Ashes of the Dragon

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Chapter 11
The Gathering Field

They stood in a meadow, what Maeveen called the Gathering Field. The muddy ground squished under Revin’s boots. Splotches of snow still could be seen under the trees of the surrounding forest.

Revin, Maeveen, and the other dozen white-robed women stood in a circle, along with the women in the plaid skirts, Keely among them. Revin quickly figured out that the women in white robes had separated into four groups, three to four women each and then the last consisting of only two, Maeveen and Revin. Each group stood at one of the four points of the compass with the larger group of plaid-skirted women filling in between each group.

A few paces behind stood a large group of men of all ages. They wore dark green tunics, trimmed in red, over leather leggings. Each was outfitted with shiny armor and held a long-curved sword, the cost of even one such set of armor unimaginable to Revin. A hundred feet out from the circle of women, stood what Revin thought must be the entire population of the village and surrounding farms. She guessed nearly a thousand men, women, and children held hands and ringed the meadow. Maeveen smiled at Revin, then all the villagers and farmers started to sing in what felt like a chant.

The Shades send ahead their beast of prey, The Shadow creatures erupt into the air. The Sentinel rises and joins the fray,

The flame cleanses according to our prayer. The pair shall keep the evil at bay,

The Sentinel and Phoenix together shall bear.

The white and plaid-clad women took up the chant as they reached out and held hands with each other. Maeveen put her hand on Revin’s right shoulder rather than taking her hand, solving Revin’s concern as to what to do with the bone staff she still held. A space remained between Revin and the plaid-skirted women on her other side, leaving a gap in their circle.

“I’m here, I’m here.” Revin looked back to see another woman racing across the meadow, she looked familiar. Revin couldn’t remember from where, then it struck her, It’s the old woman from Winterheart, the Oma. She was sure it was the woman at the tavern, But how? The woman wore the distinctive white robe. Puffing, she came up and filled the gap.

“You!” Revin couldn’t believe it was the same woman.

The woman from the tavern put a hand on Revin’s left shoulder while taking the hand of the plaid woman to the Oma’s left. She smiled at Revin then closed her eyes and joined in the song.

The woman must have told them Revin was coming, but she couldn’t have if she had just arrived. Before Revin could think on it, a loud thunderous sound came from underneath them as the ground shook.

Maeveen’s hold on Revin’s shoulder tightened. Fear gripped her as the rumbling grew and the ground trembled. The villagers’ voices rose even louder to match the increasing chaos underground.

‘Now, you must add your Calling to the circle.’ Revin heard Maeveen clearly in her head, but she could see that the woman hadn’t spoken. ‘You are a Phoenix. Sing.’ The words floated in to Revin’s mind again.

Revin began to think her fears of being sacrificed might come true. Her throat constricted and she had trouble swallowing. She had no idea what to expect, but somewhere in the chaos of her mind there was a voice, other than Maeveen’s, that said, ‘All is as it should be’. Her throat relaxed, her mouth opened, and the song poured forth, “The flame cleanses according to our prayer.”

‘You must believe the words. Feel them in your heart.’ Maeveen’s words came to her again.

The ground was throbbing in cadence with the song. How could Revin believe the words, when she barely understood what they meant? Had she truly misunderstood what Keely had said? Just then a roar from above the forest drowned out the singing and the rumbling ground. She looked to the sky.

“Do you believe that good is stronger than evil?” Maeveen shouted.

“Yes,” the women in the circle responded.

Revin added her own voice while still looking up and also trying to keep from stumbling as the ground heaved.

“Do you believe in the goodness of Mankind?”

“Yes.” They all called back, including Revin. Not long ago she thought she would have said no. But something in her chest forced out the positive response.

“Do you believe in the Goddess’ Will?”

Again, they all answered ‘Yes’.

Maeveen turned to speak directly to Revin. “Then believe in these truths…with all your heart.” The tone of Maeveen’s voice held a promise. “If you believe nothing else, I tell you, know that it is the Goddess’ Will that you call the Sentinel. It will only come if you call it.”

Me?

“Call now. Call with the song. Call with your heart.”

I can’t. I don’t know what to do. In her nine years as a dragon trader, since she was sixteen, she had dealt with riffraff and the lowest of vermin, but never had she been as frightened as she was now.

Both Maeveen and the Oma squeezed Revin’s shoulders.

‘The staff. The Covenant Staff. Raise it to the Sentinel,’ Maeveen’s voice filled Revin’s head as if the older woman had screamed it over the thundering chant and the ground which reverberated with a roar of its own.

Consumed by the moment and the frenzy that filled the Gathering, Revin lifted the bone-staff into the air.

A sudden sensation, like a spark, flowed to her from the two women, and Revin felt the heat under her skin rise until it was as if her blood were simmering at a low boil. And yet, with it a calm settled over her that seemed to flow from the center of her chest down her arms to the staff. She was amazed as the stone, the jewel, she quickly decided, began to glow, flaring into life and growing brighter.

The ground jumped as if trying to dislodge her and break the circle, but Revin constantly moved her feet to keep her balance. Then the ground fell away in front of her. To her own surprise, she didn’t move back, but kept singing with the others. The opening seemed to be constrained by the circle of white and plaid-dressed women.

A stench like rancid fish threaded with rotting eggs assaulted Revin, followed by a darkness that filled the air. It took her a moment to realize it wasn’t one thing, but hundreds of small flying beasts that filled the sky, an ever-increasing whirlwind of creatures above them. They were blacker than a moonless night and appeared to be little more than fangs and claws attached to bone-thin bodies, just like tales of the denizens of the Shadows told to scare little children. Then larger creatures with leathery-looking wings and jagged teeth rose out of the hole taking their place in the maelstrom. Revin’s eyelids partially lowered as the beating wings created a stiff wind that battered her face.

Periodically, one of the nightmare creatures separated from the whirlwind and dove at the circle of women.

Somehow, each time a demon came close, one of the men suddenly appeared and battled the monster, slaying it.

In the midst of the horror pouring forth from the hole, Revin remained focused as Maeveen and the Oma maintained a strong grip on her shoulders. It felt as if the additional heat transferred from them, through her and into the staff. She sang with all her heart, but not just words. Revin called out through her heart to the Sentinel, the gold-scaled dragon.

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