Scene Three: Fafnir
...Of Act Four: Old Endings
In the eyes of Ryoku Dragontalen, we are in
the Deep Grotto, in the world of Harohto.
It is late noon
On November 19th, 2019.
"I've killed way more men than you can imagine! Tons! You saw me back there – I ran them through without hesitation!"
"So have several of my friends," I replied morosely. "It is a necessary evil, I'm discovering. If we don't kill, they may go on to commit greater sins. I… find it hard to do myself, but I can't dismiss it."
"My father is the king of Id," Faust pressed, striding alongside me with ease. "Or, was. He fell from grace three years ago. His dark blood courses through my veins."
I rolled my eyes. "Vincent and Lars Ordenstraum, emperors of Orden, have spared far less kindness to me than you have in the last day. And, neither one saved my life."
Faust fell back for a second, scratching his chin. Then he jogged up alongside me again. "You paid me to come with you, y'know. Who says I won't just up and desert you?"
"You haven't yet, have you?" I asked. "You could've killed me at least once already, if not while we all slept."
"While you slept, what, a wink last night?" Faust asked. "Maybe I passed out before you did and am stuck waiting for a chance."
I sighed. "The money means nothing to me, Faust. And your past isn't the author of your future. Let's just go, okay?"
"Are you kidding me?" Faust demanded as I strolled past him again. "You're gonna get stabbed in the back one day, kiddo."
"Not by you, I'm sure," I replied morosely. "Your actions speak louder than your words. You helped me heal Kimball. You saved my life. And…" I hesitated, glancing at Caryl, who wasn't looking at us. "You try to make yourself out as the bad guy."
"Who says I didn't do it for the money?"
"You didn't have the money yet," I replied. "Nor had you even mentioned such a thing."
"'E's got a point," Kimball added, catching up to us as I tried to out-stroll Faust. "If ye didn't recognize that poison, I'd be still as a stone right now. A man knows better than ter mistrust one who saves 'is life."
"Saves one, and condemns thousands," Faust muttered. "Is that how you rate people?"
"Yer not responsible for this," Caryl told him, gesturing widely to around us. "Is anyone? Think we're just survivors now."
Another roar broke through the woods, scattering birds nesting in the trees. It came from below us, deeper in the woods.
"He draws closer," Fenrir growled. "Ryoku, we must decide. I doubt we can skirt around the dragon and the reinforcements with this many injured. We will either walk straight into his jaws, or land in them."
"We know too little," I admitted. "Fafnir approaches, and the bulk of the raider force must be within the woods, but how are their numbers? Do we stand a chance even if we use the terrain to our advantage?"
"Better ground ahead would be nice," Kai said.
"We have miles of these woods left, and little chance to surpass them with the raiders at our throats," Mosten said. "Chances of flat ground to fight in are slim. Whether we find a narrow dodge to fight in or not, a dragon's fire would still cook us."
"We could use the trees to our advantage," Ramona pointed out, signaling with her hands. If the dragon has less versatility, we might stand a chance…"
"Or put something at our backs," Faust suggested. "A cliff, a big-ass tree… whatever we can get, really."
"With no way out?" Kai asked, dumbfounded. "What if we get outmatched? Run at the fucking dragon, then?"
A great wind suddenly cut through the trees, nearly bending some of the trees doubly over. Caryl caught onto Faust's arm for dear life. Fenrir caught me by the pant leg, rooting me to the ground.
I followed Fenrir's directive. Something jet-black cut out above the trees, wide enough to blot us out from what little sun there was.
I had an instant to act. I drew my bow as quickly as I could, fumbling with an arrow for a second before forcing myself into focus.
A great storm. A bolt of lightning that split apart the room. Thunder booming across the hills.
I shot the arrow, and it hit the tail end of the black body above with a thunderous crack! Everything went dark for a second as that flash stole all the light. The beast let out a roar to match its velocity.
"Nice," Kai murmured, impressed.
"That would not end it, but amicable shot," Fenrir told me. "He dives to the east – hurry! We bring the fight to the dragon before the army follows!"
We abandoned the path and charged down the hill, everyone on their toes now. Faust and Fenrir made quick work of the rougher terrain, but the rest of us struggled. I activated my marks slightly to help me leap over the brush, over fallen logs and debris that we found littered anywhere off the trodden path.
As we hit flatter land, the great wind rose up again, and a huge, black shape came to land in what looked like a moderate clearing ahead. It landed with such weight that the land jolted, shuddering under its immense weight. It was hard to tell under different context, but I wondered if this was the largest dragon I'd seen. His tail wound through the trees behind him, lashing and uprooting two or three full trunks a time. His scales were so black that it seemed the night sky itself may have come to strike up a fight with us. He folded in his wings, and I saw the straps that saddled a rider onto his back.
"Fenrir," the great dragon rumbled. "It's been a long time, wolf god."
"As to you, Fafnir," Fenrir growled, sauntering closer. His fur sparked with livid electricity like a loose powerline. "Are you not normally guarding treasure? I see none amid these endless trees."
"Oh, but we are."
A tall man became apparent just over the dragon's shoulder. I could see little of him but a black robe that hung open across his dark-skinned chest, and his hood was pulled over his head, though silver hair spilled out.
"You!" Faust shouted, stepping forward alongside Fenrir, who cast him a dirty look. "Why have you come here? Stay to the north – the rest of the land is ours!"
The figure let out a mirthless laugh. "Ah, but Fafnir's greatest interest is treasure – and what greater treasure can there be than my son, squabbling among the rabble in the south?"
Faust looked at me as I came to stand next to him, holding my bow once more. "He is my father, Demetri, as I told you. Fafnir is his dragon."
The great dragon let out a low rumble and lowered itself to the ground, spreading out its jet-black wings again. "You are the one who shot my tail," he hissed, a sound that seemed to echo from the foliage of every tree. "At my speed, you still struck me in the tail. I am impressed. Tell me your name."
I stared the dragon in the face, its eyes as orange as Deltorah's scales. "I am Ryoku Dragontalen! I have fought gods and dragons before. You shouldn't be a challenge."
Fafnir threw his head back, unleashing a spiral of flames that seemed to suck out all the autumn chill from around us. Heat like that could cook us instantly.
"The child speaks like a warrior!" Fafnir roared. "The fighters always taste the best!"
"Hop on!" Fenrir ordered, directed to Faust and I.
A raucous cheer started on behind us, and a chill swept down my spine. The raiders. No doubt they followed Demetri here. Mosten returned a war cry, riling us up. Kimball and Caryl flocked to him and his small group of soldiers. With a lasting look at me as Faust and I got on Fenrir's back, Kai rushed after them.
As soon as we were on Fenrir's back, he leapt into the air. Fafnir blasted the ground where we just stood with flames hot enough to incinerate the earth. With Faust and I clutching on for dear life, Fenrir landed against the breadth of a tree and leapt again, darting from tree to tree as fast as many could run. Fafnir was turning, but we had a speed advantage alongside him. Fenrir was making for an opening, and gaining ground fast.
I caught glimpses of the others beyond the trees. Mosten's group was a speck among the mixed colors pouring down the hill as fast as they could. I hoped they had a strategy planned. Of course, I'd realized from my first visit, Mosten was a war genius. Harohto was a small place for one with such talent.
Fenrir suddenly darted out from the trees to land on Fafnir's back and surged his body. "Go!"
Faust and I clambered off just in time. Fenrir threw his head back and howled to the skies. Lightning came down from a spot with no clouds, enveloping him. It was the same lightning that came down in Brooklyn from… me.
Fafnir roared in pain, throwing his long-necked head back. I had to dig my fingers into his sharp scales to stay grounded. Faust rammed his axe into Fafnir to stay grounded. I had to admit, I was impressed with how fearlessly he came with me. I felt I wasn't wrong about him.
Fenrir galloped off toward Fafnir's head with a last directive look at me. I caught the intent as the rider of Fafnir turned his head toward us. God versus god, and us versus its rider. If laws here worked anywhere near as similar as in Vortiger, it'd be advantageous to fight them separately. Bonds between them strengthened them.
Finding our footing was hard. The scales of Fafnir weren't smooth, leaving few places for us to stand. Many of its scales were broken, and some abandoned weapons stuck out from its few barren spots.
The tall rider got to his feet upon Fafnir's writhing scales. I could see his red eyes and markings beneath his hood, just like an older Faust.
"Let me handle this, kid," Faust snarled. His grip on his axe was white-hot. "Focus on the dragon or somethin'."
"We work together," I argued. "I've had experience with riders – they share power! The quicker we defeat him, the faster Fafnir falls."
Faust growled inhumanely, the demon within him bubbling at his skin. "Fine! Just don't get in my way!"
As if in response, I could feel Advocatos surging beneath the surface. I swallowed him back. If I could fight without him this time, I would. After Brooklyn, I wasn't sure I trusted him.
Faust and Demetri collided before I caught up. His wicked sword crashed into Faust's axe, nearly bringing it to the ground already in a mighty swing. Faust doubled back, regrouping himself before coming in again.
"The hell are you doing here, old man?" Faust cried as he swung, but Demetri blocked it easily. "There's nothing here for you!"
"But you're wrong, son!" Demetri replied in a rich baritone of a voice. "Our homeland will thrive again with the resources of Harohto!"
I hesitated, standing back in the fight for a moment as the two exchanged heated blows. Strong as he was, Faust couldn't seem to land a hit on his father. He snarled in frustration. "You're insane! The lack of sun has addled your damn mind! This world's gone to the dogs."
"I expect no understanding," Demetri replied, switching to an offensive mode and raining blows down, which Faust could barely dodge. "Only compliance! Stand down, and let this world fall to us!"
I advanced carefully, mindful of their rage-filled battle. "You… You're trying to steal what resources this world has left?"
Demetri laughed, a deep rumble in his chest. "Harohto is gone. Taking what resources are left can further save my own world, plagued with constant heat and few resources. It is no different than taking the clothes a small child has outgrown and putting them to use! Stand down, Defender, and you and your friends may leave this forest alive."
Faust cursed in a dark tone. "Sahir would never take your resources, damn it! All this support you've found in like-minded drones does for you nothing!"
My head spun. In one light, he was actually right. Harohto might not have use for its resources anymore, but… people still lived here! Caryl and Kimball were just two stragglers on a populated continent that couldn't be all gone!
I lifted Ragnarokkr with one hand and leveled it toward Demetri. Their conflict stopped, and both looked at me. "I am not just a Defender," I warned him. "I am Ryoku Dragontalen, and I have saved a world with a similar fate. I have tangled with the darkest emperor in the realms, and he is not you. I will not let you rob this world. Take your dragon and your army, and leave! If I fail to save this world, then at least let me guide its people to safety – then you can take whatever you please!"
Demetri's wrist flicked. Before I could react, Faust lunged in front of me and was wholly consumed by a thick batch of flames.
"Faust!" I cried, rushing forward to his aid. But the man grunted, and the flames whooshed out around him. I stared, dumbfounded, as he looked perfectly unsinged before me. I'd felt the heat of that blast from where I stood! How did he…?
"Foolish boy," Demetri spat. "You assumed I meant natural resources! Your pride has swelled the useless parts of your brain, child. I need slaves! I need men to plunder the resources, and raiders to keep them working fast! Once this world is scavenged, I'll need servants when I return home. Slaves to work the mines beneath the sands, to plow our sheltered fields. I will not let you stand in my way!"
He'd had little to no reaction toward his son, who met his father's gaze equally. When Demetri slashed again, I hesitated no more, rushing forward with my marks to drive a powerful kick into his ribs. He coughed blood, knocked off balance as Fafnir rumbled beneath him. Faust's axe screeched past my head and just shy of Demetri, who stumbled away. It was nary a second, though, before he was rushing us again.
I defended myself with Ragnarokkr by the chains, blocking his strikes by swinging the sword at his weapon as quickly as I could. Ragnarokkr had much more weight to it when I wielded it like this, and I knew it couldn't last.
When Faust's axe blocked a strike meant for me, I took the second to stow Ragnarokkr away and draw my knife, and zoomed in like a wasp for a low strike. Demetri's leg lashed out in a heavy kick, but I rolled around it.
Fafnir let out a horrific roar. Above us, Fenrir latched onto the dragon's snout and wasn't letting go. The dragon writhed, throwing all three of us off our feet. I caught onto his great black scales to save myself, and saw that the other two had as well.
"I thought you to be a better judge of character, Defender!" Demetri howled, taking a slash at me to try and loosen my grip. "Fighting alongside my son, a dirty Lycian!"
I saw Fenrir leapt from Fafnir's jaw above just as the dragon unleashed a hot blast of fire. A flash of lightning later, and the wolf was renewing his assault.
"I know who he is!" I countered, and timed a following strike as Fafnir righted himself. Demetri danced away, but Faust continued the aggression, sending his father back several paces with flurried blows. "Faust is with me! We'll find a way to save as many as we can!"
Thrown off balance, Demetri thrust out his hand and a bolt of lightning escaped his grip. I danced back just in time, but a hot bolt lanced above my brow.
The vivid Orden storm.
I retaliated with an even brighter batch of lightning, surprising myself with the resounding strength that burst forth from my hands. It seemed to take the light from the day for a second. A tendril of it lapped across the broad head of Faust's axe, and ripped into his father's chest with a spray of blood. By the time the flash subsided, Demetri was on his knees, blood dripping from a serious burn across his chest. With the power of that lightning, it was probably minimal damage, but it still made my stomach lurch.
A second later, Faust had the blade of his axe at his father's neck. "Sahir doesn't need your damned resources, stolen from beneath the noses of the suffering. He's better than that. He's better than me, damn it, and you make me look like a saint. I messed up, but I left knowing he's got this. You, however…"
He uttered a sound of pure, unadulterated rage. "This is for my sister, you wretched bastard!"
When Faust reared back the axe, Demetri rose to his feet. I noticed the telltale signs quickly. The stripes across his skin started to grow, spreading across his skin like snakes. A frenzied grin took over his features, and his eyes shone like slick blood on the ground, widening until I could only think he'd lost his mind.
Faust cursed, jumping away just as Demetri's blade hammered Fafnir's scales where Faust had just been. The dragon howled in protest, but Demetri paid him no mind, grinning and chuckling horridly.
Let me fight! You don't stand a chance here.
Advocatos' voice hit my mind like my lightning returned. I flinched, my hand shooting to my head as his voice made it throb.
Images of my last experience with Advocatos welled up in my mind. I didn't trust the demon. He'd saved me before, but he was filled with darkness. Darkness that I knew I only fed by allowing him control. I recalled my first experience I knew of him, the Day of Black. Letting him out more often had repercussions as readily as boons.
When Ronyx banished me from Fon, it was easy to listen to Advocatos. He knew how my mind worked, and what to say to abate that bitter feeling of uselessness as Fon suffered without my aid. He was even stronger than that power of calling upon the gods, and he knew things about my inner workings that scared me.
You cannot fall here. Let me fight! If you do not, your friend will die.
Faust sparred with his father now, engaged in his own demonic form. His bright red eyes seemed to burn the air as he moved, and he accelerated until he danced circles around his father. When he closed in, though, Demetri caught him, forcing him back where blood dripped freely from a wound I hadn't seen inflicted.
I was fast, but not fast or strong enough to help like this. Maybe, in my own way, it was personal growth to realize I couldn't win the fight in my current state. As I gave in to the darkness, his anticipation for battle was almost tangible, like he could already taste the blood.
(In the eyes of Advocatos…)
It had been ages since I felt such power. My host shrank into the back of my mind, shying away from the demonic skirmish. The changes that washed over my body were almost absolute. I felt at home with my darkened skin, black hair, and markings of my own. Ragnarokkr felt natural in my hands, more so than its original form of light.
Both demons turned as I entered. They were an interesting sort, Lycians. A new-world creation. In the old days, souls like Ryoku Dragontalen and Kimo Goldenhart were looked down upon for their demonic blood. Unlike us, the demons seemed merged with these souls, the same side of the same coin. This had to be one of his creations.
Demetri lunged at me. It was easy to reappear behind him by phasing, a trick my host hadn't grasped yet. It didn't surprise the demon, and he whipped around with another quick strike. I blocked it, but the energy from the malignant slash ripped at my clothes. I felt Ryoku's emotional sting – the sweater from the Trickster. As my host before, he had certain clauses that allowed me to be in control. Foolish destruction of the things valuable to him were one of them. It was an easier rule to follow.
Demetri laid on the assault. He exerted unnecessary energy in thrusting at me, dancing around Faust's own slashes and cuts as he moved. I blocked each strike methodically, waiting for the beast to tire himself out. He was a young and foolish demon. One of my court would never make such simple mistakes.
There it was – the half-second delay. I lurched in with Ragnarokkr, eager to end the fight. It taxed his body too easily to let myself slip into a full battle.
My blade met steel. I hesitated, and the demon pushed me back with a burst of dark magic. I blocked most of it with Ragnarokkr, but dark tendrils ripped at my face and hands. In particular, an open gash above my eye took an overlapping cut, splashing some of my face with thin blood.
A moment of blindness from the blood had Demetri closing in, raining blows upon me again with renewed aggression. I misread him. My time away was making me rusty. That wouldn't do.
I stopped toying around. I stole a blow around his guard and slashed a narrow cut into his chest. He hardly missed a step, nearly exchanging it for landing a strike of his own. I used the sword to attempt an uppercut slash, but Demetri flipped backward to avoid it. Faust nearly used the moment to land a blow of his own, but Demetri dodged him like he could read his mind.
I reared Ragnarokkr back, and I felt Ryoku's focus sharpen. He recognized the stance, as he should. The Rai Shin Kai was one of his own techniques, but one that evaded him as long as he couldn't properly wield his sword. It was only possible with Ragnarokkr or a sword forged for the Dragontalen family. As descendants from the original dragons, it was one of the last arts of that bloodline, a trait borrowed from the most powerful and ancient of beings. Entities like Leiogrey and the dragons of Vortiger couldn't possibly match up.
In this form, and wielded by me, Ragnarokkr collected dark energy. I felt no material response from the blade, but it still knew its worth. The blade weighed almost nothing in my hands.
A second hand grasped its hilt. The movement almost snapped my concentration, which was deadly. Faust appeared next to me, his grip on Ragnarokkr's handle. In response, the darkness around Ragnarokkr began to glint and shimmer with a deep red energy. If I lost focus now, it'd be more devastating than loosing the Rai Shin Kai upon myself, but the action didn't make sense. How could Faust handle the Dragontalen weapon?
Power resonated through my voice, a deep, rich power that I often longed for. I almost didn't realize that Faust spoke the words in unison.
Together we raised the blade, and swung.
The monstrous energy swung forth like a released guillotine. The energy Faust added was unlike my own, but didn't deter the ability. The energy hung in the air for a second like a stormcloud, then cleaved through the air.
But Demetri was gone. The faint noise of world travel hung in the wake of the Rai Shin Kai. Faust swore, throwing his axe down in anger, which clattered against an upraised scale and disappeared into the air. I stared at him, perturbed. I had many questions for the Lycian prince, but no time to ask them. Resigned, I allowed Ryoku to resume control.
(In the eyes of Ryoku Dragontalen…)
I swayed on the spot, dizzied by a lack of energy. I fell to my knees, scraping my skin against Fafnir's rough scales. The skill Advocatos used sapped a lot of energy from me.
"Come on, kiddo." Faust held out a hand to me. "We still got a big problem to sink."
I took his hand, and he lifted me as easily as one might a shirt. I managed to steady myself, relying on his grip and Fafnir's scales.
Battle still raged around us. Far below us, I could see the dots of our friends surrounded in the woods, battling for their lives. As I stared, though, more dots started flowing from the nearby woods. Greater in number, armed, and led by some figures on horses. Even my strangely enhanced sight couldn't pick them out from our spot. I tried to peer closer.
A loud whimper above us made me forget it. Fenrir fell through the open air, landing hard on his back on the ground.
I forgot my place and ran, stumbling on the dragon's scales. The handle of a sword smacked my leg hard, sending pins and needles through it. Faust grabbed onto me and leapt, putting a surprising distance between us and the dragon's scales.
We landed hard. I hit the ground and toppled, and so did Faust. Despite tripping up, I quickly righted myself and ran toward the god. Fenrir was trying to rise, but his leg gave out below him. He whimpered loudly as he collapsed. I fell to kneel beside him, examining him quickly. A grave wound spread down the outside of his leg. Blood matted his fur from other small gashes, and one of his horns was cracked.
"Leave me," Fenrir growled. "I cannot walk. Ryoku, you must flee. I was foolish to engage us in this battle."
"No!" I wailed. "Fenrir, just wait, I'm sure I can heal—"
Faust shoved his way under Fenrir, inciting a whimper of protest from the wolf god. Faust shot me a warning look, and as though he'd stolen my weightless marks, leapt away with Fenrir on his shoulders. Realizing what happened, I followed a second later as Fafnir's huge tail bore down on where we just were.
"Puny humans! Stay in one spot and let me squash you!" Fafnir roared, thrashing all around with his tail. Huge, deep trees fell in his wake, some crashing down upon the great dragon's tail, but he didn't seem to mind.
"We ain't runnin'!" Faust shouted back. To me, he inclined his head. Following his directive, I dashed over the trunk of a fallen tree and into the air, landing on the broader end of Fafnir's tail as it swung by, destroying the tree I'd just used. Faust landed next to me, grunting as Fenrir's weight fell on him. "Come on!"
"What are we doing!?" I cried. I followed Faust as he resumed a dead run, sprinting up the dragon's scales in a nimble fashion that reminded me of Will navigating the woods. I ended up relying on my marks, which would have been useful back in the Old Forest.
"Get to his head!" Faust ordered. "I've got a plan!"
He disappeared behind Fafnir's wing, and I followed as fast as I could go. The leg I'd whacked on one of Fafnir's many buried weapons still buzzed, but I fought against it in a dead run. If I couldn't do this now, following up with whatever plan Faust was concocting, then Fenrir was right – we didn't stand a chance.
I gained a bit of ground on him and found us running side-by-side up Fafnir's huge neck. The dragon flailed, and Faust almost lost his footing, but I managed to steady him with a quick blast of wind magic. I didn't have all the focus I usually needed for magic, but it was just enough.
Faust's eyes scanned the dragon's brow once we cleared his neck, and he found what he was looking for. With a cry of effort, he lunged across momentarily open air.
"Ryoku! Use your damned lightning! C'mon, pup!"
I hit open air as well, hearing Faust's shout in a crazed moment as Fafnir tossed his huge head, and I came face-to-face with his great snout, his huge, purple eyes appearing like a set of moons before me.
I forced myself to concentrate. The Orden storm; thunder rolling through the valley, echoing off the mountains. Fenrir's great howl. Lightning buzzing around his horns.
My eyes snapped open just as Faust landed, grabbing onto the handle of a sword that stuck out in the scales above Fafnir's brow. Fenrir howled, but Faust threw the wolf aside with all his might. Fafnir's great maw opened, and I saw, point-blank, the enormity of fire birthing from within that great snout. Then everything flashed – and lightning cut through the sky, thundering in a way that quickly became an overwhelming noise. Heat from the bolt warmed my skin, and every hair on my body stood on end. Everything went white.