SPYRO: DAWN OF LIGHT
Cynder sat atop the stone spire, watching the tan sky as the sun rose over the huge spires of Tall Plains in the distance. "Terrador said Tall Plains rests on pillars of ancient magma veins...hence the fertile soil, and because Concurrent Skies floats over it in its orbit, there's plenty of rainfall for crops..." She shook her head and furled her wings closer as the wind whipped around her. Glancing down, she saw Spyro below her on the small shelf they'd slept on, still snoozing soundly. "We need to move but...he needs the sleep..." Looking out over the horizon again, she felt increasingly saddened, the sun a pale disk amid a brown sky. She suddenly felt like crying...how had things come to this? All her dreams of living a peaceful life...were her dreams just that and nothing more? What was going to happen?
A tear rolled down her cheek and fell, the wind whipping it right onto Spyro's nose. He started and sneezed, wiping his nose with a paw and then looking at it when he felt moisture. Looking up for rainclouds, he spotted black scales several feet above, another tear hitting him just below his eye. He flinched and blinked a few times, still a bit stupid with fatigue, then stretched and climbed up behind her. "Cynder? You okay?"
She shook her head and shivered. "Spyro...I'm so scared..."
"What about?? Spyro...our world is on the verge of destruction, everything's falling apart! Look at the sky!"
"Yeah I see it."
"How can you be so nonchalant about it?!" she cried. Spyro sat up and pulled her to his chest, wrapped his arms and wings around her.
She beat her paws against him, trying to pull free, albeit halfheartedly before she gave up and hid her face against his neck. "I'm so tired of all this...I wanna go home..." she sobbed. Spyro just sat there quietly, hugging her tight to his chest and slowly rocking side to side. Eventually he loosened his grip on her so she could sit back.
"I'm scared too Cyn...maybe even more than you are. The darkness is after my power. Everything is falling around us but it's not fallen yet. There's still hope, even in the darkest times. And it's not dark yet."
"I don't want that darkness to fall over us...I just wanna have a normal life..."
"I know you do. I do too. But we're the only ones strong enough to do this. Now come on. Let's head to Tall Plains, kick some ass, then go bunker down and wait out the Night and see if it really does fall or not. We have four days."
She nodded and wiped her eyes, sniffling a bit. "How do you do it, Spyro? How do you put up with so much awful stuff?"
Spyro shook his head with a sigh. "I don't know. I'm kinda forced to." His stomach growled loudly. Cynder giggled.
"Well, one less thing to put up with...an empty stomach. Let's eat." She produced some of the dried fish she'd prepared, the two eating quickly and then taking to the air. Tall Plains lay before them, a vast array of giant pillars of rock, some thin, some miles wide, all the ruins of an ancient volcano bed that had once been connected to what was now Mount Boyzytbig. On the fringe columns lay small farms and plots of crops, the interior of the complex bearing a lush jungle habitat. With the growing haze, though, everything was beginning to brown and sag. They landed in a wide-open field of wheat, recently reaped and brushing against their chests as they strode through. The place looked dead. The wheat had grown decently, but most of the other tall crops were wilting, looking like skeletal plants with green hanging off. There was also a faint scent of compost around them. "This place used to be so scenic..."
Spyro nodded glumly, not really replying. He'd helped sow these very fields only a few months back. They came up to an irrigation terrace; the fields were designed in elevated steps, with small mills for water circulation at the tops of the steps along with windmills and chimes. Glancing up, Spyro realized...the chimes were quiet despite the wind. The small wind turbine powering the mill was disabled, a crude staff of stripped wood jammed between the gears and braced against the ground. Flicking his claws, swift blades of ice flew forth and snapped the branch, the windmill spinning in the breeze and the chimes attached to it ringing clearly. "Wonder who did this..."
"Uh...Spyro, I think you just called some company!" Cynder called out below him, crouching on the ground. Approaching her were several large armadillo creatures. Simultaneously they lunged forward at her, curling up into armored balls. She weaved aside, but they stuck their feet out to catch the earth in their rolling, redirecting their tumbling. Cynder rolled around one but then realized she'd been duped, another was heading right at her!
"Get back!!" Spyro shouted above her, lunging down paw-first between her and the armadillo, huge claws of ice projecting from his paw into the ground. The spherical creature hit the claws hard, stunning itself. Spyro followed up with a spinning tail whip, knocking it back into another one readying for another tackle. Cynder slipped into the shadows, slinking through the wheat. Spyro charged a blast of fire, but before he could properly target the next armadillo rolling at him, a blast of shadow burst from the ground beneath it, hideous gashes of energy swiping over it. The shelled enemy squeaked and rolled over, vanishing in a puff of gems. "More gem enemies...figures," he growled. Cynder popped up from the ground and collected the gems. "Let's keep going."
It was the same general fare the further in they went, closer and closer to the forest through the fields. Several times, Cynder stopped and stared out over the oceans of gold wheat, rippling serenely in the wind. Even with the dull brown haze it was a pretty sight. Sightseeing would have to wait though as they entered the thick jungle ahead. The Atllawas were crafty; anyone not familiar with their customs and methods would quickly get the point from automated blowdarts or have the message driven home by spikes or have some sense pounded into them by swinging logs. Spyro knew most of their trps and guided Cynder around them, though the both of them quickly found it necessary to avoid this entirely and melt into shadows. Spyro wanted to fly but Cynder reminded him that though flight would give them a better lookout of where they were headed, it also made them perfect targets. As if to strengthen her statement, several Dreadwing screeches echoed over them. Though they could easily take out the creatures, this time they wanted to conserve their energy in case they had a huge battle ahead. Melting into shadows ate up their power but allowed them to travel much more swiftly, into the less-protected inner areas. Large stone walls, buildings, and small ziggurats dotted the area, complete with bamboo-spike gates. "I'd hate to show up unannounced..." Cynder mused, looking over the gates. "How do we get in?"
"Like this," Spyro replied, bounding over to a large carved stone ball that just barely reached his head. Cynder stared at it; it was covered in elaborate tribal carvings, the carved lines filled in with various paints. It was also scratched and worn down a bit from being rolled around, as Spyro promptly demonstrated by skull-bashing the ball. Surprisingly, the huge stony orb rolled quite far, as if it weighed far less than it looked. The two dragons took turns rolling it towards an engraved divot in the paving. Upon rolling into the divot, they heard a small click and the gates began to roll open. Entering the small village area, the two stopped and hunkered, ready to spring as a large vine-covered stone golem lumbered up to them. To their confusion it ignored them entirely, walking up to a lever by the gates and pulling it. The gates closed, and the golem seemed to go limp where it stood, falling completely still. Nearby, another golem slowly plodded from a house, carrying a basket full of cloth.
"Am I having a moment or did I get stung by some hallucinogenic thorn?" Cynder asked.
"We must both be high then," Spyro remarked, edging around the laundry-laden lumbering creature. Again he was totally ignored, as if he wasn't there at all. "C'mon, let's go find Kane and ask him about this place. See if he knows anything."
Tephra sighed softly, laying a paw on the image of Grendor in the crystal scrying orb. A faint smile showed itself as she watched him carefully realign the crystal matrix of a large golem. Her smile faded though as she moved her paw, causing the image to shift to Spyro and Cynder. "Gren, heads up, Spyro and Cynder are in the jungle, biome tower 2B, headed right for you. Looks like they found Kane."
"I am aware," he replied. "Let them come, it'll be a good research opportunity, if they plan to attack me."
"But Plan 4-G..."
"Just trust me on this one Teph."
"Lemme guess...part of Ripto's almighty plan."
"He still hasn't told you?"
She growled. "No. He still sees me as an inferior tool."
Grendor growled and shook his head. "I'll have a talk with him when I get back."
"Make sure you come back safely..." she said softly, watching Spyro and Cynder. A small twinge of pain raced through her when Cynder licked Spyro's cheek and he blushed. "Want me to toy with them a bit?"
"You stay at the mountain. If Ripto manages to break through the sealing layer before the Eternal Night, we won't have a need for the lunar eclipse, but if it's a trap we need your earth powers."
She sighed again, watching Cynder bounce around Spyro and then glomp him, the two of them rolling in the brush as Spyro tried to fend off her tickling. "Hey Gren..."
"When we've unlocked the mountain...let's run away. Just the two of us. Away from Ripto, away from Gaul and Gnasty and Spyro and the Guardians and all these others."
The rhynoc mage froze; beneath his huge hat she couldn't tell what his reaction was. "It's a tempting notion...I'll have to...um...think about it..."
"Spyro and Cynder have reached the Fellmuth envoys."
"I see. I'll finish up here then if I can."
Cynder snarled and spun around on her paw, her tail whipping around and slicing an ape's throat. It fell backwards with a faint grunt and vanished in a puff of smoke and sparks. "Why do they bother dressing up in that tacky tribal mimickry?" she asked, watching Spyro toss another up into the air with his horns and use his motion to flip backwards, whipping the ape with his tail.
"They're apes, who knows what goes on in their heads..." Spyro mused, hopping down next to her.
"I HEARD THAT!!" came a heavy bellow. From the captain's quarters of the small ship they were on, a huge burly ape with two bone-bladed cleavers came charging at them, knocking Spyro aside. Cynder shrieked and rolled out of the way, the ape too heavy to slow himself and crashing into the mast pole. She lunged into the air and exhaled sharply, a stream of acid coating the heavyweight. He yowled and danced around in pain, not watching where he was going and subsequently diving headfirst over the edge into the mists far below.
"Yeesh..." she mumbled, wincing. "That's gonna hurt." She and Spyro glanced at each other and laughed, strolling away. Spyro glanced back, then paused. "Hang on, I wanna try something." Cynder stepped aside as he turned around. Spyro held his paws out and breathed flame over them, then clapped his paws together and swiftly pulled them apart. A large fire spear appeared, hovering over his right paw. He drew back and flung it. It hit the deck of the closest envoy ship with a loud blast and rush of hot air, the deck catching on fire. "Huh. I was hoping for more. Oh well."
"Isn't that what you did back at Dante's Freezer?" Cynder asked, tilting her head in curiosity. "When you did it there it cut through the ice quite deep."
"This spear was only a collection of fire and nothing more. The spear I used back then, I was focusing my power on. I can repeat it on that other ship if you want," he added, sticking his tongue out teasingly.
"Nah, let's save our power. Kane said Terrador was taken to the far shrine, we need to get there."
"Yeah...let's get going." Spreading his wings he glanced around. "Y'know what, let's just fly. It's practically a long hop away anyway." Cynder followed him up into the air, the two gaining a much better view of their surroundings. Indeed, not too far away was the lone pillar upon which rested the largest worshipping area the Atllawas had dedicated. It looked as though a grand shrine had been erected in the past, from all the crumbling bricks, but now it was merely a walled-on open space. Spyro remembered it well; that shrine houses one of the Atllawa's "shrine gods", a tremendous golem that had been infused with earth-based magic reservoirs in ages past. By offering it tributes every year, the Atllawas gained its "graces", and it would dispense some accumulated magic throughout the network of stone pillars, fertilizing the soil for the new year. Spyro had had to take out the golem when it unexpectedly went completely berserk. Many of the Atllawas still blamed him for the recent crop failures, despite it being proven that the "shrine god" was only a programmed creation, not a god, and the fact that the haze was preventing sunlight from properly getting to the plants. As they gained a bit more altitude to look things over, Spyro caught sight of movement at the shrine. "Cynder, there's someone down there."
Cynder squinted, then gasped and fell from the air. Spyro landed by her with a questioning glance. "It's Grendor!! What the hell is he doing here?!"
Spyro snarled. "Well let's go ask him then, I've got an entire interrogation list for that bastard."
"Spyro you don't know what he's capable of! His magic is far stronger than-"
His paw over her mouth shushed her. "Don't start that again, Cynder. According to you I didn't stand any sort of chance against the Ice King, and you saw how easily he fell. Even if Grendor's stronger, I still plan to give him quite a challenge. I'm not going down easily, you know that."
He pressed his nose to hers, looking her in the eyes. "Trust me, Cyn..." he whispered.
"Oh fine, here we go with that again. Let's get a move on then." They jumped into the air again, heading over to the shrine. Grendor was perched atop the huge remains of the "shrine god" golem, severl crystals hovering around him. His gloved hands glowed every time he reached into the stone, phasing his hands through to get to the infrastructure.
"Why are you here? What are you doing?" Spyro called out, a little more angrily than he meant to. The rhynoc mage continued his work as if he hadn't heard. "I asked you a question, mage."
"I'm restoring power to this golem. The Atllawas need some extra strength around here for the upcoming harvest. I also need to move this shrine to a more stable location, this stone pillar is beginning to erode too quickly at sea level."
Spyro and Cynder glanced at each other warily. "You're saying you're doing this to help them?"
"No ulterior motives?" Cynder added. "No hidden spells or bombs or portal links or whatever?"
Grendor's hat spun slowly back and forth as he shook his head. "Like when I helped your friend with his Nonsleeper curse, this is simply to help others. Ripto and the others may be evil at heart, but I'm only on their team because of similar interest in goals. I still want to help others, unlike them, who are only concerned with themselves."
"Back when you attacked us in the Ancient Citadel you weren't like this."
"I attacked? I have no memory of casting a spell at you, only a conveyance of information. If you would like me to attack though, I'd love a little hands-on research on the purple dragon's strengths." He glanced up from his work, though they couldn't see anything but the horn on his nose beneath his hat's wide brim. "Purely for research, mind you. As a scholar I must admit my intrigue in the mysteries behind dragons and their elemental powers."
"Then why not study Tephra?" Cynder growled. "Weren't you studying me as well?"
"You know as well as I do that wasn't the case, Cyn." Spyro and Cynder both bristled at the pet-name. "While you were in our group, you know I was too busy with Tephra's crystal golem army. And Tephra..." He sighed heavily, catching Spyro's attention. He'd heard that kind of sigh before quite a few times. "And Gaul and Ripto both corrupted Tephra's abilities with magic, hence she isn't a proper case study."
"Crystal golem army?" Spyro asked darkly.
Grendor chuckled. "Oops."
"That wasn't an 'oops'," Cynder snarled. "What do you mean 'army'?"
The mage looked up at her more fully. "You don't remember?"
"No. The memories are fading."
"I wonder about that..." he replied, turning back to the crystal array. Spyro snarled.
"Quit giving cryptic responses!"
"You may want to be careful with that one, Spyro, seems to me there's more than just memory loss from having her curse undone."
"WHY YOU-" Cynder shrieked, hunkering back for a lunge, but Spyro flared his wing before her face.
"What would you do if I told you we knew Tephra's weakness? That we could take her out easily and imprison her?"
"Spyro what are you-"
Grendor froze and looked up at them again. "You know nothing about her."
"I know one of her weaknesses. It would be far too easy to lure her out of hiding."
The mage growled, his fist clenching. "So you're stooping to our level? I thought you were more noble than that."
Spyro smirked playfully. "I think I've struck a nerve. Grendor has a crush on Tephra." Cynder's eyes widened, glancing back and forth between Spyro and the rhynoc mage. Grendor's fist balled even tighter, magic sparks flying. "I never said if I would lure her out, I only said I know her weakness and it would be very easy to capture her. Just like she did with Cynder."
Tephra was confused as she watched the exchange. She couldn't hear the two dragons, but she could hear Grendor's responses. Spyro was planning to do something dark, from the sounds of it. "Grendor, whatever they're saying, don't fall for it!" she called out.
"I'm sorry, Teph. They've just crossed a line."
Her heart skipped, terror gripping her. Gren please don't! Just come back here!"
"I'm afraid I can't now."
Spyro smirked again. "She's watching us isn't she? That would make it easier."
"Gren please! Just ignore them and come back! I've got a really bad feeling about this!!"
"Gren PLEASE!! Don't leave me I love you-" she cried, but he cut the telepathic link, leaping onto the shrine floor. "Damn it damnit DAMNIT GRENDOR NO!!" Tephra stared into the orb desperately, terror wracking her mind, her breath fast and shallow. The last time she'd felt like this was when Sidian had been taken away. "Not again...please not again..."
Grendor held out his armored gloved hand, a familiar golden staff appearing in a flash of sparks. "Up until now, Spyro, you've dealt with arbitrary amateurish magic and the lethal power of draconic elements, am I right?"
Spyro nodded, walking closer. There was a weathered, fractured ring of paving stones in the grass, what had once been a ritual circle. Grendor stood at one end closest to the golem, Spyro stood at the other. "I've encountered quite a few powers and gained a number myself."
Grendor raised his other hand, streamers rising from the ground, orbiting his fingers, and then flowing into the golem's remains. "You two are about to experience the true, unadulterated terror of the earth itself from the perspective of magic." The golem shivered and groaned, twitching here and there as its power was restored. "Magic versus a dragon's natural power...I'm very curious to see which will win."
"Cynder, can you handle the golem?" Spyro asked. She hesitated briefly, sizing things up. Spyro had somehow managed to defeat this creature, but he had the proper elements at his disposal. She only had fire, wind, fear, and shadow, which weren't particularly strong against something made of solid rock, but this golem was needed for the Atllawa, so her corrosive poison wasn't an option either. If she could stall or distract it though, perhaps she could buy Spyro enough time to take out Grendor and destroy the command bond between mage and construct. Uncertainty gripped her but her eyes met his. Somehow, she felt she could trust him with this, that they would succeed. She nodded and stood by his side.
"I'm with you."
He flashed her a smile before turning back to Grendor. "Isn't it customary to remove one's hat before a fight?"
"I cannot remove my hat."
"Remove your hat and face us properly," Cynder replied, uneasily eyeing the monster as its huge stony hand reached up, fingers flexing.
"I cannot remove my hat," he repeated. "It is the source of my power and my life. If I remove it I die."
Spyro gasped, eyes wide in realization. The hat was tied to his life? No, it couldn't be as serious as that. Things quickly fit together in his mind. "Cynder..." he mumbled, catching her attention, but when she looked at him in question she realized he was talking to himself. "Glacia, the train, the Ice King...magic bond..." He turned to Cynder, a look of urgency on his face. "Cynder, we have to get that hat off him."
"But he'll die!" she squeaked, then realized what she'd said. "I'll do it."
"He won't die," Spyro corrected her. The golem roared above them, clashing its huge fists together. Grendor twirled his staff around, his gloves glowing brightly. In the black shadow of his armored wizard's peak they could also see his eyes glowing. "Trust me."
The stone construct roared again and raised its fist. They heard a loud click, its fist flying at them on a tether of thick vines. They both rolled to either side of the rocky appendage, Cynder leaping up onto it and dashing up the vines like a cat. She reached its shoulder, almost shaken off when its arm retracted and the jolt knocked her off, but she hooked her claws in the stone and swung up, flipping twice in the air before spreading her wings and gliding. The golem swung at her, but she plastered its face with shadowy spit, covering its eyes.
Spyro and Grendor stood their grounds, circling, studying each other, feeling each others' power levels. Grendor slowed a bit as Spyro released his restraint on his powers, that intimidating aura flaring up all around him. Spyro snarled, the intimidation making Grendor flinch. He hadn't been expecting the sheer power levels he was sensing, not from a dragon this size! Deciding it was his turn to display his might, Grendor knelt, arm flung back with his staff and his other hand on the ground. The entire shrine shivered, then the sharp sound of splitting stone met their ears and the shrine lurched up into the air, clouds of dust rising from the shivering bricks in the walls. The shrine then began moving through the air, making its way over Tall Plains. While it relocated, presumably to that more stable location Grendor had mentioned, Cynder worked to keep the golem away from them. It wasn't very hard, as the construct was very simple-minded, but the sheer force of its attacks scared her. If one hit connected with her she'd likely come out with more than a few broken bones. It wasn't long before Grendor moved his hands, the shrine slowing and descending.
As if the loud boom of the shrine settling on its new location were a signal to start, the mage and the purple dragon rushed towards each other, Grendor swinging his staff wide, Spyro flipping up over it. Grendor brought the staff around in a spin and jabbed it at him, but Spyro caught it in his paws, carrying it with him as he flipped. Grendor pulled it back and leapt away, sensing Spyro about to use some sort of elemental burst upon landing. He's got good reflexes and sensory prowess, Spyro thought to himself as he landed and crouched, the two watching each other. The mage flicked his hand aside and then up sharply. Spyro yelped, the ground beneath him shooting up into the air, carrying him with it. Half the shrine was now a mass of tall thin platforms; Cynder dodged and weaved among them, avoiding the golem's attempts to hurl chunks of rock at her, while the two males leapt around above her, swiping and dodging and blasting each other with their powers. Everywhere he moved, the mage had streamers of earthen magic connecting him to the ground. With a wave of his hand, rocks and pebbles floated up to him, then with a bright flash they transformed into an array of deadly spikes, firing in quick succession at Spyro. Spyro opened his mouth and inhaled, the rocks disintegrating and the powder filling his mouth, his jaws glowing brighter and brighter green the more he collected. Before he could retaliate with the accumulated energy, Grendor's staff twirled. The purple dragon yelped again, the collected power fizzling and falling back to the shrine floor as his body hovered in an anti-gravity field. Without gravity pulling him down he felt somewhat disoriented, a single flap of his wing enough to roll him over. Spyro snarled, every scale on his body suddenly rimmed with green light. Grendor gasped and flung his arms up protectively; Spyro fell back to the ground, the stone pillars following suit and casting a thick cloud of dust around them. Grendor picked himself back up, then yelled in pain and skidded along the ground. Something hard had hit him. Glancing around swiftly, he squinted through the dust, clutching his staff. A loud rumbling caught his ears behind him, but before he could react, he was on the floor again, his back aching from the impact. A large spherical green object blazed past him, then all at once several large detonations of earth power sounded off around him. Grendor warped away outside the dust cloud, perching on the golem's back as it searched for Cynder. He could see Cynder hiding in the shadows using her cloaking ability, but what stood out more was a rolling ball of rock shards with a bright green glow inside. A few of the shards flew off towards him as it rolled. The mage leapt aside and hovered in the air, the earth missiles hitting the golem instead and knocking it over. The rock ball flashed and sped up, rolling up a small hill of debris and launching itself at the floating mage. Grendor held his staff out, sparks flying when the stony sphere hit the staff and started grinding against it. Inside, between the flashing gaps, Grendor saw Spyro glaring right back at him. The two remained in the air, struggling against each other, the stone sphere spinning faster and faster until Spyro curled his wings around himself defensively, the whole structure around him becoming a collection of Earth Missiles and blasting Grendor to the floor.
"You're holding back," Spyro remarked. "I thought you were gonna show me the terror of earthen magic?"
The rhynoc mage laughed, standing back up and brushing off his cloak. "I haven't had a fight this good in forever, but as you said, I was holding back. Analyzing your fighting style." One of his eyes glowed red beneath his hat, more streamers of magic swirling around him almost like a field of tentacles. "It was a valiant effort, Spyro, but I'm afraid your attacks will be futile from here on out."
"I'm a little confused though, you said you wanted to gauge my powers as a dragon, then you wanted to know if my earth could bet yours. Which will it be?"
"Either way, I have to stop you. I can't risk letting you hurt Tephra." He cocked his staff-arm back, holding out his other hand in a strange combat pose. Spyro too got into position, the two staring each other down. From her vantage point atop the clueless golem's head, Cynder thought they were frozen in time, until she saw small arcs and forks of power sparking up from the stone and soil of the shrine floor. They were feeling each others' powers now, struggling through the earth itself. Without warning, a huge flash and a pillar of green light flew up from the floor between them; when the shock and afterimages in her eyes faded she stared in surprise; the two were locked in a furious exchange of blows, flashes of green erupting all over their bodies. At first Cynder thought they were injuring each other, but then she saw they were using their earth powers to generate sheets of mica at the impact points, recycling and regenerating the bits that were scraped off. Grendor kept swing his staff wide and then spinning it in his fingers for an underhand stab, the motion repeated so often Sypro realized it was some kind of magic sequence that wasn't being completed because he kept deflecting or dodging the strikes. Spyro charged his paw and let off a powerful earth blast, enough to knock Grendor back. The two leapt back from each other. Grendor glanced around at the shrine, noting that some of the bricks were starting to crumble from his use of magic to siphon earth energy. Holding out his hand, streamers of power again flowed from him to the golem, but this time the gargantuan stone animation sat down and deactivated. Cynder hopped down off it, confused. "I jumped into this without thinking, we're destroying the shrine. I must give you credit for distracting me with my own emotions."
"So now you're concerned for the shrine?" Cynder growled.
"The data I've collected already from our fight is impressive, yet I can tell Spyro's holding back a significant portion of his power." He spun his staff around and slammed the tip into the ground. Spyro and Cynder gasped in surprise, feeling wrenched down suddenly. It felt like they had just dropped down a short hole, but now they were atop a tall, very wide ocean pillar, devoid of soil or plant life. Off in the distance they could see the mist of Tall Plains. "However, while my research may be complete, I can't let you get away now that you've expressed desire to hurt Tephra." Twirling his staff once more he stood there in open challenge. "We are now within a dome of perpetual-space magic." Holding up his hand again he formed a sphere of energy, then threw it. As soon as it passed the edge of the platform, it vanished. Cynder squeaked when it raced past her from behind, continuing in a loop until Grendor snapped his fingers and dissipated it. "Escape is only possible when I release you or you defeat me. Spyro, I already asked you not to hold back."
Spyro sighed heavily, staring intently at Grendor for a bit before turning to Cynder. "I want you to sit by the edge and wait for me."
"No, Spyro. I'm with you on this."
There was a sharp gleam of concern in his eyes. "Cyn...ever since my battle with you I've never fully gone all-out. I can't promise you safety from myself if I go all-out with you in the fray alongside me."
This weighed pretty heavily on her. Every night she'd sensed his restraint, but now she didn't. He looked very...loose, all over. His limbs looked very relaxed, as if all this time he'd been tensing them. There was also a strange pressure around him, not like the intimidation aura but similar. Glancing down at his paws she saw faint tendrils of earth power swirling around his claws, but they were coming from him, not the ground. She bit her lip, then gave him a cocky smirk. "How are we supposed to fight together if I don't know your capabilities? And as Terrador said, combat experience has no equal."
He sighed again, looking at her sternly, wings flared a bit. "If you insist." He looked irritated, but the flare of his wings meant he was scared. Scared for her. Worried as she was though, she knew she had to offer support for this fight.
"Very cute..." Grendor chuckled, then flicked his wrist. Cynder shrieked, a diamond cage holding her in place. Spyro snarled and punched it, then yelped and pulled back when a searing pain shot up and down his arm. "I'm glad to see your motivation Cynder, but as I said already, I want to gauge Spyro's earth powers, your interference would corrupt the research."
The purple dragon turned back to him, muzzle scrunched. "You want earth power? Fine." I can't give him a chance to retaliate. I need to pour everything into one decisive blow. And he thinks he's seen everything I have to offer...he countered me perfectly before as if he could read me ahead of time, but this... Spyro stood still, his eyes closed. Without warning everything shook violently, Cynder yelping in fright and burning grips for her paws into the stone with her acid to steady herself. The entire platform and pillar shattered beneath them; Cynder felt like she was suffocating, the air was so thick with Spyro's sheer earth power! The immediate floor stayed mostly intact beneath them but they began to descend, large chunks of rock flying out from beneath them, shattering into smaller and smaller pieces and assaulting Grendor at high speeds, some exploding with intense force. A ball of glowing green power grew around the rhynoc mage under the constant barrage, every piece of stone being converted to pure earth power. While this was going on Spyro seemed to be wreathed in green flame, the flame growing larger and larger along with the sphere containing his enemy. The feeling of descent stopped and Spyro floated in the air, wings curled around himself. Cynder cringed and hid under her wings, hearing Spyro unleash a mighty roar, his accumulated power sweeping over her so hard she felt like she was being flattened. The air pulsated and throbbed powerfully, ringing with the sound of an enormous explosion as Spyro focused his earth power into a beam at the earth bomb gathered around Grendor, the two detonating on impact. Cynder felt sick from the rumbling, her whole body quaking in fearful awe of what had just happened. She glanced up to see a thick cloud of dust, Spyro's form nearby floating back down to the ground and collapsing. The cage around her shattered and dissolved.
"You did it!" she whispered, her voice quiet from the shock, limbs shivering and feeling weak as she crawled over to him. Before she could reach him though something glinted off to the side and struck her, knocking her to the side with a pained cry. Grendor rose from the dust and brushed off his robes, flinging his arms to the sides and blowing the dust cloud away.
"Beautifully done, Spyro. Converting rock matter to its elemental energy, using that as attack, then managing to recollect the spent energy and reforming the stone pillar? I must admit, that was an extremely close call." As he strode closer they could see he was limping and he looked rather exhausted, as if he'd been swinging his staff around madly inside that bomb to deflect the rocks. "But you've exhausted your strength, so it's time to finish this fight."
"I'll say..." Spyro grunted, not getting up. Just a few steps closer... He struggled to get up, flopping back onto the ground. Cynder shakily stood up behind him, the staff clutched tightly in her mouth.
"Give me the staff, Cynder," Grendor demanded, stepping closer. He suddenly gasped and cried out, hitting the ground hard as if he'd been yanked down. Spyro then stood up much more smoothly, still keeping low to the ground.
"I couldn't afford giving you a chance to retaliate," he growled, striding closer. Grendor's body quaked as he tried desperately to get up and move.
"A mana sink? That's it? You focused your entire attack as a decoy to lure me into this?" With that he started glowing brightly, tendrils of earth power curling up around him. "Mana sinks are easy to break with enough backwards force-?!" He broke off when his face hit the ground, his body going numbly weak, as if something had been yanked out of him. "No, no, more power I need to break this!!"
"You're not going to break that," Spyro remarked, striding around the unseen edge of his light-sink. Grendor managed to roll over, gritting his teeth and struggling with all his might to pull more earth power into himself through the layer of power siphoning his gathered energy. There was a loud snap, but it was not Grendor's victory. He went completely limp, the sink depleting all his magic, leaving him weak and dizzy. The air around the pillar shimmered and fizzed, the perpetual-space spell dissolving. Spyro padded up to Grendor's armored hat. "What I set up was not a mana-sink. I can't use magic. It was a light-sink, the elemental variety utilizing light. It works in reverse. You doomed yourself by siphoning more power into your body, giving the sink more to drain."
"Don't...my hat...please...Teph...one last time..." Grendor wheezed. "I don't...wanna die..."
"The real one under this hat will not. Cynder, store that staff, you're taking it to the temple. And I..." He leaned down and grabbed the tip in his teeth just above the metal plating. "Am taking this." With that he yanked back hard, a loud, horrific SNAP echoing around them and a flash of putrid smoke rising from the robes.
Tephra screamed, the connection cut the instant the hat left Grendor's head. She stared at the blank crystal scrying orb in utter shock, breath rapid and shallow, her limbs quaking and finally giving out. Grendor was...gone?!
With a tremendous roar that shook the entire mountain she shattered the scrying orb. "That...bastard...stole Sidian...and now...Gren..." She stood there shaking with utter rage, the crystal shards quaking violently as they hovered around her, the very air thrumming like a frantic heartbeat. All at once though, the air stopped and the crystal fragments fell to the floor. With a deadpan expression she walked through her wall and straight to Ripto's secret chamber. The diminutive dinosaur was busy amusing himself with a floating orb of magic fire. "Ripto." He pretended not to hear her, stretching the fireball into a flat line of glowing heat. "Ripto." Again, no reply. Quietly she strode up behind his throne, then without warning grabbed it in her jaws, swung him around violently, then sent him tumbling into the far wall, smashing the seat over him. "Enough of your games, runt," she snarled.
Ripto simply chuckled, the destroyed throne melting away as he walked from the small crater in the wall. "That was unexpected. What ails you now, Teph?"
"Tephra to you," she snapped. Her expression caught his attention. Normally she'd be sneering at him, but her face was totally devoid of emotion. Despite the rage in her voice, her face showed nothing. He grinned evilly; now she was finally broken.
"Alright then, Tephra. You've come here for a reason, what is it?"
"I've spent four years. Four. Damn. Years. and not once have you explained to me this plan of yours. I will go to Spyro and his crew if you do not tell me, in full and complete detail, what the hell you're doing."
For a few moments Ripto was completely floored. Even without any facial or bodily emotion he could tell she was dead-serious. If she left, everything would be undone. As she sat there staring at him with those creepy, almost soulless emotionless eyes, it finally occurred to him... I see. She truly is serious about this. And if she knows the plan, should something happen to me in the off-chance, it will most certainly come to fruition under her. I was a fool not to see it earlier. "Alright, Tephra. My apologies for not recognizing your sincerity earlier."
"Your apologies are hollow. Plan. Now. Or I will expose Mount Elamrof's interior to the world."
"As you wish."
Back at the platform, though, it wasn't over just yet. "There's...still a body in the robes?" Cynder asked. "Aren't rhynocs supposed to completely vanish when they die?"
"He didn't die. And...he's not a rhynoc." She shot him a thoroughly confused expression. "See for yourself."
Cynder pawed at the mage's smoking wreckage, brushing aside the tattered cloth. A slow gasp of realization escaped her when she found, not rhynoc hide, but dragon scales. Making quick work of the rest of the cloth she slowly dragged a black dragon out of the armored robes. His muzzle, feet and paws were like those of a rhynoc, but his face where the hat had shadowed was draconic. Even as she dragged him his body was slowly reforming, showing that he had been even more rhynoc-formed beneath those robes before Spyro had pulled off his hat. They watched as his muzzle and limbs became fully draconic, the black fading to a very dark gray with glassy toughened scale patches. On his shoulders, thighs and atop his head were light-grey starry formations matching the silver stripes running along his solid-black glassy horns. The fins along his head and back looked like curving shards of black glass, their outer edges lined with silver. The fin at the end of his tail looked like a sharp spearhead, edged with more silver and bearing a six-pointed snowflake shape in the middle on either side.
"I thought so..." Spyro said heavily, then laid his head against the dragon's side. "Good, he's still alive. Unconscious but alive."
"What...just happened?" Cynder asked, staring over the new form.
Spyro pointed at the armored hat with his wing. "Just like Caelos' curse, and yours, and Glacia's and the Ice King's and even that train, that hat served as an external focus for the transformative hex. I thought it had to be a crystal or piece of jewelry, but when he said it was the source of his power, I had a hunch he was another victim."
"But...how...who is he?"
"I don't know, but...seeing his affinity with earth..." Cynder's eyes widened as they both looked up at each other. "Cynder...I don't know for sure but I think we've finally found the earth elemental."