When Brian awoke, the dragon was gone, and he was horribly thirsty, as well as cramped and feeling strange from sleeping in his clothes. He yawned and looked around. At his feet was a golden goblet of water, as well as his favorite breakfast, bread and honey. He was halfway through the meal when he realized the dragon might have poisoned it, then realized it would have killed him already if it wanted to, so he shrugged and finished the meal. He was almost done when Scarlet returned.
"Did you sleep well, Brian?" asked Scarlet, smiling slightly. Brian nodded and stood up. "I want to go home now."
Scarlet cocked her head and looked at him. "But don't you want to become a hero? A strong one, able to protect your family?"
Brian looked up at her, for some reason no longer scared of her. "Yes, I do. But I want to see my mom to make sure she's all right."
Scarlet laughed. "You are certainly true hero material, Brian. Tell you what. After I make you into a hero, you can go back and see your mother." She sat down, curling her tail around her haunches. "And I will make you into a hero today."
Brian frowned. "But I've always heard that one can never become a hero easily. This sounds way too easy."
Scarlet looked solemn. "You're right," she said, "I must tell you one thing. It's going to hurt. A lot. Do you think you could stand being hurt for a little while if it meant becoming a hero?"
Brian thought about this a moment, then straightened up. "Yes, I could. I'm not afraid!"
Scarlet smiled. "Good. Follow me."
Brian, a little nervous, stood up and followed her out of the cave. She scooped him up gently and flew off, until they reached another mountain. Near the top of this mountain was a small, flat area. Scarlet landed on this area. Near the center were eight rocks arranged in a perfect circle, each a different color. One was a bluish type of quartz, another was a glassy red, one was amethyst, and one was a natural brown. Continuing around the circle, one was black obsidian, the next a powdery yellow, the next was white marble, and the last appeared to be a block of petrified wood, somewhat smaller than the other stones. Brian looked at the odd formation, then looked back at Scarlet, a questioning look on his face.
Scarlet looked at Brian solemnly. "Stand in the center of the stones. Are you sure you want to do this? Like I said, it's going to hurt."
Brian straightened up, walking to the middle of the odd formation and standing up straight, facing Scarlet with a determined look. "I'm ready. I don't care how much this hurts, as long as I'll be able to protect everyone after it's over." He took a stance in the middle of the formation, almost a fighting stance.
Scarlet looked at him with a serious expression. "So, you are willing?"
Brian looked at her solemnly, and drew in a deep breath. "I'm willing."
Scarlet looked even more serious. "Good. Stand still in the center of the circle. Close your eyes. And whatever you do, do NOT step out of the circle." Brian obeyed...
Scarlet began her spell. She reared up on her hind legs, and opened her mouth wide. Her eyes began to glow. One by one, the stones surrounding Brian began to glow, first very faintly, then with increasing intensity. While the stones increased their intensity, clouds began to gather, and a small rumble of thunder was heard. As the stones increased the intensity of their light, She let out a loud roar as a beam of energy shot from her eyes. At that same moment, a similar beam from four of the stones in the circle shot upward and the five beams converged just in front of Brian.
There the beams stopped as if blocked by something, and a roaring sound could be heard. The earth shook in a small earthquake. A light drizzle began to fall, and lightning raced across the sky above the mountain. A single stroke of lightning struck a tree, and a forest fire began to crackle at the base of the mountain. A multicolored cloud of magic began to form at the point of convergence.
The four beams from the stones stopped, and four beams from the other stones shot forth, adding to the cloud of magic power. Scarlet did not cut off the beam of energy coming from her eyes, and the cloud grew until it was almost as big as Brian. Though the sky was nearly overcast, a small part of the moon could be seen, the light from it illuminating only a portion of the plateau, leaving the rest shrouded in darkness.
The beam shooting from Scarlet' eyes stopped abruptly, and so did the beams coming from the circle of rocks. The multicolored cloud of energy hung there for a moment. Then, it shot forward, hitting Brian full in the chest. He screamed and fell to the ground, jerking and writhing as the magical energy flowed over him. He did not open his eyes, however. Scarlet dropped to all fours and watched breathlessly, not daring to move for fear she would disturb something. Finally, the glowing cloud grew smaller and smaller, and finally vanished. Brian lay there, unconscious. Scarlet waited patiently. Finally, Brian's head moved a little. There was dead silence. Slowly, Brian got to his feet, his eyes still closed.
This was what Scarlet was waiting for. She took two steps forward, and placed her front claws on two of the stones. All light had faded from them. She then drew herself up to her full height. "ARISE, MY SERVANT!! YOU SHALL NO LONGER BE KNOWN AS BRIAN, BUT AS MANAKNIGHT!! YOU SHALL SERVE ME AND ALL SHALL DESPAIR!!!" Brian's eyes flew open, to reveal the same swirling patterns of magic power raging in them. Scarlet shrieked in triumph, a cry that could be heard for miles. Brian walked forward a bit, then fell on one knee, bowing before Scarlet.
"I am Manaknight. You have awakened me. I serve you, master. Command me and I shall obey." Brian's tone had changed; his voice had almost a resonant quality to it.
Scarlet scanned him and gave a little sigh. She had not failed, but she had not entirely succeeded, either. The boy had only been infused with half the magic, for some reason. The last four magicks had failed... The Light, Dark, Moon, and Spirit had not succeeded. She would puzzle this out later, and wondered if she could try again, once she captured Xeiss. Scarlet moved from her thoughts and turned to Manaknight. The dancing, swirling patterns of magic caught her eye as he looked up at her expectantly.
"Manaknight, I must have a test of your loyalty. My first command to you is to return to Westmarch. I promised he which was once you that he would see his family again. And so he shall. However, you must destroy the place you used to call home. Kill your mother and brothers, and return to me with proof that you have done so. Only then will you have proved your loyalty beyond doubt..."
"We'll be to Westmarch soon." Glitterspike looked eager. "We'll consult with the high priest when we're there. I wonder if there have been any more sightings of Scarlet."
Xeiss shook her head. "We would have heard of it, if there had been."
Sereven was up ahead, scouting. Suddenly, he turned. "Something is wrong."
"What?" said Xeiss. "We haven't even gone to the spot where Scarlet was spotted."
"I know," muttered Sereven. "But still. Something isn't right."
The party topped the hill and were shocked at the sight. Westmarch was ablaze. Those buildings that could not be set on fire were knocked over, crushed.
Glitterspike broke into a dead run. "No..." He passed through the ruined gates and took in the city in horror. "How could this be..."
Xeiss bent down and touched a giant print in the ground. "I think I know who's responsible," she said quietly. "We were too late."
"Split up! Look for survivors!" shouted Glitterspike frantically. The party split up and headed into the town...
Manaknight worked his way down toward the ruined town of Westmarch, unthinking, unheeding of anything. No one paid any attention to him; all they saw was a thirteen-year-old boy, and they had bigger problems to worry about. The roads were filled with the few survivors of the dragon raid. He had to be the only one trying to get into Westmarch, not out. The magic swirled behind his eyes, consuming his mind with the orders of the one that had raised him... the one that had freed him. He stopped, and turned down the familiar street, running a hand along the bricks of a ruined house.
Finally, he came to a door... a familiar door. He couldn't quite place it for a moment. Then he remembered. The dragon's orders. He had lived here, once. They would be here. He put his hand on the doorknob, hesitated a moment, then entered.
The room was empty. There was no roof or second story to the house; they had been carelessly torn off by the dragon. Nothing moved except the wind. Manaknight took another look around, twirled round and strode out the door. He would find them...
In the Town Square, the wounded survivors had gathered for help. Mercy was doing the best she could, along with Glitterspike. Both were covered with blood, sweat and dirt, especially Glitterspike. Xeiss was sitting cross-legged with her eyes closed, breathing deeply. The others were doing the best they could to help the wounded.
Manaknight ignored them, and scanned the town square for the three he was looking for. Spotting them on the far end, he strode toward them with deliberation. His mother looked up and saw him, and began running toward him. Manaknight was momentarily confused - prey was not supposed to act like this - but he quickly regained his composure. His mother flung her arms around his neck. He hesitated a moment, then his eyes started to glow a bright blue as he hugged her. She began to make choking noises, and pulled away from her son, holding her neck. She coughed up water twice and gasped, but it didn't seem to help. She gurgled, and fell to the ground, flailing like a drowning person. Then, she shuddered, and lay still. Manaknight slowly took a small necklace from around her neck. His younger brothers stared at him. One of them spoke timidly, shaking at his mother's corpse. "Mommy?"
Manaknight didn't say a word, but his gaze turned to his brother, and the color of his eyes began to change. They swirled, and settled into a deadly shade of brown. A vine from a nearby plant began to grow rapidly, reaching for the child. Swift as a snake, it wrapped itself around his neck and began pulling. The child screamed as the vine contracted. He struggled, but then fell back limply. Manaknight reached over and pulled the tiny teddy bear out of his brother's lifeless arms.
However, the scream had attracted the attention of the others in the square. A few were running toward Manaknight. He reacted instinctively, thoughtlessly, seeking only to complete his task. A well-aimed fist in the gut of one who got in the way, a backhand to another. His eyes burned an evil red. Thoughtlessly, relentlessly, he pursued his brother.
Then, suddenly, someone calmly stepped between him and his brother. She brandished two swords, lowering them at his neck. He recognized her. The one that was to have been what he was. Xeiss.
His eyes flared white, and he rushed at her, bringing his hand up as he did and unleashing a blast of air. She flew backwards, but managed to land on her feet. She jumped in between Manaknight and his brother again. Frustrated, he pointed toward the ground and muttered something, and the earth started to shake. Xeiss stumbled and nearly fell, but then held her ground, somehow. She looked at Manaknight quietly.
"Tell your master," she said softly and firmly, "that there will be no more killing today."
Manaknight scowled and spoke in a deep tone. "It should have been you. One day it will be. The dragon spoke! ONE DAY! One day it will be you, Xeiss!" He turned and ran, leaving Xeiss a little confused, and very worried.
Manaknight didn't look back. He didn't dare fight Xeiss... not now... But the day would come.
It was only beginning...