When the World Falls to Darkness

A kingdom at war, a web of truth and lies, a vicious game of friendship and betrayal, and a world that will kill you, whatever path you take.
When the World Falls to Darkness, nobody is safe.
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Beautiful cover by River_Summers.

(I also promise much more frequent updates starting July, when exams are over. :D)

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7. Unleashed

Pain. Anger. Hatred.

It all came rushing in.

Lukas screwed his eyes shut, already feeling his entire body burning with power. Skin, hardening over with scales, his size increasing as his neck stretched out. Bones snapped, limbs expanded outwards, shoulder blades were encased in what was almost agony. Power. Strength. A burning desire to save his friends and those who did not deserve to die.

A roar escaped his jaws, his secret escaping in that one overwhelming moment. He was a Guardian - not just any Guardian, but a shapeshifter - the last of his kind left.

And with the secret, the anger he'd been keeping within him for years, that fury at the people who could be cruel enough to kill innocent people.

Below him, the entire raiding party had stopped to stare at him with despair, their eyes wide with shock and horror. He was a monster; why wouldn't they be staring? Even the innocents, the defenceless elves he was trying to save, were screaming as he opened the scaled wings, his dragon form revealing itself for the first time in years.

Lukas spotted his allies - Avalon was hovering in the air, her face twisted into an expression of bewilderment. But Ryuu... The elf was crumpled on the floor before a muscle-clad, auburn-haired dwarf man, his forehead gashed and bleeding, his body limp and lifeless. Ryuu, who had risked his own life to return for Lukas. Ryuu, who reminded Lukas of the brother he'd failed to save.

Lukas wasn't going to fail Ryuu too.

Roaring, he dived at the dwarven commander who had Ryuu's blood on his axe, talons stretching out as he plunged downwards. Years had passed since he'd last dared to use his dragon form, and Lukas knew that the dragon shape had matured as he had. No longer was it a mere hatchling. Now, maybe he could save somebody...

Somehow the dwarf managed to snap himself from the shock and threw himself aside, but Lukas's talons managed to catch his arm and raked a deep, bloody scar across the flesh. Letting out another roar, Lukas lashed outwards with his tail and landed heavily on the ground. Once more, the commanding dwarf ducked, though his comrades were not so lucky - Lukas's tail threw them backwards, breaking ribs and arms as he did so.

A blur passed through the sky before him, and Lukas prepared to incinerate it. Avalon, he realised, just in time, as the angel girl dived down and swept Ryuu away. Even she would be afraid of him, Lukas realised. Avalon, Ryuu, Shou... Guardians were feared, tortured, killed.

But for now, he had only one goal: to protect the innocents who, like his own kind, were going to be killed if he couldn't save them. Even if he was hunted down for it, even if he was attacked and injured - he would not let them die!

With an enraged roar, Lukas flamed, fire engulfing a group of at least eight dwarves, the flames so unquenchable it reduced each dwarf to ashes. Anger pulsed through his veins - these people could be so heartless, so uncaring! How could they slaughter so many innocents without so much as remorse? How could they look gleeful as they sent their blades through the chests of children?

Five of the villagers were dead - five people who meant nothing to the dwarves but whose deaths would mean everything to the families they'd been torn from. And Lukas would not let their deaths go with mercy. Those who tried to flee were killed brutally. His claws sliced through another opponent; his fangs snapped up more as the party's attention was turned to him. Axes slashed at him as the dwarves attacked, doing little against the scales as the enemies rushed to wound him. Arrows uselessly collided with him, their only effect to anger him further as he burnt the archers. Three of the arrows found their mark between his scales, though the pain was so meagre against his rage that he could ignore it completely.

Landing heavily on the ground, Lukas bellowed again, the noise resounding through the trees as the retreat bugle was sounded. Around him, the remainder of the raiding party turned and fled, dropping their weapons in a vain attempt to survive the onslaught of flames.

But he would not let them escape - they would only bring massacre to yet another village. He wouldn't let any more people die, he couldn't let that happen again! 

Fire scorched yet more of them, his tail writhing with hatred as Lukas beat his wings, taking to the skies again to prevent any of them from escaping. The odour of burnt, smouldering flesh plagued the nostrils of the villagers behind him, though Lukas was almost oblivious to it's scent. He cared only for the safety of innocent people, who the dwarves would slaughter if he let them go. The dwarves must die.

Again, his flames surged forwards, swallowing the dwarves in a fiery cage of death. Escape was futile; Lukas' victims were turned to ashes within seconds. Nothing else mattered; they had to die!

Another roar burst from his jaws, striking terror into the hearts of all around as he mercilessly destroyed the raiding party. It served them right, Lukas thought bitterly, not even the slightest remorse touching his heart as he obliterated all hope for the few remaining survivors. They deserved to die! He couldn't allow this to go unpunished.

Shattering all hope, he opened his jaws for the final time, bursts of flames shooting downwards and consuming the remaining three dwarves.

He hovered mid-air, his eyes narrowing as he scanned the forest for survivors of the onslaught.

Nothing but the distant screams of the elves.

Lukas felt the fatigue creeping in; the effort of sustaining such a huge and terrifying form for so long was finally seeping into his body. Slowly, the rage and confusion was subsiding, if only slightly. After so long without transforming into mythical creatures, it was an almost impossible adaptation he'd been forced to make. No wonder his vision was blurring...

Half falling, and half landing on the ground beneath him, Lukas felt his sides heaving as the world around him melted together in a confusing mixture of crimson, black and green. He could feel his body shrinking back down, bones snapping and reducing in size, scales sinking back into pale flesh and his wings and tail retracting back into his body.

They're going to torture me, was his last thought, before the darkness claimed him.

 

 

When he was finally dragged from the nightmares that endlessly tormented his mind, Lukas found that his head was spinning, throbbing, aching. There were tight constrictions around his limbs and torso - cold and heavy shackles that cut into his flesh, securing him to what appeared to be a wall. His eyes flickered once. Twice.

Lukas could vaguely make out panicked cries from before him, but the world was still a bewildering explosion of blurred colours and outlines. Sounds, too, were mingled together.

"He's waking up!"

Could that be right? Was he hearing correctly?

"Somebody get me the sleepsap!"

Sleepsap? Why did they want that? It was only when a spoonful of the disgusting mixture was forced into his mouth did he realise what was going on.

They had realised who he was, no doubt despising him as soon as they figured it out. Probably weakened him with poisons and herbs, keeping him unconscious but alive.

That was how the Alpha race liked Guardians - subdued and forced into servitude. Tortured until their resolve had been shattered into a thousand pieces, like glass dropped to a floor of stone. Lukas had been through that before. He didn't want it to happen again, not the pain, not the horror and the blood and the screams! No! He couldn't be put through that, not again, not ever again!

Panic rose in his throat as he tried to transform into something, anything, but it was too late, he was too weak and the sleepsap was already claiming him.

The nightmares caught him once more. 

 

 

Shou was standing before him when he awoke the next time. The elf's face was scarred, his eyes narrowed and burning with anger.

Lukas tried groggily to speak, to beg Shou to release him, but his tongue was dry and his body still ached so much he could barely form an audible sound.

"You're a Guardian," Shou hissed. "I've called for the Alliance Guard. The messenger bird will have reached them a few days ago, Guardian. There are people on their way to collect you."

Once again, Lukas tried to open his mouth, to plead against the torture that he knew would come. Why? Why did people have to shun him? He'd just saved the man's village, had he not? So why was he keeping him in chains, ready to have him sent away for torture and slavery?

"Captain..." Lukas finally managed to form the words through cracked lips. Snorting irritably, Shou held a deerskin flask above him, carelessly trickling water down his face. Eagerly, Lukas let his mouth hang open, the water restoring at least a little of his strength.

It was only when the Captain whisked away the flask did Lukas start to taste the sleepsap in the water.

But by then, it was too late. Lukas was already starting to drift into unconsciousness again.

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