What will you do when eerie fire rains down from the skies? Will you hold on to purpose or will you dress your fear with lies? Prince Adrael tests himself in today’s short story from the universe of Dragonbond: Lords of Vaala. A Burning Ire
Our army marched across the narrow gates of Auga Tyveria, a grandiose carnival of death coated in the quashed ambitions of our rivals. The Red Moon damned the sky in crimson spectacle, yet my sight was trapped by my most hated foe. Our worst enemies live not on the battlefield but at home. I knew he needed something from the moment I saw him, sprawled atop his jeweled scarabi in gilded luxury. Prince-Regent Xariel only confronts you as his last resort. My father is a coward.
“Your violence and brash tactics, so primitive. Or, perhaps, your search to measure up to your brother’s reputation has gotten the best of you? Maybe, someday, you’ll get there.” He greeted me, dancing around his needs like a spoiled adolescent, sticking to the useless games of the Blood Court.
“And, just maybe, you could join us on the battlefield someday,” I replied. “What do you want?”
“I see your usual martial excellence, but you need to break their minds. Where is the fear I’ve taught you? I will not have you soil my name in front of the other houses.”
“You’ve soiled yourself plenty with your experiments, Father,” I added as I turned to the Ogerrons near me, my mind craving the directness of their brutality.
“Save your baseless wit for court, boy. Sadly my experiments have reached an impasse,” he insisted as I walked away. “But fine, fine. I shall concede. A group of my agents might’ve overplayed their hand near the Allarian border. Those bothersome half-elves are making too much noise and need a reminder of our martial glory, of the terrors we’ve taught the world.”
I stopped cold. Fighting Allarians was no punitive skirmish. Invading their turf would be suicidal, a waste of good troops. Yet, both Varanna and Varael had been blooded in meaningful triumph. I may not be a sage, but I had a feeling that Vaala flows most unimpeded toward bold action.
So, I turned. I’m sure he could notice my anticipation.
“I’ve chosen you, my son, to finish what my foolish agents started. Expand our empire, decisively, destructively. Teach the Allarians the lessons I’ve engraved beneath your skin: pain and terror.”
“You overestimate the progress of your teachings, Father. Nonetheless, I’ll do it.” He was already leaving; his petty dramatics demanded the last word. So, I did the last thing I wanted and walked alongside him. “What do you get from this?”
“If Allaria sparks a war, I shall collect my victory tribute in Ellari serfs. My experiments will be able to continue unopposed. Then will our house know glory to rival our founder, the Blood Empress herself.
I pushed forward, leaving him behind and weaving through the endless smoke that turns Auga Tyveria into a city of silhouettes. Once inside the palace, I rushed into my brother’s wing. Varael always had the right insights.
“Well, you’re not going to like it,” he called from behind his strategy table. “He didn’t tell you everything.”
“When have I ever liked any of his whims?” I approached. “What do you mean?”
“It’s not Allaria as such. My father’s agents haven't even been to the border in years. They’re criminals, but they’re not stupid. According to Varanna’s friends, you face a rogue general who seeks to spark a full on war in Valerna.”
“He wants us to attack and destroy so that they will have enough reason to go to war, and then blame me for it,” I concluded. I began pacing, trying to figure out what my father could get from this. “So you’re saying do destroy them?”
“I’m saying, just this one time, don’t.” He signaled to a chair, and I took it. “If you listen to Father, Allaria will have no more choice than to retaliate, and with excellent reason.”
I could see where he was going, but it felt as if he didn’t know me. A battlefield is not for diplomacy; it’s where diplomacy goes to die. One goes to battle not to play politics, but to rip your enemies apart. “What do I do with Father?”
“Whatever you want. My suggestion is to keep cool. Use the battlefield to send a message, and—”
“A message? This is no time for conversation, Brother.”
“This is exactly the time for conversation, Adrael. Rout them, but don’t decimate them. This will make Allaria see that we are not just foolish killers but political equals. You’ll have to control yourself.”
What does he know?
My army’s boots did not make the earth tremble, but neither did my foe’s. As soon as we spotted each other on the field, I knew Varael was not lying. This Allai’s stare was unstable, dejected with derision. I had seen honor elves before, but never like this. They held up to their name: duty, honor, and discipline. But this one just wanted things to break, a desire I know too well.
I was sending a message, but they refused to hear it. Each move was calculated for a rout instead of a massacre, maiming when I easily could’ve decapitated. We seized the melee as my foe’s thugs insisted on performing their dream magic. Down they fell, one by one, but they would brook no retreat. We managed to capture a few of their soldiers—soon the arena would test them—but their eyes could no longer care.
Then, I saw it: the Eye of Kadmos scarred the sky with fractal savagery. From it poured the dragons, and with them came chaos, a cloud of impossible violence more fitting of a war zone. I saw tested gladiators run, and the previously fearless cavalry of my enemy galloped to safety. Dragonfire rained down on us, and they brought a power neither my foe nor I was ready for. In the chaos, I was alone. If I was to turn the tide of the battle, I had to act. Dragons are no fools, and with enough destruction, I was bound to turn their attention toward easier targets.
I couldn’t control any of it, blind to the inevitability of the kadhah, should my blood sorcery go too far. My hands trembled with excitement, and my knees buckled in place. My head split with power, and my will rushed to feast on the world. I fought. I fought, and I tore. In that instant of berserk rage, I could tell no friend from foe. Blood was blood. I became like a dragon, bathed in crimson and surrounded by fire, unbeknownst to me if this was by my own hand or the vicious wyrms from the Red Moon.
Then, I saw the weapons, the corpses scattered on the ground. How much time had passed, I could never tell. The sun was going down, but for all I knew it could have been the third time it did so since I started. Varael’s warnings echoed in my head. So far, he had been the only one true to his word, a valued mentor for both Varanna and myself. He was right.
I rushed to the catapult and used the blood of the soldiers dying beside it to lift the broken pieces. Inside, his legs trapped under the full weight of his fallen qirin, the rogue Allarian general sat. I could see in his eyes a man who had given up but welcomed his fate. I took his blood, never to fill his pride again, to aid my fight against the dragons. I could drive them away, make any other prey seem more desirable. I would buy their panicked retreat. Let them carry a message of Tyveria’s undefeated might but, also, our final bravado against the dragons.
The battle would be over soon, and all those who had raised their hand against me would be ripped apart by the wyrms far from this battlefield, far away from Xariel’s politics. Tyveria’s brawn is uncontested; no need for me to teach them fear. Let that be the dragons’ bounty. If the empire will expand, it will be on my terms. No dragon or prince-regent will choose my fate.
You can become a dragonbonded too or fight like a beast against one while you conquer the land. What will you become?
Find out in the board game Dragonbond: Lords of Vaala. Pledge now on Kickstarter https://bit.ly/3jbQicp