So this lumbering beast thought he could come in, give himself his own name, and crown himself king of the Dragons. Just because I’d stepped out for a few weeks… Okay, maybe a few months. Well, half a year or more. But, still!
Bristle was about to meet his maker.
I was determined to take this blustering monster down a few notches. Then, once I had things under control again, Levi and I would be able to find a way to undo all the damage Chaos had done.
This would be simple. We’d be the heroes they didn’t know they needed. But first, there was some rank to be pulled.
“Who dares to trespass on your domain? Excuse me?” I threw back at him while stalking forward. “Do you not know who I am?”
The Dragon blew a heated breath past me. It might have been a warning or an intimidation tactic… or just him huffing at me arrogantly. His mind-voice rumbled with the sound of tortured thunder.
-Oh yes. I know who you are. Bahamut.-
Bristle proved himself very quickly to be a creature of action rather than words. His massive maw opened, the flames eagerly searing the ash in the air as they gathered in delighted expectation.
Levi gave a shout of warning. Horizon screamed and clutched my arm tighter.
I had no choice but to act.
I pulled away from Horizon, whipping around with a vicious snarl. My own shadow and flame burst around me, my form shifting. Growing. A massive roar bursting from my lungs.
It had been so very long since I’d taken this form. It felt so good.
But that was a fleeting thing.
My senses grew keen. I could feel the pull of the Chaos. How it desired me. How it was almost glad for me to transform. Giving into the side of the beast in this marred land was a clear invitation.
Then the flames hit me, sending me reeling across the ashen ground.
Bristle, I realized, was huge. Far, far larger than I, even at the height of my form. The monster had fed on so much of the Chaos, had so willingly given itself to the power… It was growing to take the likeness that I’d had, when I first unlocked the Flames of Bedlam and cast my vengeful anger over what had once been a city.
I was burning. I, a Dragon who commanded the flame, was on fire!
It was no ordinary fire. And, oh, the pain!
The beast lunged for me as I rolled, trying to put out the flame that consumed my hide and wings. I readied myself and met his leap, throwing my weight against his huge bulk, seeking to knock him back. This… didn’t work.
I felt the massive teeth clamp down on my throat. Each of his fangs instantly burned holes through my tough scale, bubbling my flesh underneath.
I choked. I raked my own claws along the beast’s body. Pieces of Bristle fell away as I hooked into fissures along its belly. There was nothing but flame underneath. Ripping into it spread it all the more.
I couldn’t breathe!
The choke hold it had on me prevented my own flame from coming. Bristle knew how to disable another Dragon. I wondered how many other Dragons it had killed to become so strong.
Then, Bristle released me. It was only a momentary relief. The monster had me pinned, the flames raining down upon me, huge claws buried into my body, holding me down.
I tried to fight back, having my breath again. But, Bristle opened its maw wide, readying another round of flame. This time, I would take the blast to my face.
The tsunami came from no where. Literally. There was no water for miles of that destruction.
Yet, Levi had summoned a wave, huge beyond belief.
It bore down, larger than either of us, sending us both rolling and skidding, trying to grasp the broken ground. Bristle’s flames sparked and shuddered as the water came in contact with it, but they did not go out.
I felt broken. I’d never felt so weak, so torn. Not even in my worst condition in my former life. I knew I was bleeding rivers. I could feel my life draining from holes torn across every part of my hide.
Still, the monster had not given up his fight. Knocked back, it sought to lunge at me again. It would not stop. The Chaos would not let it. Not until I was dead.
Leviathan was there, fighting to fend Bristle off. The beast lashed out at the serpent, sending him reeling back into the crater before turning its attention back on me. It raised a huge claw and slammed down on my back. Then it turned me over, revealing my more vulnerable underside.
-Did you really think I didn’t know who you were, Bahamut?-
The fangs gleamed. It hissed long and low.
-The First Dragon. The one who made us this way. Who cursed us to this unending torment.-
“No…” I groaned weakly. “I never intended…”
-You never intended? You thought about nothing! Nothing but your desire for revenge!-
Bristle shoved his maw into my face, the heat of his breath twisting the air between us.
-And now, we are your rage, taken form.-
“It’s the Chaos…” I tried to explain.
-I KNOW WHAT IT IS!- The beast reeled back with a ground-shaking roar. -It is every part of me now. It eats my body. It consumes my mind. And like the others who have BURNED, I will soon extinguish. BECAUSE OF YOU!-
I felt myself sinking. I might have been losing consciousness. I might have actually been sinking into the soft ground below me as his massive weight choked the air out of me from above.
Or I maybe it was the weight of guilt… now that I saw the terror that was born of my anger. This creature… was too far gone. There was no healing it. No fixing what I’d done. For Bristle, there would only be peace in death.
-If I am going to die, I will take you with me, First Dragon!- Bristle again posed to strike.
This time, I didn’t struggle. I had no strength to defend myself. And if I did, did I deserve to live while these poor, mis-created creatures writhed and died under the curse of Chaos I cast on them?
Once again, Leviathan was there. Once again, he struggled to save me.
He was lithe and slender, no physical match for Bristle’s bulk. He had no claws to rake with, no flames to burn. Instead, he lashed out and wrapped his long form around the monster’s throat and upper body, struggling to pull him off me.
Powerful coils constricted, choking Bristle, cutting off his flame. In my hazy vision, I could see Leviathan’s gleaming, perfect hide beginning to burn, slashed with black where he came in contact with the flame.
I heard his sound of pain as Bristle’s claws turned on him, raking along the long, slender body. And yet, Leviathan refused to let him go.
“No… Levi! It’s not…” I croaked.
I struggled, but there was nothing left to me. I couldn’t even maintain my Dragon form. I found myself shrinking, shedding my flame, a pool of my blood spread around me, large enough to wade in.
Shaking hands grabbed me.
“No….. noo….” I was starting to lose awareness.
I felt something dragging me across the ash. My vision blurred, but I knew it was Horizon. She was pulling me. She was much stronger than I realized.
Strong hands, but shaking hands.
“Hush! Hush!” she gasped the words between sobs.
Was she crying? Did Invaders cry?
I’m not sure how far Horizon pulled me before she found a safe place to hide. There wasn’t much out there, aside from charred rubble and machinery. We looked to be hidden under an overturned transport machine that was still mostly in tact. It would probably never run again, but it was large enough for us to hide under.
Horizon kept sobbing as she pulled out a medical kit from the supplies she’d scavenged.
I wanted to reassure her. I was still alive. I was beat to Bedlam and back, but I was alive.
That’s when I saw the hate and disgust mingling with the pity in her strange eyes. I’d gotten better at reading Invader expressions over time. There was no mistaking it.
I tried to speak, but it came out as a rasp.
“It was you…” Horizon choked a sob.
She knew who I was now. That I was Bahamut, the Dragon who made the First Attack. The one who created and sent the other Dragons. The one who was responsible for killing so many of her people.
A murdering beast that she was now patching up because… because…
Because she was who she was. Horizon.
And she couldn’t do less, even for her most hated enemy.
I was so much less. I had never felt so low. So terrible. So absolutely unworthy.
I take that back. The moment that Levi stumbled into our hiding place, his person-form covered with smoking burns… that’s when I felt absolutely unworthy.
I could only watch as my friend dropped to his knees, then fell on his back against the side of the machine, crying out at the pain that laced every motion. Somehow, he’d survived the encounter with Bristle. Had held the monster off long enough for Horizon to get me to safety.
We heard the monster’s bellowing roar of rage echo from every part of the crater. He hunted for us. For hours. Sometimes he got so close it was all we could do to hold our breaths and huddle in silence. Until he finally gave up the chase and went away.
With that threat gone, we were only left with ourselves. I was thankful as sleep took me. For now, I wouldn’t have to face them with the terrible truth of what I’d created.