Well here we are again. Ya'll were patient and rode my ass enough to get me to write this. :) It's getting more difficult to write now, but I managed. Hopefully, I'm not too under the par.

Shadow of a Soldier

Chapter 15

Licking Wounds

Caim wanted to stab Leonard, the useless twit.

After Verdelet, who was lying on his deathbed where he belonged, informed the hermit and elf of what had happened, Leonard offered to go on scout with Arioch to see which way Inuart had fled with the Goddess. Caim wanted nothing more than to silence the man's stupidity forever. Even if Leonard and Arioch found anything -in that case, just Arioch, since the only useful organs on Leonard were taken by his annoying faery- what would they be able to do with the dragon injured and Verdelet unable to travel? Though Caim entertained the thought of simply leaving the old priest behind to die since he had no real further duty to the group, the hermit would object.

Thus why stabbing the moron was such a relieving thought.

The sky rumbled again above Caim and the others, reminding them of the oncoming storm. Caim frowned and growled silently to himself. Just what they needed. Rain to muck everything up even more.

Though Caim was sore from the battle, he wasn't too badly injured enough to keep from working to better prepare the camp for the storm. Leonard groaned near him as he worked. "How sorry I am to not have been here," the hermit woed to empty air ten feet to Caim's left. "Please, forgive me, Caim... I did not know that if I and Arioch had left, you would be overtaken so easily..."

Caim had to bite his lip from hurling something sharp at the man's head. However, being blind and stupid, Leonard was unaware of Caim's anger and continued. "Now that I have unwittingly abandoned you at your time of need, the Goddess has been taken and our only hope for defeating the Empire with her... Leonard, you blind fool...! If we lose this war, it will be on your shoulders..." He raised his head and stood, fist clenched with resolve. "Caim!" he shouted in the opposite direction in which Caim was standing, "I pledge to you to never be absent in your time of need! If I fail, please, give me whatever punishment you deem fit, even death, for it is because of my blundering I failed to assist you and the Goddess in your time of need! Caim! Do not forget this day for I..."

Caim was walking away by this point to prevent himself from killing the man, though the hermit continued to ramble on and on. Arioch watched Caim walk away, her ever- watching stare trying to slither its way into his soul... Though, if what the dragon thought were true, he didn't have one for her to slither into in the first place...

His steps slowed to almost a stop when he thought of the dragon... He turned to the spot where she had fallen, where she still lay, and slowly made his way to her.

The dragon hadn't moved too much since the battle; her hide was turning black and blistered and it was understandable that she didn't want to disturb it too much. His hate and rage rose whenever he looked at her or the wind carried the stench of her charred flesh to his nose. It was his fault she was hurt so...

He stopped walking toward her and plopped onto a nearby dead tree trunk that was lying on its side. It was his fault that Furiae was taken... His fault that his only friend had turned on them... The guilt, anger and frustration that Furiae was now in Inuart's hands and the dragon was temporarily crippled washed over him like a dark, grim wave. He hadn't been able to do much of anything against Inuart... Did this mean his struggle against the Empire was futile as well?

Angelus opened an amber eye as she felt her human start to drown in his own doubt and despair. She lifted her head a bit and sighed. "...Caim... Come here," she said almost gently.

Somewhat surprised by her rare tone, Caim made his way to her, unsure of what she wanted. When he got near her, she put her head back down, but kept her open eye on him. "...There's no need to sulk about, Caim," she admonished quietly. Her voice lacked the normal sting it would have held were it a normal situation. "You and I are both still alive. The Goddess... Inuart's love is still in that contorted, warped mind of his somewhere, which gives us time to get her back. We cannot falter now because of one lost battle. Understand?"

Caim stared at the dragon, only able to blink in confusion. Was she... trying to cheer him up? She had all of the ammunition to fire at him and she would rather give him a pep talk? When he didn't answer, the dragon rolled her eyes and growled. "I know it's difficult for a simple, pessimistic imbecile like you to look past the grave, but do try so I don't have to watch you mope your way through this war. Now, do something useful and get the damn hermit to concoct a salve for my wounds, would you? If we're going to die, I'd rather do it sooner than later."

Caim could only give the dragon a grimace and turned to go back to the hermit, who was still talking. Unfortunately, Caim couldn't tell Leonard on his own that he needed to stop babbling and to start making a salve, so he would have to rely on someone else... Though he really didn't wish to have to speak to the old man, trying to communicate with Arioch was more reserved for a last resort, since anything he may try might entice her to attempt to eat him again. So, to the old man it was. He picked up a large bowl for the salve and went into Verdelet's tent.

The old man was lying on the makeshift hay bed they had fashioned for him the night before since his "tired, old bones couldn't rest on the unforgiving earth anymore". His staff, some medical supplies, and pieces of parchment lay in a corner of the tent, and a small oil lamp was lit far to the side to prevent a fire. At the sound of Caim coming in, he took a raspy breath and turned to face the other. "...Ah, Caim... I did not expect you to visit..."

'I am not here for you, old corpse,' Caim grumbled to himself. 'If I could make the damn stuff myself I would.' He went closer and was about to show Verdelet the bowl when the old man turned his head to face the roof again and moaned. "Oh, Caim, when did I become so fragile? I remember when I would be able to create a shield powerful enough to hold off a hundred foes before any of them could draw their swords... Now look at me... I am a withered old fool, unable to even give my life for my duty..."

'Yes, I know that, but look at the damn bowl so you can figure out what I need,' Caim thought angrily and awkwardly shoved the bowl at Verdelet, who weakly pushed it back. "No, thank you Caim... I do not need water... Leonard has already given me a bowl."

Caim let out a frustrated sigh and tried again, but was a little startled by the sudden wail the old man gave out. "Oh! It is not only the pain of my terrible wound, but of my heart as well... When Inuart turned his sword on me, I felt no compassion or mercy. Not even fear. No, only anger filled my heart. What right do I have to preach to others now?"

'You never had any right, but for the love of all that is holy, look at the damn bowl you mangy old fool!' Caim growled in his mind, shoving the bowl back into Verdelet's face, who, again, pushed it away. "No, Caim," he said weakly as tears came to his eyes. "I'm afraid that won't help me now... I fear that the gods may come to take me tonight... Please, fetch Leonard for me... He is the only one who can help me now..." Though Caim tried again to get Verdelet to understand him, all he received in response was that, though Caim was kind to think of him, he could only be helped by Leonard.

When Caim got out of the tent, he threw the bowl down on the craggy soil, which of course, broke the fragile pottery. Staring angrily down at the broken pieces, he heard a lofty giggle to his right, where Arioch was sitting. "Poor mute man... No one can hear you..." she mused quietly with a sweet, strange smile. "But maybe... Just maybe I can hear you, if we're both quiet enough..." she said as she almost drifted near him, her feet slowly, daintily carrying her closer. She leaned in close, then closer to him to where she was nearly pressed up against him, her strange, beautiful eyes searching his own, her delicate fingers slowly meandering over his cracked and bloodied armor. Simply too stunned to really do anything else, he stood there as she entranced him into stillness. "Ah..." she said sweetly, "...You need a cure for your pet... I'll go and tell the blind man... if you'll let me have another taste..." She leaned up to him, her soft lips brushing against his jaw and neck. "I haven't been able to have anything sweet for a good while..."

There was a low growl behind them that shook him out of his reverie and he pushed Arioch away from him. "You'll have to stick with deer, elf," the dragon snarled, flames threatening to burn any who angered her. "He will never be your next meal. Find some wandering brat to snack on."

Arioch chuckled, her gaze lingering on Caim for a moment. "Oh... Are there children around here...? I do hope so... They're so sweet..." She began to lightly wander when some thought occurred to her and turned back to the still stunned Caim. "Oh... Your pet... If she's in such need for a cure, then why doesn't she ask herself? She's a grown girl... right?" She turned back to wander off almost dancing, Undine and Salamander following her warily as two orbs.

Angelus scoffed, letting a low growl rumble through her chest. She'd rather the elf gotten left behind... She glared to Caim, who was still standing frozen where the elf had left him. "If you're quite done being dumbstruck like the primitive ape you are..." she scoffed, which made him flinch and look up at her. He seemed about to say something when another thought struck him, the elf's words finally sinking in.

"...Wait... Why DIDN'T you ask on your own? You know trying to communicate with Leonard is useless in all sense of the word, Verdelet's withered skin has collapsed into his skull and Arioch is just demented!"

Angelus shrugged. It hadn't really occurred to her why. "It doesn't matter, does it? Though, I do have to admit, your conversation with the old priest was rather amusing."

Caim snarled at the dragon, his frustration getting the better of him. "...I know it's a little difficult to realize but I'm not here for your amusement."

"No," the dragon replied with a narrowed gaze, "I think you've established that your purpose in life is to try and murder the both of us. You proved it yet again today."

Caim flinched and balled his fists, trying to keep his anger within himself. He knew it was no use to get angry at the dragon... "...Like you had everything handled on your end? The battle wasn't two minutes in and that black monster already had you bleeding!"

The remark obviously stung as the dragon raised her lip at Caim, her growl soft but threatening. "You weren't so successful either. Who was it that was knocked down after four sword clashes, MIGHTY general?"

"It's still better than getting caught with a few rows of teeth to the neck!" Caim countered.

"Inuart was merely toying with you," the dragon growled back, her pride still stinging. "If he truly wanted to kill you right then, he would have struck the many opportunities he had to end it then! Did you not see the glee in his eyes? Did you not feel it? He wanted you to wallow in misery before he killed you."

"So is that why the Imperial beast caught you so quickly? You seemed to have paid such rapt attention to detail for my battle, what about your own?" Caim snarled, taking a step forward. "Maybe if you had deigned to pay attention to your own enemy instead of watching over me like a damn mother hen, you wouldn't be looking like a feast centerfold. The only missing thing is the apple in your mouth!"

"I received this wound from protecting YOU, Human!" the dragon roared back, her mental voice booming as loud as her actual bellow. For a moment, Caim retreated a little, the anger catching him off guard. "Don't you DARE preach to me on how I lost that battle. You blindly and stupidly ran into it, making yourself wide open for attack. What did you plan on doing to him, stab his toe?"

Though the dragon had a very good point, Caim bit his lip, his anger at himself, not the dragon, welling up again. "What was I supposed to do, watch him rip your throat out? I couldn't let him kill you!"

"So you offer up yourself as an exchange?" the dragon snapped back, her fangs still bared. "You would still kill me by doing that, fool!"

"I wasn't trying to get the beast to kill me, I was trying to help you, you damn bat!"

"You still haven't answered how you would," the dragon growled loudly. "You fighting that dragon would have ended with us dying and the Empire winning!"

Caim threw his hands up and stormed off to his tent. "It's like arguing with a damn WALL, fighting with you!" He shouted back at her, still stomping off.

"At least a wall is not so fragile as to fall to a few sword clashes," the dragon growled back in Caim's mind, which made him punch the nearest thing to him: Leonard's faery, which sent it flying and crashed into the ground, where he lay unconscious.

The sound of thunder woke Caim from his light sleep; he had taken a small nap in his tent after the spat with the dragon. His armor off and mind still smouldering over the argument, he ventured out to find the sky dark and angry with the storm overhead, but it only looked like a few hours had gone by during his sleep. He sighed. Typical. He never could find much refuge in sleep.

As he stood outside, he felt small droplets of water speckle themselves on his head and shoulders. He took in a deep, calming breath, taking in the rain's scent. Though sleep never comforted him, rain was a little more successful at it... It reminded him of times when the world wasn't so empty and dark, and when there truly was light and hope...

A rumble to his left caught his attention, where he saw the dragon still lying. Verdelet's water bowl was next to her with strange white goo dripping off of the lid. She seemed to be asleep. He heaved another sigh and made his way to her; he may as well try and get her recovered as soon as possible... After all, there wasn't any way he was winning this war without her.

He got to her side and cupped some of the salve in his hands and made a face. Disgusting. It smelled like carrion. Maybe it was made with the leftovers of the children Arioch ate...

He started to gently spread the salve over a part of the burn he was closest to, which made the skin flinch an the dragon wake. She watched him for a moment before asking, "...What are you doing?"

Caim didn't turn to her, just continued to spread the salve. "...Curing you. What does it look like?" he replied quietly.

Angelus sighed, befuddled. Humans were so strange... Though, she did have to admit, that reeking salve did wonders for her burn... She wanted to say something more, but found no words and simply lay her head back down and allowed the Caim human to spread the salve for her. However, the sky finally wasn't able to hold its fury back anymore and poured out its sweet rage, drenching the two.

Angelus closed her eyes as the rain soaked her burning flesh, calming the heat along with the salve. She watched as the Caim human frowned up at the sky, miffed that it had stolen his job. Angelus carefully lifted her wing high enough to where he could slip under it. "...Get in or else you'll catch something that will delay us further," she said calmly. He didn't seem in the spirits to argue -which she was silently grateful for- and did as he was told, taking the bowl of salve with him to keep it from overflowing. She curled her head to where her muzzle was now in the small gap he had used, allowing her to look directly at him. He gave her a face and said, "...Well, what now?"

Though Caim couldn't see it, Angelus shrugged her shoulders as much as her injury would permit. "...Wait out the rain, I suppose. Unless you have some greater idea."

Caim made a face and looked to where her side was and, as he thought of something to pass the grueling hours before him, gently petted her hide. Angelus did not expect the warmth his absent-minded strokes gave her; it made her feel at ease and... tranquil. She closed her eyes as a content rumble went throughout her chest and throat. She had not felt that soothed in... well, she couldn't even remember.

Caim looked up at the noise, his reverie broken. He watched the dragon, quite confused, his hand stalling for a bit. "...Something... the matter?" he asked carefully.

Angelus opened an amber eye halfway, suddenly not having the energy to open it completely. "...It seems you've given yourself a new use..." She curled her body tighter, her head consequently going further beneath her wing until Caim nearly was forced to lean on it. Now trapped by her wing, head and neck, he could only make himself comfortable against her, though he had to change the area he was petting to the soft part of her hide behind her eye. The next thing he knew, she was sound asleep.

He wasn't sure what to think of the dragon; the day had been strange, awful and confusing. Though, he couldn't deny the fact that he was glad she had been there during that battle. Not just because of the dragon, but... well, he didn't know why yet. He sighed and closed his eyes as well. He would still rather have that stallion with them still as a second option...

And as the rain raged overhead, her warmth, the cool scent and sound of rain quickly lulled him to sleep as well, safe within the haven of the dragon.

His dragon...

Well, I do have to admit that kinda blew. They were OOC, and the ending sucked. But I wanted to get this chapter out as soon as I could, so there you have it.

Thanks to all you guys who keep me writing. You're all awesome.