Before the Ascendant were chosen for Kryptik Island…

    The kiss of the sun and the soft symphony of song birds filled Dookraka’s soul with peace. The grass surrounded him as if he were a gigantic gray island in a sea of vibrant green. He had decided to sit and take leisure. How long ago had he arrived here? An hour ago? Two hours? He had lost track, but he paid the time no mind. So rarely was he able to sit quietly above ground that he truly treasured peaceful moments like these. Unfortunately, the serene scene was short-lived. In the distance, the thunderous sound of beating wings alerted Dookraka to the arrival of a dozen armored Auroris warriors.

    Glorious and regal, the winged warriors patrolled the skies, guarding their realm. Each one of them was outfitted in shining silver plate armor, a spear, a sword, and a shield. The guards banked hard and approached Dookraka’s position, causing the sun to reflect magnificently off their metallic forms. The unit of warriors landed one after another until they stood twenty or so paces from Dookraka.

    Valorian, the captain of the guard, and most imposing of the Auroris, approached the Inanis giant and called out, “You there! What excuse does Inanis scum have for sullying the kingdom of the Auroris?”

    Dookraka cautiously rose to his full stature, his robes unfurling in a cascade of gray cloth. He hoped his sheer size would deter Valorian from engaging. The Auroris soldiers held their ground, looking to Valorian for leadership. Their captain took two steps forward and demanded, " You stand before the captain of the Auric Dole, you will answer what is asked of you!"

    “I am unarmed. I mean no harm. Allow me to enjoy this day,” Dookraka replied in a deep, calm tone.

“Perhaps you are telling the truth, but an Inanis child that had been hiding among a family from the citadel fled and we--” Valoris started.

    Dookraka shifted his body and stepped back, revealing a sleeping Inanis child where he had been standing. Valorian’s eyes widened at the sight of the child and he stammered, “Monster! You will pay for standing between this bastard child and justice!”

    “You may call me a monster if you wish,” Dookraka stated with the slightest hint of venom in his voice. "but there is reason to be afraid of monsters."

    The giant leaned down and gently woke the child by brushing her cheek. The child’s eyes fluttered open.  She turned her face toward the ground to avoid the blinding sun.  With his thumb and index finger, Dookraka lifted the child as if she were a pinch of spice, and set her on her feet. She wiped the sleep from her eyes, yawned and mumbled, “Is it time to move again?”

    “No, child, it is not. The Auric Dole are here; they seek to reclaim you. Do you wish to return?”

    The child sobbed, overwhelmed with despair.  She wailed wildly, protesting, “No! No, please! I-I don’t want to go there! You said I wouldn’t have to go back! You said I wouldn’t have to go back!”

    A comforting finger stroked the child’s head and Dookraka hushed her, “Worry not. We are leaving now.”

    Drawing their weapons, the Auroris assumed their battle stances. Dookraka's face shifted from a gentle sadness to a severe and stoic mask. Dookraka softly whispered an incantation and waved his hand, freezing the child in place. Valorian stepped forward and prepared his weapon and shield. He called out, “And you dare use foul half-breed magic in our kingdom?!”

    “She does not need to carry this memory” Dookraka stated as agitation rose in his voice.

    Valorian continued to approach, even as he motioned for his men to stand back. He challenged Dookraka, saying “I, Valorian of the Auric Dole, wielder of my family's ancestral blade, Silverlight, will reclaim this child and wipe her half-breed stain from our people. Do you hear that, giant? I have killed your kind before, and you will not be the last to die by my sword!”

    He waited for a rebuttal, but after an awkward moment of silence, Valorian shouted, “If you do not release the child, be prepared, for when I approach, it will be with lethal intent.”

    Again, Dookraka did not reply; he was so motionless that he appeared as a massive monument to some forgotten monolithic beast. Valorian steadied himself and dug his heel into the soft earth before pushing off with all his strength toward his enemy. The beat of his wings audibly tore through the air, propelling him with such speed that he was instantly within striking range. As Valorian was half-way through his downward slash, Dookraka reached up and snatched his legs in his massive hand.  The force violently jerked Valorian’s body as his legs were crushed by Dookraka’s unfathomable strength. Before anyone could react, Dookraka hoisted Valorian into the air and then slammed him to the ground, dashing his brains in a torrent of gore across the grass. After a silent, protracted moment, Dookraka tossed Valorian’s broken, limp body towards his coterie. It landed lifelessly in front of them with a wet thud, rolling a few times as it left a trail of blood.

    “You do not have to die, too,” he warned the remaining warriors.

    Exchanging loathful glances, the Auroris soldiers quickly decided their course of action. In unison, they charged.

    From the sky above, Caine could see the carnage that Felicity had directed him to.  She motioned for him to land, and together they descended upon the battlefield. As the pair drew closer, the stench of the dead compelled Caine to retch. Felicity frowned at his weakness, but more so at the loss of brave Auroris soldiers. She scolded, “When you are finished, we should discuss how and why these men died for our realm.”

    Caine kept his eyes to the ground for a moment longer before taking in the gravity of the scene. His gaze shifted from each mangled mass of meat that had once been a proud, shining example of his people, to the next. He went to each of them and mourned, regaling Felicity with tales of their glorious Ascendant lives. Finally, he came upon Valorian, the most esteemed and beautiful of them all. Caine openly wept and lamented, “A terrible curse upon whoever is responsible! Who has done this?!”

    “A giant,” she explained, pointing to the crumpled metal of Valorian’s greaves. “See how his armor is damaged?”

    Following her gaze, Caine saw that the impressions on the metal did match that of a massive handprint. He gave a short nod and responded, “Hmm, yes, I do… it looks as if he was snatched at the knees. Did he crush him with his other hand?”

    “No, it doesn’t seem so. I believe the battle began with Valorian charging back there,” Felicity said as she shook her head and pointed to an area about twenty paces away where the grass has been blown back so forcefully that an imprint resembling wings remained.

    She continued, “The giant killed Valorian by slamming him into the ground there, then picked him up and just tossed his corpse aside.”

    “By the ancestors, what a monster. Why? What caused these men to engage such a creature?”

    “An Inanis child that was hidden by its parents was discovered in your ward of the citadel. It fled around the same time an Inanis giant was spotted lurking there. And before you start, I know you could not have known.”

    Caine opened his mouth to protest, but instead let out a sigh and gathered his thoughts. He queried, “You suggest that this giant escorted the child, and when confronted, turned to violence?”

    “Knowing Valorian, I would assume it was he who turned to violence, but I also imagine the giant refused whatever orders he was given. There isn’t any evidence of a child here. I wager Valorian thought this a chance for another laurel by slaying this Inanis beast and he got much more than he bargained for. The rest of them saw their commander killed… they couldn’t flee.  They died with dignity and honor. Good deaths to all.”

    “Good deaths to all,” Caine agreed. “Our next step is to find this monster. We should convene… what remains of the Auric Dole and inform Huldar of this.”

Written by Christopher Tesorio

Edited by Connor Policastro