Is it shame?

(Angel's Story)

By Maiji/Mary Huang

The dragon plummets

from the tower of red thunder,

and where it falls no one has seen

She is flying.

The air is cold, crisp, streaming against the skin of her leathery wings. The dawn freezes into trails of pale pinks and yellows, shadows of colour against the waking sky, against her red skin. The only wind is the rippling, billowing air around her body. She can see the smoky and crystalline vapours of her breath. She can see forever, as she soars towards the bright light. She is alone.

She is not alone.

Dragons. There are dragons all around her. Black ones, young and fearless, the faintest of blue lining the ridges of their chest. They move like crazed lightning, snapping forward and back in time and space, their outlines rippling like echoes across the surface of water.

Black dragons. She is a black dragon. The mark of the Empire is branded into her back. A dark speck in the distance magnifies; she sees a castle, soldiers crawling all over it like tiny ants. A wave of air washes over her, and she dives down, screaming with her brethren. She descends before a man, a woman, two tiny children, her body towering over them. Their elegant dress is torn; they have been running for some time, and their eyes are wide and wild. The man pushes the woman away as he draws his sword – a slender, ornamented, ineffective thing. The woman cries while the little boy and girl run shrieking, tripping over their own feet and falling down behind a cluster of broken pillars. She reaches out, raking open the man's chest with her claws, swiping across the side of the woman's head and feeling the sharp snap. Her searing breath envelops them, singeing away their hair and embroidered clothing, their flesh melting around their bones and dripping down their bodies and exposed organs. Candles, she thinks. They remind her of candles. Two melting candles of fat.

She bends down to feed.

Something slices into her neck from the side. She feels no pain, merely the sensation of the blade driving itself into her, severing her windpipe and her vocal cords, cleaving through her vertebrae. The rest of her head rips off, dangling by bits of flesh and muscle before tearing away altogether.

She stands over the corpse of the dragon, the sword hot and burning in her sweaty hands. She feels breathless, she feels exhilarated, and she feels hate. She hates dragons. She hates them. She hates hates hates hates hates -

The gold eye blinks once, twice, a light burning on and off.

Her head is groggy and aching from an unrestful slumber. With a hoarse groan, Angel shakes herself fully awake.

There is a muffled grunt in response to her movement. This and the shifting pressure against her side and tail tell her he is still there, asleep. She raises her head, extending her serpentine neck, taking in her surroundings from the crest of the small hill. The sky is gray and featureless, drowning everything in a watery, washed-out pallor. Her vision is doubled: with her open eyes she sees the dying campfires, the meagre number of guards around the circumference of their camp. She sees too their makeshift Union tents, sad and worn, shivering at the lightest wind. They look like dirty sheep, lost and cowering together for shelter, or white flags caught in the ground and waving uselessly after the surrendering army has been obliterated.

And with the eye of her mind, at the edge of her awareness, the scenes play out again, and again, and again. He has already moved on, now busy disemboweling Empire soldiers. It was distracting in the beginning, but she has learned to ignore it – to a degree. It is always difficult to remember in the midst of a dream, difficult to distinguish between her own dreams …

… and his.

Dragon, can you feel it? The joy of bloodletting!

She twists her neck to look down at the sleeping figure, one knee up tight against his chest, his fingers curling around the hilt of his sword. His hair obscures his eyes; his face is unreadable. She could not have guessed what he was dreaming of, were it not for the sickening images flickering through her mind. She would call them the human's nightmares, but they never seem to disturb him – not in the sense that he would wake up screaming in terror. Hate is usually the expression that crosses his face in sleep … hate, and too often delight. The first few times, they drove her to wake in fits and bursts, her entire body tensed and shivering in the darkness. As time passes, she grows numb to the bloodlust that is always a central theme in his fantasies.

Now, of course, even if he were to somehow frighten himself awake, he could not scream.

She would have to scream for him.

Wings spread and staked into the ground, body shackled against the stone, bones broken and splintered, she can barely move. But still she raises her head at the intruder; the armour of a single Union soldier. Her scornful eye glares up at him, the tiny, insignificant figure looming … yes, looming over her, sword raised over his head, blood running down his arms and dripping down his back. His stance is unsteady, his dark eyes are beginning to glaze. He, too, is dying. She still knows defiance, even with her dwindling strength. She spits at him. "Kill me if you desire. But you can never dirty my soul, wretched human."

He returns her gaze with one flooded with hate. Blood, blood and hate emanate from his frame. Her throbbing heart pauses; the moment has arrived. She can hear the cries of the Empire soldiers, see the shine of their black armour as they enter the bailey, ready to cut down the trespasser. She waits for his sword to plunge into her eye, to slice into her neck, to cut her open, carve her into pieces, bathe the stone and let her dry and shrivel in the sun. He will kill her, and then the Empire will kill him, and that will be done and over with. Two more lives, two more drops of this dying world's blood.

"Tell me, do you still want to live, dragon?"

"… What?" Even she is startled.

"A pact! There's no other way."

"A … hah …" She would laugh now, if she could, at this small, miserable, pathetic sight demanding the exchange of her noble heart. He would be dead in minutes, sooner than she. "What makes you worthy of a pact with me?"

And his words change everything.

"I wish to live!"

She is still surprised at her own decision, after ten thousand years of life. Even now, his silent voice cries at her in her waking memory, as he fends off the swarms of Empire puppets before her disbelieving eyes, skewering them like squealing rats, splitting their skulls open against the stone. Your answer! he screams at her, even as he staggers against the red walls, even as he coughs up blood, even as both of their lives ebb away. A pact … or death?

Is it shame?

How strange, she muses, that one so consumed with taking life is so desperate to cling to it. This common ground we share, this irony, is too laughable. It is surprising, but she knows it is no surprise. As a dragon, she knows, as no other race can, the existence of the paths of the prophecy that will lead to the final door. We are mere pawns, but what our role is … Which path is chosen to reach the other side, and where it will lead, that is still a mystery. And with but one Seal left guarding this world, the paths have grown limited indeed …

"Lord Caim!" She turns her head again to see a guard dashing up, his battered armour ringing. He pauses as he approaches them on the hill; he hesitates at her penetrating gaze. She knows her presence is still unsettling. The Empire uses dragons, after all – lightning-fast blacks, weakwilled and easily swayed, but dragons nonetheless. And this one, in spite of his youth, has surely heard the stories of the beast that devoured his king and queen.

And of the dragon that carried off a certain possessed nobleman's son – and the Goddess – into the sky, only a fortnight ago.

"Ah … L-Lord Caim is …?" the guard says, stumbling over his words. His hands clench open and closed, open and closed. He is still very young, probably only recently made into a soldier when the Union required more men against the Empire. It is a miracle this one has lasted so long. Her keen hearing picks up metallic vibrations; he is shaking. It is his first time seeing the Red Dragon, or any dragon, up close, and her unblinking gaze is almost too much for him. She eyes the soldier for moments longer, and feels a strange sort of pity.

"He is awake," Angel finally replies. At the same time, she reaches through the pact-bond, grasping him with her claws, shaking him vigorously, hauling him out of his death-dream and into the realm of the living. At her side, the sleeping figure stirs, then jerks upright without warning. In seconds he is on his feet, his blade flashing through the air, startling the soldier and causing the poor youth to jump back, wide-eyed. At the frightened yelp, Caim halts, composing himself instantly, growing aware of the situation. His blue eyes glower at her as he gestures angrily, the point of his sword stabbing at the air and punctuating his soundless curses.

"You have a visitor," she says evenly, looking away and ignoring the mental stream of accusations. At last he turns, sheathing his weapon and acknowledging the presence of the messenger.

"Sire!" The youth is relieved, and clambers closer towards them. "The hierarch is awake. The soldiers are ready and awaiting your command."

Nameless emotions twist themselves into layers of meaning. As Caim nods to the young guard, she opens her mouth. She takes her thoughts back to the fallen ogre in the snow, to the path his dead memories revealed. The path that would lead to Caim's sister, the Goddess Furiae.

The final Seal. Will this be the final door too? she muses. Out loud, she says, "Mobilize the troops. Our target is the fortress in the sky."

The soldier nods at her words, saluting reflexively, and dashes off to carry out the order. She watches him make his way down the hill, and knows that the next time she sees him, he will probably be in several pieces. The battle to come, in the Empire's own lands, is likely the last for him, and possibly the last for all of them. As the horns sound from the edge of the camp, she rises, unfuring her tail, her wings, feeling the wind. She thinks of the bloodshed that is to come, and anticipates the smile at her side, even as he begins to test the sharpness of his sword.

Your favourite sport, Caim...

Author's Notes: This was the character intro for a cross-universe RP game I was participating in (at RandomInsanity forums) during summer 2005, so the rest of the story makes very little sense without the context of the other posts. xD; I used the original JP name of Angel instead of Angelus for the Red Dragon because there were some negative connotations with it due to a previous user on the community messageboard xD I experimented with using present tense and trying something a little more graphic than what I usually do, to try to match the mood and atmosphere of the bloody epic that is Drakengard. Hopefully I did okay :p