Rikkas Silverclaw glanced over his shoulder, a fearful look on his face. The crimson rider was gaining on him, though slowly. The forest was starting to get thick, and dodging all the trees and fallen limbs was going to get difficult.
For the rider, that is. Rikkas was doing fine. In fact, he wasn’t even worried. If anything, he was getting frustrated that it was taking so long for the rider to catch up. The Silverclaw Gambit is hard to pull off, but it has to be sold—Rikkas had to run, in order to make the rider think Rikkas wasn’t a real threat.
The rider had spotted him when he first crested a hill outside of Utica. The bright pillar of light coming from the city had woken him up, and he wanted to know what it was; he had no idea it would lead him straight to his destination. When he got there, though, he saw some things—unmanned walls, smokeless chimneys, unlit windows—that made him nervous. He was in the process of trying to decide what to do next when the rider arrived, and decided for him.
Unfortunately, Rikkas was at a huge initial disadvantage to the rider. He had a small arming sword, but the rider had thick armor, a big broadsword, and a really big horse. Rikkas knew that he had to level the playing field, and he figured that a Silverclaw Gambit would be the best way. So, when the rider approached, he feigned fear, yelped loudly, and made a beeline for the forest. As soon as he did, he started tapping into his Dragon blood, building up a large pool of the magic, which he knew he’d need soon.
Making sure to look terrified, Rikkas looked back again. The rider was finally getting close. Rikkas pretended to catch his foot on a stump, and stumbled. The rider closed in, and lifted his sword for a downward lunge. As Rikkas fell to the ground, he felt the sword plunge deep into his ribcage, and cut his stomach.
In Arkhosian culture, the Silverclaw Gambit got its name a few generations back, when Grakkas and Rikkas’ great-grandfather decided to use his enemy’s strength against him through careful application of Dragon magic. Though often very effective, it was an extremely risky and dangerous strategy, and most of the other Dragonkin considered the Silverclaws fools for relying on it so frequently. Even after Grakkas perfected the move (to the point where he could pull it off reliably without putting himself in any real danger), it was still frowned upon as a valid tactic among the Arkhosians. After all: one wrong move, one mistake, and you’re dead.
As the sword tore through his scales and his flesh, as it split his organs and scraped his bones, Rikkas immediately released all his pent-up Dragon magic in three separate, intense empowerments.
First, he empowered his pain tolerance, because BY THE SKY did this hurt.
Second, he empowered his bones and scales. As he fell, so tight was his now-empowered body’s grip on the sword, that it was ripped right out of the rider’s hand. It would be like trying to pull a sword from a falling stone: not happening.
Finally, he empowered his right shoulder. As the horse passed by his now-prostrate form, Rikkas reached out and grabbed its back leg with all the grip he could muster. Without the magic, his arm would have been ripped from his body. Instead, it just felt like it was. The grab certainly didn’t stop the horse, but it made it stumble a little, and confused it a lot. It tripped on a fallen branch it couldn’t see, and tossed its rider from the saddle as it fell.
One important caveat to a successful Silverclaw Gambit is that the Dragon mage in question has to actually survive. As Rikkas lay on the ground, he feared he might have messed that part up. Fighting the urge to pass out, he rolled over and propped himself up with one arm. The sword had gone straight through his abdomen, and was actually poking out his other side a little. He took a rapid series of short, pained breaths, and focused his magic.
Anyone who has ever had any kind of weapon pulled or removed from their body will tell you that it always hurts worse coming out than it did going in. Rikkas nearly collapsed from the pain as he focused all his might and magic into not dying as he extracted the blade from his side. When he finally did, he let out a huge sigh, and turned to examine the wound. To any non-Dragon mage, this would probably be fatal. Rikkas, however, knew he’d be alright, as he’d recovered from something about as bad not even two seasons ago. He began channeling a small amount of his magic into closing up the wounds as he got to his feet. A quick glance showed that the wound was already beginning to close up, though it would still be close to a week before he’d be fully recovered.
He made a line for where the rider had landed. Somewhere in the forest, a distant whinny told him that the horse had taken off, likely still startled by the fall. He was already starting to feel his strength return, and by the time he arrived at where the rider was just getting back on its feet, he considered the playing field sufficiently leveled.
Rikkas’ Estanic was terrible, but he knew pantomime well enough. He tossed the sword aside, and approached the rider with his palms showing, and a calm look on his face. The rider was in a loose fighting stance, but a large dent in his helmet told Rikkas that he’d hit the ground hard, and was likely a little disoriented. A punch to the face would probably exacerbate that.
Rikkas punched him in the face.
An audible “snap” came from inside the helmet as Rikkas’ gargantuan fist made contact, and for a moment he feared that he’d accidentally killed the guy. When he saw a broken leather fastener fly out from inside the armor’s collar, however, he relaxed. A Dragon-empowered uppercut sent the helmet flying somewhere deep into the forest, and knocked the rider into sometime next week.
Rikkas nearly lost his lunch when he first got a glimpse of the rider’s face. Ignoring the number Rikkas had just done on him, the guy looked like he’d lost two separate fights with a meat tenderizer and a gravel road, and contracted the plague somewhere in between. He’d always thought humans looked pretty gross, but this was just downright unnatural. As Rikkas examined him further, he grew more and more confident in the assessment that, while this guy might have been human once, he clearly wasn’t any more.
A quick crush of the monster’s throat promised a painless, sleeping death. Just to be sure, however, Rikkas twisted off a piece of the thing’s armor and pierced its heart. It would be a grisly scene for whoever came upon it, but at least the creature wouldn’t try to hurt anyone else.
As Rikkas wiped off his hands, he noticed his breath catching in front of him. His adrenaline during the fight—and his magic before then—had blinded him to the cold. It came over him in a flash, and he realized just how chilly it was; even Haven in winter never got this cold. Between the cold, the pillar of light, and this mysterious rider, he could tell that something had gone incredibly wrong. He sighed as his thoughts drifted to his brother.
He whispered a silent wish to himself. “I hope you’re doing okay, Grakkas. I have a feeling I’m gonna need your help, and soon.”