Elias inhaled the cold air swirling around him. It was heavy with moisture. His heart lurched in his chest as a surged of electriciy pricked it painfully. It'd been five long years since he'd returned to this dreadful place. The night that had changed his life was still burned in his mind like the scars left behind a fresh branding on the rump of cattle hopelessly destined for the butcher's blade. He stepped forward with trepidation, listening to the wet crunch of soaked branches resting on sodden earth that housed corpses thousands of years old.
A mechanical piercing squawk rang out from atop his shoulder. His heart raced and his hands trembled, but he shot the cloudy night sky a stare of resolution. Maximilian was right. He returned here for a purpose and that was to gaze upon those fabled dead lilac eyes of the abomination called Kaurilia and study it, to see what made it move and tick and fly and breathe. If Elias could understand what horrifying magic made that conglomeration of rotting flesh and bones live, then maybe he could restore Maximilian to his former feathery self, before it was too late.
A shock stabbed at Elias's heart again and he fell to one knee grunting. Maximilian cried out as well and Emil cocked his golden feathery head to one side, eyeing his brother. Elias knew it wasn't safe here in the Arcane East, so close to the islands of his father where La'Ruta thrums with a ferocity rarely seen in the world. He risked being struck by lightning from a magical storm...again.
Elias glanced up to his right shoulder where Maximilian perched. Orange lines pulsated across the bird's obsidian-plated exterior, breathing artificial life into the crow's body. Elias swallowed hard when he saw Maximilian's chest. It was the orange magitech crystal. Its once vibrant hue faded to one far too light for his liking. Elias sighed, realizing that he once again underestimated the Arcane East. The magic in the air was sucking the energy out of Maximilian's magitech crystal. Elias knew this was bound to happen in this land, but he never dreamed it would happen this quickly.
Wasting no time, Elias removed his backpack, both birds leaping up and flapping their wings, giving their master caws of disapproval from being shoved off their respective perches. Elias fumbled through his backpack and found another one of the orange magitech crystals that he created. He moved it to the left and right, watching as the crystal caught the rays of the moon from above. Like always, he frowned in disapproval. No matter how skilled he was at designing and improving magitech crystals, nothing came close to the legends of the Soul Stone his grandfather told him in the Ravenspire. Perhaps the Soul Stone was merely that; a legend. But he must keep trying, for Maximilian's sake.
"Maximilian," he called out, "to me!" The half-bird-half-machine quickly landed in front of his master, having been through this process hundreds of time. Elias extended his hand and Maximilian backed up slowly, his robotic wings quivering. Elias's countenance fell. He knew fear when he saw it. "I have to, Maximilian. You know that." The bird timidly drew closer to him and Elias yanked the fading crystal out of the crow's chest. Maximilian screamed in pain and the thin orange lights flickered. With hands as swift as a martial artist and precise as a surgeon, Elias inserted the fresh crystal into Maximilian's open chest cavity. Maximilian's cries of pain slowly quieted and the orange lines brightened with a more stable, consistent orange.
Elias smiled and nodded, but he knew he must hurry. The magic of the east was draining every crystal, even the ones in his backpack. Then he heard it; it was a dull, distant roar that brought him and his two birds to attention. It was Kaurilia, he knew. His heart was racing once more, but this time out of excitement rather than nervousness as his curiosity stamped out his fear. The creature that he came all this way to observe was almost here. He and his birds listened eagerly as the dull roars became more and more pronounced until finally, the definite thump of dragon wings came into earshot. Elias curled up his right hand like one of Emil's mighty yellow talons, focused, and watched as tiny sparks of blue formed a small, but growing ball of electricity in his palm. "Ready boys? Let's see what we can learn from this dragon."
Kaurilia flew into view, casting a visage twice as ominous as the stories described. A mix of purple and blue flames swirled around in the dragon's eye sockets and its massive chest. Ripped black flesh barely held together its mangled skeleton and an ancient energy radiated from the hulking being. Elias gazed upon it, mouth agape like an astonished child. Kaurilia bellowed out a deafening roar and then eyed something just underneath it. Elias followed the flames serving as eyes and he noticed two young women with white hair adorning their heads, shimmering beautifully in the moonlight. He looked back up at the undead dragon and gasped as it opened its mouth and launched a massive stream of foul white gas that looked deadly to the touch.
Elias reached out and ran forward calling, "No!" But his concerns were misplaced as one of the women stepped in front of the other, extended an arm and parted the gas as if it were made of a material more flimsy than silk.
Elias slowed to a stop, grinned and chuckled lightly at the unexpected display from the woman. However, his pleasure was short lived. His face dropped when he realized the gas was barreling toward him. Elias growled and cursed and swiftly struck the ground beneath him with his right arm. Lightning discharged and buckled the earth beneath him, forming a tall and wide wall mixed with earth and stone. The birds returned to his shoulders and ducked as low as they could. Their master did the same as he hit the ground and covered the back of his head with his hands. He hoped the rocky wall would hold.
Hissing rang through Elias's ears as the gas breath collided with his hasty defense and the dirt bubbled and melted away. The gas stream caught the tip of Elias's black cloak and seared away a three-inch triangle from the corner. Then, the gas dissipated after several seconds. Elias looked up and examined his and his bird's bodies. Then he looked at what was left at the rocky dirt wall. The top of the wall was gone, reduced to a mere three feet. Any lower and the birds and I would've been scorched, he thought. Elias peeked around it and saw the outside of the dirt wall was chard black.
He rose to his feet and exhaled slowly. "That was close, guys," he said to his birds.