Trayson groaned weakly as he pulled himself up to his knees. He sat disoriented for a moment glancing around the wasteland as his dark brown clung to the sweat on his face. The ringing in his ears quieted allowing him to hear the distant wailing of the survivors.
The forest, the meadows... all turned to ash. He pushed himself up on his trembling legs, glancing around foreign landscape. The lakes and rivers had vanished, leaving behind a wake of corpses left to collect the falling ash. He wasn't quite sure what the hell had just happened.
One moment the front line was rushing the demon, before it shoved all the metal around him back. Trayson had been thrown to the ground like a small doll just before the sudden flash of light before an explosion followed in its wake.
He growled, stumbling to the edge of the new crater. Ari. Where was his beloved? She had been left alone to tackle the monster head on while he uselessly struggled to stand beside her. He glared at the demon in the center of the pit, noticing he stood alone, transformed into solid stone. His wife nowhere in sight. It had taken less than a week for his underling to change into this monster. When had Soren become so corrupted, making the loyal soldier unrecognizable?
The ground gave way under his unsteady weight when he shifted, causing Trayson to stumble down into the pit. He hissed as he crashed into the hard dirt, flinching at the heat. Druids by nature were not fans of the high temperatures. Afraid of perishing in the flames. It wasn't like they were the only one who could die by fire, but they were more susceptible to it.
Their bonded plants trembling in fear if it ever entered their proximity. The warmth in the soil must have been due to the dormant volcano, towering over them. Trayson grunted as he got to his feet a second time. He hadn't realized how close the battle had gotten to fire mountain. He slowly dusted off his pant legs, pausing to look over the statue.
The stone had only encased his flesh, the collusion of forces obliterating his clothing. He seemed to be frozen in a moment of pure rage, one arm grabbing at his victim while the other poised in a fist, drawn back over his shoulder, ready to connect.
His face twisted and vengeful, the soundless battle cry forever escaping his lips. Trayson looked him over in disgust, pausing on the arm that was outstretched. His stone fist clutching the familiar torn silver fabric.
"Ari." Trayson gasped, pulling the fabric free. His beloved. He quickly glanced around, feeling his heart drop as he accepted reality. She was gone. Lost to this... this demon. How dare Soren exist in this world in any form, while she was lost. In his rage and despair, Trayson tried calling on his druid power with every intention of turning the stoneman to dust.
What should have been an eager response was nothing. Trayson fell to his knees in shock as the link he had always known vanished. His plant was gone leaving behind a gapping void in his soul. He should be dead, nothing more than ash on the landscape with his fellow druids who were also eliminated when the forest vanished.
So many lives lost. This hadn't been a war. It had been a bloody massacre. A firm grip on his shoulder had him hissing as he pulled away unprepared to continue the fight.
"Oh, thank god you're alive. Trayson?" an old friend asked gently. Salvino had been one of his oldest, most trusted friends. He had stood beside him at his wedding and celebrated with him for his promotion. Salvino was a mixed blood, born of elven and dwarven parents.
Though he mostly took after his dwarven father. He was tall and sturdy like that of an older tree trunk, with thick arms and legs. His bronze skin shimmered under the light coating of sweat while his mother's golden hair was trimmed short, curling at the ends. He was working on growing a respectable dwarven beard that it was just starting as it curled around his strong jaw line. His golden yellow eyes once full of mischief and laughter, held nothing but sorrow.
"Trayson?" He asked again. His voice deep and gravely buried itself in Trayson's soul. It helped ground him in the present, giving him the strength needed to stand once more. He accepted Salvino's outstretched hand, allowing the stronger man to pull him up on his shaky legs.
"I am here my friend. Barely." Trayson assured him as Salvino slowly nodded before wrapping him up in a tight bear hug. Trayson coughed surprised as Salvino held him, trying to calm his rising tide of emotions.
"I am so... so sorry for your loss. While readying the army to come to your aide on the front lines, the green house caught fire. There was nothing we could do to stop the spread. It was if the flames were possessed. Hundreds of lives were lost by the second and I feared you had been among them. The druids..." Salvino trailed off, his voice shaking. That had been why Trayson couldn't feel his bond. Just like he had feared, his tree was gone leaving him hollow. A mere shell of the druid he once was.
"Only a few druids remain. Mostly children who aren't yet old enough to have completed the bonding ritual. But they weren't the only ones to take heavy blows." Another voice added breathlessly causing Trayson to pull away and stand on his own. Salvino had always been a bit more emotional than his brother, but Welpion had his own qualities that appealed to Trayson.
Welpion took after their elven mother, being more elegant in looks and mannerisms. Tall and lean from hours spent sword fighting and hitting the books. He let logic rule his heart opposite his brother. His longer blond hair had been pulled into a ponytail at one point, but most of the hair had fallen lose. He was covered in mud and ash, as he half carried half dragged the proud woman beside him.
Salvino had often teased his little brother about his one-sided crush for the fetching mermaid. But it would not be something they would be joking about today. Elamire had served beside them on the council of races, serving as the representative of the merfolk. Her blue seal leather tunic was stained red as the skirt dragged through the ash and dirt. Her long sand colored braid swayed in the restless breeze. Pale compared to her current company; her deep blue eyes were an abyss. She was wounded, bleeding heavily through the quick wrappings done in haste. She needed a healer or water. But this land had suffered and there was no water here for her.
"My lady. You should head back to the castle where the healers can aide you." Trayson suggested watching as Welpion stiffened. He cast his eyes over the broken land, staring at the castle crumbling in the distance. Welpion had been with the second wave alongside Elamire and Ottorian, the captain of the fairies. The Fairy armies pressing forward before turning to ash on the wind.
"The Fairies are gone Trayson. The warriors vanished in the blink of an eye and the healers abandoned us." Welpion hissed bitterly as he helped Elamire down into crater, to stand by the other members of the council.
He would not leave her to suffer alone in this wasteland. Though it took every fiber of his being to hold onto his elven values and keep his emotions in check. They would do him no good here. Salvino and Trayson nodded solemnly to acknowledge his statement but couldn't believe his words.
"Everyone has taken loss this day. All because of one man. How did he ever manage the power to bring our entire world to the brink of extinction?" Elamire panted weakly. She sounded almost impressed making Trayson clench his fists and growl.
"He could not have done this on his own. There is no way. I refuse to believe your own student killed thousands of our people all by himself. I can't." Salvino gasped shaking his head. He bit his lip to quell the tears as Trayson gingerly held his shoulder in comfort.
"Where is his brother?" Welpion asked softly as the others hesitated, glancing at him in question. "Where is the man who would have been our king if his cowardice hadn't sent him running?" Welpion asked again as his friends shook their heads unsure. They hadn't considered him in all of this after Ari had been crowned Queen.
"He was long gone before this chaos. Fled to the north away from here. Away from those that held his heart." A soft voice added in, causing Trayson to gasp at the fragile creature carried by her golem mate. Haross was over twelve feet tall, towering over his fellow leaders. His dark rich skin mixed well with the ash, his deep ruby eyes burning with the golem fire.
Bright orange liquid oozed out of the stone cracks on his left shoulder where his arm had been severed. His golem talents sealing the wound so he wouldn't bleed out. His dark hair had been twisted into multiple coils, held out of his face with ties as it ran down his back.
He paused away from Trayson, knowing his natural body heat from his anger and healing would only further add discomfort to the weakened druid. He carefully sat his little fairy down, holding her steady until she found her own feet. The group stared at her surprised as the new glossy wings fluttered. Fairies never had wings before.
"The shock of losing almost our entire male population has forced those that were left to quickly adapt. Taking our brothers gifts as our own." Kelsi informed them bitterly, holding out her hand to Elamire. The mermaid stiffly nodded, accepting her offer. Welpion helped her to sit carefully beside Kelsi as the fairy worked her magic and healed the wound in her side.
Mermaids had the ability to switch between forms to allow them to enjoy both their natural element as well as the land. However, it was easier being in her true form as Elamire let the silver scales take over, her tail getting covered in the ash. She wouldn't be walking for a while as she rested among her allies.
"I didn't know that was a thing." Trayson grumbled in reference to her wings as Kelsi snorted at him.
"And I didn't know a druid could live without his plant and yet here we are." Kelsi retorted causing the group to frown as they glanced between the two of them. They hadn't expected the fairy to be on poor terms with Trayson, who had married their beloved Queen Ari quite recently. Kelsi hadn't known this would happen either, but then she hadn't experienced the complete genocide of half her race either.
"You say that like you wish I were dead." Trayson noted, ignoring Salvino as his shifted uneasily. He didn't like making his friends uncomfortable, but this was war, and it was better to have everything out in the open.
"I would never wish death upon someone. Not even Soren. I do, however, blame you for all of this." Kelsi stated waving her hand at the ashen landscape behind them.
"Hey, lass. That's a bit much isn't it? Trayson led the war front to try and stop this demon." Salvino argued in his defense. She stomped her foot in anger causing the dust to swirl.
"They are all dead because the one person who should have noticed something was wrong ignored it. Soren was supposed to be your right hand! You said it yourself, you wanted him to replace you as captain of the guard after you became our king. How could you not have noticed something was so terribly wrong?!" Kelsi screeched at him as tears poured over her lashes.
"My brother... Our friends... My people... all of them are lost because you failed your job to protect us! As leader of our army and our king." She declared as Haross, gently grabbed her arm to keep her back. Her little frame trembling, making her wings shiver.
"You can't seriously blame Trayson for the corruption of one man." Salvino growled back. He hesitated when he saw his brothers look. Welpion met his eyes turning away from him. "Brother?" Salvino begged looking for him to be in their corner.
"She is not wrong Sal. I do understand how he has been distracted. Especially as a newlywed. But promoting Soren and overlooking the castle guard was his duty and he ignored it. We have all known Soren for quite some time. This. This man here? I don't know who he was or where he came from. I don't know what happened that changed him so drastically. But if anyone should have noticed, it should have been Trayson." Welpion said calmly as he crossed over to stand before the statue. "The Soren I knew. The Soren we knew was not a monster." Welpion muttered so sure something had stolen Soren's face. Whatever beast was hiding behind that stone was lost for now. Taking the answers to their riddles with it.
"He has suffered enough for his lack of judgement. Blaming him further won't do us any good. Besides something Salvino said before terrifies me. How can one man do all this on his own? And if he had help, where are they now?" Elamire questioned shifting their focus to something else. They could all find someone to blame for this mess, but they were all just as guilty.
She could recall a few times she herself thought something was off but chose to overlook it. Haross huffed as he sat in the dirt, so he wasn't towering over everyone. His delicate flower sniffled as she climbed into his lap, looking for comfort. He also felt something hadn't been quite right.
What kind of monster apologizes for cutting off his arm? Haross frowned down at his fairy as Soren's voice rang in his head. Go to her. She needs you. Haross had heeded his words as he worked at sealing his wound. The moment he had reached her the fairies on the front lines vanished.
Only his golem nature had spared her from the devastation that had taken the land. Soren's warning had allowed him to save her, but why? What had been Soren's end goal? What had been the reason for so much suffering?"Those enemies are no more." A whimsical voice carried over to the small group. They turned on the three sisters', wading through the sea of ash to join them. They were the seers, gifted with visions of the past, present, and future. The Nymphs of time.