Proven - Or, the Dragonslayer
dragons, drama, death, no smut, head canon
"What is better: to be born good or to overcome your evil nature through great effort?" --Paarthurnax
"This is not the story you wanted or deserve but the story that evolved. Keep the music looped and the narrator voice engaged." --me
(~~music: 'Phantogram - When I'm Small' ~~)
Proven - Or, the Dragonslayer
She came in when the water hadn't yet fully gone.
"Hello, d-" Scaled, but still angelic wings. Sweetness incarnate. He smiled. "Had a good flight? Bet your sisters had a lot to tell."
Nothing. Silent stares as an ominous shadow approached. Sniffed. "I think there's still some meat in the-"
Touch. Touch. On his skin, his chest. Good. Nothing there. His back. Nothing there. His legs... "Ah! It's only been three days, no need to-" Nothing.
"At least let me take off your backpack." Apparently, the picture album had been heavily used. As suspected. Meanwhile, she was still systematically surveilling every centimetre of his - "Hands." "Sure, just let me put the-" There. A flinch. Pupils widening to rage. And there, on his palm, the travesty. The heresy. The armaggeddon. A cut. "Listen, I-" Actual armaggeddon, building up to swallow him whole. "She's been here again and you didn't use the charm." "She just wanted to talk. Blow off some steam. She's not taking anything." A hiss. Sparks of amber. "She should know better." "I think she just has a hard time. Smallest of the bunch, you know? The most to prove." "I had talked to her." He sighed. "It's not how it looks." "Oh, what does it look like? That she came in again, told her tales of nature and dragged you into some obscure competition - armwrestling or blade-duels or whatever her newest obsession is- and instead of using the charm you let her push you around because you thought she'd reign herself in, but then it got worse, and she beat you up." "Okay, maybe it is how it looks." Her nemesis. Uncertainty in his voice. Time to take off the gloves - figuratively, obviously.
An iron hug. Minimum time, a minute. "M trn t" Fine. A bit less of an iron hug. "...eathe here." Still continuing inspection for any other dangerous affliction. No, all intact. She closed her eyes, hugging his neck. God, she had missed him. A gentle peck on his cheek. Mh, just how he liked it, even if he never admitted it. More were in order, yes. More. More.
"Rule number four." He sighed. "Really? I thought you had enough of draconic rituals after the weeke-" "Rule. Number. Four." Her claw, poking his belly. Unspoken threats of tickling hanging in the air. "Trust is a two-way road." Good. That deserved at least a dozen more kisses. "Rule number three." His neck and ears were in dire need of massage. Spiky beard. "Power begets responsibility." Which meant he was going to be responsible for that heat starting to dwell in her. "Number two." It was getting hard to get in the words between her assaults with every part of her body. Wings, folding a tent around them. A shell. "Mmmmh. Treasure needs to- mph. protected." "One." A long, minute-long deep kiss. 'sure.' "I did not hear that." "I'm a treasure." Well, that sealed the fate of the night, and its glow lasted for snuggled sleep deep into the morning.
They woke with her wings still safely tucking him into her embrace. She was comfortable, but deep in thought, looking at his hand again.
"Morning." "Morning, knucklehead." Sounded like she had picked up some new weird pet names. Bad influence, clearly. Annette probably. She should meet them more often. "I just don't know what to do with her." Silence, as the two thought of the dilemma at hand. "Maybe it'll just grow away." "It never does." Hisses, hisses in her voice. "Hey." His soft touch. "We went over that." Shadows, shadows of her past flying past her mind. "I wish I could just murder the one who came up with the damn book." She growled. "Easy. Maybe you could just write a better book." His hands, stroking her hair as they stared into the sun. "I'll just have to talk to her again." Dangerous undertones. Dangerous, dangerous undertones. "No." Bold stance of his. As much as he could be, snuggled into her. Still, no give. "But-" "No." "I hate it", she hissed again. "The entire culture." He moved his head. Stared into her eyes. "Then change it." She blinked. "What?" "Change it." "How?" "You think beating her up will get her to change her ways?" "No, but she'll at least leave my hoard alone when I blink for a-" "You want change?" "...Yes." She wasn't sure where he was going. "Would it helped you, back then?" She flinched. Past. Buried, buried past. "No." Barely a whisper, a breath even. Trying to avoid eyecontact, but he didn't let go. "What would have helped you back then?" Squirming. Regret, memories. This was not where she had wanted her morning to go. Tears, even. "Easy." His hands, his voice. But the words lingering until she found an answer. "I'll make some breakfast." And with a kiss, he stood, and left her to her prison he couldn't free her from.
The smell of meat set her free from haunting flashbacks, but she was still in thought as they ate, as she enjoyed the sight of him she hadn't had for the last few nights. They took their time, the sunlight glittering in the fortified..."home." It just broke out of her. Like a splash of poisoned water. The syllables, slowly waving through the air. "Home." Tears in her eyes again. A hug, drowning him. Suffocating, but he didn't say a tone. "Home." A whisper. So many thoughts of darkness. And his presence. The ray of sunlight. The path of redemption. He somehow wormed his head out of the draconic grip, and kissed her neck - or well, her shoulder. Draconic grip was draconic grip. "Then we'll give her that." So simple. Why, why? Why could he make the tallest mountains seem so simple to climb. Her anchor in the sea. Her torch in the night. The tears just kept coming. And that was alright. And so, they spent their second day.
It was another windy afternoon. The fire was steady, parts of hoard and stone glowing with steady, stored heat. Occasional, lost tiny raindrops finding to glimmer, and vanishing. He looked hard into her eyes. Drilled into her soul. "I do not want to leave you here." What a ridiculous statement. A frail being, towering over a power dwarfing his existence. And yet, his words clawing into her, straight through any scales. "It has to be." Thousand-mile stares into past and future. Dozens of outcomes, and how to handle them. His hand, on her cheek. The gentlest, but unstoppable pull. "Promise me, Ada." "What?"
Much later, a third soul to crack the floor, following an invitation. "I am here." Rebellious red, contrasting her amethyst shades. A torch, and a forest. Young, yet full of pride. So much emotion, so deep the walls. It was as if she looked into a mirror of her past. She gulped, but remembered her plan. "I have noticed you have broken your word." Inquisitive stares from the guest. "I never took him." The sheer thought consuming green in darkness. Utter poison, poison she had to fight, fight, fight back into the place it had come from. The place within her.
"Selene the Arrow." Claws, digging into rock, leaving scars for decades to come. "I want to challenge you for my horde." Thunder. Selene's eyes widening. For minutes, the sheer magnitude of the occasion prohibiting any answer. Rain pitched against them, against the entrance. "What is your demand?" What could she possibly have that Ada would wage this for? Had she underestimated her desire for revenge? She had barely scratched him, and not even on purpose. Not that she'd ever admit that. Her powers flowed, and she had yet to control them, but didn't feel rushed, instead enjoying the tides, wherever they brought her. "Does it matter?" Ada's thin smile. "Any doubt or condition that would keep you from accepting?" Another surprise. Selene fell into untypical thought. Not for long, though. "I accept." Live by the fire, die by the fire. There was no stopping, because stopping meant to stop existing. And Selene...Selene was falling and flying, damn the landing. A noble spirit. A force of nature. A shape to print her touch on the world. Nothing to lose but herself, nothing to win but new heights. No chain could hold that, no promise bind this life. Force. Selene was force, in the purest definition, and the only thing she desired was more of it. It wasn't even the prospect of the hoard to win. It was the promise of challenge. The world against her. And the world would break.
"Rule of Earth. The fourth rule." Selene began the incantation. "Trust is a two-way road." Ada responded and gestured into the cave. Showed her back to Selene, as she ventured inside and waited in a sufficiently spaced-out room, a campfire's coals glowing behind her. Only with her opponent's steps halting, she turned around. And with the tradition adhered, more a way for both sides to boast their dignity than anything else, the battle began, with Ada on the inside, and Selene between her and the exit. Dragons have an impressive arsenal of weapons already when encountered alone; claws, fangs, tails to crash stone and limbs to rip trees. The reflexes of a predator, and the force of nature and beyond. They might act full of pride anytime else, but when it came down to it, combat between dragons was less of a clash between immortal titans than a flurry of lethal swipes, feints and vicious, disgraceful carnage, an explosion of evil into every direction. One reason the melee duel was traditionally held in caves was to ensure the fallout didn't outright kill everyone in the area except the duelists; however, the real reason was that in the adrenaline- and survival-instinct-fueled heat, it was hard to see what one attacked; keeping distractions outside meant everything that moved, was probably a target, and not a particularly unlucky decoy. And last, it wasn't a show of particular prowess to boast about. Pride was for competition. Earth wasn't competition. Ada shifted her weight. Closed her eyes. Listened. To everything screaming inside her. Dozens of voices trying to drag her into their directions. And one, just one, that mattered. Selene, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the environment. Seconds. And then... No, Earth wasn't competition. The floor, walls, ceiling all becoming one, as directions stopped mattering except forward. A growl. This was what life was about, and death even more. Red. Flashing, lunging into spears to spike her limbs. A dance of madness. Ada's eyes opened. Earth was war.
What Selene had to make up for in experience, she proved in speed. More nimble than Ada in the limited area, her jumps were free to use any wall to redirect her movement, having room to use her claws, kicking, crashing feet, her tail and even her wings. It was a dance of no gravity, rotation her weapon rather than weakness, any retribution equally distributed to her skin. Meanwhile, Ada held with even damage taken, but mostly on her front and her limbs - even in the widest parts of the tunnels, her attempts at tailswipes were blocked by the dirt. In the end, Selene's wounds were more of afflictions of impact; Ada's were straight-up cuts rarely piercing her scales. And yet, even in murderous frenzy, Ada had to retreat step by step as countless swipes were connecting and many more were attempted. The few times Selene had been roughly brought against the floor from misjudging a jump and consecutively suffering a hit were not enough to stop her progress. The stone crumbled, the rocks echoed, the surfaces screamed and...coals hissed. A claw, pushed back into the glimmer. Ada's limbs, slowing, freezing. "Enough." Heavy breath from pain. Madness in her face. Selene's panting beneath her. A gulp. Ada's tail, long forgotten after failure in the widest parts, barely above Selene's chest. A direct hit to crush her to the surface. She had risked everything for the last step. But she had won. And so, she didn't realize any of the fights within her green enemy. The darkness. Consuming, growing, corrupting. Held back. For now. And not immediately, but eventually, more crawling than walking, more clutching than grasping for the walls, they made it out. The storm hadn't stopped yet, which was good. It made the next part easier. Still, it took a while for Selene to continue. Scuffles with the larger dragons had been her life, but that was more of play, sport and rivalry. This...was death. And she hadn't had experience with that. It had been the first duel of her life.
"Rule of Fire. The third rule." She coughed. The rain cleansed the dirt from both their afflictions, but it didn't help with the pain. Ada, meanwhile, looked like she had seen her life pass by, Selene thought. Maybe she had. A stare between trance, regret, survival, adrenaline, murder and... something.
"Hrm. Power begets responsibility." And so they went, an unequal pair, trying to maintain pride while staying alive, until they found a sufficient part where the forests cornered meadows. Two cones, carved into the ground of the meadows, pointing into the trees. Then, an arching line through both, at a third of the height starting from the grass. Long, long minutes where the outer lines were broadened and buried in dirt, but it wasn't time spent without purpose - both to give them opportunity to adapt to their wounds - or fall to them - and to create a wall of hardly-burning mud. Easier due to the rain in general making everything more burn-resistant and also softening the ground. A creation, paradoxically made in cooperation. When viewed from above, like two fangs on a plain, ready to devour the leaves. Selene chose. Ada took the remaining cone. They stood at the focal points. The competition was simple:
Step as far back into the forests as you can trust your abilities to steer the heat. Fell trees, rip bushwork if necessary. Then, with a single, collected roar, cut...everything into ashes. From your stance to the cut. Leaving all grass behind intact. Fire was a gift of the gods, but it meant mass destruction. Controlling it was important to dragons not wanting to scorch the ecosystems they depended on. Those who overestimated their power, would not reach the line. Those who overestimated their sense of proportions, would torch the grass beyond the line, still save from burning down the lands. And those not capable of keeping the foremost section of their breath in control, were deemed so shameful that the destruction of the forest was adequate to their transgressions. Dragons were a proud culture, but death was part of the rites just as tradition. Just like the death of others - a constant potential in every breathing moment of their power. They stood. They breathed. They waited. Ada started.
Two, three steps. Looking at the grass. Another step back. Looking at Selene. A step forward again. Selene squinted, the affront as clear as the clouds weren't. Disrespect. Still, what else to expect in a duel? Ada's eyes focusing. Limbs, coming together, cut legs still stiff from the wounds and rain. A glow inside her. Embers in her heart. Dimensions in her mind. Instinct, her planned assault an extension of her being. Dancing stars, haunting colors waiting to bloom. Pupils, wide. Slower than necessary. Fast enough to bring death. Her roar shattered over mountains, silenced thunders for a minute, led anything that hadn't run for its life to reconsider. The power of her core, spreading forward. Infernal shades of orange engulfing blades of muddy, wet grass, rain steaming in a giant cloud of air enclosing her proximity, a ball of light glistening below dark grey clouds. Ashes in ashes. Water to air. Stopping, ceasing, shrinking... eradication ending a hand's width before the line, at most. Breathing in, she moved her head. No rogue sparks. No glimmering, moving branches. Practiced. It was precise. It was gone. And now, it was Selene's turn.
The young one had used her fires thousands of times. A trait kept from birth to death. And unbeknownst to Ada, she had also used it in rivalry. An escalated bout, an unexpectedly brutal clash. Both sides had went home alive and mostly unharmed, without their escalation becoming common knowledge, if only for the fact that they had fought in thin air, on top of a mountain, as opposed to these depths with fuel aplenty in all directions. Selene stepped back. Three steps. Where Ada had stood. Another one. Expected, as anything else was without sense. Looked at the grass. Looked at Ada. And then, three more large steps back. The green elder's mouth opened. So deep into the forest, a tree was in the way, but Selene felled it silently. It might not even have been necessary due to the rain still pouring down, but rather was her proof to her rival that she knew how to wield all the tools required. The bark splintered, the branches descended, the tree laid slain, pulled aside. Free line of sight. Unhindered range of rage. She took longer than her opponent in collecting herself from her panting, but in her defense, she had already used more force before even making her mark. Claws, crossed in front of her chest. Legs bowing. Wings, first closeby and then wide, exploding, everything stretched into every direction. A scream, halling through the valleys. This was what she was here for. This was what she was. Primal fire lighting the land, unleashed, unravelled from her soul, her body taken in by the excess of her struggle. The echo of her voice, reverbing in the trees and beyond. And before her, scorched, recolored earth. She was smaller than her competition, but the distance of her breath had spread far longer, to the line. And beyond, in the very center. A step, perhaps, but all the clearer the border of glimmer in the dirt. A sign of her loss, but she took it in stride. "I overestimated the rain.", she quipped when she could speak again. Nothing more. Eyes sparkling, opened wide, revelling in the amplitude of her efforts. Steam faded, grass drowned in saving splatters, and half of their bout had ended, with noone yet to lead.
The third rule might have had benefit from the weather, but it was to be counteracted by the second. A river, life's vein through the lands, once peaceful, now treacherous, rapid, unpredictable. Grown and swollen from the downpour, out of its borders, redrawing them, eroding stone, reshaping earth. Water that ripped everything with it in icy cold, death and neverending chaos of tides. Nature was a matter of balance, and currently, the vein brought many things, deafening noise and drowning bushwork some of the more harmless of them, but rarely life. They had come here by claw - no sense in wasting efforts yet to be required - as the storm ravaged the world over them. Finally, through limited viewrange, they found a rock crushing against the waves of a vertical lunge into nothing, streams from the mountains to join the bigger depths stirring beneath. A rock too firm to be cut from its position, but exposed enough to let them feel the rushing fog above the morphing surface. Usually, this was a challenge of eyesight and precision; today was no different, except that there was no distance to glance. No, their stare was to come close or cease its efforts. And so, they stood, barely an arm's length apart yet so focused in their approach, the other might as well be buried in the seas. "Rule of Water. The second rule." Ada's turn to speak, and muffled by the barrage of movements around them, but clear in its message. "Treasures need to be protected." Selene's tongue dull from the dampening aura and her earlier, inexorable efforts of guiding heat. From blasting heat to seeping cold. And so they stood. And watched. Dark, dirt, borderless shapes and sparse branches breaking forward. Treasures often sparkled in the light, but today only held gray, and gray was everywhere. Patience then, to keep the mind sharp and the body coiled. A hint in the tangential flow. Ada jumped, or rather, stepped into emptiness, as she let the fall shape her entrance into another world.
Sight close to zero, touch and smell useless, but mental calculations and touch of drag to give the search chance, with held breath and a battle. A battle against time, of dexterity against impact, of softness under assault. Tension. Anticipation. Persistence. And closure. As she rose from grasping waves, her claws surrounded the prize of her wager. To fall next to Selene, after a path where flight still held more effort than worth, most of her return bound by friction. Life, if only fleeting. A fish, ripped from its place, battered into new direction and yet- not a cut in its presence. Last efforts, spasming from its structure. A contract fulfilled, as Selene searched for hers. Thunder, somewhere in the distance. Light, and darkness. Her answer was not sudden. She had the time she wanted and the world required, a trade, of virtue against continued existence. The world held no guarantees, but it promised chance. And as the first loot spent its death throes, she vanished in a dance of drops, submerged herself into blindness, to keep up, grasp, clutch in ebbing, evasive flow. One. Two. Long, long time with tightened lungs, deeper dive than Ada's. Now, the question...where had the surface gone? Tides, tides, temperatures. Claws and limbs propelling. Ice seeping in, constrained, if twitching grip. Ground. And after her path to the origin... "Twice the depths and the reward." Shivers. Deeper, maybe. Near to a trunk's burial passage. But it didn't matter. Each hand of hers, a comparable trophy within as Ada's, who jolted back at her words as if struck by lightning, a disgraced expression slowly washed away. The rain subsided as if solely motivated to obstruct their fate, and now without guidance. The cold, however, had crept into them, if only on the surface of their inner fire.
The rock and its secrets were left for the afterworld, as they had served their purpose. Only one place left to go, and as if welcoming them, the thinning clouds gradually dispersed. In the distance... "Fire?" Selene was triumphant, but intrigued. A glimmer that had evaded their attention? No, not in this hour. Concentrated flames clutching taller than the meadows hiding them, and refusing to leave their spot. "A beacon." Silence, silence falling around them as the rear guard of infinite drops. Glistening paint, thrown over leaves and blades of grass. A sizzle...far. Distant. The systems had dropped their burdens, and the drafts were following their emptiness. The core of being. The peak of reign.
Just because the rain had ended didn't mean the storms had. It was time to unfold. It was time to abandon hesitation. It was time to fly. To lift and carry oneself as message over the horizons. "Rule One: The Rule of Air." By now, Ada seemed in trance. Far, infinitely far away. Another mind, another person. Forces long unprovoked, newly throwing her in turmoil. It was her time to surpass. "Power begets respe-" Before Selene could finish, Ada's wings had left her behind. Larger, wider, and compared to Selene's, considerably less harmed by the prelude. She flew, and Selene kept up. Soaring. Circling, gliding, the freedom to go. And yet, as high as she ascended, still always in sight of the beacon far beneath. Selene was content with this; she had advantage. A last chance to let her opponent struggle before the final, inevitable cut. Her spirit was unfolding, her existence in blossom, as the winds teared and dragged on her outlines, sending her into directions unknown, but with speed uncontained, every change exploited to increase her rate of passage. They spent time beneath the traces of dissolving clouds. Broke them. Saw the sun, sinking, partially hiding, revelling in its last velvet behind black.
Any last shadows beneath them had passed on their physical state. From now on, their kingdom, their universe was invisible. Treacherous as the rivers, impactful as the tunnels, beautiful as the blasts. But all its powers and promises, all its challenge and potential to leverage one's skill...
Invisible, as the two of them shook off their earthen dust and flew, suns in eternal bind.
The fire still burned. Somewhere. Deep.
The final test. There was no draw. The air was everything. Three challenges bound to survival and the body. But not air. Air wasn't about survival.
Air was about thriving.
Selene thrived. Beaten, tossed by unknown heights, unwilling to fall behind, wings bruised from her efforts, the hidden walls of hostile flux a constant presence, but she thrived.
And Ada did the opposite.
Howling, screaming, deafening, shattering. Air was doing nothing, and everything at once, as Ada turned, rotated in her inertia, staring at Selene's bloody red flapping barely seconds behind her, or at least that was what Selene thought. And then... the greenscale let herself fall. Wings closed, backwards, vertical. It wasn't a flight anymore than the drop of a rock to shatter. The young one blinked. All the effort to come up here, just to throw it away? And yet she refused to be left behind. If Ada did it, she could do it. Speed, unknown speed promised. A mirror of the arch before her in time...a slope up, then down a cliff. She screamed. She was alive. She had never gone so far before, upwards, downwards, and yet the other's proximity had given her the courage, no, the obsession to do so. Far, far, far below still, the ground. And Ada spread her wings again.
Flight always was about controlling your fall. Usually, however, dragons used the winds to enjoy their speed and aid their efforts, and the heights for the view. Not the other way around.
In a way, it was resembling their competition in water. The forces were threatening to even draconic bones. Adjusting one's angles towards sustainable directions was a battle of time left and strength of bones, skin and muscle. Selene's reflexes instantly imitated Ada's control, but her wings were smaller. Her fall, faster on equal height as she was only reacting so far. The moves to hem such bleeding of elevation were unnatural, and she had to learn them from her predecessor within split seconds, and so, her fall was deeper, her recovery slower, her bow and dive screaming, tearing at her weathered wings, and earth, earth was still so far away, but not due to her success, but the excess of their initial route.
And still, Selene thrived. She wouldn't be a dragon if she wouldn't. It was in her soul. It was in her wings. It was in her blood. Bloody wings, keeping up with the leisurely glide of amethyst. Taking her velocity partially back into the horizontal, to match, no, overtake. Her message, as clear as her mind. Wild, looking back at her polar counterbalance.
Show me what you've got.
And as Ada's heart screamed in the wind, she rose again. Once.
There were no traditions, guidelines even for the final stage. Wind and air were living, moving, ever changing properties reincarnating themselves, representing the concept of freedom. To submit oneself to a tradition constricting ideas and expressions for flight's exploration would be against a dragon's very being. Which meant that the introduction so far had not been just for joy, although it never was without. It was a test of the waters, a probing of what shape their challenge would take. And as Ada overtook, turned to her back, gestured with her hands, shivering, twisting in the air, an arch, a distance of palms, palms moving, Selene didn't look at her face bent from sight, but she understood, and did so even before Ada's posture quickly turned away again. Fire's precision. Earth's lack of give. Water's turmoil. Air's freedom of choice. How typical of a dragon with larger wings to propose this path. How obvious her advantages, hoping to win with surplus experience and surface. How foreboding, now, the fact she had meticulously tried to keep damage to her wings and back within constraints. Everything fell into place as past events towards the plan for how she would try to outmaneuver her young opponent, and her expectations and hopes it would end this way.
Controlled flight. Controlled fall. Controlled return.
As precise as possible without touching the ceiling of the sea of trees.
Odd. The rain had stopped long ago, but something still dripped against her wings in traces.
Ada's soul drowned in black. And below her stare into death, somewhere, still...
With a last wave, Ada threw a fist. Opened it. Closed it. Broke away to the side, trying to find her own height of choice. Seemed to find it. Selene understood, for the first time in her own direction.
It was goodbye.
In parallel, they drew across the lands far below, but not unreachable anymore.
And Selene took three steps back again, figuratively, soaring high above Ada, just moments before they both dove into the depth in synchronized manners.
Dropped like a stone, two meteors to extinguish each other.
The speed was maddening. Wherever Ada was, she wasn't there. But Ada could wait. Her wings coul