The things that you desire

 

Breath of Fire 1; The things that you desire

 

 “No!” Cano the village chief shouted with anguish poisoning his old voice as his body hurriedly turned into stone, “why does it have to be you!?”

    Sara sadly shook her head.

 “Somebody has to do it, Cano,” she said.

    The old man’s eyes froze in stone, even caught in grey burning with inner pain.

    Sara shook her head again and turned to her younger brother, Ryu. His eyes were wide open in shock, his lips slightly apart as he tried to ask her what she was doing. But he had turned cold and hard before the words had worked their way through his throat and mouth.

 “Be strong,” she whispered, “when you’re a warrior you’ll bring the world peace.”

    You are the only hope now, brother. You are the last one with the power.

    She bent forward and hugged the statue good-bye. Then she looked around at her friends one last time. They were all turned into stone by her own powers; safe from the flames. The Dark Dragons wouldn’t search through the houses since the growing heat soon would be too much to survive for any living being. Her dear friends would be safe here. Old grandma Ela, the shopkeepers Aldra and Kendor, Cano, Ryu… they would be out of danger.

    But…

    She couldn’t turn herself to stone. It didn’t work that way.

    And the evil soldiers would be suspicious if they didn’t find anyone at all in the village.

    Sara knew what she had to do.

    She turned to the door and took in a deep breath. Then she crossed the floor.

    Before reaching out for the already hot doorknob she touched the golden headband that she had placed above her eyes. It hung safely by her hair and ears, still she nervously secured it again. She didn’t feel very brave at all, she didn’t know what awaited her. A quick death was too much to ask, probably. When it came to battle she would unleash her magic powers, and she hoped that it would be enough. She wasn’t sure if she could handle turning into a dragon, but if the need came she would do it. The headband hid her mark of the Dragon, at least it would give her the advantage of surprise.

    Ela had groaned that the Dark Dragons didn’t know that the people of the small village had lost the power of the Dragon. But she was wrong. Sara still had it, a little bit. She knew that she could use the power that was the blessing of her clan, but she had never done it and had no knowledge of her strength. It was a game with rules she did not know.

    The heat in the room was getting intense, flames roared down the back walls. But Sara’s chest was cold.

    She was alone now, and soon she would get killed. How much time had she left? A few minutes? Anguish made her lungs swollen, she could hardly breathe at all. Great Dragonlord…      

    Calm down. You can’t do anything about it, it’s all for saving your friends. You are their only hope. If you don’t play with the soldiers they’ll surely wonder where all the Light Dragons are. Somebody has to do it, Sara.

 ‘Why does it have to be me…?’ she thought, her throat thickening.

    Would you really want someone else to go through it?

    She swallowed hard and shook her head.

    No. Go through with it. No one else can do this. Tomorrow it won’t hurt anymore.

    Sara pushed the door open and stepped out of the crumbling house, into the just as crumbling village.

    Dark shadows soared above the burning houses, lit up by the flames they had brought to life. The weak moon seemed to cry out the pain Sara felt, surrounded by lonely stars fighting to shine through the torn clouds.

    Sweat broke free from the young woman’s face as the great, dark bodies landed a few yards from the small walls. The four dragons put their wings to rest while their burdens jumped onto the ground; each one had carried five soldiers in dark uniforms. As the passengers were off them, the beasts turned into similar warriors. Then nothing happened for a moment. Sara watched the troop as the twenty-four men looked at the sky. They seemed to be waiting for something.

    Someone.

    With powerful flaps of his black wings a muscular dragon forced his way through the night sky. He was bigger than the other’s had been, the fire of the burning houses lit up his scales and glimmering plates on neck and chest. He was quite majestic, in an awfully cruel sort of way.

    He landed and turned into a tall man with long, thick hair with a red-blond color. He was dressed in a dark uniform too, but it looked like it was a bit more luxurious with a golden plate on his chest. A white cloak fell over his back. He was surely some sort of general.

    The soldiers saluted the last Dark Dragon. He waved with a hand, seemingly bored.

    Bored?

    Sara’s chest was filled with a flame of rage aimed at the man. He had lit her home with the intention to kill her and all her friends, and even had the nerve to find it boring? The young woman clenched her teeth.

    By the general’s command the soldiers went up the small road into the village, and the small fire of anger faltered by the power for other emotions.

    Sara forced her head up high and forced back the wish to flee.

 “Hey, someone’s there!” one of the soldiers called.

    The blue-haired woman stared straight forward as the dark uniforms surrounded her, even though her heart was pounding like mad.

 “She has the power of the Dragon,” someone concluded.

    Good Dragonlord… could they feel that she had a little power left?

 “Let’s take her to the commander,” someone else suggested.

    She didn’t resist as two of the soldiers grabbed her arms and she was brought out of the small town with an unwelcome escort.

    The general raised his eyebrows as the prisoner was brought into his sight, but still he didn’t seem too interested.

 “And who might you be?” he asked, calmly.

 “What did you gain by attacking our peaceful community?” Sara replied.

    The grips of her arms tightened, and she clenched her teeth not to show any pain. Though the soldiers were irritated, the general himself didn’t seem to mind much about her impudence.

 “You have a point,” he said, “nothing personal, lady. My orders were to eliminate all Light Dragons, and I always follow orders.” 

 “Oh, nothing personal?” Sara spat out, “well, if you don’t mind I think it’s personal matters when someone kills all my friends and the little family I had left. But I’m certain your opinion will put their souls at ease, sir, I feel better already myself.”

    The general raised his eyebrows again, and finally there was a tiny grain of interest in his eyes. So, he had a soul after all.

 “Is it your anger or real bravery?” he asked, as if she was some kind of remarkable insect.

    Sara didn’t reply. The commander waved with a hand again, in the same bored way.

    The soldiers tightened their grips again, but this time Sara resisted. She closed her eyes and focused her mind. Suddenly lightning bolts tore up the sky and threw the soldiers away from her. Some of them even crashed into the thin walls of the village. But the commander stood strong against Sara’s magical force. His hair and cloak waved a little, but that was all.

 “You’re strong,” he said with a little bit more interest.

 “Come on!” Sara growled and focused a lightning straight at him.

    He simply teleported away. As she attacked again he did the same. Playing with her.

    Sara clenched her teeth and tried once more.

 “I can’t let you interfere with Zog’s plans,” the commander said.

 “We will stop you!” Sara snarled before considering the foolishness in that.

    What if he understood that there were more survivors, judging from her unwise words?

    But he didn’t seem to really catch the facts she feared to have given him. 

 “I don’t think so. We have the goddess keys, Light Dragon,” was all he said.   

    Sara’s throat thickened.

 “The goddess keys?” she repeated, hoarsely.

    The commander nodded and teleported away from yet another attack.

“Give it up,” the commander calmly said and approached her.

 “Don’t come any closer!” Sara growled and sent another bolt at him. 

    He teleported back again.

“What are you going to do with Tyr?” the young woman asked, sharply.

    Her frustration gave her the power to send another blast of nature, more powerful this time. But once more her target teleported, and as Sara turned to face his new position he raised his hand.

 “It’s all over.”

    He straightened up his fingers, turning his palm at her. A crack appeared on the ground, and Sara desperately leaped aside just before the grass upon which she had stood exploded. His power brought her angered mind off balance, but she managed to get to her feet fast. 

 “Take this, you slime!” she snarled, and her growing fear fused with her desperate anger lent her a little more power.

    She assembled all of her last strength into a massive fireball. And to her surprise the commander didn’t escape this time.

    The fireball hit him straight in the chest and he was engulfed with the flames.

    But…

    Sara’s heart almost stopped beating.

    Through the flames she saw the man, completely unaffected.

    It’s over.

    Don’t let him have the pleasure of seeing you scared.

    Resolutely she pushed back her despair and crossed her arms.

 “You didn’t even flinch,” she concluded.

    The commander stepped out of the ceasing fire, and there was a tiny sneer on his lips now.

 “Is that all you can do?” he asked.

    Sara didn’t reply, but she almost bit off her tongue as he walked closer.

    Don’t flee. I am a Light Dragon. I won’t let him break me. I’ll be a member of my clan until the end.

    Which was very near now.

 “I didn’t catch your name, Light Dragon,” he said, looking down at her just one foot away.

    Sara had a hard battle controlling her legs and forcing her head not to turn in fear.

 “I didn’t catch yours,” she coldly replied, hoping that her voice was a little more steady than she believed it was.

    Jade watched the woman, feeling a very rare sparkle of interest.

    He was a soldier, always following the orders of his single superior. Though he had the second greatest power in his clan and was well respected and feared by those who knew him, he was a very bored man. Very few things seemed amusing to him.

    And definitely not women. Just a stupid distraction that other men constantly kept falling to.

    But it wasn’t this woman’s looks that caught his fascination; though she was very beautiful now that he looked at her on a short distance. Below a headband of gold was a pair of deep blue eyes, almost with the same color as her hair. Quite a peculiar hair color, but it suited her perfectly. Her face was very fine. And that she wore a grey dress and a thick cloak only strengthened her true beauty, probably serving the opposite of her plans. The clothing somehow pointed out her slender figure.

    She had strength, he had to admit that. And that was interesting.

    Still… his interest wasn’t truly focused on her powers now. As he looked into her eyes he saw only calmness, and that somehow irritated him. He couldn’t remember when he had felt that way last.

    Calm? How could she be calm in a moment like this; facing destruction and death?

    It really irritated him.

 “My name is Jade,” he said, of course not allowing his feelings to show, “now may I hear yours?”

 “It’s Sara,” she coldly said, but the coldness didn’t get to her calm eyes.

    Humph. Let’s see about that…

 “Are you the only survivor, you said?” he asked, taking another step forward.

    With a small contentment he watched her take half a step back, finally with a sparkling of fear showing in her eyes.

    Sara cursed her own weakness, but she hadn’t been able to stop herself as Jade moved even closer.

    Her mind felt singed; she had foolishly used up all her strength. Now she couldn’t use her last source of hope. She was too weakened to try a transformation.

    All over…

    Jade’s slightly knocked soldiers began to wake up again.

 “Kill her, commander!” one of them snarled, and the others followed.

 “Break the little Light Dragon’s neck!”

 “Roast her!”

    Jade took another step forward, but this time Sara didn’t move.

    He looked down at her, feeling a small frown in his forehead. 

    No fear… it was gone.

    Her neck was just as fine as the rest of her. If he grabbed it and lifted her from the ground, she would have to struggle. Forced to show something else than this calmness.

    It really made him frustrated, and he didn’t like that at all.

    Suddenly her palm hit his cheek, so surprisingly that he even staggered.

    His soldiers growled in anger, and five of them got to their feet. They rushed over to Sara and grabbed her arms even as she was holding the wrist of her burning hand.

    Jade held his fingertips against the scorching cheek, silently watching Sara being forced down on her knees. Her lips moved away from her clenched teeth in pain born from the men’s rough treatment.

    There was anger in her eyes now, as if she suddenly was another person. The other Sara hadn’t seem able to feel such things.

 “That’s all the power the Light Dragons had left, sir Jade,” she snarled, “we were no greater threat to you, nor to your scared emperor who hides in Scande.”

    The soldiers growled again, and she couldn’t fight back a gasp of pain as their grips tightened even more.

    Jade held up a hand.

 “Take it easy,” he said, “she’s a lady after all.”

 “But commander…” the soldiers said simultaneously, angrily confused.

 “I think this is something that could interest Zog,” Jade calmly said, “tie her up and go search through the village.”

 “Yes, Sir.”

    They trapped Sara’s hands behind her back and also tied her ankles up. She said nothing, just sat in the grass by Jade’s shadow and watched the soldiers search through the streets of her home village. Since all the buildings now were covered in flames, the Dark Dragon’s didn’t enter any of the houses. 

    After about twenty minutes they called off their pointless search and returned to the road.

 “Nothing and nobody, commander,” one of the men reported, “they must have been trapped in the houses.”

 “You find that really amusing, don’t you?” Sara coldly said, staring at nothing.

    Jade looked at her, irritated. Her lack of fear was getting on his nerves. But he forced his anger back and turned to his men again.

 “We’ll return to Scande, then,” he said.

 “Yes, Sir.”

    Four of the soldiers backed off and turned into dragons again. The other men began to climb onto their transformed friends; two of them grabbed Sara’s arms again and looked questioning at Jade. He shook his head.

 “No,” he said, “I’ll handle her.”

 “Certainly, commander.”

    The two last soldiers went to their flights.

    Jade sat down on one knee, and with a small glistening of satisfaction he noticed a sparkle of unease in her eyes as he swiftly placed his hands on her waist.

    Without a word he focused his mind.

    Sara fought back a shudder as Jade’s fingers turned into claws, long enough to encircle her body. His neck grew, moving his transforming head further and further away from her. It took all her will not to bit through her tongue as he changed his grip so that she laid perhaps safely but extremely uneasily on a bed of rounded talons. It didn’t hurt, since the sharp ends were beside her and not under her, but that didn’t make Sara feel any better.

    With powerful flaps Jade brought himself and his prisoner into the air, and his troop followed him obediently. 

    Sara looked down past the black dragon’s muscular, plated chest and stomach, down at her burning home. Soon it became just a small, cracking village of dollhouses, then Jade’s flight brought it out of sight completely. She clenched her teeth and forced her eyes shut to stop the tears of loss and fear. Why did Jade want to bring her to Zog? What would the king of Dark Dragons do with her?

    She was completely defenseless, drawn of her powers that anyhow hadn’t helped her much. Lying defeated in the grip of the Dark Dragons; the sworn enemies of her clan.

    Only awaiting the fate their king had in store for her.

    She couldn’t fight back a shudder as the feelings of helplessness bombarded her. Jade didn’t look at her anyhow, but he could surely feel it.

    Why couldn’t he just breath fire on her and get it over with?!

    The winds were chilling, clawed themselves through her all too thin cloak and dress, tearing her skin into pieces. They robbed all possibility to breathe, each grain of air cut her lunges with its coldness. She couldn’t…

 

 “… Up any moment, commander.”

    Sara groaned automatically as she awoke and heavily raised an arm to rub her forehead. Then she unwillingly opened her eyes. A commander of the Dark Dragons and a man in a lighter uniform than the usual soldiers looked down at her.

 “Good morning,” Jade said, emotionless, “you passed out.”

 “I’m certain that you make all women you meet faint sooner or later, sir,” Sara replied, somehow managing to keep her voice dry of feelings as well.

    Her skin felt strangely warm; they had used healing magic on her to bring her back. Furthermore, she wasn’t tied up anymore.

    Jade watched her with cold eyes for a moment.

 “May I inform you that emperor Zog awaits your presence, lady?” he finally said, forcing back the anger in his voice.

    Sara managed not to blink, not to swallow hard, not to turn paralyzed and even won the struggle against a wish to bite her lower lip.

    No emotion, even by those words. Jade almost gritted his teeth. She was really becoming irritating.

    Just as he was about to reach down and grab her arm she resolutely sat up, her face like carved in stone.

    There was nothing she could do to defend herself against the will of Zog here. She was in Scande, the lair of the Dark Dragons now. Yet she wouldn’t let Jade have the pleasure of getting to drag her along, she had more pride than that. He might be the stronger, but she would not give away any chances to prove that.

    She had regained a little strength while she was unconscious, and add that she had been exposed to magical healing… if Zog was going to kill her anyhow, Sara would grant him a surprise. Maybe she could at least leave a wound in her enemy clan that was hard to cure. 

    Jade felt utterly frustrated as he brought his silent prisoner through the corridors of the wide town of Upper Scande. The real town was upon a massive tower, high above the ground. There the clansmen lived. Below was the town of servants and slaves. 

    The upper town was a complete labyrinth. And it was made to be a fortress. Should any danger ascend, all important parts like the armory and the laboratories would be closed by mechanically moving walls. Thus, no intruder, even if he managed to sneak through the lines of soldiers and tame monsters, would manage to find the real treasures of Scande. The armory contained the finest weapons that the clan had been able to create or find in other ways, and the laboratories…

    Well.

    Nobody really liked that part.

    Jade had a feeling that even Zog himself found it detesting. But he allowed it anyhow, probably only because it surely could be of some use, eventually.  

 “And what do we have here?”

    Speaking of the…

    Jade stopped, and Sara did as well. She watched the creature watching her.

    It was a tall monster, stood upright dressed in a darkly blue grey robe. Its skin was purple and it had no hair. One eye was exchanged with a cyborg’s metallic, red glowing scanner.

 “Good morning, Cort,” Jade said, without meaning it at all. 

    The scientist was feared by the soldiers and people serving the Dark Dragons; he even disgusted the commander.

 “And the same to you,” Cort absentmindedly said, “I dare to repeat my query.”

    Oh no, you don’t!

    Jade found himself clenching a fist. He forced it to relax, even though it was hard. He didn’t even know why. Maybe it was because he disliked Cort just as much as everyone else, and he didn’t like the counting way that the scientist looked at Sara.

    At least she was his prisoner, and that gave him a vague sense of responsibility in the back of his soldier soul. But it wasn’t any deeper than something like “she’s mine to kill, not yours”.

 “Zog will decide about that, Cort,” he said, coldly.

    The scientist smirked.

 “My, my, Jade! I didn’t say a word! I am shocked,” he said.

 “You’re not.”

    He didn’t find it one bit amusing.

    Cort gave a hoarse laugh, sounding like a moaning door of a cell.

 “You know me well,” he said with another sneer.

 “I’m afraid so,” Jade shortly replied.

    The monster shrugged his shoulders.

 “Ah, well… but do tell Zog that I’m interested,” he said and walked around Sara as he spoke, “she’d make a simply lovely halfbird or…”

 “That’s enough,” Jade said, “I just had breakfast.”

 “Tsk, tsk… good day, then.”

    Cort went on to whatever work of the devil that he planned next.

    The commander didn’t look around. He looked at Sara.

    Her face was pale with silent rage, and her eyes shot needles at the wall ahead.

    How could Cort make her angry with just a few words, when Jade had been forced to struggle quite a while before she had shown him the slightest emotion?

    Once more he found himself clenching his fist, in growing frustration.

    It irritated him even more that he acted so childish. But he couldn’t shake it off.

 “And I carried the faint hope that there still was a little honor left in the Dark Dragons,” Sara said, her voice cold as ice.

 “Humph…” Jade merely snorted and grabbed her shoulder to make her move on.

    None of them said anything.

    Sara’s rage kept on burning. Cort had disgusted her, the way that he had measured her human body while his last eye had given away all the plans of his twisted imagination… she could have turned into a dragon and bitten his head off. But she had held back in the last moment, remembering her one chance to take out Zog. She had to keep calm until she could surprise him. It was the only chance she had.

    That the Dark Dragons had entered such a low level, allowing experiments on living beings! Sara couldn’t help but being shocked. After all they were of her clan too, and she hadn’t wanted to imagine that they really should have turned that despicable.  

    It suited Jade well to have men like Cort on his side. Pha…

    Her mind desperately sought something else to rest upon.

    Ryu… by now the spell that turned him and all the others to stone must have stopped working. They surely thought that she was dead already. That was just as well. She would be soon, anyhow. Even if she managed to attack Zog her chances of escaping were puny. She wasn’t the only one here with the power to turn into a dragon.

    She and Jade entered a hallway. Pillars created a smaller corridor in the middle of the room itself, seemingly for no particular reason other than the architect’s sense of art. Beyond the corridor of pillars was a gate, which two guards opened as Jade and his prisoner approached.

    Behind the great door was a bridge made of rectangular red and golden plates. The floor under the gangway was hidden in darkness; it seemed to be an eternal fall below.  

    At the end of the bridge was a bigger platform by the wall, and upon that was a throne. And on the throne was a tall man in a black armor and cloak. His helmet had horns to remind of a dragon’s head.

    Zog, king of the Dark Dragons.

    Sara of the Light Dragons fought hard not to clench her fists.

    His eyes somehow seemed thinner than they should be, and there was something yellow about them. Almost like a lizard’s; a very big lizard with wings and a breath that could roast anything.

    Jade stopped about one yard from the throne, and since he still held Sara’s shoulder she was more or less forced to do the same. He let go of her in order to bow.

 “Emperor,” he said, emotionless.

    Zog stood up, and in his eyes was an almost completely hidden smile as he watched his trusted servant.

 “Jade,” he replied and turned to Sara.

    She couldn’t stop herself from clamping her teeth as the peculiar eyes watched her, not in the same way as Cort but with some kind of similarity. He measured her too, somehow. It wasn’t exactly pleasant.

    The smile in the back of his gaze returned, but she couldn’t judge what kind of smile it was. However, it made her even more tense.

 “And the very last Light Dragon, I understand,” Zog said, “a pity, really.”

 “A pity?” Sara spat out, “oh, that was soothing to hear, kind sir!”

    Her eyes shot lightning bolts. Jade frowned, even more irritated as one single saying from Zog was enough to make the prisoner angry.

 “It’s a pity that we were forced to eliminate the other half of the own clan, my dear,” the emperor calmly said, “I simply couldn’t allow you to interfere with my plans.”

 “I’m not your dear and I’m not even close to being one of your kind,” Sara coldly said, “tell me, have the Dark Dragons forgotten what kind of goddess Tyr is?”

 “You mean the destructive part, I assume,” Zog calmly said.

    He shrugged his shoulders.

 “I trust in her wishes to help the dark side of the world, dear,” he continued as if talking about the weather, “and that happens to be us, I’m afraid.”

 “By the Dragonlord, she’s an insane goddess!” Sara snapped.

    He shrugged his shoulders again. Sara felt a new cut of despair; why couldn’t he understand that it was madness? There was no insanity in Zog himself, at least none that she could detect. He seemed to be calm, and it wasn’t an extreme serenity. But at the same time, it was quite obvious that he wouldn’t listen…

    What was she doing, anyway? Trying to <I>talk</I> the king of the Dark Dragons out of his plans?

    Seemed as if the scent of madness encircling the whole town was contagious…

    She tried to assemble her focus, turning away from the hopeless project of speaking with the Dark Dragon.

 “I’m afraid that we have used too much time on this project to allow your opinion to stop the process, dear,” Zog said.

    <I>Stop</I> calling me dear!

 “And why are you doing it?” Sara said through clenched teeth.

 “World domination seems interesting, don’t you think?”

    He sneered a little.

 “Not that much,” Sara replied.

    Jade found himself clenching a fist of frustration again. Was he the only one who had problems disrupting Sara’s senses?

    He had no idea why it made him so irritated, and that definitely didn’t help.

 “That’s too bad, dear,” Zog said, “but as I said, your opinion isn’t worth much here.”

    You find this funny, indeed.

    Sara did not think that it was a funny game of discussion, and she didn’t understand why Zog played with her like this.

    But it didn’t matter anymore, her frustration had grown to rage and filled her focus with power to… 

    Without any warning she tore off her headband, and the mark in her forehead shone enough to almost blind her. Now!

    Jade backed in surprise as Sara disappeared in an intense light. The glow showed that she put an immense amount of power in her transformation, in order to be as strong as she possibly could be.

    If he hadn’t moved, he had probably been forced to transform himself in order to save his life since her pure wing could have pushed him off the bridge.

    He knew that he stared at her, and there was nothing that he could do about it.

    As a human Sara was beautiful, but when she was a dragon a new word was required. She was so pure that she seemed to shine, slender yet muscular. The wings of her back were silvery, her scales were made of pearls.

    Jade was impressed, and he couldn’t remember if he’d ever felt that before. He even forgot what a threat she was.

    Sara opened her mouth, and a stream of white fire flowed towards Zog. With a snarl he spun around, raising his cloak as protection. His body disappeared in a massive light which grew for every tenth of a second, and the fire couldn’t harm him while he transformed. It just melted around him.

    The Light Dragon leaped forward, trying to attack before it was too late. But a dark tail thicker than her body sent her crashing through the wall, leaving an enormous hole for the dull light of the cloudy day to shine into the throne-room.

    Zog wasn’t the emperor for nothing. He straightened up in all his fear invoking size with a wicked smile in his eyes, prepared to follow Sara even though that meant demolishing the wall completely.

 “Emperor! Allow me the honor!” Jade shouted before even considering why he opened his mouth.

    The gigantic yellow eyes turned to him and there was a peculiar, faint amusement in them. Slowly Zog nodded, thoughtful.

    Jade transformed, also putting all power he could into the magic.

    He flapped with his wings and threw himself through the hole, almost managing not to make it bigger.

    Sara had regained her orientation after the hit and was working on gaining height. Below her soldiers guarding Lower Scande pointed and shouted at each other. As they saw Jade they calmed down a little, but still watched the new dragon with suspicion.

    Jade hardly avoided a stream of pure flames, but since he was above Sara he held back an instinct to return the attack. His soldiers were down there, and he wouldn’t risk their lives. Not everyone could transform with Zog’s speed.

 ‘How sweet,’ Sara’s voice coldly said inside of his head, ‘I see you care for your clansmen as well.’

    The commander hissed at her, putting up a shield around his mind. In his haste he had forgotten that the dragons communicated through their thoughts; a stupid mistake that he by no means could forgive himself.

    He tried to dive at her without falling into the lower part of his town, and Sara gracefully moved aside.

    As Jade spun upwards to get to her level Sara threw a glance at the main pillar holding the great building above the ground. There were more pillars, of course, but that was the major reason that it kept from falling.

    If…

    She could doubtlessly create a few dangerous cracks, she knew she had the strength.

    There were surely hundreds of soldiers and trained monsters in there. Zog would without doubt have time to escape if he still was in his dragon form; it puzzled her that he had sent Jade instead.

    Hundreds of soldiers…

    The threat to the world would be greatly reduced.

    Hundreds of lives…

    She knew that she had the strength.

    But she couldn’t do it.

    Maybe she was weak, but there was no possibility that she’d ever be able to take so many lives. She doubted that she could kill at all, now that she looked back at her desperate attack. Had she really, to the very core of her soul, been prepared to kill Zog?

    Well, anyway it had been technically proven that she was unable to. She was too weak both at mind and body. She was no killer, and he was much, much stronger than she had expected.

    Normally that wasn’t a bad thing to be unable to murder. But this was about the worlds future, curse it all! Why couldn’t she, even for the shortest moment…

    Be like them?

    No.

    She turned her concentration at Jade again. He was on his way for another turn, and she had to avoid him once more.

    His worry for his clansmen a few moments ago had surprised her. He didn’t seem like the kind of man that cared.

    She turned and flew north, away from Scande. The place was unsuitable for a fight between dragons.

    Sara clenched her jaws. The true reason was that she was too weak to risk anyone else’s life, even if those were the lives of her sworn enemies.

    The roaring sound told her that Jade breathed fire, and she dived to avoid it. He was right behind her.

    Below them the grassland was cut through by a red river. It looked like an open, infected wound on the plains. The grass around the water was brown and dead; it was obviously poisonous flows down there.

    Sara turned and sent her own fire at Jade. He dived to avoid them and then soared upwards. In order to handle that attack the Light Dragon shot in the same direction, turned over and dived backwards.

    As humans he was the stronger one. But now they seemed to be equal; she had a chance to defeat him. That didn’t include killing him, not if she could avoid it. If she could only knock him out she’d be able to escape, they were almost out of sight from Scande by now. Everybody surely trusted Jade to win again; hopefully it would be over before someone came to check. Sara only hoped that it would be over for her better. 

    Jade dove towards her, and Sara flew aside again. But this time she was had a plan in the back of her head and managed to heavily hit his neck with her tail. He hadn’t expected that.

   The Dark Dragon’s eyes turned blank, and his wings stopped flapping as he lost his consciousness for a moment. A perfect hit that he hadn’t awaited.

    He shook his head as he fell, regaining his senses quickly. But now it was too late for him. Sara saw his wings twitch when he tried to spread them in order to avoid a crash, but the intense force of wind created by the fall made it impossible for him to unfold his flying abilities.

    He was going to fall into the river.

    Sara was about to destroy her own fangs as she clamped them.

    Curse it all!

 ‘I’m not a Dark Dragon!’ she thought, almost bitterly.

    She dived.

    Jade’s lizard eyes stared at her in surprise that almost resembled to shock as she fell in beside him. With a powerful flap of her wings she brought herself aside and tackled him.

    They landed in the grass, far from the dangerous river.

    Sara got up first and got into the air again, while Jade still was slightly knocked out by the crash. It would take him a few moments to recover, if she could only use that…

    Her heart pounded with fear filled relief as she hastily gained height.

    Yes!

    But suddenly her tail turned into a whip of pain and she couldn’t move an inch. She turned her long neck in agony.

    Jade had buried his fangs in her tail; blood flowed over her pure, shining scales. Sara growled and tried to reach back far enough to bite him. As he was too far away she desperately landed and tried to spin around after him. When he had such a grip of her she couldn’t risk using fire; she could burn herself badly.

 ‘Let me go!’ she snarled to his mind.

 ‘Why did you save my life?!’ he growled back.

    She almost managed to bite his head, and he released her by instincts of defense. Immediately Sara leaped into the air and shot upwards, but he was right behind her. The pain in her tail was burning through her whole body, robbing precious concentration.

    She heard  a flap just behind her back; it sounded like thunder in her ears.

    Jade’s front claw hands grabbed her wings, just where they joined with her back. Sara screeched as his grip robbed her pace of wings, and since he refused to let go both of them crashed again. Somehow she managed to shook him off just as they hit the ground, and spun around to meet his attack. He threw himself at her and brought her off balance. They rolled over each other in the grass, snarling and tearing up deep wounds with their claws whenever possible.

    Suddenly the back of Sara’s head hit a rock, robbing her senses for a moment too long. Jade’s fangs created a sharp, deadly necklace just a little bit below her head.

 ‘Turn back,’ he growled, ‘or I won’t be able to control my instincts.’

    Ugh…

    Sara surprised both of them by doing what he said. Maybe it was simply nothing but the instincts of survival. Or it could have been that the power she had used almost had drawn all her force, even the one of will.

    Jade was puzzled by both his own actions and hers. He had wished to kill her for a while now, frustrated by her lack of respect and fear. But now he didn’t, an he had no idea why.

    In order to keep from crushing her transforming body he reclaimed his own human form.

    Their clothes were torn and stained with blood; taking over what their other bodies had experienced. Since Sara had no tail now it was her left leg that carried deep, burning wounds. That Jade’s messy but heavy body bore down on hers didn’t exactly make the pain any smaller. His hands were on her wrists, forcing her hands and arms into the grass.

    She was pretty sure that her face had the same color as ashes.

 “Nothing personal, you said,” she growled, surprised that her hoarse voice didn’t break completely, “well this is getting personal, sir.”

    Sara’s own words made her throat thicken when the brain caught up with what she was saying.

    Jade glared down at her, with a deep frown in his forehead.

    The Mark of the Dragon behind her fringe glowed tiredly; she obviously hadn’t much strength left. There was something in her eyes, but he couldn’t pinpoint what it was. Some kind of exhaust, nothing more?

    Why had she saved his life? It was driving him insane… she could have escaped, but she had <I>helped him</I>! The mere fact made him furious.

    He was keeping her completely trapped, and still she didn’t try to struggle with the last of her power. She made no attempts to break free from his grip.

 “What does it take for you to be afraid!?” he snarled.

    Sara looked up at him, with a sparkle of tired confusion behind the exhaust in her eyes.

 “I <I>am</I> afraid,” she said, “my heart is about to pound itself out of my chest. You’re just not noticing it.”  

    He stared into her eyes, frustrated. For a moment she looked back, then she forcefully closed her eyes and turned her face away.

    With a snarl Jade let go of her and sat up in the grass.

 “You damn little…”

    Once more his own action puzzled, almost shocked him. He had never been this angry before; it didn’t fit his organized mind. And still he didn’t harm her.

    Sara watched him without moving, not for a single moment trusting him to spare her.

    Somehow it made him feel disgusted, throwing massive logs upon the flaming rage in his soul.  

 ‘Well done, Jade.’

    He glared up at the impressive sight of his leader. Zog was at least for times bigger than any other dragon, covered with deeply dark blue scales that seemed to radiate glistening darkness from within. Just one look should take the fighting spirit out of any “hero” with a little intelligence.

    Somehow Jade managed to stand up despite all his wounds and bowed.

 “Emperor,” he said, forcing his voice to stay calm.

    Zog nodded (just that was an impressive amount of movement) and turned to Sara. She calmly looked back, resigned with death and refusing him the triumph of her fear. As Dalton had been holding her down she had been terrified, but now, strangely, she felt completely calm.

    But Zog didn’t breath fire. Instead he lifted his front paw. The headband that Sara had worn left one of his claws and dashed through the air, softly hitting her forehead. In tired surprise she managed to lift her almost numb right hand and touch the accessory. It seemed to have grown stuck onto her skin, carefully reaching into her mind and blocking her magical powers. There was nothing she could do about it. 

 “I think that we’ll keep you alive, dear,” the emperor said, not unfriendly.

    Sara was too exhausted and confused to handle any anger by now. She just looked at the gigantic dragon and one single word managed to leave her lips.

 “Why?”

    The emperor shook his head again.

 “You’re the last Light Dragon, why not?”

    A faint trace of amusement in his voice? She wasn’t sure.

 “We’ll think of something, dear,” he said, and this time there was a cruel little smile (if “little” was the word with such circumstances), “you just stay calm and polite.”   

    Jade gritted his teeth, but said nothing.