There was time to prepare, time to rest, to eat. The Doctor vanished as soon as we returned, wanting to have nothing to do with the slaughter of such a probably ancient creature. But Ivar was right. Either the dragon or the whole settlement had to perish. The choice was easy. For them.
"I'm still curious, Roka." Ivar sat next to me, watching the stars. Soon we would venture out. "Why do you risk your life for us?"
I sighed, not taking my eyes off the sky. "'m not," I mumbled and my thumb slid over my wrist. "Once I made a decision. It feels like months have passed already, but it's actually only a few days."
Ivar took my hand and looked at the scar. His eyebrow shot up questioningly, but I had a hunch he knew where it came from.
"That healed fast. Why…" He interrupted himself and shook his head. "Sorry. That's none of my business."
"I'm fighting for a selfish reason. I can't stand it. Being lonely all the time."
"Wouldn't that be a good reason to stay?" He nudged me with his shoulder and smiled warmly.
"Yeah…" I smiled back, leaning against him a little. "But Ivar… It seems that I am cursed. It has to be. One way or the other."
"Why do you think that?"
Cold evidence. Even when looking at it from an objective view, even when I sat aside all emotions, the facts still stayed the same.
"Without a single exception, people always leave me. No matter how often they tell me how much they love me, how much they value our friendship, or whatever else they say. Sooner or later they leave me behind. Even when I do my best to be a good friend or a good partner, even when I give more than I get back. One day or the other people just... vanish, stop speaking to me, turn their back or even get hostile, even if nothing has changed."
Ivar hummed thoughtfully." And you think I will leave you too." It was a statement, not a question.
"It appears to be inevitable." I glared at the stars, eyes filled with tears. They stung, but wouldn't flow, so I blinked them away. "I can't fight. I probably won't survive the dragon. But it's an honourable death. That's ought to be worth something, shouldn't it? And should I survive nonetheless… Maybe that's a good sign, who knows…" I peeked at Ivar. "You're not trying to stop me. Why is that?"
There it was again, this warm smile. It made my heart ache. Ivar leaned to me, took my chin between his fingers and breathed a small kiss to my lips. "No man, nor spirit, nor god has the right to deny you your choices," he spoke softly.
I huffed, feeling a blush creep up my neck. Maybe it would be worth the risk. Just one more try. Once more offering my trust, my splintered heart. Even if it would end all the same, there would be time to think about the after when it actually occurred. Maybe this dragon was a trial, the ultimate way to determine my path.
We split in three groups. One coming from near the entrance, the other two from different paths within the cave. We walked through almost darkness, had only a few candles to illuminate the narrow way. Too narrow for torches.
I stayed close to Ivar, my hand gripping the knob of my short sword. The earl himself had given it to me after hearing that I, a stranger, was willing to fight alongside his people. After all, who would let the chance slip to face such an opponent?
Aside the two of us there were three others. None spoke a word, not wanting to alarm the dragon before the time. Eventually the woman in front of us gestured to something and I could make out a spot that was darker than the rest. Another entrance.
We had arrived.
Tension spread between everyone, my own heart beat a lot faster in anticipation, not even willing to calm when Ivar gave me reassuring smile. Instead my grip only got a little tighter, as if this sword was the only thing still clinging me to reality. This was insane, wasn’t it? I had no idea how to fight, was physically weak and mentally unprepared. I had ran into my certain death – again. But this time there was nothing calm about it.
The woman gave a short hand signal and everyone poured into the cave. I followed, then stopped abruptly as a hand was suddenly on my shoulder, gripping me so hard that I couldn't move any longer.
Perplex I turned, but couldn't make out anything in the darkness the missing candles had left behind. From ahead I heard a scream and a roar. Metal against scales.
"Let go!" I demanded.
"So you can run in there and let yourself be killed?" The voice was familiar, slightly distorted in the cave, but recognizable enough. "You still have my life force."
How had he even gotten here? Even in the dim candle light everyone had been visible clearly. I would have seen him the whole way here. But that hardly mattered now. The sounds of fighting rang to my ears, heavy steps let the ground shake, roars filled the air. The dragon was awake.
"Screw you!" I called out. "You can't throw me away and then demand anything. Let go!" I tore myself away. Why I managed was a mystery in itself, but I took the opportunity to simply run.
There was fire in the cave, licking at torches on the ground to illuminate the enormous cavern we stood in. It was huge enough to almost fit a small church. Stalactites hung from the ceiling and grew on the ground where the dragon hadn’t swiped them away. Vaguely I could make out more entrances that might lead outside or deeper inside the cave. The rest of the warriors must have come through those.
Warriors with the spirit to fight to their deaths to defend home and kin, fearlessly facing a monster they only knew from tales. They were almost tiny in comparison to the black nightmare that was the dragon himself. Even on all fours he was enormous, cautiously treading up and down and in a weird circle. He observed his attackers, tried to find a way to fight in this space that was huge, but still too small to fly or to spit fire in.
Immediately I saw that the attack had been a bad idea. The dragon couldn’t keep all humans in his line of sight at once and those that felt secure enough lunged one attack after the other.
None of them left as much as a dent in the dragon’s shimmering scales. Not sword, not axe, not fist or boot could leave a mark. Whatever those scales were made of, it was sturdy and impenetrable. In the weird, flickering light they gave off a beautiful shine.
The monster turned on the spot, swished a handful of men away and against a cavern wall, where they lay still and unmoving. Some arrows thudded against the thick leather of the wings, uselessly falling to the ground. A torch flew, landed on the beast's head, right as it let out another roar. Sharp fangs smashed the wood into tiny splinters, devoured the flames.
The dragon rose to his hind legs, spread the enormous wings to almost fill out the entire cavern. Everyone ducked away, tried to get out of the creature's reach. The head tilted back as if it were about to spit a fireball, but the movement never quite finished. Instead the creature was startled and roared, pain-stricken, stumbled – and finally crashed to the ground.
Right in front of me.
Without even thinking about it I had already drawn my sword and had moved to keep the dragon's head in my sight. A bad idea, considering where it had brought me. The ground shook as the enormous body landed ungracefully, slithering over gravel. Angrily the head shook and the eyes – those purple pits of glowing ember – they stared at me, truly saw me.
I gripped the sword with two hands, holding it in front of me. How I felt in that moment is impossible to describe. It wasn't fear, it wasn't panic. Something deeply rooted within my subconsciousness stirred, let my heart-rate skyrocket and my breath tremble. The maw opened, long teeth blinking in the orange light, slowly closed again and moved closer, sniffing. It was so close, its head as big as myself.
There was a strange pressure in my head as it came closer, almost similar to what I felt when the Master didn't tone his psychic abilities down and... Could it be? Through all the trembling and the paralysis of my body I somehow still managed to take one hand off the sword, hesitantly reaching it out to brush my finger tips over tiny, delicate scales. Such beautiful scales.
The purple eyes closed as did mine and deep rumbling noise went through the dragon.
Time stood still.
My hand resting on the hot, black snout, an impression of something far older than I could even imagine, an image of what might be a nest. And suddenly... I felt pain. A hot searing pain that burnt through my flesh and muscles, led blood gush out of a hole between my scales, let the insides of my body melt in an agonizing...
I gasped, stumbled backwards, realized it hadn’t been my own body that was injured. I saw the dragon flailing, trying to make out from where the beams of laser came that burnt its flesh, the only weapon that could actually hurt it. I shook my head, glanced around, but couldn't see the Master. Was he using the same trick the Doctor had used the day before?
I heard screams, but none of pain or defeat, but of joy. Some of the warriors were chasing at the dragon again, hitting their weapons at the wounded spots. An arrow hit right into a bleeding hole, making the beast roar in agony and swipe its tail around. Something hit a wall nearby, my eyes followed the sound and then, only then, could I see the Master, sagging down against the stone, a small broken device next to him.
He didn't seem wounded, only shook. I ran over to him, but got completely ignored. His eyes were glued to the dragon – and the tiny object below its feet. My gaze followed and I saw what lay there. The laser screwdriver. Without it we were almost helpless.
A chuckle made me look next to me. The Master grinned from ear to ear. "Oh, I always wanted to fight a dragon!" he cheered. "Such an exciting foe. Too bad I couldn't hit his heart." He tilted his head, watched the others fight. "Perception filter broken, laser out of reach... Let's get out of here and-"
"I'll get it," I decided.
And before the Master could hold me back, I rushed away, sword still in one hand, trying to evade the flailing limbs and wings of the dragon. Was it the adrenalin, or witnessing the small advantage we had gained and the thereout resulting enthusiasm of the others? Was my urge to die in battle so strong? I didn’t know, didn’t have time to think about it. Something in me drove me to action, let me run faster than I probably had in years.
But not secure enough. The ground was uneven, stones lay strewn around amongst broken stalagmites. Somewhere I stumbled, fell with a yelp that got interrupted as I crashed to the ground, feeling all air getting pushed out of my lungs for a moment. My hands scraped over stone, got scraped up. The weapon slithered away, drew the creatures attention to me.
It turned, towered above me as I scrambled up to my knees. A step of the huge hind legs let the ground tremble and I fell to my bum, crawling away backwards as the creature approached. As if everyone else and even the pain was suddenly unimportant, the dragon directed his whole attention to me, his movements quick and agile. Black wings closed around me as he towered there, mouth hovering right in front of my face, the purple eyes boring into mine.
Again I felt it. A tug at my mind, an attempt to communicate? It didn’t feel intentional, however. My whole body trembled from whatever the creature emanated. And yes, in that moment I was scared. Not even for my life, but for something I couldn’t even name. The dragon carefully nudged my forehead and... Black smoke engulfed my vision, the sound of wings filled my ears. Grey waves crashed against wood and cloth. The roars of thunder rolled over the ocean, accompanied by the screeches of two ravens.
I gasped. None of it was real, the vision not even a vision, but drawn out memories of the dream from recently. How had he done that?
I heard people shout, heard the sound of metal against scales and saw the dragon wince in pain several times. Finally the attempts to get his attention worked and I exhaled deeply as the creature turned away. Shaking I tried to stand up and my hand brushed something.
The laser screwdriver.
The Master's voice came from nearby, close. I stumbled to my feet and threw the device, saw the Master catch it quickly and point it at the dragon in the same movement. It screamed as more beams hit it one after the other. Blood gushed out of several wounds, dripped from its maw to leave red puddles on the ground. Or was it a dark purple?
I found my sword again, not sure if it was even needed. But already the dragon latched out once again, took every last strength to chase at the Master. He ran away, shot more bleeding holes into the scales. One even right into the chest.
The dragon screamed in a high pitched noise, made everyone who was still standing cover their ears. The creature was barely able to spread the enormous wings anymore, with too many arrows piercing the muscles by now. Limping and with its mouth hanging open slightly, the dragon came close to the Master, growled deeply. The Time Lord stopped moving, only stretched out his hand, pointed his laser. A scene for a painting, I thought fascinated and sad at the same time. This fight wouldn’t last much longer.
With the last of his strength the dragon suddenly chased after the Master once again, teeth blinking, purple glowing rage. I was out of the way and still close, standing almost between them. So damn close. I can stop it, came an insane thought. If I could manage to hit that wound the laser had left at the chest. If I could… I already did. Somehow I moved, didn't know why or how, but I ran. The Master shouted something I couldn't hear and didn't care about. The dragon would shred him to pieces, superior biology or not. So why didn't the bloody idiot move away? The dragon approached with two thundering steps, the massive body right in front of me, my sword rose, gripped tightly with two hands. With all the strength I could muster I rammed it forward, somehow hit the right spot and felt the blade sink into flesh. Hot muscles above, black leathery wings to both sides. Something hit me, let me crash to the ground. The dragon collapsed, let out a mournful whale and…
Blackness. Eternal, timeless. Nothing existed and would ever do. Only them. Wings and smoke and travellers, unaware, waiting, sleeping. Waves crashed against the shores, smoke rose into the sky. Black ink soaked velvet scales. A voice, hundreds of voices without words. Purple blood dripped upwards through an hour glass, sand ran down the carcass of a broken skeleton. Something burned, flames danced through a desert of obsidian. There was a heartbeat, slowly dying. There was a second one, faint and small, not yet ready to hatch. There was something heavy, hot and dripping, laying on my chest, taking all air from my lungs.
My eyes snapped open only to reveal a mass of black scales. I couldn't move, almost all of my body being pinned down. There were people calling something. Then silence. Or maybe everything was just muffled.
Slowly I realized that I lay buried underneath the dead monstrosity, that the vision I had seen must have been the last dying thoughts of the dragon. A plea without words. I wasn’t sure what it meant, was confused why the dragon had never attacked me directly. I tried to move, reached my hands up in the tiny gap between me and the body, pushed against it. There was still heat in the creature, almost burning my skin at the touch.
Then it moved. And for the shortest of moments I was sure it would heave itself up now and end what it had started with me. But the movement wasn't its own. Again I heard muffled voices, realized just how silent it was under the dead creature. Only when a small gap was created did all the impressions storm back to me in a rush. Light, colour, sound, cold air.
Hands gripped me under the arms, pulled me out, slowly, careful not to hurt me. I was dragged in a half sitting position, leaning against someone. My sight was blurred on one eye and it was hard to make out things around me like that. One of the contact lenses must have fallen out.
"Can you move?" someone asked.
"Y…Yeah. I think so."
The hands vanished and I somehow stumbled to my feet. Everything spun and hurt. I let out a small groan and held my head, looked up and startled.
Everyone was watching me.
I blinked and gaped at the small crowd. Some were clearly hurt, stood supported by others, but no one seemed dead or seriously wounded. Ivar was among them, the widest grin on his face when he rose his bow. The others followed his example, weapons were raised and everyone together let out a triumphant cry of victory.