Till We All Fall Down

The Legend of Dragoon

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When he first met her, she was a street rat in a grimy red bandana in the slums of Deningrad. She'd stolen his purse, and when he tracked her down and got it back, he received a shock.

Her hair was more yellow grease than platinum; half her teeth were missing, and from her mouth spewed a constant stream of the filthiest invective he had ever heard. But she was a Wingly, and it bothered him to see one of his people so degraded – even if she was an ungrateful hellion.

And so Lloyd took her with him when he left. He didn't know why. He certainly didn't need a grubby eight-year-old urchin to take care of. It was just a whim that would later work out to his benefit.

She said while she was in the bathtub that her name was Shithead, but he frowned at her and she flinched like a dog and got soap in her eye. While she was busy yelling and splashing it out, he said that her name would be Lenus.

A good Wingly name. Lenus had been one of the Archangel's handmaidens, and was the patron goddess of water and healing.

Lenus had lice that required her hair to be shaved off, and sores on her feet that refused to heal for months. Three of her un-missing teeth were cracked, and shifted and bled when she ate, so he held her down and plucked them out, unmindful of how she howled. He let her keep them afterwards.

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"I don't believe you!" she snarled, twisting and writing in his grip like a cat above bathwater. Her scratchy voice grated up into a scream of fear and fury. "I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU SAY, I CAN'T FLY!"

"Do not fall for too long. You haven't the time." intoned Lloyd softly. The wind whipped his silver hair into his eyes, but he ignored it. At the edge of his feet the earth dropped and hurled itself dizzyingly down the cliff, to end far down below in rocks and scraggly trees.

"DON'T YOU DROP ME. I'll NEVER TRUST YOU AGAIN!" Lenus screeched, and this time real tears were squeezing out of her eyes. She was desperate. It showed. She redoubled her efforts to break free, but she was only ten years old, and it made no difference.

Holding her by the armpits as he dangled her over the edge, Lloyd just felt old.

"I don't want you to trust me," he replied. "Now fly."

And he let her drop.

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She was fifteen, and still angry.

She threw down her knives at his feet. They clattered on the ground and skittered away into the sidelines. A bruise high on her cheek might have made her look fragile, but all it did was bloom like a dark badge of toughness and ugliness. "Fuck this," she spat. "Fuck this, and you. I don't want to learn how to use these stupid things. Let me do something else."

"I told you not to talk like that in front of me," he said. It was almost like a growl, but too well controlled. He didn't lower his own knives. "Now pick those up and defend yourself."

Her nostrils flared, and her hatchet chin jerked up, despite her tiredness. She was angry enough to try to be crazy, but she still eyed him sideways, like an animal. Rebellion simmered from her like heat waves.

"No," she ground out.

He gave her bruises to match the rest. The lesson stuck, though. She learned how to use knives, because she was short and skinny and fast, and they were suited for her. She learned to obey him, because she was short and skinny, and he was so very much faster than her.

He thought, sometimes, that she really did hate him. He didn't care.

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"You're so BORING," she said one night, restocking his bookshelves in a disinterested, disdainful way that probably meant that nothing would be in the right place and he'd have to do it over again himself. She was like a rather scornful cat in that respect, with no real regard for any of his things, just a scatter-brained open ear to whatever scraps of attention he tossed her way. "You just sit here, night after night, with those damned books. Meet some people, man. Get a girl, for fu... Soa's sake." She glanced at him carefully, but he wasn't paying attention and hadn't caught the word she'd almost said.

He turned a page, carefully, letting the old vellum slide over his hands. The rancid cup of tea that she had made him an hour ago sat cold at his elbow as he continued reading about the myth of the three Wingly relics of Endiness. Occasionally he pulled a scrap of parchment towards himself to make a few notes. He was in mid-reach of doing so when she slammed a plate of sad-looking eggs and a bedraggled and burnt slice of ham down on it.

He blinked. "Breakfast?"

"No." she said contemptuously. "Dinner. Now eat it before you fall over."

Ham and eggs, he remembered. It was all she knew how to cook.

"Hmmn," he replied. "No. Not now."

Lenus's squinty eyes narrowed, and her mouth shot open to berate him.

Lloyd's eyes flicked up, and the look in them stopped her. "Take the money from the mantel. Go out for the night."

Her lips flattened even further, and she stomped out of the room without a word.

Lloyd went back to work.

She didn't come back for four months.

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She did return. When she did, she was even skinnier and unhealthy looking, and her long lanky arms and legs stuck out far past the limits of her clothing. Her hair had been cut as well; it was now a spiky halo of white that made Lloyd remember when he had first found her and immediately had to shave her head. He didn't ask her if it was for the same reason.

She was still angry.

But she did seem tired. When she stalked back into his small house in Basil and slammed the door of the closet that had been determined to be her room years ago, it was with only a flicker of her old vehemence.

Lloyd watched, then donned his black cloak as he prepared to head back to the Serdian Parliament and watch silently as numerous officials wrangled over the war with Imperial Sandora. His plans were working. It was only a matter of time.

Lenus was seventeen.

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It was night. The Moon That Never Sets rode high in the sky, and bathed Basil in its grim green light. He was deeply asleep in his corner of the house, dreaming something fuddled and dark about falling cities and multi-eyed dragons, when his blankets were pulled aside and a chilly, bony form slid into bed with him.

Her hesitation lasted only slightly less than his confusion. Then she slid cold hands alongside his face and mashed her lips inexpertly against his.

Lloyd didn't react for a moment. Thinking that she was doing something right, she twisted her lips and tried harder as her hands slid down his chest.

After a moment, she noticed that he was still completely unresponsive. Her breath fluttered hot between them for several seconds.

She hissed something wordless and hateful, and almost leapt off of him; as if he had burned her. She fumbled out of bed, and left the room quickly.

Lloyd turned over and went back to sleep.

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At breakfast, it was if it had never happened.

Well, almost.

"You're planning something," Lenus blurted out at the kitchen table. "I know. You've been working on it for months. What is it?"

He paused, chewing his mouthful of breakfast. She still hadn't gotten any better at cooking them. Some days he idly wondered if she just lit a Burn Out and chucked it at the ingredients. As he chewed, he considered the question carefully.

After he washed it down carefully with a sip of tea, he folded his hands on the table, and met her eyes. She stiffened.

Best be blunt.

"I'm planning to sabotage the Serdian government so that they continue a war that they cannot possibly win. I plan to stage a cou de'etat in Tiberoa and supplant the monarchy with murderers and bandits. I also plan to remove the Queen of Mille Seseau, and leave the nation in the hands of a handful of witless girls. I plan to revive a God. I plan to make this world a Utopia."

The words fell easily and clicked into place like interlocking bands of iron.

Lenus looked shocked. It was a new expression for her.

Slowly, she set down her piece of charred toast. "So, um," she said slowly. "That means like... lots of nasty shit is going to happen, right?"

He blinked, then nodded. The description seemed appropriate.

A wide, toothy smile slathered slowly across her face. It wasn't a nice smile. "Can I help?" she demanded.

Lloyd thought it over. He decided quickly enough.

"As a matter of fact, I do have a small part you may play," he replied evenly. "If you feel up to the challenge."

She snorted. "Of course I am. I'm bored out of my mind here."

"Indeed," he said, and started in on his breakfast once more.

She continued staring at him. Lenus's feelings were usually transparent, they ran from angry, to mulish, to even angrier, but her face would be difficult to read at the moment. If he had happened to look up.

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Lenus made a better operative than he had expected. The bandit leader to the north had taken to the idea of ruling the country as Lloyd had expected, but he had rather though that the sheer toxicity of Lenus's personality would drive the man away from the deal. But as he received report after report from her in her labored, chicken scratch handwriting, he saw that the plan was working accordingly. And when she successfully made the switch with the heir to the throne of Tiberoa, he resolved to doubt her no longer about her qualifications.

Time passed.

Soon the war was going very badly for Serdio. The village of Seles was destroyed overnight. Advised by his top men, the king decided to send his first division of knights to meet the Sandoran army in the field. The force was devastated in the attack, but Lloyd himself was not blamed. An error; faulty information from those lower down. There was nothing a man could do.

There was a break-in at Hellena Prison, and several guards were killed as a handful of inmates made a bid for freedom. But Sandora soon retaliated, as Emperor Doel acted on the words of his own advisor and forged ahead to claim Basil for the Empire and its King as prisoner.

A few weeks later, Lloyd turned around and impaled the Jade Dragoon through the chest with the flickering amber blade of the Winglies. He let him fall, and escaped out the balcony after procuring the Moon Gem, as the youth in red armor staggered to his comrade's side, choking on his grief.

A month after that, the Emperor Doel was assassinated in his own throne room.

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Soon he was in Fletz.

The guards of the castle let him slip by without a word. She had replaced the honest ones with thieves months ago. Lloyd climbed the spiraling moon silver staircase without a word, and soon he was in her room.

A woman with a book was reclining lazily on a plush red couch near the balcony. The room itself was in a state of frenzied disarray, as if the owner took offense at the very idea of neatness. She was dressed in soft shades of rose and violet, her hands were soft and her skin creamy, and she had the look of a lovely, well bred maiden.

She looked up at him from underneath a wealth of loose gold curls, with round blue eyes and full lips, but there was no mistaking that look. Lenus made even a beautiful woman look hateful.

"Where the hell have you been?" she asked, tossing her book somewhere in the direction of her bed. It missed, and hit the floor with a crack, breaking the spine. She didn't appear to notice. "I've been waiting weeks. These princess types may look fancy, but they sure as Soa fucks bears don't have anything interesting to do all day."

"I've been busy," he said. He took up the doorway, standing quietly in one place. "How is the operation progressing?"

Her face twisted, "Don't you ever talk like a normal person? It's going fine. That ceremony thing's in a coupla weeks, and once I get the knives, I'll fly 'em over to you."

He nodded, letting the words slide over him. "Good."

"...yeah, and?"

"And what?"

"What else did you come to tell me?"

"...You're going to have to fight them."

"Who?"

"The dragoons."

She sat up, and stretched her arms above her head. It was the same thing she used to do at nights, when talking to him always led to her eventual boredom and annoyance. "So? Pussies. I can take them."

"Are you practicing your spells?"

She glared at him. "It's not like I can practice every day in this damned princess pooky getup," she said, gesturing at herself with disdain, "But yeah, I practice."

He relaxed. "Good."

Lenus-Emile got to her feet. It was strange, seeing the personality of another woman emanate from the frail, womanly form of this one. Lenus's personality had enough sharp edges to cut through anything; she prided herself in her glorious hatred of everything living. But somehow there had been no questions about the change in the princess's behavior.

She was walking towards him. Her mouth was open to say something sneering, but Lloyd had already heard her report, and now he needed to go to Donau. He turned on his heel and began walking down the stairs once more.

No one followed.

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The events of his plan fell into place smoothly. There was a kidnapping in Donau, and soon after the city began revolting against the network of crime that held a stranglehold over the country.

The bandits, unaccustomed to such action, fell quickly. Once news leaked out that their leader had been killed back in his hideout, they vanished as if they had never been.

There was a disturbance at the Twin Castle.

His plan very nearly didn't work. He had his doubts about Lenus's ability to win against a group of seven partially trained Dragoons, but surprisingly enough, she got the Daggers and flew away fast.

He was in a teetering house in Fueno, quietly reading a book, when she barged in and dropped the Daggers on the table. She immediately slumped into a chair, the wings on her back sputtering out and dying.

Lloyd looked up with no real expression of surprise.

Her months of good eating at the castle had finally filled her out some. She still had the same stringy muscle as ever, but she no longer looked like a half-starved alleycat. Her blue armor did little to protect her, but he suspected that she had it made that way.

She wore her body like armor and sword all in one, and glared up at him under lidded eyes and with that toothy smirk of hers. "What do you think?" she purred.

He could see the web she was attempting to weave, and disregarded it. He set the book down slowly, marking his page with a strip of leather. "You brought them. Good."

She sat up fluidly, her spine rolling her upright like a dancer, "After two days of flying, I'd better have."

His eyes flickered. "Are you tired?"

She smirked again, and gave him a look that raked down, and then up. "Not yet."

Annoyance filled him. This new side of her irked him in ways he had thought unreachable. "Stop that. If you cannot take this seriously, then I will not allow you to help me retrieve the third artifact."

She scowled, platinum eyebrows lancing towards the middle of her forehead as she snapped back, "Whatever, you asexual freak. Just because you haven't gotten any in the last seven thousand years doesn't mean that-"

She flinched horrribly and raised her arms to cover her head as he stood up so suddenly that his chair fell over.

Silence reigned for a long while.

When he spoke again, his words were calm and measured. "If you feel mature enough to be able to help me, then come with me. If not, then you can deposit yourself back in the slums of Deningrad to make a living off of street scraps and whatever coin you can muster from performing quick favors in back alleys. I trust that you're familiar with that existence."

She lowered her arms, and stared at him in shock. Her face was white, she sucked in her breath hard. "Don't," she whispered. "Don't talk about that. Not ever."

He kept his silence.

Slowly, Lenus relented. "I'm sorry," she grumbled, eyes down. "I'll be good. Just show me what to do."

He did.

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Surprisingly, the dragon took to Lenus just as quickly as Lenus took to the dragoon spirit. She just seemed to bully both of them into submission, and if she didn't extract the spells from the stone very quickly, at least she had enough knowledge of magic to construct her own deadly spells; weaving the water into ice and pounding waves that would render any enemy into pulp.

Regole almost seemed to enjoy her company. He was an old dragon, senile and toothless, but he still knew how to manipulate the waves and crush his opponents with his sinuous curves. If he didn't do exactly what she wanted, Lenus would scream at him and fly towards him with her dragoon spirit raised. He always obeyed her after that.

She was standing watching Regole twist and loop in the waters of the cavern below, a characteristic scowl on her bulldog face. Lloyd came and stood behind her, slightly to her left.

They stood silently for a while. Occasionally Regole would surface and hum loudly, making the whole cave reverberate.

She broke it first. "They had a little girl with them."

He listened.

Lenus continued. "A little Wingly girl. Younger'n me. She was covered in ribbons and had a toy hammer."

She turned around, and he saw with some surprise that she was smiling, slightly. A soft, glad little smile. "She fought like a dancer, like skipping and bending and stuff, but she kept tripping and the big guy, the giant? He just kept her behind him and went right on fighting."

Lloyd considered this carefully. He wasn't entirely sure what she was trying to say. She was never this talkative, at least about anything that mattered. "They acquired her in Donau." he replied. "She is a dancer there, yes. She helped them recover the Mayor's son from Gehrich."

Her face twisted. The little smile was now gone. "Gehrich. Hated that piece a' shit. Didn't care about anything but getting his cut- he didn't even care about being the fucken' King of the whole fucken' country." She hugged her arms. "'Course, he lived out in that acid trip of a canyon, so hell, he must've been crazy."

Lloyd was getting bored. "You envied her, this Wingly girl?" He shifted, bringing his hands up to check the fit of his gloves.

Lenus shot him a look. "I don't envy shit," she said acidly. He had long since stopped punishing her for swearing. The lesson just never seemed to stick.

He said nothing.

She sighed, and looked back out at Regole. "I just..." her voice trailed away.

The reflected lights from the water danced in loopy swirls on the ceiling. It was quiet here, in this place of stone and sea. The pathway had been flooded months ago, and no travelers came this route.

Her words sounded rough in her throat. "I just liked that little dancer girl with her hammer that was too long for her, and that big guy who was always looking out for her."

It took him a while to reply. "Hnn," he said.

They continued watching the dragon. Regole snapped up a large fish expertly, and streamers of blood clouded the water as he tore it apart with smug enjoyment.

"You realize that you'll have to kill them all." Lloyd said.

She turned and faced him, scorn welling out of every line of her body. "Of course I realize that," Lenus drawled. "Give me one ounce of fucken' credit."

For some reason, he even let that slide.

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They came, as Lloyd knew they would. He had led them here, after all.

They followed him to the island where Lenus had been training for weeks, and since Lloyd chose not to engage them, they fought her.

She was vicious. She fought like he had taught her, to be fast and fearless and untouchable. She was like a valkyrie of the wave and wins; a cursing, blue frosted battle angel who didn't know how to do anything else besides hate and fight. Or so Lloyd had always believed.

She fought them tooth and nail, and shrieked curses and spells at the same time. She could have won. In a different world, she might have.

But it was seven against one, and Dart was a wielder of fire. And against her ice and rage, it proved too effective.

They overpowered her, and she died.

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Meru stumbled back, her hammer snaking around and taking a guard position in front of her. Her pointy face was tight and frightened looking, but it filled with hope suddenly.

Dart and Rose alighted on the ground once more, and their armor and wings dissolved into dust and light. Both were weary, but the fight was over.

Regole was still twitching as his nerves died, but his head was seven yards away from the rest of his body. He wouldn't be able to wage battle anymore.

The Wingly Dragoon wasn't able to land so gracefully. She hit the ground at a slide and stumbled, a sticky gout of blood splattering across the rocks as she regained her balance.

She was covered in blood. Her neck and chest were a mass of melted weeping skin, and her hands and stomach were also burned. Rose had hit her with a Demon's Gate mere moments ago, and the Wingly was still shaking, her hands barely able to close into a clawlike grip on the glimmering handles of the Moon daggers.

Lenus's eyes crazy with hate. She was muttering to herself, and as Meru listened, she could hear that it was all a constant stream of profanity and hissing fury.

Dart raised his sword. "Give up," he demanded. "Just give up, and hand over the Daggers."

Lenus grinned, and her teeth were red. She spat a bloody gob of something at him that landed at his feet with a wet smack. "Come over here so's I can fuck that pretty face of yours up real good you chicken shit piece of fucken' slime."

Dart's face tightened, and he made his decision. He started running towards her, sword held high.

She grinned. "Atta boy."

The world slowed.

Lenus's eyes rolled up in her head as she raised herself to her full, imperious height and spread her shimmering metal wings out to their fullest, not minding how the action pulled at her burns. "Lloyd," she called out, and he heard it from where he was watching, hidden from the rest. Her voice rang out like a bell, and he could hear her mocking him. Or was she? He listened further. "My life-"

-and he remembered a little girl running around his house, her hair recently shorn and her adult teeth just barely coming in, hurrying to get the book he had asked her to find. And when she was older, making sure that he didn't miss a meal when he was researching, preparing him plate after awful plate of eggs and ham and terrible tea.-

Dart was going to be on her in a moment. She was too tired to nail him with her knives, and yet she was apparently going to anyways. Her eyes were closed.

-And he remembered her snorting disdain of dresses and long hair, how all she wanted to do was sit in his study while he was working, and spend the whole time making fun of him and screeching at him when he asked her to leave. He remembered that she wasn't grouchy in the mornings because she was grouchy all the time. He remembered that she always loaded enough sugar into her tea to concuss a horse. He remembered that she hadn't wanted to learn how to fight because she hated having to do something right each time, and she didn't like that kind of pressure. And he remembered the slow transformation over the years of this woman who was so sharp that she ripped everything around her to shreds and had no one in the world that she loved.-

"-is for you!"

And she let her weapons fly.

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Her wings had burst into being just in time. They were large and powerful, created entirely out of her own fear. She had stopped screaming shortly after he had dropped her, and instead had fallen like a stone, her arms clasped around her kneecaps.

But then she had screwed her eyes shut, and ground her teeth, and wished, and she arrested her fall.

She landed as lightly as a butterfly, her wings humming and throbbing with a warm blue-white light on her shoulder blades.

Lloyd touched ground just after her. They were both at the bottom of the cliff, amidst a stand of stunted alders and dead grass.

Lenus dipped to feel the ground with her fingers. Her wings flickered, burned brighter, then went out.

She turned, and she had a wild, shocked smile on her face, "I flew," she murmured. "I absolutely positively sure as Soa shines flew."

And then she ran over and locked her arms around his waist and pressed her face against the velvet of his waistcoat.

Lloyd was surprised. Without thinking about it, he wrapped one arm around her tiny frame, rested the other on her head, and looked down at his little charge.

She looked up, her eyes shiny and wet. She seemed about to say something, then realization hit her. "You dropped me!" she yelled. "You actually dropped me, you stupid shit! How could you do that to me?" She let go and stomped away, kicking at a tuft of grass "Huh, see if I ever do THAT again. Flying. Who the fuck cares."

He watched her go, and said lightly, "Excellent. Now you can start learning magic."

She whirled and glared at him. "I can't do magic."

"You said you couldn't fly," he pointed out.

"Yeah. But still. I can't do magic. Now let's go home and eat lunch."

Lenus ran up ahead, cursing quietly as only a little girl with bad parents can. Lloyd chuckled, and ambled after her. It had been a very successful day.

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A blue, throbbing light descended from the sky into Meru's waiting hands. Her maroon eyes sparkled, and she closed her fingers around it carefully. "This..." she said.

"The Spirit of the Blue Sea Dragon," said Rose flatly. "Obviously you're a perfect match." She finished wiping down her rapier with a cloth, and sheathed it smoothly. Her sword belt sagged over one hip as she straightened up and turned to Dart. "We have to hurry. The King must be informed."

"That girl," said Shana slowly, walking out from behind Dart. She still couldn't believe that Lenus's last strike hadn't hit them. "Do you suppose she really loved Lloyd?"

"She was crazy," said Haschel. "You could tell he didn't care about the stupid bitch at all."

Shana gasped, and looked at him reproachfully. The old man looked embarrassed, and shrugged.

They left soon. Meru was the last to go. She hesitated by the spot where Lenus had fallen.

Her voice sounded thin and halting in the vast cavern. "I'm sorry we killed you. I'll.." she swallowed. "I'll give your name to the Elder. He'll tell your parents." She held her hammer close in one hand, and the spirit clasped tight in the other.

"I'm sorry," she repeated.

And then Meru, too, left.

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