The next day, I guided the group to the Glade. Such was the growing expectation within me that I couldn’t help lick my lips in anticipation of what great additions these creatures would make to my army.
Levi didn’t appear to sense my excitement. However the woman — I’d learned her name was Sura — kept a very close watch on me, and missed nothing. Her hand strayed down to the blade at her side from time to time. I don’t think she even realized she was doing this.
I’d also learned that this woman was Levi’s potential choice of mates. When I wondered aloud at why they had no offspring yet, Levi mustered a surprised look and told me it wasn’t “that serious yet.”
I was still trying to figure out what that meant when we arrived at the Glade.
Levi was the first person to ever respond to the Glade with something other than ignorant fear. I could tell as we drew closer that he heard the call of the spirits, the way that I did once long ago. He heard and he was ready to respond… perhaps was even more ready than I’d been.
This would make for an interesting situation. But it was one, I knew, that could become dangerous if I didn’t overtake Levi with the Flames as early as possible. He was stronger than the ones who came before him. More clever, too.
“You don’t have to do this,” I heard Sura trying to dissuade him.
There was no sense in that. He was a man with one willful purpose.
Levi reached out and placed his palm along side of her face. His eyes were soft, but he was firm in his response. “I do. I’m so close now, I must.”
“What if you don’t come back?” Her voice quavered.
“I will,” he reassured her.
“What if you come back and you’re not… you?”
That was a true possibility.
He just reassured her again. “That’s not going to happen.”
He sounded so certain.
Don’t worry, Sura. I wanted to say to her. You’ll be following him in there soon enough.
In the gathering crystal light, I watched as Levi pulled her closer to him. Then their lips connected in a weird, but not unpleasant, display of affection. I almost felt embarrassed for them.
Once that was over with, Levi signaled to me that he was ready.
Took him long enough.
As we entered the Glade, something happened that I’d never seen before.
When I first came there, only one spirit dared to approach me — my own. When I brought others there, sometimes it took hours before a spirit came out of hiding to claim its person. They were always uncertain, befuddled and hesitant.
They were always terrified of me.
But when Levi stepped in, the Glade… for lack of better words… came to life. All the spirits made themselves known. All of them! I didn’t even realize there were so many!
They didn’t seem to care that I was there. Only that Levi had arrived.
Though I thought that spirits were predestined for one person and only one, it felt as if all of them wished to connect with Levi. To teach and guide him. To lift him to whatever glory that awaited.
My face grew dark. This had not happened for me.
Levi didn’t see my expression. He was too caught up in the wonder of the Glade and the spirits there. He reached out in welcome to each of the spirits, as if testing, feeling… looking for the special one that matched. He knew what he was looking for.
I waited, expecting him time and again to stop before one of the larger, more formed shapes that shifted across the Glade. Any of them would have chosen him. Any of them would have gladly given him power beyond measure.
The spirit he walked to was one who had not come to greet him at all. It was small and shy and not all that glorious. It would have been my last choice.
But, when Levi reached his hand towards it, something happened. Something that began to transform them both.
In all the transformations I’d forced in the Glade, none had resounded like this!
What had appeared to be a tiny, fragile spirit began to… unfold. Long and slender, it moved with the grace of waves, a gentle blue energy surrounding it as it took a serpentine shape. It kept growing, longer and longer, as if it had no end, the energies calmly wrapping around Levi as he watched with widening eyes.
I recognized the shape. It was a shape similar to what I forced all transformations into. That of a Dragon.
I felt a thrill of shock rush through me. This was the first time someone else was already a Dragon without my influence.
This needed no influence from me. This transformation was already happening. Just that fast, that instant. It didn’t take the countless hours for Levi to learn and embrace and shape himself. He was already there.
The world around me rippled as the spirit-energies engulfed Levi. His form shivered and became light. Then, a colossal Dragon hovered in the Glade, looming huge over me.
I knew this creature’s name by instinct, perhaps in the same way he’d known mine when we first met.
This was no ordinary Dragon. Not like the ones I’d forced into serpent shape.
Similar to the spirit he chose, this Dragon was long, graceful and slender. His soft hide reflected like light on water, a rainbow of shifting hues between purples, blues and greens. Long whiskers and fins flowed around him, shifting in the elements that bent to his will.
I hate to admit that in those first moments, I felt intimidated. But that moment passed quickly!
I turned my attention instantly to drawing the Flames of Bedlam around me. Was it too late to turn him, to bring him under my command?
I had to try! I needed this monster in my forces!
When I released the Flames, seeking to twist this beast’s will to my own, something happened that I’d never forget. Leviathan’s eyes focused on me sharply, knowingly. The Dragon’s maw opened wide. I felt a tide of water drawing into him, even though there was no pool here to draw from.
My gaze locked with his, Flames bristling around me, ready to release.
The Dragon’s mouth clamped shut, twisting into something that looked almost comical. And with great precision, he spat a stream of shimmering water from between pursed lips into my Flame.
Much to my absolute mortification, they were extinguished.
I stumbled back, shaken.
This… this does not happen! No one simply puts out the Flames of Bedlam!
My face twisted with a rare look of horror as the shadow of Leviathan fell over me. I felt his vastness looming above. I sensed the pure and unfettered power that gathered around him.
I slowly looked up, struggling to wash the fear from my face. I forced myself to glare at him defiantly.
I knew what Leviathan had come for now. He’d come for my head. He’d come to take my title. He would challenge me for all that I’d…
Another squirt of water knocked me on my hindquarters, cutting off my train of thought. I growled in frustration, picking myself up off the ground.
I could see Leviathan watching me from above. His maw was open, twisted into what could only be outright laughter.
Then, he winked at me. “You’re going to have to do a lot better than that, Bahamut.”
He was mocking me!
That worthless, fish-breathed water-snake!
Fury lit the ire within me. I heard myself roar as shadow and flame drew my own Dragon transformation. Without hesitation, I launched, maw wide as I thundered down upon the Tidemaker.