Chapter 6 – Bones and Ash
Something had roused the Dragon in the Forest scant few nights ago from his long sleep; something that had brushed against his scales intently. Though there had been no sign of the disturbance or of the passing of a body when his great head lifted from the ground, he had without doubt felt something, something that should not have been there. The trees of his domain whispered of a great disturbance on the far side of the mountains. As their branches swayed and their leaves rustled, they spoke softly of all the earth's happenings since he had laid his head upon the land in slumber.
The world had changed in his many centuries of rest; what once was a land of peace had slowly become tumultuous until the Dragon was now the only creature that remained within the confines of his once lively domain within the borders of the trees at the roots of the mountains. Much was wrong with the world now before him. Many things that should have long since come to pass had not changed and the earth was no better for it. And now the same darkness of the Second Age had been allowed to rise in power once more, crawling across the land with its minions and foul intentions like a plague.
The Dragon in the Forest was not an old creature among his kin, though even he had known that the power should not have been allowed to endure. Many of his much older kin had not allowed themselves to be concerned to be concerned with the creatures beyond the walls of their caverns; he wondered if they now held the same views in the face of a second darkness. The souls of nine had already been pierced with that evil. How many more of his kin would be lost to this storm if they did not act?
Then he felt it again, the sensation of something brushing against his scales; it was growing steadily stronger, though. For a moment he wondered at the feeling and it was only when the taste and smell of the wave of power swelled over him that he remembered. It swept out far and wide from the depths where it had risen out of the mountain and two distinct signatures of the power sang to his soul. It was like a pull that he heard calling to his very being and what was once a simple brush against his scales quickly became a monumental force that tore the very breath and fire from his throat.
Then, very suddenly, he felt something snap and shatter beneath the wave of power; the wave crashed all around him and the backlash ripped at the trees. A great storm blew and the trees cried out, for both they and the Dragon knew what had occurred, what would certainly happen if something was not done with all haste. She was in the Realm Beneath the Mountains. She was soon to be suffering, if the Loss had not yet begun within her. None of their kind, including those who were free of the Curse of the Valar, bore the ability to wield such power in the presence of another without recourse and she was no exception.
The Dragon stretched, extending his limbs out from beneath his body as layers of moss and overgrown vegetation rained down from his scales. A roar sounded out in the forest as the Dragon hurled itself into the air and streaked across the sky toward the Door Behind the Mountain.
Frodo felt hopelessly lost as he watched Aragorn and Legolas hurry to where Leiawen lie on the ruined bridge of Kazad-Dum. Boromir was pulling at him, urging him up the stair and away from the goblin arrows that flew towards them in alarming succession. His body was like lead; he couldn't move, he couldn't breathe, under the overwhelming weight of the despair that enveloped him so completely. And as the Gondorian hauled him further up the stair he didn't recognize the screams tearing their way from his throat; it was a tortured and half-mad sound that would later horrify him with its raw, agonizing sound.
How had everything gone so terribly wrong? Hadn't he made the right decision? A thick, suffocating film of failure slipped over him as the sight of Aragorn and Legolas disappeared around a corner, taking his view of Leiawen with it. Had continuing over the mountain been the better decision?
There are no "better choices" here, boy, he heard a voice murmur at the back of his mind. The wizard is dead; you're the one that killed him. The Dragon will soon be dead as well; that, too is your fault, boy. Well done.
The cool air from the Door Behind the Mountain was as much a slap in the face as the words whispered in his mind to torment him. Sunlight blinded him once Boromir released him from his grasp and Frodo stumbled once he was back upon his own two feet. As his kin drifted away from him only as far as they dared to let their tears fall in private, the lead that encased him squeezed just a bit tighter, forcing a sob from his chest. Sam, Merry, and Pippin all openly mourned Gandalf's passing and Frodo wished with his whole heart that it had not been his own decision that led to the Wizard's fall and the Dragon's suffering.
"Where is she?" a voice demanded from behind him.
Frodo turned his head slowly to find three Nord men quickly descending upon them. Two of them he recognized, even beneath the black fluid that rolled over their skin and armor, they were the Dragons that had been at the Council Meeting with Leiawen in Rivendell. The last Nord was one he did not recognize. The Dragon's dark hair rivaled Leiawen's in the pitch color and the ice blue of his gaze froze the blood in the small hobbit's veins, stilling even his heart in his chest. He knew this Nord was nothing like the woman he travelled with and Frodo could all save feel the anger apparent in the Dragon's stance. This Dragon was everything he supposed a Dragon to be: fearsome and dangerous. This one would not think anything of killing him or the other members of the Fellowship if it suited his purposes.
Boromir drew his sword as he moved to intercept the three Dragons and for a moment Frodo was almost glad for the man's headstrong actions. "Who are you? What are you doing here?" the man all but demanded of them, standing before the hobbits and blocking the Dragons from the Door Behind the Mountain.
The dark-haired Dragon's eyes flashed in annoyance and he strode up to the man until they stood all save a hairsbreadth apart, leveling him with a glare of purely malicious intent. "I would burn your bones to ash, human, if but you were worth the waste of breath." Something sparked within the Nord's gaze, something that urged Frodo to flee as far from this creature as possible. "Where. Is. She?" the Dragon spoke slowly through gritted teeth, hints of thunder in his voice.
"The Great Lady, mortal," the dark-haired Nord interjected. "You will show her the respect due of her heritage and strength, or I will shatter everything you are between my teeth." The other two Nords came to stand behind him, similar looks of furious outrage settling across their features.
The confrontation had soon drawn the attention of Gimli and the other hobbits; Frodo himself was terrified of the imposing creatures that appeared to be no more than a moment from striking down Boromir where he stood. The rage flowed from the Dragons in waves; their eyes glowing with the same unnatural light that Leiawen's held and thunderous growls rumbling forth from their chests. He could feel the vibrations from the sound deep in his bones, jolting him to the core of his being. They were looking for their "Great Lady", they had ventured to this place for her, what terror would they visit upon them when they learnt that she was dying in a cave infested with Goblins and orcs and any number of other horrors he could not name? What pain would they visit upon him, what tortures would they subject him to if Aragorn was unable to protect him from them?
That thought alone gave Frodo a shudder. Could they protect him? Could anyone save him in this? A Dragon, of all creatures, was now also in ruin from an attempt to help him…how could the others hope to have a chance?
No one will want to save you after they see the Dragon you have destroyed; they will turn from you, one by one until you are alone.
The sound of echoed footfalls came from the Door Behind the Mountain and the breath in Frodo's lungs was quite suddenly gone as his gaze snapped over to the threshold. The others had all heard the noise and at the young hobbit's movement, they followed his line of sight, waiting for whatever was to emerge from the depths of Moria behind them. Only a moment later did Aragorn and Legolas appear with the Still-Cursed Dragon between them.
You did this, boy, the voice taunted once more. This is the consequence of your choice; all of this is your doing.
He wanted to argue, to make that damning voice understand that it wasn't his fault; he had no way of knowing, couldn't possibly have known it would come to this. It wasn't his fault, he didn't know. I'm sorry…I'm so, so sorry. No apology on the whole of Middle Earth would be of use to the Dragon now…he might as well have thrust a blade through her heart himself for all an apology would accomplish.
Leiawen's long dark hair hung about her in sweat-drenched strands, clinging to her face and form. Her right arm hung useless at her side once more, the dark red fluid of her blood gushing from newly re-opened wounds to the ground where it hissed and steamed. It streaked a morbid banner over her skin; every part of her flesh touched by it was torn asunder, rent deep until even the muscle lie open. Every new wound glowed with an awful light, as if the heat of her blood was setting her ablaze, melting her as it had the stone floor in the halls of Moria after the battle with the Watcher in the Water. Her entire form was a sickly grey that made her appear to be crafted of wet stone; that stone was cracking, though, flecks of her body drifted off with even the slightest shift of air. It was as if she were the smoldering, ash remains of a dying fire, struggling to live and consume. Even her armor and swords were falling to ash, drifting from her in pieces that grew ever larger as she was moved.
What most caught Frodo's attention were Leiawen's eyes. The warm amber was gone and in its place was a black so fathomless it consumed even the whites around her irises; he felt as though he would fall into her soul if she caught him with her gaze. He then realized that no matter the fear instilled in him by the Nords and their infuriated hostility, Leiawen's eyes terrified him so much the more than they ever could; there was no warmth behind those eyes, no trace of the Still-Cursed Dragon that he had come to trust…to care for. She was falling apart with the Loss and likely her own despair of having lost Gandalf as well. The Dragon that hung between the King of Men and the Elf Prince was slipping away from their world, so little of her remained within the crumbling shell of her body.
What had he done?
Dragons do not die as the people of the earth. Their souls are what keep their bodies together…
This is what happens when Dragons die, he realized, wanting to run to her side though the lead in his limbs held him down. But Gandalf said…her soul would keep this from happening to her…
Before he could consider it further, the Nords were at her side, prying her from Aragorn and Legolas to determine the severity of her condition. The dark-haired Nord lifted her in his arms and held her close to his chest, her head tucked beneath his chin and one of his hands wound in her hair even as it broke away and drifted off.
How many more would you have die, boy, before you understand that they cannot save you? No one can, you are alone.
The sight of the Balrog's fierce and fiery form had both terrified the Ranger and given him reason for pause as he had guarded the hobbits on the far side of the bridge of Kazad-dum. Dread filled him when Gandalf had stood alone to face the Demon, then a glimmer of hope shone through when Leiawen was suddenly behind the Wizard, lending him the strength and power she had gained from the Gathering with her kin. Shock flowed through him when the Still-Cursed roared at the cousin to her kin; even he could hear the challenge in the sound that burst forth from the Dragon's throat. His hope blazed brighter when she had very nearly extinguished the creature from the Ancient World; then once more when the bridge crumbled beneath its feet. Relief flooded through him just as swiftly as the horror that followed; for no sooner was the Balrog gone than it had pulled Gandalf from the Bridge as well leaving none save a quickly weakening Still-Cursed Dragon as his salvation.
Aragorn had no notion of where the snap had come from, only that it rang out against his ears as loudly as the crack of the Balrog's fire whip. Then Gandalf was falling and all that remained of the fierce fight was Leiawen unmoving on the bridge as the dark creatures drew closer, bows drawn to finish her off. The Ranger acted quickly then, Leiawen didn't have time for any hesitation or fear at that moment; Gandalf was gone and there would be time later to mourn his passing, but the Still-Cursed was alive and needed his help.
Both the Ranger and the Elf rushed toward the stone structure and the woman that lie broken, torn, and bleeding upon it, Frodo's screams biting at their heels. The lingering smell of flames and smoke nearly overwhelmed Aragorn once he and Legolas were upon the woman; she had managed to turn over onto her back, her nearly-healed arm torn open and bleeding profusely once more. The stone beneath her was glowing as the viscous fluid from her body melted it and it fell away in pieces and streams of fire to the abyss below.
Aragorn knelt beside her and pulled her good arm to rest about his shoulder, doing his level best to help her to stand without further damaging her body. The Dragon had no control over her limbs though, she could not maneuver in any manner and he knew then that saving her would be more difficult every second they waited. Legolas pulled her up, grasping the firm leather armor about her hips and forcing her to stand. For someone so small her dead weight was more than the Ranger alone could move and he could fairly hear Pippin and Merry shrug off his concerns with their customary "It's a Dragon thing."
"Leiawen," Aragorn called to her once the Elf had managed to maneuver the Dragon to her feet. "Leiawen, you must open your eyes; the Goblins will overtake us if you do not move now."
When she did not respond, even as he placed a cautious hand against her cheek, he leaned over her, placing his other hand upon her shoulder. He didn't see it, but his gift from Arwen tumbled from the confines of his shirt and as he leaned into the Dragon, the jewel brushing against her skin. The barest touch of the treasure left behind a glimmer on the Still-Cursed's flesh, a warm glow shimmering for the barest moment before fading away, like blood in a stream.
The Dragon's eyes opened slowly and when the Ranger met her gaze he was taken aback, a gasp catching in his throat and dying before he was able to release it. A pitch black shroud was encroaching on her amber irises from the edges of her eyes, the reflective glow that belied her heritage flickering as a candle flame in a stiff breeze. The skin of her cheeks was losing its healthy sheen and fading to a lifeless grey, the color of spent ashes and death.
"What's happening to you?" he could not stop the words as they tumbled from his mouth.
Legolas gripped the Ranger's upper arm, his eyes glancing off towards the ledge on the other side of the bridge and the Goblins that were firing poorly aimed arrows upon them. "We must go," the Elf urged, "We cannot save her."
"I will not leave her," he insisted. "You must help me, I cannot move her alone."
The Elf's gaze snapped to him and then back to the Goblins drawing ever closer. Legolas wanted to leave her there to die; she could not move under her own power, the Loss was taking more from her with every passing moment. He knew there was very little chance that the Still-Cursed would live even if they managed to drag her from the Mines, but he could not leave her in the depths. Aragorn took the Elf by the shoulder and tightened his grip as tight as he could, demanding the other's attention.
"I. Will. Not. Leave her." He hoped that the insistence he felt would be heard in his voice and that the Elf would set aside his reservations toward the Dragon and help him save her.
Just as an arrow flew past his head, nearly catching his hair, the Elf nodded and together they gripped the Still-Cursed's arms and hauled her up. "We must hurry, they are drawing closer."
It was miraculous that they had not been struck by one of the black arrows thus far, but as Aragorn glanced over at the woman he saw her skin begin to pale impossibly fast. It quickly took to the same ashen color that her face had taken on and her hair was soaking up the sweat that seeped from her pores, wet against his arm and plastered to her face. She jerked forward suddenly, a strangled cry of pain falling from her bloodied lips as both Aragorn and Legolas struggled to keep her from falling; an arrow haft protruding from her back.
The Ranger cursed as Legolas, in a flurry of instantaneous movement, turned and released a storm of arrows into the mass of Goblins that had set their sights upon them. When the Elf turned back the Ranger noticed a strange glow upon his companion's face; only moments later did he realize that the Dragon's blood was harming her. It ignited her flesh, tearing and rupturing her skin until more wounds opened and she burned as heated metal in a forge. When he moved to pull the arrow from her it was naught but embers, the heat in her body burning it to ash and the haft fell away in ashes. The Elf met his astounded gaze before they gathered the Dragon once more, moving her from the bridge as quickly as they were able.
"Leiawen, we need to move, they are coming," Aragorn urged at her groans.
"Grey Beard…" at her mumble it was then that he realized she was delirious from the pain wreaking havoc upon her.
"He's gone…" he told her, "We cannot help him now."
As they pushed and pulled her down the path to the stair strange words passed from her mouth until the common tongue took over once more. "Dead…gone… … fire…" Her eyes were black as they rounded the corner to the stair, safe from the arrows, and Aragorn took her face in his hands, looking into her unseeing gaze.
"Yes, you fought the Balrog, do you remember?" he asked. "You and Gandalf fought and saved us; Gandalf… he fell…you held on as long as you were able though; it is not your fault."
"… made me…said …all right…couldn't hold on…"
"We need to move her quickly. If we act now we may be able to locate and gather the other Nords, they may have means enough to save her," Legolas insisted, as the Dragon nearly fell to the stone of the stairs. Aragorn only just noticed the look of concern on the Elf's face; it was the same one that had dominated his expression when Leiawen had last suffered the Loss.
Then Leiawen's entire body seized in their grasp and the two held her with all the strength they possessed to keep her from tumbling head-first down the stair. The luminescence in her wounds brightened to the point of a near-blinding light and her flesh tore further. When they shifted their grip to keep from burning themselves, the two noticed something even more disturbing. Her skin and armor were falling to pieces like layers of dust from worn parchment; even her swords, the sleek blades that they were, began to crumble, breaking into shards and shattering like glass upon the worn stone of the stair.
They were running out of time.
The Elf did not care for the dark-haired Nord; that much he was certain of. When the Dragon had torn Leiawen from his grasp he could not help but feel protective of her and cautious of this newcomer. He longed to keep the Still-Cursed from the man's grasp, and then other two were pulling her from him as well. Legolas knew that he should not stop them, not when there was a possibility that they might have the means with which to save her. But something strange flickered to life in his chest as he watched the dark-haired Nord cradle Leiawen in his arms, something that he had never before felt. He knew not what it was, the thing that constricted his heart and lungs, wrapping around his chest as an iron band; unyielding.
"What has been done to her?!" one of the Nords he had seen before demanded, leveling Aragorn with a glare of unbridled fury.
None of the Fellowship spoke, none had the words in that moment to admit the truth of what had occurred in the Depths of Moria. Thankfully, it was the Still-Cursed that absolved them of that admittance when she gasped and her body seized in the newcomer's arms. As the Nord pulled her in closer to his chest Legolas fought the urge to pull Leiawen from him, something that he had only ever once felt compelled of before. He remembered the urge from the first night in Moria, when she had suffered the Loss after the Watcher and Boromir made to carry her through the Mines.
"Fafnir…" came her strangled cry and the sound was very much like a blow to his chest.
"Ancalalei, where is it?" the Dragon, Fafnir, asked her. "Why did you not kill it?"
By the grace of his people alone did Legolas keep from snapping his head back in shock. How did this creature know of the Balrog when the other two did not? Suspicion bloomed in the Elf's mind once more, this Dragon was either more than he seemed or a spy for whatever darkness that lingered still in the depths of Moria. Was this all simply an elaborate scheme to further their own means?
"…no…fell… …let go… Grey Beard…" then she was delirious once more, uttering words in the strange tongue that even he, in all his years, could not understand.
For what felt like an eternity they waited as the newcomer listened to her mumbled, strangled words, speaking them back to her in low tones and whispers, mouth ever near to her own. He wanted to know what they were saying, why she could speak to this dark creature when she did not have the words for the Fellowship, for him. But when the anger fled from the dark-haired Nord's face as well as the other two, Legolas knew that she was, in her own way, defending the Fellowship, defending Frodo, from what consequences befell her. And after the long moments passed, a look of dread passed over the Nords' faces.
"This cannot happen," one of the Nords dismayed in a hushed tone. "We cannot win this war without her."
"I am aware, Jorum," Fafnir snapped, his impatience and dread flooding the words he spoke. Then the Dragon gazed about the members of the Fellowship, as if searching for something. "We must take her to the Bones of her Sire if we are to pull her back from the edge of this darkness. We require a token, one given in love and borne of the earth; it may save what remains of her soul until then."
Legolas kept his eyes upon the newcomer as he held Leiawen close to himself, seemingly unconcerned with her blood as it steadily streamed down his body to the stone beneath his feet. What were they planning, plotting that would require them to take the Still-Cursed from the Fellowship? How would a token "given in love and borne of the earth" save her? The Elf was growing increasingly uncomfortable with the questions that flitted across his mind and no forthcoming answers. He knew, though, that if the Dragons did not take her then they would lose Leiawen as well, and one loss this day was devastating in itself.
Frodo spoke then, the remaining fear the hobbit felt apparent in the manner that his voice shook, "What do you mean?"
The dark-haired Nord turned his gaze upon the small hobbit. "A token, a gift, given out of love and crafted in the metal of the earth. Mithril or gold is often the strongest; she requires it for our task to succeed; you shall have you token returned to you once she has been saved, but you must hurry."
Legolas was suitably stunned when both Frodo and Aragorn moved hastily toward the Nord, the Hobbit removing the chain Mithril from under his shirt and the Ranger with his token from the Lady Arwen. Both handed over the items without further question to the dark-haired Nord, Aragorn with a look of longing toward the treasure he placed in the Dragon's hand.
The creature gave them a nod in thanks and motioned to the Dragon Jorum, "Jorum will remain in the Great Lady's place until she has been returned to you. Expect her within two days."
Suddenly there was an enormous gust of wind and upon its passing neither the newcomer, the other Nord, nor Leiawen were anywhere to be seen. Legolas glanced about, searching for the Dragons to demand what trickery had just occurred, where they were taking Leiawen to save her. Just what was happening to the Still-Cursed that not three of her kin had the ability to heal by their presence and the Gathering alone? When he finally sighted them, however, they were already flying North and East…toward the Iron Mountains.
Sometime later, when the Fellowship and the Dragon were well on their way to the woods of Lothlorien, Legolas asked the Ranger why he had given up the treasure he had been gifted. The man simply said that if his gift from the Lady Arwen would help to save the Still-Cursed, then he would gladly have let her keep it. At the time, the Elf Prince had not understood why the Man would offer up such a gift, though when he saw the despair in the faces of those around him, he began to hope the Dragon…no, he hoped that Leiawen would be returned to them. To him.
In the hours that followed the Fellowship learned a great deal of what consequences Leiawen had suffered with the Loss after having fought off the Balrog, once Pippin and Merry had pestered him enough Jorum was glad to answer any question they could ask if only to silence them. Every creature of Morgoth gained power at the Gathering, that much they knew from Gandalf's words and seeing such a thing with their own eyes. Though what they had not known was that if one creature killed the other, their strength would remain and the Loss would not affect the one creature that had lived.
The Dragon had explained it to them this way: when the Gathering occurred, the strength and power gained was enough to destroy even one of the Valar, so the Loss had been their answer to prohibit the creatures of Morgoth from gaining such immense power in order to persevere. However, when one of the creatures was killed, the Valar had only cared so much that fewer were left of those touched by Morgoth's dark magick, not that the one to live would suffer no ill effect or lose the power from the Gathering. Therefore, if one died, the other kept whatever power had been gained, growing ever stronger with each of its kin to fall before it.
The Fellowship learned that though the Dragons were only able to live with the three elements of the Silmarils, the fourth element brought them comfort and strength, much like the Gathering, though without the Loss. Metals of the earth brought these things to Jorum's kin, "Why do you think we collect hoards of treasure?" he had asked them. "It is not as though they have any monetary value to my kind. They bring us comfort and strength, a thing sorely missed as we were not always such solitary creatures." And it was then that they understood just how much the Dragons had suffered in the aftermath of Morgoth.
"So, what's wrong with Leiawen, then?" Pippin asked. "I mean, before she just fainted, but this time…"
The Hobbit was referring to how the Still-Cursed had been falling apart before their very eyes. It was a sight that none of them would soon forget, and it haunted Frodo as the voice whispered dark, sinister things in the back of his mind.
"We Dragons do not leave a body to rot and decay when we pass from this earth. Because of what we are, many of us that are meant for wings and fire burn hot and only the strength of our souls may contain the heat of our blood. Once that soul has been damaged or destroyed, what we once were becomes no more than ash and bone," Jorum explained carefully.
"Ancalalei's soul was shattered as the Great Loss began and began to fall into pieces after her battle with the Balrog; the aftermath of that Gathering was enormous and many of my kin felt the wave of power that crashed over the land afterward. That is how Fafnir came to know of her suffering, he alone may distinguish whose power lies in the aftermath of a Gathering. Those of us who felt it will undoubtedly come to ensure the Great Lady lives once they learn of her plight, many will offer what aid they are able now. The Great Loss must compensate for the strength gained and spent to balance the scales of power; it did so in the breaking of her soul."
The members of the Fellowship were suitably horrified and filled even more so with dread at the Nord's words. They did not yet understand what it was Fafnir planned to do with Leiawen in order to save her, but they all hoped that he was successful. The anguish of the group was palpable, though, with the loss of Gandalf and the uncertainty as they waited for the Still-Cursed. How long would such a thing take?
"But…she's going to be all right. Isn't she?" Pippin asked. "I mean, she beat the monster in the water and …and that thing…she almost killed the thing in Moria…"
The young Hobbit searched the faces og the others, hoping that just one of them thought the same, that he alone was not the only one of them with faith in her strength. "Leiawen's a Dragon! She's strong and fast and… She'll be okay. Won't she?"
It was when this question was asked that many of the Fellowship felt less animosity for the volatile Dragon, and nearly all of them were ashamed at having though horribly of him to begin with.
Jorum looked away from the young Hobbit, unsure of what it was that he should say. Should he lie and agree with the boy, tell him that he was right and the Great Lady would be none the worse for wear? So after a long moment, he said the only words that he could summon: the truth.
"Fafnir takes her to the Bones of her Sires in hope to keep her soul from failing completely. If they arrive in time, he will join his soul with what remains of hers; sacrificing himself so that she may live. Her soul will strengthen through the bond with his and she will return to you to complete this task. Although, I do not know that he will succeed. Until now, such a thing has never before been done. The very idea of doing such a thing comes of our myths and legends, many which originate from beyond the Door of Night.
"He loves her, a thing no longer common in our kind. There are many long years of history shared between them and so long as he draws breath, he will do all in his power to save her. Should she be too far gone, though, if he does not make it to the Bones of her Sires in time…then he will fail and she will be gone forever."
None save the Dragon heard the gritting of Legolas' teeth or the clenching of his fists as they made their way steadily toward Lothlorian.
Fafnir flew as swiftly as his wings could carry him into the Ruined Fortress that lie deep within the black heart of the Iron Mountains. The white and silver of his massive form painted a streak across the dark, storm clouded skies in the world below. Low, mournful calls of his kin reached out to him from caves and forests, mountains and valleys; they knew of his purpose and could feel Ancalalei's shattered soul as she bled into the wind. The tokens of the earth were failing her and if he did not reach the Felled Towers soon, there would be no power in this world or the next that could save her.
"The Way has been cleared," a deep rumbling voice spoke as he neared the sharp, ragged range of bare mountains. "You must hurry."
The white Dragon pushed harder for the Felled Towers, every muscle straining as the Guards of the Fortress in the Mountains flew out to meet him. They were smallish creatures, as Dragons went, black and grey scales weathered to take on the appearance of the stone peaks they had guarded for an Age. Despite their size, they were wickedly fast and dexterous, fearsome enough to have kept every darkness at bay since the fall of the Deceiver. Their presence gave him one final burst of strength as he crossed the threshold to the Tomb of the Black Dragon.
"We will Watch for pursuers," one Guard told him, settling upon the rubble of the Ruined Fortress. "Do not fail."
He did not intend to. "Another is not far behind; do not allow him to reach the Tomb," he called out to them before continuing on.
The Dragon of the Forest was gone before they had an opportunity to respond. The Still-Cursed Great Lady was fading fast, the last shards of her soul falling to pieces; the reflection of such decay upon her body in the loss of both swords and her armor completely, long since having drifted away on the wind as naught but ash. Ancalalei was barely breathing in his grasp, even as she held the treasures given her from the Fellowship in a white-knuckle grip; the skin of her hands beginning to split and bleed.
Then there it was. The Ruined Fortress and the Felled Towers lie directly before him, the Bones of Ancalalei's Sire bare upon the melted rubble. Fafnir tucked his wings to his back and dove steeply downward, the Still-Cursed held close to him as he began the change back. The ground rushed toward him, the passing air making the folded skin of his wings smack against his sides harshly; and just before he met with the jagged, black earth, he turned and a great cloud of dirt and rock exploded out from where he landed in a kneel. For a moment everything around him was hazy, until the dust settled and the tokens fell from Ancalalei's hands as he stood in the midst of her Sire's bones; the chime-like sound of the metal ringing out in his skull.
Fafnir ached, breath caught in his lungs as he gazed upon her, fearing what he might see as the world sharpened impossibly before him. The metal of the tokens shone brightly upon the charred ground, gleaming in stark contrast against Ancalalei's ashen skin. The black in her gaze lingered beneath her slit lids, blending with the flat obsidian strands of hair draped across her skin. One arm lie limp, her fingers brushing against the black ground beneath his feet even as he held her to his chest; her neck was bared to him as her boneless body struggles to maintain what little life remained within her.
His time was up and so was hers.
The Dragon of the Forest pressed his brow to hers, eyes closed against the sight of her as he attempted to think, to stay calm in the wake of the panic that threatened to eat him alive. He breathed in the lingering scent of her; iron and summer and rain…that's what she smelled of. The sound of her failing heart pounded a desperate tattoo in his mind as he knelt there with her close to his chest, the Bones of her Sire surrounding them as surely as the fog and mist approaching from every direction. Each breath he took burned as acid in his heart as her own breath grew shallow; he was losing her.
"What must I do? Ancalalei…"he whispered into her hair, taking in a long, shuddering breath. "Lei, what do I do…how do I save you?"
When she said nothing and the cold of the mist drew in around them like a shroud, he slid a hand up to her face and caressed her cheek. "I am so sorry, I never should have left you," he confessed and slid his mouth against hers. It was in that kiss that he felt the few remaining shards of her soul against his own, they cut now as a blade instead of falling to dust at the slightest movement. She was holding on by the last, frayed thread, fighting against the pull to let go, even as the cold settled into her skin.
He pulled back suddenly, his eyes snapping open; she should not be cold, if anything she should have been burning alive. Then he saw the fog that rolled in around them…she was breathing it in. It was settling into her skin and what remained lessened at each breath she took. Refractions of light blazed against her flesh, magic and life all save poured out of the wounds created as her soul tore. The mist, it was coming from the bones, the Bones of the Black Dragon were bringing her back. He had not failed her.
Bind your soul with hers,came an ancient, thunderous rumble from all around him. She will die if you do not and my remains alone cannot save her, the Last of the Unbroken Line.
Ancalagon the Black; somehow the bones of the Ancient Dragon were saving her, bringing her hack so that he might heal her. "How?" Fafnir asked, "Tell me how."
Will yourself to her and save my progeny. And then the voice was gone as Ancalalei's eyes slit further open. The black tore at him, threatened to force him into madness, but she was awake now, she could see him.
"Fafnir…" her voice was no more than a breath and a whisper, but it was enough.
He stroked he cheek with his fingertips as the last plumes of the mist and fog flowed into her flesh. The shards of her soul were reaching out to him, entwining with his own soul while he gazed into her face.
"I know that I hurt you…when I left," he pulled her closer, uncaring of her blood as it continued to run over his skin from her rent flesh. "I swore my life to you once, even though you did not want it. I am sorry, for everything, and I wish there were another way…"
In that moment he captured her lips with his own once more, Sapphire eyes closed against the knowledge of what he had to do, and then he reached for her soul with his own and pushed. Everything he was, he wrapped around what few small fragments remained of her; weaving himself within them, through them. And he felt her grow stronger. Just as surely as her heart beat within her chest, it beat within his; as her breath grew steady and sure, he felt her life within himself as well. Then her fingertips brushed against his temple and her mouth moved against his.
She breathed his name against his lips and when he dared look into her eyes he was met with a familiar amber glow. The wounds and ragged gashes in her skin were mending slowly, her flesh regaining its healthy glow as the light of their combined magic lingered within her.
"Why?" she asked, her voice even and silken against his ears and he remembered how he had longed to hear it in the centuries they had been apart.
Fafnir smiled and silenced whatever further questions that may have spilled forth with one last brush of his lips against hers; her mouth moving eagerly against his in response as he gently laid her upon the ground. "Because we need you," he answered, covering her body with his own. "The World is falling into ruin and you are the only one our kind will follow. They need you to guide them."
"Why you, Fafnir?" she asked as he settled into the cradle of her body. "Why not another?"
It was then that he understood what she was truly asking. She wanted to know why he was there with her to begin with. Why he did not simply stay asleep deep within the confines of his forest or move on when he had felt her. She wanted to hear him say the words that he had so long ago denied her, what fear and pride had kept him from admitting.
And as his armor faded into his skin, leaving him as bare as she, luminous sapphire eyes met amber and those small words spilled forth.
"I love you."
Tears fell from those Still-Cursed amber eyes to evaporate against the heat growing beneath her skin and she pulled him into her as he wiped the salt from her face. Their physical joining was a macabre thing; her blood eased his entry into her body, gushing between them as an open wound. They were stained red and black with the fluid and earth that had long since been burnt into ash. Neither paid it any mind.
They gasped together at the sensation of their joining, the friction of their skin, the melding of the magic hidden in their very bones, their souls as they entwined in a dance older than the earth itself that lie beneath them. Fafnir began to move within her then, basking in the comfort of everything that she was; the power of her mending essence beginning to tear at him for bringing her back from the edge. But he could not leave her, not yet, not again…
A long moan poured forth from her as his pace quickened, his hands grasping at her hips and his tongue tasting the skin of the neck she had once unwittingly offered to him. Just as before, he was fighting time in an effort to keep her with him; though it was not she drifting closer to the edge, holding on by a final, frayed thread. This time, it was he.
Fafnir's hips snapped forward as he felt her near completion; by the fires within he had missed the feel of her. In their decades together he had learned every aspect of her, and though he had once sworn to her that he would have her for the entirety of their endless existence, he was now being forced from her once more.
With every relentless push forward he felt her tighten around him, her fingers clawing at his back and her legs draped about his hips. It was then, with her head thrown back as she screamed her release, that he understood: if he truly meant to save her, he would have to let her go. Up until that point he was able to feel the fractures still, the cracks in her remade soul, but if he let her go, if he accepted that he would not survive, that he would lose her forever, she could be whole once more.
So the Dragon in the Forest took a deep breath and looked into her glowing amber eyes; the Great Lady, Last of the Unbroken Line, the only person he had every loved or lied to. Fafnir thrust his hips forward once more and with one final kiss, let go.
A mist formed once more then, but not from the now non-existent bones of Ancalalei's Sire, it came from him. The Still-Cursed Dragon's eyes snapped open as he released the breath with a shudder and an expression he had never seen in her eyes before was there now; she was afraid. Fafnir, his dark hair draped around them like a curtain, gave her a soft smile and trailed his fingertips through her hair.
"Do not be afraid."
The mist grew thicker around him suddenly and before she could reach out to stop it, the Dragon in the Forest was gone and all that remained was the smoke and fog. Ancalalei pulled herself to her feet, never once taking her eyes off of the thick cloud before her; her hair wrapped around her skin, clinging to her face and arms. She was unsteady on her feet, her half-remade soul beginning to crack once more, and then she squared her shoulders. Everything that was left of Fafnir poured into her skin with the mist, invading her senses and strengthening her even as it tore her to pieces.
Just as swiftly as it began, it was over, and she stood alone upon the charred earth. She was now all that remained of both Fafnir and her great Sire, Ancalagon the Black, the bones had become a part of her when Fafnir had brought her and the first fog. Her black leather armor wrapped around her once more, stronger and thicker; the swords she had once carried had returned to her as well, though lighter in both color and weight.
For once a Dragon is broken it loses its scales and fangs, when it is remade, it can only become stronger.
I would first like to thank each and every one of you that either left me a review, or favorited/followed this story and I'm so sorry that it has taken me so very long to get this chapter out. To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure I would be able to continue this story, I had almost written myself into a corner.
I can't promise that the next chapter will be out soon; it's already in the works but it's proving to be just as big of a mind-killer as this one was. I don't know if this site will let me keep this chapter up the way it is...the whole "Mature" thingy they've got going... but if not, then I will cut this and future chapters down, but post them on other sites so don't be alarmed.
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Thanks for reading.