The image of the Red Sanctuary was finally visible on the horizon. Donakis could see the mighty spires of the impressive dragoon stronghold breaking free of the earth and piercing up into the sky like a set of lances fit for the elder winged wyrms. After days on end of wounds that had gone untended due to the grueling pace of the army’s hasty retreat, the promise of some reprieve was dangled in front of the beaten dragoon force. Donakis could feel her heart lifted as she looked upon the sight of the Red Sanctuary, offering shelter and protection for her people. Even though Sia of Red was absent from its halls at this moment, the venerable fortress had never been more aptly named, she thought to herself. The image of the stronghold even went so far as to help her forget the incessant discomfort of the human arrowhead still lodged in the scales of her right shoulder. She swore she would sing parses to the first of her ancestors and each generation that had come after the moment the nasty little piece of metal was free of her body.
“We are not moving fast enough,” came the surly voice of Harhanov Master Black.
Donakis pulled her eyes from the ever hopeful forward march and glanced to her side where the leader of the dragoon army had just spoken. She noted the concerned lines on the veteran warriors face. Past the creases in his scales brought on by age and the honorable collection of battle scars adorning his features, the unmistakable sign of apprehension shown thorough most of all in the Master Black’s emerald and onyx eyes. He said nothing to the younger dragoon but a quick flash of his gaze towards the rear of the military caravan was all Donakis needed to understand her commanders sinking feeling.
The yellow scaled warrior shifted in the saddle of her hooded lizard and looked back. Her eyes were able to confirm for her what her gut and nose had been suspecting for some time. The glint of Rayward armor caught the light from the suns above. “I thought I had smelled the rot of human blood,” Donakis said with a mouthful of hateful spittle. “We can ride them down like the last batch.”
“Brave one, and I would love to dip my lance in their flesh as well but those are Rayward troops. They are proper fighting kind, not like the Evermist Valley rabble we slaughtered. We can not underestimate them,” said the Master Black with a few sagely nods as he spoke.
“Do we make our stand here?” asked Donakis while trying to keep her voice as even and calm as she was able. She dared not allow the Master Black to sense her own trepidations. The sight of most of her fellow dragoon nursing open cuts, severed limbs and broken bones contrasted against the shining gold and silver of Rayward metal on their backs turned her belly upside down.
“No, there is no way that the humans could have mobilized their entire force so swiftly. We gave them enough of our blood to slow them for a time. Those must be a much smaller force,” Harhanov said as he gave a dismissive flick of his fingers in the direction of the distant Rayaward fighting men. “Still, we can not outrun them in our present state,” he continued while he looked over the mass of walking wounded that followed in his wake.
“If they are few then we can take them,” Donakis said with a vengeful fire simmering in her core. She could imagine Sia of Red speaking the same words and losing spiteful flames from her maw as she spoke. The thought of her grand matriarch always served to put courage in Donakis’s heart where fear once took root. Even as a passing thought the powerful red winged wyrm was a potent inspiration.
“Yes we could, but at what cost? If we were not so close to the Red Sanctuary then it would be no hard decision for me, we would about face and crush them. The walls we have waiting for us will be enough to beat the humans without unsheathing a single blade. The fortification of Red Sanctuary will give us the means to win this skirmish without taking any losses,” said Harhanov.
“We are not afraid of death. Even the most bloodied and broken under your banner would…” started Donakis but she was cut short from a fast and fervent burst from the Master Black.
“Nor am afraid to die for our kind, my brave little warrior,” Harhanov started with an authoritative and patronizing cadence. “Yet, our kind is fast diminishing in number and if I can spare so much as a single dragoon from needless death, I shall,” he snapped while exposing more of his fangs than was generally socially acceptable as he spoke.
“My apologies, Master Black. I became too familiar and presumptuous…” Donakis started but was once again interrupted by a raised hand from Harhanov. This time it was compassion that halted her speech.
“No need to apologize. You want human blood on the ground as much as I do. I will also not have those horrible lot snapping at our heels all the way to the Red Sanctuary,” said the Master Black with a kindly tone as he nodded back at the Rayward cavalry closing on the caravan’s rear.
“What would you have us do?” Donakis asked with repentant humility laden in her voice.
“Rearguard action,” said Harhanov with weighted certainty.
“Understood,” Donakis said with a smile pulling at the corner of her mouth. She made no attempt to conceal her sense of pleasure derived form the promise of a clash with the enemy.
“I will trust this with you. Take two sections of infantry and one section of cavalry. Hold them here and the rest of the caravan will press on to the Red Sanctuary,” said the Master Black.
“Absolutely,” Donakis said with a warrior’s glint shining in her solid black eyes.
“Do not be careless with your lives. I only need you to gain us some time to move within the walls. Do not press the humans if you do not have to,” said the Master Black with a stern air of warning in his words.
“Of course,” Donakis responded with a grin. She turned her hooded lizard and began riding to the rear of the dragoon caravan. As she moved she knew that the Master Black’s order for restraint against the Rayward foe would be one of the hardest commands she would ever have to obey. Thoughts of slaying humans by the score spurred her pace on with ever increasing intensity like a spark that would ignite an uncontrollable roaring blaze of merciless flames.