Dragonlore

BY : angelofinnocence
Category: Final Fantasy VIII > Yaoi - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 881
Disclaimer: I don't own Final Fantasy VIII, nor any of the characters from the game. I make no profit from the writing of this work of fiction.

Dragonlore

One: Fire and Ice



     Dragons roared overhead as gouts of flame scarred the azure skies. Curling black smoke marked the trail of the fight through the heavens. Claws raked upon steel as the two riders and dragons fought, grappling together, hacking with claws and swords before breaking apart, climbing higher to repeat their tumbling assaults.

     The two large dragons tumbled through the air together, one sporting a deep indigo hide, the other being the colour of burnt umber. Both of the riders atop the dragons' backs were clad in metal armor matching their mounts' scales. The dragons slammed together again in mid air, plummeting towards the earth in a flurry of claws and fire. The riders flinging spells and counter spells, clashing swords whenever close enough to one another. The sound of their brawl echoed through the otherwise empty sky.

     The dragons pulled apart, skimming along the tree line, their tailsknocking branches from the trees beneath them as they strained to gain more altitude before the other, healing wounds as quickly as possible while they climbed higher.

     The rider atop the indigo dragon wore a ornate, yet plainly designed full helm, soot staining the once gleaming metal. His emerald eyes watched his foe from within the darkness of the helm, enraged determination in the swirling depths. Plate metal and riding leather made up the armor he wore upon his body, all of it charred and stained from the fiery assaults of the dragons. He twisted his grasp on his long sword, bracing it with a steadier grip as he and his foe squared off in the sky. The indigo clad rider slipped out of the harness keeping him on his dragon's back, preparing for another intense attack that would hopefully end the battle.

     Both dragons dove for one another, the indigo feinting at the last moment before they would collide and ducking down under the burnt umber underbelly of the other dragon. His rider ran along his dragon's spine, the powerful midnight body arching upwards as the rider jumped. His sword gleamed in the light, unlike his armour remained unmarred by the stains of battle. 'Kill the rider, kill the beast. Kill the beast, kill the rider'  he repeated the mantra in his mind over and over as he made his attack. If he could get to the rider and slay him, his dragon would follow him soon into death.. His sword slammed into the leather guard on the flank of the dark dragon. Both rider and dragon gave a low growl from the abrupt pain. The emerald eyed rider pulled himself up onto the enemy dragon as it dove after the indigo hide of his own dragon. He gripped the armor plating hard and slowly crawled further up its back towards the rider seated there.

     The dark rider flung spells over his shoulder, attempting to dislodge his unwanted passenger. Unable to turn in the constricting fastenings, he couldn't get clear aim of the indigo clad rider that was making his way closer. Securing himself where he was, the indigo rider straightened up and grasped his weapon with both hands before he plunged the sword between two of the armored plates lining the enemy dragon's back. Both rider and dragon howled in pain. He held onto the sword as the dragon pulled upwards, giving it a sharp twist as scalding blood gushed out of the wound. As the dragon began to spin, falling through the air, he gripped the hilt of his sword tighter, trying not to fall or lose his precious weapon. Much to his dismay the sword slowly came loose.

     With a colourful curse that was lost to the winds, the indigo rider's sword slipped free from the dragon's back and he was thrown into the air. Then he was falling.

    An indigo blur swooped down, snatching him from the air with a taloned claw. Bursts of flame showered the air as their enemy followed after them. In a quick move, the indigo dragon threw his rider behind himself and directly into the other rider and dragon. The dark rider could do little to dodge and the indigo rider put his weight behind the blow and the gleaming blood stained sword found its mark. The enemy rider toppled as the other crashed into him, unable to scream as the sword pierced through armour and straight through flesh. The dragon shrieked as the pain from his rider's fatal wound echoed through it. Its wings struggled to keep strength enough to remain airbourne, body wracked with spasms as its life was taken along with its rider's. As the dark dragon began to fall from the sky, the indigo swooped down, plucking its rider from the back of the plummeting umber dragon. The twilight indigo dragon pushed his rider back towards one of the stirrups which he used to pull himself up and into his seat once again. He regarded the dying dragon emotionlessly, jade depths hidden behind the visor. He pointed his dragon towards a visible clearing in the forestry below them.

*****

     Seifer dropped his helm to the mossy ground with a heavy sigh, running one dirty hand through the sweat dampened and soot streaked blond of his hair. He growled beneath his breath as he built a small camp fire. Neither he nor his dragon spoke, verbally or telepathically. He pointed to the piled kindling with his sword, giving a muted grunt. A spark glimmered along the blade, the blood and soot being pushed away from the steel before the spark lept into the camp fire, igniting it. He set the blade against a fallen log next to him and began pulling several things from his pack, preparing a simple meal of stew from rations he kept in the large leather pouch.

     After several silent moments in which his rider moved about the makeshift camp and prepared his evening meal, the deep indigo dragon raised its head, golden eyes turning towards the foliage in the north. 'Another dragon comes.' came the first gruff rumbling words from large creature.

'Friend or foe?' Seifer replied, barely glancing up from what he was doing.

'Not sure, seems familiar. I shall go see.'

Seifer gave a mental grunt, acknowledging what his dragon had said. Emerald eyes stared into the dancing flames of the fire before him while he stretched back against the log behind him. As the dragon lumbered off into the thick foliage with little discretion, he gave his head a little shake, dirtied blond hair turning a burnt golden colour in the firelight. He began to systematically remove and polish each piece of his armour, wiping the precious metals clean of soot with water before using a warm oil from a pouch placed next to his left hip to properly polish the well used armour.

*****

     Shiva moved in front of her rider protectively, the elf's long, pointed ears twitching as loud crashing was heard in the foliage just in front of them. The white dragon waited, her voice silent in Squall's mind, breaths caught as they awaited the approaching creature, on guard, but hopeful that the dragon and rider would be an ally and not an enemy.

     When a fully grown, indigo scaled dragon crunched its way out of the forest, Shiva tilted her head, reaching out with her mind to speak to the only other of her kind that she had ever actually come into contact with since she had been born, her body curled around her own rider protectively.

     'Where do your loyalties lie, dark one?' she questioned, crimson eyes bright and focused on the male dragon before her. The brunette elf peeked around her, taking in the larger dragon's form with cautious grey blue eyes. He hoped that it was not an enemy for he could not fathom his Shiva standing a chance of beating the other much larger creature.



     The large dragon let a deep growl echo from within his broad chest, giving a statement of power, rather than hostility. It was rare to find another dragon, rarer still to find one that was so young as the female before him. Golden eyes roved over the pair, examining the pale female in the muted twilight of the forest. Eyes flicking from white scaled dragon to the elf shielded behind her. The battle scarred armour covering his hide, still stained with soot and blood glimmered in the half shadows with an almost ominous air as he watched the pair of youths before him. 

     'My loyalties are of no threat to you, pale one,'  the response was measured, calm and calculating in that same gruff tone that seemed to be natural to the large indigo dragon. The golden eyes settled upon the white dragon and stayed. 'And from your youth, and your... boldness to find another dragon I can assume that you have no loyalties; not to either side of the war. You should be thankful that it was I you met, and not any others, or a far worse fate would have befallen you,' the dragon paused, the golden eyes drifting to the beautiful elfling behind her. 'Tell me, why are you wandering these parts?'  He turned once again to the white dragoness, for the moment choosing to ignore the boy elf.

     Shiva cocked her head, listening to the elder dragon as he spoke to her, Squall still unable to hear their words. When the dark dragon's gaze slid over her rider, she moved a little, curving herself around him more, even though the other dragon had said he meant no harm.

     'I am not wandering. I live here with my rider. We've been waiting for others,' the albino explained quietly, crimson eyes watching the dark dragon's movements and reactions. 'Your armor... You also have a rider? Where is he?'

     'He is away, likely tending to the fire. However, ask him his place, and he would claim a brother at arms before claiming to be a Rider,' the dragon stated, voice more mirthful than sombre. He paused briefly once again, appearing to study them intently, the mirth fading from the amber eyes. It seemed as though he was debating something, forcing himself to make a differing decision than he was meant to. Almost reluctantly, he spoke once more, voice carrying into the minds of both dragon and rider, 'Know this, follow me or not, that is your choice. It is unusual to find a dragon in the wild. I would not strip you of your innocence in the name of a war not your own.' His golden eyes focused on the two before him with a heavy seriousness in the slitted pupils, 'Follow me, and I shall take you to the home of the Dragon Flight, to the home of your ancestors, both rider and dragon.' The dark dragon seemed reluctant as though he was going against some deeper instinct or desire that was dear to him, pushing back life times of war, training and honor. He turned as if to leave, though his eyes glanced sidelong at the albino dragon. He wasn't entirely certain himself as to why he would ignore the mission he and his rider had been on for so many years, why he was willing to allow the pair the option to remain free of the binds that Dragonskeep would place upon them.

     'I cannot say if this choice will be granted to you again; by my side or theirs. We are a dying breed, and I would not wish that one of our youngest be dragged into this agelong feud only to be extinguished as we all will surely be in the end.' 

     Shiva's pale head bobbed as she nodded to the elder dragon's words within her mind. Squall jumped slightly when the black dragon's voice reverberated through his mind, the gruff tone startling the young elfling from his own thoughts. He looked at his dragon, concern in his stormy eyes. 'Should we trust him?' he questioned her, silvery blue gaze shifting and lingering upon the dark form of the seemingly retreating dragon.

     Shiva turned her head towards her rider, scarlet eyes rolling to look at him as she considered the words that the older dragon had spoken.

     'I don't think we need to fear him or his rider. It could not hurt to at least speak with them more and perhaps learn from them. Another chance like this may never come again,'  she replied quietly after a moment of silence. The elder dragon had said as much when they'd spoken and she had an instinctive feeling that he was right, and that this was no meeting of chance, but one of destiny. She could see the unwavering trust in her rider's gaze and she knew he would agree without further argument. He would trust her words as she trusted his.

     'Alright. Can you carry me?' he gave one curt nod of his head as he agreed before looking at the newly made saddle he had fashioned for her no more than a week before. She nodded and lowered her neck so that he could climb up onto her back. As soon as he was seated in the leather like saddle, she moved to follow the male dragon back the way he had come, grateful that his larger body had already cleared a path for them.

     The indigo dragon glanced over one broad, winged shoulder as the albino followed him, a mix of feelings clashing within his mind. He was both excited and saddened by the pair's decision, but he didn't dare to dwell on either feeling as he led them back to the camp he and Seifer had made. After a few moments in which only the noise of their movements was heard, he decided to speak once more, 'It would be best if the choice that I presented to you was not mentioned to my rider, nor anyone else.' It was stated simply, though his tone suggested that should the event come to light, he would suffer for it.

     'We'll not be long. I do not know if any witnessed our foe's death previously, nor do I know if any are aware of your presence, so we will not linger long here. An unmarked dragon such as yourself, bearing no coat of arms makes you a very sought after commodity,' the elder dragon explained gravely, trying to impart the seriousness of his words to the pair. Part of him wanted to tell the other dragon to leave, to scare her away by any means, to keep her safe. There were so few of their kind left and even fewer still with riders. She and her rider were the first that he knew of in the last three hundred years after he and Seifer had been found. The other half of him resisted, but not because of his duty to the Dragon Flight, but because it would be better for her to remain with the old ways of the riders than to drive her and her rider into the welcoming arms of the mad king. It would be the lesser of two evils, if only he could convince himself of that.

*****

     As they continued on to the camp site, the dark dragon answered what questions the two asked with brief, empty responses, making it obvious that his mind was elsewhere. Still, he managed to give a brief explanation of their purpose; he and his rider were charged with tracking down the rogue riders, bringing them to justice as often as possible whilst they continued the previously fruitless search for new riders and allies. They were to find as many of those that would rally against the false king as they could and secure their loyalties and of course upon finding any dragons with or without rider, make haste in bringing them back to the elders of Dragonskeep.

*****

     Seifer had finished cleaning and polishing his armour and now sat half clothed in singed leather and woolen flying gear, stirring the stew in the iron pot over the flames of his fire. Foresty eyes were unfocused in an almost trance as he stared without seeing into the embers beneath. His sword lay in its scabbard to his right, uncleaned as of yet.  The broad blond rider barely heard the crunching of foliage through the haze of his thoughts, sparing only a glance as the indigo dragon made his way back into the clearing, leading a smaller albino dragon behind him. Seifer remained unmoved, nothing in his expression. He stood up, unfolding his body slowly as his gaze focused and he regarded both, emerald depths catching on the sight of a rider upon the pale dragon's back. He inclined his head ever so slightly, shifting his stance, certain that his sword never left his reach. He wore the ever present tense aura of a man used to war, not aggressive, but clearly resonating his dominant presence.

     Squall looked the tall blond over, curiosity swirling in stormy eyes, taking in the tense aura around the other rider. The lithe brunette slid off of the albino dragon's back gracefully, cautious as Shiva stopped just inside the camp. He sucked his bottom lip, worrying it between his teeth, unsure of what to say in greeting to the other rider. He stood awkwardly in front of his dragon, the fire pit separating him from the brawny human.

     After several seemingly long moments, Seifer gave a near inaudible snort before he seated himself back down upon the log by his sword. 'We leave tomorrow,' he stated roughly to his dragon, turning to stir the stew once again. He motioned for the elf to take a seat with one large, dirty hand. There was little more in the clearing than moss, a few odd rocks and shrubs along with the fallen log that the blond sat upon. Brilliant green eyes looked passed the elfling towards the riding harness strapped to the albino dragon's back, "You can fly, yes?"

      As his rider gestured for the young elf to come close, the dark dragon continued passed the man and the fire pit, giving the white dragon more room. He surveyed the area briefly before opening his mouth, a deep reddish glow grew inside of the dragon before flames erupted from his maw. The liquid flame scorched the earth in a long semi circle around the man and the fire pit before abruptly cutting off, his forked tongue flicking out between obsidian teeth as he lay down on the burning earth, snuffing out any wayward flames as he warmed himself on the heated ground. He stretched out one huge, leathery wing, fresh gashes in the wing membrane allowing startlight to shine through. His deep indigo hide was riddled with scratches and scars, old and fresh wounds mottling the luminescent scales, each one a testament to an eon of fighting. The tears in the huge wings would be mostly healed by the morning with the accelerated healing of his kind and of course because of his rider's magic. The golden eyes of the dark dragon watched the fire idly, flicking back over to the albino with a bemused look every now and again.

     Squall stumbled forward when Shiva pushed his back with her snout towards the man who had motioned for him to sit. The elf shot her an idle glare before going closer to the other rider and seating himself a few feet from him.

     "We can fly," he replied quietly, an elven accent colouring his words as he spoke. His stormy eyes wandered over the man and widened when he watched the dragon behind him shoot flames upon the ground before laying himself over the heated earth. The elf swallowed, looking back at his own dragon. He had yet to see her use fire for anything. He wondered idly if or when she would.

    Having answered the other rider's only question, he stayed silent, uncertain of what he could say to the other man; no words seemed proper. He, himself had never been out of the elven lands and had never seen battle, though he had seen the results of it. He didn't think he had the experience to converse with the man sitting mere feet from him. His long, pale fingers tapped on his thighs unconciously, itching to move, to play the flute that was tucked beneath the belt at his waist, anything to break the silence.

     Shiva grinned inwardly as she watched the elder dragon breath flames and her rider nearly jumped out of his skin at the startling sight. She stretched her smaller form along the cool earthy floor and curled her long tail around herself, watching the other three interestedly.

     "Good, we'll fly as slow as necessary for you," Seifer said after another long moment, jade eyes flicking over towards the albino dragon. It was obvious to him that she was still young and he figured her rider was likely young as well, though it was hard to tell with elves. He scratched at the soot and dried sweat in his hair idly. He needed to bathe, though he very much doubted he would get a chance now that he and Ifrit had come across such a pair. They were still a long ride away from home, longer still because of the albino dragon's youth.

     He would have to begin training the boy on the wing. He needed to ascertain how much the elfling knew of the war and of the riders. Seifer's gaze raked over the lithe brunette with more interest than he cared to admit, something long since buried inside of him waking. The youth was certainly beautiful as was common with the elven race, but there was something else about him that was alluring, something Seifer forced himself not to analyze any further. He seemed young even for his kind and Seifer wondered if he knew how to use the weapon at his hip. The blond knew little about the elves aside from the few lines he'd read from one book or another. There weren't any other elven riders that he knew of personally, though there had been in the past and he wasn't sure how much the elves taught their children since the days when they had closed their borders against the war. He had to assume that the elfling had at least the most basic of training and that he could use the bow he carried well enough being that he had been surviving on his own with his dragon, though Seifer had to wonder what arrows he had, not seeing a quiver to match the long, intricately designed bow.

     "What's your name?" Seifer asked abruptly, interrupting his own thoughts as he suddenly realized he had forgotten the most basic of introductions. It had been far too many years since he had last had to hold polite conversation with anyone. He realized belatedly that he had not even bothered to ask if the boy was truly willing to join the cause.

     The dark dragon gave a rumbling chuckle as he glanced between the riders and then over towards the albino dragoness. 'You'll have to forgive him. He is not known for his manners,'  he stated, a smirk hidden in his mental voice as the impassive inclined his head towards the pair by the fire.

     Shiva chuckled in response, the sound rumbling in her chest as she bobbed her head in acknowledgement of the other dragon's words. 'My rider will probably be more than a hand full for him. He's rather hardheaded, young as he is for his race,' she replied after a moment, crimson gaze sliding over the two as they spoke.

     The elf felt his face flush at the other male's comments, embarrassed by his own lack of knowledge concerning his dragon and the war he was going to become a part of. It wasn't really his fault. He had been trained in using weaponry, the bow across his back and light, elven made sword at his hip were testament to that, but he lacked the experience of battle that the other obviously had. He looked down at his hands, pointed ears burning. He could feel the other rider's eyes on him and it was doing nothing to disperse his embarrassment.

     "Squall," he replied quietly, feeling even more embarrassed that he had neglected to introduce himself or his dragon, "And that's Shiva." He gestured to his dragon, looking at the other male from beneath long, dark lashes.

      The blond man nodded. "Seifer and his name is Ifrit," he replied in kind, glancing towards the dragon in question before looking back into fire. "The stew will be ready shortly," he stated rather than conversed, observing the steam rising from the thickening broth.

     "As he no doubt informed you, we fight against the false king," the soot streaked rider paused, using a stick to prod the fire, making embers rise high into the night, "So tell me, why are you here?" 

*****

     Ifrit's eyes flicked back over to the albino dragon, regarding her coolly despite the waves of heat that emanated from the ground around him. It was obvious that he was thinking about her, curious about her story, how she had come to be in this place and found her rider. Something seemed to click inside of his mind, but he remained silent, choosing to not give voice to the little flame of hope that had suddenly come to life inside of his chest. Instead, he simply observed the pale dragon and her rider.



     The elf pushed dark strands of soft hair back behind his ears as he made himself a little more comfortable, trying to push the earlier embarrassment to the back of his mind. He looked at Seifer and smiled very slightly as the blond made what could only be an invitation to join him in his meal, though the smile faded as quickly as it had come when Seifer asked why they had come.

     "We've decided to fight against him as well," he stated solemnly, conviction in his words. It was what he had agreed to do when he'd taken charge of Shiva's egg and he would keep his word. They had been waiting a long time already for a rider to find them and guide them, though he didn't tell Seifer that.

      "Do you not know in which lands you've landed?" he questioned as the man asked why they were in this place.

     "Honestly? No. Our last fight pushed us over the mountains and into these forests," Seifer motioned haphazardly in a westward direction, "But judging from the trees, the climate and the animals in the area, I would say we were pushed into the elven lands." Seifer assumed he was pretty close if not spot on with his observations, and really considering Squall was an elf and had been in the area already, it seemed to be a pretty astute observation.

 

     "It's good that you're willing to fight, although I can't say that you should. Never the less, it's going to be a long journey back to Dragonskeep."

     Squall nodded, "I must fight. I promised," he said, but didn't elaborate on it further, "Mm, you are in our lands, that is why I am here and Shiva is here with me. How long will it take us to get to the other riders?" he continued, voice calmer than it had been before. He was beginning to feel at ease with the other, strange as it was, there was a sense of trust for the muscular blond, as though he'd known him for a long time already.

*****

     Shiva closed her eyes, laying her head on the ground. 'Is there something interesting?' she questioned the elder dragon, feeling his gaze on her.

      Ifrit arched an eyeridge at the albino when she spoke though her eyes were closed. He gave a toothy smile, 'There is something that I am curious about. Almost all breeding pairs and their eggs that I know of are held either at Dragonskeep, or have fallen into the hands of the False king and they are but a few,' he paused briefly, 'I will not press for an answer if you do not wish to give it. I was merely thinking,' Ifrit continued politely. He was quiet for several seconds, almost considering himself rude. 'Are you able to cast the flame yet?' he asked, quickly changing the subject in case he had offended the opalescent dragoness.

     Shiva looked at Ifrit with one scarlet eye, the other remaining closed. 'My kin were in hiding from both good and corrupt riders when they were discovered. My guardian managed to escape with only my egg and came here where I met my rider,' she explained quietly, pausing when he questioned her ability to breathe the flame that their kind were so known for, 'No, I have yet to breathe flame.'

     'My apologizes,' he stated, a hint of solemnness in his rough voice. He shifted on the ground idly. 'You're going to have to learn soon then,' he continued, golden eyes watching the female dragon as he spoke to her, 'Especially if you plan on fighting.' The dragon shifted once again, fidgeting. 'Although, you still have plenty of time, young one.'

     Seifer gave a tired stretch, cracking his neck. "A month's ride, if I was alone," he said after a moment, "We'll take longer." Emerald glanced towards the sword at the elf's side with curious interest, "What training do you have?" He cocked his head to the side, strands of stiff blond hair falling into his eyes. "I'll probably have to train you along the way," he explained with a soft tone of exasperation in his voice, still watching the elfling from beneath the wayward strands of his hair. He was not looking forward to travelling through the King's lands, even less so now that he had to keep care of the new rider and his dragon, unfortunately it was the quickest way to get back to the keep.

     "I am trained, but not to fight on dragonback, " Squall replied quietly, fingering the elegant silver hilt of the sword at his right hip. "I will try not to slow us too much. I would like to learn more about the riders and about the Dragonskeep; that is what it's called isn't it?" he asked curiously, stormy eyes brightening at the prospect of learning about the legendary place.

     "Dragonskeep, home of the flight of dragons," Seifer explained, giving a lazy gesture with one hand, "Last bastion of Riders against the False King," he smiled at the words, though it held a bitternes to it that he could not fully hide. "Home of Riders, Dragons, and the Elders, at least what's left of them." He glanced once more to the west, though he could see little through the dark foliage and the low light of evening. "What else do you wish to know?"

     "How many other riders are there? Are there other new riders like me? Will they be happy you've found me?" the brunette questioned, obviously getting excited at the prospect of being told more about the mythical place and the life there that awaited him.

     Seifer gave a small smile that did not reach his eyes. "The elders will certainly be happy," he assured the younger male before he made a soft sound in his throat, "Like you? As in recently found?" His smile faded as the weight of the question made something deeply buried inside him twist painfully. "You're the first new recruit in, at least three hundred years," he finally admitted, voice thick with emotion he couldn't completely cover up, "Sadly there are very few of us. About eight score who fight for our side. I do not know how many have been persuaded to join the other." He did not want to lie to the boy. He glanced behind him, gazing at the dragons distractedly as he collected his thoughts, before shaking his head. They were doing dragon stuff. It was rather obvious how Ifrit felt about the new dragon they'd found. He hated that he would have to remind the dark dragon not to get his hopes up about her, just as he reminded himself that he shouldn't allow himself to unbind that buried hope deep within him just because Squall had appeared.

     "So long..." the beautiful elf echoed softly, "Is it true that riders have soulbonded mates?" he questioned after a moment, worried about himself now that he had heard how long it had been since a new rider had appeared. Did that mean he would have no soulmate unlike the others? The thought made him depressed; with such a long lifespan, it would be a lonely existence.



     Silvery blue watched the tall blond man with earnest curiousity. There was so much he didn't know, so much Seifer could tell him and the other riders too once he met them, he hoped.

     "They do," Seifer answered after a long silence, jade staring unfocused into the glowing embers at the bottom of the fire. "Both dragons and their riders become a bonded pair. The old myths are all true. Our lifespans lengthen to match that of our dragons and if they are killed, we will not be long to last and vice versa. We mate for life with one who holds the missing pieces of our soul as do our dragons," the blond's voice was quiet, bitter as he spoke, hurt colouring his words as he looked up at the elf, barely concealed anguish swimming in the deep forest depths. He took in a breath and swallowed before he seemed to reign in whatever tumultous emotions the conversation brought up. "They are as true are the tales of the last dragons and their war. Old stories of glory and honour, long since forgotten in the war torn human lands over the last three hundred years," Seifer shook his head with a heavy sigh, "But, it won't be long before the false king is slain." His finishing words sound hollow as if he had been trained to say them.

 

*****

     'It is the past...' the pale dragon sighed sadly, closing her eyes once more before opening them both to look at her dark counterpart. 'How shall I learn then?' she questioned curiously, eager to learn her own skills as much as her young rider.

     'I shall teach you as best I can, white one,' Ifrit smiled, raising his head and looking over at Shiva, 'It's easy once you know, but, hard to learn.' He simply breathed for a moment, his broad chest expanding with each breath before a deep glow began to emanate within. The dark dragon spat a small gout of fire, more liquid than flame. It smoldered on the ground before extinguishing. He followed again with another bout of flame. A large billowing cloud that illuminated the clearing. 'Simply search within for that place where you can feel the magic in you and release it. Let's see what can you do.'

     Shiva watched the other dragon carefully before she mimicked him, closing her eyes to concentrate better, reaching inside herself for the place that should hold a dragon's fire, but she could feel no heat resonating there, only frigid cold. She grasped onto it regardless and opened her mouth to release to freezing energy. Liquid spewed forth, turning to ice upon contact with the earth, creating a crystal like ridge along the ground, sharp like the razor edge of a dagger.



     She opened her eyes, the scarlet depths widening impossibly, shocked by what was there in front of her. 'What is this?' she questioned in confusion, staring at the trail of dangerous looking ice before her.

     Ifrit looked almost a surprised as the pale dragon, his golden eyes intent on the ice that had come from within her. It took him a moment or two to find his voice. 'I had not expected you to pick it up so quickly. Nor had I expected one to be an Ice Breather. I suppose, it fits.' he finally said with a toothy smile, 'I cannot say I have ever met one before. You are indeed unique even among our rare kind. Ice breathers are the stuff of legends.' His smile widened, amber eyes trailing down to the icy patch of ground once again. 'Still, I am impressed that you could breathe anything at all. It took me far longer to learn how to spit my first fireball. Most I could do was singe Seifer for several weeks.'

     'I wasn't expecting it myself, but it makes sense to me now. The cold does not bother me. What kind of dragon does that make me?' Shiva wondered idly, not really asking the other dragon, but thinking aloud. She wanted to tell Squall about her newfound talent, but when she looked at him, she couldn't interrupt his conversation with the other rider. She'd never seen him so friendly with anyone before. He had always kept to himself with his own people and he always seemed to be awkward around them. He'd only ever really spoken with her. She smiled inwardly, glad to see him opening up to the other man.



     'How long will we rest here? Until morning?' she questioned after a few moment's watching her rider, turning her gaze back to the dark dragon across from her.

      Ifrit followed the snowy dragon's gaze towards the riders, watching them idly, 'Since there is little chance of a threat, we'll likely stay here the entire night and travel by day. When we travel through the false king's land, we'll reverse. Travel by night so as not to be seen.' He craned his neck upwards, looking at the stars through the opening in the trees above them. "If we are attacked, you are to fly higher, into the clouds.You'll blend in."



     He arched an eye ridge as his sensitive hearing picked up the threads of the riders' conversation. The concept of the soulbonded. Loneliness was something that he and his rider had come to accept as their fate. Three hundred long years alone. That's not to say that they had gone without lovers, merely relationships were cold and hollow, lacking the deeper heat and comfort of the one that held the missing pieces of their souls. He found his thoughts wandering towards the albino dragon. The implication of her and her rider's appearance and what it could mean for himself and Seifer had crossed his mind. The white dragon was young still, but beautiful and her rider was not unattractive to Seifer, Ifrit could tell, and it had been so very long. There was a chance that the pair were exactly what they had spent centuries waiting for. Inwardly he shook his head, dispelling the hopeful musings. He would not expect anything. 

     Squall was confused by the other rider's words. It seemed there was bitterness there, but he wasn't sure why, unaware that Seifer had been the last rider to enter the ranks at Dragonskeep and that he was the only rider that had no soulbonded mate for over three centuries. "In my home, they talk of riders like rare treasures that have long since gone extinct. I was afraid I'd never find any of you," he paused, nibbling on a rosy bottom lip, "I'm glad that you stumbled upon me," he finished awkardly with a blush, though he couldn't be sure why he blushed at all, embarrassed by his own words to the roguish blond. Seeking distraction, he glanced at his dragon and grinned proudly, seeing the ice trail on the ground. It mattered little to him if Shiva breathed fire or if she breathed ice, though the ice seemed to suit her better.

     Seifer paused, glancing up and directly at Squall, seeing the elf in the fire light for what seemed like the first time since he had entered the clearing on his white dragon's back. "Blame luck kid," he stated after a drawn out pause in which he simply stared at the other male, emerald gaze lingering over the fine features, "You should get some rest, we're going to cover a lot of sky in a few hours." He reached behind him, pulling out a rolled up bedroll and tossing it over the fire towards the other.



     Shiva's opal head bobbed in understanding in response to Ifrit's previous words. 'The clouds will suit me just fine. May I ask...' she trailed off as she watched her young rider conversing with the elder blond man, 'Did something happen to you and rider's bonded? There is sadness in his eyes when he speaks to my rider...' Her voice was quiet, respectful and curious as she watched over the two riders before turning her crimson gaze back to the dragon across from her.



     Ifrit hesitated in his response to the lovely ide dragon's inquiry. Conversations played out in his mind. He could tell her that he and his rider were not bonded. When they made it back to Dragonskeep, Squall and Shiva would surely find out that they were the only new non-bonded pair to be found in the last three hundred years and that Seifer and he were the only other pair found before that. Any unbonded previous to Seifer and Ifrit had been slain during the coup by the false king. Knowing that there was little chance of ever having what all the others in the keep had, they had resigned themselves to loneliness, silently pitied by any who knew of their fate.

 

     'I...' he began, cringing inwardly, unable to say the words that were the truth. Maybe ignorance would be best, at least for the time being. There would be no expectations, no false hopes. He didn't want her or her rider to feel as though they were obligated in any way. But what if this was the only chance for what could be? He closed his eyes and steeled himself. He would be patient. Time would tell.

 

     'Alot of dragons died during these past centuries,' he began solemnly, laying his head down on the ground. Some sense of chivalry told him to lie to her or at the least simply not tell her anything too revealing about he and his rider; he did not want her to think they had selfish motives for helping the pair. He glanced off towards the forest momentarily before the sound of his rider's voice broke into his thoughts once more, providing him the perfect excuse to end the painful conversation. 'Seifer is right, we should get some rest. Tomorrow will be long and arduous,' he finished, abruptly  cutting the previous flow of conversation short.

*****

    Squall nodded, acknowledging Seifer's words as he caught the bedroll that was tossed to him. "Thank you," he said gratefully, standing and moving with an unconscious grace away from the fire towards Shiva who spread her left wing for him so he could place the bedroll next to her side and curl up beneath the protective shelter of her large white wing.



      "Goodnight Seifer, Ifrit," he said quietly, before curling his body against his dragon's side, her wing coming down over him and blocking him from sight. He sighed softly and ran smooth fingertips over the tiny veins running through her wing membrane, an action that she rather enjoyed.

*****

     'You're right. Thank you for finding us. We will talk more in the morning, Goodnight Ifrit,'  the snowy dragoness said before turning to nod at the blond rider who was still seated by the fire. She then laid her head down, curling herself around the elf safely tucked beneath her wing, cradling him gently and humming softly as he tickled the inside of her wing.



     'They are good, brave, I think and wise. You'll have much to learn from Seifer,' she spoke softly in Squall's mind, keeping their conversation private between the two of them.



     Squall smiled with his eyes closed, more tired than he'd orginally thought, his belly full from the stew he didn't remember eating as he and Seifer had spoken. 'I agree. I saw the ice you breathed earlier. I didn't know there were dragons that could breathe anything but fire,' he replied, a playful, proud lilt to the tone of his mental voice.



     'Ifrit said I was the first he'd ever come in contact with or heard of outside of legends. We are a unique pair, aren't we?'



     'More so than you think Shi, Seifer said we're the first pair in three centuries to be rider and dragon.'



    'Yes. Ifrit mentioned somthing along those lines as well. They are a lonely pair. There is pain in their past, I think.'



    The stormy-eyed elf merely nodded against her side and furled closer to her with a soft sigh, 'Our new lives will begin in a few short hours Shi. I hope we will not dissapoint your sires. Tomorrow promises to bring serious new trials. Goodnight Shiva.'



     The opal dragon smiled, with her scarlet eyes closed against the light of the fire and their new companions, 'Yes, the new day will certainly be different from what we're used to. But you needn't worry, I'll protect you with my life. Goodnight sweet boy.' The elf barely heard her words, already falling into slumber.

     Seifer stayed up long after the young pair had drifted off, unable to find solace in the peace of sleep himself. He used a thick stick to prod the fire, releasing hundreds of glimmering embers into the night as his thoughts rolled over one another.

 

     'Must we bring them back?' Ifrit's gruff voice cut clear through the night and Seifer's thoughts, startling the broad rider though he gave no outward sign of it.

 

     'We have orders.'

 

     'Yes but--' 

 

     'There's no sense in arguing Ifrit. We've no choice and it's better they be trained to survive than become an untrained casualty or worse,' Seifer cut his dragon's words off in his mind, interrupting him with his own, a painful finally to what he said before they fell silent once again. Neither of them approached the topic of bonding, unable to quash, nor build on the fragile hope that had flared in the both of them. Both of them knew their fate; a long life, riddled with scars for both dragon and rider, hope would only lead to disappointement.

 

TBC...

Hope you are all enjoying this thus far. As always, feedback is welcome. Thanks for reading.



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