Dragonlore

BY : angelofinnocence
Category: Final Fantasy VIII > Yaoi - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 866
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 Chapter Two: Painful Escape

 

It was a short time before dawn, the eastern sky already brightening from midnight to soft predawn grey. Seifer had already packed up the camp, supplies and bedding rolled and tucked away in the large packs on Ifrit’s back. Using a simple spell to cover their tracks, the clearing looked much as it had upon their arrival. The spell would hide them from the untrained eye and allow them to be on their way unhindered. The use of his innate magic in simply spreading the ash into the wind and stirring the plants to regrow upon the soil had made an old war wound twinge in discomfort. The tall blonde rider shrugged off the unpleasant ache, refusing to rub at his chest as if the wound were still fresh.

He set about double checking all of the harness ties and securing the packs on Ifrit’s back as the dragon slowly woke up. Seifer pressed a scarred hand against the midnight dragon’s side, reassuring his companion of his presence and reminding himself that the dragon was still there; they’d survived yet another battle. He picked up his sword from its leaning position against the moss-covered log and strapped the holstered blade to his back once again, the heavy weight of its protection allowing the ever tense muscles in the broad back to relax. He strode over towards the sleeping elf and snowy dragon, intent on waking the pair. Seifer rolled his neck in the half plate armor, working out kinks from the previous night’s rest before gently nudging the sleeping dragon.

 

"Time to go," he stated roughly, green eyes narrowing on the pale hide as he waited for her to wake.

Crimson eyes blinked open abruptly, oval pupils thinning to tiny slits in the brightening light of dawn. Shiva blinked double lids as she stretched her neck, looking over her shoulder at the other rider and his dragon, nodding her greeting.

She lifted one opalescent wing and nudged her rider with her scaly snout. ‘Time to wake Squall,’ she whispered into his mind. Stormy grey-blue eyes opened immediately, long lashes fluttering as her rider woke.

Morning Shiva,’ his voice was husky from sleep even in his mind. Squall smiled softly and sat up, stretching before moving to stand, the white dragon folding her wing back out of his way as he re-rolled the borrowed bedding. He held it out towards the other rider.

"Morning Seifer, Ifrit. Thank you," he greeted, thanking the other rider gratefully once more for the bedding, looking a little sheepish. The other man looked as if he hadn't slept and the young elf felt guilty, thinking that perhaps he had unknowingly stolen Seifer's bed. He tried not to look at the other rider too much, curious about his scars and about his life which had obviously been long and was likely filled with many stories.

"You're welcome," Seifer replied as politely as he could manage as he took the bedroll from the youth, tying it up on Ifrit’s harness where the other packs were already secured. The tall human climbed up onto his dragon deftly, one hand holding onto his full helm as he situated himself. His sharp emerald gaze scanned over the clearing, making certain the spell had done its work.

Having given the bedroll back, Squall went to Shiva's side, sliding the leather harness onto her back and tightening the straps, making sure the saddle was secure. They had a long journey ahead of them.

Finished checking over the straps and securing whatever supplies he'd brought with him, Squall slid his bow into place along his back, the taught string crossing his slim chest with comfortable familiarity and clasped his sword at his hip before turning to the others. "Which direction will we be heading first?" he questioned, brushing his lengthy hair up into a ponytail and tying it off with a leather binding from his left wrist, wisps of dark chestnut hair framing his face and dancing idly in the slight breeze.

"We fly along the easterlies. Before hitting Moracca, we'll head south and make camp just before nightfall," Seifer directed in response, motioning further east. Thick fingers tied the metal helm to Ifrit’s harness, the broad rider choosing to ride lightly armored for the time being. He would have to be able to keep watch for both himself and the others which required full range of vision. "Just follow our lead."

Ifrit stretched dark wings, flexing the muscles before tensing up in preparation for takeoff. He glanced over at the albino dragon, casting a somewhat scrutinizing gaze over her smaller form. ‘Try to focus on gliding, there'll be plenty of thermals,’ he stated, attempting to be helpful in a semi awkward tone. After a long moment, he turned his gaze away from the pale dragon and back up towards the tree line. In a sudden gust from monstrous wings, he lifted himself upwards; over the trees, his large wingspan easily catching the now exposed winds and carrying him higher up. His wings inflated with every downbeat, pulling himself higher and higher towards the east. He craned his neck around, making certain that the other dragon and rider were following.

Squall gave a bare nod in acknowledgement of Seifer’s words and moved to pull himself onto Shiva's back gracefully. Bowed lips upturned slightly, he ran a gentle hand over the smooth leather as he made himself comfortable in the saddle. Her back shuddered in response and he heard her laughter echo in his mind. He shook his head and ignored her humour. It was the longest flight they had ever thought to take; he had a right to be a little excited.

The dark haired elf breathed in deeply, savouring the scent of the forest around him with his eyes closed. Sensitive, pointed ears twitched as he heard the others preparing to leave and he opened his eyes to watch them take off, amazed at the grace with which such a large dragon could take off. He stared after them before the smaller opal dragon reared back and launched into the air after the other two, jostling him in his seat and he had to grasp the saddle hard and press himself flat on the albino's back as she leapt into the air and up through the trees in pursuit of the dark dragon and rider to the east.

----

Ten days of travel, long hours of flying and dwindling supplies, Seifer had been putting off stopping to resupply for as long as possible. He did not want to spend any time in the Hamar kingdom, but still part of their journey took them through it. It was the fastest path, riding along the southern winds. Other than their current route, they would be forced to fly low to avoid the northerlies either side of the narrow passage in the weather which would be more likely to have them spotted by scouts of the king. Without the new rider and dragon, he and Ifrit would have been able to bypass the rest of the kingdom before being forced to stop for supplies, but as it was, they’d had to resort to hunting for the past few days, their lack of supplies making it necessary in order to carry on and slowing the entire journey. Both Ifrit and Shiva needed a cow or similar creature to satisfy them and though Squall ate much less than the brawny human, they would not be able to carry on at a pace Seifer was happy with if they did not restock supplies.

Grudgingly, the tall rider motioned for them to descend towards a small village in the centre of a shielded valley. Hopefully it would be far enough away from prying eyes and not been taken over by loyalists. Still, if that were the case, they could pose as scouts for the Hamar legion as long as no one questioned too deeply into the presence of the white dragon.

 

Ifrit flew closer to the other pair as Seifer shouted over the wind, cupping calloused hands around his mouth, "Remember, not a word of who we are, or where we're going. Just act like you're better than everyone down there and things should go smoothly." As soon as the words were swallowed by the wind, Ifrit folded his wings in, plummeting downwards to cover ground quickly. Several hundred feet above the quickly approaching ground, he slowly spread the large appendages, slowing the descent and aiming for the other side of a hillock, away from the wary eyes of any villagers.

The indigo dragon landed gracefully in spite of his bulk and Seifer slid out of the saddle onto the ground almost instantly. They would look out of place enough armoured and armed; it would be best not draw any unnecessary attention to the dragons. The valley basin was rocky, but foliage was sparse. To a casual glance it would be easy to mistake still dragons for off colored rocks from above and it was the best they could manage for the time being. Hopefully any scouts in the area wouldn’t be combing the land for dragons. Seifer had faith that the two dragons would be safe enough as the king hadn’t sent rangers to search out new dragons in the area for at least the last fifty years or so. The blond rider fished out a coin purse from one of the many pockets on the saddle bags as he waited for Squall.

Shiva had followed closely as they made to land, making ground several feet from the larger dragon. The elf slid from her back as soon as they were on solid ground, stretching his cramped limbs and groaning softly at the stiffness from days of riding on his dragon's back. He was looking forward to the supply run even if it was dangerous.

Squall stood in front of the white dragon, rubbing the knuckles of his right hand over her smooth nose affectionately. ‘Maybe you can find something to eat in the glade over there, a deer or something. Just be careful and don't stray too far in case we must leave quickly,’ he suggested over the link they shared mentally. He smiled at her as she closed her eyes, leaning into the petting of his hand.

Of course. Be safe,’ she replied and he nodded before turning away from her and stepping closer to Seifer, his steps silent and graceful.

"I'm ready. Shall we go?"

Seifer gave a curt nod before leading the way towards the dusty road into the village, waiting until they were somewhat farther down the path before slowing and looking the youth over intently. "Ears behind your hair," he commanded quietly, gaze still trained on the brunette next to him, "If pushed, you'll be treated better as a woman than an elf." His voice left no room for argument.

He glanced up towards the sky, scanning the air above; not even a bird crossed his sight, the large, fluffy clouds providing decent cover overhead. "They probably won't give you trouble. Sword means you fight for your keep. None of these farm hands could be mistaken for a professional," Seifer said after a moment, something within pressing him to smooth over the gruff demand he’s made previously. He raised a golden brow as he glanced towards the elf once again, making certain the boy had heard his words. "Any questions? We can likely get a bath and stew at the tavern once we pay for our goods," he added as an afterthought; it was clear he could use a good scrub down, none too keen on the gritty feel of his skin from the long days of travel.

Squall blinked in confusion as he took in the other rider’s words. He knew that the king wasn't fond of his race, but growing up in the heart of the Elf lands, he'd never had to hide his heritage before and he wasn’t certain if he should be insulted that Seifer suggested he portray himself as a woman. Without argument, he pulled the tie from his hair and shook the strands out, letting them fall in front of his ears. He pulled a strip of deep purple silk from the belt at his waist and tied it around his hair, effectively covering the pointed appendages and adding to the image that he was indeed a member of the fairer sex. He looked at the other male for approval after adjusting his makeshift bandana. Seifer gave a slight nod, satisfied that the androgynous elf would be easily accepted as female.

 "Mm, will my accent be too obvious or will the townspeople not realize it?" Squall questioned awkwardly after a moment, blushing for drawing attention to the way in which he spoke.

"They'll know your foreign, but not from where," Seifer answered as he made his way further along the winding path to the road. Wooden planks had been shoved down into the path to create a long stairway and stop the loose soil from washing away, which made travel along the crumbling incline much easier for the pair. Occasionally, his armor clinked where two of the metal pieces in the reinforced leather made contact as he led the way. "Most have only heard what King Lazarus has told them of Elves, none of it good. Three hundred years of indoctrination does that to people. If someone finds out about your heritage, you come straight to me. Do not stop and do not hesitate to fight if need be," he continued as they moved. He was trying to cover all his bases; there was no telling how the farmers would act upon their arrival let alone if they were to be made aware of the boy’s race. He did not want to bring the boy into this mess, but he had little choice. About two centuries back, he had been forced to watch an entire family of Elves be put to the torch and he had no desire to witness the same of the young rider. "Just stay quiet and follow my lead and we should get in and out without any problems."

----

Ifrit watched the odd pair head down the path towards the human village through narrowed eyes until they reached the road before he turned his attention to Shiva. ‘What does your elf know of humans?’ he asked, his sense of idle curiosity pressing the inquiry from him, his tone holding a hint of humour.

The opal dragon looked at the dark male with bright eyes. ‘Seifer’s the first he's met. He only knows what his education dictated to him in the elf lands,’ she replied, wondering if her rider's limited experience with the human race would cause any awkwardness for the two while in the human village. She hoped it wouldn't make them seem too out of place amongst the villagers.

‘Why do you ask?’ she questioned curiously, scarlet depths taking in the larger form of the other dragon.

Ifrit glanced down the path towards the village thoughtfully. ‘Humans are a short lived race, but given to strong passions, often times violent. As of now, very xenophobic. That was not always the case, but, they are easily mislead," he admitted almost guiltily, ‘They'll be fine I’m sure. In this small village, they will most likely be alright, but any larger and there would be trouble." He sniffed the air lightly, tendrils of smoke escaping from his nostrils.

Such fickle beings. I am glad that my rider turned out to be of the Elven race, though I mean no offense to you or Seifer,’ the albino said in reply. Humans seemed so uncivilized from the way Ifrit spoke of them, like sheep, easily led and easily killed.

‘Shall we hunt?’

----

Seifer’s words made Squall uneasy, but he nodded in understanding. He would do as the other man had said. ‘Perhaps if approached, I'll simply feign being a woman as Seifer suggested. That might be the easiest,’ he thought to himself as he followed the armored rider towards the town. With his pale, unblemished skin, long hair and sharp, effeminate features that were so common for his race, it would not be difficult to portray himself as a woman. He sighed softly, not exactly thrilled by the prospect, but understanding the necessity of such a disguise. "What supplies do you want me to get?" he asked after a moment, assuming they would split up to retrieve the items needed more quickly.

The blond rider paused at the entrance of the village, palming the elf four heavy coins wrapped in two pieces of paper. "Give this writ to the general store, and this to the butcher. I'll speak with the elder to buy two heads of cattle," Seifer directed as he glanced around the village, pointing out the two stores in question. "Should be around two coins each, half now, half when we get the goods," he stated distractedly. He gestured with one large hand to the town centre where the old tavern sat, "I'll be in there, but meet me in the Inn." The inn was located just a few buildings to the left of the tavern he’d pointed out, some festering building called The Rat in the Pot. The weather beaten sign depicted some odd ugly animal in a cauldron. Both the writs he’d handed to the boy seemed to contain unrecognizable symbols rather than actual words, odd symbols with rough hashes written next to them that Squall had never seen before. Obviously, it was some sort of trader tongue to make up for the rampant illiteracy.

Squall accepted the offered money and slips of paper, not understanding the symbols at all. He didn't think they were words of any language he'd ever seen, but he trusted the other rider’s knowledge of the human village. "Alright, I'll meet you at the inn," he agreed before bidding the other man farewell with a wave as he sauntered off with unconscious grace, wintery eyes wide as he took in everything around him, not noticing the curious whispers of the townsfolk as he passed by them, unaware that his appearance and that of his companion in armor was causing such a stir.

He stopped at both stores and made the arrangements before he made his way back towards the tavern and inn. He hummed quietly to himself as he walked.

As he was about to enter the inn, a firm grip on his slight wrist stopped him, the leather of his wrist guards digging into his skin. "Well aren't you a pretty little thing," a gravelly voice spoke close to him. He turned his face away from the grizzled man who smelled heavily of liquor. He swallowed and tried to jerk his wrist free from the unexpected grip.

"Sir, it would be best if you unhanded me," he warned quietly, trying to sound more intimidating than he felt. The man holding his arm simply grinned at him. Stormy eyes narrowed as the grip remained firm on his wrist and the other man ignored his words of warning.

"Nothing to be worried about sweetling, let me buy you a drink," he breathed against Squall’s neck, making the youth shudder in disgust as the human sidled closer and tried to maneuver an arm around the reluctant elf.

"I don't want to resort to using force sir. I have business to attend to and I'd really rather not have a drink with you," he warned, palming the hilt of his sword at his hip with his other hand, trying desperately to remain polite through gritted teeth.

The man's face changed from desire to anger quickly. "You foreigners are all the same, thinking you're better than the lot of us. You better watch out. Pretty thing like yourself traveling alone... Shouldn't go around with such an attitude. Just lookin' for trouble, you are," he threatened, before finally letting go of the brunette, pushing by him roughly.

The elf shook his head at the man’s parting words, feeling edgy as he entered the inn, immediately looking around for Seifer. It seemed that once the other was present, he would feel much more at ease. He hadn’t been expecting to be approached at all and now that he had, he felt distinctly uncomfortable in the small human village. He sat down at a table and waited, unsure how long the other rider would be before they'd meet up once again.

Seifer heaved a disgruntled sigh as he finally left the tavern that served as the town hall after what seemed like an eon of negotiating over the price of two cows, taking all his patience to settle the arrangement. It was obvious the elder was stalling, probably trying to coax him into staying the night and spending more coin than he intended, which meant the cattle would be coming in much later than he would have preferred. At least they would get them before nightfall. They could not remain in the village, though a warm bed sounded far too nice to the tall rider; it was wiser to spend the night outside.

Seifer glanced around the suddenly deserted street and shook his head, assuming the townsfolk were busy gossiping; in such a small village, it was likely they did not get many travellers passing through. He walked towards the inn with long strides. Opening the creaking door with a tired sigh, forest eyes searched out the elf, not failing to take notice of a few too long glances towards Squall. Rubbing a calloused hand over his face, Seifer held in another long suffering sigh. The elf was probably the prettiest 'girl' the sheltered villagers had ever seen. He walked over towards the table, ignoring the whispers that followed his progress. Sitting down and running a hand through his short blond hair roughly, he was about to speak when almost immediately a serving girl set upon them.

"What can Oi git chya?" she spoke in a thick accent, watery brown eyes lingering on him a little too long for comfort.

 

"Two cider, meals and a bath,” the handsome rider stated, tossing a small coin into her hand, while ignoring her appreciative gaze. She seemed incredibly thankful as she slipped the coin into the tattered pocket of the stained apron she wore.

"Right. We got pork, beef, or chicken, and stew, mash, pie." Pie was probably the least deadly on the menu.

"Pie. Drinks first, bath then food," he said, his eyes trained on the silent elf seated across from him.

"Ah Thalen for the lot, Thalen an' a three quart for 'awt wa'er."

Seifer handed over nine misshapen coins without another word. The portly woman grinned and hurried away.

"How long did they say until they'd have everything prepared for our departure?" he asked once the barmaid had bustled away from their table, his tone hushed as he addressed the elf; it was obvious he disliked this unclean village living. Dirt seemed to be ingrained into every person there and the odour left much to be desired.

Squall had smiled upon Seifer’s approach, feeling relief wash over him when the elder man sat down across from him. He had been feeling awkward with all the strange stares that seemed to be centered on him. He felt uncomfortable under the scrutiny of so many eyes. He wanted to brush his hair back, but thought better of it, lest he reveal his pointed ears to the too-curious patrons. He was all too glad to let Seifer order for the both of them, remaining silent until the barmaid had disappeared and the blond had turned his attention to the brunette. "Everything should be ready within two candlemarks. Enough time for the food and bathing I think. Did you manage to get the cattle arranged?"

Before Seifer could respond, the same serving girl came back with two rough mugs of bitter cider and handed them off to them before bustling away again. Squall sipped the bittersweet liquid cautiously as he watched the other man expectantly.

"Yes, just took half a life time and the promise of my first born. They probably won't part with the stock until just before dusk in an effort to get us to spend the night and spend more coin," Seifer said as he rubbed the back of his neck. He felt tired; everything ached. Fighting and traveling at this pace really wore a man out. He wanted to get back to the dragonskeep, unload the kid on some teachers, spend a night or two in a real bed and be on his way. Now that a new rider had been found, others might start appearing. He drained half of the flagon of bitter cider in one large gulp. It was obvious he was at home around alcohol, enjoying the pleasant burn the drink left in his throat and stomach. At least the cider was least likely to be watered down with anything foul. "We'll get the cattle then head back to camp, spend the night before we keep moving." He did not want to mention anything about dragons around here where there were too many ears listening.

The elf nodded in agreement, taking a larger sip of his drink, cheeks heating as the alcohol made it into his system, never having drank anything like it before. He smiled a little, feeling warm.

The serving girl sauntered over to their table once more. "Bath's ready an'time you are," she said, passing by towards another patron. Squall’s eyes followed her approach and retreat sluggishly before turning back to the other man curiously, wondering if they would be bathing together in a public bathing area or if the inn would have separate bathing chambers. Living in the elf lands, bathing in rivers and lakes was common, together or alone and in the homes, there were usually luxurious bathing chambers, magic heating the water.

Seifer stretched as he stood up from the rough wooden chair. "Right, let's get going while the water's still warm,” he said before draining the remains of the cider from his mug, "We'll eat when we get back." He pushed the chair back under the table, keen to bathe as soon as possible, well aware that the stink of travel clung to him. With any luck the proprietors of the inn had a coal fire stoked under the tub to keep it nice and hot. He walked towards the simple latched door, crude markings on its surface indicating that it was the bathing chamber.

Trying not to wonder about how many others had been in the water before them, he held the door open for Squall as the elf followed him before casually inspecting the large wooden tub that sat upon the ground. The water was steaming, though there was no obvious source of heat. He smiled when he picked up the telltale taste of magic. It was probably some left over Elven artifact, perhaps Dwarven, though he doubted it as Dwarves did not want anything to do with humans. He walked over towards the far side of the wall, not bothering to wait for his companion as he moved towards a series of hooks that had been hammered into a plank over a shelf. He began to strip off, only too happy for the brief reprieve from his stifling armour. It seemed like it had been an age since he had removed the armour entirely. He folded and hung the various pieces of the armour he wore. He would have to wash and clean them when he got back to their camp, but didn’t dare to do so while they remained in the village, unwilling to spend any more time than absolutely necessary in the small settlement.

Squall followed the other man, standing gracefully and walking behind him as they made their way to the bathing chamber. It was unlike any he had ever seen before and the steaming water carried the heavy scent of magic which made him curious, but he didn't say anything about it as he watched the other man beginning to undress before he realized he was staring and turned away to remove his own leather armor and cloth tunic with a dark blush. He set his weapons against the wall below his hanging clothing, standing awkwardly once nude, his pale skin unmarred accept for the tiniest of scars from his childhood on his left ankle and a reddish vaguely heart shaped birthmark on his right hipbone.

Seifer stood naked for a brief moment, glad to be out of his armour, appearing entirely unembarrassed by his state of undress in the other male’s presence. The revealed skin previously hidden by his armour and clothing was paler than the rest of him and riddled with scars, forming a network of war wounds. A large circular knotted scar warped the skin just next to his heart, covering a majority of one broad shoulder blade, a twin scar taking up residence on his chest, the two by far the most obvious and severe of the many his flesh bore. From burns to sword wounds, it seemed he was a walking tapestry of tales that spoke of long fought battles. With a quiet sigh, Seifer paid little heed to anything around him as he clambered up over the side of the tub, slipping easily into the water with a deep groan of pleasure.

Squall’s stormy gaze caught on Seifer again, taking in all of the scars littering the other rider's skin before he slipped into the water as the elf removed the bandana last, revealing his pointed ears. He shook his hair out before following the other into the warm water, seating himself across from the taller man. He tried not to stare at the battle-scarred flesh of Seifer’s torso. "You've seen many battles," the brunette stated quietly, averting his eyes in embarrassment. It made his own chest ache seeing the intricately webbed and sometimes horrific scars. "Do they still hurt?" he asked after a moment, quelling the urge to touch the warped skin.

The other rider raised an eyebrow, opening his eyes and watching the elf as he spoke. He glanced down at his chest as though for a brief moment he had forgotten about his scars.

"Sometimes," he spoke quietly in response, a large hand pressing against the spear wound on his chest, "Most times it’s just numb." He emphasized his point by tapping on a long, white scar on his arm. If it weren’t for the sensation in his finger, he would not notice the touch to the puckered skin at all. "Hurt when I got them though. Years of war will do that to a man," the blonde rider smiled lopsidedly, the low light emphasizing the stubble on his remarkably unmarred face.

The acute sting of guilt shocked the elf as he heard the other man's words about his scars; guilt over what exactly, he couldn't explain. It was as if he should have been able to help Seifer in the past, as if he could have prevented some of the wounds that had caused such awful scars, but that was completely absurd and illogical, being that he hadn’t even been born yet when some of the wounds were received. “I'm sorry,” he whispered, unable to control himself. Squall turned away from the taller rider as he dunked underwater, trying to keep the threatening tears at bay. It was the strangest feeling he'd ever experienced for someone he barely knew.

Seifer slipped under the water briefly, running the almost burning water through his hair before coming back up for air. The warrior reached behind himself, nearly getting out of the bath to reach his pack. He pulled out a block of sandy ashen substance, “Soap,” he stated, handing the rough bar to the elf.

Still trying to shake the odd feeling, Squall welcomed the distraction when the human handed him the soap which he put to use immediately, trying to analyze his own strange reaction. "Thank you," he said gratefully as he ran the rough bar over his skin, now pink with the warmth of the water.

Seifer smiled, leaning back against the wall of the tub, his muscled arms resting lazily on the wooden rim. Bright viridian eyes closed in relaxation, he waited for the other to finish with the soap. He yawned widely; it seemed like a hundred years of sleep deprivation was hounding at the corners of his mind. His thoughts swirled in his mind as though he had only just now been given the time to consider the events of the past ten days. He’d found a new rider. The elders would be pleased and he could go back to the keep and sleep for a year, maybe two; real rest was something the scarred blond had found scarce for the past few centuries. He rolled his head back on the edge of the basin, cracking the bones in his neck while listening idly for the muffled sounds of the patrons in the inn; they seemed oddly quiet. He figured it was likely quieter because a man and what they assumed was a beautiful woman had entered the bathing room together; they were probably straining their ears to hear what he and Squall were up to within the small chamber. It wasn’t hard to guess what assumptions they were making about the odd pair’s activities behind the closed door.

He gave his head a little shake, trying not to think too deeply into what exactly those activities would be; it had been far too long since he’d had lover. "So, human villages everything you expected them to be?" he asked instead, cracking one eye to peer at the elf across from him, pressing his distracting musings to the back of his mind.

Squall rinsed the remnants of soap from his hair and skin as best he could in the murky water before handing the bar of soap to the other man and answering his inquiry. "Not exactly. They're a lot... dirtier than I expected," he said after a moment's pause. He'd never seen such filthy people or such a roughly made town before. The Elf lands were rich with greenery and wildlife and flowers that made the air sweet. Someone was always playing music and the Elven people never looked like the people of the town, even when grim news was heard. Then again, living in the Elf lands, he had been hidden away from such sights as the human villages, since the Elves had lost contact with all humans once the false king had taken over.

He swiped his hair back, making his ears stand out, the sodden chocolate stands hanging straight down and sticking to his shoulders and chest. He sighed softly, the feeling of guilt had subsided to a dull ache that was bearable and the distracting conversation was helping immensely. "Are all towns like this one?"

"Honestly?" Seifer responded, unconsciously rubbing down his body with the coarse block of soap, trying to work out as much of the grime from his flesh as possible. “Most cities are cramped and filthy, disease is rampant and crime is rife. If you're rich, you might bathe once a month and if you’re poor, well you can imagine how often they bathe," he paused, motioning to a few nasty scars beneath the suds, "Most of these would have killed me if I had been brought to a human doctor. Let’s just say, I try to stay among my own kin as little as possible,” he finished with a mocking smile. "Thankfully the Dragonskeep was built with assisstance from all the races. Dwarven and Goblin engineering mostly, Elven architecture, and human, well human labor mainly. It was good once, or so I've been told, before the dark King’s reign, the peoples of the land were peaceful," he shrugged one broad shoulder awkwardly in his reclined position, "An untamed land of majesty; men were noble; women were fair, and dragons still roamed the skies," he shook his head as if to deny such a time had existed, "But those are just stories for the young and the stupid."

"When I was small, my mother told me many stories about the dragons and the riders and about the lands outside our homeland, but in all of her stories, it was never like this. I wish she'd told me it would be like this so I wouldn't have been so disappointed upon seeing it for myself. Perhaps I am one of those young and stupid people you speak of," Squall spoke quietly, bitterness colouring the words, though the other rider's words had not offended him. It was true; he'd heard many tales of the way things were once, when races lived happily in peace with one another and dragons and riders were abundant and held in high regard along with his own people. He had been naive to think that the cities his mother had spoken of and the riders he had so envied would be as they were in those stories, untouched by the dreaded king. In truth, he had probably known deep in his mind that those were only fairytales and that the tyrant king had ruined those days from his mother's and Seifer's stories. But, just because he had known the truth within his mind didn't mean he hadn't hoped for it to have been different from these torn lands.

"Maybe the reason we're fighting is because of those tales. Would you fight for a nation whose stories were about ugly villages and dirty, smelly people?" Seifer said as he went over his chest once again with the bar of soap, "Trust me kid, I grew up in a city not unlike this one before I was chosen by the riders," he rubbed at the thickening stubble along his jaw; he was in serious need of a good shave, "Humans aren't good, they're not evil, they're just willing to follow whoever has the biggest, sharpest stick.” He gave another shrug. "Trouble is, in order to have said stick, you generally have to kill whoever had it first." At that, covered in ashen grey suds he dunked himself under the water again, rinsing as much dirt away as he could, pointedly ignoring the semi murky water swirling around them. He paused before beginning to lather himself up again. "But then, maybe those days will return once the king has been dethroned. Perhaps, someone can do something, I mean, the rest of the Riders are certainly trying.”

"I hope I can be of help to change this world. Why haven't there been any new riders for so long?" Squall questioned, feeling as though his becoming a rider was a sign of something, since it had been so long since the last rider had been born. He stood up in the tub, the water pooling just above his hips, hiding his nudity below the murky surface. Long ears twitched as muffled sounds from the inn outside filtered into the enclosed bathing chamber. It seemed the patrons were becoming suddenly restless outside.

"Nobody knows, maybe the dark king has been getting them all," Seifer suggested idly, though he was fairly certain that that wasn’t the case, "The last one picked up by the riders was three hundred years ago, and the many that were still around before then have drawn their sides already." Glancing at the elf, he noted that the pale boy’s body was rather toned; perhaps he would make an adequate fighter, although Seifer thought the lithe form was still much too fey to use anything with too much strength. Being an Elf, the boy would probably make a decent mage, he considered, not knowing about any training that the other might have received in his homeland. Squall carried both a sword and a bow and seemed familiar with the weapons, but Seifer doubted he’d had much experience in real battle. "Think it is time to go, before we fall asleep and our food is stolen,” he suggested, making himself a mental note to test the boy out later in their journey.

"You're right," Squall agreed with a small smile before stepping out of the deep basin, squeezing his long hair out and using the rough towel provided to dry his skin as much as possible before redressing, fastening his sword at his hip again and pulling his bow onto his back before tying his damp hair at his nape with a strip of leather once more and replacing the silken material that served as a bandana over his ears. He stood by the doorway awkwardly while he waited for Seifer, tightening his leather arm bands to keep himself busy and distract himself from the sight of the handsome, scarred rider as he exited the murky basin as well.

Seifer followed the younger man’s lead, attaching the armor piece by piece once he was as dry as he could be, seeming to take an age to replace each tarnished piece of armour in its rightful place, covering the scars that riddled his body from view once more. Leather and metal made up the greater part of his armour, a heavy, silver great sword strapped into place across his back, easily accessible from over his left shoulder. Finished redressing at last, he followed Squall to the door where the elf pushed the heavy wood open into the dimly lit inn and was greeted with the sight of several crossbows leveled at his chest. Instinctively, he pushed the Elven boy behind his broader form, a large hand reaching for the pummel of his blade over his shoulder.

"Leave the weapon alone," a stern voice commanded gruffly, "Seifer Almasy, the Obsidian Knight, you are hereby arrested for crimes against the crown and the rightful king of the Hamar Kingdom."

Stormy depths blinked in confusion as he was pushed behind the taller man. Squall peered around Seifer, eyes widening as he saw the soldiers surrounding the doorway. He listened as they spoke to Seifer, fingers twitching to grasp his own weapons. His eyes caught on the other rider’s hand as a small fire ball appeared there and he felt the stir of magic around them, his own magic from within responding to it, building and pushing outwards. He looked around, taking in the surroundings, the wood, the dirt beneath, the water in the basin, the old magic tied there; it could all be used in their favour. The incantation was already on his lips, melodic words perched on the tip of his tongue, prepared to spill forth at the first cue from the other male.

Seifer bent his knees slightly. Ten soldiers with no riders, therefore no dragons and likely more reinforcements on the way. These were guardsmen, not the Horde nor members of the Immortal Legion, just men. Seifer lowered the hand from the grip of his sword, keeping the palm facing away from the guards as he ignited a small fireball; his chest gave a twinge of discomfort.

He cast a sidelong glance behind himself at the elf. The soldiers were shaking, obviously frightened at the prospect of battling the Obsidian Knight, forced into the situation by their commanding officer, certainly not battle-hardened soldiers. Any perceived attack would surely let lose the bolts from the quivering crossbows in their grips.

"Loose the weapon strap and place your hands where I can see them," the same voice called out from betwixt several of the soldiers, a burly, scarred man with the badge of a higher guard stood brandishing a longsword in Seifer’s direction. He was clearly the one rallying this rabble.

Crossbow bolts would be painful; he could survive a few, but ten and one of them would end up killing him for certain, if not from a mortal wound then simply from bleeding out. He reached up with his free hand, slowly unclasping the buckle that held the great sword onto his back. Click; one buckle came loose. His hand moved to the next. Click; the sword slipped. As his blade began to fall, he moved with well-trained reflexes, his left hand flew forward, releasing the ball of flame from his hand and igniting further in the air as a large cloud of fire. Guards shouted and screamed more from fear than any real pain; the flames were not concentrated enough to burn, at most leaving singes and melted hair in their wake.  Bolts loosed into their air as Seifer twisted his body, the arrows clattered against the wooden frame of the doorway and the still opened door itself, fired without aiming. He grabbed his sword by the grip before the blade could fall to the ground by his feet, swinging it in a wide arc, the heavy flat smashing into the side of a man's battered helm. The soldier crumpled as the weight of the scabbarded blade slammed into him.

Squall moved instinctively as soon as Seifer did, their bodies amazingly working in perfect sync. The lithe elf moved with a swift fluidity that the race was so known for, dropping to a crouch and slamming an open palm against the floor, ancient words pouring from bowed lips as he did. Magic sparked in the air around him, raising loose strands of chestnut hair with an unnatural wind as he called on the elements. It was more than he'd ever done before, but he somehow knew it would be alright. Wood splintered under the soldiers' feet, exploding upwards in a shower of sharp stakes, slicing gashes in flesh and plunging into vulnerable unarmoured crevices, causing confusion, the guards thrown off as some were injured. The array of armed men stumbled, the onslaught of their arrows delayed for a moment, forgotten in their confusion.

 

----

 

Ifrit woke from his snooze abruptly, golden eyes narrowing, immediately turned towards the village. ‘Something's wrong,’ he hesitated. The feeling that had woken him, pressing at him insistently did not indicate that their riders had been involved in a simple fight or brawl. Instead a sense of urgency, a necessity for protection crawled beneath his scales. His wings snapped wide as he readied himself to respond to the urgent press from his rider.

Shiva’s pale head shot up as magical energy shrieked through her still growing link with Squall just moments after Ifrit’s words. She was up as quickly as the larger dragon. Though she could not hear her rider’s voice yet, she could feel him and his magic; it was a strong pull on her own. ‘They need us; we must not waste time,’ she said seriously, wasting only a moment before launching her smaller form into the air and tearing through the darkening sky towards their riders trapped in the town. The need to protect her rider was overwhelming and the pull, the necessity to make sure he was safe was overpowering, making her wings beat faster as she raced to reach him. She would never forgive herself if something happened to him.

----

Squall breathed heavily as the magic crackled and fizzled, sparking over his skin still, at the ready to be used again if he desired it. He waited for Seifer's direction, unsure which way they were to go.

Seifer had paused, somewhat surprised and a little impressed by the chaos Squall’s attack had caused, thankful for the brief reprieve from the onslaught of crossbow bolts. "Outside now!" he shouted over the bray of the disgruntled soldiers. As the guards fumbled for their weapons once more, he drew the great sword from its scabbard, kicking the guard closest to him as he reached for his crossbow. The tall blonde ran towards the side door of the inn. He slammed against it with gritted teeth when it did not open to him. He took a step back, narrowed jade eyes searching the wood before him; one solid kick to the door split the hinges, but still the door did not move, obviously barricaded and not simply locked as he had hoped. He spun on one booted heel, gaze searching for another route of exit. His gaze made contact for the briefest of seconds with Squall’s as he pointed to a heavily soot stained glass window. He scooped up a bench, slamming it into the window, the thick lead barred window bowed then shattered before the bench landed on the dirt road outside of it. Squall was quick to move when Seifer directed him to. He pulled the long, slim silver sword from the scabbard at his hip and defended against the inaccurate blows of the jostled soldiers as they passed through them, doing his best to fend them off while the other rider broke open the window for their escape.  A few of the guards stood on wobbling legs, crossbows clumsily aimed at the pair. Seifer did not think, did not aim, instinct driving him as his hand flicked forward. A soldier screamed as his body ignited in unnatural flame. The bolt loosed from his crossbow and glanced along Seifer’s waist, the thick leather of his armour shielding him from the blow that would have surely slowed their escape. Pain lanced through his torso instead, a hand went to his chest as handsome features contorted in a grimace of anguish from the repercussions of his magic use.

Squall shouted when stormy eyes caught sight of Seifer faltering as a bolt glanced off the side of his armour, inexplicable rage rising at the sight, unaware of the real cause of the other rider’s pain. In a blur of motion, the brunette sheathed his sword and pulled his bow. Though he had no arrows, it hardly mattered as he spouted several more ancient words, an arrow of white misty light forming as he pulled the string taught before releasing the energy at the soldiers closest to the two of them. The arrow struck one soldier directly, exploding in a cascade of white light that pushed the others in the immediate vicinity away, throwing them through the air and crashing into their comrades.

Satisfied by the effects of his attack, Squall moved to Seifer’s side, a delicate-seeming hand pressing on the older man's thick arm as the elf urged the broad man to move out the window. "Come on. The dragons are on their way. We have to get outside.

----

Amber eyes scanned the horizon intently. It was not hard to spot a squad marching along the route to the village and there was no doubt in the large dragon’s mind just where they were headed. Ifrit glanced towards Shiva as she flew at his side. He gave a strangled roar unexpectedly, missing a wing beat mid-flight as a sharp pain reverberated through his massive chest. He growled, a gout of flame erupting from his fanged maw angrily as he pushed himself to fly faster, the startling lash of pain urging him to move quicker. Seifer needed him.

The albino dragon could hardly spare any concern for her companion when he roared, faltering a moment in the air. Shiva had no chance to be curious about it as they rushed onwards, nearly over the little town already. As soon as she could see the town below, her crimson gaze fell on the building that seemed to have the most activity, a group of soldiers surrounding it with weapons drawn. She knew without a doubt that the riders were there. ‘They are there!’ she shouted to Ifrit, not bothering to wait for him before she twisted into a dive, calling on the cold inside of her and blasting the grounds and any soldiers unlucky enough to get in the way with frigid ice.

Seifer shuddered, hand still clenched against his chest, willing his battered heart to keep beating as he pushed himself to move to the window, spurred forward by the press of the Elven boy’s hand and his desperate words. He half climbed, half fell out of the window, landing harshly into a field of ice statues which had been living, breathing soldiers only minutes before, Squall landing in a crouch next to him seconds after. Bolts clattered around them before the crossbows were dropped as guards began to flee in fear. Some brave or stupid soldiers were still coming, pursuing the pair in spite of their obvious disadvantage. A guard clambering through the window was impaled by Seifer’s great sword, his slumping body slowing the others behind him.

"Get on your damn dragon!” Seifer shouted, sparing the elf barely a glance before pointing at the white dragon circling overhead. Not waiting for the youth to follow his command, he ran forward, muscles screaming in protest as guards scattered around them, running frantically in all directions from the village centre. He cut two down without thought as another went up in flame at his back. He roared as pain flared in his chest again, but he could spare no time to breathe through the vehement sting as he tried to keep what guards he could at bay while Squall and his snowy dragon escaped. Ifrit could pick him up mid-flight, much more accustomed to battle than the other pair. Already the black shadow was circling above, gouts of liquid flame landing on clusters of men as the large dragon waited for his cue.

Shiva's claws left huge divots in the earth as she landed just barely long enough for her rider to throw himself onto her back before she took off into the air once more. ‘You aren't hurt,’ it was a statement, not a question as her voice filled Squalls mind, relief evident in the tone. She had been so worried. 

Yes. But something is not right with Seifer. I think he is injured. We must get away as quickly as possible,’ the brunette replied, stroking her neck briefly in a reassurance of his good health. He was a little tired from the use of magic, but nowhere near his limit yet and even if he were, he would withstand it and any further fatigue until they had gotten away and he had looked the other male over. And he would look him over, whether Seifer wanted it or not. There was something strange that had happened during the skirmish in the inn and though he wasn't sure what it was, he wasn't going to ignore it.

The opalescent dragon's wings beat the air with a ferocity that propelled them out of arrow range within seconds and Squall found himself searching the ground below desperately with a squinted gaze as he looked for his companion, willing the other dragon to get other man quickly, even as Shiva continued to shower ice down upon the enemies.

Another guard tried to rush Seifer; he was cut down with a swing from the great sword. A crossbow bolt hit the broad blond rider’s shoulder, barely noticed through the already burning pain echoing through his chest, rage and pure adrenaline pushing him onwards without a backward glance. A shadow blotted him out briefly as Ifrit swooped down, dangerous claws clasping around Seifer, plucking him from the ground with practiced ease before rearing back up into the sky above where Shiva and her rider circled. Arrows and short spears glanced off the twilight dragon’s scaled hide as the pair ascended higher into the air, powerful wings beating intensely as he struggled upwards, fighting against the echoes of his rider’s pain. Seifer panted in his dragon’s grasp, green eyes glazing over as his vision darkened around the edges before his body grew limp against his will. The sword slipped from his now loose grip and plummeted back down to the earth below, but he had little energy to mourn its loss, unconsciousness taking him. Ifrit struggled to get as much distance as possible between them and the village as Seifer lost consciousness, the lingering pain in his chest leaving him short of breath, the feeling of his rider’s beating heart slowing and pulling at his own making him falter in the air. His wings were sagged as his vision faded.

Keep... going.... have to... go... far... Mountains,’ his voice was strained, barely more than a whisper that he was not even sure if the other dragon and rider could hear over the roar of wind around them.

‘Hold on!’ the pale dragon's voice rang out in both her rider and Ifrit's mind as she dived through the air to catch the faltering form of the dark dragon and his already unconscious rider. She struggled with the superior weight, wings beating harshly and burning with the strain as she kept them in flight. ‘We must reach the mountains,’ she said with a finality underlying her tone that Squall had never heard before. He didn't reply, merely holding her tighter as she grit her jaw and pushed her smaller, immature body to its limits carrying the fully grown male dragon and his rider to relative safety.

After what seemed an eternity, they made it over the rocky crags, Shiva doing her best to ride the wind rather than beat her exhausted wings. Below them, the rocky mountain terrain turned to that of a valley with much forestry and cover from the prying eyes of the sky above. The albino let out a trill of relief. ‘It's going to be a harsh landing,’ she warned tiredly as she began to descend more rapidly than she would have liked under the superior weight of her charges.

You must jump from my back. I will have to take the impact of the earth lest we risk injuring or killing Seifer,’ she explained as they glided over trees and assorted greenery, looking for a break in the dense foliage. Her wings faltered, but she fought to steady them. 

But you'll be hurt,’ Squall protested, even knowing that she was right and they had little other choice.

A necessary injury, sweet boy,’ she soothed him quietly in his mind, unable to give more reassurance before she suddenly jerked, ‘Jump now! The forest opens ahead. Find us when you are grounded...’

Without hesitation, Squall flung himself from the saddle on Shiva’s back and plummeted into the trees, luckily gaining only many bruises and scrapes as he fell, rolling when he hit the earth with a muted thud and much crackling from broken branches. He groaned as he laid on the earth, his body aching and throbbing, though nothing seemed to be broken, accept for his bow. The lithe figure swore in Elven and tossed the broken wood away, keeping only the line of bowstring, shoving it into the satchel at his waist as he gained his footing.

Shiva used the last of her strength to twist herself, folding her wings in as they dropped from the air, her back crashing against the ground and sending dirt and various debris spewing across the path in a harsh spray as she took the impact for the three of them, the sensitive membranes in her wings tearing as they were raked angrily across the earth. She shrieked in pain, letting go of the other dragon after the initial shock of the impact and rolled for several yards. She scanned pained scarlet eyes over the other dragon and rider, gauging them to be relatively unscathed from the rough landing and she prayed that her rider would find them soon before she closed her eyes, falling into the bliss of unconsciousness under the weight of the pain in her wings.

 

TBC…

A/N: Okay so, this chapter was originally monstrous, something like seventeen thousand words and thirty pages, so I decided to split it in two. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to find a decent place to split it, but whatever, if you’re reading it, you’ll be onto the next chapter before you can wander what will happen anyhow. And I know there are no sexy bits as of yet and probably won’t be for a while longer as this particular work is plot filled and needs time to progress. I promise to hurry it up as much as I can, but I’d rather not rush it too much. Alright, I’m done rambling. Hope you enjoyed this chapter, please leave a review if you have the time.

 



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