The Council of the Three Realms
And this is the law which Joretham set forth: When a creature of one Realm wrongs a creature of another Realm the Three Realms shall gather together in council and pass judgment over the one who has done wrong.
To be sure, Orion was somewhat startled to find himself disappearing in a swirling cloud of blue and gold dust, but he was far less surprised than any other man in his situation would have been. In fact, he was not at all surprised that it had happened, for he had expected it would. It was merely the suddenness of his departure that had startled him.
The same could not be said of Nightfall. He had not expected to suddenly disappear in a swirl of dust, and he was far more than merely startled. When Orion first set eyes upon him, the fur on the griffin's back was standing straight up, and his eyes were as wide a those of a cat who had a huge pack of dogs bearing down upon him. He looked wildly about until his gaze fell upon a rather amused Orion. He realized that he looked completely foolish, and in a fraction of a second he transformed from an utterly terrified griffin to one who was calmly preening himself as though he had not a care in the world.
"I say, Orion, where are we?" he asked nonchalantly.
"Why don’t you leave off trying to save face and look for yourself?" answered the warrior with a slight smile. Even as he spoke, Nightfall looked up, and his eyes grew even wider than they had been when he was terrified, for he found himself in an immense cavern. The ceiling stretched hundreds upon hundreds of feet above the floor, and the walls were equally distant from each other. Every rock, every boulder, every pebble, every craggy edge of the walls, ceiling, and floor was formed of frosty crystal. Each piece pulsated with an inner fire, throwing a rosy hue across the whole of the stretching room. The aura of magic was indescribably strong, and Nightfall knew the place in which he stood could not be of the Realm of Earth.
"The Crystal Caves," he whispered in awe.
There was not one creature of Deithanara who had not heard of the legendary Crystal Caves. They were the place in which the Fire of Magic burned and where he who had once been the king of Keiliornare lived. It was a place Nightfall had never dreamed of seeing.
"A beautiful sight is it not?" Orion asked.
"It is," breathed the griffin in awe.
"Are you finished gazing?" a rich, deep voice asked, interrupting their reverie.
Nightfall started and turned quickly but found himself unable to see who had spoken. Even Orion, who knew whom he sought, was hard pressed to find the source of the voice.
Nightfall gasped as he suddenly discerned the speaker. Curled up in the corner rested a great dragon formed entirely of crystal. His fore claws alone spanned more than six feet, and one of these he stretched lazily as he gazed down at them with large, unblinking, blue eyes. For a moment, the griffin could only look in amazement at how blue the dragon's eyes were, and then, in disbelief, he turned and looked at Orion's own blue eyes. He cocked his head, blinked his large, white eyes, and turned back to the dragon who gave a rich deep laugh at Nightfall's shocked expression before turning to Orion and saying, "Orion, you were ever a scoundrel, and a fool-hardy scoundrel at that, but it seems you have entered into an extraordinary amount of trouble even for yourself these last few days."
"War has a way of making that happen, Lyght," answered Orion.
The dragon opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted by Nightfall's amazed cry of, "You are Lyght?"
The great dragon turned and looked at him and said, "I am Lyght, but I know not what your name is. Enlighten me."
Nightfall bowed low before the dragon then began to speak quickly, "Lord, honored am I that one as noble and exalted as you should ask, lowly griffin that I am, my name. I am called 'Nightfall'." He ended by bowing even lower than he had at the start and staying in that position.
"Nightfall," repeated Lyght. "You are the son of Elavorn the white griffin."
Nightfall straightened. "Yea, I am."
"'Tis good that one such as you should keep company with my son."
"Your son?!" Nightfall cried in surprise. Orion remained still and silent.
"Find you that so strange?" asked Lyght of the griffin.
Lyght laughed again. "'Tis a strange place in which we live. Perhaps you should stand by yourself and ponder that further, for I would speak privately with my son."
"Y-y-yes, my lord," stuttered Nightfall, who then bowed once more and ran quickly toward the far end of the vast, crystal cavern.
Lyght lowered his head so he could better look upon Orion. In a soft voice that Nightfall could not discern he said, "Orion, you have caused yourself much trouble."
"I know," the warrior answered soberly, "but was I to simply stand by and allow Phyre to murder the princess whom I’ve sworn to serve?"
“No. And yet...”
The great dragon was cut off by a sharp yelp from Nightfall. Orion looked over and stiffened, and a low growl escaped the crystal dragon’s throat. Walking toward them across the wide crystal floor was Phyre. Although he was in human form, the scars from his battle with Orion could be easily seen.
“Greetings. A pleasant evening it is.” Human form or not, Phyre managed to hiss his words.
“What are you doing here?” Lyght demanded.
“I’m doing Orion a favor.” With that, Phyre turned his back on Lyght and regarded the warrior.
“You’re incapable of doing anyone a favor, much less me,” Orion stated.
“Such contempt. But, you’ll not be so proud after I tell those in the Council of Deithanara everything you’ve done.”
“You overestimate yourself,” Lyght interjected.
“Do I?” Phyre cast him a scornful look. “At any rate, I wasn’t talking to you.” He returned his gaze to Orion. “Come now, just give me the girl.”
Orion looked at him darkly but did not answer.
Phyre sighed. “You only make this more painful for yourself. You can either let me have her, or I can kill you and then take her.”
“You go too far,” Lyght growled.
“I state only facts,” Phyre snapped. His voice grew smooth as he again addressed Orion. “You know what death means to you, and I am not unsympathetic of your plight. Indeed, I am the one person in all of Deithanara who understands completely how you feel.”
“Get out,” Lyght ordered. “I’ll not have you threaten my son before my very eyes.”
“Your son?” Phyre demanded turning to face the crystal dragon head on. “I share with him something deeper than you ever will. One wonders you can consider yourself a father and yet do nothing to help lift the curse upon him.” He looked back at the warrior. “I, on the other hand, do a great deal toward that end.”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” Lyght growled. “You continue only down the path that caused you to be cursed in the first place. Now get out. We‘ll settle this in the Council.”
“Orion,” Phyre wheedled, “she’s only one High Elven maid.”
“High Elf?” Lyght was taken aback and looked sharply at his son. “Is this true?”
Orion did not meet his gaze.
Phyre cast the dragon a withering look. “Did you actually think I would concern myself with a human woman?”
He turned back to Orion, and his voice grew low. “I know you fear death, Orion, and I understand that fear as no one else will ever understand it. Give the woman to me, and I promise you will never need to fear death again.”
Orion looked away.
The dragon and the dragon in human form watched noiselessly as the man’s body slowly tensed, as he clenched one hand and then the other, as his breathing became labored and his gaze grew distant.
Time stood still.
“Give her to me,” Phyre whispered.
Orion turned his head sharply and looked at him.
“Get away from me,” Orion growled. “Before I kill you.”
A sharp bark of rage escaped Phyre’s throat as he stepped back and drew himself up.
“If that is what you wish,” he snapped, “so be it. Don’t expect me to repeat this offer. I shall enjoy killing you, but not before I kill Mystia and make you watch every interminable, pain-filled moment.”
With a growl, he disappeared in a swirl of red and gold dust.
* * *
Mystia stepped out of Zenas' cave into the cool mountain air. She was glad to have a moment of solitude. Though Zenas was as courteous as any man could be, he was absentminded and eccentric and had only grown more flighty in the short time she had been in his care.
She held her arms tightly to her body and looked up at the steadily darkening sky. Part of her was glad Orion had brought her to the mountains, for it left her free to rest and recover from the ordeal of the previous days. Another part of her felt guilty that she was not among her countrymen, enduring their privation. But, more than anything, her thoughts turned to Orion. At that moment she desired very greatly to know where he was and how he fared.
* * *
Orion, Lyght, and Nightfall stood in the place where the Council of the Three Realms met. The warrior gazed unwaveringly at the space before him, trying not to show the anger that still lingered from his confrontation with Phyre. His glittering crystal sword was now strapped to his side, for Lyght had transferred it to the Crystal Caves after the altercation. He wore a new tunic of fine red cloth, and over this was strapped his red dragon-scale armor. His hair flowed freely over his broad shoulders, and on his head rested a thin circlet of fine crystal. His arms were crossed and his feet planted firmly apart. He looked to be the proudest, most noble man in the whole of Deithanara.
The place in which he stood was a wide and open glade surrounded by very tall and stately trees. The black sky sparkled overhead with the light of a myriad stars which were all reflected in a large, circular pool of water in the very center of the glade. Large, clear, crystal stones sat at regular intervals along the edge of the meeting place and glowed with the same inner fire as the stones in the Crystal Caves. The air of the place hung heavy with magic.
To Orion's right stood fairies, pixies, dryads and many other denizens of the Realm of Magic. At their forefront stood the three Powers: Haunnar, their leader, a gargoyle sinewy of body and proud and grim of face, and the two Lesser Powers–another gargoyle and a stately dryad woman.
To Orion's left stood a large crowd of creatures from the Realm of the Heavens–afrits, incubi, ghouls, poltergeists, fiends, and many other creatures both dark and terrible. At their head, black and imperious, sat the great dragon Nyght, Queen of the Realm of the Heavens.
Both those of Keiliornare and those of Bellunare were gathered in the glade, but of the Realm of Earth not a single representative was present save Orion himself. Provenna the Greater Power hated the Council and, after once appearing before it, had declared the Powers of Lairannare would never again have anything to do with it.
"Where is the accuser?" asked Nyght, the claws of her right forefoot scratching the earth in annoyance. "Where is the one who has caused this great Council to be gathered together?"
“He stands before you.” The voice carried across the glade, and Orion’s shoulders tensed as he felt Phyre standing behind him. All the creatures craned their necks to see the source of the sound, and Orion turned his head to look at his nemesis. Phyre still maintained his human form, but he seemed taller and more regal than he had during the confrontation in the Caves.
“You were warned,” he murmured as he approached Orion.
Orion cast him a dark look but said nothing.
A corner of Phyre’s mouth turned upward. “I shall enjoy this.”
Haunnar, the Greater Power of Keiliornare, cut off any chance of reply.
“The accuser should address the entire Council,” he ordered in his deep, resonating voice, “or he should address no one at all.”
“My apologies, milord,” answered Phyre who proceeded to brush past Orion.
“Now,” growled Nyght, “let us waste no more time but confront the issue which has brought us here.”
“I heartily agree, Great Queen of the Heavens,” replied Phyre, his voice carrying across the entire glade. “Lords, ladies, people of this Council, it is with my utmost apologies that I am forced to come before you today. I am a creature and resident of the Realm of Earth bringing an accusation against another creature and resident of the Realm of Earth. It is only because he is a half-breed whose father is of the Realm of Magic that I have been compelled to bring this case before all of you instead of settling it in the fashion of Lairannare.
“I do not come before you lightly, but bring with me the gravest of accusations." Here he paused for the briefest of moments before continuing. "There is in Deithanara a race of people. Those in Lairannare call them 'High Elves'. Those of Keiliornare call them 'Noble Fairies'. Those of Bellunare call them 'Arch Fiends'. And they themselves take as their name 'Shallee'.
"You know how, in days of old, these people rebelled against Joretham, and you know how Joretham cast them down from their position and made them wander as outcasts through Deithanara. You know how these High Elven people were ever thorns in our sides, and you know how the agony and strife they caused culminated in the great wars in which millions of us–people who had not rebelled–were slaughtered without mercy.
"Do you remember how, when the great wars were over, we gazed upon the barrenness of our lands and declared that we would never again allow the High Elves to grow strong? We swore by the Heavens and the Earth and by Magic...”
“Get to the point,” snapped Orion.
Phyre looked reproachfully at Haunnar. “My Lord, are such outbursts to be tolerated?”
“The accused shall refrain from interrupting,” the gargoyle rumbled then added in a softer voice, “Nevertheless, some brevity is in order.”
“As you wish, milord.”
Raising his voice Phyre addressed the entire assembly, “Fellow creatures of the Three Realms, the High Elves nearly destroyed us. At the end of the third great war we swore to root them out and obliterate them once and for all. I was exercising my right under this law to execute a High Elf when this man"–he pointed at Orion–“attacked me. You can still see my wounds. In flagrant disregard for the safety of the inhabitants of the Three Realms he spirited this High Elf away beyond my reach.
“Now I ask you to judge him not only for his violent abuse of myself but also for his shameless indifference for the safety of the billions of inhabitants of Deithanara. And I further ask that you force him to give me the High Elf he has been illegally harboring.”
The assembled creatures looked at Orion. Nyght, the dragon queen, spoke, “These are serious charges. How do you answer them?”
* * *
Night had entirely overtaken the Mountains of Lathinor, and the stars and their large, pale mistress lighted the sky with all their spectral glory, sending the mountains into sharp contrasts of darkness and light. The wind blew strong and cool against Mystia as she stood on the rock outcropping outside Zenas’ cave.
From the day she had first left Zaren with the other evacuees, she had not had a moment to herself. Now, finally, she was alone–only to discover she was lonely. She turned her face toward where she had last seen Orion and Nightfall before they had disappeared behind a tall, dark mountain. For a moment, she thought she caught a glimpse of them approaching from beyond a particularly tall peak.
* * *
"How should one respond to a lying snake?" Orion demanded. "The individual in question is a defenseless girl who poses no threat to the Three Realms, and whatever harm Phyre has suffered in relation to her has resulted only from his own baseless attacks against her and my efforts to defend her against them. If he'll stop trying to kill her, then I'll stop defending her from him."
"So," Phyre challenged, "you do not deny the charge that you are protecting a High Elf?"
"I deny that her race has anything to do with the matter at hand."
The corner of Phyre's mouth turned up in a sly smile. "If not her race, then perchance her sex?"
Orion's mouth tightened, and he did not reply.
"Come," Phyre pressed, "we are both men, and of the many creatures gathered here you'll find few who've not long left their childhoods behind. If this Shallean were not a beautiful, young maiden would you go to such lengths to protect her from the fate demanded by law?"
"I see no need for idle speculation." Orion answered, addressing himself to the assembly. "Does it matter how I might or might not respond if she were old or ugly or a man? The truth of the matter is that she is a comely maid, and, moreover, one who is kind and compassionate and has done no wrong to anyone. You speak of the law; what rule has she broken other than that, beyond her own control, she's a member of a beleaguered race of people unfairly hated and maligned?"
"Unfairly hated?" Phyre snapped. "One wonders you can say that. The High Elves have caused more pain, turmoil, and death than all the other races combined. The only reason they don't do so now is because their numbers are so small they have no opportunity."
Orion tried to respond, but Phyre continued, "What does it matter if this woman you cherish is herself less evil than the rest of her race? Her blood is bad, and any children she bears will prove as much. Worse yet if you, a man who at this very moment is trying to justify his unlawful acts of aggression, are their father."
Phyre turned to the assembled creatures. "Do you think we haven't shown the Shallee mercy in the past?" he demanded. "And what has it brought us? Pain, misery, and war. The time for mercy is at an end. Kill this Shallean wretch and all her verminous kind."
"You lie!" Orion shouted as the assembly began to stir and murmur. "You've no proof the High Elves are the villains you paint them as. By what right do you make your claim?"
A sharp, barking laugh escaped Phyre's mouth. "Do you forget who I am?"
His face distorted, growing long and snake-like, followed by his body, the limbs of which extended and grew and twisted. Heavy black smoke billowed around him and he continued to rise and expand, until finally he stood–no longer a man, but a great, fiery, menacing dragon.
* * *
Mystia gazed intently into the moonlit sky. Her heart began to beat faster as she realized that what she had first thought was imagination was indeed the dark mass of an approaching figure. She walked closer to the edge of the outcropping where the moonlight fell full, and waited.
She did not know exactly when she first sensed that something was not right. As the flying figure drew closer she was struck by its legs, for they did not look like the thick, sinewy lion-legs of a griffin; instead they were long and thin. A feeling of unease gripped her, and she shrank quietly back into the shadows.
* * *
Squeals and shrieks escaped the lips of the creatures gathered in the Council glade. Behind Orion, Lyght growled softly, and at his side, Nightfall hissed.
"This is my justification," Phyre declared, rising up on his hind legs and spreading out his flaming wings. "I Phyre, King of the Realm of Earth, firstborn of Joretham's creations, have lived since the dawn of time, and I have seen with my own eyes the havoc wreaked by the Shallean vermin. Dare contradict me? My own experience testifies against you."
"Be still, dragon." The low voice of Haunnar cut through the rising rumble of the assembly, a reminder of calm amidst the steadily rising panic. "Now is not the time for theatrics."
Phyre growled. "What I say is true, and if I resort to 'theatrics' 'tis only to impress the gravity of Orion's crime upon you. The woman he harbors is a danger to Deithanara and many will suffer if she's allowed to live."
"That remains to be seen," answered Haunnar roughly.
Phyre hissed but said nothing more.
"Great kings and queens, lords and ladies," a voice cut through the glade, "may I be allowed to speak?"
All eyes turned toward the voice and saw that the speaker was a griffin. She was young and sleek and obviously very strong. Her fur and feathers were as red as blood, and she looked out from eyes as dark as night at those assembled there.
"Speak, child," Haunnar invited.
"Great and noble rulers," she said walking out into the middle of the glade, "I am young 'tis true, but I pray that will not keep you from listening to my words. I ask this: are truth and wisdom to be spoken by none save the aged?
"'Glorious Dawn' am I called, and I am the daughter of she who guards the gates of Elmorran. Many people enter into that place–elves, ghouls, fairies, Shallee...Elmorran's eyes are blind to everything save whether or not a person believes in and serves Joretham. Nightfall," said she as she turned to the black griffin, "your father guards the gates of Lothiel. Is it not true that as all races enter Elmorran so also do all, including the Shallee, enter Lothiel?"
"'Tis true," Nightfall answered.
Glorious Dawn turned back to the gathered creatures and, raising her voice, continued. "You people of this great assembly tell me: if in death the Shallee are your equals why so not also in life? Who has given you the right to demand that an entire race and any who dare look kindly upon it should be murdered?"
"Fool!" snapped Phyre. "What do you know? You didn’t see them descend like wild beasts upon your home. You didn’t see the ground turned red with the blood of your slaughtered brothers. You didn’t see the whole of Deithanara laid waste. What right do you have to speak on behalf of the High Elves?" Each word was more sharp and biting than the last.
The red griffin drew herself up and, in defiance, snarled, "Who has made you judge?" She turned to the gathered creatures, and her voice, filled with passion, rang throughout the meeting place. "Why do you listen to this serpent's lies? Fear you the truth, or do you not know it?
"Lyght," she implored as she turned her large, black eyes to the great crystal dragon, "are you not as ancient as Phyre? Surely you know the Shallee have caused no more turmoil than any other race, and deserve death no more than we all. Testify to such."
All eyes turned to the crystal dragon, and the turmoil of the assembly decreased to a strained calm. Even Phyre remained quiet as he and the gathered beasts waited to hear what Lyght would say. The crystal dragon's head was bent, and for a long moment he did not say anything. Orion looked up at him, hopeful at first then troubled as his silence stretched on.
"Lyght?" he said.
The dragon raised his head and, in a low, weary voice, addressed the assembly. "No matter what the Shallee may or may not be, I have learned over a lifetime that Phyre is vicious, cruel, selfish, and altogether devoid of redeeming qualities. He may claim he seeks this woman's life for your sakes, but he would not be trying to kill her if there were no benefit to himself. 'Tis that aim, not some altruistic concern for Deithanara which drives him; count upon it. Do not lightly give in to him. Today he may be seeking the life of an unknown, inconsequential Shallean, but tomorrow he may be seeking yours."
Phyre snorted. "He may denigrate me, but note that he does not refute my claims. Why? Because he knows the Shallee are a menace. 'Tis only Orion's unlawful love for one which prevents him from plainly saying as much."
"No!" the red griffin shouted. "It's not true!"
What happened next was unexpected. Glorious Dawn, who had walked out into the center of the glade to address the assembly, was standing very near to Phyre. Upon her outcry, the fiery dragon turned toward her; whether out of maliciousness or simply because his great bulk prevented him from properly gauging the distance between them, his foreclaw struck hard against the side of her body. Her cry of pain was joined by a shriek of fury as the black mass of Nightfall shot through the air toward the massive dragon. Growling, Phyre fell back on his haunches and snapped at Nightfall as the griffin darted in and out around his head in a mad attack. Cries of terror filled the glade, and the creatures began to run this way and that to avoid Phyre's sweeping tail.
Orion drew his sword, and, rushing forward to defend his friend, he cried out in a loud voice, "Strike him and you die!"
* * *
The figure approaching through the cool night air was now so close that Mystia could make it out fully. A man, cloaked in black, rode upon the back of a fearsome, winged horse. The creature's eyes burned with fire and its body seemed not so much black as made of shadows. Its large, black wings were spread to their full extent and hardly beat at all, allowing the creature to cut noiselessly through the night.
Mystia stood, rooted to the spot and gripped by panic, silently praying that the terrifying monster and its rider would pass by without seeing her. But her prayer was not to be answered, for the rider, who was now quite close, turned his mount and began to fly directly toward the rocky outcropping upon which Mystia stood. He saw her now, although she stood in the shadows, and fixed her with an unwavering gaze.
Strength returned to her. On unsteady feet she stumbled toward the cave entrance, but she was not fast enough. The monstrous horse alighted in her path, its hooves striking the granite with a cold click. Mystia lurched back and tumbled to the ground, from where she looked up at her attacker. He returned her gaze with cold brown eyes that betrayed no sympathy, and her eyes widened in fear as she realized she had seen that man before: the Dark Sorcerer.
* * *
Phyre lunged at Orion only to be thrown roughly to the ground by an invisible force.
"Control yourself," Haunnar barked, for the first time losing his calm.
"You command me?" Phyre spat. "I'm not the one who’s broken the law of the Three Realms! I’m not the one who consorts with High Elves! I’m not the one who even now affronts this sacred Council by wearing about his neck the soul stone of a High Elf!"
The creatures, already panicky and in some confusion because of the drama being played out before them, were shocked by this latest accusation and let out a collective gasp. Orion's hand flew to his chest where he felt the cold, hard form of Mystia's ring hidden beneath his tunic. He looked in startled surprise at the fiery dragon.
"Fool!" hissed Phyre, seeing Orion's shocked look. "'Twas I who tore her soul apart to begin with! Did you think I would not know where it is?"
"Beast!" Orion cried, raising his sword.
"Is this true what Phyre says?" demanded Nyght, the great, dark dragon.
"And what if it is?" the warrior demanded angrily.
"Then you admit it!" cried Phyre, before any others could speak.
"What is there to admit?" Orion demanded as he pulled the ring out from beneath his tunic and held it up for all to see. "Of course I wear it!"
* * *
As the Dark Sorcerer dismounted his horse, Mystia scrambled to her feet and once more dashed toward the cavern entrance. The sudden movement startled the beast, and the princess shrieked as it reared.
* * *
"You knowingly and willingly serve a High Elf!" screamed Phyre. "And now you dare profane this sacred place with a High Elven soul stone!"
"She’s not even a full Shallean!" countered Orion, his whole body trembling with the anger he still fought to hold back. "As for this stone, Princess Mystia gave it to me, and I’ll wear it proudly wherever I go!"
A great uproar rose from the assembly.
"Hear you that?!" Phyre demanded.
* * *
Mystia saw Zenas standing at the door of the cave.
"Help me!" she cried, but to her shock he did not move to lend her aid.
Stumbling, she ran forward and cried out sharply as she was grabbed by the shoulder and yanked backward.
"Let go of me!" she shouted. She struggled against the Dark Sorcerer, but though she fought with all her strength, he held her fast.
* * *
"So you serve this High Elven woman and wear her favor?!" demanded Phyre.
"And what of it?" Orion answered in defiance.
"So you admit to cherishing this woman?"
* * *
The Sorcerer subdued the princess and tied her hands tightly in front of her. Only then did Zenas walk out from his post at the cavern door into the moonlight.
"Your debt is paid," the Sorcerer informed him. "Live in peace."
Mystia lunged at the old man. "Demon!"
The Dark Sorcerer snatched her back; Zenas did not answer.
* * *
"Yes, Princess Mystia gave me this stone, and, yes, I do protect her, and, if you call 'serving' 'cherishing', then, yes, I do cherish her willingly and wholeheartedly."
"Then you must die!" declared Phyre. Rushing forward, he would have carried out the penalty himself had not Haunnar thrown him once more to the ground.
"Be still, dragon!" the gargoyle ordered, his eyes burning with anger. "Justice is the duty of the Council not you."
Phyre refused to be stilled, and struggled against Haunnar's invisible hold.
"There is no other sentence" the fiery dragon hissed. "Kill him! Kill him!"
* * *
Zenas turned his back upon the princess and her captor. But in his mind Mystia's words echoed over and over again. Demon, demon.
* * *
The Council assembly was in an uproar. The creatures cried out in terror and ran every which way in an attempt to escape the writhing, struggling dragon. Haunnar and the other Powers of Keiliornare were exerting all their strength and barely keeping him under control.
"Kill him!" Phyre shrieked, lunging toward Orion before being thrown roughly to the ground. "Kill him or he'll destroy us!"
Queen Nyght, who had participated little in the proceedings of the evening, now fully joined the fray.
"Be still before I kill you!" she ordered. With a guttural snap she threw him forcefully to the ground and, with her magic, held him there.
* * *
Mystia struggled desperately against the Sorcerer as he dragged her roughly after him across the rocky ledge toward his fearsome horse, but she was no match for him. He placed her upon the beast and mounted behind her. The horse spread its wings and leapt into the air.
Zenas stood and watched them disappear from sight.
"Demon, demon," whispered the wind.
Zenas spat in defiance and returned to his cave.
* * *
"Kill him! Kill him!" Phyre screamed.
Nyght struck him with a powerful blast of magic, but he continued to fight.
The dragon queen reared up on her hind legs, spread her wings, and roared. The sound shook the glade and completely drowned out the din of the other creatures. The roar still in her throat, she charged at Phyre–a dark and furious mass of teeth and claws bearing down upon her writhing victim. Claws extended, she sprang, but just as she was about to connect with him, Phyre disappeared in a swirl of red and gold dust.
With a sharp bark she screeched to a halt. After looking around to make certain he was gone, she shook her head and straightened.
Order slowly returned to the assembly. Orion ran over to where Nightfall hovered over the fallen Glorious Dawn.
"Is she all right?" he queried.
Great, wet, griffin tears fell from her eyes, but she struggled to her feet.
"Be careful," Nightfall cautioned.
"I'm all right," she said with a tight voice.
"Can you spread your wings?" Nightfall questioned.
"I'm all right," she told him more forcefully.
"We have reached a decision." Haunnar's deep voice called everyone to attention.
"Step forward, Orion," the gargoyle ordered.
Orion walked out into the center of the glade.
"Queen Nyght and I have conferred," Haunnar informed the assembly. "The charges brought against the defendant this day are serious charges. However, we found the accuser to be unreliable and unconcerned with proper justice–desirous instead of legalized bloodshed. His charges were brought in bad-faith, and we cannot disregard that fact. We, therefore, give Orion permission to return to the Realm of Earth and engage in whatever activities he sees fit until such time as Phyre chooses to submit to the Council…or until another less blood-thirsty individual presses charges."
Orion breathed out a sigh.
"The Council is ended," Haunnar declared. With that all of the creatures began to disappear in swirling clouds of sparkling dust until none save Orion, Lyght, and Nightfall were left.
Lyght, his eyes flashing, turned upon Orion. "You could have avoided all of this."
"How can you say that?" asked Orion angrily. "The princess has done nothing to deserve this persecution."
Lyght, not even hearing Orion's words, continued, "How can you simply turn your back upon the law of Deithanara and serve this unholy woman?!"
"Why should I heed the law?" demanded Orion. "What has it done for me save tell me I’m a wretched man filled with unrighteousness? I’ll not turn my back upon the only honorable creature I’ve ever known simply because the law tells me I should!"
"Orion! Do you forget who saved your life when you were but a babe? You were to be killed, but I made you my son and delivered you from death; for that was I cast down from my place as King of the Realm of Magic. And now you repay me by serving a woman of the Shallee!"
"Lyght," began Orion. His anger was disappearing, leaving in its stead only sorrow at the unfairness of all that had happened. "All my life I’ve been told to live honorably. True, the meaning of 'honorable' changed with each person who told me to live thus, but the message was still the same.
“I did not do so, for there was no reason for me to. But now I have a reason. Now I live as you wished; and yet–now that I do so–you no longer want me to.
"I see not why you grow angry at me for serving this woman. You were once the King of the Realm of Magic; there were none greater than you, yet you sacrificed your position and the power it held so you might save me. Princess Mystia is hated, her life is sought, and there are none to protect her save me. Why is what I do for her so different from what you once did for me?"
"But she is a Shallean!" cried Lyght, his voice filled with despair and anger. "How can you give up your life for a Shallean?"
"To you she’s a thing to be hated. To me she’s a goddess," Orion answered stormily. "Why do you hate the Shallee so? They are no more evil than any other creature in Deithanara. Why do you wish them all dead?"
Lyght looked down upon his son then turned his head away. He said softly, "Whether they live or die I care not, but I wish to have no more dealings with them." He was silent for a moment, and then continued, sorrow in his voice. "We are all caught up in a tapestry woven of conflicting powers and passions, and my thread has crossed that of the Shallee far too many times. Follow this woman; give your life for hers, but ask not of me my acceptance."
He turned his back on him and said very softly, "Now go."
He gave Orion no chance to speak but immediately transported him and Nightfall back to the Realm of Earth. As they disappeared in the swirling blue and gold dust Lyght whispered, “Your goddess is in danger."
Orion and Nightfall found themselves standing outside the Caves of Nortath's Fury.
"My goddess is in danger?" repeated Orion. In horror he turned to Nightfall as he suddenly realized what his father had meant.
The night was filled with a strange beauty, but Orion cared nothing for it. His heart was pounding as he jumped upon Nightfall's back. Nightfall leapt into the sky, and they sped through the night faster than one would have thought possible, but still it was not fast enough for Orion. With each passing moment his fear for Mystia waxed ever greater until it threatened to overcome him.
The hours it took to cross the vast expanse between the Mountains of Shem-Joloch and the Mountains of Lathinor seemed to last a century, and no amount of urging on Orion's part would make them pass any quicker. He found himself cursing every second of that journey, until finally he and Nightfall arrived at the Mountains of Lathinor.
Even before Nightfall had fully lighted upon the ground, Orion had jumped off and drawn his sword. The crystal blade shone strangely in the pale light of the moon as he walked toward the cave's entrance. With weapon held ready he walked quickly into the cavern, but, though he expected someone to attack him, there was no one there.
"Zenas?!" he called, "Princess Mystia?!" But there came no reply.
With each step toward Zenas' dwelling the dread of what he might find grew until his foreboding became so great he had to stop just before he rounded the large rock which lay beside the door to Zenas' cave. In that second of paused outside the entrance he heard Nightfall shriek. The warrior spun and ran back toward Nightfall. As he reached the cavern entrance he found his way barred by two harpies with clawed hands held ready. He gave a great cry of fury as he realized what was happening.
Faster than one would have thought possible he sent his sword slicing through one harpy's neck and through the other's arm. He heard a noise behind him, and he turned to face those who stood behind him. He swung. Though one of the creatures tried to attack him, Orion's sword cut right through her and left her dead before she could cry out. More harpies began to push through the entrance into the cavern, but they found themselves ill-suited for fighting anyone in such closed quarters, much less fighting such a terrifying enemy as Orion had become. He was filled with the blind wrath of a dragon thirsty for blood. Some fled at the very sight of him, others ran at his savage war cry, and those who dared stand and oppose him were cut down with no mercy.
Orion exploded through the cavern entrance. Nightfall, caught in a large net, lay on the ground. Above him stood a harpy, long claws held to his neck. Nightfall struggled with all the magic within him, but the creature who stood above him held him back with a stronger power.
"Drop your sword or the griffin dies!" she hissed.
"Drop yours, or I'll make you eat your tongue as I tear your stomach from your body!" snarled Orion, with such hatred the creature was taken aback and for one moment wavered. One moment was all Nightfall needed.
With a shrieking cry and a great blast of fiery magic, he broke his bonds and sent all the harpies who were there flying either back against the side of the mountain or over the edge of the cliff. Those who were not wounded righted themselves and returned to battle, but those whose wings were broken or who were fighting great pain plummeted into the emptiness below. The harpy who had stood above Nightfall screamed in pain as the griffin dug his claws into her face and chest. Orion ran back to Zenas' cave as fast as he could go.
"Princess?!" he cried, but only Zenas was there. The old man looked up in terror and turned and tried to flee.
"Where is she?!" The warrior grabbed Zenas and threw him against the wall. The old man fell crashing to the floor and did not rise.
"What did you do with her?!" Orion screamed. It was a wonder that in his rage he did not simply cut the old man in two.
Zenas tried to rise, but he was overcome with a fit of coughing, and he fell once more to the floor.
"Where is she?" Orion demanded. Though his voice was soft, there was more hatred and menace in it than there had been when it was raised.
"Th’ Dark Sorcerer came abou’ sunset an’ took h'r,” Zenas answered between his coughs. “He left these t’ ca’ture you. They should reach Nolhol soon."
Orion howled in rage and despair. Throwing the old man into the wall, he ran from the cavern.
The battle was over. Nightfall, his claws and beak dripping with the blood of the enemies whom he was devouring, raised his head from his gruesome meal and looked upon Orion's face. Orion, filled with anger, looked wildly about him; it was doubtful he saw a thing. There in the darkness of the early twilight, with the moon and stars overhead, he raised up his voice and cried with all the fury within him, "Joretham, I curse you!" He fell to the ground and in anguish cried once again, "Joretham, I curse you."