on his sword, which looked rather drab by comparison. The boots he chose were made of sturdy black leather, with thick soles and shaped to Tristan’s size, which made him think how they had measured his feet.

When Tristan exited his room, the look on Count Riker’s face was palpably different. It’s no surprise I was covered in sweat and dirt before. Tristan gave his warmest smile at Count Riker and received the wisp of a smirk in return.

‘Very well then Count Riker I believe we are ready to depart, Tristan and I shall fly to the courtyard of Castle Sharkbay.’

‘Please do not frighten my men, uh, what I mean is Flamebringer, allow me time to reach the castle first and give my people some forewarning as to your arrival.’ The Lord Admiral’s apprehensiveness was plain on his face.

‘Of course Count Riker, inform your people, we shall arrive soon though.’ Without even listening to what the Count had to say, Tristan vaulted up onto Daeranyx’s back in one swift motion and they were in the air.

How long do you think it’ll take them to reach the castle Tristan?

Why should we have to wait on that prick? Let’s give his men something to talk about.

Daeranyx angled towards the northernmost part of the city, the inner fortress of Castle Sharkbay had steep walls the same grey complexion as the rough hide of a shark. Slowing down while getting closer to the castle’s central courtyard, Tristan could see the upturned faces of citizens going pale with a mixture of awe and fear. Soon they were over the battlements of the castle and Daeranyx’s wings were spread out to their maximum reach to gain enough air resistance. The uproar created by their landing, which shook the windows in their frames, had caused pandemonium within the castle, armoured men ran in frantic circles, unaware at whether the dragon was friend or foe. When it appeared that the men in the courtyard would begin to turn violent Daeranyx unleashed a bone jarring roar that brought silence and stillness in an instance.

While the attention of the soldiers was distracted Tristan slid down from Daeranyx’s back and brushed off his coat and organised his wind swept hair in a nonchalant fashion.

‘Hello gentlemen, sorry to startle you in such a way, but Count Riker was taking much to long for our patience, the perceptive ones amongst you may have noticed this big white lizard behind me-‘ Daeranyx clouted Tristan across his head with the back of his tail.

‘Very sorry Daeranyx, I mean, you may have noticed this dragon behind me, some of you have heard whispers I’m sure and the whispers are true! Dragons have returned to Aelidar! My name is Tristan Aldred, I am a Heishi, and this is Daeranyx The Magnificent, first of the Flamebringers.’ There was a hush amongst the crowd that had replaced the earlier silence; one by one everyone gathered in the courtyard began to bow on their knees, all towards Tristan and Daeranyx.

While Tristan and Daeranyx were exchanging smug looks, Count Riker along with the Grand Knight Paladin and a small contingency of the Regius Tutela, galloped into the enclosed space which was made cramped by the presence of all the men and Daeranyx’s bulk. The Count wore a mingled look of horror and disgust which brought the reverse look to Tristan’s face. The Grand Knight Paladin was the first to dismount and only when he had done so did anyone else begin to stir from their shock induced comas. The men kneeling stood, bowed to their Count and swiftly departed, the stablehands came to collect the horses which the Count and the Regius Tutela had dismounted from and Orophin walked over to glare at Tristan with a measure of annoyance.

‘We must offer our apologies Count Riker, we assumed that you would have arrived here already and would have prepared your people for our coming.’ Daeranyx had curled his tail around his hunched legs like a great scaled lion.

‘If you will follow me, Flamebringer, Heishi, I shall introduce you to my court and then we may begin with the feast prepared in your honour.’ Riker turned away before either could answer; Tristan had to stifle a laugh.

While walking across the courtyard, Tristan noticed that the size of the fortifications was immense, in fact it appeared that the castle had been designed for accommodating dragonkind, the flagstones were chipped from years of use yet still large and thick, the walls seemed even larger from within and the arches that covered the exit’s to and from the courtyard gave enough room for Daeranyx to stretch out his wings partially. While they were making their way through the battlements, Tristan was walking next to Grand Knight Paladin Orophin.

‘If you continue to aggravate the Count as you do young man, you may find that you will receive a stale greeting from his court.’ Orophin did not take his eyes from ahead of him.

‘If the Count did not act like an up jumped little shit then I would not, with all respect Grand Knight Paladin.’ Tristan did turn to look at Orophin when he said this, the Grand Knight Paladin’s jaw had clenched ever so slightly.

‘Your use of profanities will gain you no credit either, Tristan, the Count is as you say a spoilt brat, but that can hardly be a surprise.’ Tristan was surprised to see a ghost of a smile on Orophin’s lips.

Tristan could not continue the conversation, their party had rounded a corner, there was a gleaming array of polished steel on show and it appeared that the Count had cleaned up a hundred of the Regius Tutela. Obviously they have nothing better to do, like oh I don’t know, let’s say guarding people? At the head of the gleaming guards was a man not much older than the Count with his helmet under the curve of his armpit. Next to him was the shrunken figure of a woman, she had a back bent over worse than the gnarled root of an oak tree, she only had a wisp of grey hair floating above her scalp and at best four teeth could be seen in her gaping smile.

Tristan remembered who they were from his studies – knowledge that partially disgusted him from the source of his education – but nevertheless he was able to recognise the helmetless man as Commander of the Regius Tutela of Sharkbay, Bjorn Friedhelm, an unusually well-muscled Rel, reaching six foot made up of thick cords of muscle, with a face made of tanned concrete and unmoving brown eyes under cropped black hair. The woman who stood next to him was the polar opposite, Countess Quera Serim, the true ruler of Sharkbay and head of House Serim was staring into empty space with grey eyes almost hazy with cataracts, less than half the size of the man next to her.

Tristan gave his best smile to the pair, from Quera Serim he received only a blank stare and from Bjorn a stern emotionless glare. It’s a wonder they’re not related. Both pairs of eyes widened however, when Daeranyx had exited the arch from the courtyard, the men lined up took a wary step back and received a sharp order from their Commander but even Bjorn had a tinge of fear in his voice. No doubt Daeranyx’s last display had them on edge. Daeranyx walked towards Tristan, making sure his talons were bared as they struck chips from the flagstones. Count Riker was hurrying over to stand next to his mother; the strain on his face to keep his face split with a smile was hard to look at.

‘Heishi Tristan, Daeranyx Flamebringer, I would formally introduce you to Countess Quera Serim, ruler of Sharkbay and her Commander of the Regius Tutela, Bjorn Friedhelm.’ Tristan gave a low bow to the Countess and a slight nod of his head to the Commander.

‘The honour is mine, Countess Serim, I am Heishi Tristan Aldred and this is my humble companion Daeranyx The Magnificent.’ Daeranyx lowered his neck to look into both pairs of wonderstruck eyes.

‘An honour to meet you Countess Quera and to you Commander Bjorn.’ Daeranyx blinked at both in acknowledgement.

It was the countess that spoke up first, in a hoarse and aged voice.

‘The honour is all ours, to have you both in Sharkbay is a privilege that House Serim has never had the pleasure of receiving.’ The countess curtsied, a surprisingly nimble manoeuvre for someone so old.

Commander Bjorn saluted, causing the assembled guards to do so.

‘As the countess said, truly an honour.’ It appeared that the Commander struggled to not stare at Daeranyx.

Count Riker interceded himself between the countess and commander, a vain attempt to luck interested etched onto his face. I am seriously disliking this guy more and more.

We are in his home Tristan, try to be courteous. Tristan looked up at the white dragon, seeing a sly wink that made him smirk. The countess began to walk away from the assembled guards signalling that everyone should follow.

‘Well then, Riker, let us not keep our esteemed guests waiting, it is cold boy! I must personally apologise for the conditions of our feast my lords, but to accommodate for Flamebringer Daeranyx’s enormity we have had to move the table outside.’ The countess, was blushing at her supposed slight.

‘I am flattered by your concept of my size Countess Serim, but I am only a few days old.’ Daeranyx said this while the ground trembled slightly with his every footfall.

‘Nevertheless my lords I have assured that no expense was spared in the feast we have prepared to commemorate the rebirth of the noble order of the Doragon Karuto.’ The count attempted to include himself within the conversation, to his mother’s obvious annoyance.

‘Do not presume so much Riker! Heishi Tristan has enough worries without you trying to extract information from him!’ The countess rebuked the count harshly, as if they were not surrounded by a number of spectators.

‘Mother I would ask you to keep quiet until after the feast.’ Count Riker gave his mother daggers that even Tristan blushed slightly having witnessed it.

Here’s some serious family issues and this is me talking. Daeranyx chuckled next to Tristan causing both the count and countess to remain silent until they reached the table.

As the countess had said everything had been moved to the rear courtyard to accommodate for Daeranyx’s size. The long rectangular table was placed in the centre, the high seat at eastern side with a sizable gap to the left hand side, clearly to accommodate Daeranyx’s bulk. Brazier’s had been placed in an oval around the table to keep the cold at bay while the quests ate. Once Countess Quera had taken her seat, all of the lesser nobles assembled methodically sat in their allocated seat. One seat had been left in the large gap to the countess’ so that Tristan could sit next to Daeranyx.

The first course was merely an appetizer, boiled snails covered in butter with roasted mushrooms. Tristan was not a great fan of the culinary aspects of the nobles of Aelidar; luckily for him it was considered polite to only eat a little of the appetizer, lest you seem barbaric and eat it all. Daeranyx fared better with his first course, he received ten roasted lambs legs marinated in red wine and did not have to worry about court etiquette.

Lucky for you, you don’t get fed snails, snails!

While you are correct that I do not have to eat the undesirable creatures of the world Tristan at least you do not have everyone staring at you while you do so.

Tristan looked up from his plate so see that Daeranyx was causing everyone around the table to glare, one man was even allowing the food he was previously eating to dribble down his chin. Tristan coughed loudly to announce his annoyance, causing the majority of the assembled people to blush. The only person who seemed not to be paying attention to the scenario of Daeranyx tearing flesh from bone was Countess Quera who appeared to have drifted into a daydream.

As the second course was being prepared, a small amount of talk had circulated around the table, however cut off from anyone other than Countess Quera and Count Riker his conversational options were limited. He opened his ears to the larger conversations around the table and heard the words intimidating and beastly several times.

 Who do they think they are? This is the first time in centuries that a dragon has been seen in the whole of Aelidar and they’re acting like frightened children.

You’re starting to sound like the Grand Knight Paladin Tristan. This caused Tristan to smirk despite his bad mood.

Count Riker was sitting opposite Tristan and was clearly still embarrassed from his mothers’ earlier scolding.  Thus the conversation went on through the third course and the desert, ruining what should have been a pleasant evening. The only reprieve from the awkward stalemate was when the final empty plates were cleared away and the gathered guests were invited for tea in the courtyard gardens.

Thank the God’s that is over

I wouldn’t get too excited Tristan, it looks like the Grand Knight Paladin wishes to have a word.

Indeed Orophin was signalling for Tristan and Daeranyx to accompany him to the courtyard. 

‘I see you two are enjoying yourself,’ Orophin’s smile was feigned.

‘Of course Grand Knight Paladin it is a pleasure to be in such fine company,’ Tristan left most of the sarcasm in his voice.

The Grand Knight Paladin lowered his voice.

‘We are being watched and I do not mean by the doting gentry, there are five men on the roof and at least two of the guards have disappeared.’ Tristan gave a quick but subtle scan of the environment, he noticed the same.

The five shadowy figures on the roof would be inconspicuous to anyone who was not looking for them. They slithered across the concrete parapets on their stomachs keeping as low down as possible to avoid detection.

Daeranyx have you –

I see them, what shall we do?

I’ll draw their attention with the Essence, do you think you’d be able to surprise them?

Oh I have a few ideas.

While Tristan detached himself from Orophin with a nod, he noticed that Daeranyx had nonchalantly placed himself on a patch of grass, he seemed to be stretching out his neck but Tristan could see that he was angling his face towards the area of roof that the attackers were hiding on.  With a window shattering shriek Daeranyx caused the hidden men to reveal themselves from their hiding places, showing a familiar athletic skill that told Tristan that these were not men. The people gathered in the courtyards were fleeing in panic and the Regius Tutela was only just keeping up with the situation when five Skahleel landed in the courtyard and two more emerged from the nearby shrubbery.

Tristan drew his sword as the would - be assassin’s rushed the people still remaining in the courtyard. Grand Knight Paladin Orophin had turned to engage with the two that had been hiding in the bushes and was keeping them at bay with the two guardsmen. Tristan was a little more prepared to deal with the attacking Skahleel’s speed; the other Regius Tutela fared worse, their skill being outmatched by the lethalness of the Skahleel blades and poison.

None of the Skahleel had attempted to attack Daeranyx and Tristan caught the glimpse of surprise on his foes face as the talons of the dragon’s claw punctured through its torso. Daeranyx dropped the body to the floor and knocked two more of the green attackers to the floor.  The ferocity of the dragon’s attacks had momentarily stunned the attackers, with the time that they had earned Tristan cleared his mind like so many times before and touched the pool of energy that was a constant part of him. His eyes glowed with blinding light and the Skahleel hissed in fury and fear as one by one Tristan wielded the Essence in the form of fire, singing skin right down to the bone.

When Tristan turned to strike his last foe he realised that he was about to incinerate the Countess and cut off the Essence immediately; the courtyard was littered with the smoking corpses of the Skahleel attackers and dead guardsmen, the stench of death was heavy in the air.

I think we need to leave Tristan, I’m not afraid to fight the Skahleel but we cannot afford to remain in Sharkbay anymore.

You’re right Daeranyx, where’s the Grand Knight Paladin we need to inform him of our departure.

Tristan found the Grand Knight Paladin with a vehement Count Riker and bashful Commander Bjorn, the Count was uttering all kinds of profanities about the attackers.

‘What are these fucking freaks Grand Knight Paladin!? I invite this bandit and his beast into my home and my men are attacked by fucking snake people? Explain this to me!’ Tristan could see the fury behind Orophin’s eyes at the Count’s words.

‘I do not have to explain anything to you, Count Riker, the attackers came here for Heishi Tristan and Flamebringer Daeranyx this is true, but do not try to disguise your cowardice as injustice, now if you will excuse us.’  Orophin turned from Riker without a further word, leaving the Count to turn his embarrassment towards the Commander.

‘You think it would fucking kill him to say thank you,’ Tristan tried to lighten the mood with Orophin but it was clear he was in no mood for Tristan’s humour.

‘We believe it is time for us to make our departure ahead of schedule Grand Knight Paladin, Tristan and I will return to the Paladin’s Hall at once.’ Daeranyx lowered his head to stare at Orophin.

‘I agree Flamebringer Daeranyx, I shall travel to the Hall as well and rouse the team who is to accompany you. Do not go so in haste, I suspect that there are more enemies that lurk within the city.’ Without another word the Grand Knight Paladin sprinted towards the stables.

Tristan called for Daeranyx’s saddle to be brought to the courtyard and had it attached within minutes, once he was on the dragon’s back he thought it would be courteous to call out a brief goodbye to the Count.

‘And I would like to thank you for your most gracious hospitality Count Riker.’ From the look Tristan received in return the Count was deciding whether to set his guards on Tristan.

Well looks like we won’t be welcome here any time aye Daeranyx?

I can’t say I’m upset by that, this city stinks of fish. Tristan laughed at this causing more than the Count’s eye to fall upon them.

Well then we best be getting back to the Paladin’s Hall.Daeranyx beat his silky wings hard to leap into the air, clearing the high walls of Castle Sharkbay.  

Within minutes the two had reached the Paladin Hall. Grand Knight Paladin had not returned yet so Tristan began to pack their minimal belongings. He placed his new clothes at the bottom of the saddle bags and due to old habits, sneaked into the kitchen to wrap up some food that would last the long journey, just in case.

By the time Tristan had returned to his room the Grand Knight Paladin had returned, and was dressed in light plate mail armour, along with the Paladin Lukas. The two old acquaintances clasped hands, hard to believe they’d met when Tristan had his sword to Lukas’ throat.

‘It’s good to see you again you bastard.’ Lukas patted Tristan on the back and went over to Daeranyx to pat the dragon’s foreleg.

‘We are happy to see you as well Lukas, are you ready for the journey?’  Daeranyx touched Lukas’ head with the tip of his nose.

‘You can bet your shit I am! If anything I’m glad that you were attacked by Skahleel at least we get to get out of here eh?’ Lukas grinned at Tristan.

‘Thank you Lukas, it’s good to know that danger to my life makes you so happy’ Tristan grinned back at the Rel.

‘If you two are quite finished, shall we proceed?’ The Grand Knight Paladin interjected.

‘Of course Grand Knight Paladin lead on.’ Daeranyx re-adjusted the saddlebags.

While the three men walked through the corridors of the Paladin’s Hall, Daeranyx leaped and semi – glided to the front of the building, causing the ground to tremble slightly, startling the assembled Paladin’s.

Tristan, Lukas and Orophin emerged shortly after from the front door of the Hall; while the Grand Knight Paladin talked to his officers, Lukas handed Tristan a weighty bag.

‘Consider this a present, you can’t defend yourself in silk can you?’ Tristan unwrapped the bundle within the bag to find several pieces of light plate mail, similar to that of a Paladin but without the markings of the Order.

‘Well thank you Lukas glad to know one of you Paladin’s has my back.’ Tristan began to strap on the greaves, vambraces, pauldrons and a flexible cuirass over his clothes.

He tested his movement and was pleased to see that the Paladin smith had forged the armour to protect while allowing the user to move quickly.

‘Well now you actually look like a decent fighter instead of some shit stain,’ Lukas chuckled at his own remark.

‘Oh please I could spar circles around you, cocky twit!’ The Grand Knight Paladin looked over.

‘If you two are quite done standing around with your cocks in your hands we are ready to take off.’ From the faces of the gathered Paladin’s it was unusual for the Grand Knight Paladin to curse.

‘Well then my dear Daeranyx are you quite ready to leave the charming settlement of Sharkbay?’ Daeranyx’s attention was not on Tristan however.

Tristan move!

Just as Tristan could react a crossbow bolt imbedded itself deep into his shoulder causing him to stumble and cry out with the burst of red hot pain. The chaos erupted like the deafening roar from Daeranyx’s throat, Lukas moved to cover Tristan, drawing his sword.

The other Paladins took cover and attempted to locate their attackers as crossbows hailed from unknown locations. Lukas half shuffled half threw Tristan into the nearest ally in an undignified heap.

Daeranyx try and find some cover! Although Daeranyx moved to hide the majority of his bulk behind a building the hidden bolts were never aimed towards the dragon.

Tristan was trying to overcome the searing pain in his shoulder, gritting his teeth he pulled the bolt that was inches into his flesh causing a renewal of blood to soak the new armour he had so recently required. What are the chances they’d hit a spot the armour doesn’t cover. The archers were now visible on the slanted roofs of Sharkbay’s buildings, the obviously Skahleel attackers were aiming with small crossbows the minute anyone made a move.

‘This is fucking ridiculous!’ Lukas stepped out from their ally of concealment.

‘Lukas stop!’ Tristan made to help his idiot friend but the pain pinned him in place.

A momentary pause from the Skahleel archers to see what the lone Paladin would do allowed to Lukas to draw his dagger. What the fuck does he think that will do!? As Tristan heard the twang of the crossbow latches Lukas sliced the blade across his palm. There was a ripple in the fabric of the Essence that Tristan felt from Lukas and without entirely believing it he realised Lukas was using sorcery. Blood sorcery.

Lukas raised his outstretched hands and stopped the oncoming bolts mere inches from his body using the Essence to reverse their direction and launch them back to their original archers. Several serpentine cries rang out and the other Paladins took this as the opportunity they needed, they ran from their various cover to the gryphon grounds located to the western side of the Paladins Hall.

Lukas returned to Tristan to help him stagger in the same direction, Tristan was wondering why no one else was amazed as he was that Lukas had just used the Essence.

Tristan, how bad is it? Daeranyx’s concern reminded Tristan about the hole in his shoulder, the pain had become a numbed spot.

 They rounded the last corner to see that the Paladin formation was already geared and ready, three gryphons almost twice the size of Daeranyx carrying two dozen Paladin’s awaiting their signal with trained focus. I’ll give them that they’re organised. With some help Tristan was placed into Daeranyx’s saddle by Lukas.

‘I know you probably have a few questions but right now probably isn’t the best time, don’t look at me like that Tristan, you’re bleeding all over the place and going paler, would you like me to heal that now or can you manage?’ Lukas moved to place his hand on Tristan’s shoulder but he shrugged him off.

‘No I can do it, get over to the Grand Knight Paladin or he’s like to have a fit.’ Tristan managed a grin through his clenched teeth.

Lukas gave a meek smile in response but hurried over to the third gryphon nevertheless. With Lukas taking his place the Paladin’s settled into a position that looked like they were seated but ready to strike at any threat in an instance. Tristan was focusing on the Essence as best he could but with the loss of his blood his mind was clouded over with pain and nausea. Daeranyx I can’t do this alone, your assistance would be greatly appreciated.

Well it’s about fucking time you asked you slow witted human!

Oh so I have to ask for your help now? My Joined dragon requires a please and thank you does he?

Well some manners wouldn’t go amiss, were you raised in a barn?

Before Tristan could reply he felt the ice cold feeling of the Essence being used to heal, the muscles in his shoulder knitting themselves back together perfectly within seconds leaving nothing but smooth skin and a whole in his shirt as evidence that the bolt even entered his shoulder.

Thank you Flamebringer Daeranyx.

You’re welcome Heishi Tristan.

Tristan waved to the Grand Knight Paladin to signal that he was completely fine and they could take off.

‘Paladin’s, the plan is simple; protect Flamebringer Daeranyx and Heishi Tristan at all costs, this means triangle formation until we get to our first checkpoint, we’re leaving a little earlier than planned due to an… incursion but I know that your endurance will see us through, on my mark then, one… two… aloft!’

The Grand Knight Paladin’s was the first gryphon in the air, a great grey beast spreading its feathered wings that created enough updraft to send it above the rooftops in seconds. Daeranyx was not far behind and once he had left the ground the other two slightly smaller golden gryphons leapt from the ground simultaneously. The formation was well above Sharkbay within minutes, angling towards the south – east at a steady incline.

How far do you think it will be to this first checkpoint Daeranyx?

Who can say? The Grand Knight Paladin has chosen to be silent on where it is we are actually heading.

You’re right, I suppose we’ve gone too far now not to trust these Paladin’s at least somewhat.

It wasn’t long until they flew over the estuary of the Everflow River just south of Sharkbay, the lead gryphon levelled out and the rest of the formation mimicked its position.

It was just as the sun was beginning to rise above the horizon when the formation began to descend to the earth. From this high up Tristan couldn’t make out any obvious campsite or checkpoint. But then I suppose if we could see it, so could anyone else. From this height Tristan could see for leagues around in all directions, to the west were the Bay of Giants began, to the north were if he squinted he thought he could see Sharkbay as a mound on the edge of his vision, east the Everflow River snaked its way into the centre of Cristarion and south lay the Baking Plains, the boiling hot grasslands that marked the borders into the Republic of Seldus.

Slowly as the ground came up to meet the formation, the temperature in the air became noticeably hotter and Tristan had to take off the thick leather flying coat he had put on once the chill of being so high up had settled in. From this distance Tristan could make out their intended checkpoint; not a camp site but a formation of other Paladin’s on much smaller gryphons bread to only carry one Paladin at a time.

Surprising that they are here given that we are early do you not agree Tristan?

Indeed it is Daeranyx, but then I suppose their Paladins, better to be early than dread the consequence of being late eh?

When the formation finally did touch solid ground again the sun had gone a few fingers width above the horizon yet the temperature of the Baking Plains was already becoming uncomfortable. Tristan undid the straps on his legs and slowly edged himself onto the ground, still not used to flying on dragonback he eased the cramps in his thighs. While Tristan was doing this Lukas climbed down one of the golden gryphons and came over to him.

‘Well here he is, the blood sorcerer, care to tell me where you learnt that little trick Lukas?’ Tristan couldn’t help but keep some contempt out of his voice.

‘If you must know it has been a long standing ability of my family to be able to use some minor levels of magic, I happen to be one of the most capable in a thousand generations.’ Lukas spoke in the bland formality that betrayed his annoyance.

‘Oh so everyone knows this do they? That you can use blood sorcery? Because no one else seemed as surprised as I did.’ Tristan turned to look his friend in the eye.

‘Yes Tristan everyone knows, my family try to keep it a secret but I have no problem with using something that saves lives, including yours if you remember?’ Lukas cocked an eyebrow.

‘Alright I concede, it just took me by surprise that’s all Lukas, if anything I might be able to teach you more than just how to use your sword heh?’ Tristan grinned at Lukas and was glad to see an equally honest one in return.

The Grand Knight Paladin had finished with caring for his gryphon and speaking to a number of Paladins and came over to Tristan, with as blank an expression as ever.

‘I trust you are not too worn out from this first leg of our journey Heishi Tristan.’ All said with the same expressionless gaze.

‘I am grateful for your concern Grand Knight Paladin Orophin, I am eager to be on if you must know, where are we headed to next?’ Tristan’s smile didn’t even touch his eyes.

‘For now Heishi Tristan I hope you will trust in my Paladins, our location will be revealed in due time

The End

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