A fantasy/science-fiction mixture begun in 1998.
Prince Aren LiCarrock forced his great dragon, Xastu, higher and higher, attempting to get clear of the fierce melee raging in the skies over Kinevon. The enormous, leathery wings of the green beast beat powerfully as its rider urged it to greater altitudes than it had ever reached before.
Around him, Aren could see other Kinevese dragonmasters, most engaged in life-and-death struggles with the invaders. Even as he watched, one dragon plunged downward, burning, its master screaming in terror. Aren realized that he was witnessing the end of the LiCarrock Dynasty in Kinevon – and quite possibly the end of Kinevon itself.
Yet still he lived. And as one of the silver-shelled chariots of the invaders closed distance with him in the blue sky, he commanded Xastu to attack. The green dragon twisted snakily in mid-flight, its incredible agility evidently surprising Aren’s attacker. As a sliver beam of pure light flashed harmlessly past his left shoulder, the Crown Prince of Kinevon squeezed his heels into Xastu’s muscled flanks. His dragon opened its cavernous mouth and blew delicate greenish flame over the sky chariot as it flew by. Aren mashed himself flat against Xastu’s scales as the silver invader exploded in a conflagration of force and a rain of razor-sharp fragments. Xastu roared in triumph.
Still they rose. Aren reached up and triggered an amulet hanging about his neck. A warmth seemed to suffuse his body, dispelling the numbing chill of the high atmosphere. Not only was the air cold this high, but also very thin. Aren had no doubt that he would be choking for breath, if another periapt – this one in the form of a ring – had not made breathing unnecessary. As Xastu maneuvered to avoid another of the silver craft, Aren twisted around and took a last look at his homeland. Castle LiCarrock still stood – barely – many of its parapets and towers little more than crushed ruins. It looked as though barely a quarter of his army was still on the field, fighting a losing battle against the brass and iron golems the invaders had unleashed. In the skies, losses had been even greater. Hundreds of the metal sky-chariots buzzed like insects, fewer and fewer dragons challenged them for mastery of the air.
Aren knew that his enemies were human. He had seen them pried out of their sky-chariots, mechanical dragons, even some of the larger golems. His brothers and he had even interrogated captives, desperate to find a way to turn back the tide of the war. Though they could be hurt – aye, and killed – it did Kinevon little good. They were only soldiers, they knew no tactic or strategy that would by itself enable the LiCarrocks to snatch victory from defeat.
The dynasty would end. Kinevon would fall, and perhaps Fhannin after it, and so on. The captured invaders had made it clear that their superiors had designs on ruling all of Lodeon, not just his kingdom.
Aren shook off his thoughts as another of the white beams sizzled the air mere feet from his mount. Again Xastu swerved, diving lower for a moment, only to rise once more. Aren noticed that another dragon was closeby – general Uza’s. Uza was Aren’s high sorcerer, a potent mage who had been instrumental in rallying the kingdom against the invaders some weeks ago. Aren shouted to the green-robed wizard, his voice amplified above the whistling winds by another magical device.
Uza glanced at his sovereign and saluted once, solemnly, his hand across his heart. Aren noticed his robe was in tatters and his dragon, Khalgu, was bleeding heavily from a wound to its side. As Aren returned the salute, the two men locked eyes for a moment. Then Uza put Khlagu into a steep dive and they dropped out of sight, back to the battlefield. Aren knew that he would never see his general again, but he was more at peace than he would have thought possible. Uza, like he himself, would do as much damage as possible before dying.
Despite his urging, Xastu could seem to go no higher. The thinning air had become too scarce for the dragon’s tiring wings to push against. Aren knew he would have to make his stand here. He stared around him and then upwards. He wore ensorcelled goggles, enabling him to see much farther than any man or beast. Far above, at the fringes of even his magicked eyes, he could see scores of enormous metal devices – each more than ten times Xastu’s length. These were the vehicles that had brought the invaders to Lodeon, from whatever netherworld they had been born. Hundreds of the smaller sky-chariots descended from inside the large ones. Aren said a brief prayer to Hannon, then released his harness. Xastu turned its long neck to regard him with puzzlement and curiosity. Aren smiled.
“Return home,” he told it, patting the dragon affectionately. “Protect yourself. Go.” He whispered a word of magic then, as he had been taught by his father years ago. Another ring seemed to grow warm on his hand, and he rose gracefully off the dragon’s back and upward. Xastu watched, hesitating, but then howled as two of the invaders’ sky-chariots approached. As white beams began to fly by, the dragon roared once more and dove toward what remained of Kinevon. Aren fixed his eyes on the tiny-seeming disks that were, in fact, the invaders’ command centers. His ring had released him from Xastu’s dependence on air; he streaked, arrow-straight, toward them. Around him, the sky went from light blue to dark blue and then to deep indigo. He had a few moments to recall the glories of his kingdom, past and present, as he rose. Then the time for memory was past.
When the enormous metal craft were but a few dragon-lengths above him, a long wand swiveled and aimed toward him. A white beam, finger-thin, illuminated an area of his breastplate, causing it to grow warm directly above his heart. He was unharmed, and smiled slightly. Uza’s magic protection had held. A second later, he gripped the end of the wand with his mailed fist and twisted. The strength his gauntlet granted him was that of the legendary giants of old: he twisted the metal device like taffy and ripped it from it’s metal housing. Flames briefly erupted around him, then went out. Aren tapped another magical item attached to his belt. Becoming as immaterial as a ghost, he sped upward, through the myriad of iron catacombs in the belly of the invaders’ craft. Finally, he flew free, into a great open cavern where sky-chariots, hundreds of them it seemed, were being manned. He tapped his belt again and felt his boots, solid once more, contact the floor.
Three invaders spotted him almost immediately. One man cried out, raised a smaller version of the metal wand he had destroyed, and unleashed its energy at him. Another ran toward him, hands scrambling to unhook something from his belt. The third, a woman, began speaking urgently into a device pinned to her shoulder. Aren moved his left hand to his neck, to a small black stone which hung there. With his right hand, he caught the man who had charged him by the neck. A glowing knife fell from his lifeless fingers as Aren’s gauntleted hand crushed his heck as if it were a dry twig of kindling. More invaders were running toward Aren now – he had but moments left. The last crown prince of the LiCarrock dynasty spoke to the woman, ignoring the other man still discharging his wand to no effect against him.
“I do this for the name LiCarrock,” he said, knowing she might not be able to understand his language but not caring. “You may conquer Kinevon, aye, and even all of Lodeon, but you shall not win.”
He thought of his father once more. Laro LiCarrock, the Prince of the Heath. Homebuilder, Dragontamer, the Tiger of Kinevon.
Aren smiled then, soon he would see his father once more. He touched the black stone three times, quickly, and said a last prayer to Hannon.
Below, the battle was over. Prince Evan LiCarrock wept, standing in the courtyard of the ruined castle, seeing his last guardsmen and soldiers casting down their weapons and surrendering to the invaders and their golems. He himself bent his knee in submission, bowing his head before a commander of the invaders. As he was rising, however, he glanced skyward to see a wondrous sight. A great skyship, engulfed in bright flame, plummeting toward Lake Uist. Trailing debris and smoke, the enormous metal craft mesmerized all still able to see on the battlefield: it was larger than any yet seen.
A ragged cheer went up from the vanquished as the enemy commander cursed and spat. Though the lake was ten miles from the castle, the thunderous boom marking the death of the skyship nearly knocked Evan from his feet. The ground shook and the air seemed to grow heavy in his ears. Great clouds of dust blew up over the trees, marking the location of the destroyed vehicle.
The bright hope that kindled inside Evan was soon snuffed out, however. Though he knew not how the great flying craft had been brought low, no further skyships followed it to the ground. After a few moments, the victorious invaders resumed the chaining of their prisoners.
The war – among other things – was over.
* * *
Hiram Achilles stared angrily at his room’s viewscreen as Lodeon slowly grew in size. Swarms of other spacefcraft buzzed like insects around the green and blue orb. He watched them, fuming, until the dazzling brilliance of the white star entered the view from the left. Hiram reached over and snapped the screen off, then turned back to Chiena, who was still sitting on the bed checking her equipment.
“Will you please stop that racket?”
Chiena tossed her blonde hair and clicked a charge tube into the enormous plasma cannon in her lap. “Sorry. It’s just that we should definitely be prepared for anything down there.” She inclined her head toward the now-dark viewscreen.
Hiram grunted. “Don’t tell me what we have to be prepared for. They told me all about it when they dragged me off earth. ‘Lodeon’, they said. ‘You should be honored!’ Yeah, right. This assignment stinks.” Chiena swung her long legs off the bed and walked to the screen. She glanced at Hiram. After a moment, he nodded her permission. She switched it back on, then adjusted the controls. The view zoomed in, Lodeon swelling to fill the entire screen, then continuing to grow. Cloud formations revealed themselves and became distinct. Soon, Hiram could make out tiny specks, moving amongst the clouds.
“Birds?” he asked.
“Dragons,” she answered. “It’s a different place, sir.”
Instead of impressing him, the sight of the dragons served only to make him even more infuriated. He was an explorer – one of the best in America. To be pulled off the exciting Barnard’s Star expedition, and instead plopped into some wild-goose chase on Lodeon…well, it was just plain disrespectful.