Part Fifteen: Triumphs and Falls
TRIUMPHS AND FALLS
‘Circle around him near the ground, close as you can get. Kick up as much dust as you can. All fly widdershins; we’re going to make our own whirlwind. Fire on my signal.’
Slowly but deliberately, approximately half the dragons turned around in mid-air and began flying the other way. The wyrms higher in altitude gradually descended until they were flying almost level with the ground, alongside the rest. Drake found himself impressed with their coordination, which was so well synchronised as to be something resembling graceful.
He glanced towards the enemy, still hovering at the heart of the whirlwind, laughing manically. If Certrain had caught on to their purpose, he had given no sign of it. But then again, thought Drake, who knows what goes on in that homicidal head? He might even have just gotten incredibly bored and planned this whole thing himself. Drake could feel the wind slamming into his face as their new whirlwind began to form. He leaned down, burying his head in the red dragon’s neck and clutching tighter to it with his arms. I bloody well hope this works. He felt the jolt from the brief impact with the ground as his mount dragged its claws through the dust, which was caught up in the wind and became part of the aerial maelstrom.
One by one, the other dragons followed this example, kicking more and more dust into the air between them; soon enough, it was almost impossible to breathe without chocking on the stuff: the air was thick with it, and the boy could hardly see five feet in front of him.
With dust and air alike biting at his skin, Drake decided that it would be enough. ‘Fly back up, now; carefully: we need to sustain the whirlwind and carry the dust with it’. His troops obeyed, slowly making their way upwards, regaining their former positions, only this time with all the dust circulating inside. Certrain made no move to stop them; he sometime picked off the occasional dragon or two, but had otherwise been watching the proceedings with a look of mild interest on that insane, grinning face. He had stopped laughing, but didn’t look particularly worried. He has absolutely no idea what we’re doing, thought Drake. Excellent.
I have absolutely no idea what he’s doing, thought Krishten. Crud. The blue dragon was circulating well away from the danger; Drake had ordered it to do so after the green dragon had gone down. Krish had been trying to get it to search for the emerald dragon’s riders, but had no idea how to get it to listen. He had eventually given up, and was sullenly watching the proceedings when he heard a sharp intake of breath from in front of him. ‘What is it?’ he asked, starting to panic slightly and trying to search past Jereah for what had made him gasp. ‘It’s, what he’s doing, his plan…’, stuttered the zombie, staring blankly in Drake’s general direction. ‘I see it all now, it’s…It’s completely insane.’ Krish stared at the back of Jereah’s head, a horrified sensation welling up inside him; if Drake messed this up they were all dead–
‘Pull back, now!’ The swarm of dragons all veered sharply away from their hand-crafted whirlwind, and with nothing left to sustain it the rushing air slowed and halted, leaving the cloud of dust hanging in the air, beginning to drift uselessly to the ground –
— before the force of Certrain’s own whirlwind pulled it all in, and surrounded the man with the stuff. It caught in his hair and clothing, giving them a faint brownish tinge, and was clearly getting in his face, even though he wasn’t flinching or squinting. He laughed, suddenly, as if he had just finally understood a hilarious joke; and grinned even wider, and yelled: ‘Is that your plan, child? Cover me in dust? Make me so itchy and uncomfortable that I surrender? Mildly irritate me?’ He laughed again, a high-pitched shriek of mockery and amusement.
Drake watched dispassionately, his expression void of emotion, and did not answer. He spoke a single word of command to the dragons around him, so calm and quiet you wouldn’t have thought it could possibly have been heard by all of them, and that word was ‘Fire’.
And time seemed to slow then, for the briefest of split seconds, as Drake stared straight at Certrain; and Certrain stared back, and understood. And for what might have been the first time in decades, the smile vanished from those lips; those pinprick pupils dilated; the mask slipped from that face upon which it had so long been sustained, as horrified realisation took its place: and Drake saw the man underneath, the man who was broken, and afraid, and very, very human.
But Drake only got to see that man for a split second, right before the man was engulfed in a fiery explosion, a phenomenon that occurs when dust comes into contact with fire which Drake had read about in a book somewhere, but he couldn’t remember where at the moment because something inside him broke, something precious inside him shattered beyond repair when he saw the fear, the horrified, screaming fear in that man’s face, right before that man had ceased to exist.
And he sat, and said nothing, as the world exploded around him.