So! This was an attempt to write something short, or vignette-like (as I try to write other things). And well... it's short, I guess? I just wanted something friendshippy, is all. :( And dragons.
Fun fact: Actual writing took around half an hour. Editing took three. Well.
"There's a Squatter camp beyond those hills," Haplo said, gesturing ahead of them. The sky had grown dark, frigid, but the Patryn was panting from the exertion. The runes on his body flared brilliantly, lighting up the massive body of the wolfen that lay before him, its jaw torn out.
He felt movement behind him, thoughtful with just the faintest sense of nervousness. "Could we reach there before sunrise?"
"I don't know, Sartan. Can we?" Haplo smirked, slightly looking past his shoulder.
The ground rumbled softly, a great weight shifting. "Yes, I believe we can." The voice was a bit more confident this time, more assured. At least he was making progress.
Yet the Labyrinth had a frustrating habit of interrupting them. They always felt it before it would happen; a thin trail of anger trying to separate them, to bend them apart, this bond that should not have been. The leaves rustled, and there was the faint screech of a creature heading their way. Haplo pictured feathered wings, a gaunt face, and eyes of fire. One of many inhabitants of the prison, a place that was once his home.
This now made three attacks in a row. If Haplo didn't think it ludicrous, he could've sworn that the Labyrinth was getting desperate.
"Move back," he said instinctively, grabbing his sword. Curving lines of blue and red stood out against his skin. He watched as a shadow flitted from out of the overhanging trees.
A clawed foot stepped forward, past his position. It was covered in bright green scales, the color of the meadows back in the Nexus, offset by sharp golden claws. A leathery wing, so translucent that Haplo could see the branches of the trees through them, hovered over him. It was a shield better than anything his own magic could offer, a promise of protection that still surprised him a little each time.
"We can't delay any longer," Alfred spoke, and as the mighty green dragon he darted forward against whatever abomination the Labyrinth had sent out this time. Haplo felt the same urge to move, because each moment here was a bitter reminder of what the word home used to mean for him, before quiet evenings with Marit, before laughing children hanging from his shoulders, before an older man with books held in his arms and a genuine smile. All these trips into the Labyrinth, rescuing the people still left behind- and not one of them had ended in failure. And wouldn't. Alfred himself knew that very well, because each moment reminded him too. Even if they were only memories of another, it didn't make them any less real, any less important.
They made quick work of the monster, dodging jagged talons and withstanding its terrible sound. It was a large thing, enough to carry the Patryn man away in only one of its claws. The Serpent Mage wrestled it to the ground, his roar mixed in with a low hum of magic, tying it down. Haplo swung his sword at its neck, the screeches finally at an end.
His arm was aching by then, his fingers merged with the sword's hilt. He took deep breaths. "Beyond the hills," he whispered. "Hurry." The Labyrinth wouldn't wait long enough for them to fully recover. Not for them, especially not them, the ones it hated more than most, the ones it was continually confounded by.
Something rested against his stomach; a smoothness, warm, the pleasant air of magic filling his senses. Haplo was past the point of fatigue, barely having the strength to look down. But he had seen the shadow of the tail wrapping around his torso just slightly, holding him up against the ground. He was reminded of when it had been an arm, when he had been suffering from fresh wounds and the memory of poison. Fire all around, and a tall man carrying him to the now lost ship, dressed in dark robes that had been much too short for his frame. A strange and unbelievable experience that neither of their peoples would have believed.
The dragon's head tilted to the side. "Why are you laughing?"
It had been nothing more than a chuckle, but it stretched his lips into a wide smile. His cheeks ached slightly from the strain. A good ache.
"Nothing," he said, laying a hand against the scales. The tail twitched in response. "You might need to carry me again, Coren."
"Of course." The tail pressed against him gently. "You know I don't mind."
Yes, he knew that.
It took little time for Haplo to settle in between his friend's spikes, none of the dragon's body posing any threat to his own. When Alfred lifted them both into the air, he had a sudden urge to look down. The forest of the Labyrinth was dense, covering much of the ground, a blanket that tucked everyone in with suffocating possessiveness.
Even though he knew that this darkness really did hold terrors inside, that his people needed to break free from this cover, he couldn't help but feel a just a tad nostalgic, regretful. It was the size of it all, the twisting pathway that snaked beneath him, and the rare spots where the sky would break through holes in the thick canopy. He remembered those small pockets of calm in his younger days, when he could look to the sky overhead and spot the patterns of stars, some of them he knew now to be whole new worlds filled with people and their histories, their joys and their sorrows.
And so he wondered then if any other Patryns were watching the sky and the dragon-shaped silhouette flying overhead. A sight usually so terrifying, but they would notice the light, wouldn't they? No Labyrinth dragon could shine so bright, like the One's own angels, he remembered Grundle had said, a soft remark as she stared at the confused Sartan in his tattered clothes. Even with their hatred, they would be able to tell that this creature was not something the Labyrinth had concocted. No, it could never create something like this, presenting a very real possibility of the darkness ending, of a true home that wasn't too far away, and none of it an illusion.
He made a note to himself that the would tell Alfred this after the rescue, when the Last Gate was behind them once again. And though he looked forward to Alfred's embarrassment later on, (because teasing would never grow old, nor would the Sartan's flustered protests) the catch of a quick glint of bright eyes told him that the Serpent Mage just might have already guessed his thoughts.