That Others Might Live
It was a mistake. Donakis knew it in the core of her bones to let it seduce her was folly but she could not help but feel the pleasurable heat of the warrior’s fire in her belly. The Master Black had given her strict orders to hold fast against the Rayward threat and not to pursue them needlessly. She pulled her lance from where it was driven into the earth and subsequently from the lifeless body of the human solider she had just pinned to the ground. Donakis sneered through her fangs and he let out a serpentine hiss as she saw the few surviving members of the Rayward cavalry formation riding off in retreat. She ran her fingers over the streaks of still warm human blood that marked the yellow scales of her face. She delighted in the wet squish that accompanied the removal of her lance tip form the enemy dead. The pulse of battle had begun to fade nearly as fast as it had come. She needed to cling to the feeling of vengeance enacted. Wrapping her fingers around tangible retribution for the death of Stef’Han of Black and the defeat of the dragoon army at the hands of Rayward was the only thing that had come close to quelling the horrid shameful cries of her troubled spirit. As the human’s heeled their mounts to flee faster, Donakis could feel her angst already beginning to return. Some more human blood on the ground was the only thing that would keep her inner turmoil at bay. Still she knew, giving chase was a mistake.
Donakis looked back across the travelers path at the fading image of the dragoon caravan in the distance. Harhanov had nearly led the remnants of the dragoon army to the protection offered by the indomitable walls of the Red Sanctuary. Soon the rest of her people would be out of harm’s way. It would be nothing for Donakis to ride down a few frightened Rayward soldiers. She could have the best of both, in drinking deep of her foes blood as well as keeping her subordinates alive. The men and women who ran from her troops were so preoccupied with preserving their own lives that they would be no contest. Donakis knew it was wrong and wholly against the spirit of the Master Black’s orders but the wicked little voice that pulsed in her ear offered such a sound argument for pursuit. The taunting of her torn conscience was almost as unbearable as any sword cut or arrow wound. Donakis felt her gut twist and threaten to rip inside of her flesh as the Rayward cavalry started to vanish behind a dip in the terrain.
Duty almost won out for Donakis. She had just been able to reconcile letting go of her need to chase the retreating humans. In the moments that came after the Rayward soldiers vanished from sight, Donakis was able to find something that burned hotter and truer than her craving for vengeance. She was able to lean on her reverence and respect for Master Black Harhanov. While there were ever less and less of her kind remaining in the world after the years of human crusades, Harhanov was honestly considered one of the great leaders of the dragoon in any era. She knew that his wisdom was far beyond her present understanding and likely was greater than any battlefield acumen that she could hope to amass in her lifetime. The Master Black was an easy spirit to submit to, though the act of submission was no easy feat in and of itself, especially for a dragoon. While the young warrior of yellow scales and black eyes wanted to defy her superior’s orders, Harhanov was due far too much respect to do such a thing. Donakis was on the verge of giving the signal to rejoin the caravan and fall within the embrace of the Red Sanctuary.
A quick glance to her sword side and then a glance to her shield side that offered a hauntingly similar assessment was enough to overcome Donakis’s sense of obedience. She had though that her bloodlust and thirst for revenge was a burden that she alone carried. When she looked to her flanks, to a one, she saw a kindred look sparkling in the eyes of each dragoon warrior who watched the Rayward retreat. Scores of dragoon were salivating for bloody retaliation and watching it slip away. A people unified in the urge for martial satisfaction was a weight that was too great to carry even with the strength offered by honor and duty. Donakis told herself that if Harhanov was at her side he would likely have already given the order to pursue. Imagining the command coming from the Master Black’s lips made it easy for Donakis to say the words.
“After them,” Donakis said as she kicked her heels into the sides of her hooded lizard. She griped the reigns of her mount tightly with one hand as she started her charge and leveled her lance with the other hand. A full section of dragoon riders followed at her back.
The dragoon charged after the fleeing Rayward troops like a whirlwind storm. The hooded lizards carried their lancers across the travelers path with a series of powerful strides. It was only a matter of a few heartbeats before the dragoon cavalry had picked up the scent of their intended targets. The section that followed in Donakis’s wake was seemingly propelled by wrath itself. Donakis barreled at the enemy in the name of each dragon and dragoon who had been lost to the human crusades. Her blood came to a searing boil as she led the rest of her section over the final hill that separated her people from the scattered Rayward scouts.
Donakis was cast from righteous fire into fearful ice as the travelers path opened to reveal the trap she had led her subordinates into. Where the yellow scaled warrior had expected to see the tattered coattails of Rayward riders in flight, she found herself looking at a full regiment of polished Rayward armor and razor sharp steel. The handful of scouts that her warriors had effortlessly slaughtered were only bait, as she had taken the sweet lure with hardly a moment for second thoughts. In the time that it took to slow the gate of her hooded lizard she was able to feel the fear and shame of her impulsive action hit her in the chest like an avalanche. She spared only a split second for self-loathing before she pushed herself back to the cool plane of detachment needed for proper military command. As she gave the signal to rally on her location she was able to see the Rayward commander order his knights to drop their lances and charge. As soon as the dragoon cavalry had regrouped into a semblance of proper ranks, Donakis ordered her warriors to charge as well. It would be an even contest between formations of similar numbers. While it might not have been the cathartic butchery that Donakis was hoping for, honorable combat against a strong foe had its own sort of charm.
To her great dismay, the dragoon counter charge never had a chance to reach its stride. A second detachment of Rayward cavalry seemed to come out of thin air and hit her formation in its flank. She bit into her lips hard enough that her fangs drew blood, knowing that she had been outmaneuvered by the enemy on every level. The impact of the humans’ lances and steeds struck the dragoon cavalry with all the might of a cresting tidal wave set to crash upon a helpless fleet of ships. Donakis had only a few fleeting seconds before she was thrown from her saddle and pushed into unconsciousness by the ensuing madness of combat. In that time she was stripped of her sense of command. She was just a warrior who had failed. She allowed herself to feel the full weight of her shame as it pulled her into the shapeless black of a dreamless slumber. The one kindness that she took away from her descent into the darkness of the unaware was that she did not have time to shed tears for her failure. Were she to have clung to the waking world for even half a breath more, she would have been battling to keep her eyes from spilling the marks of her disgrace freely onto the earth. Such a realization was of poor consolation to her, she knew now that sleep or death would be her only refugees from her dishonor. She only hoped that the other, better dragoon warriors who rode at her side might escape this catastrophe and somehow go one to survive her deadly vanity.