Yeah, you really haven't done action scenes to that degree before. Antoine and company fought mist monsters, but most of the fights with fellow humans were much shorter either because Antoine and co. were much better fighters or they fled when the oods weren't on their side. So, this rather long, hard fought battle with so many characters is something you haven't really tried yet in Mists and it's a big challenge that you pulled off well. But I'll save the more in-depth thoughts for the review, haha.
The Mists of Avon: Chapter 12
Even at night, the swamp’s heat and humidity were stifling. Luckily, they hadn’t needed to build a fire because there was plenty of light from the full moon hanging overhead for the night watch to go by. Antoine was glad to not be taking the first guard shift, but Sonia wouldn’t let him rest after his eventful day.
“I want to know about this woman that attacked us,” said Sonia.
Antoine shrugged. “I want to go to sleep, but I guess we don’t always get what we want.”
Sonia folded her arms over her chest. “This isn’t a game, Antoine. This is my mission, and I need to know what’s going on here. I need to be able to inform Her Highness about the mysterious group in the middle of this war.”
“Relax, I’ll tell you what you want to know eventually. I have some suspicions I need to confirm about what she was really here for. I give you my word that I’ll tell you once I’ve done so.”
“Your word?” Sonia chuckled. “Who do you take me for?”
“Fair enough. Alright, I’ll give you my payment for this job if I don’t tell you. Does that convince you?”
“I know you’d never part with that much money.” Sonia held out her hand. “It’s a deal.”
Antoine shook her hand. He did plan to tell her about it soon enough. He wouldn’t have a choice, at the rate things were going, but he needed to buy some time for now. Something was amiss about this situation. The rumor of the dragon’s taming was spread too easily for Antoine’s tastes, and the Neo Avon army hadn’t set a defense in the area. This backed up Antoine’s original suspicions of Princess Beatrice, but Julian and Enzo’s appearance did the opposite. And then there was Naomi. Something important was here, that much Antoine knew for sure. He wouldn’t know what it was until they went into the dragon’s lair.
Antoine yawned. “Now that you’ve done your knightly duty, do I have permission to sleep?”
“No? What do you mean?”
“You need to talk to Ruby.”
That was the last thing Antoine wanted to do right now. He regretted that Ruby had to kill someone for his sake, but he didn’t know what to say to her. He didn’t have any words that would absolve her of guilt or a spell to return things to the way they were.
“Why don’t you do it?” said Antoine. “Or, better yet, we could throw Silas to her and see how badly beaten he is by morning. Yes, I like that plan much better.”
“You’re the closest thing she has to family. She needs you right now, so suck it up and go do it,” said Sonia.
Antoine resigned himself to his fate and walked toward the edge of the swamp water, where Ruby was sitting and turning over her dagger in her hands. Sonia was right that Antoine needed to talk to Ruby, but he wasn’t so sure that confronting what happened was the best course of action. This situation called for a distraction.
“What are you doing?” said Antoine, sitting down next to Ruby.
“Just guardin’ like I said I would,” said Ruby, staring out toward the swamp. “Why aren’t ya sleepin’ like everyone else?”
“I wanted to run my plan for tomorrow by you. You’re the key to the whole plan, after all.”
Ruby turned to Antoine, tilting her head. “What’re ya talking ‘bout? I thought the whole reason we got this job was ‘cause of your magic. What’s so important ‘bout me?”
“Well, my magic is no doubt crucial to the plan,” said Antoine. “I need to cast a spell that will melt away some of the dragon’s scales to reveal its heart. That is its only weak point.”
“And ya need someone to hit the heart once ya cast the spell, huh?”
“Yeah. I thought Silas would be able to hit it with one of his arrows, but it’s clear to me that he can’t be counted on.”
Ruby’s eyes narrowed at the mention of Silas. “Good. I’d never put my life in the hands of that pathetic coward. I’m sure I can hit the dragon’s heart with my dagger. What does it look like?”
“Oh, you’ll know it when you see it. Dragons are powerful Mist Monsters, but they are fundamentally the same as any monster created by Mist. Its heart is simply a core of condensed Mist particles. It will glow the same blue as Mist you see anywhere else.”
“Got it,” said Ruby with a nod. “Ya can count on me.”
“Good. I knew I could. Now I need to get some sleep before my guard shift comes around. Sonia’s kept me up for half of yours already.”
Ruby cocked an eyebrow, chuckling to herself.
“Not like that,” said Antoine.
Antoine waved his hand and walked away as Ruby laughed behind him. He hoped that would be a good distraction for the moment. He felt like he was about to collapse from exhaustion, anyway. It had been a long day.
This was one of those moments when a knight’s training was truly tested. Sonia was about to face the dragon that even her legendary father hadn’t been able to defeat. All the preparations were ready, and Antoine’s plan was sound. All they had to do was execute it properly, and Avon would be safe from the dragon and Neo Avon’s plans for it.
“So we’re all clear on the plan?” said Sonia. “We’re ready to slay this dragon?”
Antoine nodded. “Of course.”
Ruby cracked her knuckles. “Let’s go smash us a dragon.”
“Wait!” Silas called out from behind Sonia. “Take me with you.”
Sonia turned to face him. “Why the sudden burst of enthusiasm?”
“I overheard you talking last night.” He gestured toward Antoine and Ruby. “You were right that you couldn’t count on me. I’ve been living in the past. But I think I can finally move on and help you out.”
Ruby rolled her eyes. “I don’t wanna go in there with ‘I think.’ I ain’t riskin’ my life with ya holdin’ us back.”
Antoine said, “I agree. This is dangerous enough without having to take care of you on the battlefield.”
Silas turned to Sonia. “Don’t you trust me, at least?”
She wanted to trust him, as her father had before. But she had seen Silas drink himself half to death since his last battle with the dragon, and he almost let Antoine die on the battlefield. She couldn’t forget that so easily.
“No,” said Sonia. “You may truly mean what you say, but words aren’t enough. I’ll need to see some action before I trust you enough to fight alongside you, and this is not the time or place to test that.”
Sonia turned and walked into the cave without allowing Silas to respond, with Antoine and Ruby following. It felt odd for Sonia to be telling Silas he couldn’t come with them. She had looked up to him almost as much as her father when she was a child. Now, it was like he was the child. If children had alcohol problems, of course. She really did want him to turn things around, but she couldn’t trust him enough to bring him to her most dangerous battle yet. Silas’s problems were important, but they paled in comparison to the importance of this mission.
The tunnel leading to the dragon’s lair wasn’t as dark as Sonia had expected. Particles of Mist hung in the air and gave a light for them to use as they followed the twisting path toward the dragon.
“Why is there so much Mist here?” said Sonia. “Is it related to the dragon?”
Antoine nodded. “Mist Monsters are physical manifestations of heavily condensed Mist, and they only form in areas with high concentrations of Mist. This dragon is unnaturally powerful, so I’m not sure what could have caused such a concentration of Mist in one area.”
“If it’s so powerful, why’d the dragon make its lair in a disgustin’ swamp like this?” said Ruby. “It could’ve picked anywhere else.”
“I would assume that it was actually the other way around,” said Antoine. “Whatever caused the dragon to form here left so much Mist in the area that there was plenty left to start the growth of a swamp full of plant life.”
“So Mist plays a role in the growth of plants and other life forms besides monsters?” said Sonia. “How do you know these things?”
Antoine shrugged. “I’ve traveled to many places in my line of work. You’d be surprised what I’ve learned in my travels. Maybe you’d learn some more if you ever got out of that castle.”
Sonia was skeptical that your average mercenary would learn so much in their travels. Antoine was hiding something. This wasn’t the best time to confront him about it, since they needed to work together to defeat the dragon. Once this was all over, though, she was going to get some answers.
Antoine broke her out of her thoughts as he stopped. “I can sense the dragon up ahead. Are you ready?”
Sonia and Ruby nodded. The group turned a corner and the tunnel opened up to reveal a huge open cavern with particles of Mist drifting through the air. In the center of the cavern was the biggest and most powerful Mist Monster Sonia had ever seen. It stood on four legs about as thick as Sonia’s entire body, armor included, and towered over the trio. A horn bigger than the average sword, and probably just as sharp, protruded from its head. As soon as it spotted them, it flapped its enormous wings to take off into the air.
“All the Mist in this cavern should make it easier for me to cast the spell,” said Antoine. He sat down on the floor and closed his eyes to concentrate.
“Easier also means faster, right?” said Sonia.
“Only if you protect me instead of distracting me by talking.”
The dragon slammed down to the ground where Ruby had been standing just a moment earlier. It was quicker than Sonia had expected. She rushed at it, but it swept her away with the back of its claw, sending her tumbling across the cavern.
Sonia got to her feet and spotted Ruby trying to slash the dragon with her dagger, to little effect. Those scales were stronger than any man-made armor she’d ever seen. The dragon batted Ruby away with a swipe of its left wing, so Sonia tried to catch it by surprise by attacking its right flank. Her lance had no more effect than Ruby’s dagger, though. It was like attacking a stone wall.
“So, uh, this ain’t goin’ too well, is it?” said Ruby, struggling to her feet.
“We just need to stall it long enough for Antoine,” said Sonia.
The dragon wasn’t playing along. It began stomping toward Antoine. It was Sonia’s duty to protect him in this battle, and she wasn’t about to fail. She ran ahead of the dragon to get between it and Antoine. She saw its claw raise up into the air, and she readied her lance to meet it. The impact drove her back, but she was able to stop it for the moment.
“I just need a moment,” said Antoine. “I’m almost done!”
Sonia grunted as she worked to keep the dragon’s claw back. It was like trying to hold back an avalanche or some other force of nature. Every muscle in her body screamed out in pain. The dragon’s strength drove her down to a knee, and she didn’t think she could hold it back much longer.
Just then, she saw three spears of light fly around her and plant themselves in the dragon’s chest, forming a triangle. The
dragon recoiled, and relief washed over Sonia. The scales inside the triangle melted away, and Sonia could see a glowing blue light inside the dragon’s chest. That had to be the heart Antoine had talked about. The dragon roared in pain and flew back into the air to distance itself from them.
Ruby stepped up, holding her dagger in front of her face as she lined up the throw. “Time to slay a dragon.”
Ruby sent the blade hurtling end-over-end toward the dragon. Sonia held her breath as she watched it. It looked to be on target, but it felt like it was taking decades to get to the dragon. Sonia thought the dragon might evade the attack, and they’d be in a tough spot then. She didn’t have much strength left to fight it any longer.
It found its mark, though, sinking into the dragon’s heart and sticking there. Sonia couldn’t believe it. They had just defeated the dragon. That was a feat that no one, not even her father, had ever accomplished.
But her celebration was premature. The dragon wasn’t dissolving into Mist like a Mist Monster did when defeated. Something was wrong.
“What’s up?” said Ruby. “I thought ya said all I had to do was hit the dragon’s heart, ‘Toine!”
Antoine grimaced. “It must be more powerful than I thought. I’ll finish it myself!”
Antoine summoned chunks of rock up from the cave floor, hurling them toward the dragon’s heart. The dragon had gotten a second wind, though, or else it was finally taking them seriously as a threat. It moved through the air with a surprising grace to avoid Antoine’s attacks. It stopped to hover in the air for a moment and inhaled deeply, preparing for something, though Sonia didn’t know what.
“This isn’t good,” said Antoine. “It’s preparing to breathe fire at us! Move!”
“Ya gotta be kiddin’ me!” said Ruby as she started to run toward the tunnel they came from.
Sonia pushed herself up off the ground and started to turn toward the tunnel herself when she saw an arrow streak through the air toward the dragon. It pierced the heart, and the dragon stopped. It fell to the ground with a crash and slowly started to dissolve into Mist. Sonia looked toward the tunnel and standing there was Silas, holding the bow she had given him.
“Sorry about messing up your foolproof plan, but I thought you’d appreciate me saving your lives.”
Ruby crossed her arms over her chest. “So, all it takes for ya to pull your head outta your butt is a dragon ‘bout to kill us. That’s reassurin’.”
“Well, you know it takes us old folks time to get going,” said Silas. “You young people just have no patience.”
Seeing Silas like this reminded Sonia of the old days before his injury. Her father often brought her with to visit Silas, and he was often the subject of his war stories, too. It seemed like Silas was always starting trouble or aggravating her father in some way, but he always came through in the end. She had had a tough time believing he could change as much as he had, but it looked like some of the old Silas was still in there somewhere. Whether he could stick to that path remained to be seen, but it was a start.
Sonia picked up the sound of someone clapping somewhere around them, the sound echoing throughout the cavern. Sonia looked around, trying to spot the source of the sound. The others looked equally confused.
A man’s voice came from the tunnel. “You do know how to make things dramatic, Antoine.”
He stepped out from the tunnel into the light of the cavern. He wore a black cloak, though Sonia could see a staff similar to Antoine’s attached to his belt. He didn’t look especially strong physically, though she had learned from Antoine and Ruby that appearances could be deceptive. And there was something about him that she couldn’t place. He walked with confidence, or maybe it was purpose?
“What are you doing here, Lamont?” said Antoine. “What was so important here that you would not only send Naomi, but also come here yourself?”
So this was the man Naomi worked for, thought Sonia. He was using the civil war in Avon to his own advantage. No matter what his goal was, that was abhorrent to Sonia. People gave up their lives in this war, and he was content to manipulate and toy with them.
“Oh, you’ll find out soon enough.” Lamont ran a hand through his short blonde hair. “You’ve been a big help to me, actually, whether you know it or not. All of you have. And for that, I thank you.”
“What’re ya talkin’ ‘bout?” said Ruby. “We didn’t do nothin’ for ya except take down your dragon!”
“Unless it was never his dragon at all,” said Antoine.
“Now, you’re on the right track. I sent Naomi here because I thought she could defeat the dragon and also capture you. The dragon had something important that I needed, and I needed to meet with you face-to-face. That is why I spread the rumor that Neo Avon was controlling the dragon. I knew they’d have to hire you to come here to defeat it, and Naomi could accomplish both tasks at once.”
“Naomi didn’t seem content to simply capture me,” said Antoine.
“No, she’s still as unpredictable as ever, I guess,” said Lamont with a sigh. “I cannot be too angry about how it turned out, however. In the end, her goals were accomplished.”
“You don’t even care that your own comrade was killed?” said Sonia.
“You misunderstand,” said Lamont. “Naomi would agree that her mission was all that mattered. I cannot mourn for the death of one when I have the burden of many to carry. But you wouldn’t know a thing about that, would you, Antoine?”
Antoine said, “Spare me your lectures on my many failures. You used them all up when I left.”
“Fine,” said Lamont. “I’ll just take what I came for and then go retrieve the other half.”
An object with a faint blue glow floated up from the spot where the dragon had died. It looked like a white oval broken in half, and Sonia knew where she had seen the other half of it. The stone floated right into Lamont’s hand.
“I hope for her sake that your Princess will be smart enough to give me what I need.”
“No, you don’t!” Sonia lunged toward him with her lance, but he vanished in a flash of light only to reappear a few feet further away. He threw his hand forward and a gust of wind knocked her off her feet.
“What was that?” said Sonia. “You can use magic, too?”
“Why the surprise?” said Lamont. “Oh, I guess Antoine still hasn’t told you all who he really is. That explains why so many of you lowly people are at his side. You wouldn’t be, if you only knew the truth.”
“The truth?” said Sonia, as she struggled to her feet.
“Antoine and I are both Magi, the conquerors of old as you people see it.”
Sonia’s eyes widened as she tried to process this new information. The Magi were extinct. It was impossible that Antoine could be one of them. None of them had been seen since Louis Laurent’s rebellion freed the world from their tyranny. They couldn’t have survived all these centuries without anyone knowing. It was impossible. Although, it would explain a few things about Antoine.
“Well, it looks like my work here is done,” said Lamont. “Maybe you’ll finally see the light and join our cause when these
people turn on you, Antoine. You know where to find me.”
Lamont snapped his fingers and disappeared in a flash of light.