Chapter 1: The Welsh and the Maidens
Two figures stood in silence, a silence that bordered on oppressive.
For one of the individuals, at least. The other appeared to be the very definition of 'cool and collected'.
The less composed one was a Human of advanced age, easily in his late 60's with skin the consistency of tanned leather. Despite his rugged appearance, the priestly robes he wore and the compassion evident in his eyes turned what would be a harsh visage into something fatherly, comforting.
The only other occupant was a young woman of stunning beauty. Pale, smooth skin with a mane of golden hair that fell to just below her spine, the nun's habit she wore fitting like a second skin, as if she had been born into the garb that identified her faith.
But the most alluring aspect of this girl was her eyes. Bright emerald in coloration, they were the eyes of a puppy. Inquisitive, innocent...and capable of unnatural levels of focus, should something draw their attention.
The older man was Vasco Strada, a retired Exorcist and head of the city known as Vatican's Holy Church branch. All Humans of the faith that resided there answered to him and him alone, a hierarchy that protected the susceptible from the advances of Demons, Devils, Fallen Angels and other Supernatural creatures that wished to exploit it's citizenry.
And he was not happy.
The woman was Asia Argento, Vatican's prize idol and consistent Miracle worker. Blessed with a power from their Father in Heaven himself, Argento could heal almost any ailment or sickness that plagued those who fell under her aegis, brought back to near perfect health with her 'Sacred Gear' Twilight Healing.
And, despite the severity of the news provided to her, was noticeably unconcerned.
"Asia...I'm sorry. But at this point...there is nothing I can do. The rest of the Church has spoken and while there is no shortage of dissenters...without direct intervention from Heaven, I cannot disobey."
An understanding and sympathetic smile was the nun's only reply to the gruff-even depressed-tones of Strada.
"Do not blame yourself, Father Strada. I'm sure you did all you could and besides...I cannot in good conscience ignore this crisis facing us. I would have volunteered even had I not been ordered to go."
With a voice that was as gentle, sweet and pure as fresh snow the nun reassured the older man, said man heaving a gigantic sigh in reply.
"Asia, sometimes you're a little too good to be true. Honestly, girl...have you been hiding wings and a Halo from us all this time?"
An amused giggle was the girls only response, cheerfully smiling at her superior even as there was a violent knock on the door to the cozy meeting room they resided in.
"Who is it?"
"Who do you think? Strada, open the damn door!"
With a roll of his eyes the elderly man of cloth smoothly rose from his chair-belying his apparent age-and unlocked the bolt, allowing a pair of additional people, a young man and older woman, to enter.
"Sister Griselda, Dulio! What are you two doing here?"
The stern-faced woman who's features could cut solid rock glowered at the nun's genuinely curious words, sharply replying, "We came to see how you were doing, you daft girl. Are you alright? Do you need anything?"
"Oh, I'm perfectly fine! A little nervous and anxious, perhaps...but for such a noble and good cause I can hardly complain, now can I?"
Her hands were abruptly gathered up in the man's own, his looks a curious mix of both handsome and absentminded as he gently asked, "Asia, are you sure about this? Sister Griselda and I, if we combine our power, might be able to-"
"Dulio, as much as I admire your confidence and willingness to protect your own...the Emerald Emperor is a foe none of us could face and hope to beat, working together or not."
Argento merely nodded in affirmation, smiling affectionately at the young man as she added, "Your offer means the world to me, Dulio...but this is something only I can do. And I am more than willing to do it."
A tired exhalation was the youthful priest's only response, his words morose as he murmured, "I understand that, Asia...and that very same helplessness is what irks me so. It feels as if we are so inadequate that you are the onewho has to shoulder our shortcomings."
The blonde-haired girl puffed out a single cheek, reaching up to pinch her male companion's own as she irritably stated, "Enough of that mopey talk! Where's the almost worryingly cheerful man that makes all the children smile when he makes funny faces for them?"
A melancholic smile graced Dulio's features, his tone grateful as he replied, "I will truly miss you, sister..."
A quick hug and whisper of, "Me too, brother." brought an end to the moment, Vasco Strada shaking his head before almost embarrassedly stating, "You shall set off for the Jade Mountains tomorrow morning, Asia."
"Umm...father? Is something wrong?"
Shifting from foot to foot the elderly Human who had fought and won against all manner of Supernatural beings shyly replied, "Well, Asia...Dragons have a known penchant for liking pure Maidens. And while those robes are a clear sign of the faith...perhaps your chances would be better if you wore something more...elegant?"
The nun adorably tilted her head, the motion more than slightly puppy-like...before she perked up and excitedly asked, "Like a dress? I've never worn a dress before!"
The three other occupants of the room shared looks that were both amused and somewhat sheepish.
"Well...not quite a dress."
Two figures stared each other down.
One was decay and sliminess incarnate, the other beauty, enthusiasm and purity made real in the flesh.
One of them was not Human.
"Now now, Lady Irina...I understand there has been some unpleasant happenings between us in the past...but you have shown me the way, and I now proudly stand before you as a Cardinal of the Holy Church, a loyal servant made all the more impressive due to your intervention."
The one that wasn't Human did her best to hide a frown.
She wasn't very successful, her six pure-white wings softly shuffling in disquiet.
"Forgive me if this causes you affront, Cardinal Grasso...but three months does strike me as a remarkably short 'penance' period for the severity of the sins you partook of. Embezzling the innocent's hard earned money to line your own pockets, only to spend said money in the pursuit of lust? That is behavior...unbecoming of one of the cloth."
A smile that could not be any more false, apparent even to one as relatively naive and innocent as an Angel.
"I could not agree with you any more, Lady Irina. My gratitude to you for showing me the light allowed me to cast off my distasteful shackles and truly embrace my calling as one of God's messengers. And on the subject of messages..."
The remarkably unnerving man slowly set a wrapped object on the table between them, false smile never faltering so much as a fraction.
"I have received word from Vatican that they require your help, help from an Angel as powerful as yourself, Lady Irina."
Seemingly putting aside her distaste for the man in light of a plea for aid the Angel stepped forward-
-and had to visibly restrain a shudder of distaste.
She knew she was a beautiful creature, she could admit it without the slightest bit of pride or ego to color her tone. Bright chestnut hair that fell to just below her thighs-dressed up in two ponytails or let loose depending on her mood-exotic violet eyes, a fairly sizable chest and slim body, all of it covered by a pure white dress embroidered in gold scripture lines.
Whenever she descended men-and the occasional woman-would gape and admire her. But then they would master themselves as proper followers of the Faith would, or find other activities that took precedence over her appearance. And even when the occasional follower was unable to cease ogling her...there was always something to draw her attention, distract her from the impure thoughts that could potentially lead her to Fall.
Alone in the room with only the untrustworthy man to provide company she began to worry her wings would blacken just by breathing the very same air.
"What manner of aid do they require?"
The priorly unsettling smile morphed into one of genuine distaste as Cardinal Grasso explained, "Two days ago, the Crimson King razed a farming community not that far away from Vatican itself to the ground. There was no discernible motive behind the attack and thus it was assumed the nation must have angered the Drake in some manner. To hopefully appease the beast, a pure maiden is being sent to the Jade Mountains as a sacrifice, her death or whatever other fate befalls her ideally placating the Dragon's anger. You are to guide and protect this maiden on her journey to the creature's lair, ensuring that she reaches it without harm."
There was a pregnant silence, the Angel's expression shifting into one of alarm.
The Unlimited Drake was a foe very few beings in the world could hope to challenge and defeat...and if none of them had already stepped in to defend them, it was unlikely they would do so in the foreseeable future. As much as it pained Irina to consign such an innocent soul...there was little choice in the matter.
"Understood, Cardinal. Let us pray for this brave maiden's safe passage to Heaven."
They both closed their eyes and bowed their heads in prayer, dead silence permeating the room.
Only one of them genuinely performed the ritual.
Violet eyes once more narrowed at the Human's own plain brown ones, the Angel privately resolving to closely watch this 'Holy' man once her more pressing task was accomplished.
"Now, Lady Irina...for the true purpose of why you were chosen for this duty. If you would kindly unwrap the bindings before you?"
Doing as she was requested the chestnut-haired woman pulled apart the wrapping surrounding the mystery object-
-and could not resist raising an eyebrow as she beheld the sword before her. Fairly plan looking, it's only distinguishing feature was an oddly shaped handle in the form of a predator's fang.
"What is the meaning of this, Cardinal?"
Conniving features shifting into ones of mild seriousness, the Human gravely replied, "Vatican has been granted permission from Heaven to perform a somewhat...risky, quest. The blade before you is a Dragonslayer, one forged in much the same manner as Ascalon was. You are to use escorting the maiden as an excuse to get close to the Dragon...and then slay it."
One immaculate eyebrow was raised in skepticism, a frown of uncertainty on perfect beauty.
"Cardinal, why not a more powerful Angel than myself? And this blade does not feel like a Dragonslayer, I can sense very little power in it."
There was an indulgent smile on the older man's face, as if educating a slow child.
The Angel had to resist the urge to scowl at the man for doing so.
"Because, Lady Irina...you are perfect for the task. You are powerful enough that you can carry out the slaying of the Crimson King without faltering...but not so powerful as to make the Dragon wonder why such a high-ranking Angel is escorting such a 'lowly' sacrifice. As for the blade? Come now, Lady Irina. What use is a Dragon slaying blade if it advertises it's presence so blatantly? Once it bites into Draconic flesh it's power and lethality will exponentially increase, thus catching the creature by surprise and allowing you the chance to kill it without retaliation."
The lovely young woman bit back a frown of displeasure, the Cardinal's tone one more often associated with arrogant Fallen belittling a Human than it was one of respect.
She knew how artifacts worked, thank you very much!
"Very well, Cardinal Grosso...I shall depart immediately."
Her eyes narrowed, intent clear for all to see.
"And when I return, Cardinal...I shall ascertain whether you truly are as reformed as you claim to be."
The man merely smiled.
"Of course, Lady Irina. When you return."
It was a cold day at the front gates leading to Vatican...but that hadn't stopped well over 2000 of the cities 25,000 people from crowding the area, a solemn air giving the coming proceedings more weight than one would expect from an event that promised salvation.
Then again, Vatican was losing it's Holy Maiden, it's shining light in the all too often moments of darkness that plagued their world.
The young woman who gave everything of herself to help and heal others, for no other reason than she believed it was the right thing to do.
Rumor had it almost 6000 had wished to attend, but the city could only afford so many of it's inhabitants to abandon their work. Instead, those that were unable to see the Holy Maiden off in person would be crowded around Magical projection screens, their supervisors more often than not allowing them a respite from work to offer their respect.
In some cases, those very same supervisors would demand that all work be halted, a moment of silence the least they could offer their cities pride and joy.
As for the object of this cities affections, the Holy Maiden herself?
She was having a second thoughts about her upcoming quest. Just perhaps not for the reasons most would have expected.
"Sister! This is...it's...it's too nice. And isn't it a little, umm...revealing?"
Griselda Quarta merely shook her head in nostalgic amusement, watching the younger girl dither and blush as she examined herself in a mirror.
Honestly, she could heal a screaming soldier missing half his face without batting an eye, gently consoling the man into a state of relaxation...but try to put the silly girl in anything other than a plain nightgown or her nun's robes and she turned into a stammering mess.
"Asia, the robes of Heaven's Bride are hardly revealing. They are just different from the entirely concealing outfits you are used to."
An adorable pout appeared on the young nun's face.
"And what about them being too nice? This, this...just the fabric itself is more valuable than all the things I've ever owned in my entire life, never mind everything else!"
With a chuckle the older woman raised an eyebrow and cheekily remarked, "Considering you have 'owned' a grand total of perhaps ten objects aside from the desk, chair and bed in your room...that is not saying much, Asia."
An annoyed glare.
"You know what I'm saying, meanie."
Another chuckle from the older of the duo.
"Yes yes, I know. And I think none could wear this dress better than you unless they were the Angels themselves. It suits you."
Emerald eyes gazed doubtfully at themselves as the nun once again appraised her reflection.
The Heaven's Bride was truly an impressive feat of textile and fabric weaving.
A loose Alb was left open down the middle aside from it's clasp, of snow-white coloration that hung off her shoulders and left them bare, held up only by a golden choker that felt like heated water and twice as soft, the thin cords that attached Alb to choker trailing down her collarbone and disappearing into the valley of her slight chest, just the barest hints of cleavage on display.
A modified Chasuble, acting more like a cape as it adorned her bare back, the Alb embarrassingly open to just above her rear for reasons the nun couldn't fathom. Said Chasuble was decorated with the Holy Cross against a pitch-black background, the sigil of Vatican-two Angel wings surrounding a burning bush-proudly on display beneath the cross.
To Asia's immense relief, the Stole was just as modified as the Chasuble, acting more like a massive loincloth as it covered her exposed chest, stomach and more, well...private parts.
And it was easily the more extravagant of the pieces. Dark blue-as it was the advent period of the Liturgical year-yet decorated with precious red and green gemstones and embroidered metals, it provided a stark contrast against the virgin white and simple gold of the Alb.
Her legs were exposed aside from leggings that went up to her thigh, the silky white material inlaid with golden scripture lines. The last part of the outfit was surprisingly simple, consisting of golden shoes that arched her foot slightly, raising her height by a tiny margin.
She had been worried that such an unfamiliar shoe would impair her balance and hurt her feet...but either she was a natural, or some form of magic made them more comfortable than even her previously well-worn boots.
"...Is Heaven actually full of perverts?"
This time the woman laughed. Loudly.
"Oh? And just why would you ask such a thing, Asia?"
A furious blush adorned the younger woman's skin.
"Because if it's even slightly windy my body will be exposed! You said I'm not supposed to wear smallclothes with these, so that's a big problem!"
With a more relaxed chuckle Griselda explained, "You needn't worry, Asia. That dress has strong Magics upon it, it will do it's job. Or did you think an article with the name of 'Heaven's Bride' would so easily sully it's wearer like a simple harlot?"
There was a quiet mumble of, "It's kinda doing that already..." before the blond-haired girl squared her shoulders and announced, "Very well, I'm ready."
The crowds had been growing more anxious as time passed, worrying rumors that maybe, just maybe...the maiden did not wish to become a sacrifice for a Dragon.
Understandable, but then what would they do?
These unfounded worries were quickly laid to rest as the main doors to Vatican's church groaned open, revealing the very girl who carried an entire cities worth of hopes and prayers.
Silence fell as the Holy Maiden and her protectors, the warriors Griselda Quarta and Dulio Gesualdo, began to march through the city proper, their footsteps echoing across the cobbled roads.
An outsider to Vatican and it's culture would no doubt be bewildered by the sight of a beautiful girl, dressed like some exotic and expensive mistress, strolling through the interior of the city...with hardly so much as a lustful glance being sent in her direction.
Instead, they would have witnessed hundreds, thousands of people kneeling or clasping their hands in prayer, no words being spoken aside from silent pleas to Heaven for the safety and salvation of the brave girl before them.
After some time had passed the group of three finally approached the main gates, Vasco Strada and several armored guards awaiting them.
With a smile that mixed both pride and sorrow the elderly man gathered Asia into a hug, quietly telling her, "Words cannot describe how proud I am of you, Asia. And even less could express how sorry I am that you must undertake this fate. Were it in my power-"
With a radiant grin the nun cheerily replied, "Now Father, is that any way to say goodbye? Aren't you the one who always says farewells should be joyous occasions, so that the parted wish to see each other all the quicker?"
The man shook his head, nostalgically replying, "Ah yes, I do remember such a man...it seems I must be getting forgetful in my old age."
Dulio snorted, joking, "Sure doesn't seem that way when we spar, Father Strada..."
The four shared a laugh at that, before Griselda glanced up at the sky and nodded professionally.
Asia tilted her head, momentarily confused.
Six feathered wings burst from the woman's back as she landed gracefully upon the ground, violet eyes meeting theirs in turn as a benevolent smile graced the gathered crowd, who's silence became truly profound as they saw a sight they never thought they would witness in their lifetime.
An Angel. One of God's messengers in the flesh.
And a Virtue at that! A Virtue. Six wings!
Truly, they were correct to pray for the Holy Maiden.
For their prayers had been answered.
As one the group of four bowed along with all other present-
-and one of their number abruptly felt themselves held upright.
"Nope! Today, Asia Argento, we bow to you."
More than a few tongues were swallowed and spit takes performed as the gathered citizens of Vatican bore witness to the sight of an Angel bowing to a Human.
Asia appeared ready to pass out in shock.
"Oh wow, are you all right? I mean, today is a big day and all, but you're not sick, are you? Your face is kinda pale..."
The nun seemed to collect herself and hastily replies, "Oh, um, no! I mean, I'm perfectly fine, Miss Angel-"
Placing her hands on her hips and pouting the six-winged figure whined back, "Nuh uh! None of that 'Miss Angel' stuff. You can just call me Irina. Irina Shidou!"
Finding herself caught up in the Angel's infectious enthusiasm Asia giggled and replied, "Ok, is Miss Irina alright?"
"Well it's a start. Maybe on our way there we can have a less stiff conversation. And hopefully afterwards, too!"
Several confused looks were exchanged between those present.
With a gigantic smile Irina turned to the gather crowd and announced in a voice that somehow seemed to reverberate across the city, despite being no more uncomfortable to hear than a mild shout.
"Faithful of Vatican! I, Irina Shidou, a Virtue of Heaven, have descended to answer your prayers! You wished for the Holy Maiden's salvation, her safety...I appear before you now to impart the message that both will be fulfilled! I will personally escort the Holy Maiden to her task, ensuring no harm befalls her. And, no matter what fate may befall her during her quest, no matter what tribulations she may face...Heaven will ALWAYS welcome her with open arms, a shining example of both the Faith and of Humanity. THIS is my promise to you! AMEN!"
There was a brief silence as the meaning of these imparted words sunk in...and then the city roared.
"AMEN! AMEN! AMEN!"
Ears ringing with the chant-a chant celebrating her sacrifice-Asia could only scuff her fancy shoes on the ground and blush in embarrassment.
A giggle reached her ears despite the noise as the Angel gently pushed her towards her three companions, the message clear.
It was time to say goodby to her family...and enter the next great journey of her life.
"So, Miss Irina-"
"Nope! Call me Irina or I'm not talking to you for the rest of the journey, Asia!"
The nun could only shake her head and chuckle in amusement. Irina Shidou was nothing like she expected Angel's to be...but in a good way.
"Irina, can you tell me what Heaven is like?"
The Angel suddenly skipped ahead of Asia, turning around and walking backwards down the path as she beamed excitedly.
"Of course! You're guaranteed a spot there anyway, so I'm not breaking any rules by giving you sneak peek, now am I?"
"I suppose not? You won't get in trouble, will you?"
"Feh! Us Virtue's get quite a bit of leeway in how we do things, don't you worry your pretty little head!"
Taking a moment to compose herself the Angel thoughtfully cupped her chin, staring at the blue sky with a few idle clouds drifting through it, obviously debating how best to describe the broached topic.
"I'm more familiar with the portions of Heaven that Angels reside in...but I've seen the Third Heaven three times, so I should be able to describe it just fine. Asia, have you ever seen the ocean before?"
The nun nodded her head once in affirmation.
"Father Strada once took us to the Kuoh ocean on a field trip...it was so vast."
"I bet it was. Third Heaven makes it look like a puddle."
Asia's eyes widened.
"An endless expanse of ever shifting scenery. Homes, markets, villages, townships, castles, palaces, mountains, entire oceans...all of it fluid and never stagnating, all formed by the imagination of the countless followers that reside there."
The violet-eyed woman's expression was one of pure contentment.
"Because that is what the Third heaven is. The resting place of your soul, said soul free to mingle and affect the world around it at your will, encountering and interacting with the other faithful at your discretion. A place where you are truly free..."
The nun's expression could not be any more serene as the Angel trailed off, her previous idea of Heaven somehow put to shame by this new one.
It sounded truly beautiful…
Conversation ceased for a short time as they walked in silence before it was suddenly broken by Asia asking, "Irina? What can you tell me of the Dragon I am being offered to?"
The Angel gave the younger girl a curious look, asking, "What do you mean? Like it's abilities, appearance or..."
"I mean, what is it's personality like? Does it usually talk to people?"
Irina was silent for a while before quietly sighing, most of her prior enthusiasm replaced with dire seriousness.
"Y Ddraig Goch. The Crimson King. The Emerald Emperor. The Unlimited Drake. The Scaly Bastard that Ate All my Cows. He has no shortage of notoriety amongst the world of both Humans and Supernatural."
Asia tilted her head in confusion.
"...Where did that last name come from?"
Irina looked rather sheepish.
"The God Bhoomi once had to leave her herds unattended since she had work elsewhere...and then the Crimson King came and ate them all. She...was less than happy."
The Angel sighed before continuing with, "The Emerald Emperor is...notoriously violent. Razing villages, attacking Gods and other powerful beings without a care in the world...from what I've heard he rarely ever talks and when he does, it's always incredibly violent threats and warnings."
An awkward silence.
"I think I can guess, but...why did you want to know, Asia?"
The nun slightly shook her head, tone sad as she answered, "I wanted to know if maybe I could convince the Dragon to let go of it's grudge for good, to stop attacking people entirely."
A melancholy smile appeared on her innocent features.
"That doesn't seem very likely anymore."
Irina gently gathered up the young girl in a hug, sadly consoling her with, "I'm sorry, I wish I had a more positive impression of the one your being sent to, but..."
"Please don't apologize, Irina. I asked and you answered. Besides, a lie might have given me false expectations, ones that could have potentially hurt me. Thank you for being honest."
The Angel sniffed dramatically, eyes watery as she wailed, "Y-you're just too nice for your own good!"
"I-Irina? You're squeezing me too tight!"
The Jade Mountains were gargantuan. No, gargantuan didn't do justice to them. They seemed infinite.
Even as Irina held Asia in her grasp, her wings rapidly ascending them at a pace a bird would have balked at...the nun could scarcely believe her eyes. They had been flying almost straight up for three minutes and were barely halfway to the peak.
She was mildly confused as to why these mountains were called the 'Jade Mountains' though. It must have been for the Dragon that resided in them because there was nothing remotely jade about slate-grey rock and snow capped peaks.
The nun shivered.
Despite the warmth the Angel was giving the wind was biting enough to chill her to the core, even the Heaven's Bride dress-which had been oddly pleasant not too long ago, considering the chilly weather-unable to keep her completely warm.
"Don't worry Asia, we're almost there. Thankfully the Crimson King has the entrance to his lair located about two-thirds of the way up, it won't be much longer."
Her words proved true as within another few minutes they alighted upon an outcropping of jagged stone...and stared in no small amount of trepidation at the impressive hole that seemed to burrow directly into the heart of the mountain itself.
The two girls uneasily shifted for a few seconds before Asia timidly suggested, "I...I suppose we could try calling him?"
Irina gave a twitchy shrug, as if to say, 'ok, but this was your idea' before stepping close to the entryway.
"Crimson King Y Ddraig Goch! We humbly request an audience with you, will you accept our plea?"
A few tense seconds passed as the echo of the Angel's enhanced voice faded away...then a few minutes...then ten before Asia finally cocked her head.
"I don't think he heard us?"
"I suppose so. What do you want to do now, Asia?"
Shifting her weight from foot to foot the nun hesitantly offered, "Well...we can either wait outside in the cold with no food or water...or we can go inside?"
Irina stood stock still for a moment-
-before sighing and regretfully agreeing with, "Yes, I suppose we can do that..."
She just knew this was going to be a bad idea…
The path that lead inside of the mountain wasn't as bad as they might have first expected it to be. While the ground was certainly uneven it was only slightly so, no jagged rocks or anything like that to be found, the bumps and swells perfectly smooth.
What it was, however, was long.
They had been walking for fifteen minutes down the gradually sloped path with no discernible end to it, only Irina's conjured orb of light providing illumination.
Conversation was kept to a minimum, provided it happened at all.
Eventually the Angel squinted, her sharper eyes catching sight of something as she slowed her pace, the nun copying her actions.
"I think we're almost there...come on, let's see if I'm right."
The duo far more carefully made their way down the tunnel, noticing a gradually increasing source of light as they approached an exit. Silently walking out of it the nun had to rapidly blink, her eyes unaccustomed to the ambient light after so long in a dark tunnel with only a single bright source to illuminate it.
Her vision slowly returning she glanced around-
-and suddenly felt very, very small.
Less of a room than it was a Colosseum, it's length comparable to that of a small town with a ceiling that stretched almost five times the height of Agares Tower, the widely-considered tallest building in all of the Human kingdom, consisting of 1200 stairs before you could reach it's summit.
And at the very top of this arena was an incredible view, a hole ripped through the side of the mountain that displayed pinwheeling stars as it's ceiling, soft moonlight drifting downwards and illuminating the cavern in a pale glow.
And highlighting the crimson bulk that rested in the middle of it.
Asia felt her breath catch in her throat.
No more than 200 paces in front of her was the very being that she had been sent to appease.
And now, so close that she could touch the Dragon, she couldn't help but wonder if she was truly prepared for the task she had so willingly taken upon herself.
A 100 paces long and unknowably tall, adorned in bright crimson scales with golden horns sprouting from it's head and back...and pale, ivory fangs that revealed themselves whenever it breathed. Slow, heavy billows that she had mistaken for wind echoing throughout the mountain, rather than the breath of a living creature.
The nun snapped herself out of her stupor, realizing the Dragon was asleep and not actually awake before turning to the Angel.
"Can you walk up the passage slightly? I need to wake the Crimson King and it might be safer for you to be out of harms way. Just in case he is less than happy to be woken up so abruptly."
While she looked doubtful about being pushed aside Asia did as requested...as Irina did her best to hold in a sigh.
She really did not like lying to Asia. But it was for the best.
If, for whatever reason, she failed in killing the Crimson King...then perhaps her lack of knowledge of Irina's plan and removal from the scene would spare her Y Ddraig Goch's wrath.
And if it didn't?
Well...she hadn't been lying about Asia being guaranteed a position in Heaven. She just prayed it wouldn't be brought about in such a violent manner.
Gathering her courage the Angel quietly, ever so quietly walked towards the slumbering Welsh, timing her steps with it's rumbling breath and exhalations.
...She now faced a dilemma. Where to strike? The blade, for all it's assumed lethality against Dragons, was still fairly small when compared to the humongous bulk of it's target. It wouldn't be able to reach it's heart...and all that left was the brain. The skull of the Emerald Emperor looked just shallow enough that the Dragonslayer could reach it, a quick kill that wouldn't leave her at the mercy of the stronger creature.
She balanced herself, silently unfurled her wings...and did her very best to ignore the ashen taste in her mouth at the despicableness of the act she was about to commit.
Uncontrollable and violent Dragon it may be...murdering anything in it's sleep, while completely defenseless, made her feel...dirty.
But it was her duty, and she would carry it out.
A single leap and twist of her Magic manifested the blade in her hands, her bare feet softly alighting atop the Dragon's crest as she drove the blade downwards-
-and her eyes widened in shock as the weapon bounced off the Emerald Emperor's hide with a sharp clank upon making contact.
There was an awful silence, punctuated only by the ringing echoes of the unsuccessful blow...and then Irina looked downward.
Meeting the gaze of a slitted eyeball that was the size of a small dining table.
A terrified gasp escaped her throat and acting on instinct she manifested nearly two dozen light-based weapons, sending them streaking for the creature's head as she leapt into the air.
With a noise halfway between a hiss and a crack the holy constructs impacted, creating a massive cloud of burning dust and rock that obscured the Angel's view of her target.
For a split-second she dared to hope that assault had killed it-
-and then she had to throw herself backwards to avoid a whistling strike of a tail that put century old redwood trees to shame, the impact of the appendage on the stone floor crushing it into a smooth, compacted trench.
She would have been nothing but an unnatural stain on the floor if she hadn't dodged that.
The Angel prepared herself to run-
-and felt crushing pressure on her chest as the Dragon leapt through the debris cloud with startling agility, one huge paw pinning her to the floor and crushing the breath from her lungs.
...She was dead.
[One of Yahweh's messengers, acting like an assassin? Now that is a novel experience…]
Irina felt herself choke on blood as the talon encompassing her body tightened, squeezing until she felt like the mountain itself was pressing down on her.
But she retained enough of her composure to feel a sense of detached awe as a serpentine head moved into view.
And that voice.
Rolling, possessing unquestionable power and authority...and no small trace of amusement. Like her attempt on it's life had been funny.
...Considering how much damage it did, it probably was funny. To the Dragon, at least. Even her attack with light-based Magic hadn't done anything other than warm a few scales, already cooled to match the coloration of their fellows.
Her attention was abruptly brought back to the present as the Dragon breathed out a small jet of green flame, the fire coming uncomfortably close to her face and causing her to flinch away as best she could.
[Well this is convenient, I suppose. I do find myself rather hungry after such a long nap...and what better snack than both a trespasser and would-be-murderer?]
It's jaws opened impossibly wide, ivory fangs as long-longer-than her arm gleaming in the faint moonlight as hot spatters of drool landed on her face.
She shut her eyes, whispered a shaky prayer and prepared herself for the oncoming pain-
Irina tried to yell at her to get away, to not do this...and could only manage a weak wheeze, her lungs unable to fill with enough air to do something as strenuous as talking.
So she could only watch as the nun ran over to her exposed head and cradle it in her lap, gazing up at the Dragon with an astonishing amount of courage, considering how outmatched she was.
"Please, Emerald Emperor...can you not show mercy to Irina?"
There was a loud snort that sounded like a geyser exploding.
[If you think attaching a name to a meal will stay my fangs, you're more optimistic than most, Human. And a second follower of the Christian faith? Is there a crucifix outside my nest that I'm unaware of? A sign that says, 'followers of Jesus, apply within'? Because if Bhoomi pulled that stunt again I promise it won't be just a herd of cattle residing inside my stomach this time...]
The nun opened her mouth to reply-
-and fell silent with a small squeak as a growl shook the room, the Dragon glaring down at the girls.
[And why would I show mercy? This Foolish Angel attempted to kill me in my slumber. Whether her attack was utterly incompetent or not is not the heart of the matter...what matters is that she did so in the first place. I do not forgive such actions as easily as you seem to be implying.]
There was a pregnant silence...and then the nun locked an unwavering gaze on the massive reptiles.
"Then eat me instead. I was supposed to be the sacrifice to you anyway. Please, Y Ddraig Goch! I beg of you to show mercy to her!"
The only sound that followed was the Dragon's even breathing, Irina doing her best to fight down the self-loathing she was currently wallowing in. She was supposed to be the girl's protector and savior...not the other way around.
She was snapped out of her self-recrimination as the Crimson King finally replied...in a tone that was dryer than a desert during drought season.
[Truly an inspiring speech, Human.]
The massive head dipped low so that a single eye could glare at Asia from no more than a meter away.
[What exactly is to stop me from eating the both of you anyway? You have no leverage over me, no power. Indulge my curiosity, please.]
Both girls were quiet for quite some time-Irina more by necessity than choice-until Asia gave a single confidant nod, meeting the Dragon's gaze levelly.
"It's because you are a nice Dragon, not nearly as mean as most tales say you are."
[A 'nice' Dragon? Very well, just what possible reason could you have for labeling me as 'nice'. Contrary to these supposedly widespread tales?]
Not letting the Unlimited Drake's skeptical tone dissuade her in the slightest the nun merely offered a smile and cheerily replied, "Because instead of eating us right away, you're letting us talk to you."
The cavern fell silent except for the occasional breath of air escaping the Dragon's lungs...and then there was a noise like a small avalanche, intermixed with tiny jets of flame emanating from the beast's nostrils and open mouth.
It was chuckling.
[A Human of the cloth, making an observation of the tangible world in front of it and coming to a logical, well rationed conclusion? Ha! Little One, you surprise me! And here I thought an assassin of Yahweh was the more novel occurrence! Haha!]
With adorable cuteness Asia puffed out a single cheek, indignation evidently overriding self-preservation as she complained, "Hey! You're making fun of me!"
[Perhaps I was. What will you do about it, Little One?]
The nun merely stared sullenly at the 'grinning' Dragon before crossing her arms and making a 'hmph' noise before turning her head away pointedly.
This time the Dragon laughed, a deafening grinding of boulders and volcanic eruptions that shook the cavern's walls.
After a few moments of unrestrained mirth the Dragon's telepathically transmitted voice sounded almost gentle, even if there was an undercurrent of cheekiness.
[Now now, Little One. If I were to apologize for offending you so, would you deign to grace me with your gaze once more?]
Emerald eyes met emerald, the nun not relenting an inch until she finally spoke up with, "Would you be willing to let my friend go, Emerald Emperor?"
Irina felt her eyes widen, panicked that Asia's request would offend the Dragon and all her efforts would be for naught-
-and was left entirely surprised when the Dragon's talons removed themselves from her body without further comment, a frantic intake of air causing a sharp lance of pain to pang in her chest...but at least she could properly breathe again.
Asia immediately muttered a prayer under her breath, causing soft green light to surround her palms as she gently placed her hands over the Angel's bruised body, the aches and pains gradually removing themselves.
Irina noticed how the Crimson King intently watched the healing with a cocked head and unblinking gaze...but made no comment, for which she was thankful.
Within a minute Asia finished her work, the Angel giving her a quick hug of thanks and causing the smaller woman to 'eep' in embarrassment at being thanked so personally by an Angel of all beings...before said Angel turned to the Dragon and deeply bowed.
"You have my undying thanks for your mercy, Crimson King. If there is anyway I can repay this debt-"
[Save your thanks, Angel. I may yet decide to eat you. If you wish to offer thanks, direct them to the Little One at your side.]
Irina didn't argue and just offered an even deeper bow.
With a drawn out sigh that reminded the two girls of a war horn being blown the Dragon lowered it's bulk onto the ground with a dull thud that they felt beneath their feet, only one glowing green eye that was half-drooped meeting their gazes.
[I have two questions. Firstly, Foolish One, why were you attempting to kill me? While I currently may not have the most glowing of opinions about you, you don't strike me as stupid.]
Irina blinked twice before forgetting her shaky position and indignantly asking, "Hey! Who are you calling Foolish One?!"
The Dragon summarily ignored her and shifted it's orb to Asia.
[Secondly, Little One. You mentioned you were to be a sacrifice? While I'm quite flattered and pleased that the world knows to offer me respect...I don't recall ever issuing any demands that live Humans be sent to me. If I desired such a thing, I would merely go and retrieve one for myself.]
Confusion dominated the two girl's faces for a moment. Did the Dragon not know or comprehend what it's razing of the village implied?
"Erm, Unlimited Drake-"
[Ddraig will do. My titles are all well and good, but become tiresome when spoken aloud too often.]
"Um, Ddraig, then...do you...do you remember destroying a village a few days ago? We believed that it may have done something to affront you and I was sent to appease your anger if it had...have we offended you in any manner?"
There was a solitary blink of the Dragon's eye before it neutrally responded,
[Little One, I have been asleep for the past week. And I have not razed any townships for at least three years now. Your assumption that I am the one responsible is an incorrect one.]
"What?! But witnesses in the neighboring fields saw green flames and a massive crimson dragon with golden horns carry out the deed! There is no other known Dragon which such distinguishing characteristics!"
Ddraig merely shifted his gaze back to the disbelieving Irina, voice silky as he asked,
[Foolish One...are you perhaps suggesting that I am a liar?]
There was a moment of tense silence before Irina nervously gulped, her eyes downcast as she quickly replied, "U-um...no. Sorry, Emerald Emp-I mean, Ddraig..."
The Drake apparently decided to leave things at that before turning it's attention back to Asia.
[I am not the culprit you seek, Little One. Your search-and sacrifice-was for naught.]
The nun looked crestfallen for a moment before gathering her wits, bowing to the Dragon and gratefully stating, "Thank you, Ddraig, for telling us this when you didn't need to."
A snort that blew up their dresses and caused the girls to blush before quickly grabbing the hems and forcing them down was the received response, the Dragon replying,
[If you wish to thank me for stating facts, Little One, you are most welcome to do so.]
The emerald orb narrowed slightly, causing Irina to nervously shift her weight from foot to foot.
[Your turn, Foolish One. Was your laughable assassination attempt a result of my mistaken destruction of this village of yours? Or something more sinister?]
Briefly swallowing Irina gathered her courage and truthfully explained, "I was given orders by a Cardinal-who said he had been given instructions by Heaven-to execute you after escorting Asia here. She had no knowledge of this plan and I was given the Dragonslayer sword by the Cardinal to carry out this duty. That is the truth."
She averted her eyes, both to avoid Asia's surprised gaze and Ddraig's own undoubtably furious one.
She truly had done something incorrigible, carrying out the execution of a being that had no hand in the matter…
[I see now I was more correct in calling you Foolish One than I previously thought…]
Both girls turned their attention back to the Dragon, it's tone morbidly amused rather than enraged.
[Foolish One, you said this Cardinal was the one who gave you the blade, that is correct?]
"Um, yes. Why?"
The beast shook it's head in exasperation, tone dry as it explained,
[Foolish One, you have been duped. And in an easily avoidable manner as well.]
There was a moment of disbelieving silence until Irina shouted, "Impossible! I am not saying you're a liar, Ddraig, but the Church would never perform such a brazen act as deceiving an Angel!"
Instead of replying the Dragon merely reached out a paw and picked up the remnants of the Dragonslayer, the tiny blade held between two claws as Ddraig proceeded to stick his tongue out onto the floor-
-and bring the sword down on it.
Both Irina and Asia jumped, startled at the sudden action while the nun even went so far as to frantically shout, "Wait, that's-"
The blade sank into dark purple flesh-
-and didn't even come close to penetrating.
With a contemptuous snort the Drake crushed the metal between it's talons like cheap glass and fixed the girls with his gaze once more.
[A Dragonslayer? That weapon would have barely been able to damage your normal metal armor, never mind scales as hard as my own. You were given a faulty weapon and sent to die, Foolish One.]
"B-but I, I-"
[This Cardinal you speak of. Had you ever seen him before? Interacted at all?]
Looking as if the world was slipping out from beneath her feet Irina shakily replied, "Y-yes...I had previously judged the Cardinal guilty of stealing tithes and donations and he was stripped of his position. He was somehow still promoted though and I advised him that I would be ensuring that he truly was reformed..."
Dragon and Angel stared at each other, one frantic and unsure, the other calm and unmoving.
Ddraig finally spoke first, his mental voice oddly gentle and comforting.
[Sometimes I forget just how innocent and naive your kind truly are...Foolish One, you were betrayed. There was no edict from Heaven, no Dragonslaying blade. Just one Human who felt threatened by you and those who decided to aid him in your murder by proxy.]
Irina would have collapsed if Asia hadn't caught her...thought nun didn't appear terribly steady herself. These revelations were just as worrying to her as they were to the Angel.
Irina was almost beside herself. With the benefit of hindsight, with the Dragon's words actually making sense...she couldn't deny them. No matter how much she wished to do so, the proof was right there in front of her.
Cardinal Grosso and no doubt other Cardinals or highly placed Church members had forsaken their oaths, forsaken Father...and attempted to kill her.
And it had almost worked, were it not for the Dragon and Asia's unexpected mercy.
Asia, the girl who she was supposed to protect, had ended up saving her instead.
She silently began to cry, Asia doing her best to console her.
Ddraig was less sympathetic.
[You let your righteousness and complacency lead you astray, Foolish One. You took the word of one you openly mistrusted at face value, not even stopping to check with your leaders if such an order was genuine. And I don't doubt you had misgivings about the quality of the blade itself...but evidently never raised them, or neglected to follow through on said misgivings.]
He fell silent after that, not reacting to the angry look the Nun was giving him at being so blunt.
The best lessons were often the ones that hurt.
After a few minutes of quiet sobs the Angel mastered herself, taking a deep breath and offering the nun a truly grateful smile before gaining her feet.
She faced the Dragon head on...and this time kneeled.
"Ddraig, it seems I owe you both thanks and an apology. You have opened my eyes to a matter I was unaware of, despite being the victim of my own misjudged attack. Will you accept my words of both gratitude and humility?"
The Dragon gave a brief rumble of mirth.
[Your words are understood and appreciated, Foolish One...but unneeded. You were made the plaything of men who thought themselves clever and untouchable. And I can see the truth in your eyes. You have taken this lesson to heart, thus there is no need for apology. Your future actions will speak louder than your currently spoken words.]
The Angel bowed once more, a small smile on her face.
...I mean, it wasn't everyday you got a personal lesson from the Emerald Emperor.
"So...will you stop calling me Foolish One from now on?"
[Absolutely not. If anything, I think the moniker Foolish One is more appropriate than before.]
The Angel made a quiet 'hmph' noise and puffed out her cheeks in a manner similar to the nun.
Ddraig found that mannerism to be both amusing and slightly adorable.
[Yes, Little One?]
"You're a very powerful Dragon, probably one of the strongest in the whole world. Can I ask you for a favor? I don't think any other Dragon or creature could do what I'm about to ask of you..."
Irina had to hide a grin as she immediately figured out what Asia was doing.
In response to the nun's words Ddraig almost seemed to preen, wings and tail gently fluttering as he quickly proudly replied,
[Of course, Little One! I make no promises as to whether I will accept or not, but I would be remiss as the Unlimited Drake not to even hear your request!]
Milking the Dragon's sudden enthusiasm for all it was worth Asia clasped her hands before her navel, averted her eyes and shyly rubbed the tip of her shoe across the floor.
"Well, that's ok...it's rather rude of me to make a request of such a powerful being after all, I can understand if you wouldn't want to listen or help me..."
Irina couldn't hold in her giggles as the Dragon leapt to it's feet, legs splayed and gaze focused intently on Asia's, tail lashing back and forth with whistles of displaced air, wings agitatedly flexing.
It was the mannerism of a nervous dog or cat.
And the slight bits of franticness in it's voice were hilarious to listen to, especially since Irina knew Asia was playing the beast like a fiddle.
[Little One, I cannot provide a yes or no answer if you don't tell me of what ails you! Quick, impart your troubles!]
"Well...since you weren't the one to destroy the village, that means there's another Dragon flying around that could attack us at any moment. We're not powerful enough to confront it directly, so-"
[Say no more, Little One! Should that welp that dares to look like me strike again, I will remind it that these lands belong to me. I would be happy to aid you!]
Irina saw, for just a split-second, an evil looking smirk on the lovely nun's face.
Looks like there was steel underneath that innocent facade.
[Well with that settled, follow me Little One, Foolish One. Allow me to show you my keep and where you will be staying.]
The Angel and nun both stopped their congratulating to stare at each other in confusion.
"Where we'll be staying?"
[Of course. You two will be keeping me company for the foreseeable future. It only makes sense to give you a lay of the land, to borrow a Human phrase]
Both girls paled.
"U-um, Ddraig? When you say keeping you company...do you mean-"
The Dragon wheeled it's head around from where it was about to leave through another tunnel and they swore they could see a trace of smugness in it's emerald eyes.
[I meant exactly what I said, Little One. You two are entertaining in a way I haven't seen in quite some time. Besides…]
What could only be described as a self-satisfied grin appeared on the Drake's maw.
[You were quite willing to offer yourself as a sacrifice to me earlier, Little One. It would be rude of me not to answer such unwavering conviction by refusing to accept your offer. I look forward to conversing with you at our leisure.]
Asia was struck dumb.
[As for you, Foolish One. You did attempt to slay me in my sleep. I accept your apology, and thus decree that you will serve my every whim and request until I deem you have repayed me in full. A pleasure doing business with you.]
If Irina's eyes widened any further there would be a very real danger of her eyes popping out of her head.
[Come now, you didn't think I noticed what you were doing earlier, Little One? A clever plan, rest assured...but I have lived for a long time. People have tried to appeal to my pride before and I know when they want something from me. Rest assured, we now have a deal. You two stay with me, and I protect your lands. Now come, I look forward to displaying my lair's treasures to ones who have never witnessed it before.]
Both Irina and Asia exchanged glances...and sighed, resignedly walking after the Dragon, who was keeping his pace slow so they had a prayer of keeping up.
They'd forgotten three important things.
One: Ddraig was smarter than they gave him credit for.
Two: Dragons can be quite greedy and shrewd bargainers.
Three: Dragons like innocent maidens.
It wasn't like the Dragon was all that bad.
A little too smug for their liking, sure…
But not bad.
Besides, what else where they supposed to do? Say no?
[Although I suppose the first thing we should do is find you a nicer dress, Little One. I won't profess to being any expert on Human textiles...but even I can say with confidence that dress looks ridiculous.]
"Ooh, I knew this looked stupid!"
So welcome all to a fun, relaxed little practice story of mine!
I say practice because, as strange as this may seem to some, I find it difficult to write in the 3rd person perspective. I've always been more at home with 1st person, it being a relatively straightforward way of writing (i.e., the story is told EXCLUSIVELY from the narrators point of view, with only what they know being provided) but I still want to branch out.
So I figured I'd write a fun little story that doesn't tackle any conflicting themes, have sweeping battle dramas or stuff like that. Just a fun tale of debauchery, jokes at others expense and other little facets of daily life that'll let me get used to 3rd person.
As for the story itself while this introductory chapter is pretty long, the rest will only be around 1000-3000 words in length, small bite-sized chunks of story as they come to my mind. Also Ddraig will end up with Asia, Irina and Kunou as the pairing for this fic (as advertised) and that's it. This isn't a big focus story of mine so I'll be keeping things episodic and easy come, easy go. Plenty of fluff and citrus on the horizon though, so no sweat on that front :D
...Other than that not much to say, feel free to PM me or drop reviews, this isn't like my other stories where I like to play things close to the chest on certain plot points, I'll divulge whatever (mostly because I don't have any real roadmap set at the moment) XD