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What Might Have Been



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ScarlettFire says...



Image
brought to you by myself & @Europa
(and maybe @winterwolf0100)

What if Loren wasn't sent to the Council? What if he ended up with the Conclave instead? A little AU of a potential timeline in which his 'mother' comes to collect him later than she intended, and he makes a run for it at his parents' urging and is picked up by a Conclave rider. And a little 'what if he met Malik and Edana while there'?

Spoiler! :
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"I bow to ChildOfNowhere, my one and only master."


"No one screws Yamcha but life!" - Bulma, DBZ Abridged.
  





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ScarlettFire says...



Loren


Screaming. Smoke. Fire. Blood. Loren duckd behind his mother's skirts, pressing his face into the soft fabric. He couldn't get the sound, the smell...the sight...out of his head. And now the scary woman with the eyes of fire was holding his dad on his knees, claws digging into skin and hair.

He peeked out again and the fire-eyed woman grinned at him. "Little Euric," she purred, and there was amusement in her voice. "Are you going to come with me like a good little boy or are you going to make me hurt your father?"

Loren shook his head and the scary woman's claws dug deeper into his father's neck. His eyes widened when he saw blood welling up from between her fingers and soaking his father's fine white shirt. The woman tsked at him.

"Pity," she said and brought her blade up to his father's throat. Loren stared at them, crying silently. "You should have said yes, Euric."

"Loren,
run," his father said, and then she slit his throat. Blood sprayed everywhere--across the courtyard in front of his childhood home, his mother's skirts, his face.

"Run," his mother hissed, shoving him away from her and towards the treeline.

Loren turned and ran, the scary woman's laughter and his mother's dying screams followed him across the well-tended garden and into the darkness of the trees. She had fire for eyes and a wicked smile, and he would never forget her face.


Loren woke with a jolt, grunting at the sudden weight on his chest. He nearly put a blade in them before realising who it was--one of the younger recruits. "Ugh, get off me," he hissed, shoving at the dead weight on him, "you little monster!"

"Monster?" The recruit rolled into a sitting position and leaned foreward so Loren could see their face. "Seriously? I mean I know you're not a morning person, Lorrie but there's no need to get racial."

He groaned. "Edric," he said, shoving up onto his elbows. "You know that's not what I meant."

"I know." The young Tiefling grinned impishly, his blue eyes seeming to glow in the dim light. "Just wanted to guilt you."

"You always guilt me."

"Your point?"

Loren sighed and gave the kid a half-hearted shove. "You're a pest." He swung his legs over the side of the bed and slanted a loot at Edric. "What's for breakfast?"

Edric shrugged. "No idea, the kitchen staff are still sleeping.”

"Edric.....what time is it?"

Edric smiled sweetly. "One in the morning."

Loren groaned and flopped back down onto the bed. "Are you kidding me? Seriously?" He lifted his head and scowled at the kid. "You have got to stop doing this, Edric. You'll get us all into trouble."

"Don't be so dramatic, if anything I'm doing you a favor." Edric stood and dug around in his wardrobe, throwing him a shirt. "Don't you just look so dedicated when you get up this early to train without even being asked?"

He squinted at the boy still digging through his wardrobe. "And there's definitely no ulterior motive for the wake up call this time?"

Edric laughed. "I'm flattered you'd give me so much credit. Come on!" He opened the door and waved him toward the endless tunnels of the Conclave's fortress.

With a resigned sigh, Loren got up and pulled the shirt on, collecting his weapons from the rack beside the door as he followed the little troublemaker into the darkness. Trust Edric to wake him up in the middle of the night--again--to convince him to come train with him.
"I bow to ChildOfNowhere, my one and only master."


"No one screws Yamcha but life!" - Bulma, DBZ Abridged.
  





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Europa says...



Edana Elchar Edric Arnon


Edana relished the cold, if only for the reason it gave her an excuse to wear her winter coat. It was heavy enough that, combined with the thick fabric of their normal uniform, she didn't have to bind her chest. It had been weeks since she'd been without the feeling of the bandages squeezing against her ribcage.

This early in the morning, the sound of Edana's hooves echoed eerily and she hummed to fill the silence, tail swishing, slicing through the freezing mountain air. Loren rubbed his arms morosely, trying to conserve warmth. Of course, their uniforms were made of insulating fabric to guard against the ever-present chill that came from living inside a mountain, but this early in the morning even that couldn't ward off the bitter cold, and the fool had forgotten his coat. Edana pulled hers tighter around her, pulling up the hood to warm her ears and smiling as the fur rubbed against her cheeks. She took a deep breath, enjoying the way her chest expanded without the bandages restraining it. "Beautiful morning, isn't it?"

Loren snorted. "It's pitch dark outside," he said, sarcasm dripping from his voice. "And hardly morning. Pft, beautiful indeed."

Edana made a show of rolling her eyes. Of course, he thought she was being smug with him. Well, it was safer that way, at any rate.

"Always with the negativity!" She spun around to face him, walking backward. "Cheer up a little, why don't you? We're not even fully-fledged riders yet and we've basically got this place at our fingertips! And," She gave him a cheeky little wink. "You get to spend time with me. I'd count that as a win no matter how much of a grump you are."

He smirked at her. "Are you sure it's you I like spending time with? For all you know, it might be Daxus."

"Oh? I didn't peg you as the type." She shrugged. "Well, to each their own. Hope you don't mind sharing him though. With like, everyone."

Loren rolled his eyes at her. "What can I say? He's pretty."

"Pretty airheaded maybe." Edric took a right, trotting up a sloped path. If she'd had her bindings, this would have had her puffing by the end, and she found herself once again thanking her fortune for the freezing weather. "He may have got his Da's good looks but when it comes to brains..." She hissed in a breath. "Good with his claws, though."

"How would you know?" Loren asked, following her up the slope. "You haven't been messing around with him, have you? You're a bit young for that."

"I meant his claws specifically. As in his fighting skills? Gods, where has your mind been?"

"Where it always is, Edric. I'm fifteen, remember?"

The tunnel opened up into a giant chasm riddled with caves and ledges, where a few dragons were already lazing. Edana puffed out a breath. "So, here's where that ulterior motive comes in."

"Because of course there was one," Loren muttered, following her into the chasm. He raised his voice. "Alright, I'll bite. What do you want?"

Edana turned back around to face him and folded her arms. "I need a ride, and I don't care what Old Man Wintercloud says I refuse to ask Malik."

"You want me to wake up Serkan so you can spare your pride?"

The truth of the statement sent a spark of annoyance through her, but Edric stifled it with a shrug. "You know how he is, he'll give me that stupid smug look and then I'll have to punch him, and I'd rather save grinding his nose into the dirt for when the Elders are watching."

Loren scowled at her. "You are not punching my dragon."

"What? No, I meant Malik! He gets all smug whenever he does anything to help me out, can you imagine how he'd be if I had to ask him for something?"

"Uh-huh, sure. So where did you want to go?"

"You're a saint, Lorrie." Edana grinned. That was what she loved about Loren, he was easy. All he needed was a little nudge and he'd do exactly what you asked, no preliminary spadework necessary. "Blade said we'd be meeting at the East gate this time."

Loren sighed. "Alright then, I'll go wake Serkan up." With that, he stalked off into the shadows of the chasm.

Edana couldn't stop herself from staring as Loren returned with his dragon. Serkan was giant, much larger than the younger dragons that dominated the ranks of the Conclave, and even in the dim light, his scales gleamed. She tried to tone down her enthusiasm as Serkan fixed her with a drowsy glower. "Hi, Serkan. Sorry for the early morning."

lt is very early, little one. He lowered his giant head and peered at her with one giant bronze eye. Loren says you wish to go somewhere?

Edana grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, just to the East gate for some training. Blade said I had to start learning to work with Malik more so he wouldn't take me himself, and I didn't want to deal with him smirking the whole time so..." she scuffed her hoof on the cave floor, feeling suddenly guilty under the dragon's gaze. "Guess I owe you one?"

Serkan snorted and blinked slowly. Mmh, yes. A pretty gem would be nice.

"Noted. Thanks, Serkan." Edana allowed Loren to help her into the dragon's saddle, grinned at the rush of air that hit her as Serkan's wings unfolded, and her body seemed to get lighter as he lifted off. She leaned over precariously to watch as the ground shrank underneath them.

East Gate, you said? Serkan asked, and banked in the direction.

Edana yelped as she felt her body tipping with the motion and scrambled to catch hold of the nearest stationary object--Loren's arm--and nodded. "Yeah, right outside the exit. Shouldn't be too far."

Serkan let ou a low rumble in response and leveled out. Loren glanced back to check on her. "You good?" he shouted over the wind roaring past them.

She glanced down at the death grip she had on his arm and quickly popped her fingers open. "Yeah, I'm fine. Must be cool, getting to do this any time you want."

Loren laughed. "Yeah, it is. You'll get your own dragon soon enough!"

Edana grinned, careful to keep the grimness out of her expression. She could only hope that was true, that she would soon be able to take her dragon and leave this place before it drove her insane, return to her family before they lost hope.

The east gate wasn't far off from the stables. It only took a minute more for Serkan to arrive at their meeting place. She jumped off his back with a word of thanks and trotted over to where Malik, Wintercloud, and Blade were already waiting.

"Edric Arnon," Elder Wintercloud glowered. "You were instructed to fly here with Malik."

"Yup." Edana stopped at Blade's side, smirking. "I ignored you, and guess what? I got here anyway!"

Wintercloud gave her a piercing glare, and she tried to tamp down her nerves as they rustled. The Elder had never been fond of her. She could almost imagine his eyes piercing through her layers of clothing and seeing everything, her gender, and intentions. She swallowed hard as Elder Wintercloud turned his attention to Blade.

"Elder Tobar, I expected you to have better control over your disciple."

Blade gave Wintercloud a long, steady look. Edana felt a rush of relief as he spoke. "Edric is a fine pupil, Riaz. He learns and takes instruction as well as any of my former students. Maybe the problem is that you haven't proved worthy of that same respect."

Edana suppressed a smile as Elder Wintercloud's face reddened, and she heard Malik scoff quietly. She suspected he would have lashed back if his mentor weren't standing right next to him.

Blade sighed at the other Elder's silent tirade. "I'll speak with him. In the meantime, we don't want to waste any more precious time." He turned to Loren. "I'm guessing my disciple dragged you here against your will?"

"I decided to see how the recruits were doing," Loren said--clearly a lie--but he said it so smoothly that it almost seemed rehearsed. "And, perhaps, join in."

"In that case, I'll let Elder Amasis know to let you sleep in a little after."

Edana looked up hopefully and Blade shook his head. "No, not you. You're supposed to be here."

Edana looked back down sulkily. She should have known it was too much to hope for, but a proper nap would have been a nice change.

"Now," Blade swept his tail to gesture at the surrounding woods. "Let's see how you three do with agility."
Last edited by Europa on Sun Mar 29, 2020 12:37 am, edited 1 time in total.
  





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winterwolf0100 says...



Malik


Malik wanted to scream in frustration. He could do these drills in his sleep. Why did he have to do them with... him?

Edric was the most annoying new recruit Malik knew, even though Edric had been there for several months. Edric was always acting like he could actually beat Malik, and it frustrated Malik because of how long Malik had worked to get to this spot in his life. It seemed like Edric had just decided one day to join the Conclave. Not Malik. Malik had worked his whole life to get his first mission assignment, and he would be damned if he was going to be shown up by this Tiefling.

"Awesome, this exercise is one of my favorites!" Edric was prancing along beside Loren, talking so obnoxiously Malik was certain he was doing it on purpose, walking with that annoying little swing in his hips that drove Malik crazy.

As if Wintercloud could read his mind, he reached over and squeezed Malik's shoulder-- harshly. Malik didn't dare react, even though it did cause a little pain. Wintercloud believed in strength and power. Showing a weakness wasn't power or strength, so Malik bit his cheek and didn't react.

"I want you to show that Tiefling how real men do things," Wintercloud whispered in his ear. "I know you're supposed to work together on this exercise, but there's no shame in continuing without him if he happens to get... hurt."

Malik nodded but didn't reply, not wanting to draw attention to the exchange. He trusted and looked up to Elder Wintercloud. He would most certainly follow his teaching, and even if some of the Conclave's methods had made him queasy when he first arrived, he wasn't a scared little eight-year-old anymore, nor was Stella, his dragon, a weak-minded youth now. They had both grown, and now that Malik was eleven, he had seen enough foul play to recognize that sometimes it was necessary. And even if it wasn't necessary, Malik realized he would've likely done it anyway. Win-- no matter the cost. Defeat-- no matter the method.

In the back of his mind, Malik realized Edric was obviously doing everything on purpose just to annoy him. He didn't care. He wanted to strangle him as the other boy yelled loudly, "This is going to be so easy! I hope Malik will be able to keep up with me!"

Malik's fists balled up, but Wintercloud dug his nails into Malik's shoulder, and Malik relaxed. "Let it be," Wintercloud hissed. "You will teach him soon enough the power of a true dragon rider."

Edric smirked as he caught up to them. "So daddy finished giving you his pep talk then? Hope you're not nervous Mal-born. The course gets deadlier as you go down."

Malik smirked back. "Yes. Unfortunately, that's probably why you'll turn around within the first 15 seconds."

"Eh, if I get bored that far in, maybe." Edric shrugged one shoulder and put a little more swing in his step, waving his tail flamboyantly. "But I'm aiming for a new record, so I don't think so."

Loren walked quickly to catch up with Edric. "Picking on an eleven-year-old? Very mature."

"Says the guy who makes sex jokes to a thirteen year old."

"Sex jokes are not the same thing as picking on him. You just love pushing his buttons, don't you? One day, it's going to come back and bite you in the butt. He's already got his dragon, you know. If it came down to it, they'd much rather kick you out than him."

Edric's face sobered, and for a second Malik thought he'd taken what the older boy said to heart. Then he spoke. "Loren. I love pushing everyone's buttons. It's kind of my thing."

Loren sighed. "Look, all I'm saying is you should be more careful. It's dangerous messing with someone like him. He may not look like it, but he is dangerous."

"Aw, you care." Edric put a hand over his heart. "Fortunately, I laugh in the face of danger." As if to emphasize this, the Tiefling let out a loud guffaw and pressed ahead of them.

Loren raised his hands as if to signal he wasn't going to bring it up anymore. Malik felt a hint of pride at Loren's words about him, even if Loren had said them in a negative way. Malik hadn't ever really thought of Loren as a fighter, but he did seem to have a way with words, and Malik felt himself respecting Loren a little more than he had before.

A little ways ahead of Malik, Elder Tobar paused. He turned back to look at the rest of the group. "We are here," he said. Edric was already at the start line. Everything about the snarky boy had seemed to change. He was standing with more purpose in his stance, eyes closed and taking deep, meditative breaths. He opened his eyes and scanned the seemingly empty path downwards, as if he could spot the traps if he stared hard enough.

Malik scoffed. The Elders were smarter than to let any of their traps be seen, at least not from this far away. Maybe when they were closer they could spot some, but definitely not from up here. He wished Stella was allowed to help him, and he could just fly to the other side. Wintercloud himself had told him sometimes foul play was necessary. Couldn't that count? Unfortunately, he knew he wasn't allowed to ride Stella to the other side, no matter how much he wanted to. Whining wasn't going to get him anywhere. Malik got into position, and prepared to run.

Edric was, for the very first time since he'd met him, completely silent for a long time. Then he looked over, his face set in stony determination. "Hey, Malik?"

"What?" Malik grit his teeth.

Still keeping the same expression, Edric flipped him off. "Go screw yourself." And then he was off, diving and rolling under a swinging log almost before it was released.

Malik paused for a second, thrown off by Edric's comment, before sprinting down the path. Wintercloud's voice and training echoed in his head. "Focus on the path. Use all your senses. You hearing a slight noise could be the difference between you living or getting your head chopped off."

Malik concentrated on looking for small details and listening as he continued to run. He heard a small, barely audible "snap!" and he dodged to the left just as a blunt arrow, dull enough that it wouldn't kill but would still hurt like hell, flew through the space he had just occupied.

He glanced to the right and saw Edric. It looked as if Malik had caught up with him, despite his small head-start. Malik was so busy looking at Edric that he didn't see the trip wire. He fell, and scrambled out of the way just as a cage fell on the area. "Shit," he cursed under his breath, standing quickly and starting to run again. He had to be more careful. He couldn't get distracted by cute, annoying boys. Wait... what? No, not cute. Not cute. Annoying. Annoying boys that were two years older than him and felt the need to get on his nerves every time he was around Malik.

Malik's cheeks felt slightly heated, and he shook his head to clear his thoughts. He had to focus. A few yards away, a large net spanned across the entire path, blocking the way completely. He stopped when he reached it, and he saw Edric do the same out of the corner of his eye. Malik closed his eyes, and breathed slowly.

He could do this. He would defeat the other boy. No matter the cost.

Malik opened his eyes. Then, he began to climb.
  





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ScarlettFire says...



Loren


Loren watched them go for a moment, studying how each of them moved. He hadn't spent a lot of time around Malik, but he'd been training on and off--and been woken up for the middle of the night training by Edric--with the tiefling enough to know the boy's skill a little better. He sighed, glanced towards where Serkan was stretched out and then back towards the two Elders. They weren't watching him, apparently deep in some kind of discussion. He took a step forward to follow the two recruits and stopped short when he heard Wintercloud clear his throat.

"Loren," the elder said and he turnd back, raising an eyebrow at the man. "Don't follow just yet."

"You have need of me, Elder?"

"Ah, yes." Wintercloud glanced towards Elder Tobar and gestured between them. "We were just discussing how to make this exercise a little more challenging for them and Tobar had a brilliant idea."

Elder Tobar nodded. "We know you've decided to specialize in stealth, how would you feel about becoming an obstacle for them?"

Loren frowned. "You want me to hunt them down?"

"That is a way to think about it, yes." He leaned closer and dropped his voice. "And quite frankly, I don't trust those two to play nice when left to their own devices. You have my permission to interfere if you feel things between them get out of hand."

He nodded. "Understood." Loren glanced towards Wintercloud, who was scowling. "Anything to add, Elder?"

"Your dragon may....participate. It should provide an extra challenge."

Loren nodded and glanced towards his dragon again. Serkan had raised his head and was giving Wintercloud a very slow blink. "Are you sure, Elder?"

"Of course."

"As you wish, Elder."

"Off you go, then," Elder Tobar said and Loren inclined his head to the tiefling.

With that, he turned and darted off into the trees. Behind him, he heard Serkan flap his wings and a whoosh of air blasted after him. Loren dodged around a tripwire and off the path. He had a couple of recruits to hunt.

~*~*~


Malik and Edric were halfway up the rope ladder when Loren caught up to them. And they had no idea he was there, lurking behind a tree and watching as they refused to work together. He sighed and leaned back against the tree, arms crossed as they climbed.

Serkan, how about we throw them off-balance, hmm?

With pleasure, little one.

Loren smirked and waited. A few minutes later, Serkan swept by overhead, the rush of wind from his wings making the entire rope ladder sway violently. He saw Edric look up and let out a soft laugh when he exclaimed in surprise.

"That's not fair!"

Malik simply looked up and cursed under his breath. "That's against the rules!" He shouted to no one in particular, continuing to climb, his face red with irritation. "No foul play, Loren. Call your dragon off, you little--"

Serkan swung back around and breathed fire at them, aiming just off enough to startle Malik. Loren knew the dragon fire wouldn't touch them--Serkan was too careful--but it was close enough to scare them both. Which was the idea. Malik unintentionally yelped, letting go of the rope and falling a few feet before he managed to grab onto it again. He let loose a string of obscenities before he continued to climb.

That's enough, Serkan. Head off and then make another pass in a few minutes.

Serkan just chuckled in his head and then banked away from them, disappearing over the treetops. Loren pushed off the tree and waited, watching the pair closely. Foul-mouthed little things, aren't they?

Yep.

Just after Malik and Edric climbed over the ropes and began to descend, Serkan dove in again, claws extended. Again, he deliberately missed them, but it was enough to startle Malik into letting go, falling a yard or two before landing on the ground. The fall wasn't enough to break anything, but definitely enough to bruise or sprain if he had landed the wrong way. Unfortunately for Malik, he landed on a trigger for a trap. From somewhere off the path and in the tree canopy, a crossbow bolt came flying. It thunked into Malik's upper arm with a sickening crunch, and Loren winced.

Alright, back off again, Serkan.

Serkan disappeared over the treetops again, leaving the rope ladder eerily silent. Loren crouched down and slowly snuck up towards the edge of the path, taking the long way around the rope ladder.

When Edric made it to the ground and saw Malik, he chuckled. "That's what you get for being an asshole to everyone." He smirked down at Malik and added, "Loren likes me more, by the way."

Malik glared at Edric, who hadn't even made an effort to help him with the bolt out of his arm. "And you call me an asshole?" He muttered under his breath, yanking out the bolt. He hissed in pain, before pulling off his shirt and tying it around the wound to stop the blood flow.

"Stupid kid," Loren muttered under his breath. "Don't just yank it out!" As if Malik heard him, he glanced in Loren's direction, eyes narrowed in suspicion. Loren ducked behind a tree before either of them saw him. You're supposed to keep it there so you don't bleed out! Master Amasis always said not to remove a bolt or blade before you could get help!

They are young, Loren, and still have much to learn.

Well, I don't like what they are learning so far. This whole exercise is supposed to be about teamwork. And look at how well they're doing that, Loren told his dragon, and then chanced a quick peek from behind the tree. Malik was back to glaring at Edric, struggling to his feet. Besides, he should have known that trap was there and dodged it.

Serkan snorted. They are not like you, who runs the course until he can do so in his sleep. How many years of training do you have compared to them both? Besides, he fell on it.

He sighed. Fine, you have a point. Loren checked on them again to see Edric was far ahead of Malik. You should probably stop Edric, otherwise he won't learn anything about teamwork from this at all. Loren narrowed his eyes. In the field, you don't leave behind a wounded ally and not expect consequences.

And there is also the chance of being captured and tortured. Serkan sounded solemn. Of course, if they are too injured, you just kill them.

Exactly.

Serkan suddenly swept down onto the path and landed with a thud, right in front of Edric. He roared at the kid, and Edric stumbled back onto his ass. Serkan lowered his head and inhaled like he was about to breath fire on him. While the kid was preoccupied with his dragon, Loren slipped onto the path behind Malik and snuck up to him. He grabbed him and slapped a hand over his mouth in one move so the boy couldn't scream, then dragged him back off the path and into the trees. Malik fought like crazy, but Loren gritted his teeth and rode it out. He'd done this too many times before and wasn't about to be bested by a kid now. Besides, despite his huge spirit, Malik was four years younger than him.

"Stop it," he hissed, right in Malik's ear. "It's not like I'm gonna kill you, idiot."

Malik twisted around in his hold and glared at him. Loren waited a beat before removing his hand "How do I know that? Your dragon already attempted it-- twice."

"If Serkan wanted you dead, you'd be dead."

The boy snorted. "If anyone in the Conclave wanted anyone dead, they'd be dead."

Loren slid a blade tight against Malik's side. "Exactly."

The kid straight up deadpanned him. "So are you saying you wanted to kill me personally? Because if so, I'm touched." His voice was dripping with sarcasm.

He snorted. "No," Loren said and put the blade away, rolling his eyes at the kid's sass. "But you're gonna help me take Edric down. Sound good?"

Malik looked at him doubtfully. "Sounds great. But what's the catch?"

"We have to work together. The entire point of this exercise is teamwork, Malik."

"So it's you and me against him? Because I could really go for that." Malik legitimately looked excited at the idea.

"Pretty much." Loren frowned and shoved him away. "Off you go, then. Serkan's done stalling. Go help your damned teammate."

Malik looked at him, confused. "But you just said you and I were teammates. Against him. Now you want me to go help him?"

"The Elders are watching, Malik. They're always watching. Do you want to disappoint them?"

Malik looked doubtful. "No... but--"

Loren sighed and cut him off. "Just go drag him off the path and mess with his head. Deception is practically in our nature at this point."

Malik looked at him with a newfound respect, as if he hadn't expected something like that from Loren. "Mess with his head..." Malik murmured to himself. Then, he grinned at Loren. "I'm good at that." And with that he took off in the direction of Edric.

You know that's going to screw with both of them, right?

Loren smirked. That's the point, Serkan.

The dragon laughed. I do like a good double deception.
"I bow to ChildOfNowhere, my one and only master."


"No one screws Yamcha but life!" - Bulma, DBZ Abridged.
  





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winterwolf0100 says...



Malik


Malik was annoyed. He had been running for what had to be a solid hour by now, his arm was throbbing, he was bruised from falling from the net, and now he had to save the one person who always managed to drive him crazy. Are you kidding me? he wanted to shout. Why not just kill me now? Wouldn't that be easier for the Elders?

The only good part about it was that now he could hold this above Edric's head for forever. Oh, you want to be a jackass to me? Remember that one time I saved your sorry little butt, after you left me with a crossbow bolt stuck in my arm? I could've chosen to let Loren knife me, so be grateful I chose to save you.

When Malik finally got to Edric, Serkan was making a noise that sounded a lot like... Oh shit. Malik dove and shoved Edric out of the way, causing them to roll across the ground several feet, just as Serkan lit up the place Edric had been standing with blazing shoots of fire.

"Surprised you didn't just let him toast me." Edric muttered.

"I would've, but now you owe me," Malik said cheerfully, reaching down to help Edric to his feet.

"Aw, is that the only reason?" Edric stood up and gave Malik a sharp-toothed grin. "I think you like me."

Malik snorted. "Me? Like you? Maybe in another reality."

Malik tried to push Edric as he laughed, but Edric dodged, once again almost before he lifted his hand, and hung upside down on a low tree branch. "You totally do. You like me, and you don't want to admit it, because then you'd look soft."

"How are you two years older than me and yet significantly less mature?"

"I don't think a guy who throws a hissy fit when someone calls him short has the right to talk to me about maturity."

"I'm proud of my maturity . It shows my wit and intelligence, so I take that as a compliment." Malik said it so matter-of-factly that Edric just stared at him for a few seconds, before shaking his head and looking away.

"That doesn't even make sense."

"You never make sense," Malik pointed out. "So I guess we're both even." He studied the path ahead of them, and only then noticed that Serkan had vanished. "Where did Serkan go?"

"Who cares? He's gone. That's all that matters." Edric sighed, checking his arms for injuries.

"But how does he even do that? He's so big! How did we not notice him going away?"

Edric glanced at him. "Who. Cares?" He repeated. "It doesn't matter."

"But I care!" Malik whined. "Because then I could teach Stella to do it."

"Save the whining for when I beat you."

"You're just jealous that you don't have a dragon yet. You're jealous that I got one when I was eight and you're already thirteen and you still don't have one." Edric narrowed his eyes, and Malik could tell he'd hit a nerve.

"I don't care about your stupid dragon, Malik. I only care about getting out of here before one of us gets shot." He glanced at Malik. "again."

Malik didn't know why he didn't push it. He thought about it-- he really did. But then, he did something that was very un-Maliky: he compared himself to Edric. If he were in Edric's position, he'd probably be bitter, too. After all, Malik only got his dragon because he got it from the Council. If he had been at the Conclave his whole life, would he have a dragon at his age? Probably not.

So instead of shooting back with some sarcastic comment, Malik simply said, "We need to work as a team if we're going to get through this. They designed it for two people working together, not two people working separately. That means if I get caught, you help me, and if you get caught, I help you. If it helps, you can pretend we're trying to save the universe and this is the only way."

Edric looked suspiciously at Malik. "I don't trust you."

"Why?"

"Because you're an obnoxious asshole ninety percent of the time."

Malik smirked. "And the other ten percent?"

"The other ten percent you're just obnoxious."

"Aww, I love you too."

"Shut up." Edric rolled his eyes. "So now what?"

Malik glanced at him, then the terrain ahead. "Did you not hear my big fancy speech about us having to work together, preferably to save the universe? Because I spent a lot of time on that speech, and if you weren't even listening, I'm not even gonna lie, I'm gonna be pissed."

Edric shrugged. "I kinda naturally tuned you out after 'work together'. Honestly if that were the only way to save the universe, I'd let it burn." He started to race away again. "See ya!"

Malik rolled his eyes and watched patiently as Edric got trapped under a cage only a few feet away. Edric said a few select words. "Damned dragon broke my focus!" He glanced back at Malik, annoyed. "You knew this was here, didn't you?"

Malik grinned. "Even if I did, so what? Didn't you just say you'd rather let the world burn than work with me? Because usually, telling a person they're about to run into a trap is included under the umbrella of working with me. I don't give out information like that to just anyone."

"Yeah, whatever." Edric muttered, trying to find the weak spot built into the cage's bars. Malik just watched, not moving, arms crossed. Edric turned fully to face him. "So are you going to go or is there something super fascinating about watching me figure this out?"

"Oh, there's definitely something super fascinating about watching you figure this out, especially since the only way you can get out is a lever on the outside of the cage." Malik started to walk towards him, then crouched to be eye-level with him, since the cage was small and cramped. "I told you they designed it for two people working together, not for two people running it separately." He grinned. "So are we partners, or what?"

Edric groaned. "Fine."

"Cool!" Malik hopped up and pulled down a level, causing the each side of the cage to fall away from Edric. He stood and stretched, then flashed Malik the grin that always preceded Edric doing something obnoxious.

"So you know, Loren pulls the shirtless look off way better."

"Well, Loren also wasn't shot in the arm," Malik said with a sarcastic smile plastered on his face. He felt like his cheeks were red, and hoped it just looked like it was from the exercise.

Edric snickered and continued down the mountain path. "Keep up, partner!"

Malik snorted. "I don't need to keep up. You're going to stay here and wait until I make sure there are no traps ahead before we continue."

"No way, you'll just get caught! I'm going first!" Edric slid under another log, then vaulted over a snapping net.

Malik stared at Edric, an 'are you stupid?' look on his face. "You do realize you're the one who got caught before, right? It wasn't me, it was you?"

"No, but I also wasn't the one who got shot, was I?"

Malik narrowed his eyes. "I only got shot because Serkan was going to fry me if I didn't let go of the rope. I fell on top of the trap."

"He wouldn't have hit you. You're just a wimp."

"I hope you realize the only reason you weren't fried is because I tackled you out of the way. Your confidence in that dragon's restraint confuses me sometimes."

"I would have dodged. Speaking of which--" Edric jumped back as an arrow whizzed passed his front horns.

"You know what? Maybe you would've dodged. I don't know. But it sure looked like you were frozen on the spot. Freezing up is the worst thing you can do when you're looking for traps, which is why I am going to go first."

"Why are you so determined to go first anyway?"

"Because I'm better."

Edric smirked. "I'm taller."

Malik looked at him, his mouth slightly open. "What in the world does that have to do with anything?"

"Nothing, before you got all upset about it, oh mature one" He snickered and put on an extra burst of speed, this time barely missing a trip wire.

Malik jumped, barely missing the trip wire Edric had nearly set off. "Watch where you're going, you clutz! This is why I should've gone first!" Edric responded with a simple middle finger, not even looking back at Malik. "I'm not even that short..." Malik muttered under his breath. "I'm an eleven year old boy. Puberty hasn't exactly hit yet. And when I become taller than you, I'm gonna laugh my ass off as I literally look down on you."

Edric shot him a weird look as if he heard him, and Malik's cheeks turned red. He yelped as he set off a trip wire, barely missing whatever came flying towards him. He didn't stop to see what it was, but whatever it was would've knocked him flat on his back.

Malik cursed under his breath, picked up the speed, and kept running.

~*~*~


How had they not reached the end? It had to have been an hour and forty five minutes at least, Malik reckoned. An hour and forty five minutes, and the finish line still looked so far away! At least he could see it now, though. That had to count as improvement, right?
Ahead of them were sets of tall wooden walls with ropes attached to them, crowded by walls of thorns on either side.

"Well I guess that rules out going around." Edric muttered. Then he grabbed the rope and began climbing. Malik followed, screwing up his face as the Tiefling's tail smacked against his cheek.

"Would you watch it?" Malik snapped up at him. Either Edric didn't hear, or he was pretending not to listen. His tail smacked him again. "Hey!" He reached up and gave it a sharp tug.

"Ouch!" Edric kicked at him, and he dodged in time for it to barely clip by his head. "Watch what you're grabbing, Mal-born!"

"Maybe you should watch where your swinging your tail! I only pulled it to get your attention." He jumped down from the wall, giving Edric a little shunt with his shoulder as he went. "And don't call me Mal-born!"

Edric rammed into Malik as he passed, causing him to stumble. "Mal-born."

Malik shook his head, his hands clenching into fists. The finish line was so close... and Elder Wintercloud would be so pleased with him... But he couldn't stand the smug look on Edric's face, as if he had managed to tame Malik by insulting him. He tried to stay calm. He really did. But he couldn't stand it anymore. He rammed into Edric, using enough force to hear Edric grunt. "Goat boy," Malik muttered.

Edric whirled around and tackled him. Everything seemed to go into slow motion as he was shoved to the ground. He didn't try to get up. He just lay there, confused. Edric had just been making fun of him. Why was he reacting so badly when Malik simply replied in kind? Malik had known Edric didn't like him, but it was beginning to sink in just how much, and Malik felt his mask of confidence shatter for a second as he realized that this wasn't playful banter. This wasn't a mind game. All of Malik's classmates made fun of him, sure, but none of them hated him. That was the reason he joked back. But Edric... Edric really hated him. And somehow, knowing that hurt Malik more than he was expecting.

Then time sped back up again, and he realized Edric's fist was heading towards his face. He realized he wasn't going to get anywhere by babying himself. Some people hated other people, and that was that. So Malik picked up the broken pieces of his shattered mask, put back on his air of confidence, and put his arm up to block him.

"Take it back!" Edric shrieked. He raised his fist and struck again.

Malik shoved Edric off of him and stood up, then looked at Edric, genuinely confused. "I don't get why... what?" He cleared his throat, glancing away awkwardly. Edric was still glaring murderously at him.

"You wouldn't have said it if you didn't know what it meant! Take. it. back!"

Was Malik supposed to know what was so wrong with what he had said? He didn't see why it was so bad. Elder Wintercloud had thrown around the slang all the time, mainly when talking about Tieflings, but he had never told Malik what it meant. Malik had just assumed it was a small insult. "I..." Then Malik frowned. He was at a loss for words. So he did the only thing he knew how to do: he fought back.

Malik scowled and his eyes darkened. "No."

Edric snarled and charged at him again, this time with his claws unsheathed. Malik ducked and kneed Edric in the stomach, causing him to curl over , but he was up again in a second and coming at him. Malik's mind was muddled, and as they continued to fight, he found himself trying to figure out what was so wrong with "goat boy", to no avail. It was like calling him "human boy" or "fiend boy" (he was half of both). He just didn't see what was wrong with it, but he didn't have time to figure it out. Edric was coming in low, swiping upwards to catch him in the jaw. Malik stumbled back, completely distracted by his thoughts. He realized he was being beaten by a person who had years less experience than him, and that made him even more angry than not knowing what he did wrong.

He began to attack with a ferocity, never lightening up on the amount of punches he was reigning down on Edric, who, for his credit, managed to dodge most of them. Edric charged again, driving his shoulder hard into his gut and forcing him back. He moved with him, using the energy to move behind him and lock his arm around Edric's throat. "That was a stupid move."

Edric's only reply was to turn his head and sink his teeth into Malik's forearm. Malik yelled, tightening the hold on Edric's neck, waiting for the lack of oxygen to finally loosen Edric's grip on his arm. His arm was throbbing, both from where Edric's teeth were and from where he had been shot earlier. He tried to ignore it. He squeezed harder, hoping Edric's jaw would loosen, but Edric only clamped his mouth down more. Finally, Malik couldn't hold it any longer, his grip loosening. He was feeling a little dizzy from the loss of blood. He could see Loren pulling Edric away, who began to cough immediately.

"You bit me. You actually bit me...What is wrong with you?" Malik murmured, sinking to the ground, his vision slightly out of focus. He could feel the blood running down his arm. He swayed back and forth a little on the ground, and vaguely noticed that his shirt, tied around the wound from earlier, was almost completely soaked through with blood.

Edric spat blood on the ground. "Maybe that'll teach you not to fling around slurs."

"Maybe I wouldn't call you goat boy if you didn't act like an animal," Malik hissed.

"That's enough!" Loren snapped. "All you needed to do was work together for a couple more minutes and you end up like this!" He shook his head. "I'm hauling both of you back to your mentors, You're going to get that bite seen to," Loren nodded at the mark Edric had left, "and the pair of you are going to explain to them why you couldn't manage to complete one basic exercise."

Then, Loren glanced at Malik, now laying back on the ground, his breaths coming out shallow and quick. He frowned, and walked over. Loren's voice sounded faded to Malik, as if he were talking through a wall of water, so it took Malik a few seconds to register he had stopped talking. It took him several more seconds to realize Loren was now crouched over him, and he only then realized that he was laying down. How did that happen? He didn't remember laying down.

Malik felt like he couldn't breathe. Or rather, he felt like he could breathe, but none of the oxygen was actually going to his lungs. He couldn't feel his arm anymore, and he knew he should probably be concerned, but for now he was just soaking in the niceness of being pain-free. Wow. He had never truly appreciated the moments when he wasn't in pain. It felt great. He kind of wanted to stay like this forever. Just not move and lay on the ground. The ground was freezing, but the sun was out from behind the clouds, so it would be okay. Just to be not in pain. Yeah. That would definitely be okay. He wouldn't fight it. He would just close his eyes and...

"Hey!" He felt someone hit his face. He opened his eyes to see Loren still over him. "Ouch..." he muttered. His eyes felt really heavy. He could just...

He felt another hit. "Stop it!" Loren scolded. "Don't you know the number one rule of not dying is to not close your eyes? Now hold still while I disinfect your arm." Malik glanced down at his arm at his side.

"He's not gonna die." He heard Edric mutter, and somehow, even though he couldn't see Edric, he felt like Edric was rolling his eyes. "I didn't bite him that hard."

"You shouldn't have bitten him at all." Loren sounded exasperated, and Malik felt a small smile tug at the edge of his lips.

"I wouldn't have bitten him if he hadn't been choking me."

"Alright, you know what? I'm not going to deal with this. Just save the 'he said she said' for the elders and let me take care of this." Edric started to protest again and Loren cut him off. "That means be quiet." Malik smiled and lowered his head back to the ground.

"Yeah, Edric. Shut up," he mumbled playfully under his breath. Loren turned back to look at him.

"Don't you start," Loren snapped. "You should've known better than to pull the bolt out of your arm anyway. It's that that's probably affecting you right now, more than the bite."

Malik just grinned, trying not to close his eyes from dizziness. "I never thought I would be bitten by another kid." He turned to look at Edric and wiggled his eyebrows. "Feel free to hit me up if you ever feel like biting someone again. It was such an enjoyable experience." His voice dripped with sarcasm, but he had a big smile on his face, as if he was trying not to laugh.

Edric flicked his tail and folded his arms, clearly trying to stay mad. "You think I enjoyed having your sweaty arm in my mouth? You taste like coins and old socks."

"How do you know what old socks taste like?"

"You don't want to know."

"Cut it out," Loren hissed as he pulled a small, rolled up piece of leather from his belt. "Before I make you do so." He rolled out the strip of leather to reveal what appeared to be a healing kit--needles, bandages, thread, a small glass bottle of dark amber liquid and a small but sharp blade. He glanced towards Edric and scowled. "Play nice."

Malik tried to hold still as Loren cleaned and treated his wounds. It hurt like a mother, but Malik knew that meant it was working. He grit his teeth and bore it until Loren finished, then took the older boy's hand and let him help him stand. He studied Edric as Loren flew them back. A small grin made its way onto his face before he could help it. Edric noticed, and sneered at him. Malik quickly glanced away again, his smile falling away. He tried to convince himself that he had been smiling because of the conversation that awaited them. He couldn't wait to see how Elder Wintercloud would let Edric have it when he saw the bite mark. That would be sure to wipe the stupid smug look off his face for a long time. Malik tried to convince himself that was the only reason he smiled. He tried to convince himself the whole ride back. He tried to convince himself he hated Edric, and he would be happy if the Elders sent him away and Malik never saw him again. Malik tried with all his might.

He failed.
  





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Tue May 19, 2020 7:46 pm
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Europa says...



Edana Elchar Edric Arnon

Edana took a breath to collect herself as they landed in the clearing. Her cheek still stung a little where Malik had managed to hit her, and she could feel the blood running down from her nose. She swiped at it and watched the Elder's figures growing closer. She tried not to think about dealing with Wintercloud and his piercing glare. Once Blade knew everything that had just happened, she'd be fine. She tried to keep that in her mind as Loren lead them over, keep her fluttering nerves out of her expression.

"Elders," Loren stepped to the front of their group as the two Elders turned around.

"So, I'm assuming you ended up catching them." Wintercloud swept a glance over them and hovered on Edana's bloody nose. She saw him smirk, but he hid it quickly. She shot him a thin, dry smile in return.

Loren gave her shoulder a covert shove. "They caught each other."

Blade frowned and studied the two. "How is it possible for them to catch each other when they are supposed to be working together?" With that, he gave Edana a meaningful glower. She grit her teeth, keeping her expression neutral.

He paused to glare back at the two trainees. "Would one of you like to explain?"

Malik glanced at Loren, then held out his arm. "Edric bit me,"

Edana almost punched him again. "Trust you to twist the situation!"

Malik opened his mouth to reply, his eyes flaming with anger, but Wintercloud silenced him with a wave of a hand. He was staring at her. Maybe she was being paranoid, but Edana could have sworn there was a hint of triumph in his appalled glower. "Twist what? The fact that, instead of doing as you were told and working with Malik, you decided not only to lay hands on him, judging by the marks on his face--"

"He laid hands on me!"

Wintercloud plowed on as if she'd never spoke. "--but to bite him?" He sniffed. "I suppose it was inevitable you'd give in to natural instincts with such..." Wintercloud gave Blade a sideways sneer, "unorthodox training, but I'll admit this level of aggression is a shock."

Blade gave him a long look. "How insightful of you, Riaz. But I highly doubt my disciple would attack another student without being provoked. And judging from Edric's own condition, this was far from a one-sided conflict. But I suppose I can't blame your student, after all, this is all a matter of training, isn't it?" He turned away from Wintercloud's glower, facing Edana. "Edric, explain yourself."

Edana swallowed as she caught sight of Blade's stern expression. Last time she'd gotten in trouble with him, she'd had to take over for Kieth in the night guard in addition to her normal training, but this was a different matter altogether. She took a breath. "He called me a goat."

Blade raised his eyebrows, then turned to Loren. "How was Edric's form?"

Loren straightened a little at the unexpected attention. "Elder?"

"His form, how was it? Edric often doesn't put enough weight into his swings."

Loren's eyes darted around briefly as if one of the trees would give him an answer. "Uh, improved, from what I could tell."

Blade nodded slowly. "Then I have no other complaints. Malik made the mistake of insulting Edric's lineage, an inexcusable act of dishonor," He glared at Malik. Edana saw him a confused frown cross his face almost imperceptively, before straightening again and locking eyes defiantly. "And he got his comeuppance."

"No other complaints?" Wintercloud blustered. "Do you not realize your disciple bit another pupil?"

Blade pretended to look thoughtful. "Well, I've never had a student that utilized their fangs in combat--which I should point out is not a matter of "instinct"--but seeing as it seemed to be effective, I'll allow it." He turned towards the path to the East gate. "Come, Edric."

Edana grinned and followed. All the times before, when Blade had taken to her defense, Wintercloud had let them go with a glare or a barbed comment. This time though, The Elder surged forward and yanked Blade back around by his shoulder.

"You talk of dishonor, but you'll allow your own disciple to harm another student of the Conclave?"


"And you don't?" Blade's expression darkened. "If you didn't want my students to lash out at yours, perhaps you should teach them to have more respect for other races. It's a lesson you would do well to learn for yourself."

Wintercloud didn't waver under his glower. "You would do well to remember your standing among the Elders. I have been tolerant of your adherence to that dead faith of yours for far too long, Blade. Without fail, your lax training has turned out warriors who are reckless and defiant, hardly deserving of the title of Rider, and this time you've gone too far."
Edana imagined what it would feel like to lay out all the facts in front of Wintercloud's opinions. Okay, first of all, Blade's disciples have a reputation for being some of the best riders and you know it... The look on his face as she went on would have been priceless, but she knew Blade better than to interfere without being asked. She clenched her fists and listened as Wintercloud continued, slow and quiet.

"Either you give out a punishment, or the boy's training is over."

"Ah, yes. His training. The privilege he earned by passing the trials with flying colors, despite your best efforts."

Blade's glare deepened, perfectly still except for a slight twitch of his tail tip, his stance squared and poised to attack. Wintercloud lay a hand on his sword. They faced off like that for a moment, the forest completely still as they stared each other down. Edana held her breath, preparing for the first strike, when Blade returned to a neutral stance and he smiled, cold and devilish like a predator who's smelled blood. "Fine, Riaz. You win."

Wintercloud hardly had time to smirk before Blade continued. "I see nothing wrong with the fight itself, bt both of you were specifically instructed to work together, and you clearly failed miserably." He looked between the two young trainees. "So until further notice, you'll spend every minute in each other's company. You'll do everything except sleep together. This includes chores and training. And to make sure there's no sneaking off, Loren will be with you everywhere there isn't an instructor to supervise, and until you two can defeat him you won't be allowed away from each other's sides. Malik, your extra training with the older recruits will be suspended."

"What?" Malik glared at Edana as if this was somehow her fault.

Blade waved off his indignant cry. "I wouldn't want to put my own disciple in danger. Of course, if Riaz believes otherwise, he can always take it to the rest of the council." He shot another cold grin at Wintercloud, who was positively vibrating with rage.

"You're not my Master, Elder Wintercloud is! You have no right to determine who I am allowed to train with, or what punishment I get," Malik shot back, his cheeks heated.

Blade raised an eyebrow. "I assumed it was more of a punishment for Edric than it would be for you." Malik tried to say something back, but faltered, suddenly falling quiet. Blade turned smugly back to Wintercloud "I do hope you find that satisfactory, Elder."

Wintercloud glared at Blade. "I will not stop Malik from training with older students because he said something your pupil found offensive, but since the fight obviously took place between the both of them, I will not let it go unnoticed." Wintercloud turned to look at Malik coldly. "You will be allowed to train with no one other than Edric and Loren until you manage to leave behind this childish behavior that you seem to have developed. Step forward to receive your punishment, and you know the rules. Delaying will only make it harsher." Malik's face seemed to pale a little, but he approached Wintercloud anyway.

"You know what to say," Wintercloud said, gazing sternly at Malik.

Malik took in a shaky breath, before whispering, "Pain is temporary. Glory is eternal." Wintercloud went behind Malik and kicked him, causing him to fall to his knees. Edana watched on, half in interest and half in horror at what she was witnessing. This was how Malik was trained? No wonder he was so messed up. And he had only been with them for three years. She shuddered to think what he might turn out to be in five or ten years if he continued to be under Wintercloud's control.

Wintercloud's look of disapproval for Malik was strong as Malik stayed on his knees. Edana wondered why Malik didn't move but realized this probably wasn't the first time this had happened, so he must've known to stay still. "Louder, Malik. Let the whole world know what you stand for."

Malik raised his voice without looking away from the ground he was staring at. "Pain is temporary. Glory is eternal." Wintercloud rounded Malik again before slapping him.

"At the top of your lungs, boy! If people cannot hear you half a mile away you are doing something wrong[i/]!"

"Pain is temporary, glory is eternal!" Malik shouted, his voice raw. It echoed through the valley before fading out. Wintercloud grabbed Malik's hurt arm, yanking him to his feet. He squeezed tightly on the wound, and Malik barely suppressed a yelp as blood started to seep through the bandages on his arm. It was very likely that the stitches Loren has so carefully put in had broken.

"And don't you ever forget it, boy," Wintercloud snarled, before letting go of his arm. Malik grit his teeth, and Edana could see he was in a lot of pain and was trying to hold it all in. She glanced at Blade, who was watching with an unreadable expression, then at Loren, who had barely concealed alarm etched across his face.

Edana shook her head, muttering under her breath. "Bastard."

"Excuse me?" Wintercloud turned to her. "Is there something you'd like to let us all know?"

Any other day, his glare would set her on a knife's edge, but after what she'd seen she refused to acknowledge the fear. Edana held his gaze and spoke louder. "Bastard. You're a bastard. An absolute piece of dragon dung."

Malik turned to glance at her as if surprised she was defending him. He shook his head quickly, a small movement that was barely noticeable. "Don't," he seemed to be saying. "Please don't. It'll only make it worse." She made a face at him.

"Well, Edric. This certainly is interesting," Wintercloud mused, anger blazing across his face. "If only you'd shown this loyalty towards your teammate during the training, you might've saved him from being hurt in the first place." Wintercloud reached out and gripped Malik's arm. Malik winced, a small noise escaping his throat.

"Master, please," Malik whispered, his eyes squeezed shut.

"Enemies will show you no mercy. I will not weaken you by giving you something so childish as 'mercy'," Wintercloud replied evenly, before returning his attention to Edana. "You are against my methods, but do not know the reasoning behind them. If he has a wound I can use to hurt him," he demonstrated his words with another squeeze, resulting in a grunt from Malik, "then he did something wrong. If he did everything he should have, he wouldn't have gotten the wound in the first place. I am simply reminding him of his mistakes."

"Sounds to me like you're doing a really bad job putting lipstick on a pig." Edana rolled her eyes. "All due respect, of course. Are we done here? I'm missing out on my napping window."

"He's torn the stitches," Loren muttered, almost to himself and it took Edana a moment to realize that he was probably talking to his dragon if the growling from Serkan was any indication.

"See?" She gestured to him. "You went and undid all Loren's hard work, too." Edana stopped as she felt Blade's hand on her shoulder and heard him say too quietly for anyone else to hear, "Remember what I said about choosing your battles, young one. You don't want to give him any more reason to watch you, or harm Malik. I know I've taught you better than that."

Edana glanced at Malik, who looked away, his cheeks hot. He almost looked embarrassed, as if it were his fault that pain existed. She turned back towards the mountain path. "Come on, Malik. If we hang around here we're gonna miss breakfast."

Malik's mouth fell open a little at the obvious invitation. He glanced at Wintercloud, who let go of his arm, then hurried after her.

"How is your arm?" Edana asked, still looking ahead. When he didn't respond, she turned to glance at him. He was biting his lip but stopped when he noticed her looking.

"It's fine," he said in a small voice. "Why--" his voice cracked. He cleared his throat, then said aggressively, "Why do you care?"

It was obvious that his arm was [i]not
fine, and even more obvious that he wasn't actually angry. "Aw, that's cute, you pretending to be mad. It's like being attacked by a baby hedgehog. Anyway, you should hurry and get those stitches fixed, I'm too hungry to wait around long in the infirmary."

Malik glared at her. "I am not pretending, and I'm not a baby. I'm assuming you don't need me to tell you that I'm not a hedgehog either," he snapped back sarcastically. "And I already told you. My arm is fine. This isn't the first time it's happened, so I'm used to it. It's just the first time he's done it in front of people who aren't his pupils." Malik looked uncomfortable saying that as if it were some holy ritual that outsiders weren't supposed to witness-- or some terrible sin that outsiders weren't supposed to know about.

"It's not fine," Loren said from behind them and took Malik's arm in hand, studying the blood-soaked bandage. Malik hissed involuntarily. "Let me redo the stitches, please."

Malik looked at him doubtfully. "I don't know..." He bit his lip again. "Master Wintercloud usually just gets angrier if he thinks I was weak and couldn't handle the pain..." He glanced backward at Wintercloud, who was busy talking to Blade.

"It's not about pain, Malik. It's about bleeding out and I'd rather you not bleed out, since I'm supposed to be protecting you now, and it'd be my ass on the line." Loren looked exasperated.

Malik shook his head, then lowered his voice so the two Elders couldn't hear them. "You don't understand. By tomorrow, he'll practically have forgotten it. I can get it stitched up then."

Loren glared at him and also lowered his voice. "No. I'll stitch it when we get back, considering you don't want your master to see me do it."

Malik opened his mouth as if to object, but Edana cut in. "You don't have a choice, idiot. If it comes to it, I will physically hold you down as he does it."

He frowned angrily at her. "You couldn't hold me down. I'm stronger than you."

Edana rolled her eyes. The notion was absurd. "No, you're not."

"Yes, I am!"

"Malik. Sweet boy. One of the first things I learned from Blade was to assess and accept my own weaknesses. I know for a fact that even though you've clearly got me in the field of experience, I'm still larger and heavier than you, and you're weakened from blood loss. I would pay to see you try and fight me off right now."

Loren cleared his throat. "Unfortunately, he's right. You're in no condition to fight him right now."

Malik squinted his eyes at Loren. "I could take him..." He mumbled.

Loren chuckled. "I'm sure you could, but not today."

Malik nodded at Loren, a large grin on his face. "I am glad you acknowledge my superiority."

"That is not at all what I--"

"It's okay. We both know what you really meant. You just can't say it because Edric is here. I get it." He exaggerated a wink paired with another nod.

Edana didn't bother keeping back a chuckle. The lengths Malik was willing to go to cover up his pain was almost impressive. "If you're going to deflect like that, maybe try not to make it so obvious"

Malik scoffed. "I am not deflecting. I'm just not in pain."

Edana raised her eyebrows. "Really? You're not in pain?" She lightly bumped into his arm, and he yelped, and even though he immediately attempted to cover it up with coughing, it was obvious the yelp had been out of real pain. "Then what was that?"

Malik angled his arm away from her and said nothing, fuming. "Get your arm fixed, Malik. It's stupid to just leave it, especially when that means I'll have to wait up on you while you heal."

"You don't have to wait up on me," Malik said angrily. "You obviously don't care, and I don't need you there, so when we get there, just go to breakfast. Don't bother."

Edana sighed. Not the reaction she had aimed for, but it would probably do more harm than good to contradict him now. "We're supposed to stay together, remember? If you're out of action, that means I am too."

"They won't care for today," Malik argued.

"You won't make it through the day if you don't get that wound fixed." She gave him a sharp look. Remembering what Blade had said to her when she'd tried this same act. "You think acting all tough when you obviously need help is impressive? You think I respect that? You're just being stupid. If you need help, just say it. There's no shame in that."

Malik flinched but didn't say anything. He looked away from her and sped up walking. Good, she thought. Maybe I knocked some sense into him.

Loren yelled after him, "Malik, you cannot ride Stella on your own right now! What if you pass out and fall?"

Edana glanced at Malik again. He was obviously trying to hide how worn out he was, but he was paler than normal and his face was strained with the pain of moving. She shook her head. "I need a ride back anyway."

Malik spun so fast on his heels it made Edana dizzy. "Oh, no. No, you are not riding Stella! Get a ride back with Loren! You didn't want to ride with me earlier, anyway." Was that... bitterness?

Edana made a show of rolling her eyes, filing the reaction away. If she tried to pick apart every weird signal he threw at her at once, she'd end up crazier than Wintercloud. "Fine, fall to your death if you want. There's no way the blood loss wouldn't get you before we got back to base." She turned and headed towards Loren, careful to put that extra swing in her step she knew he hated.

"You walk like a girl," Malik sneered.

Edana shot him a smirk over her shoulder, giving her tail a flick. "and you're watching my ass, so who's really the weird one here?"

"I'm not going to go through another argument with you. I already feel sick as it is." He turned around and began to walk towards Stella again. Edana watched Stella lift her head, narrowing her eyes playfully. It was obvious what the teasing going on between them was about. Malik could hide his emotions, but there was nothing he could do about the furious blush spreading over his face. He glared at Stella, supposedly arguing back, and the dragon snorted. When Malik wasn't looking, she turned, fixing an icy cold stare on Edana, eyes full of carefully-checked rage. It felt like a warning. Which meant it was also a challenge. She gave her a quick wink before climbing on Serkan's back.

Loren scowled at her. "You're antagonizing his dragon now, too?"

Edana shrugged. "I have a reputation to uphold."

Loren gave her a serious look. "What are you trying to prove here? Who are you trying to defy? Antagonizing a dragon who's done nothing to you just because you don't like their rider isn't smart. Dragons and riders work together. A dragon isn't going to agree to hurt someone if they don't think it's a good idea, but if you go around making enemies, they'll have no problem torching you."

"What am I trying to prove?" The question rattled around in Edana's ribcage as they lifted off. She stared over the horizon. Somewhere beyond these mountains, Arik and Rasmus would be starting their day, trying to ignore the fact it was only the two of them now. Loren looked back at her. For a second, she felt the cold pressure of the Council's elders, looking on with him. "Prove, huh?" Loren's gaze sharpened. She could feel his eyes trying to cut under her skin. She shook her head, forcing a chuckle. "What a lofty concept. I bet you feel noble, don't you?" She looked back at him, throwing a careless grin on her face. "I don't have anything to prove, Loren, that would mean I had something to lose."

Loren's gaze softened. "Edric..."

Edana leaned back. "Eh, forget it. Let's just hurry up and get back. I'm starving."

Loren shook his head a little and looked ahead again. Beside them, Malik was rocking slightly with the rhythm of Stella's body. She smirked a little. that's how you deflect, Mal-born. She almost said it, but Loren was sitting too close not to overhear. Instead, she leaned against Loren's back. "If I fall I'm coming back from the grave to haunt you."

"Don't worry," she could almost hear the eye roll in Loren's voice. "At least one of us gets some rest."

Edana closed her eyes, letting the rush of the wind lull her into an uneasy sleep.
  








Someday, everything is going to go right for you, and it will be so wonderful you won't even know what to do.
— Hannelore Ellicott-Chatham, Questionable Content