[Warning: This chapter does reach the PG-15 area for more than one scene. Please be advised.]
Chapter Fourteen: Exposure
"There are three ways that the Civil War can end: Restoration, Independence, or Revolution. None of which result in the continuation of the monarchy. "
--Historian Frederick Floatzel on the state of the Kingdom approximately three days before he was found murdered in his Silver City apartment.
Ian felt wonderful. Sunlight caressed his long withdrawn skin, green pigment slowly returning to his body. He walked underneath the cool shade of the drooping branches of the willow trees, not a single care pressing his mind. This place was their favorite place to relax, the river near Mt. Thunder where they had first met so long ago. His feet pressed into the soft soil, savoring the earthy texture as he walked along the riverbank.
He held his hand in hers, thankful to Arceus for granting him the ability to stretch his arms so she didn’t have to reach. Sunlight glinted off the rapidly flowing river, adding a surreal sense of beauty to the already picturesque mountain scene. Sophie always said how she missed this place. How they --the members of Team Frontier-- used to relax and simply waste their days away along the shore. They wished their Machoke leader could be there with them, enjoying their old haunt, yet they were somehow strangely content at his absence. Yet they knew they should be grieving. Regardless, Ian knew that bringing her back here was the only way he could ever possibly make it up to her for the hell he had forced her to live through.
A sudden blinding pain shot through his chest. For a moment, it felt like he was on fire; it seared his nerves that badly. However, the sensation went away without a trace not a second later.
He returned his focus to the love of his life. The Mawile was breathing in deeply the fresh mountain air as she walked alongside him. He thought back to their adventures in the darkness. Their escape plan had worked to perfection: the back entrance was completely unguarded and the boat unattended. There was little that stood between them and freedom.
They didn’t know what compelled them to come here of all places, and Ian couldn’t rightly remember how they got there. But they were there, they were free, and they had each other. As far as Ian thought, everything was right in the world in his book. Birds chirped merrily on the new budding branches as the air was perfumed with the generous scents of springtime. Ian loved everything about this place, and he could easily see Sophie did as well by the way she was gently humming and how she twirled herself underneath his arm.
Ian smiled as he decided to play along. He moved his body away from her and arched his arm. Sophie giggled softly as she continued to dance, this time with an actual partner. The two Pokémon began to circle each other in the middle of the mountain path, both pairs of eyes never leaving the other.
In a silent rhythm that existed only between the two of them, they stepped forward, and touched their hands. Ian gave the Mawile a sudden twirl, narrowly missing her elongated ear as it swung behind her. Sophie’s yellow frills fluttered as she did a small leap into the air before lightly touching down and stepping close to the Breloom.
Out of the blue, it seemed as if the Black Dragon had summoned a lightning bolt down upon him. Ian’s world went out of focus for what seemed several seconds, yet the pain did not resonate within him. When he returned to normal, he saw Sophie looking somewhat dazed and guessed that she must have felt it too.
Ian laughed and gave a small shrug. Taking her hand again, he bent down a gave it a quick kiss before straightening up and continuing with their intricate waltz. Their steps were perfectly in synch, it was as if they had trained all their lives for this one instance. When he moved forward, she leaped back with the grace of a Kirlia on the lavish stage of the Silver City Theater House. His black eyes were lost in her deep red ones as the world spun around them, fading in a whirlwind of flying, pink spring flower buds and verdant green leaves.
He grabbed ahold of both her hands with his and pulled her close to him, while he knelt down to her height level. They didn’t need to say anything as everything that could, should, and would have been said had seemingly been answered in their minds. Despite being with her this entire time since their escape from that wretched relic, he felt like he hadn’t seen her in what felt like a lifetime.
She pressed her head against his neck, wrapped her arms around his chest, and leaned into his body. After a moment of this silent embrace, Ian felt a sudden dampness against his neck. He tilted his head to look down at her and gently nudged her head up with his claw. Sophie’s eyes, shining beautiful crimson jewels, were soaked through with a thin veil of tears.
“I thought I lost you...” she managed to choke out in between her light sobs. Ian rubbed his claws gently along her back under her ear-like jaw in comfort. He would never forgive those heartless fiends that had ensnared her in that horrendous maze. That had forced her to witness the brutal death of Chuck and his own descent into near insanity. The unguarded exit had been a blessing from Celebi in its purest form and they had not wasted their chance. Ian gently brushed aside her thin, black ears as she tucked her head against his neck once again.
“Don’t worry, Sophie. I’m here now. Nothing will change that. I promise you,” Ian whispered as the world grew still around them. The perfect scene seemed to hang forever in the air for Ian, the river, the mountains, the sun, the trees, the smell, Sophie. He never wanted it to end. And, no one, not even Arceus Himself would keep him from being with her.
And then, it felt as if a spear was run through his stomach. He felt the invisible blow immediately upon impact. He was torn away from Sophie as his body was thrust backwards and shoved into the ground. In a daze, he looked up at the Mawile. She was currently struggling against some other unseen attacker in the form of a whirlwind. The very leaves and symbols of spring held her away from him. Just far enough so she could only watch helplessly.
Something like a bolt of lightning surged through his body, frying his nerves, and causing him to convulse erratically on the ground. Through his glazed eyes, he saw the valley around them swim and begin to seemingly implode upon itself. The vibrant slopes of lush, green trees shifted to an unmoving wall of rusted iron. The fresh, clear river engulfed him in a ocean of revolting sludge. As he struggled to breathe under the weight of the filth, he could still see Sophie clear as day, yelling for him at the top her lungs.
He struggled to reach through the crushing wave of the sewage to her, but the pressure held his arms down against the newly created stone floor that slammed into his back. The vague shapes of mountains wobbled in reality before flickering out of existence like a candle in the wind. Ugly ceilings and walls of stone and iron slowly engulfed the pristine blue skies. Fluffy white clouds were swiftly poisoned by the foul, damp air.
“Ian! You’re alive! Oh, thank the Maker, you’re alive!” a jarring, static-filled voice screamed from somewhere far above him. Ian paid it no heed as he threw several erratic punches into the sludge, breaking its hold on his body.
“Sophie? Sophie!” he screamed while simultaneously gasping for precious lungfuls of air. Sludge dripped from the brow of his wilting seed cap. He looked around the tunnel, unable to see any of the vivid landscape that had presented itself to the both of them earlier. Then, he saw her. Sophie was standing on a small island of perfectly green grass in the middle of the toxic lake. Her red eyes were staring at him, pleading that he come back to her.
“Ian! D-don’t go! Not again!” she cried, tears freely dripping down her face.
He lunged forward through the liquid only to collapse with an agonized shriek as the already fractured bone in his right leg snapped in half. He fell into the shallow sludge, clutching his critically injured leg as bacterium-riddled slop seeped into the wound. Ian clawed at the smooth stone shore as he desperately tried to extract himself from the pool of waste chemicals.
“Here, grab my wing! That’s it, come on!” the static voice barked suddenly. Ian blindly grasped at the blue, rounded, appendage and pulled. Ian felt himself exit the water and land on the hard surface. Gasping for breath, he used his other claw to drag himself further away from the vile lake and the vestiges of Sophie.
“There you go, Ian. Come on. Breathe, that’s it,” the voice Ian recognized as Vertex encouraged. Ian didn’t reply immediately. He tilted his head to the side and began hacking up the remainder of the waste-water in his lungs. As he wretched up the envenomed liquid, his thoughts returned to the haunting vision.
“Vertex ... I saw her,” the Breloom wheezed in between choking coughs. Greenish fluid from Ian’s lungs splattered the artificial intelligence's front, yet Vertex didn’t even blink as he leaned in closer to his beaten friend.
“Ian, it wasn’t real. You know that. It’s just like all the others,” the upgraded Porygon reprimanded as he left the Breloom’s side for one moment to pick up a squashed Oran Berry. Holding the organic mass in his beak, he floated back over to Ian.
“Here, eat this. It should combat the infection and dull the pain temporarily,” he ordered, as Ian weakly opened his mouth. Vertex shook his head disapprovingly and let the berry go, dropping it down to Ian. The Breloom swallowed it whole with a loud gulp, shutting his eyes as he let the healing properties flow through him.
“No. It wasn’t --It wasn’t a vision. It was more than that ... I-I swear it was!” Ian yelled, leaning against the stone wall of the waste tunnel from the maze above. The condensation on the walls felt soothing against his bruised back and neck. He let his body absorb the clean water through his skin, slaking his thirst for the meantime.
“Just like all the other times you said that, hmm? Ian, stop kidding yourself. She’s gone. I was there when she died. All her vital signs were zero, nothing, finished. Let her go,” Vertex urged once again, scanning the above halls for signs of their oppressors. Aside from scores of Pokémon leisurely walking from one place to the next -- completely uninformed and unaware of their plight.
“N-No! Vertex, you -you don’t get it! She talked to me, Vertex! She talked back! It wasn’t just a vision! She was there this time!” Ian suddenly screamed, tears streaming down his face as his arm stretched and clutched the Porygon 2’s narrow throat. “You have to believe me! Believe me! Believe me!” Vertex screeched in alarm and struggled to free himself from his friend’s delusional grip.
“Ian! Ian! Ian! I believe you! Listen to me: I believe you, Ian!” Vertex shouted, his voice processor straining to get through to the crying Breloom. As Vertex hoped, Ian quickly released his claws with a loud sob and collapsed on the construct. Vertex let out an electronically-tuned groan as he struggled to remain floating with the accession of his friend’s weight on his body. Vertex had no idea how long the Breloom would keep up his action, but he was prepared to do anything to keep his mind as stable as he possibly could.
“Don’t worry, Ian. We’ll find her. We will, I promise,” Vertex said gently, magnetically lifting his wing and patting Ian’s back. The former sentry knew it was a hollow promise --the dead would remain dead-- but he’d help his friend find closure. Even if the truth would probably kill them both.
Leo hadn’t let up in the slightest. He swung his claws into the stubborn brush and thorns into a path had formed for the three Pokémon. Despite Noah’s increasingly pessimistic protests about marching to their doom, Jay’s wavering will, and Leo’s equally venomous arguments to keep on going forward for Kelly, they pressed onwards.
Blue light glinted off his dusted scales, the cold sun bathing him in its ethereal light. Leo had managed to keep up the facade of tireless determination, but his strength was waning. He hadn’t stopped moving since he had woken up hours ago back in the camp. The muscles in his legs burned with every step over the rough terrain.
“Leo--” Noah called from the back of their line as they trampled the dry vegetation in the narrow canyon pass.
“Shut up, Noah. I’m -- We’re not leaving her. We can’t. Not like this,” Leo snapped as he sliced through the final piece of bramble and stumbled into the newest clearing.
“I don’t know, Leo. Maybe Noah’s righ--” Jay began before Leo quickly rounded on him.
“No, Jay! You’ve known her the longest, and now you’re going to give up? I thought you were the leader here!” Leo screamed, his tail flame flaring and steam issuing him his nose as his emotions fumed. He glared at the Riolu, his blue eyes staring daggers at Jay’s red irises. The tension in the air rose until it had pressurized into pure, solidified hatred.
Leo didn’t let up until his leader reluctantly looked away. The Riolu hung his head in apparent shame. Leo angrily huffed as he returned his attention to the open space in the canyon where the valleys converged. Noah strode forward, roughly shoving Leo into the rock face as he forced his way in front.
“No. I’m not going to risk my skin for her. I may not be one to follow the rules or safety the majority of the time, but we’re leaving right now. Jay, back me up here,” the Dewott said firmly, stamping his foot on the ground to affirm his stance.
“What do you think you’re doing? We already went through this: we’re going after her. You’re not changing your mind now,” Leo growled, peeling his front off the layered rock face and advancing towards the scowling otter. Jay didn’t say anything as he silently padded around the conflicting Pokémon, avoiding giving any answer.
“Well. I’m not getting killed and I don’t think you have any authority on what I do, pal,” Noah shot back, placing his paw on the Charmeleon’s chest and lightly pushing him back as a warning. Leo wasn’t deterred in the slightest.
“You don’t have a choice! We’re going! Don’t make me--” Leo retorted as Noah stepped forward, and before Leo could react, delivered a swift undercut to his stomach. Leo immediately stumbled back and doubled over along the side of the canyon. He managed to hiss a few mangled swears over his pained coughs as his insides recoiled from the surprise hit.
“I do have a choice, Leo. So does Jay. And so do you. And I don’t care what you do with yours, but I’m not going to let you make ours for us. I want to live. If you don’t, then you can keep on marching because that thing won’t hesitate to rip you apart!” The Dewott stood over Leo for a moment before shaking his head. Leo refused to look up at him.
“Come on Jay. There’s an exit over in the western path. Let’s go. We’ll mourn the dead once we’re sure we made it out alive,” Noah said as he pointed his paw in the direction of the sinking, blue sun. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jay standing next to the traitor, somberly nodding in agreement.
“Jay! So you’re -- You’re just giving up on her?” Leo shouted as he strained to get to his feet, steam emanating from his nose and mouth once again. The Riolu shifted, shifting the strap of his bag on his shoulder in discomfort.
“I -- I don’t want to die. I saw what happened back there. Leo ... I think Noah’s right.” Leo sucked in a sharp breath in protest at Jay’s words. His claws curled into a fist. He couldn’t believe this was happening. While it was true that he still knew virtually nothing of Jay and Kelly’s history as a team, he had thought that bond would keep Jay on his side.
With that thought, he lunged forward. Leo swung his fist, channeling every bit of his frustration and disbelief into the attack. If he hadn’t been so focused on pounding sense into his leader’s head, Leo might have noticed that his clawed fist was glowing with a bright, white aura. The fact that he just activated a latent power of his new body lost on his enraged mind.
Jay recoiled, clutching his head as he cried out in pain. The Riolu stumbled backwards, violently cursing Leo’s existence. The Dewott, oddly, despite his earlier actions, did not interfere.
“Some leader you are,” Leo replied acidically as he brutishly drove his elbow into Jay’s stomach, forcing him to his knees. He would have continued. He wouldn’t have let up on his assault if the ground in the clearing hadn’t rended open in a blast of frozen brimstone and clay.
Leo had seen things during his time in this world. Things that plowed through the barrier of what was right and what was unspeakably wrong with the force of a tidal wave. He had seen psychopaths, hallucinations, and the image of death itself, yet he had persevered. What appeared from under the cloud of ice dust instantly secured a spot in his mind for the absolute worst thing Leo had ever seen.
The three bickering Pokémon froze where they stood, as a dark, looming figure rose from the mist-bound hole in the ground. From what he could see among the choked air, the creature looked like a multi-colored dragon, but as its large form ominously stomped out into plain sight, Leo saw why Noah possessed such an adamant fear.
The patches of different colors he had originally saw were actually slabs of dried flesh held together by a thick coating of ice skin. Different pallets of dull furs, tarnished scales, and decaying skin made up the repulsive hide of the monster, stitched together by sinew that served as thread for the squares of flesh. Somewhere in the back corners of his mind, Leo was vaguely wondering just how many different species unwillingly contributed to the generation of the abomination.
In the short moments that followed, Leo saw that it possessed a vaguely dragon-like body with disproportionate limbs that seemed to have been chosen at random. A thick, muscular leg and large, clawed foot stamped the ground next to a thin, metallic, bird leg and steel talon big enough to crush him in one step.
A pair of horribly mismatched wings sprouted from the creature’s icy back. On one side, majestic, orange and white plumage plucked off a bird, while the other side sported fragile, transparent, oval wings torn from an ungodly large insect. The seemingly useless appendages fluttered and buzzed erratically as the beast lumbered forwards out of the pit from which it was born.
Leo wanted to move. To hide. To run away as fast as he possibly could. But something held him, Jay, and Noah in place. He didn’t understand it; there was no paralysis, no archaic binding spells, nothing of that sort. It was fear. The pure, radiating terror that emanated from the gaping maw and stinking flesh.
He had never felt so disgusted and horrified at the same time. Not when he was being poisoned in Spore Meadows, not when Nexus had killed him or the subsequent vision trip, not even during the sadistic mental bombardment by the Mismagius compared to the overwhelming tsunami of trepidation that surged towards him.
The earth vibrated beneath Leo’s feet as the monster tramped through the clearing. Without warning, the dragon raised its mottled head and roared. Its primal voice as deep and gurgled as if it was choking on something. Its breath instantly froze the mist in the air, transforming the benign weather to a miniature, freezing blizzard.
The exhaled wind painfully struck them, its wizened hands roughly slapping every inch of exposed flesh that it could possibly reach, driving its stinging, pointed fingers into them. Leo raised his arms to shield his face from the flurry and planted his feet firmly against the rocky ground.
Teeth. Hundreds of them lined every inch inside of its gaping maw, all harvested from countless species of Pokémon. The layer of clear ice over its flesh allowed Leo to see the decaying interior of the creature. The Charmeleon felt whatever remained of his previous meal lurch up in his throat and splash over his fangs onto the ground as the creature’s horrifying, cold, breath washed over him like a wave of raw sewage.
He had closed his eyes for an instant to avoid the frozen air. When he opened them again, the creature, which had been several meters away, was now huffing clouds of rotten air from directly above him. Leo’s heart was beating faster than a hummingbird’s wings, nearly stopping as the abomination lowered its disfigured head and looked him dead on with it’s yellow, glowing eyes.
For a second, his will wavered. His thoughts concerning Kelly were replaced by the impending doom panting like a heinous dog over him. His eyes darted to either side of him, both Jay and Noah seemed to be in similar states; numb from the cold and fear.
There was no warning as the monster suddenly picked up its metallic talon and slammed it into Jay’s torso. Swinging its massively oversized arms and claws, it bulldozed into Leo’s side, sending both him and Noah skidding along the rocks. His world turned into a blur, he couldn’t see what was up and what was down until gravity kindly reminded him by grinding his back with gravel. A feeling akin to a bolt of lightning shot up his tail as the sensitive tip connected with the suffocating soil.
Leo arched his back and rolled over, breathing hard as his lungs worked to return air to his body. Clawing at the earth, he managed to twist his body over again, prop himself up on arms, and blink dust out of his tearing eyes. Clarity returned to his sight just in time to behold the creature poising above Jay, as if readying to kill downed prey.
Jay was pinned with his back against the ground, held down by the cold talon. The Riolu was biting his lip as the sharp hooks embedded into the tips dug into his left shoulder. Leo couldn’t see the creature’s face, but it let out a gurgling snort in what seemed to be glee as it pressed its foot down even harder. Jay let out a scream as the hook was pushed deeper, and the pressure grew on his chest.
This seemed to please the monster, but it seemingly got quickly bored of the slow torture as it lifted its talon up; the hook-like claw twisting as it exited Jay’s shoulder. The Riolu instinctively grabbed the bloodied wound with his paw now that the weight was lifted. His blue fur was stained scarlet as he tried to stem the flow from the stab wound.
Leo tried to move, but his body went only in slow motion, his arms wobbling as his muscles strained against exhaustion. This meant he could only watch as the talon slammed down again. Leo didn’t hear a crack, but by Jay’s agonized cry, he guess that something inside his chest snapped under the sudden pressure.
To Leo’s horror, the creature didn’t stop with the first blow. It raised its talon and slammed it down again. Jay’s screams only intensified as the hooks and weight tore into his chest and arms. The beast roared, pausing in its assault for a second. It lifted up its grotesque head and aimed its mouth at the Riolu. A stream of blue energy dripped off its teeth and coagulated into a dense sphere just outside its cracked, torn jaw.
In a single blink of his eyes, Leo saw the sphere jump through the space from the monster’s mouth to the lower half of Jay’s right leg. The sphere exploded, tendrils of ice swarmed from Jay’s knee, down to his foot, and slunk into the ground where they solidified into a frozen mass locking him in place. Jay could only hiss in pain as his leg was placed in a numb prison.
The aura of fear that had held his heart and limbs in an iron pen seemed to dissipate. Leo managed to scramble to his feet just as the dragon-thing was preparing to continue crushing Jay with his talon. He vaguely heard Noah’s warcry behind him as he dashed over the canyon clearing, trying to ignore the pain that seared his nerves, the exhaustion that played with his mind, and the monstrosities that wanted him dead.
He prepared his claws to strike. He knew it wouldn’t do much against the icy hide, but as long as it kept Jay from being pummeled into the earth, he would give it a shot. His mind seemed to finally have found the switch that inhibited him all this time. The cruel memories suppressed, the visions stopped, and his rational, screaming for him to turn tail and run, bound, gagged, and stuffed into a broom closet. Leo screamed, a slightly deranged sound, but terrifying nonetheless.
He wasn’t sure if it was his scream or the blade of pressurized water that shot into the creature’s ice-coated, mismatched arm was what took its attention off the barely conscious Riolu. Leo snuck a quick look over his shoulder to see that the Dewott was condensing another set of water blades on his shells. Holding the scallops in front of him, Noah swiftly turned in a circle, and give a sharp cry as the water blades launched off of the shells towards the monster.
The blades dug into the ice and created cracks along the dragon’s side, but they were nothing more than a mosquito bite. Leo couldn’t possibly sprint fast enough to intervene, even if his legs didn’t feel like someone was heating them with a blowtorch. They were too late in acting. With what happened next, Leo wasn’t sure if it would have been better if he had never moved in the first place.
Instead of delivering a crushing stomp, the duel act of screaming Charmeleon and slicing Dewott managed to distract the hellish spawn so that it kicked Jay to the side as it turned towards them. Jay moved violently to the side first. And then followed his imprisoned leg.
If Leo nearly got sick earlier from the smell of the beast, his stomach again twisted into a knot as the loud, organic crack echoed through the clearing. Jay’s tortured scream drowned out even the primal grunts of the dragon as his right leg bent and bone splintered. Fortunately, the ice shattered as well, leaving the shattered limb connected to the Riolu. Blood slowly seeped from the open wound, dripping past the fragments of bone that poked through the blue fur.
Despite his leader’s behavior earlier, Leo wanted nothing more than to help him as the excruciating yells penetrated his head. The only problem being the act against God that stalked towards them at a surprisingly swift pace given its massive unbalanced stature of talon and foot. Leo gulped as it came closer.
No. I can’t freeze up again. I won’t! his thoughts screamed. There was no other option. He had to stand up now. Not only for Kelly, but for Jay, Noah, and all the others waiting for them on the other side of the dungeon: Icarus, Blade, Elliot, Sonic, and Torrent.
He swung his arm, glowing claws slicing into the ice on the gargantuan, dragon leg. White cracks spread from the point of impact, but otherwise did nothing. The creature looked down at Leo, blank eyes seeing him as something to be terminated.
Before he knew what was happening, Leo felt his body turn to ice as claws wrapped around his torso. Air became a luxury as the beast squeezed what limited quantities remained out of his lungs and he was lifted to the creature’s face. All he could see was the wide, nightmarish abyss of a jaw stretching open towards him. Teeth gleamed in a bleached white as the mouth seemed to grow larger in an effort to swallow him whole.
He heard Noah’s forceful cries from down below, not relenting even in the face of the impenetrable flesh. On the verge of his hearing, just below the blasts of chilled exhaust and Noah’s fight, Jay’s whimpering slowly tapered out into silence. Leo couldn’t see much of anything aside from the terrifying mask of ice the creature wore over the amalgamation of Pokémon that served as its face and the crushing claws trying to snap every bone in his torso.
Thoughts raced wildly around Leo’s panicking mind as it swiftly began starving for oxygen. Thoughts of failure. Thoughts of inequity. Fairness. He laughed on the inside. There was nothing fair about what happened to him. He had drawn the shortest straw in the Fates’ demented game. Doomed to failure, just as the reaper had foretold. He wasn’t a hero, because heroes didn’t die in the clutches of a monster.
A blade of water shattered through the ice on the leg, exposing the dying flesh beneath to the Dewott’s wrath, but it did nothing. Leo swore he could hear his bones straining under the pressure, fragile ribs laced with hairline fractures and organs bruised. Every struggling movement was a labor of intense proportions, as if he was burdened of the Ropes of the Titan and tasked with pulling the continents alongside each twitch of his muscles.
A slight wave of comfort passed over him when he felt the heat build up in his lungs. He knew it would be a matter of seconds before the jet of fire would blast the dragon directly in its hideous face and hopefully buy him a ticket out of the crushing grip. The compressed flame continued to grow inside of him, scorching his throat as it did so.
The beast must have been smarter than its primal grunts and howls let on, because it shifted its grip on Leo’s body. Most of the pressure on his chest was released, but replaced by a tight hold around his neck, only allowing for the tiniest gasps of air to keep him from suffocating. His freed arms clawed at his captor, but without the ability to concentrate energy, he couldn’t possibly charge an attack powerful enough to scratch its skin.
The heat made his lungs boil. Without a release, the temperature inside only grew hotter and hotter. His reptilian skin prevented him from sweating, the claw around his throat kept the fire in his chest, and he couldn’t get the strength needed to draw even a single breath. His mind went in and out of focus. Thoughts of escape from the death grip blurred and withered as his brain diverted all efforts into maintaining the limited flow of air he managed to suck in among the putrid exhaust exuding from the creature’s foul breath.
His ribcage felt as if it was an instant away from popping open like a heated kernel of corn, and he did not think the ensuing result would be nearly as delicious. Leo clawed at the limb clamped around his throat, his claws scraping against the frozen appendages. He lifted his legs up and kicked at the iron hold, each action becoming more and more desperate as fire twisted on the convection current inside his chest.
As his body began to fail, the Fates decided to end their apparent game with their lab rat. From the corner of his distorted vision came a sphere of blue. It launched up from the ground and rocketed through the air, slamming into the temple of the dragon’s malformed skull. It exploded in a shower of pressurized water and splattered painfully against his limp body and drooping, dimming tail. Concentration broken, the creature lifted its huge arm, and tossed Leo into the air like a rag doll, freeing another claw to fight against Noah.
The world twisted and spun around him as he flew into the air, blue sun at his airborne feet and the imminent threat of gravity and ground at his head. His eyes locked with the beast’s soulless, yellow ones yet again as the dragon howled at him. Its mouth was stretched open wide, waiting for him to fall down into the dark bowls. Fire rushed from Leo’s lungs into his now-unobstructed throat. The attack threatened to sear off his tongue and taste buds as fire blasted through his jaws into the open air.
The jet of combusting matter broke through the waves of molecules separating Leo from the upturned head of the beast. Flames shot into the gaping set of jaws, the wide spray of fire not even touching the rotting sides or frozen teeth that lined the inside. Like water down a drain, the attack slipped down the roaring throat seamlessly. Leo couldn’t help but be a little weirded out at the fact that his fire simply left his throat for another.
The fire vanished as it blasted down the creature’s dry, cracked throat, and to no effect on its health either. Leo didn’t have any time to lament the waste of the attack as gravity took a hold of his form and began its ever-quickening descent as it exerted its force against the vacuum of space. He landed face-first onto the creature’s icy back, directly between the mismatched wings.
Before his head had stopped spinning, the monster beneath him bucked and roared in an attempt to kick the intruder off. Leo dug his claws into the stiff, fleshy bases of the two sets of wings. The wings in question flapped and buzzed erratically, slapping Leo’s face with every fevered movement and bruising is snout with the repeated hits.
Leo struggled to keep his grip, the alternative being thrown to the ground and crushed by the combination of talon and claw. He could feel water spraying around him from the continued assault of the Dewott down below. In between the flaps of the wings, he could see Noah sprinting away from the swiping claws and Ice Beams while keeping attention away from Jay, still unconscious in the crater.
He could feel his claws slipping, the wings were moving too much for him to even attempt to regain his loosening grip. Leo grunted as he embedded the pointed tips into the pulsing mass of muscle fiber under the thin layer of flexible ice, but only succeeded in tearing off a dried chunk when he tried to pull himself up.
With that development, combined with the beast’s renewed vigor to get him off, Leo tumbled over the frail dragonfly wings to the ground. He took some sort of satisfaction knowing that he tore through the flimsy material with his flailing claws. The rocky dungeon floor embraced him fully, its jagged arms wrapping around his back to complete his discomfort on all parts of his body.
Again, his mind was deprived of the chance to filter out which section of his body hurt the most as the last thing he saw was a reptilian foot aiming at his torso. The next few seconds mixed together in time like salt dissolving in water. His chest felt as if it had been torn open by a series of rusted gardening tools.
Leo felt himself go limp as he flew in a low arc above the rough ground. He had resigned himself to land on the rocks, ready to accept their sharp and pointed jabs at his self-image. Their calloused laughs would brush up against his scales like sandpaper and Leo was willing to let it happen. Yet, the scathing insults from the planet’s exterior never came. Something far softer than stone intercepted Leo’s trajectory.
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