((I actually finished a short story. I may faint. It was going to be five pages, max. And then it just kept getting longer and longer…
Warning that someday will not be necessary because people will get over being bloody stupid: male homosexuality. I have too much time on my hands and will start a debate with you (willing on your part or not) if you are obnoxious.
Disclaimer: As previously stated, I firmly believe that words cannot be owned. However, in this particular story, major parts of the context, setting, information, references and writing style answer to tygati's (and maderr's, really) series "The Dragon Isles." Read it; it's much better than anything I could write. Anyways, this is definitely fanfiction, a sort of "thank you" to those two for being such great authors.))
The career choice of 'knight', Marin reflected as he slumped in the saddle with his armor clanking in a way that was steadily giving him a headache, really ought to come with some warnings in place. They could post them at the palace gates, perhaps, or send them out with the heralds…anything to warn potential recruits what they were getting into. He already had several warnings prepared, in case the palace realized their error in not giving prospective knights the proper information.
"Note: must enjoy pain, discomfort and humiliation."
"Anyone whose family has not been noble for at least six generations need not apply."
And most importantly; "Caution: may contain dragons."
In fact, he'd be willing to forgo the other two just to have known about the dragons.
If he'd been warned, he might have re-thought before leaving Sylvan Forest on his quest to be a knight. The facts that animals seemed to sense him coming from miles away and flee in fear, that his family had firmly told him to leave and not come back and that even the forest itself had eventually made it clear that his presence wasn't wanted, now seemed less like a insurmountable obstacles and more like minor details.
If he'd been warned, he could have found other work even once he'd left the forest and reached the capitol. True, he had no skills that were applicable to city life, but the jobs available to him (labourer, servant, or if truly desperate, pleasure boy) were again starting to look much more workable. A steady income, probably less day-to-day frustration and blows to his ego, and best of all, no dragons.
If he'd been warned, he could have kept his mouth shut a mere week ago, when they'd asked much-too-casually at the supper table if anyone knew anything about dragons. Maybe he would have just let the question die off in silence, instead of piping up that Sylvan had wyverns and he was used to dealing with those. Which was true, but he'd neglected to mention that a wyvern was to a true dragon what a chicken was to a gryphon. A particularly stupid chicken, at that. He might not have liked being a knight that much, but in retrospect his previous life was starting to look better and better.
In fact, anything was starting to look better than where he was now: on a horse he couldn't ride with a sword he couldn't use, encased in armor he couldn't move (or breathe, really) in, on his way to slay a dragon.
Marin sighed heavily and self-pityingly, and the horse reared, bucked him off with a clash of armor, and attempted to bolt. For the fifth time that day.
He caught the reins somehow and managed to tie the animal to a tree while it rolled its eyes at him in a blind panic that he was beginning to believe was the creature's natural state of being. Then he sat down with a clank and tried to decide what to do next.
There were really only two options: go fight the dragon and die, or don't. In the 'don't' category he would return to the palace in disgrace and then probably have to leave the kingdom, since other employment prospects for someone the knights had blacklisted were not forthcoming. True, it would be fairly easy to pretend he'd chosen the first option. He could ditch the horse and armor and magically transform from "Marin, World's Worst Knight-In-Training" to "Marin, Completely Innocuous Peasant Looking For Job Options." If he backtracked a bit, the fork in the road he'd passed might lead him to a village; he was far enough from the capitol now that he probably wouldn't be recognized. But even contemplating that course grated on him. He'd sworn to do his duty as a knight, and if right now his duty was riding off to get killed, well, there hadn't been a "Yes, but" clause in the oath as far as he remembered. And while he might be lousy at everything a proverbial knight was, Marin at least took knights' honour seriously.
The knight attempted to stand up, and realized with a groan that in fact he couldn't. The damn armor was just too heavy. With a growl of disgust, Marin pulled the helmet off and tossed it aside. His wheat-coloured hair was now closer to honey with sweat, and was plastered to his forehead and dripping into bright green eyes. He rubbed his eyes without doing much good, and sucked in a breath of blessedly cool air that, for the first time since he'd put the evil suit on, didn't smell or taste like rust.
Come to think of it, wearing armor to fight a dragon was a stupid idea in the first place. Armor was metal. Metal heated up rather a lot when subjected to streams of unbelievably hot dragonfire. So fragile humans encased inside said metal would…
All right, definitely ditching the armor.
Marin struggled out of the rest of the armor with difficulty, and had a moment of panic when he could not for the life of him figure out how to get the gauntlets off. Armor was meant to be put on and taken off by squires, not the knights themselves...so the fact that he was no longer a squire but not really a knight yet either made him supremely unqualified. But at last he stood next to the pile of various parts and pieces, panting in abject relief at finally being freed from them.
The discarding of the armor revealed a man barely out of his teens; not without muscle, but built more slightly than sturdily and barely average height. It was a wonder he'd been able to move in the armor at all, since it had been designed for someone with quite a different build. Bright blonde hair flashed again in the sunlight as Marin ran a hand through it, breathing deeply to rid himself of the trapped feeling he'd had inside the metal suit. His clothing underneath was rather the worse for the wear, sweaty and smeared with bits of rust and something that looked like grease, but it hadn't been very good quality in the first place so it was no great loss. His breeches were patched and worn, and his shirt was all but falling apart at the laces. Another thing he would have liked to have been warned about was that while the palace provided free room and board, knights did not actually make much money. Especially lousy knights who still hadn't completed training.
The horse was in a complete panic by now, disturbed perhaps by his smell or just all of the clanking as he tried to get his armor off. When Marin went over to calm the beast down it somehow pulled free of its tether—fastened inexpertly, he would admit—and bolted as if the Deathhounds themselves were after it. There was no hope of catching it this time; Marin judged that the skittish creature wouldn't rest until it was back home in its stall at the palace.
And it had taken all of his food and supplies with it. Damnation.
Merrin swore fiercely for a few moments, and then leaned against the tree that the broken tether still hung from and surveyed what was left to him: a suit of armor he couldn't wear and which was too heavy to carry around; the clothes he was wearing; and the sword at his side that he could only use with any reasonable skill against a straw dummy. Not promising, really. On the other hand, was it really going to hurt his chances with the dragon that much? He was going to die either way…even if no matter how many times he said it he didn't feel resigned or even seem to have absorbed it yet. He didn't want to die.
The problem was that he couldn't not fight the dragon. The knights had sent him; grudgingly and with a few jibes (the 'virgin sacrifice' comments had been uncalled for, Marin reflected sourly) but they'd put their faith in him to at least hold out until more help came. The king had sent him. If he ran away—which, if Marin was going to be honest with himself, he wanted to do very, very badly—there wouldn't be anyone to fight the dragon, not right away at least. What if it started causing damage? Reports said that for now it was simply making itself at home in its chosen lair, but that couldn't last long. People would die because Marin was too afraid to do his duty. Unacceptable.
Decided if not resigned, the knight pushed himself away from the tree. He glanced at the suit of armor lying on the grass beside him, and decided just to leave it; with any luck it would make some peasant a good profit. At least now that his food was gone he had incentive to get to the lair quickly; he didn't want to face a dragon on an empty stomach.
The closer Marin got to the valley, the harder it become to breathe. When he'd rounded the bend and seen the cloud of smoke hovering over the small, grassy indent, his first impulse had been to laugh; partially out of hysteria, certainly, but also because it just looked so much like it was supposed to. Like a scene from a tapestry or an illustration in a tale…the only thing missing was the knight. Maybe someone would 'creatively edit' the story once he was dead to make him into the hero that was supposed to be in the picture…he'd always rather suspected that that was how fairy tales came about.
Now, getting nearer and nearer to the source of the billowing clouds, he didn't find it quite so funny anymore.
Just as the smoke was getting thick enough to make Marin wonder when he was going to start coughing and choking, he dropped (oh, all right, fell. He'd never laid claim to any sort of grace or poise) down a small incline and into the valley proper, and most of the smog dissipated. The young knight frowned slightly in confusion (there was more smoke outside the valley than inside it? What was the dragon doing, puffing smoke rings at the sky just to give it the proper appearance?) and pushed his hair out of his face before cautiously peering around a tree trunk.
Several yards in front of him the trees and brush ended, the landscape transitioning into a grassy meadow interspersed with grey-white rocks. At the far end of the meadow, almost farther than he could see, the trees resumed again to coat the sides of the narrow valley in a blanket of dark green. The mid-afternoon sunlight filtered through the trees and shone on the meadow, calling flashes from small pieces of shining stone inside the rocks and turning the grass a brighter green.
There was a conspicuous lack of dragon.
Battling a brief temptation to turn around and head back home under the excuse that the dragon hadn't been there and he was too busy to wait around for it, Marin abandoned his tree and cautiously emerged into the meadow. The slight breeze felt nice against his face, especially after the long, dusty walk without food or water. Now, where would the dragon be?
Lairs. Dragons, the stories all mostly agreed, needed lairs. So his dragon would be found in its lair more likely than not. What would a dragon want in a lair? Shelter. Warmth? Or would it make that itself? Easily defensible…and private. Somewhere to hide itself and its treasure. A cave was sounding ideal.
Marin glanced around and chose the most rock-filled direction, not really sure whether he wanted it to be the right way or not. He kept as much under the cover of the trees as possible, again thankful that he'd left behind the noisy, cumbersome armor. And if his hands were shaking slightly and his breath coming a little too fast, it was only because he was cold. It was sort of shady under the trees, after all.
…actually, it was getting really warm. Well, there went that excuse…what was…oh. Oh.
He'd found the dragon.
Marin's legs suddenly attempted to collapse out from under him, and he had to brace himself with one hand on the trunk of the tree he was hiding behind. Curled up on a bed of small rocks and gravel in front of the entrance to a cave (he'd been right! a tiny hysterical part of his mind that didn't quite comprehend the situation screamed) was an enormous creature. He'd thought the stories must have been exaggerating—wyverns were only about the length of a man's forearm, after all—but Marin guessed that this dragon's shoulder was easily thrice as tall as a full-grown man, and it was twice as long again from nose to tail. Dark scales, a deep, rich shade that Marin couldn't quite make out, glittered and shone in the sunlight on every visible part of the creature's body. The parts of Marin's brain that weren't going into shock wailed desperately that weren't dragons supposed to have soft underbellies, or something of the sort? Some weakness, at least? Mostly, though, he just stared.
The dragon had its eyes closed and appeared to be sleeping, but already it didn't look exactly the way Marin had expected. It was…realer, somehow, than all the ideas he'd gotten from stories and illustrations. Which would seem obvious, given that it was enormous and right in front of him and going to kill him rather soon, as opposed to being a picture inside his head or in a book, but what really stuck him about the dragon was how it made sense. It was built with less body than he'd expected; rather slim along the belly and tapering off even more into the tail. However, it was also sturdier, especially in the legs (which ended in four-toes feet with sharp, curved claws, Marin noted with a sort of horrified fascination), and in general build seemed closer to a large feline than a serpent. The wings attached just below its shoulder, and were folded down and almost invisible against the body, with only the very tips curving up and meeting behind its back.
Sharp, flat horns protruded from its spine at intervals: an arm's-length apart towards the tail, but getting closer and closer together as they neared the neck and head. They stopped at the shoulders, leaving room for two fin-like ears—or horns? He couldn't tell—that grew from the sides of the dragon's head. Other than that the head was smooth, and not as large as Marin would have expected: the snout wasn't very long at all and looked much more proportional than in most of the pictures he had seen, although he didn't doubt that there was still plenty of room in the jaw for all the teeth. Which he couldn't see at the moment…but couldn't help imagining. In great detail.
He was going to die.
Not least of all because, with the dragon right in front of him like this and looking so terrifying but somehow still incredible, astonishing, awe-inspiring (beautiful, even?), Marin realized he would have felt really, really bad if he'd actually had the skill to kill it.
Just as well that he didn't, then. At least he didn't have to worry about what to do now: there was a definite protocol for times like these. Ignoring the litany of Oh shit oh shit oh shit I'm going to die! in the back of his head, Marin drew his sword, and as the dragon's eye flickered open sleepily at the sound, stepped out from the cover of the trees and challenged it in a voice that only shook a tiny bit: "Dragon, arise and do battle!"
The huge head and neck lifted, and craned around to inspect Marin with eyes a startlingly dark, deep blue-green (What kind of colour was that for a dragon's eyes? Shouldn't they be red, or something?). The mouth opened to reveal—Marin swallowed hard—lots of very large, very sharp, very white teeth…and he could swear the dragon was laughing at him. Well, great, just great.
Then the enormous creature was on its feet in a ripple of scales and an unfurling of wings, and was looking at him down its nose thoughtfully. Wyverns usually started out with a stream of fire, hoping to roast the prey. If you dodged that, sometimes you could get a hit in before they recovered enough to cope with the fact that their first tactic hadn't worked. Apparently dragons worked the same way; the huge jaws opened and the dragon sucked in a breath of air, expelling it moments later as a huge billow of…smoke? Marin was already dodging and diving in, slashing at the scales blindly and wondering where the flames were…and then the tail, hard as a rock but flexible as a whip, caught him in the chest and knocked him back a good ten meters. The dragon puffed out one last little plume of smoke and sat down on its haunches, regarding Marin smugly.
Obviously, dragons were not at all like wyverns. That had been a planned, calculated strategy, Marin reflected as he struggled to sit up, feeling as though his entire torso was one big bruise. It had known he was waiting for the fire…and had lured him in. Just how smart were these creatures? The young man coughed once or twice and sat up at last, checking gingerly for any broken ribs. His sword was a ways away…he crawled towards it, watching the dragon watch him and feeling a bit annoyed at the way it just sat there and waited. He was amusing enough that it didn't need to attack while he was down—after all, it wasn't like he was a real threat.
Curse it, he was sick of feeling helpless and incompetent.
Marin grabbed his sword and charged in again, growling in frustration as the dragon neatly pivoted away from him and once again swung its tail at his back. He managed to dodge it…only to be caught by the huge forepaw and pinned to the ground. As the great head descended, Marin closed his eyes and waited for the end. This was it, it was going to eat him…father…I'm sorry…mother, whoever you are, I may be meeting you soon…gods, deal gently with my soul…
"Yaaahhh!" His eyes sprang back open as he was nosed onto the tip of the dragon's snout, raised dizzyingly into the air…and then flung again, this time into a gorse bush.
The dragon sat back again, waiting patiently as a stream of vile curses emerged from the spiny plant, followed several minutes later by the furious knight. This time he'd managed to keep hold of his sword, and was barely out of the bush before he charged again, sputtering furiously and incomprehensibly.
"Bloody overgrown lizard—think it's funny--!"
There was a clash as his sword banged futilely off the scales of the dragon's shoulder…and then Marin was flying again.
It was not the most epic battle in history, nor the most impressive, but it was certainly one of the oddest. The knight would charge in, incandescent with rage, and perhaps score one or two hits before being picked up again and flung. The dragon appeared to be taking pains to aim for relatively soft things—only once or twice did Marin hit rocks or trees, and it was much more common for his adversary to deposit him neatly in a bush or on a soft patch of grass. He didn't really appreciate the effort.
By the time the sun was beginning to sink below the treetops ringing the valley, Marin was aching and exhausted. Every part of him felt battered and bruised and cut and charred (although considering the legends, the dragon had been remarkably sparing with its flames). The knight could feel himself faltering and stumbling, his rage undiminished but his body, as always, not up to the tasks set out for it. A real knight wouldn't be this tired, this stiff and sore. A real knight wouldn't be fighting this mockery of a battle in the first place! Marin threw himself at the dragon again, and actually managed to slash it once across the nose, eliciting a surprised, scolding sound from the beast. The next moment he was pinned down between both front paws, the claws digging in slightly but not gouging—yet. He struggled to get free, but eventually let his head thump back down against the rocks.
This was pointless. The dragon had been playing with him for hours, toying with him because he wasn't good for anything else. He wasn't a respectable adversary—who was he kidding? He was the equivalent of a wooden soldier for a child to play games with.
He was so, so sick of it. He tried, gods knew he tried, but he was just never good enough! Always, in whatever he set out to do, there was something about him that just got in the way. Some quality, marking him from birth as unworthy or cursed or just plain unlucky…everything he set his hand to turned out wrong, somehow. It had made him a failure as a hunter, a failure as a knight, and it was managing to make him fail at dying, too!
"Would you just get it over with already?!"
The dragon blinked once or twice at his outburst, then bent its snout down slightly and, with the utmost care and finesse, blew a smoke ring at him.
Marin could feel something inside of him snap. His vision blacked out for a moment, and he wasn't sure, but he thought he might have screamed with rage—pent-up rage that seemed as if it had been waiting years to come out, and was flooding him now in a hard, hot rush. Then everything was moving, whirling around him, he was burning from the inside out, it hurt, gods it hurt but at the same time it felt right…and when he opened his eyes again Marin was fairly sure he had died, because the world was different.
The colours were weird, that was the first thing he noticed. Deeper, somehow, with more dimensions than he was used to…was this the afterlife? Or was this how ghosts saw things? The sky above, the ground underneath him, the trees all around…everything was covered in a fine layer of shining threads, more delicate than cobweb and somehow less substantial. Almost as though he wasn't seeing them at all…but…that didn't…it was…
Marin shook his head in confusion, and then froze in surprise. It had felt…odd. His neck was longer than he was used to, stronger but more flexible too…and his head was shaped differently. Elongated, heavier but also more balanced. What was going on? Being dead felt odd.
And he was still angry. The bruises and cuts from his battle stung, but not nearly as much as the humiliation…the feeling of worthlessness that he hated. The dragon, wherever it was, he hated it…he hated the palace, the constant jeers and jibes and harassment for just existing…and the forest, he hated it, the ever-present hostility he could sense from it, telling him this wasn't his place, he didn't belong here and it was trying to make him leave! That was what he hated most of all, every moment the knowledge that everyone was just trying to get rid of him!
Let it burn. Let it all burn.
Marin threw back his head and roared a stream of fire into the darkening sky. His wings unfurled and flapped once, twice, claws scratching at rocks before he lifted into the air. He roared again, this time in awe and joy—flying. He was flying.
Fire. He needed to flame…Marin drew in another breath and let it out, basking in the heat from the inferno in front of him. Again! Again, burn it all, until there's nothing but ashes, burn it all into purity…
Marin snarled viciously, trying to whirl and bite at the sharp teeth clamped into the back of his neck. He was held in place, shook slightly like a disobedient kitten. Something was behind him; large, larger than he was even now, and stronger. Marin roared again, but couldn't flame with that grip holding him in place. He struggled, twisting his neck around and trying to bite as he was slowly lowered back down to the ground. Eight clawed feet hit the rock almost at the same time with a resounding thump, but the grip didn't ease; the dragon holding him shook his head again, scoldingly. Marin's tail lashed, trying to hold on to his anger, but the dragon behind him breathed warm air over him, charged with its scent, and he found himself growing resentfully calmer, submissive to one obviously stronger.
And then the world was spinning and shifting again, and the pain at the back of his neck vanished somewhere in the dizzying swirl. Marin was once again standing on his own two feet…although at the moment his legs weren't doing a great job of supporting him. He was going to collapse onto the rocks any moment now, and it was really going to hurt, because his clothes had been lost somewhere in all the confusion.
His legs did collapse a moment later, but to his surprise instead of falling face-first onto the rocks Marin fell back less than an inch, against something that caught him and steadied him, holding him up when it became obvious that his legs weren't up to the task. Marin blinked once or twice at the arm around his waist, which was evidently what was preventing him from falling over, and at the long, dark hair that was pooling over his shoulders. Not his hair. Someone else's. The someone behind him. Yes. Odd…dark hair, he wanted to say black but in the dying rays of the sun it wasn't, it had colour in it…
Then the hair shifted again as the person behind him leaned forward and murmured into his ear, rough voice with the hint of a self-satisfied purr "Congratulations, sir knight: you've vanquished your dragon."
Marin didn't even know where he was—at this point, he barely knew who he was—but he could definitely catalogue the exact location of every single cut and bruise on his body. He wasn't quite sure how he'd gotten so banged up, but he assumed it had been one of those occupational hazards of being a knight. That he really would have liked to have been warned about. The source of his current pain, Marin assumed, was either the whole "being whacked at with heavy and/or sharp objects in the name of 'training'" business or the fairly similar "being whacked at by fists/practice swords/etc by fellow trainee knights because somehow, they found it amusing". Either way, ow.
It wasn't until the knight's eyes flickered open and met gray stone instead of the aging wood of his rooms' ceilings that he remembered exactly where he was and why he hurt so much. Trees. Evil horse. Fire. Dragon.
Marin jerked up with a panicked expletive that turned into a groan when every muscle in his body protested the movement. Where was he? Why was he alive? Bleary eyes opened again and the young man stared around at the room he'd somehow woken up in.
He was either underground or in a cave; the walls, floor and ceiling were made of solid gray-white stone and sloped, carving out a vaguely circular space. However, this cave was definitely also someone's home, if a rather sparsely furnished one; he lay on a grass-stuffed pallet at least as comfortable as his one at the castle, with warm woolen blankets laid over him and his sword lying next to him on a roughly made bedside table. The other objects in the room included a locked chest by the 'door' (which was really only the mouth of a tunnel, leading who-knew-where) and a cabinet with one door swinging loosely open to reveal several changes of shirts and breeches, all cut in a loose, rough style.
It smelled odd in here, too. A dark smell that was…not bad, necessarily, or even very strong, just…odd. Familiar. Marin frowned slightly, breathing in more deeply and trying to figure out where he'd smelled it before and why it made him feel strange.
And speaking of strange, there was definitely something else that was odd here. Marin scowled slightly, shifting into a more comfortable position on the bed and reflecting how much he hated the 'I'm missing something extremely obvious and very important' feeling. Fortunately—well, sort of—his change in position let the blankets slip down a bit, and he realized exactly what was wrong.
"WHAT THE HELLS?!?"
The dismayed and disbelieving shout echoed off the cave walls, as the young knight stared in shock and consternation at his own stomach. Small golden scales, less than a finger's width in diameter, traced swooping, curving patterns from his shoulders all the way down his chest and stomach. Marin reached down disbelievingly to touch one, and jerked slightly at the feel of it; solid, warm and a bit harder than his fingernails...and he could feel it, not just with his finger but as a part of him, as if he'd touched his own skin. With wide-eyed shock that was quickly becoming panic, his eyes traced the patterns down his arms to where they ended in an arrow of sorts halfway down the backs of his hands.
This was not happening.
Marin raked a hand through his hair, futilely trying to calm himself down, but froze halfway through the motion. The last time he had checked his ears hadn't been nearly as…pointy…as they now felt. Feeling gingerly around them, he found that they had three points, connected with odd webs. Webbed ears? What…what was…
"What is going on!?"
Hey, he'd been about to say that. Marin blinked when his thoughts somehow seemed to give themselves voice without his consent, then jolted upright with a muffled gasp as a figure emerged from the darkness of the doorway. Marin's first impression was of a tall and rather annoyed-looking man, but those observations were quickly followed by amazement; he'd never seen a man with such long hair before. It was lower-back length at least and almost perfectly straight, and while it seemed at first glance to be black Marin was fairly certain that it was actually a very, very deep green. His slightly slanted eyes were a deep blue-green colour, and set in a face with high cheekbones, a long nose and a strong but not prominent jaw line. The loose breeches and half-open shirt he wore made it clear that he was fairly muscled, although he wasn't built heavily, and Marin made a mental note that he was in trouble if the man turned out to be unfriendly. Certainly his next comment sounded rather angry.
"Didn't you hear me? What are you doing, shouting like that?"
Shouting? Oh, right. Scales. Crazy. Dreaming? He hoped so. Marin blinked once or twice, processing the rather odd accent that the man spoke in and trying desperately to force his overloaded brain to think of something to say.
"Your hair is green."
Oi. Not that. Thankfully, instead of being insulted the man snorted with laughter.
"Wow. I found a smart one." He came further into the room, sitting down cross-legged on the floor by Marin's bed and studying the knight carefully. "You don't look injured. Other than the bruises, which I'm sorry about by the way. So why did you yell?"
"…I have scales. And my ears are pointy." His mouth was definitely not at all under his control by this point—if it had been, he definitely would not have said that. The man was going to think he was insane…and Marin was getting more and more convinced that he probably was.
Even more so when the man just nodded his head absently and agreed mildly "Yes." He looked at Marin as though waiting for the rest of the explanation. When the knight did nothing more than gape at him, dark eyebrows creased slightly in a puzzled frown. "Is there something wrong with them?"
"Wrong with them?" That came out as an embarrassing squeak, and Marin went back to gaping again.
"Yes." Still frowning, the man reached over and swept Marin's hair back, oddly long fingers with strange claw-like nails examining Marin's ear carefully. "A little small…have they always been that way? Although, you're rather small yourself, so I see no cause for alarm." While Marin was still gasping with insult and trying to find something to say, the fingers moved on to the scales at his shoulders and chest. That touch on the oddly sensitive scales broke him of his paralysis, and he yelped slightly and jerked away, his cheeks heating slightly.
"…do they hurt? They shouldn't." The strange man sat back on his haunches and cocked his head to the side, green hair sliding away from his face (and pooling on the floor, it was so long) and revealing one ear. Marin stared at the hair for a moment, mesmerized, until he noticed the ear—it was finned, with delicate moss-green webbing.
"You-you have…your ear! You have them too!"
"Hm?" One hand reached up to brush his ear slightly while the puzzled expression intensified. "Yes, of course. Why wouldn't I? Did you think dragons had no ears?"
"…of course. Surely your memory hasn't been damaged? I was very careful not to hit your head."
Marin felt as though he'd been hit in the head. Dragons. Dragons. The black dragon he'd fought…green dragon, he realized now as he looked at the waves of dark hair. No one had ever said anything, not in stories or legends or anything, about dragons turning into humans. Ever. This man in front of him was a dragon, sitting there talking to him as if there was nothing odd about the situation! He must be in the dragon's cave, then. But…why…well, why wasn't he dead, first of all? Although, the man in front of him really didn't look like the sort to kill people, even stupid knights who woke him up from naps by attacking him. And…
"Wait…but I'M no dragon!" Marin protested, one hand going to his scales again as if they might have vanished since the last time he'd checked. Flickers began to come back to him, however…the world changing, his sight gone odd, and then flying…indescribable bliss, freedom, the power in the flame…"…am I?"
"Of course you are. A very pretty little golden dragon." The man—dragon—grinned predatorily at Marin, and something about the expression made the knight distinctly conscious that his clothes had mysteriously disappeared. He tugged the blanket up further, glaring defensively at the 'little' part. He wasn't that small. He was still growing, damn it.
"Where did my clothes go?" Probably not the most pressing matter he should have been concerned with after being told he was somehow a dragon, and not a human as he'd believed for eighteen years, but given how the dragon was looking at him the matter was foremost in Marin's mind.
"You burnt them off." What? The dragon looked as if he was thinking hard for a moment, before his eyes widened and he exclaimed in a way that made Marin jump, "Of course!" Getting fluidly to his feet, green hair catching the light of the lamp and distracting Marin for a moment, the dragon went over to the chest and began digging through it. "I remember now. Human clothes must be worn unless one is bathing or engaging in sex, correct?" While Marin was still gaping at that statement, then dragon returned, handing him a shirt and a pair of pants, along with some sort of sash-like garment. "Did I get that right?"
"Uhm…uh…yes?" Marin quickly tugged the shirt on, glad that it was large enough to fall to his thighs even if it made the neck so wide that it was slipping down one shoulder. The pants were harder, since he pulled them up and they instantly tried to fall down again. Ah, so that was what the sash was for. He was still struggling with them as the dragon explained proudly "Not many dragons would know that, you know. I know more about humans than most of us, because I lived in the palace."
…good for you? Marin thought but didn't say. After all, this was still a dragon, he didn't want to make it angry…but if he was a dragon too, now, then…oh, this was too much.
"…what exactly is going on?"
That had come out rather more sharply than Marin had intended, but again, the dragon didn't take any offense. He just sat back down on the floor, looking thoughtful for a moment. "I was sleeping, and you woke me up with your 'challenge' to 'do battle'." He smirked for a moment, and Marin glowered slightly. So what if it was stupid? That was what you were supposed to do…"We can always tell our own…no matter how muffled it was. That was a very strong seal you had—it couldn't have been very comfortable, could it? Why would you do that?" He glanced at Marin's blank face, then shrugged. "Or maybe it was someone else who did it. In any case, I decided I wanted to break it, since it was going to break on its own anyways and I wanted to see what you looked like in trueform. You don't get angry very easily, do you? I'm sorry about all the bruises, but it took much longer than I expected."
So all the bashing him into trees and bushes and who-knew-what-else had just been to break this seal, or whatever it was? Marin wasn't sure if that made the bruises more or less tolerable.
"You had a very dramatic transformation, too. I'm impressed. It was probably because you'd been repressed for so long. In any case, like I said, you're a very pretty gold dragon…and then you passed out and I brought you here." The dragon concluded, looking proud of himself.
"Uhm…thank you." It seemed the polite thing to say, even though Marin's head was whirling.
"You're welcome." The dragon replied, studying Marin for a moment before asking "What's your name?"
"Marin." At least he knew the answer to that question. Although from the way things were going, he wouldn't be surprised if one of the fabled merfolk showed up to tell him that no, that wasn't actually his name after all.
"…Maeryn?" The dragon attempted, his accent giving the name a completely new pronunciation.
"I'm Jaedlyk. Nice to meet you."
And he'd had trouble with Marin's name? Marin shook the proffered hand with a slight smile.
"Nice to meet you, Jade." The newly-dubbed 'Jade' blinked for a moment, then grinned delightedly and blindingly, dispelling most of Marin's lingering fear.
"I like that! Everyone back home will be jealous—I got to meet someone from the southernmost isles and he gave me a southern name!"
Marin was resisting the urge to grin as well at the dragon's delight, but something about the comment made him stop and think. "So you're not actually from here?"
"Of course not. Your islands are so far south…you don't have dragons here, right?"
"…I didn't think so, at least." Marin sighed, eyes once more going to the scales that still peeked out through the neck of his shirt. He was slowly getting used to the sight of them…but only if he pretended that it wasn't his body he was looking at.
"Well yes, you do rather complicate matters." Wonderful…so much for hoping he could explain why I'm suddenly scaly. He doesn't know any more than I do. "You see, the only place I've ever heard of dragons is where I come from; the eastern islands and of course the Wind Lord's lover's palace."
"…wait, what? Can you please make sense?"
"You're making this rather difficult, you know." Marin glowered at that—he was being difficult? He rather felt he was entitled to be, after all he'd been through!—and Jade smirked again before sighing mock-tolerantly and launching into an explanation of everything to do with dragons, especially hierarchy, social interaction and recent history. Marin was left overwhelmed and feeling as though his head was about to explode with all the information…but at least slightly less confused. It was several hours later that the dragon actually got around to explaining the current political situation (not least because Marin kept asking questions and getting the both of them sidetracked).
"…so the Wind Lord is like the king, then."
Jade frowned slightly at that, but eventually conceded "Yes. Sort of."
"And the dragons were in hiding for years before this human came? And he somehow got them to stage this…revolution, against his insane king? And now he and the Wind Lord are ruling the country until the heir grows up?"
"…I really have been dropped into a fairy tale."
Jade snorted with laughter at that, shaking his head slightly, blue-green eyes almost glowing. Marin couldn't help but stare slightly, before forcing his eyes away.
"Is life here so very different, then?"
"…where to begin?" Marin sighed, running a hand through his hair and trying to figure out how to explain his life to this dragon who lived in such a different, vibrant world. "I suppose our king is much the same as the one your humans had. He's not insane, however." Marin sighed slightly, then added before his brain had caught up with his mouth "A bit neglectful and disinterested, but not insane." His eyes widened in horror as he realized what he'd said, but Jade didn't seem to even notice. How did one just not notice High Treason? Once he recovered slightly Marin continued the explanation. "The palace is mostly run by the nobles and knights. It's…they're all right." He was not going to let his mouth run away with him again. "They technically run the city, too, but it's mostly merchants who take care of the day-to-day business. The rest of the isles answers to the king, and to the nobles who control that particular island. Except Sylvan, when I'm from—technically, it's part of a fief, but you'd have to be crazy to try to 'administrate' there or any such nonsense." He laughed slightly, getting an answering amused-but-rather-puzzled smile out of Jade.
"Why would you have to be crazy?"
"Sylvan forest—it covers almost the entire island—works according to its own rules. Some say the forest itself is almost sentient…and if it doesn't want you there, you leave." Marin sobered slightly at that, staring at nothing. If it doesn't want you there, you leave…thirteen years of feeling unwanted, just waiting to be gotten rid of…thirteen years of the land that was your family's life, their obsession, shunning you completely… The knight came back to himself and looked up quickly at the feather-light touch on the back of his hand, meeting Jade's eyes with surprise.
"Your forest might be sentient but it's obviously not very smart." the dragon informed him with a gentle smile, and somehow just like that everything was better. Marin could feel the corners of his mouth being coaxed up into an answering smile, and didn't fight it. He held the other dragon's eyes for a moment longer before dropping his own, uncomfortably conscious of how red his cheeks probably were. Jade grinned at him a moment longer before turning thoughtful, twining a strand of green hair around his fingers contemplatively.
"You know, I can't help but wonder…maybe your forest just doesn't like dragons?"
"Well, it makes sense to me. Maybe it sensed that you came from somewhere else, and decided you'd be more comfortable there?"
Jade looked slightly nervous when Marin just gaped at him, but the smaller dragon couldn't really come up with anything at the moment. He hadn't thought yet about having been a dragon his entire life—he'd sort of assumed that he'd been turned into one, somehow. Suddenly things were falling into place, though. The way he'd had no 'forest sense' but he'd still seemed in tune with nature. The way animals were frightened of him—they saw him as a predator, he realized. Even his mother…his father had said maybe twelve words about her that Marin could remember, and none of them had included her species; he had never even thought to question it before.
Marin ran his hands through his hair and tried to think without panicking. Until now he'd been able to push the future out of his mind, but now the knight was realizing just how much trouble he really was in.
Knights were not dragons. It just…didn't work. He didn't even know how he was a dragon, or why it had been hidden for so long…but if he'd managed to camouflage himself so far it couldn't that difficult to keep going, could it? He'd have to hide the ears. And the scales. But really, who was going to see him naked anyways? As Jade had so eloquently pointed out, the times that humans—or in his case, dragons who were desperately trying to find a way to masquerade as humans—disrobed in company were rather infrequent. He could grow his hair out…and wear a hat or a shawl or something until he did. The hands…Marin grimaced when he looked at his fingers, the digits abnormally elonginated and the nails long and wickedly sharp (he realized with a wince that he'd already cut himself on them several times without noticing). Well he could…file them down or something, couldn't he? Of course.
"Could I have a mirror, or something to see my reflection in?" The dragon blinked a bit at the abrupt change of subject, but nodded and got fluidly to his feet to once more hunt through his chest. Marin swore he could hear some muttered comments about 'pathetic portable treasure collection' and 'so much better stuff back home' before Jade once again surfaced with a silver-rimmed mirror and handed it Marin. Then, all the knight could do was gape.
"What happened to my HAIR?!" The ears, he was almost used to. The scales, he could at least hide. The nails could be fixed. But his hair…while it had always been a vibrant blonde colour, now the locks tumbled down his neck in shining waves of pure gold. Marin almost whimpered when he realized that his eyes were now a burnished amber/gold colour as well. Jade opened his mouth to reply, but Marin shook his head and continued "Never mind, never mind. I just…how long was I unconscious?"
"…a while. It's mid-morning."
They would send another knight if he didn't get back soon! Marin jerked up and out of the bed like a shot, then groaned and almost fell back again when his bruises decided to make themselves known. Jade caught him carefully and steadied him, much to Marin's mortification as he struggled to convince himself that he really needed to leave NOW, and that he shouldn't look at the pretty dragon any more no matter how much he wanted to.
"I'm really sorry about all the bruises…" How did a dragon manage to sound so pathetically apologetic?
"No no, it's fine it's okay don'tworryaboutit…" He was babbling. Why was he babbling? Marin wasn't sure, but he had a suspicion it was a combination of urgency to get back to the palace…and dismay at how much he wanted to sink back and let Jade support him, which the dragon seemed to be doing completely effortlessly. He needed to leave.
"I need to go, though. Now, before they send another knight…"
"…why would they do that?"
"Because they think you're going to eat people or burn down the village or something. We don't have dragons here, Jade. To us, a dragon is a very large, very dangerous animal that's almost impossible to kill." Marin explained, glancing up to see the dragon—at disconcertingly close quarters, since he was still leaning on him, and this really was not good for his peace of mind—looking resigned and maybe a little hurt. But that last bit was probably his imagination.
"I see." Jade made sure Marin was steady on his feet and then released him, bending down to retrieve the sword that Marin really disliked by now thanks to all the bad memories attached to it. Nevertheless he accepted it when it was handed to him, and allowed himself to be led out of the caves and into the sunlight again, blinking slightly to adjust. He turned back to Jade in time to catch an odd sort of smile, different form the others—this dragon seemed to have so many different smiles, all of them unique. Sarcastic, puzzled, delighted, and now this quiet, gentle, resigned one…Marin could spend a lifetime cataloguing those smiles. "I'll make sure they think I'm gone. There is no need for you to worry." Jade informed Marin gently, then his smile widened as something occurred to him. "I suppose you defeated the dragon after all."
Marin managed a laugh at that, although between dread for the future and a foolish but very pervasive reluctance to leave, he was having some trouble mustering up humour. Jade noticed and sighed again, reaching out and tugging some of Marin's hair forwards to hide his ears-fins more fully.
"I wish you luck, Maeryn. I am sorry I did not get the chance to help solve your mystery…but I hope you find the answer some day."
"Thank you." Marin forced himself not to look back until he was hidden by the trees—the same spot where only yesterday he'd cowered in fear of the dragon that he was certain was going to kill him. Jade was still standing where Marin had left him, shielding his eyes from the sun, but even as the knight watched the dragon sighed and turned back to the cave, his green hair shining in the light.
"The dragon is defeated, Your Majesty."
Marin almost couldn't get the words out, and that was just plain silly. Why was he so unhappy about this? He'd gotten out alive, he'd managed to sneak back to the palace and hide all evidence of his transformation before he'd been summoned before the king, and now he was even able to report that he'd completed his mission! So why were annoying, insistent parts of his thoughts whining that they'd rather have just stayed with the dragon with the pretty green hair and all the different smiles that he somehow already knew by heart?
And he should not be thinking about this right now! Marin kept his bow steady and his eyes on the floor and berated himself silently that he was in an audience with the king and that was one of those times where Paying Attention was a Good Thing!
…and when had he started to think in capitol letters?
"…We are pleased, Marin of Sylvan. You have Our gratitude."
And was it just him, or did the king sound more shocked than grateful? On the other hand, even Marin had been expecting himself to fail. He just hadn't counted on Jade being so…himself. Not-evil-dragon-ish.
"You have visited Our healers?"
"Yes Your Majesty."
"You may be relieved of your duties for the day; on the morrow We shall have a fitting reward for your valor. You are dismissed."
"Thank you Your Majesty."
Marin backed out of the throne room and breathed a sigh of relief when the doors were shut behind him. That had been a 'private' audience, meaning it was just him and the king…and the king's advisors, personal guard, Captain of the Guards, retainers and anyone else the king felt like inviting. Marin wasn't sure he could deal with the public ceremony they were sure to have tomorrow.
He also ached, because he most definitely had not visited the healers. He wasn't quite stupid enough to get caught that way…because even if his opinion of the palace healers was rather low (how stupid did you have to be to buy 'I fell down' as an excuse sixteen times in the past two months? Or how callous, to just not care that his excuses were pathetic and he was obviously getting attacked?) even they would notice that golden scales were not normal.
Marin was wandering aimlessly down the palace halls by this time, so it wasn't really a surprise when he looked up and found himself at the training yards. It had been the centre of his life for the past few years, and his feet took him there pretty much automatically…and rather foolishly, because lounging in the shade and idly watching the one or two training bouts that were in progress were three knights that Marin really, really didn't want to see right now.
He tried to slip out quietly, but his bad luck held. The next moment he was trapped, back to a wall and the knights in front of him, and why the hell was everyone so much taller than him? Really, if he was a dragon now you'd think he'd at least get some extra height or something…and then his rambling thoughts faded in a wave of pure panic as he realized that there was very, very little chance he would get out of this with his secret undiscovered. The slightest sideways motion of his head revealed his ears, so…he had to get away, somehow.
He glanced around at the three knights, seeing very little pity or opportunity for negotiation there. They were all model knights, protectors of the kingdom, the ideals of what people looked up to. Marin wasn't really sure why they bothered him, except that he, well, wasn't any of that. And didn't belong here and probably never would. But really, it seemed sort of pointless to make that clear again and again and again, since he didn't have anywhere else to go…
"Excuse me, sirs, but could we possibly postpone this until tomorrow? The king said I was released from all duties today and I'm fairly sure that this should count as…" he was interrupted by a slap across the face that left his eyes stinging. I guess not, he thought with resignation and the slightest bit of anger. Why did they do this? What was the point?
His anger mounted as the beating went on, mocking words joining the physical blows. Usually Marin was able to just tune them out, but today…today anger was fizzing in his blood and he wanted to hear what they were saying so he could make them hurt for it.
"—and no one actually believes you fought the dragon and came out alive, are you too stupid to even make up a good story?"
"You probably ran away and hid. The king will find that out eventually. You'll be put where you belong—maybe the cells will teach you your place, filthy little forest heathen."
"We'll go kill the dragon; it was a job for real knights in the first place…"
And maybe, if they hadn't suggested that they were going to kill the dragon, the three knights might have lived. All Marin knew was that his rage boiled over at last and he had time to swear as he remembered the last time this had happened…and then the world exploded in yells of panic and surprise and his roar of fury.
This awakening was much less pleasant than the last one. He still ached everywhere, and some places had new aches on top of the old ones. Also, he felt…odd. Marin realized why the moment he opened his eyes and saw golden scales an inch from his nose; he was in dragon form. And when he tried to rise to his feet (well, all fours really), he was treated to another nasty surprise; he was chained to the wall by his neck, all four legs, tail and both wings. Marin roared in outrage and a bit of pain—his wings were being yanked back at a painful angle, and his long neck was already starting to cramp.
He heard a whimper of fear in response to his roar, but couldn't see who made it, thanks to the heavy wooden door that blocked all light in the cell; for a prison cell it was. Only then did Marin remember what had happened to land him here, and let out another roar, this time of despair.
He didn't know how long it had been. Measuring time was impossible, especially since he wasn't being fed. Judging from how thirsty he was, it had been at least a day…but then again, he didn't know how fast dragons got dehydrated. His wings were in agony by now, the slightest motion making them burn painfully…and just to add insult to injury, every so often the window in the heavy door would slide open and frightened eyes would stare through, those 'brave' enough to get a look at the dragon. Marin was still furious, he had been ever since he woke up—was this something to do with being in dragon form? He'd always been able to control his temper, but now…maybe chained up was the best place for him. He really didn't know what he would do if he was free.
A creaking sound made Marin swivel his head to try to look at the door. Amber eyes blinked in surprise as a thin sliver of light flooded the cell. Someone was actually coming inside? Two someones, in fact…the Captain of the Guard and a slim, familiar figure with long green hair. Jade.
Even through the fuzz of pain and misery Marin recognized when the air inside the cell changed, and almost purred. A flood of calm, of well-being, of belonging was carried in with the other dragon's scent…how had he not realized this before? It made everything just the tiniest bit more bearable, made his temper dwindle back down to controllable levels…it made him feel safe, or as safe as he could feel.
Jade, just previous
"…what did you say you were, again?"
"A Dragon Slayer, Your Majesty." Jade knelt on one knee before the throne, and tried to keep from growling; he knelt to no one but the Wind Lord! But this was needed. Necessary to get his pretty gold dragon back. He'd slipped up once and let him leave, because he was stupid…so now he needed to fix the mistake. And if that meant kneeling to this 'king' person, with layers of heavy robes and some nice shiny treasure (that really would look better on someone not so fat and pale and scowly, such as a pretty gold dragon who didn't wear shinies but should), well, Jade would deal with it and try not to growl. Too loudly.
"And you have already killed the black dragon?" Green! Green, winds take it, why were humans always unable to tell the difference? Dey was black. Jade was dark green. How hard was that to grasp?
"Yes Your Majesty."
"We require proof." Of course he did. Because making this easy would just be too much to ask for, wouldn't it? Jade rose and fished around in his belt pouch, before producing one of his scales—there were always one or two loose ones waiting to be shed—and showing it to the king, carefully keeping it in his grasp. No way was he going to let Ugly King actually get his hands on it; never mind the magic you could do with dragon scales, Jade just didn't want this man, who had hurt Maeryn and locked him up, to touch any part of him.
"…the head is usually customary."
Oh, sorry. "Apologies, Your Majesty. I am traveling and pressed for time—it would be cumbersome."
"We understand. This proof is sufficient, and you have Our thanks. Your arrival is fortuitous; We require your assistance in ridding Us of another dragon."
"I confess that I have heard as much, Majesty."
That was a bit of an understatement. It had taken him all of a day to feel like an idiot for letting Maeryn leave and decide to remedy the mistake…and then when he'd gotten to this palace and all anyone was talking about was the second dragon that had appeared, he'd kicked himself for taking even that much time. His vision had gone red for a moment when he'd heard what the servants were saying—a huge, terrible beast had appeared in the heart of the castle, killed three of their best knights (along with Maeryn—he had almost laughed at that part) before being subdued and was now locked in the dungeons, waiting to be put down before it could hurt more innocents. It was almost laughable, compared to his memories; Maeryn was delicate by his people's standards, a full-grown dragon but just barely. Surely no threat to those that did not deserve it—and if what he'd read between the lines of Maeryn's carefully neutral explanations was correct, those knights had deserved it several times over.
"Indeed. It is in the dungeons. Will you kill it?"
"Good. Captain, show him the way. When you return, We will have a fitting reward for you."
"My thanks." Jade followed the so-called Captain, resisting the urge to wrinkle his nose. The man smelled like alcohol, as if he'd been soaking in it—what kind of Captain was that? Dey would eat him. Actually, given how he smelled, even Dey might hesitate to eat something that rank. He reluctantly followed that smell down winding staircases, the Captains boots echoing and Jade's softer leather footware making no sound, until they reached the dungeons. The guard at the door saluted, and Jade forced himself to nod gravely—he could smell Maeryn now, in pain and miserable, and it was making him furious. The door creaked open slowly and Jade almost Changed right then and there at the sight of his pretty golden dragon curled up and chained to the wall. Why would they do this? He understood humans so much less than he'd thought.
"There it is, sir. I must admit, your coming is a godsend. We didn't know what to do with it." Smelly Captain gestured towards Maeryn as if Jade couldn't find him on his own—because it was just too easy to miss a huge, bright golden dragon in the middle of an otherwise empty room, Jade thought derisively. Stupid human.
"…yes." Jade could feel his voice trying to growl, and hastily corrected it, making the statement at least seem neutral. "You chained him."
"Well done." It was hissed through clenched teeth, but the Captain didn't seem to notice. "Stand back, Captain. I would advise that no one but me gets this close." Ah, being able to order Smelly around made Jade feel a bit better. He approached Maeryn mock-warily, pleased at the amusement he could see gleaming in those tired amber eyes. The Captain gaped in awe as Jade reached out to lift the dragon's chin, one hand holding him steady while the other smoothed over his head soothingly.
"I coat my hands with a special substance. It makes them biddable, for a while at least," Jade lied easily, before bending down to murmur reassuringly into one fin-like ear, "It's all right now." He had to stop himself from grinning as the dragon's nose, almost as long as his forearm, nuzzled into his hands…much to the Captain's awe and disbelief.
"Unchain him, except for the neck."
Jade put on his most arrogant expression, the one Ruadh had nicknamed "I'm too busy right now to bother with killing you, but I'd like you to know that your stupid is showing."
"I know what I'm doing. I'm a professional."
Reluctantly the Captain unlocked the thick bands of iron holding Maeryn in place, jumping back quickly as the great wings unfurled and then folded back down at the angle at which they belonged. If dragons were able to sigh in relief, Maeryn would be.
"Now detach the chain from the wall, and give it to me." The Captain obeyed, and soon Jade was holding the golden dragon on a leash. He grinned wickedly at Maeryn when the Captain wasn't looking, and received a roll of the eyes in return; the dragon could obviously guess most of what he was thinking, and wasn't amused. Jade wiped the grin off of his face with difficulty and turned to lead Maeryn out of the cell.
"Sir, what are you…"
"I can't kill him in here, you fool. His death throes would destroy the dungeons."
The Captain gulped and fell silent, trailing along behind the two of them meekly. The odd procession made its way through the palace and out into the open air. Jade didn't stop until they were in the middle of a grassy field, out of sight of the rest of the palace (the Captain had scowlingly turned away anyone eager to watch the dragon die).
"Now then…" Quickly Jade unlocked the chain around Maeryn's neck, stroking the scales there for a moment before stepping back and gesturing at the dumbfounded Captain. "He's yours." he told the dragon courteously, laughing as Maeryn shook himself slightly and began to stalk towards the Captain, his eyes gleaming. The man's eyes widened, and he seemed about to go for his sword, but at the last moment changed his mind and ran—a good thing, too, because Jade was amazed that Maeryn was still conscious, as tired and hungry and hurt as he must be. Maeryn sat back on his haunches and waited until the Captain was out of sight, before changing back. He managed to stay upright for a good three seconds before he started to waver, at which point Jade was more than happy to catch him.
"Stay awake a little longer, pretty..." he cautioned and amber eyes struggled open again, tired and dazed and did he really want to make his pretty walk all the way to his cave? No. "Never mind." Another advantage to him being so small, Jade reflected as he carefully lifted Maeryn up and Changed. Minutes later he was in the air, and in just under an hour was back at his cave.
He really needed to stop passing out. This was the third time in three days—that was one of those things that was Bad For You, Marin reflected as his eyes opened slowly. He grinned when they met the now-familiar cave ceiling, however; really, he'd missed this place too much for only a day's absence. Or perhaps not the cave so much as…
"Maeryn? You're awake!"
Marin had time to take half a breath before it was being squeezed out of him again by a very relieved, very happy green dragon.
"I was worried they'd done something else—you're not hurt? They didn't hurt you too badly?" The dragon pulled away from him and scanned him for injuries. His eyes found a particularly lurid bruise on one cheekbone and flashed a hard, stonier green, and for a moment Jade actually looked dangerous. "Stupid humans…but you're all right?" And like a switch the worried, concerned look was back, his eyes fading back to gentle blue-green as one thumb brushed the bruise gently and then continued, searching for anything worse.
"Jade! Jade, I'm fine." Marin was trying not to laugh—he was ticklish, which was quickly being revealed as Jade moved down his neck. When he got to Marin's shoulders, however (bare, the knight realized with a start, then sighed in relief that at least Jade had remembered the human need for pants) he quickly caught the dragon's hands, holding him still before things could get awkward. "Truly, I'm all right. Thank you." Once he was sure Jade was done panicking he loosed his hands, and smiled as the dragon sat down comfortably on the pallet next to him, long hair spreading out over the floor. Marin lay back down and blinked in surprise when he felt long-nailed hands comb through his hair. Maybe it was a dragon thing? It was nice, so he wasn't going to argue. The knight relaxed and let his thoughts wander.
"…what are half-dragons called?"
Jade blinked, thrown by the question after the long silence, but then shrugged and answered "Just half-dragons, I think. They might count as full dragons if they can Change the way you can. Is that what you are, then?"
Marin nodded, still working things out in his head and mumbling his thought process out loud. "So, my mother must have been a dragon…and she had me—do dragons give live birth? Or lay eggs, or what?—and then died. And someone sealed me? Or something? What did you mean by a seal, anyways?"
Jade looked a little stunned from all the questions, but answered as patiently as ever. "It feels a little awkward explaining this, since I didn't really expect to until I had kits, but yes dragons lay eggs. One egg at a time and only in trueform, and it takes about six weeks to be laid but almost two years to hatch. If a dragon feels more comfortable in human form, which is rare but happens, she'll stay human for however long humans take and give human birth. Which is a little…weird. And, uh, only female dragons give birth. Just to clear that up." Marin laughed at the slightly disturbed expression on the dragon's face. "And a seal on Changing…well, it takes a talented magic-user, but not an amazing one."
"And you broke it? How?"
"You broke it. I just pissed you off." Jade flashed a smirk/grin. "Anger—and pain, although I'm really sorry about that—is one of the best ways to trigger a Change. Your seal was strong, though…your family must have paid a lot. I don't think they ever wanted you to break through."
"Why would they do that?" Marin growled, frustrated and feeling a bit betrayed. Had his family thought he'd be dangerous? Jade shrugged, running soothing fingers through Marin's hair again. "If everyone in your land is so afraid of dragons, maybe they were worried you'd get hurt." All right, Marin conceded that that was a good point.
"Do you want to go see them?"
"Your family. You could ask them questions…figure out what exactly they were thinking…"
Marin considered it for a moment, but shook his head eventually. "I don't think so. They told me not to come back." The hands in his hair tightened slightly, and Marin glanced up to see Jade glaring at the wall. "…I don't really mind, Jade."
"I mind." The dragon growled. "Stupid humans."
"It was as much for my own good as for theirs, you know. The Forest has ways to make sure that unwelcome people are kept out…they'd rather know that I was alive and happy somewhere else. I hope." There were always those nagging doubts…after all, he'd never heard the forest's voice. He'd had to take their word for it. If they had honestly just disliked him and wanted to get rid of him…but, no, he had felt it, hadn't he? The silent hostility from his surroundings. And his family had loved him, in their own way, really they had…even if they hadn't shown it all that often…
"Don't make that face." Marin blinked in surprise, pulled out of his musings. "There, that's better. Listen, your forest was stupid, your family was stupid, and the humans at that sad excuse for a castle were very stupid. You, however, are only stupid when you make that particular face. All right?"
Marin had to grin at the exasperation in Jade's tone. "All right." He complied without much deliberation. After all, finally someone else was saying what he'd tried to tell himself for so many years (if slightly more bluntly than he'd ever put it). Why argue?
"Well anyways, the only thing I really want to know is what my mother was doing here in the first place."
Jade shrugged. "She was probably exploring. A lot of young dragons do it…I was feeling special because I got this far, but apparently I'm not the first one. Other than Ruadh, who cheats because his fox-thing has his own boat. Don't you want to know what she was like?"
It was Marin's turn to shrug. "They probably don't know. I have brothers two years older and a year younger, so she probably only stuck around long enough to lay the egg. Two months, at most…" That was a little depressing. Then again, the people of Sylvan didn't understand commitment the same way, and none of his brothers had the same mother, so why should he be different?
"So where are you going to go now?"
Marin's eyes widened slightly, as he realized that he had no idea…and that was Most Definitely a Bad Thing. As the knight began to panic, Jade continued thoughtfully and obliviously, "I'll probably need to move soon…you found my lair, so someone else probably will eventually…would you like to come home with me?"
"Would you like to come home with me?" the dragon repeated patiently, elaborating when Marin simply stared. "To the palace. To meet the Wind Lord and his lover and the prince who's sort of a dragon but not quite and Deyllgo and his small human and everyone? You didn't have anything else you wanted to do, did you? I'll wait, if you want."
Marin stared for a bit longer. Eventually he managed to get out an incredulous "You. Want me. To come with you?"
"To the dragon isles."
Marin was sitting up by now, trying to find any glimmer of malicious amusement in Jade's increasingly confused expression.
"…you're serious. You can't be serious. You want me to come with you? You don't even know me, and I've only been a dragon two days and I don't know how to be a dragon and it's not like I can really do anything else and you're going to get bored eventually and I'll just be annoying and things really, really do NOT turn out this well for me and—mmph."
His increasingly hysterical tirade was cut off by Jade's mouth, pressed firmly against his and quite effectively forestalling any further protests. Not that he could remember what he had been going to say in any case. Marin's eyes flickered open (when had he closed them?) to see blue-green eyes sparkling with satisfaction, and a slightly worried but very happily smiling dragon.
"…you're not mad at me, right? Humans are funny about this sort of thing."
For a moment, Marin was certain he could see his future. On one hand, he could shove Jade away. Remind him that relationships between those of the same gender were illegal here (that didn't mean they didn't happen, of course), and that he was practically a stranger in any case. That once he got to know Marin he'd find him just as strange and useless as everyone else had. He'd leave after that, and try to restart again somewhere…until they, too, decided he wasn't wanted. Eventually he'd get tired of being gotten rid of and isolate himself, if he was even still alive by that point.
Or, he could just ignore all those sensible reasons not to remake his life for a foreign dragon he'd only known for two days. He could stay with Jade; learn all those smiles by heart, catalogue them in his mind and learn just how to elicit each one. He could follow him back to his home, become part of his own fairy tale and learn about the creatures of myths that he too was a part of…he could stay with the one person who'd actually made him feel wanted.
When he put it that way, it wasn't really a very difficult choice.
Jade was watching him, a worried edge to his smile as he waited for an answer. The worry melted away into relief when Marin smiled, reaching up to wrap arms around the taller dragon's neck. "I'm not a human…" he reminded him contentedly just before their lips met.