“These eight bones dictate direction. The top five command it to attack. The bottom five command defense. The center tells it to rest.” I said, pointing to the almost identical bones that made up the right arm of the throne.
Now that the army had finalized its battle strategy, I decided to teach the general how to control the serpent just in case a fight broke out before we were prepared. There were still several tasks I needed to accomplish before the final battle. Even with my undead now numbering in the tens of thousands, I could not micromanage everything myself. I needed someone else I could trust to oversee everything, and General Arthur was the one I had chosen for that task.
General Arthur nodded tensely as he sat atop the throne. He kept shifting uncomfortably, as if the entire structure made him nervous. Several undead stood at attention on either side of the throne, waiting robotically to fulfill any command he gave. “Will this giant snake really listen to me?”
“It should,” I replied with a shrug.
“Should,” he balked incredulously.
“I designed the throne for the sole purpose of anyone being able to use it. My flames are stored within and transmitted even if I am nowhere nearby. I never really had a chance to test it before, though.”
“And what am I supposed to do if you're wrong? What if it goes on a rampage the moment you leave?”
I patted General Arthur on the shoulder with a grin. “Then, everybody in the city dies. So, you better make sure to memorize these controls.” The man gulped nervously at my response, and I laughed at the sight of his unease. It was a rare occasion when the man was not completely calm and in control of his emotions. Seeing him so nervous brought me no end of joy. Still, the charade couldn’t go on forever, and after several minutes of stressing the importance of each function of the throne, I slapped him on the shoulder. “Relax. This old serpent is a lazy slug. He doesn’t move unless someone makes him. That’s the entire reason I felt confident building the city of Ater-Albus on his back.”
“So, he won’t go on a rampage?”
“The biggest risk is that he will roll over and fall asleep. “Though, honestly, that alone would be enough to kill almost anybody unlucky enough to be in the city at the time.”
“Wren, stop teasing the general,” Dad interjected.
I frowned but ultimately nodded. “There shouldn’t be any problems, but just in case, I will leave one of my undead here to oversee everything. I will check on her regularly, so just leave a message if something unexpected happens.”
“I would still feel better if you were coming with us,” General Arthur replied reluctantly.
“There is still too much I need to complete before Envy arrives. I can’t afford the time to escort the army. The serpent will be enough to get our forces and supplies over the mountains. So long as nothing unexpected happens, you will not have any problems.”
“Why does it feel like you just jinxed us?”
“Don’t worry about it,” I replied with a dismissive wave of my hand, “Just focus on the important tasks of resupplying in the eastern kingdoms and setting up defenses at the solar tower. Our upcoming battle depends entirely on how well you prepare.”
General Arthur reluctantly agreed. Everyone had their part to play in the battle to come. He knew how important his role was, and I trusted him to complete it flawlessly. After a few more minutes of explaining details of how to best control the serpent, Dad and I left the general alone in the throne room.
“So, what now?” Dad asked curiously.
“With the speed Dragon’s Nest can move, we have time to make three stops before the final battle,” I explained, “The first and most important of which is Kala.”
A slight green flame lit up on my fingertips, illuminating the dimly lit hallway. “The people of Kala have spent hundreds of years gathering corpses. Millions of dead rest just beneath the ground. Now that I have regained my full strength, it would be insulting if I didn’t accept their sacrifices.”
“That’s right!” Dad shouted excitedly. “I had almost forgotten. With that many undead to assist our ground forces, we will have a huge tactical advantage at the beginning of the battle. I shudder just thinking about it.”
“It is still only a fraction compared to the number of Demonkin Envy has prepared for us, but it should even the playing field a little,” I said with a confident nod before snuffing the little flame out. “Our second stop is a small valley nicknamed The Heart of the World. A rather dangerous creature lives there. If I can talk to it, I might be able to convince it to help us. Though, I wouldn’t get too excited about it. That stubborn old man has never liked me. I don’t know if we will have time to make the third stop or not, but I know the location of an old armory of mine. I never told Sebastion about it, so it should still have a few decent weapons similar to your sword. If we can equip our best soldiers with some excellent tools, they will have an easier time surviving what is to come.”
“That sounds fantastic. When do you want to leave?”
“I don’t want to leave anything to chance. We should leave as soon as we are able. My undead will handle any remaining work that needs to be done here.”
Dad nodded enthusiastically and began the preparations. Everyone was informed of our intention, and General Arthur’s men set up glyphs to keep out the blood mist. It was not as effective as Dad’s imitation domain armor but would work well enough until the serpent escaped the corrupted territory.
By the time night fell, Dragon’s Nest lifted into the air and flew north, back to Kala. So much had happened in so little time since we left the country. Our previous journey north had been fraught with peril. Enemies and uncertainty had followed us at every turn. First, Irene had pursued us. Now she laid in Dragon’s Nest, crippled and broken. Then, the Demons came, and one by one, we had defeated them. Now, there was only the one looming axe of the Demon Envy left.
Thinking back, it was pure luck I had survived as long as I did. There were several instances I should have died. I traced the cover of the small leatherbound book at my side and considered what I had to do so that everyone else could live. I couldn’t afford to push aside the choice for much longer. The words my teacher so often spoke echoed in my mind.
“Victory at any cost.”
The leather cover of the chronicle creaked in my hand as I gripped it tight. Even without opening the book, I could hear the faint whispers of the memories held within.
Before I could make my choice, though, Charly burst through the door. His face was flushed, and he was breathing heavily from sprinting across the building.
“Wren, come quick. Mom! Mom is awake!”
“Really?” I shouted excitedly. My previous thoughts were discarded as I chased after Charly. Mom’s injuries had been a constant weight on my mind. Even after so long, it was rare that she was not drugged unconscious to avoid the pain and even rarer that she was coherent enough to say more than a few mumbled sounds. Charly would not have come to get me if that was all this was. Charly’s constant healing had improved her situation considerably, and it was likely she would not have survived until now without it. Still, I hadn’t expected her to wake up at all unless we had a powerful healing talent on hand. Now that she was awake, I had to be there.
Charly and I burst into the infirmary without any care for the door slamming into the nearby wall. I did not even hear Mare’s complaints. My entire attention was focused on the woman in the bed.
My eyes watered at the sight of the two bright blue eyes scowling at their children. “I take a little nap, and the two of you turn into wild animals?” Mom said. Her voice was raspy and weak, but I had never been so happy to be scolded in my life.
“Mom,” I whispered hoarsely. I was unsure what to say. She was still severely injured. Bandages covered the entirety of the left side of her body. Even sitting up was dangerous for her. Yet, she had the energy to remind us of good manners? I wanted to laugh but broke down into tears instead.