1 Prologue 1/2

MIDNIGHT. DEMON time. Bloody hour. Everyone was on the lookout, watching the forest at the full moon's light. Dust still blackened their faces, and their weapons reddened by blood. Yet, despite the tension, the Lord's soldiers were quiet. Nothing filtered past them; the wind rushing through their armour failed to move them. Even those trembling with terror did not stir, for fear of invoking evil spirits. The orders were clear: everyone was to hold his position no matter what, and the reinforcement was to be ready if the formation broke up. There was strength in numbers, and right now, Themis, the mage, needed everyone to maintain a magical barrier of this size.

Robe flapping in the wind along with his long brown hair, Themis' attention was on the group of four at the foot of the ramparts. From up there, his eyeglasses reflected nothing of the scene he was following, but despite the distance, he could hear his comrades breathing.

Monica, the cleric, stood behind the three warriors, her pale blonde hair hidden by the dark hood of her cloak. Only the staff she held was visible, cutting through the night in its luminous whiteness. There was no fear in her eyes despite her youth, and she stood behind her friends.

On her right was Rogan, hidden in the darkness. The prowler blended in so well with his surroundings, only his comrades were aware of his discreet presence.

On her left, Grodyr kept his attention riveted ahead of them, his intense green eyes searching between the trees as if they were going to pierce the secrets of their shadows. At two metres tall, Grodyr was clad only in a cuirass covering his legs to the waist and a beastly skin over his shoulders, giving him, with his mass as large as himself, more mobility. An unusual individual that did not leave anyone indifferent, notwithstanding the soldiers of His Seignior who were struggling to believe that this blond giant of the North would not crush them with his gigantic weapon. A slight territorial problem between the Free Men of the plain and the warriors of the North.

But despite his imposing presence, it was not Grodyr who stood in the front line, but another. If Grodyr possessed that phlegmatic and massive presence typical of northern fighters, reminiscent of the cold of winter, then Ayden was a blazing fire.

His black armour seemed to swallow up any light that landed on it, worn away by the battles the mercenary had fought. His light skin stood out against the dark metal, and the flamboyant mane that Ayden wore in a tight ponytail always let out a few strands that framed his face with his elegant, masculine features.

What stood out was not so much the fiery hair as the dark eyes that the naughty locks sometimes tried to hide. Not dark brown or dark blue, but black. An intense onyx black, piercing, highlighted in a phoenix-like eye shape. These were features unknown to the Men of the Plain and they amplified the mystery of the warrior. As if being a berserker and carrying a cursed blade were not enough.

"It's coming," Themis said in his friends' minds.

The other four below stood by. Then, in the distance, the treetops quivered. The leaves shrivelled up, drying out and smoking. And the dragon's tremendous roar erupted.

"Hold your positions!" the mage said to the soldiers.

The next moment, the dust rose as the weaker trees bent under the beating of the monster's mighty wings. The beast split the air, scorching the forest floor with its presence alone, overtaking the group of mercenaries at the bottom of the ramparts to rise and overpower the fighters. By the time it faced the frightened looks of the men, the creature was spitting destructive fire at Themis and the soldiers.

The flames hit the shield in a crackling, electric sound, momentarily exposing the barrier the mage had placed around the fort. At the exact moment, Grodyr's war cry rang out below, and in an incredible throw, he sent his weapon at one of the dragon's wings while the archers aimed at the other. The fire ceased abruptly, the beast roaring as it wobbled but held on. Its tail flailed furiously and slammed into the shield, seeking to bend the soldiers and the mage.

BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.

Themis fell on his knees, sweat covering his face red with the effort as he was trying to keep the magical barrier, despite the dragon's fury. "Anytime you want!"

"Monica, now!" Ayden said.

The cleric was already casting her spell, and Grodyr caught up with his mass and threw it away with tenfold force, his whole body shining softly under the young woman's blessing. This time, the mace pierced the thick armour of the wing, and the dragon lost aloft in a roar of fury and pain.

Suddenly Rogan's voice pierced through their mind with a pressing tone. "I've found the entrance to the den, but it's crawling with shits! A little help would be nice!"

"On my way!" Ayden said.

A glance at his comrades and Ayden turned on his heels, rushing into the forest. With his three friends and the soldiers holding back the dragon, the latter had not seen the berserker disappear, but another of its roars drew a smile on the warrior's lips. Only a brief thought for his companions before Ayden regained his seriousness.

It took him several minutes to reach Rogan, his step quick but much less nimble. Themis' magic was incredible, allowing them to communicate together despite the distance and know each other's position. Ayden had no trouble spotting the entrance to the nest, thanks to the prowler already inside. Well hidden, the rocky terrain and the roots of the trees above masked it. Although some people despised these monsters, the dragon had been clever enough not to damage the place too much, making it difficult to discover.

Rogan growled urgently. "Ayden!"

The redhead entered the lair without hesitation, his eyes darting here and there at the details: the prowler had littered his path with the corpses of giant leeches, and the echoes of his fight were reaching him. Ayden drew his sword, and with a roar, leapt to strike down the beast behind Rogan.

"Finally!"

"Did you miss me?" asked the warrior in amusement.

"A bit. I was getting lonely. We don't get on very well, they and I," Rogan grumbled, bored.

Ayden's laughter sounded low behind Rogan, and he stepped forward, raising his weapon. The cursed blade, tortured and black, seemed to come alive as the greenish blood that stained it disappeared, as if absorbed. Ayden smiled a little more, his eye shining with a gentle red glow, and the next moment, he was rushing at the mass of leeches in front of them. Rogan couldn't help but glance at him: even though he'd known the warrior for a long time, seeing him go on such a satisfying rampage was still disturbing.

"Is that all you've got for me?" Ayden asked, splitting yet another vermin.

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"All I have for you?! ALL I have for you?! And what else would you like?! Another dragon?!"

A loud rumble suddenly echoed through the cave, and the wet sound of leeches grew louder than they now tried to flee. Ayden and Rogan looked up as one, their attention locked on the back of the cave. A dark figure stood out from the stone, and the scaly snout was visible. The dragon turned its mouth suddenly to close its fangs on two slimy beasts, cutting them before gulping down its meal and staring at the two intruders.

"I hate you," Rogan whispered in desperation.

Ayden stepped in front of the monster as it emerged from its hole, spreading its wings as it shook its massive head, its eyes fixed on the warrior.

"No, you love me."

Faced with the colossal creature, Ayden smiled. And he charged forward.

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