Cor Draconis Sacri

by llamajoy

Author's note: Non-standard character relationships, ahoy. Even I'm not sure why these people hit it off the way they did. Spoilers for the few of you who don't know about beowulf's dragon (and I sure didn't).

When Agrias was born, her skin was ivory translucent, such that the pale blue lacework of her veins showed through. Her mother, who was a chemist and a very good one, named her for the native butterflies in that part of the country: Agrias Beata. My little papillon.

Nothing fragile of her, though, nothing feminine and frail that was not trained away with hard years of swordwork and training finely-honed reflexes. Her loyalty was ever her strength, and her sword edge sang with it, until all knew her name. Agrias was butterfly no longer, but deadly beautiful holy knight, and all marked the change.

As such, she never should have been disturbed. Long careful years had she spent building walls, fortifying defenses. She was not a woman to define herself by what she did not have. Hadn't she been taught not to pine, not to shape herself around her needs? So then why did the sudden appearance of that woman make her heart shrink within her breast, her blood run slow and cold in her veins?

She told herself it was that the woman was so helpless, so dependent on her man. In the quiet hours of night alone with her heartache, she would think that if she had been ensorcelled into dragon form, she might have got herself out of the predicament all on her own, many thanks.

But inside she knew better, and the words unspoken tasted bitter in the back of her mouth. After all, the creature she despised was not the other woman, but herself, and that was no sort of company to keep, on a sleepless night under the starless sky.

What had become of the princess? Of her charge, the one she had sworn above all else to protect? No one knew, no one could tell her. Delita, that was the only name they could give her: Ramza with his eyes half-averted with his own silent pain, Orlandu with a reluctant shake of his head. They had wounds of their own, those two, bleeding within as she was, equally unspeaking.

Their quest was hers, and as such, she could not wish the Cancer Stone unfound. How then, to put Nelveska behind her? And so she wrung her hands and went out for a walk.

She had not anticipated finding someone else in the wooded dark, least of all the very heart of her dilemma: Reis.

"Good evening," the other woman said, her voice soft and low. "Couldn't you sleep?"

"No," Agrias returned, tightly. "I'm afraid I could not." Politeness curbed her tongue, and (to her own surprise) a touch of worry. Surely the girl was not deserting their party; she was ashamed for thinking that, even for a fleeting moment. But walking out alone at night was suspicious, certainly. "What of you, lady?"

Reis smiled a small, private smile. "Restless," she murmured, turning her eyes to a break in the clouds, as if entreating the stars to shine through. "Something reptilian left in me, that I do not require as much sleep as I ought."

Agrias' eyes opened in alarm, but Reis only laughed, quietly.

"I did not mean to startle you," she held up her hands in apology, and their was nothing draconian about their gentle curved shape. "It is only that I think I was in that other body for just too long. My mind wanders, far too easily."

With a morbid fascination, Agrias nodded. "I see," she said, though she did not. "Were you a dragon for very long?"

Reis sat on a gnarled old tree stump, only her eyes catching the light from the lonely star shining down; the rest of her glided like a shadow on the moonless mossy floor. She nodded shortly. "Though perhaps it has done me good, some might say. I'm far more useful in battle now than I ever was before, for a surety. I was never a good hand with a weapon." She looked down at those offending hands, and Agrias had trouble imagining them long and taloned and reptilian violet, or fearsome.

"You have been a great asset to our team," Agrias heard herself saying. It was truth, at least, and there had always been a sort of comfort in the truth, be it a painful one or no. "In dragon form and in your true form, as well." She risked a smile, wondering how the smaller woman might react.

It earned a light laugh. "I thank you for that, Lady Agrias. Though what I might have to offer you i'm not sure; you seem to have yourself well under control. Too often I have stood in the lee of your swordarm and prayed for the swift sureness of your strokes. Everyone depends on you, I've seen it in their eyes."

Agrias blinked. "You--" She had to wet her tongue to try again. "You jest, Lady Reis. I am no better than anyone else here."

With a little resigned sigh, Reis turned her face; with the light from the star no longer in her eyes, Agrias could barely see her. She was a candle extinguished, a torch put out on a winter night. "Watching you fight... he might never have said that I was better off as a dragon, but I am certain he has thought it."

Agrias' blood burned, though she pretended she had not heard, or had not understood. She warred with the words that wanted to spill from her tongue, false flattery that she did not feel. At length, into that woody silence, she managed to say, "Anyone who does not prefer you the way you are now, lady, is surely blind."

That brought her face around, her gaze too bright, and Agrias winced, hoping truly that she had forestalled any tears. "You are too kind, Agrias," Reis whispered. "For I know you would not speak a thing if you did not believe it to be true."

Acting of a whim not quite her own, Agrias moved a step closer over the soft earth, put a hand on the other woman's shoulder. "Nor would you," she retorted, with a gentleness that was quite earnest. "And in that, I am glad we understand one another."

Reis smiled, a genuine smile, and Agrias' heart warmed to see it. The night was not quite so dark, nor so cold and endless. Reis dropped her eyes shyly when she said, "I am sorry you could not sleep, Lady Agrias, but could you forgive me for being glad for your company? There is no one I can really talk to."

In her tone and the stooping angle of her sleepy shoulders, Agrias saw a much younger girl, and wondered how on earth this creature had managed to get herself tangled up in the whole complicated quest. "Surely there is someone," she prompted, as much out of encouragement for Reis as a long-standing sense of masochism. If there is not someone, there certainly should be, she did not say, for all its vast impropriety.

The woman who had once been a Holy Dragon stood and stretched, Agrias' hand slipping from her shoulder. "There are few who understand me, these days," she said, with only a trace of adolescent discomfort in her voice. "Least of all myself."

Here she shrugged, and Agrias could have traced her delicate profile against the dim shadowy shapes of the trees beyond. Something edged with dragonfire sang across Agrias' veins, beneath the carefully-kept coolness of her thoughts, and she heard herself say, "It may be that all women feel thus." Again she reached out to touch Reis' shoulder, but her fingers of their own accord brushed along the other woman's cheek, cupping her face when the touch startled them both.

"Do you think so?" Her voice was pressing, curious; and as their eyes met, and held, Agrias thought for the first time that there was something of fire, and of strength, about this younger woman. Perhaps not only Kadmus might be granted the bounty of a dragon's smile.

"I do." The words that formed beneath her breath were meant to be a comfort, a reminder of the Temple Knight who slept, unknowing, behind them in their camp. Not till she had spoken them aloud did she hear the promise she herself had made. "You need not be alone."


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