High above an immaculately landscaped green mountainside, replete with parks and amusements, four figures seem frozen in an aerial tableau, like glittery embroidery on a blue tapestry of sky. A winged golden Drokar bares her teeth as she dives with hooves pointed towards the back of an Aeolun child, poised in her own dive towards an azure-uniformed white poodle riding another soaring mount whose colors match his rider's.
A deafening silence enshrouds the scene, as if the actors await their cue. Then, the figures explode into action, flyers hurtling forward along their trajectories, the wind a roar as it rushes past, whipping at hair and feathers, snatching at the angry scream of the golden Drokar, and the soft, fearful whickers of the white.
"Envoy! Behind you! Your Drokar has turned on you!" yells Elise. The blue-clad poodle woman reaches for her sword to unlatch it and its scabbard from her belt as she points ahand defiantly at the golden Drokar. "Secrets! Turn about! You cannot flee now or Envoy will be harmed!"
Still diving, the little Aeolun girl looks over her shoulder to see if Mystery really is about to attack.
Mystery streaks towards Envoy with bloodlust in her eyes, while Secrets plunges forwards despite his rider's exhortation, his head lowered to streamline his form, sides quivering with energy and tension as his wings beat fervently to put distance between himself and the angry golden form.
Envoy shrieks at the sight of the charging Drokar, and folds her wings against her body to let herself drop.
The white poodle finally unlatches her sword and holds that while her other hand grips the reins. With a pull, she tries to redirect Secret's downward flight and get the Drokar to turn around.
The jerk on his reins hauls Secrets' head around, interfering with his forward momentum and causing the Drokar to flounder in the air, legs and wings akimbo as he attempts to re-orient himself and obey his rider's directive. The Aeolun's maneuver drops her out of Mystery's path, and the metallic Drokar makes no effort to divert her own momentum. Instead, Mystery ploughs full force towards the wheeling white Drokar and his rider, closing the distance between them to a handful of yards.
Falling, Envoy unfurls her wings and tries to stabilize herself before looking around to see what's happening.
The poodle's eyes widen as she catches a glimpse of the ever nearing golden Drokar. She twists around at the waist so that she can keep an eye on that which is pursuing her. Scabbarded sword held aloft, the snow-white poodle tugs on the reins again and spurs Secrets onward, trying to get the Drokar to dodge out of the way for the moment.
Legs pinwheeling against the air and wings outspread, Secrets strives to drop out of the way of the vengeful Drokar, but with his flight rhythm disrupted, he is unable to avoid her. The young Aeolun below manages to reestablish control over her flight just in time to see the two Drokars collide with a crash of feathers and a spray of blood. For a moment, intertwined, gold and white and blue fall together towards the verdant mountainside, far below.
Envoy gasps, and dives after the falling bodies!
The echoing cry of the white Drokar's rider can be heard even as the sound rustling of feathers and falling bodies struggling can be heard. The white poodle appears to be wedged between the two Drokars while desperately trying to push them apart and keep the golden Drokar's head from biting at her.
"Elise!" Envoy calls, trying to catch up. She can't risk using a mirror now, in mid-air!
An unearthly shriek pierces the air, as Mystery's gold wings beat once, and then again, pulling her free from the plummeting white and blue pair. Blood flows freely from a gaping wound lanced across her chest and down one side, where Elise's sword entered her body. The gold Drokar's movement sends Secrets' body into a tumble, and his rider loses her seat, falling apart from him.
Envoy arrows in toward Elise, hoping to catch the poodle and soften her fall a bit.
Helplessly Elise reaches out her one free hand as she slips from her mount and into the open sky. Her hand falls short and she can do nothing but watch with widening eyes as she separates farther from the winged Drokar and draws ever closer to the ground, the blood from her sword leaving a trail of ichor through the sky. "Secrets, fly!" she cries out.
The Aeolun's plunge draws her closer to Elise, but Secrets abruptly regains control, pulling himself out of his dive with a whickering snort, and his sudden shift places him between Envoy and the poodle. The child involuntarily collides with his withers, though her small size prevents the impact from throwing him into another tail spin. He whickers anxiously, flailing in the air as he looks for his erstwhile rider.
Envoy angles off to avoid colliding again, and sets her sights again on Elise. "This way, Secrets!"
Meanwhile the descending Elise finds herself without much of anyone near her as the other two cease to fall. Like blue ribbon cast from on high, the noblewoman's uniform flutters violently as she plunges ever downward.
Secrets leaps towards the Aeolun, catching her collar lightly in his teeth, then, noting the direction of his former passenger, he plummets towards her. Abruptly, another searing cry draws attention once more to the wounded Drokar, whose unabated anger focuses again on the blue-clad Gallee. She joins the others in diving for Elise, and her fury gives the white Drokar pause.
Folding her wings again to keep them out of Secret's eyes, Envoy hopes her collar holds. "You have to go faster!"
Witnessing the anger of the golden Drokar and the return of her mount, Elise notes the imminent collision be it with her rescuers, that which seeks to harm her, or the solid ground below. She takes a moment to glance over her shoulder at the hillside below and her ears flatten against her head in fear of what may come.
The white Drokar's hesitation allows the gold time to close with Elise. Red blood speckles her feathered hide as Mystery directs a brutal slash of her hooves towards the poodle. Secrets whickers in fear and resumes his own descent towards Elise, though not, it seems, swiftly enough.
"Grab onto Mystery, Elise!" the Aeolun calls. "Try to get onto her back!"
Elise attempts to level her sword against the golden winged Drokar in a clumsy attempt to defend herself in mid-air.She glares daggers at the raging beast though since her expression is lacking in conviction, this betrays her fear. She seems to hear the call of the young Aeolun and shifts her sword to the side so that maybe if the Drokar misses, or even hits her, she can grab it.
Mystery shies at the last moment from Elise's sword, and for an instant, the white reins around her neck whip towards Elise.
Envoy tries to get around onto Secret's back by crawling around the Drokar's neck.
Spotting her chance, Elise reaches over for the reins in an attempt to grab hold of them!
The canine's hands latch onto the white leather, and Mystery hauls her head back abruptly in surprise. The motion serves to draw the falling Gallee's body closer to the gold Drokar, and one of her legs brushes against the animal's feathered side.
The white Drokar assists his little passenger in re-mounting by curving his neck around to follow her, then releasing her collar as she scrambles into place in his saddle.
As best she can, the white poodle struggles to pull herself up and around. She catches one of her legs on the Drokar's saddle and tries to slide around and pull herself more fully up to it.
Envoy doesn't bother with Secrets' reins, and just gets a good grip on the saddle and checks for any cuts or wounds on the Drokar's back.
Elise manages to seat herself, with some difficulty, on the faltering gold Drokar's back. Mystery's sides heave with the effort of staying airborne, blood dripping a trail from her right foreleg. Nonetheless, after a moment, she seems to regain stamina, but rather than attempting to buck Elise off, she shifts the beats of her wings, bringing her descent to a halt, then once again ascending. Secrets' disarrayed feathers mask minor injuries, but he seems largely unhurt, though shaken, and had entered a holding pattern while Elise mounted the gold Drokar. As Mystery begins to ascend, he moves out of it, whickering nervously, and ascending as well, ahead of the other Drokar.
Now seated and finding herself moving away from the ground, Elise takes up the reins and tries to direct her toward the mountain top. "To the summit, Mystery," she commands in a tired voice. The poodle reaches a free hand and runs the back of it across her forehead as she tries to calm down.
"Elise! Do you have Mystery under control?" Envoy calls down.
Looking up from Mystery, Elise smiles off at Envoy. "I do believe so!" she answers.
"Let's follow, okay Secrets?" the Aeolun whispers to the Drokar she's riding.
Mystery's answering cry seems as weary as Elise's, but her spirit draws strength from her rider's encouragement. She races towards Secrets with renewed enthusiasm, and the skittish white Drokar leaps higher, resuming the flight, and his lead, despite Envoy's suggestion.
Envoy waves back towards Elise, and advises, "Whatever you do, don't jump off!"
Ahead, among the clouds at the mountain's summit, a glittering circle beckons the four figures closer.
Riding upon the back of the golden winged Drokar, Elise gives Envoy a look in response to her suggestion. She shakes her head, and then turns back to face the distant summit, still trying to catch her breath.
Squinting, Envoy tries to make out any features of the circle, wondering what it is. "There's something up ahead on the summit!"
"I see it! Whatever could that be … ? It appears as a … ring of some sort?" The poodle woman leans forward a bit in an attempt to get a better look at the far off circle, being careful not to put any weight on the Drokar's injuries.
Mystery cries out again, and this time her spirited bellow is tinged with pain. Despite her determination, the gap between herself and Secrets only grows, as the spooked white Drokar flees from his companion's strong emotions. As they close on the glittering circle, it becomes clear that it is above the mountain top, not on it a ring set within the clouds themselves, glistening in the sunlight.
"It might be a floating palace," Envoy speculates, calling back and noticing the widening gap.
Welcoming sunshine rushes through the circle, bathing Envoy and Secrets in warm yellow light as they enter the sky below the ring, beckoning the pair to ascend into it. The shadows of the clouds fall over Elise and Mystery as the gold Drokar valiantly flies onwards, blood pouring from the wound in her chest with every stride.
With concern crossing her face, Elise takes her gaze from the mountain and takes a moment to look over her mount. "Mystery is … not going to survive," she tells the other rider. The poodle sheathes her sword without bothering to clean it as she normally would and uses her free hand to run her fingers through the dying Drokar's mane.
Envoy blinks as Elise and Mystery seem to vanish behind the clouds. "What's happening? Secrets, where are they?"
The mountain, far below the riders, seems less welcoming now, with the shadow of the clouds over them. Secrets whickers at Envoy's request, his head twisting around, buthis wing beats do not falter as he flies ever closer to the glittering ring.
Elise lifts her gaze again to watch Envoy and the white Drokar pass beyond the clouds and vanish from sight. She sighs softly, watching her mount again. "She will do just fine, do you not think?" she asks the golden Drokar, not expecting any answer. As she speaks, she continues to run her hands through the Drokar's mane in an attempt at comforting the dying beast.
Envoy wipes away some tears, and looks up towards the circle. "The handler said only one would make it… "
Deciding that her mount will be unable to make the ascent Elise directs Mystery toward the hillside instead. "Come on now, just a little bit further … " she tells her mount, her voice losing that commanding tone she used earlier.
The gold Drokar's characteristic scream is only an echo of its former self, barely audible as Secrets passes through the glittering circle. Through the mist of the clouds, and the deep shadow Elise is now under, she catches a glimpse of the two passing into a brilliant, sunlit world. Then a single, rattling cry emerges from Mystery's throat, and the gold Drokar's wings stop moving. Once again, she and Elise plummet downwards.
Elise sets her jaw, both to repress building sadness and renewed fear. With her mount's death, she stares downward at the ground once more. Locks of the poodle's hair begin to whip up around her as she and the once proud Drokar fall from the sky.
Envoy hears two distant cries as Secrets climbs into the light. "I'll make it up to you, Elise," she quietly promises.