Time and Time Again
Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Robby, barely 13 years old, who fell in love with another boy. But the thing is, neither Robby nor his much beloved Kenny were wholly just boys, but time tossed immortals of the fae races, reunited in this reincarnation and once again bound together in a desperate quest to fight supernatural evil and creatures far too powerful for mere mortal men to even be capable of standing near without wetting themselves.
Yeah right! Something like that.
I had to keep reminding myself that it was all real. My true self, with the Satyr legs, my friends, my boy friend, the dragon, even the surety of my own senses at times was questionable. But every bit of it, dream and flesh, was real. I stopped asking how it all was so a long time ago, and just accepted that it was, but I still felt the need to maintain my grip on my own sanity. I mean, after all, just a few scant days ago I was a computer geek, content to live in a virtual reality all summer long. Now here I am leading a desperate mission against a gigantic, fire-breathing nightmare with coppery green scales and teeth longer than my thigh bones, underground, no less.
Steven Spielberg, eat your heart out! You couldn't plan out a movie as fucked up as all this.
So, all wounds bound up from our most recent brush with death, a little food in our gullets and something wet to wash it down with, we prepared to take things to the next level. Kay had regained enough strength that he could stand on his own, but he chose to be close by to me. Not so much leaning, but just there, close enough that we traded body heat. We were communicating without words again, just reassuring each other with our presence.
"Any ideas on what we should do with her?" I asked the group. We had captured a Sidhe maiden named Elzbeth. Apparently she had been under a mind control spell of some type, because she didn't remember attempting to kill us. Croaker, my loyal friend and thane was currently watching her, not so much because it was his assigned duty to guard the prisoner, but because he was hopelessly head over heals doggy-eyed for her. And I'll tell you, it's a weird look on a Redcap's face, to see him so smitten. Those wide, thin lips pulled back into a kinda dopey grin from time to time, although whenever Elzbeth turned her gaze Croaker's way, he instantly schooled his features like a poker player. Poor guy didn't know what to make of himself at that moment.
Caspian, Kay's father and my reeve spoke up next. "We shouldst not endanger her further. This is not her combat, and her bewilderment from afore may be easily rekindled if in range of the originator of the spell." Yeah, I know, all that fancy talk doesn't sound right unless you realize that Caspian is like three meters tall, blue skinned and can peel back the top of a mini-van like it's the clear plastic top of a microwave dinner. It's good to have that kinda muscle at your disposal. So if he wants to talk like a Russian gangster or someone in a Marx Brothers' movie, I'll let him. Just so long as he's still my friend, I don't care how he chooses to express himself.
"I agree, Robyn," Yoseph chimed in. It's tough enough trying to say that my boyfriend's father has horns and always has blue balls (but for a different reason than I'd get them). How do I tell other people about Yoseph. He's also three meters tall, covered in dark, sleek fur, weighs about 180 kilos, easily, and well, basically he's a werewolf. Just keeps getting weirder by the second, huh? Go back and read this whole thing from the beginning, you'll see how we got to this point. Anyways, Yoseph continued, "It'll be easier if we keep her here, and guard the way out. No sense getting trapped."
"I agree," I said. "But that means that someone has to stay back with her."
"I'll hang back with her," Croaker said quickly. Kay and I exchanged a quick glance and then looked back to our friend.
"You'd miss out on having dragon for a light snack?" Kay asked, grinning.
"You need swords more than teeth to fight that thing. You'll still have the strength of Caspian and Yoseph, and the both of you are fast enough to keep the beast busy."
"He's got a point," I agreed.
"Plus I'll get to eat anything that tries to come at you guys while you're busy with the dragon."
But I knew there was another reason behind his wanting to hang back from the main fight. It wasn't cowardice. Far from it. He'd proved his valor many times to me since tying himself to my banner.
No, he didn't want to go in there with us because his father might be in there. I don't blame him at all. I'd hate to have to fight my father, too. I know, some of you out there are thinking that he'd be in the perfect position to seriously 86 us from behind. But you don't know Juan/Croaker like I do. There is no one else I'd rather have guarding my back as I go chasing dragons. Not anyone on this Earth.
"Very well," I agreed. "Elzbeth, Croaker will protect you. But I don't want you defenseless either." I lowered my eyes under my bangs. This next part was risky, but essential. I couldn't spare more than one of my fighters to guard the back door and keep an eye on Elzbeth. I needed to be able to trust her, now that the ensorcelment on her was over. "Before I can give you your weapons, however, I require an oath from you. We are all in great danger here. Nothing less than an oath will do here."
"Milord," she agreed, nodding.
"Upon my soul, I shall not harm thee or thine vassals and thanes. Shouldst danger threaten you, my bow is pledged to your defense, my blade to your rescue, and my blood to your word. Command me and my loyalty until this threat hath ended. And let the stars themselves mark me should I prove false."
A deep ringing in the Dreaming told me that the oath was true, and that she meant it, despite her bewilderment at her current situation. That's another changeling trait, I guess. We adapt quickly to new situations. We fae also take oaths very seriously. Such precise wording and sincerity that I heard in her voice spoke to the depth of her conviction to keep that oath. I could trust her now.
"Cut her bonds. Give her back her weapons." I turned back to the rest of the troops and was about to start our planning for the next step when I saw the look in Kay's eyes, looking over my shoulder. I swiveled my neck and saw Croaker slipping the end of his knife in between the rope at Elzbeth's wrists together. He wasn't even looking at the blade, but had his eyes locked with hers. They whispered between each other a moment before he severed the rope with a short downward stroke. As soon as her hands were free, she reached one hand up and gently caressed his face, smoothing a strand of his long, greasy hair back, tucking it behind his heavily pierced ear.
"Well, would you look at that?" Kay said. "Even in the middle of danger, love blooms."
"Don't jump to conclusions, my son," Caspian said. "But do keep hope alive."
"Hey, if anything good can come of all this, then that's another victory for us," I said.
"Indeed, milord," Caspian agreed, patting me on the shoulder hard enough to push me forward a bit.
Yeah, okay, so I'm in love with a boy, have sex with a boy and get flash-on passion attacks about my boy. So why am I happy that a boy and girl may be falling in love, even a pair as obviously star-crossed as a Sidhe maiden and a Redcap warrior? Because, duffus! Love is love. And whether it's "normal," hetro love or more like Kenny/Kay and me, it's always something to celebrate, cherish and hope for. After all, what are we all fighting for if not for each other?
Besides, in my next incarnation, I might be a chick and Kay might be a surfer dude. It's just in my best interests to not be stupid and biased about the difference between sex and love. Just one more aspect of the changeling revolving door on eternity. You never know when you will be the victim of your own prejudices from a past life. Wild, huh?
So we set off again, following Kay's attempts to find the path for us again, and Yoseph's nose. It's pretty much a given that dragons don't exactly conform to what we'd consider hygiene. And the closer we crept to the things penultimate lair, the more pronounced the smell became. The air grew thick, musty, pungent, humid, hot and stinky even as were approached. The trail led up a slight incline in the massive cavern and then down a steep defile, into what can only be described as the best and worst of all possible worlds at once.
Aside from the smell, which I can not simply describe too accurately with human tongues, the dragon's resting place was loaded with evidence of his passage. There were glassy spots on the floor, mostly broken up into thick shards as long and broad as a man's forearm, some vaguely in a shape that would have terrified anyone who had just seen Jurassic Park. There were corpses of the dragon's victims… well maybe I should say there were parts of the dragon's victims, lying about in various states of being gnawed on. The wounds were simply horrific and I wont go into any detail on them here. Suffice it to say, these varied changelings died as their true selves, in their fae forms. The fact that they did so and died physically as well as chimerically meant that they were forever lost.
You see, to an immortal, the true death, the end of everything that you are and can be again, that is the most terrifying and sorrowful of things. Changelings rarely seek to fully kill one another. When they do, it's the ultimate act of hatred, violence or self defense and is always looked on with great concern by other fae. To Undo a changeling, to sever someone from the Dreaming and send them into the Mists permanently is a crime that diminishes us all. Even after adopting the changeling way, for all these millennia, it is the one crime that commands Undoing in turn as punishment.
The trail was clearly marked for us, in horrific and plain detail. Clearly, the big lizard didn't care about house keeping. And honestly I can't blame him. I mean, hell, what did it really have to fear? Even the four of us were no real match for it. Every one of us knew it, too. Yet still they followed me after this damned foolish quest. Poetic loyalty but very common sense stupid, if you ask me. I keep getting off track here.
Took us about an hour to finally get through the caverns and scraping points that the dragon used to scratch his scaly hide on. Rocks normally don't look partly melted and have that coppery sheen to them. If you can find a geologist that can find a suitable explanation for such a rock, I'll show you one of my changeling brethren seeking to keep our secrets safe. The heat became a physical, leeching thing as we walked on, cautiously. The waterskins were empty and the walls grew hot to the touch. We knew we were getting closer.
We came around a dense cluster of fallen rocks to one side of the cavern, a massive open space to the left of it, and nearly stumbled down into it. A massive pile of plunder and treasure as the world has never seen in this life-age of the planet. It would easily take four massive dump trucks just to pull a quarter of this stuff out. The glitter of gold and silver fairly lit the massive chamber in yellowish light, jewel settings in various artifacts catching stray beams of light and scattering multicolored hues. It was probably 7 meters high, three times that wide, from what I could see, and spread out.
And sprawling atop the pile of treasure was the beast itself. Gigantic, powerful, unearthly. It was facing away from us, almost as if it knew that we were coming but choose to ignore us in its arrogance. Then again, if I was a massive, fire breathing magical beast, four little beings wouldn't give me much concern either.
"Ah, so you made it this far!" came a gravelly voice to my left. Kay and I spun as one, our blades held out as a figure stepped from the shadows of a tall rock fall. "Seems only fitting that I get to destroy you with your own instrument, Robyn the Blue." It was Korbesh. The backstabber who'd have let his own son hang for his crimes. The usurper who wanted my title, my crown, my throne and most importantly, the Tear of Cerulean for his own. The mastermind who glorified in the slaughter of changelings.
I had sworn an oath to Undo him. Here he was, at hand, almost within my grasp. I handed Kay my new lightsaber and brought out Sky Fire. I didn't even feel the need for words. My work was cut out for me, and I stalked forwards, lighting off Sky Fire's blade as I moved.
"Not so fast," Korbesh mocked, tilting his head. "You might want to slay me, Robyn, but that would leave your friends one blade short when you have to deal with him."
"Robyn!" Kenny shouted and I turned in time to see that the dragon had unwound its serpentine form. Its head focused in my direction, its baleful eyes locking on mine. Kay grabbed my arm and pulled me behind a rock as the beast let out a massive gout of fire. The stream of flame passed in an arc, giving all of us little time to seek shelter. Caspian's arm took a roasting as he sought protection from stone. I didn't see where Yoseph had gotten off to. We were in it now.
And all the while, during that first flame blast, Korbesh's laughter echoed evilly around the treasure cave.
"Well, one thing's for certain; life with you is never boring," Kay said, grinning at me.
"Let's do it," I said, kissing him quickly on the side of the mouth. We dropped our helmets over our heads and took opposite sides of the rock fall. With a thought, we both activated the Dragon's Ire. We'd need every advantage we could against the beast.
Just as we came around, assessing the situation, I saw Yoseph drop on the beast from above, swinging his double bladed lightsaber in a tight whipping arc. And he scored a hit, for all the good it did him. The beast flapped a wing against Yoseph, slamming him into the cave wall so hard I thought I heard a crunching sound. We hadn't even been in the fight a full minute yet and already one warrior was down.
Caspian rounded his shelter, also kicking out the phantom winds and flames of the Dragon's Ire, and hurled his warhammer with both hands, the massive weapon spinning end for end like a tomahawk. It struck the beast near the eye, getting its attention. But the impact did little damage. Clearly, if we were to effectively deal with this thing, we'd have to get much closer. It pointed its arsenal filled mouth at Caspian and spat forth another fireball.
"Kay, hopscotch me over its head!" I commanded. He went through a brief weaving motion with his hands and the Glamour jumped from him into my shoes. It tossed me high into the air. I came down at its head with Sky Fire and tried to lance into its eye. But the creature could multitask as well, and it tossed its head at me, catching me with the blunt side of one of its many head horns. I got knocked sideways into a depression in the wall.
Now, I've been banged about before. Knocked sideways and tossed around by things vastly stronger than myself. But this time, I was surprised that there wasn't any shock of impact or just that stunned feeling when you get pounded hard enough to break through rocks with your skin. I also was struck by the clarity of everything I noticed as I was flying backwards into that depression.
I saw Korbesh sneak around behind Kay Neth, who was dodging a massive dragon paw coming his way. I saw the gleam of black in Korbesh's hand, saw him smile evilly as he moved in behind My Kay, ready to bury a point of Cold Iron in my boyfriend's back. And then I was enshrouded by the darkness of the small cavern, Sky Fire and my glow from the Dragon's Ire the only light. I remember hearing Caspian shout a warning, but everything else seemed to fade out.
Until I heard the very distinctive tread of a dragon stomping my way.
I regained my feet, feeling totally wobbly. I shook my head to clear the cobwebs when I realized I wasn't alone. The dragon plowed its head into the rock wall, relentless, hammering to make the opening wide enough that it could get at me. What had started as a group quest was now down to just me and just the beast. Dust and small stones fell all around me as the beast slammed its head against the opening, occasionally sniffing at the rocks to get a better idea where I was.
Then it just reached up with one massive clawed paw and ripped the rock away like paper mache. Yeah, I was stunned by that show of brute strength. What would you have done? It reached in, blindly for me, and I ducked under the paw, not even thinking about counter-slashing it. Hey, I was scared and the last image I had was of my boyfriend about to get back-stabbed out of existence. I definitely didn't have my head in the game.
The dragon stuck its head to the opening it had ripped and inhaled. I knew what was coming. I also knew that inside this confined space, I was as good as roasted in my own sauce if I didn't act quickly. I hopscotched myself up at the entrance, digging Sky Fire into the cave wall above, and clung on for dear life. The flame stream passed under me and filled the back wall of the small cave, bending back on itself and super-heating the air. I held my breath, knowing that if I inhaled now, the flames would seer my lungs and that would be that. Game over.
I dropped down as it stopped breathing and slashed out at the beast, scoring a nasty scratch over its nose. It couldn't have been a deep gouge, but it clearly was a tender spot, because it roared and lunged, spearing its head into the opening, ramming into me like a freakin' freight train. It now had me pinned against its own snout and the back wall, the hot melted glass burning me, crushing my ribs with its unyielding power. The impact rocked me to my core in more ways than one. In that instant, all sorts of images from my pasts cycled through my head. Certain connections that didn't at first make sense clicked. And a plan formed in my head. The situation wasn't ideal, but I had the dragon right where I wanted it.
I raise my arm and focused all of the Dragon's Ire into my arm. Strength was needed for what I had to do next. Nothing else mattered. I raised my blade high, aiming. I speared the blade forward suddenly.
Time seemed to stand still. I know, corny as it sounds, it was like all the motion around me went all "final fantasy", slowing down, expanding through the middle, warping light and depth perceptions a bit. No word of a lie, I felt like every distinct moment of time, movement energy, matter and gravity all seemed to fold inwards on that one moment.
And then Sky Fire pushed through the dragon's scales, sinking deep between its eyes. The light from Sky Fire still seeped up through the dragon's hide, although muted, casting an eerie purple glow about instead of the blade's normal white-blue of captured starlight and harnessed lightning.
Everything snapped back into sharpest focus and a gush of scalding hot blood rushed over me. More a fountain than a spray. I grit my teeth and pushed on, knowing that in order to kill this thing, once and for all time, I had to reach its brain. I had to kill the mind pulse of this evil dream gone wrong.
Many revelations appeared to me in that moment. I suddenly knew what this dragon truly was, who actually made it, whose dream gone wrong it was, and, more importantly, how to destroy it. Hot tears sprang to my eyes, then. I didn't know it at the time, but I was crying for many reasons, some of which I've only just now come to realize. Even as I write this, I'm crying.
The dragon wasn't going easy, though, and it bucked under me. With both hands on Sky Fire, I couldn't hold on to anything. Stupidly, I wrapped a leg around one of his protruding head horns and then wrapped the other leg around my foot, sorta locking me against the horn. I have a new respect for bull riders now. Sure, it's a stupid sport born of a drunken tradition and a bizarrely warped sense of what's macho, but the fact is, trying to stay on a much larger animal that wants you off isn't a task to undertake lightly.
"Even if you kill me, Robyn," the dragon roared in pain, thrashing about, trying to knock me into the wall of this tiny cave, smash me to bits, "you die as well! You've lost already!"
"No I haven't!" I screamed, defiantly. "This time, I lay you to rest for good," and I surged Glamour into Sky Fire, felt the energy filter from the Tear of Cerulean, felt the dragon's own power bleeding into what I intended to do. "Goodbye, my brother Sherwyn. I'm sorry I turned you into this. I love you." And with that realization and energy flowing through me at the same time, I spiked all the Glamour I could into Sky Fire, lengthening the blade, piercing it well past the dragon's brain, past its neck, out the back of its head.
With a deafening, echoey snarl and rattle, it shuddered, quivered, went rigid under me, then went slack and died. The head sagged to the ground and slammed hard into the rocky floor of the cave, tossing me a good three meters before I fetched up against the farther wall of this tiny enclosure. Sky Fire was still in my hand and I stilled the blade, collapsing the chamber into darkness.
How long I waited in the darkness I don't know. I do remember that the dragon's body evaporated in a twinkling of fairy lights, vanishing into the Dreaming itself. Sherwyn's soul at last freed to the eternal Dreaming, the nightmare was over. I collected myself and stepped to the entrance of the cave, physically and emotionally exhausted. I looked down into the chamber and saw that Yoseph had regained his composure and his feet. Caspian seemed none the worse for wear, save he was bent over a slight form on the ground, his massive shoulders shaking. The only ones I didn't see were Korbesh and My Kay.
You know, sometimes panic grips you and wont let you go. That's how I felt realizing that Caspian wouldn't be grieving over Korbesh. All the worst possibilities swam in my imagination. All the gory possibilities of what I had missed getting knocked into that cave. As bruised and battered as I was, I completely forgot all of the pain, little cuts and nicks in my skin. I jumped down, landing lightly on my Satyr feet and sprinted to Caspian's side, dropping Sky Fire as I went.
"He wounded Korbesh," Caspian said looking at me. "But the beast still stepped on him." Tears don't look good on a Troll, and on Caspian they seemed even more out of place. But looking down at Kay's shattered form, I could see why he was crying. Kenny was his son after all. I felt more than a little teary myself. Because my beloved Kenny/Kay Neth lay there unmoving, unbreathing, unliving. His body smashed and broken, a puddle of his own blood seared to the ground like an omelet.
Once before on this mad quest I had nearly lost him. Once before he had taken a blow meant for me. I still shudder at the pain Kay has taken to keep me going, despite knowing better than to put himself in harms way too much himself. Like me, he's a warrior. He knew and understood the risks, better than I did most times. But now, this time, he felt so frail under my hands, even as the healing cantrip flowed out of me. I didn't even bother with a bunk, just shoving my own Glamour into him. I could feel it resonating within his lungs and heart and spine, and with a shuddering breath, his ribs popped back into place, all the broken bits in his back, his supple, delicate back, all of if seemed to jump together and he gasped back to consciousness under my hands.
"Kay!" I shouted for joy. One of his hands reached up to grab above my elbow and I helped him sit up into my embrace.
"Oh, that friggin' hurts," he moaned.
"Kenny, oh God, don't scare me like that." I hugged him close again, feeling his chin nuzzle up over my scarred shoulder, resting. I didn't want him to see my tears. He didn't need to know that part of his soul was now missing. He didn't need to see the crossing of turmoil and relief in my face. Just then, Kenny needed Robby. Robyn would have to mourn his eternal beloved some other time, even if just then I was ready to just go on a mad rampage of destruction and chaos until the anger and hurt burned themselves out of me. "Don't ever leave me, Bright Eyes," I whispered. He nodded against me, as if in understanding, but like he had no energy to speak.
He would live. His body was drawing breath and I crushed him to me. He murmured something and I gently pulled back enough to look into his awesome eyes. That's when I felt it, I guess. Felt his soul still beating away with his strong heart, still struggling to stay clear of the ominous darkness of death. I could see in his eyes that his will to survive was still as strong as ever. I just knew it. Kenny would be okay, my Kenny would still be with me.
But at that same moment, I also knew, Kay was gone. A subtle something different about his awesome eyes. A lack of that changeling spark, that fae essence. Kenny was here, safe in my arms, but Kay Neth the Steel-Eyed had been lost to the Mists.