The dirt and sand along the riverbank glistened darkly in the fading light. The water held a sickly red tinge as the battle waned. Victims of the slaughter lay strewn across the blood-soaked field. Screams of pain and fear echoed through the darkening sky. An enormous red beast struggled feebly, his left wing crushed beneath his massive weight. Aron, leader of the human army, strode haughtily up to the creature and propped a plated boot on its neck.
"Sigurd, king of the dragons." The words shot from the man's mouth like venom. "How does it feel to know you have failed? All your worthless struggles, your pathetic attempts at retaining your freedom; all for naught. You're pathetic."
At that, Aron spat in the fallen king's face. Sigurd paid no attention to the man. His one remaining eye was focused on a scene across the field. He lowed hauntingly as he watched his beloved Silene being shackled, forever imprisoned by the wretched conquerors. His trusted friend and captain, Roland, lay torn at her side. Sigurd knew the man would not have allowed such an atrocity to happen had he a breath left. As it was, Silene took out half a dozen of Aron's soldiers before she was subdued, spewing their remains across her captors.
The fallen king tore his gaze from his mate and surveyed the carnage. They had fought valiantly, man and beast alike, side by side. Now they lay dying together on the field of defeat. Aron had the greater force; Sigurd knew that more than a year ago. But he would not give up. He would not surrender his people to slavery at the hands of such a tyrant. He built his army, recruiting any dragon or human who would come to his aide. He even appealed to the Hidden. But it wasn't enough.
The promise of power and wealth drew both men and dragons to Aron's side. The self-proclaimed King of All amassed an army larger than had ever been seen in Layr. Many of Sigurd's own soldiers betrayed him and joined Aron. The memory caused the King of Dragons great sadness, but he could not muster the strength to even shake his head. The betrayal of his most trusted brother, Apoph, had stung the deepest.
Born of the same mother, Sigurd was two years older than Apoph. The red giant felt it his duty to protect his younger sibling. Apoph, black as night both inside and out, hid his treacherous nature from the brother he hoped to one day overthrow. Riding on Sigurd's successes, Apoph advanced to a position of power in the Coalition of Man and Beast. When Aron came forward to challenge the Coalition's right to lead Layr, Apoph took his chance and turned on the brother who had given him everything he had. Along with himself and his immense wealth, Apoph took hundreds of dragons and thousands of men to the aide of Aron.
The massive betrayal turned the tide in the war and Sigurd began suffering costly defeats. After barely a year and a half, all hope for the Coalition hung on a single encounter at the Black River. Blood and fear fell upon both sides as war was viciously waged. The battle lasted three days and thousands upon thousands were sacrificed. Dragons from both factions took to the air. Some battled their opponents skyward, while others rained terror on the wingless beings below.
The human race had been split violently by the war. Many, noble to the last, sided with Sigurd and the Coalition. Still more, however, were swayed by Aron's empty promises of wealth and power. Both sides fought desperately and suffered grievous losses. Of the thousands that met on the battlefield, more than half now lay dead or dying. Dragons and men from opposing armies lay together on the field of death.
Sigurd looked away from the scene as a massive shadow descended upon his broken body. Slowly, he focused his golden eye on the form of his younger brother. Hatred overcame his heart and he struggled to rise. The black beast firmly pushed the defeated creature back to the ground.
"Don't get up on my behalf, brother." Apoph grinned sadistically and looked around, catching a glimpse of the shackled Silene. "It's a shame, really. She was so very pretty. To be demoted from Queen of the Dragons to less than even a slave, how painful that must be for her."
"It won't be as painful as watching her mate breathe his last breath," declared Aron, as he signaled for the captured creature to be brought over. "Bilson, hand me my sword."
Silene fought desperately when she saw her love lying helplessly in the red mud. The blue beauty ripped two of her human handlers in half before the dragons on either side of her could regain control of her.
"Do not struggle, my darling," Sigurd cooed. "Save your strength. You know what must be done."
Aron's kick to the jaw stayed the remaining words resting on Sigurd's tongue. The red behemoth locked eyes with the lovely blue dragon and did not make a sound as the conqueror's sword pierced his tough hide. The blade bit deeply into an artery and an angry torrent of blood flooded to the ground. Silene watched as the life faded from her king's eye, then she turned and ripped a hole in Apoph's flank, punishing him for wandering too close during the murder.
Silene was dragged away to be confined in a dungeon, while an irate Apoph had his wounds tended. Aron surveyed the scene with satisfaction and began plotting his next move.
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