I just had the most incredible dream. Lemme see if I can get it down before I forget. Tonight's LHAD chapter will be posted late, because I have a gazillion things to do, but at least i can give you this.
They were exhausted. So much the better. "Rest," Auron commanded. "I'll scout ahead. Don't follow."
One by one they dropped to the floor of the tunnel, grateful for the reprieve. Auron gave Kimahri a sharp look. The Ronso's eyes narrowed, but he gave a grudging nod.
Wearily, Auron picked himself up and started down the left-hand tunnel. Great cracks in the walls and broken rubble on the floor told him it was the right place. He slowed, wary, as he came to a place where the left-hand wall had broken away altogether. Frigid wind blew through jagged gaps in the rock. Silvered moonlight shone in as well, making the stone surfaces gleam like teeth. Auron moved from shadow to shadow, using the rubble for cover.
There. Three wide black archways spanned floor to ceiling, with hewn square columns between them, on the wall facing the open sky. Were the gates still there?
Yes. Stone. Metal. Ice, maintained by a magic he could not fathom.The fangs of the heavy portcullises were sunk into the floor. Something massive scraped restlessly on the other side. He sidestepped into the lee of a broken pillar, just as a rush of flame leapt out through the stone grating of the nearest arch. His coat flapped and smoked in the hot wind. As the fiery gust faded, he took a quick look, then ducked back as another blast answered him.
Wonderful. No chance of sneaking up on it, then. Not that he thought there would be.
He pondered how to reach the ancient rune glowing dully on the wall just past the triple gate. It would be suicide to reach it. It would be suicide to activate it, to release the monster trapped on the other side. He knew that all too well, haunted by the memory of a friend's charred hand slapping down on the rune.He knew something of suicide, though. He lived it. After a fashion.
Trusting Kimahri would keep the others safe, he launched himself into the open, rolled under the first volley of fire and came up with his sword braced to parry the second. Flames licked at his shoulders, and again his coat was smoldering. He threw himself down again to snuff it before it could burst into flame, then flung himself flat against the square column between the second and third gate. One more opening to cross before he reached the rune.
And then what? Was he really going to release this fiend on the world again? Could he stop it?
As he pondered his next move, a grating, rumbling sound set his teeth on edge. What was the beast doing? It sounded like it was right on top of him.
On both sides of him. Were there two of them?
The grating sound was too regular, a ratcheting clack-clack-clack like the links of heavy chains sliding across stone.
The heavy gates were rising on their own.
A trap. He did not know how the beast had sprung its fetters, but this was a trap. He turned, just as a huge head emerged from the central archway. Armored hide was the color of his coat in shadow. Ember eyes gleamed. It turned like an adder to look at him. Recognition was there in that malevolent gaze, and triumph, if he was not imagining it.
He flung himself into action, charging into the side of the dragon's head, the only way to avoid its breath. It reared up, as he expected it would, not quite high enough to escape his tall blade with the archway hemming it in. The battle was on, strikes and fire and searing heat. He should have lost the coat before he came.
The blade could parry, but not slice the iron hide. Time for a trick he had learned since his youth. Focusing his own fury into armor break, he swung at the treetrunk neck whipping towards him. Sparks flew from the black sword.
It was the sword that snapped. A third of the blade flipped end over end in a deadly windmill he barely dodged. He did not have an eye to spare.
The beast had screamed and jerked away, but he had not hewn through its spine. Damn the creature. Before he could regroup, another blast caught him. Shutting his eye, he dropped, tried to roll before the fire took hold, fetched up behind a block he knew provided scant protection.
Sir Auron! The cries cut through the agony, focused his mind. Don't you dare, you idiots, he thought, missing the irony.
RUN! That was Kimahri. He would keep them back. He never broke promises the way Auron did, even promises the Ronso had never made.
The beast was on the move. He heard its heavy tread, its ragged breathing as it began to emerge from its cell.
From nowhere in particular, a curtain of water splashed down on him, extinguishing the flames, followed by a curious crunch and a sting on one shoulder that might as well have been a gnat's, compared to the damage he had taken already. A glass phial shattering. The Hi-Potion felt like salvation, or at least life. Both were lies, but he staggered up as the wyrm's body slid past him, luckily on the outside of the natural parapet. Seizing the hilt of his sundered weapon, he ran to the shadowed alcove where the mage was hiding, inside the lip of the first archway.
"This is not your fight."
"Nor is it yours, Guardian," she hissed.
The wyrm slowed, stopped, and began to reverse along the passageway, its back legs rucked up and waddling like a crocodile's beside their hiding place.
"Any ideas?" Lulu said. "I don't suppose you came here with any sort of a plan."
He winced, but nodded to the flat shard of sword lying on the stony floor. "Not much of one, no. Weak to ice."
"Well, that's something, at least," she said, taking a long breath. "Shall we?"
He stepped from their hiding place first, shifting his grip to allow for the sword's lighter weight, driving its broken edge straight into the flank before him to test its sharpness. The monster jerked, roared. Ice shards rained down as he stepped back, swung the blade down and around in a glancing blow that was the best opening he could give her. It was a variant of armor break he had learned on this journey, and it seemed to do the trick. The beast roared again as the ice struck.
They might even survive this folly.
Still an optimist, Auron, he thought sourly, as the beast's thrashing swept him off his feet. He skidded, fighting to keep upright. The beast's writhing had it hanging halfway out onto the mountainside through the broken wall, which was good, with room for its neck to bend back in a U towards them, which was not. Lulu froze as the great head turned to inspect her.
Auron began to creep forward, holding his breath. He wanted to bellow and catch its attention, but this brief pause might be their only chance. Seize the moment.
She did not budge a muscle, as rigid as the straps and bindings holding her in. The smoking nostrils swung towards her, snuffing. The wyrm's yellow eyes gleamed. Lulu's bare skin above her collarline reddened enough that Auron winced, but still she did not flinch. If he could just strike the spot where her spell had made a weak point—
The wyrm snarled, head whipping towards him. He struck down, broken blade biting deep. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Lulu's hand flash in the moonlight, slamming down a spear of ice into one of the creature's eyes at point blank range. She was nearly crushed as the dragon screamed and writhed.
There was another of those flurried seconds of blood and blows and fire, Auron raining hammer-blows on the entry point in its hide, Lulu flailing now, some of her spells grazing him as she tried to support his onslaught. The beast jerked and thrashed, front claws coming into play as it tried to bend double and engulf them in fire.
Somehow, in Lulu's nimble-footed dance that always kept her scant inches from being crushed, she ended up on the outside of the tunnel, teetering on the edge when the mountainside broke away.
"Lulu!" Diving through a curtain of flame, he charged under the beast's head as it bent round to bite or burn him. It twisted awkwardly, trying to follow him.
He saw his chance. One of the dragon's eyes was a dark bleeding socket, the other glowing with fury. Into the second he drove the sword nearly to the hilt.
It howled, shuddered, reared. The jaws opened wide. Firebreath at close range was not survivable.
Knowing he might well be sealing her death warrant, Auron seized Lulu's waist as he threw himself backwards, down and out onto the mountainside.
There was no side. This was an almost sheer cliff, and they were tumbling.
Scant comfort that the dragon, whether in its death-throes or trying to follow their scent, had rolled over the edge as well, thrashing like a severed earthworm. At least it was probably not going to land on top of them.
Auron's boots thudded heavily against the slope. He gritted his teeth at the jarring pain in his ankles. They were still tumbling head over heels. Any minute a foot or head might be broken on the rock face blurring past them. If he could just time their spin so he wound up beneath her when they hit the ground, the mage might survive this. He was vaguely aware of her struggling, fumbling with her hair— now, of all times? With her braids whipping around them like a cometary tail? and then a rocky shelf was coming up fast and fatally beneath them, and Auron tried with every last ounce of will to twist himself under her.
Something that glittered flashed past his face. There was a faint crunch. Then his heels and hips and shoulders and the back of his skull struck hard enough to crack. Dimly, very dimly, he was aware of the strange sensation of dying and benison, life and agony, a curious binary thunderclap of sensations that his brain could not make sense of. For a split second he gave himself over to the pyreflies, but a Guardian had a job to do, and he had failed another guardian very badly.
Lulu stirred weakly. Knitting bone and healing magic sorted itself out, leaving him unspeakably sore with a headache and the wind knocked out of him, but no more dead than usual.
She had dropped one of their precious megalixirs just before they hit.
They were still alive. Wonderful. That meant they'd have to walk back up the damned mountain.
"Satisfied?" she said, sitting up stiffly and pulling an ordinary potion from the unraveling bun of her hair. Noticing a few broken ones lying on the ground, he scooped up a handful and sprinkled them over himself, feeling slightly more human.
"Let's just get back to the others," he said. "Thanks."
"Don't you ever dare do that again," she snapped. "Yuna needs me, as well as Sir Auron."
He inclined his head in mute apology, but made no promise. Promises, like swords, could be broken.
They began to search for a path.
Note: pretty much all of this is a transcription of the dream as best I can remember it, except that the ice gate was ivory (gates of horn and ivory, a garbled image from Greek mythology), and I tweaked some of the fight choreography, and the dream actually ended with Lulu saying "Let's get back to the others," instead of "Satisfied..." etc. I was in Auron's headspace during the dream.
Come to think of it, the arched gates and wingless wyrm-type dragon are probably borrowed from Nargothrond in the Silmarillion. I also blame Tolkien for my subconscious fixation with swords that are broken.