The bulbous grey ship winked out of hyperspace and swung into orbit around the blue and green planet. Selecting the largest land mass it decelerated, flamed through the atmosphere, found a secluded location and settled to the ground on antigravity beams, it's landing pads crushing trees like matchsticks. The need for the UR-Metal had become critical and the Hive Mind was becoming desperate. It had been repulsed from this source before, this time it would not fail.
'I have heard it said that rain on a wedding day brings tears to a marriage, but what do the old wives say when it rains fire?' Ancient Vardian Proverb
The kingdoms of Vard and Lancshire were in revelry this spring morning. It was the wedding day of their beloved Prince Karl and Princess Merry; a true uniting of the kingdoms. Such was the magnitude of the eager and curious crowds attending that the ceremony was being held on the jousting grounds of Castle Lancshire rather than in the castle itself. It was to be a jubilant occasion with the venerated Archbishop of Lunz conducting the ceremony, that worthy already standing on a flower-bedecked dais flanked by acolytes in readiness for the couples arrival.
A blare of trumpets and a rattle of drums announced the arrival of carriages bearing the prince, princess and their attendants. Footmen hurried to extend the steps and open the carriage doors as Karl and Merry alighted garbed in their wedding finery. A murmur of approval arose from the assemblage followed by gasps of surprise as bizarre beings emerged from the carriages and stood behind the prince and princess. Were these creatures the royal couple's groomsmen and maidens of honor? It appeared that they were.
Merry walked daintily up the stairs of the dais followed by Linni, Radia, Aqua and Larch; Karl ascended followed by Harabi and Scapulus. The Archbishop looked to the left and right, astounded at the sight of nude men and women colorfully scaled, shining like marble and a vivid blue and green.
Raising his hands to silence the murmuring crowd, he motioned Karl and Merry before him and began reciting the marriage rites in sonorous tones as the couple clasped hands, gazing into each other's eyes. As Karl placed the ring on Merry's finger, shouts and screams from the assemblage caused them to look up.
Swooping from a cloud bank, Thistle and Starflower descended toward the crowd which scattered in panic. A third dragon followed them down, larger than they with two heads on sinuous necks and scales of black and white. The three landed near the dais with a final flapping of immense leathery wings.
"It is the Outsiders," Harabi and Linni said quietly, "They have returned. It is time to do battle once again. Good fortune Karl and Merry."
"Wait," Karl replied, "These are the beings you fought long ago? How the Children of the Dragon came to be?"
"The same," Linni said. "We shall defeat them once again or all is lost. They will destroy everything in their path searching for whatever it is they seek."
"Let us do battle with you against these creatures," Karl roared, looking at Merry who nodded 'yes', eyes shining with excitement.
"We also wish to join the fight," Scapulus said, liking arms with Radia.
"We may be of help," Aqua and Larch chorused.
"Thank you friends," Linni said. "The enemy is full of surprises with deadly warriors aplenty. We do not wish to lose anyone if we can help it."
"Where are these invaders?" Merry asked.
"They landed their ship in Cedar Valley by Mirror Lake," Harabi said. "So far they have not appeared, but we are watching them until all the dragon flights arrive, then we attack."
"We will gather our forces and meet you there," Scapulus shouted. He and Radia whistled for their skeletal mounts which came running.
"May we ride with you?" Larch asked.
"Of course," Radia replied. The four sprang onto the horses and rode away.
Karl turned to the befuddled Archbishop.
"Marry us quickly holy one," he rumbled, "Our friends need our help."
babbled the prelate who mopped his brow, then fainted into the arms of his attendants.
Ever mindful of their princes and princesses needs, the squires had ridden with all haste to the castle and returned with Karl's sword, Merry's dagger and short sword, their leather armor, breeches and boots. Casting off their wedding clothes, they dressed hurriedly, oblivious to the crowd of onlookers who had cautiously returned, curious about the dragons and the goings on.
Tugging 'hello' on Thistle and Starflower's jaw fringes and receiving a slurp from their forked tongues in return, Karl and Merry approached the new dragon who gazed interestedly at them with bright orange eyes.
"Let me introduce you to Nightshade," Harabi said. "He will be joining us in battle. He comes to us from the Iron Mountains Aerie. He has no companions, since he was quiescent and molting at the Time of Choosing."
Karl and Merry exchanged glances.
"We will be his companions in battle," Merry said.
"Excellent," said a deep voice in their minds. "Join with me and together we will destroy these invaders."
The dragon extended his forepaws and lowered his necks. Karl and Merry scrambled up and settled into his control pits. Harabi and Linni had already merged with Thistle and Starflower and with booming flaps of their wings the three dragons took to the air.
The assembled throng watched in awe until the dragons were out of sight, then began talking excitedly among themselves. Tales of this wedding would be told in cottages, alehouses and castles throughout the kingdoms for years to come.
The dragons emerged from a cloud bank and they and their riders saw the alien ship below them.
"Sooth, it is the size of a castle," Merry shouted.
"What are those things circling over it?" Karl bellowed.
"Let us see," Linni said.
They dove and a strange sight greeted their eyes. The creatures appeared to be immense grubs with two sets of broad, translucent wings. They darted about like dragonflies over a pond as if searching for something.
"Let us approach slowly and see how they react," Harabi said. They flew closer and the creatures seemed not to notice.
"I sense a trap," Nightshade said. "Be on your guard."
As if on cue, several of the creatures formed a phalanx and flew towards them. Closing with the dragons they spewed a bilious green cloud in their direction that Nightshade and the others banked sharply to avoid.
Merry screamed in pain as drops of the fluid peppered her arm.
"What is wrong?" Karl shouted.
"Ware the green cloud!" she cried. "It burns as hot coals."
"Amaranth's fist, nothing harms my princess!" Karl swore, "We shall crush these creatures utterly, attack noble dragon."
Nightshade soared upward and then dove on the grub formation, jets of flame streaming from both his mouths. Following his lead, Thistle and Starflower swooped down beside him adding their own gouts of flame. Many of the creatures were incinerated; others fluttered downward wings and bodies scorched. Those remaining reformed and attacked losing more of their number. A gaggle of survivors streaked for the safety of the ship, the hatches snapping shut behind them.
"Let us examine one of these creatures," Linni said, "The better to defeat them."
Nightshade landed beside one of the grubs, writhing in it's death throes. Lifting it in his forepaw, he slashed it open with the primary claw on his hind leg and watched carefully as Karl and Merry dismounted to examine it. Thistle and Starflower alighted next to him and Harabi and Linni joined their friends.
The creatures' insides consisted of several large bladders, nerve ganglia, clusters of wing and body muscles and a rudimentary brain. Karl jabbed a bladder with his sword and it ruptured, enveloping him in a foul stench that sent him staggering back.
"Samarras teats," he swore, "It is a stench from the grave, the smell of death."
Merry carefully slit another bladder and jumped aside as the greenish liquid that had burned her poured out. Puncturing yet another, a yellowish ooze with a sickly sweet odor flowed out.
"It is but a flying bag of poisons," Harabi said. "It's brain is that of a ferret."
"These are but the intruders attack dogs," Linni added. "They are new to us. We must expect even more fearsome creatures to attack."
"Then we shall attack first and vanquish them!" Karl roared, his legendary Vardian battle blood up. "Crush them utterly!"
Merry touched the rising blisters on her arm and grimaced in pain.
"Allow me," Starflower said, her forked tongue coating Merry's arm with saliva. The pain was gone and the blisters shrank.
"Thank you, Starflower. How is it you can heal in such a fashion?"
"It is not fully understood, only that when we joined forces with humans abilities were given to both of us that are of mutual advantage."
"May we heal you as well?"
"I do not know. None of us dragon folk have ever been injured to such an extent as needing to be healed."
"Let us hope that never happens."
"Here are the others," Harabi said.
A flight of dragons appeared, scales shining in the noonday sun.
Reining in atop a ridge line, Scapulus, Radia, Aqua and Larch looked down upon the alien ship squatting like a malignant toad in the valley.
"Look at what it has done to my children," Larch mourned, "Terrible shall be my wrath."
.... There is more of this story ...