Author's note: This short story is actually a part of a longer story (The Seventh Crystal) that I had written about four years ago, and it was my first story written after I left school.  I never actually got around The Seventh Crystal (but I will write it soon, I promise), so instead of leaving this small piece shrouded by cobwebs, I decided to polish it up and share it with all of you.  Tell me what you think.

~ * ~

TRUTH

            The deafening sound of clashing metal could be heard from a distance, blending with the crashing sound of the waterfall nearby.  Outside a cave not far from the waterfall, a dragon was fighting two small beings.  The dragon's flaming red scales glistened under the sun.  It was obvious that the dragon was playing with its prey – a warrior who bravely fought the dragon although he knew that chances of winning was too slim, and a mage not far from the dragon who was bombarding it with her spells to support the warrior.  The dragon knew such crude weapon and spells did little to hurt it, and was waiting for the two of them to drain their energies before finishing them off with one quick swipe.

            The warrior charged forward and swung his sword menacingly to the dragon's breast, only to find that he couldn't even scratched the dragon's tough scales.  Following suit was a lightning spell cast by the mage; the sky darkening as she muttered her spells, as sparks began to gather in the sky.  The dragon sensed danger, for it knew that it couldn't take flight to avoid her magic.  It would only make it more vulnerable to the spell.  The lightning created by this spell could fully be controlled by the caster making it act like a guided missile, and the dragon didn't have chance to avoid it.  As the dragon glared at the mage, it saw that she was smiling dryly, the light of victory sparked in her eyes.  At this time it suddenly felt pain at its left front leg; the warrior had somehow managed to get his sword through between its scales.  The warrior shoved his sword deeper, and then looked over his shoulders and shouted to the mage.

            "Xylene, get out of here now!  I can handle this!"

            Not wanting to break her concentration and ruining her of spell, Xylene just shook her head and then finishing the last line of her spell.

            "Lend me your power!  Chain lightning, come forth!"

            Now injured, and its chance of escaping was far too slim, the dragon tried to create a magical shield around itself.  But before it could even begin to construct it, barrages of lighting descended from the sky and directly speared the dragon.  It growled in pain, as the mage concentrated all her power in the spell.  However its growls were engulfed by the deafening sound of the lightning.  The warrior managed to pull his sword and jumped to a safe place just in time to avoid getting hit by the spell.  It seemed like forever when Xylene cast her spell, but then the lightning slowly stopped, and the dark clouds slowly parted, letting the sun to shine through.  The dragon had fallen, its body covered with dark spots from the lightning.  The ground around the dragon scorched, and the smell of burning greenery quickly emanated the area.

            Xylene fell to the ground, tired because she used almost all of her energy to cast that spell.  The warrior ran to her, and helped her to stand until she was able to stand supported by her staff.

            "That was too much, isn't it?"  She asked the warrior as he helped her to stand.

            "A little too much," the warrior answered.  "But still, at least the dragon's dead.  But why did you cast that spell?  I know that you're not proficient with it yet.  You could get yourself killed you know."  Now that Xylene could stand on her own, the warrior walked to the dragon.  He kicked the dragon with his boots, and then turned to Xylene as she slowly walked to him.

            "Yeah, but at least you wasn't killed."  There was a tone of concern in her voice.  She stopped just a few feet from the warrior, still anxious whether the dragon was dead or not.  She knew that dragons had magical properties of their own according to their type, and with that the immunity to certain kinds of magic.  She never fought a red dragon before, and never had she met a dragon that could stand some of her most powerful spells.  She was still wondering when she thought she saw the dragon's muzzle twitched, but the warrior didn't seem to notice.

            "Ivan, I thought it moved…I saw the dragon's muzzle twitch," she voiced out as she picked up their backpack from the ground.  Ivan, who was poking the dragon's wings with his sword turned around and faced Xylene.

            "Nah…you're probably just imagining it.  Perhaps you just feel nauseous.  Why don't you go to the river and freshen yourself up?  We don't have all day to walk, you know.  It will be dark soon, and –"

            Ivan's words were cut short by a loud roar.  He turned around, and saw that the dragon was staggering to its feet.  He tried to raise his sword to defend himself, but in the state of shock, he felt paralyzed when the dragon looked directly at him.  One of the dragon's eyes was blinded by the lightning spell, and blood oozed from its nostrils.  With one quick swipe with its claws, Ivan was sent flying to the rushing river and swept away by the rushing water.

            "Ivan!"  Xylene shouted.  The dragon turned to her, and then took flight.  It was planning to lift her up to the sky and let her fall.

            "You shall pay for what you have done," the dragon's voice echoed in the surroundings.  After reaching a high altitude, the dragon swooped down at her direction, as an eagle swooping down at its prey.

            Xylene's mind raced to think.  She knew that she didn't have tine to cast another spell, and continuing the fight with this dragon would prove to be futile.  She had drained almost all of her energy, and the dragon could easily kill her even in its current condition.  Furthermore, Ivan's could be drowning in the river by now.  Please, don't let him die… she thought.  Left with only one choice, she jumped into the river, not knowing what would happen to her when she reached the waterfall.  The dragon almost caught her when she jumped, and its claws badly scratched her shoulder.  But Xylene got away, now caught in the raging river.  The dragon decided not to chase her, since it knew that she was headed to her doom at the waterfall.

            "You may have escaped me, but you shall never escape death," again the dragon said as it watched the river swept her away.

            With her wounded shoulder and the fast-flowing water, she couldn't swim well.  Her wound stung when it made contact with the water, and when it hit a stone the pain was too overwhelming that she fell unconscious.

~ * ~

            When she came to, Xylene saw that she had survived the waterfall somehow.  The water had pushed her to the riverbank, and she was stranded there.  She tried to get up, but the pain on her shoulder made her notice the deep gash made by the dragon's claws.  There were also bruises all over her body, perhaps a result of falling from the waterfall.  As she staggered to get up, her mind recalled the events before she fell unconscious.  She remembered the fight with the dragon, how she injured the dragon with her lightning spell, and the dragon threw Ivan before coming to kill her and she jumped to the river –

            Ivan!

            She jolted up, and scanned along the length of the river.  Ivan was nowhere in sight.  No…don't let him die, she thought as she slowly walked along the riverbank, searching for traces of Ivan.  Her body was exhausted and hurt from all the wounds, but she walked on.  Ivan's life is more important to her.  This would heal soon, she thought, but the wound at my heart will never heal if he dies.

            The sun was setting when Xylene finally found Ivan at the other side of the river a distance from where she had found herself in.  Lucky for her, the water wasn't too deep, and she was able to cross it.  When she reached the other side, she ran to Ivan and held him in her arms.  His lips were blue, and his body was cold as if he was already dead.  Xylene was about to scream when she saw that his chest was still slowly heaving, indicating that he was still breathing although he was at the verge of death.  Not caring for her wound, she brought the unconscious Ivan to his feet and placed one of his arms over her shoulders.  Pain jolted at her wounded shoulder, but she ignored it.  Ivan was heavier than her, and his breastplate further added to his weight.  She dragged him slowly; it was all Xylene could do to bring him with her.  The wind was blowing hard now and when she looked at the darkened sky, she saw that it would be raining soon.  Storm is coming, she thought.  She had to find shelter.  They must rest and heal themselves before they could continue their search for their friends.

            Xylene found a small cavern not far from where she found Ivan.  She placed him down near the entrance, took his sword for precaution and entered it.  She created a floating ball of light to see her surroundings, and felt relived that the cave was empty.  By the looks of it, the cavern was once occupied by a family of bears, but had long since abandoned.  As she walked outside, she hoped that the bears didn't suddenly return to the cavern.  It was already dark when she painfully managed to get Ivan into the cavern, and placed him on the cold floor.  She then took out their belongings in their backpacks to dry them out.  Leaving the light in the cavern and casting another to aid her in searching firewood, she went out.

            When Xylene returned, firewood in her arms, she saw that Ivan was groaning slowly and shivering from cold.  She quickly arranged some woods and cast a small flare to light it.  It was already raining outside, but the cavern gave them shelter.  Thankfully, there was no leak in the cavern.  Sometimes the cold wind blew into the cavern, sending shivers to her spine.  But the wind could do little to put out the fire that she had made.  Xylene stood up, the pain on her shoulder still could be felt.  She looked at her shoulder and saw that the bleeding had stopped, but the gash was still open, revealing her open flesh.  Ignoring her pain, she walked to the shivering Ivan.

            Xylene carefully checked Ivan's bruises, some from the fight with the dragon, and some as a result of falling from the waterfall.  She carefully removed his broken armor and tunic, not wanting to hurt him more than what he had felt at that time.  He had a deep gash over his chest, a result of the dragon's blow that sent him directly to the river.  She started chanting a healing spell, one of the most powerful she ever had, although she knew that it would totally drain her energy.  If Ishii was there he could do a better job with the help of the Water Crystal, but she had to things on her own.  The spell worked, but it wasn't powerful enough to close the wounds since she was drained out of energy.  The spell probably soothed Ivan's mind and body a little, since his face relaxed.  Then she bandaged the wound to the best of her abilities and covered Ivan with a blanket to keep him warm (it had dried a little thanks to the fire).  Xylene was rather proud of her accomplishment since she never done it before, since she usually relied on her magic to heal herself.  She then tended her injuries as best as she could, and was thinking of changing to drier clothes when she remembered that her backpack and everything in it was wet.  Sighing, Xylene backed to a deeper part of the cavern and slumped to the cavern walls, but was relived that Ivan was now safe.  She didn't know what to do with the gash at her shoulder though, as she slowly drifted to sleep.

            She suddenly woke up when she heard Ivan groaned.  Xylene didn't know for how long she had been sleeping, but her body felt too tired to move.  It was still raining outside, and there was no indication of when it would stop.  She forced herself to get up and moved closer to Ivan.  She saw that he was awake, but was still tired.  Ivan tried to stand up, but Xylene held her down.

            "Don't move," she said.  "You're still weak.  We're safe here, and we can't go anywhere anyway.  I don't know when the storm will stop, so I think we better stay until at least until the next morning or until the storm subsides."  Xylene looked directly into Ivan's eyes, again concern showing in her eyes and her tone of voice.

            Ivan pushed her away.  "You don't have to worry about me.  You should worry more about yourself.  Look at you; you didn't even treat your injuries properly."  As Ivan tried to stand up, his legs wobbled and he suddenly blacked out.  Xylene managed to catch him before he fell, and she ignored the pain in her body as she carefully placed him back to the cavern floor and placed the blanket onto his body.  All this effort took all her energy, and she realized then that she had only been sleeping for only a few minutes.

            Her mind gave away as she fell unconscious at Ivan's chest.

~ * ~

            The strong scent of medication and the warmth of the campfire woke Xylene up.  She slowly opened her eyes and saw that Ivan was sitting cross-legged by the fire, warming himself up.  It was still raining outside, she noticed.  She was covered with a blanket, the same one that she used to cover Ivan before.  Xylene felt that the wound on her left shoulder was carefully bandaged; no doubt by Ivan as he was more proficient with medication than she was.  On a large leaf beside her were several burnt herbs that she couldn't recognize, and she noticed that it was the herbs that made the smell.  When she looked back at Ivan, she saw that he had also tended the wound on his chest, and his other bruises were almost no longer visible.  Ivan was shivering, and Xylene noticed that droplets of water fell from his hair, and his body was wet.  Suddenly a thought crossed her mind, why was he outside in the rain?

            Ivan glanced at her and saw that she was awake.  "I see you're having a good time sleeping," he began

            "What are you doing outside in the rain?"  She asked.

            "I searched for some herbs that can close wounds and prevent infection," he said, turning his gaze back to the fire.  "You obviously didn't do that well in tending my wounds, much less yours, so I thought I just go out and find something that can do it better than you do."

            There was a hint of sarcasm in his voice that made Xylene felt anger boiling up in her.  "Now look here Ivan," she said, raising her voice.  "I saved you from becoming that dragon's dinner, and then painfully dragged you in this cave…and you repay me by saying that I didn't do well in tending your wounds?"  She let the blanket fell off her chest and took a sitting position.  "I saved your life, you know that?  I –"

            Her face immediately reddened when she saw that her chest was bare, and that she was totally naked underneath the blanket.  Her pert breasts heaved visibly under the light of the fire.  Still blushing, she pulled the blanket close to her body to cover herself.  She glanced at Ivan, but he didn't even seem to notice.  She felt the immediate need to yell at him, but words left her mouth.  Her heart was pounding rapidly.  Did he…no, he couldn't…he wouldn't do that.  But…what if he did?  Oh no, I don't know what to do… she wondered as her mind searched for words to say to him.

            Noticing that Xylene was suddenly quiet, Ivan resumed talking.  His eyes were still fixed on the flickering fire.  "Hey, at least I helped you in return, didn't I?  If I don't perhaps you would have died from the loss of blood, or from infection.  Oh, by the way –"

            Ivan stopped speaking when he looked back at Xylene.  He saw that Xylene had sat up, and she was holding the blanket to cover herself.  Her face was red, and it showed a mixture of anger and shyness.  She's really cute when she's mad, he thought.

            "…I guess you already noticed," Ivan spoke after an uncomfortable moment of silence, and turned his gaze back to the fire.

            "What…what did you do with me?"  Xylene finally found the courage to speak, although her tone was timid and could barely be heard.  She still held the blanket close to her body.

            "I had to remove your clothes to apply the medication.  It would just get in the way."

            Xylene fell quiet and her mind lingered on what Ivan had just said.  Noticing that, Ivan said, "Well if you want your clothes back, I'll take it for you."

            Ivan stood up, and then walked to where she saw her clothes were.  It wasn't far from the fire, and realized that he was drying them up for her.  He wasn't too careful however and almost fell when he accidentally stepped on one of the firewood that Xylene had brought earlier.  Almost by instinct, she rushed to him and grabbed him by the arm, trying to stop his fall.  Her actions resulted in Ivan being pulled back and almost fell toward her.  She managed to stabilize herself so both of them didn't fall down, and she immediately blushed when she noticed that this had resulted in her hugging Ivan from the back.  Her first instinct was to let go, but decided to let her emotions took over.  Xylene stood still hugging him, not wanting to let him go.

            When Ivan recovered from the shock and realized what Xylene was doing, he freed himself from her hug.  He turned around and grabbed Xylene by the shoulders and began to speak, but felt blood rushing to his cheeks when he saw her standing there naked.  His sudden reaction perhaps shocked her because her eyes slowly reddened with tears.  Not knowing how to react, and couldn't think of anything else, he hugged her tight to calm her down.

            Xylene was startled by Ivan's actions and began to cry when she thought he was rejecting her, but was relieved when he hugged her.  His body felt comfortable, and she was basked in his warmth.  How she had longed for this, and although she wasn't expecting it to be in this condition, she welcomed it.  She had feelings for him when she rescued her from Ishii's captive, the thief who later joined their quest to find the Sher-Kharah crystals.  Sadly he never noticed her advances, and it hurt her heart to see Ivan with Fiona and to know that they once had a relationship.  Fiona however realized it and had set them up together many times, but he still seemed oblivious of her feelings although Fiona told her that Ivan was hiding his true feelings toward Xylene.  While they were crossing Maze Forest, she accidentally stepped on a teleportation trap and was sent to another part of the forest, and foolishly Ivan followed her.  Without a map, they had to find a way out on their own, and encountered a red dragon just that afternoon.

            Ivan slowly released her.  Without trying to look at her body he picked up the blanket and placed it over her body.  As Xylene pulled the blanket closer he softly placed his hands on her shoulders again, this time aware that his actions before brought pain to her wounds.  Ivan softly smiled as he slowly caressed her soft, black hair.  Xylene looked up, and their eyes met.  For the second time since she first met him, she saw a look of concern in his beautiful, blue eyes.  She smiled a bit, but lowered her eyes and blushed when she saw that him noticing her smile.  Fiona was right…he does care, she thought.  He just didn't want to show it.

            "Will you…will you kiss me?"  Xylene shyly asked.

            Ivan didn't answer, but instead put one of his hands on her chin, lifting her face up.  Xylene closed her eyes as their lips crushed, and he pulled her closer until they were locked in a tight embrace.  Her breast was crushed on his chest, invoking a pleasant feeling all over her body.  To be held close to someone she loved…it was like a dream come true.  Her body shivered with excitement as their lips finally parted.

            Ivan stared into her eyes again, and saw the look of admiration and happiness inside.  There was something else…tears?

            "Why are you crying?"  Immediately his tone changed to concern.

            "I…I don't know.  I'm just…happy I guess," she said, now sobbing.  Oh, how I wish he understands, she thought.

            Ivan held her close again, trying to calm her down.  I know what you're thinking.  I just wish you know that I feel the same way, Ivan thought to himself, as if wanting her to read his minds.  Ivan could feel the curves of her body pressing against his.  They stood there, hugging tightly but not saying any words, as if a word spoken would break the enchantment around them.  They felt each other's warmth, and at that moment, they totally forgot about anything else except each other.

            "Will you promise me something?"  Xylene finally asked, breaking the silence between them.

            "What is it?"  Ivan replied; his voice was softer now than before.

            "Promise that you will never leave me," Xylene said, almost choking in her words as she felt tears swelling in her eyes.

            There was a moment of silence between them.  Then Ivan lifted Xylene's chin and wiped her tears with one of his fingers as he looked deep into her eyes.

            "I promise," he finally said.  She saw that he was telling the truth.  "I promise I will never leave you."

            Her tears fell to her cheeks again, but this time, it was tears of happiness.  Before she could say anything more, Ivan kissed her.  It was more passionate than the previous kiss, and she felt her whole body tingling with pleasure.  Their lips were still locked to each other while they slowly descend to the floor of the cavern.

            Outside, the raging storm still showed no signs of stopping.