Of Cats and Dragons

Carol E. Leever Camilla Ochlan

Nights Gift

The Autumn King

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The Autumn King cover art

The explosive conclusion of the quest for the Autumn King!

What magic, what curses, what schemes await...

Through the Mountain of Shadow and into the Gated Lands, Omen and his companions travel right into the heart of darkness. Can they save the land? Can they save themselves? Or does the fate of the world ultimately hang on the antics of two chatty felines with a history more tangled than a ball of yarn?

OF CATS AND DRAGONS, where the epic meets the adorable.


 

Chapter 1: Wyverns

OMEN

Unable to see at first, Omen oriented himself toward the roars. A slight change in temperature and a rush of foul breath hit him. His nostrils flinched at the stink of rotten eggs and dusty decay.

Smells like someone needs a mint.

Omen's eyesight swam back into focus, and he quickly scanned his surroundings.

The wild portal had deposited the companions at the bottom of a shale pit that looked to be half the length of a galleon and at least twenty feet deep. In the center rested a carved stone platform very much like the rune-covered square in Kadana's forest. The sides of the pit rose at a shallow angle to firmer ground, which in turn sloped upward to the enormous mountain towering above them. Its craggy peaks sparkled in the harsh morning sun.

Too close to Omen, three grey dragon-like creatures thrashed around, flapping leathery wings furiously and belching out guttural gnarls in a dissonant chorus. Each was easily large enough to bring down a warhorse.

Long scaly bodies . . . lizard heads . . . oversized bat wings . . . two legs . . . nasty teeth. And they stink. Omen scrutinized his opponents. Sure enough, wyverns.

"Get behind me," he hissed at Kyr and positioned himself in front of the boy. Then he tossed his backpack on the ground, freeing his movements.

Kyr, Tyrin swaying on his shoulder, grabbed the discarded pack and moved a safe distance away, but Tormy stalked forward and stood at Omen's side. Orange coat on end, sticking out from beneath his saddle, Tormy looked three times his actual size. He snarled, baring fierce teeth and wrinkling his nose.

Omen saw that the others had spread out, taking up the far corners. They faced several more large lizard beasts who had wasted no time advancing on them. His companions had all drawn their weapons, and Dev and Liethan were already firing at the beasts — employing bow and crossbow respectively.

Just beyond them, a cluster of several more wyverns wriggled through the opening of a rounded cave. Foul-tempered, the creatures pushed and snapped at each other with great annoyance.

Like dinner's been served. Alarming.

Curiously, the creatures all swung a respectful distance around the portal stone, avoiding it as they advanced.

Omen took in the three beasts advancing on him and noted how their powerful legs tapered into long thick feet and ended in filthy clawed toes.

Talons long as swords. At least wyverns don't typically breathe fire, he thought, hoping he remembered his lessons on minor dragon kind correctly.

The wyverns' maws thrust forth, the creatures angrily displaying rows of sharp teeth formidable as jagged daggers.

"What by Night's pants are those things?" Nikki shouted from across the length of the pit. Protected by the armor Kadana had given him, he held the mace he'd been using against the orclets in one hand and a Deldano shield in the other.

"Wyverns! Hit their heads!" Templar hollered, bone swords drawn. He too had dropped his backpack, leaving him free to move swiftly. "They're vicious!"

Nikki and Templar stood back-to-back; a wyvern faced each of the men.

Shale crumbled under Omen's feet, and he had to steady himself. "Keep your balance!" he shouted. "If you fall down, they'll eat you."

But Omen had hesitated too long.

The nearest wyvern dove for Tormy. Fortunately, its only middling wings carried it with the same lack of precision and grace Omen had observed in chickens. Unfortunately, the wyvern was several times heavier than Tormy. Omen's blood ran cold as the creature crashed down on top of the cat.

But Tormy wriggled out of danger, compressing his body concertina-like, and then thrust himself forward, scratching and biting the vulnerable skin under the wyvern's extended wing.

The wyvern howled a pained shriek. Its large taloned feet shuffled backward a few steps, and it bumped the body of a fellow creature.

They're about as smart as chickens too.

Two wyverns launched for him, their black eyes like polished onyx, while the injured creature swung its head around and flapped its bloodied underwing.

Sword ready, Omen mumbled the words of a common domestic cantrip used by his mother's cook to steam vegetables quickly. A jaunty tune springing to mind as he formed the required pattern in his head, he directed the spell at the moisture of his opponents' eyes. It wouldn't blind them for long, but drawing water from their shiny eyes and boiling it even for a moment would buy Omen time.

The wyverns hesitated as the searing pain flicked across their corneas.

Omen swung his great sword at one pulsing throat, drew back fluidly, and stabbed through the other's chest. He'd wounded both beasts enough for them to pull away and backward crawl toward the large cavern they'd emerged from. Black blood dripped from their wounds, coating the ground and sending more creatures scrambling toward the smell.

"Shalonie's in trouble," Kyr shouted from behind him.

Across the pit, Shalonie and Liethan faced a single wyvern, while Dev — now in the center next to the portal square — shot arrows into the mess of wyverns emerging from the cave on the far side. Liethan had tossed aside his crossbow and drawn his sword as the creatures had closed in. Shalonie held her golden dragonscale sword in her left hand, her sword arm hanging limply at her side. Bright blood welled from her right shoulder, and her face was pale as if she were going into shock.

Sword arm wounded!

Liethan hacked at the beast with his own blade, but it kept its distance, weaving its head to take sneaky bites at both Shalonie and Liethan.

Omen wanted to rush to their side, but the two wyverns he had injured and the one clawed by Tormy blocked him from storming ahead.

Templar and Nikki battled two creatures in relative unison near the pit's other corner. What Nikki lacked in training, he made up in strength and courage. He soundly walloped the side of a wyvern's head with the heavy mace, years of hard labor making him as strong as any trained warrior. But one of the beast's clawed feet angled up with enough reach to rake across Nikki's thigh.

Templar, bone blades in both hands, had woven a web of blue lightning around his body. He moved with deadly speed and accuracy, striking his own opponent with the one blade — lightning surrounded the creature's head and sent it to the ground — while driving his other blade through the beast's eye socket. Immediately, Templar rushed another creature, blades whirling as he shouted Terizkandian challenges, drawing attention to himself and away from the others.

But even given all of Templar's skill, Omen realized in a sickening flash that they were facing too many of the creatures. The sides of the pit are too steep. They'll get us if we try to make it to the forest. We're trapped! Even more wyverns poured out of their cavern. There has to be another way.

"I is seeing a tiny cave!" he heard Tyrin cry. Omen snapped his head around to see the little cat sprinting toward another round cave opening directly behind them. Kyr bolted after Tyrin without hesitation.

Starless Night!

"Protect Kyr!" Omen screamed after Tormy, who'd already leaped in the direction Kyr and Tyrin were running.

From across the pit, Dev glanced after the boy and the cats even as he fired off several more arrows. "He's right! The cave is too small for the wyverns!" he shouted toward Omen.

Templar downed his second wyvern with a whoop, leaving Nikki free to run to Shalonie's aid. The young man moved in front of the woman, shield held before him as he caught a heavy blow from the wyvern attacking Shalonie. The wyvern's claws screeched across the shield's surface as Nikki pushed it back.

"Let's go!" Nikki yelled at Shalonie and Liethan. He bashed at the wyvern's flank with his mace, hitting it soundly. The creature briefly shifted its attention from Shalonie and Liethan in snapping pursuit of Nikki.

As if they'd rehearsed the maneuver, Nikki, Shalonie, and Liethan simultaneously started running in different directions, leaving the wyvern confused and frustrated. It howled and flapped its wings, kicking up dust and dirt.

Out of arrows, Dev drew his sword and sprinted toward the wyverns closing in on Omen. He brought his sword down on one tail, lopping the appendage off with one clean stroke.

Omen lashed out with his psionics, pushing all the creatures back with one hard shove and sending them scrambling to regain their footing — allowing the others to move in his direction. He and Templar took up forward positions, standing side by side as they faced down the attacking mob. Omen's only thought was to follow Kyr. Panic for what horrors could meet Kyr and the cats in the tunnel drove him forward, caution giving way to battle rage.

Long teeth grazed his side, but Omen twisted through the pain. The dearly won close proximity allowed him access to the biting wyvern's exposed neck. He hauled his blade back and drove it down into the wyvern's pulsing artery. Hot, dark blood shot out from between its grey scales and drenched Omen's face.

"Urgh, their blood stinks!" Templar hissed in disgust. He'd killed another of the advancing wyverns with his bone blades — striking yet another with the shimmering bolts of electricity that sparked around him.

"Get Shalonie into the cave!" Dev shouted to Liethan and Nikki as he pulled off his backpack and tossed it to Liethan. "We'll hold them off!" He then leaped onto the back of one of the creatures and sank his blade into its spine, bringing it crashing to the ground, while Nikki grabbed Templar's pack and Liethan's crossbow and retreated with Liethan and Shalonie toward the cave.

Dev rolled off the creature as it hit the ground and jumped to his feet a moment later, joining Omen and Templar in guarding the retreat.

The wave of wyverns rose before them, dozens now crawling over the bodies of their fallen nestmates as they rushed forward to strike. Their flapping black wings raised a screen of dust all around them, and their roars were deafening. Omen, Dev, and Templar backed away slowly, allowing the rest of the companions to make it into the small cave opening Tyrin had seen. Then, nearly as one, all three turned and ran for safety.