[Siegfried x Karna] Tale of a Dragon (2)

Disclaimer: Characters belong to their respectful owners

Fandom: Fate/Grand Order

Rating: T

Pairing(s): Siegfried x Karna

Genres: fanfiction, fluff, humor, AU

Characters: Siegfried, Karna

Summary:

He was a dragon that wasn’t a dragon. A freak in the form of another species mixed with dragon traits. An abomination. A subject of shame and loathing. A total outcast. Naturally, there would come a day when his own mother would banish him from her den for eternity.

Entirely on his own, the young dragon hybrid met one of the humans who had been hunting his kind for gold and treasure since forever. However, this human seemed too small, too fragile that it probably posed no threat to him. It was a child.

An odd child.

Part 1

Two days had passed like a short dream since his mother left him on his own. At this moment, Siegfried was crouching in front of a cave he had found by chance. To call it a cave was being over-generous, for it was just a little bigger than a hole in the rock, too cramped and too damp for a dragon to occupy so Siegfried knew he would soon have to find another cave, wider, drier and having enough space for a growing dragon hybrid to stretch his limbs, provided that he could survive this environment. He hadn’t figured out the climate in this land but two things were pretty clear: one, the climate was vastly different from where he had lived, judging by the botanical life; and two, it was in winter, judging by the snow blanketing the landscape.

For dragons, snow was bad news; even the strongest of them wouldn’t fare so well in the dipping temperatures. Every seasoned dragon hunter should know they would never find a single dragon in regions where snow, together with the biting cold, accompanied winter. And that was exactly where his mother had dropped him – an area where winter was reigning and the sterile white of snow and ice was dominating the color palette. It pricked his heart to be reminded of his mother’s animosity toward his existence even when they had parted and would likely never see each other again.

Nonetheless, a metaphorical prick in the heart wouldn’t kill him right away, but hunger would. For two days he had only had a meal, and it had been meager at best – a skinny hare that had lost its way and died in the snow. The animals here were far too skilled in hiding from him than him at hunting them. At this time, with his stomach groaning audibly, Siegfried couldn’t help chiding himself for being such a failure of his kind, hailed as the emperors of all predators. His mother and kin had had every right to detest him and cast him aside.

As if self-deprecation could fill his belly than he would gladly do it on a daily basis. The thing was, it couldn’t, so Siegfried just mentally heaved a little sigh. Clenching his stomach so that it almost touched his spine, he took in as much air as his lungs allowed. Then he let out a breath of fire on the ice surface beneath his bare feet. Yesterday he had made a discovery that there was a pond in front of his little dwelling, only that it had been frozen. It had sparked some hope in him that there might be some fish he could catch, and the young dragon had been trying to melt the layer of ice.

Several cracks appearing on the mirror-smooth surface brought a wide grin to Siegfried’s face, so wide it actually hurt. Yet his joy was relatively short-lived. That he himself was standing on thin ice hadn’t crossed his mind until it was too late: the ice under him gave in to the heat of the flame and Siegfried’s weight, and with a loud yelp, the young dragon was dumped into the freezing water.

While the threat of drowning was non-existent as the water level only reached his waist, he could die of the chill before he counted to twenty. His luck truly was out of this world, thought Siegfried as he fished himself out of water, his small body shivering violently like a hushed leaf in the autumnal wind. He coughed dryly, the feeble flame immediately extinguished once it left his mouth. There was frost in his nostrils, making his breathing a laborious and hurtful task. His heart thumped arrhythmically against his rib cages.

He wanted to cry, tears hotly brimming the rims of his eyes. They didn’t roll down his cheeks however, as he bit his lips so hard to restrain them he tasted copper on his tongue. He no longer had a mother to cry to, not that he had ever had, and crying now only served to exhaust him quicker and push him one step closer to imminent death.

So deeply wallowing in his troubles that Siegfried hadn’t picked up the light footsteps approaching him.

“Hey, are you okay?”

A voice had severed his wrecked train of thought and caused all the scales on his body to rise. His first instinct was to scramble back but the muscles in his legs had become rigid, and so the sudden momentum resulted in him falling on his bottom. Great, now even his butt was numb.

“Are you okay?” the voice repeated with more concern.

The first thing came into Siegfried’s sight was a pair of feet clad in brown leather boots with some sort of fur lining their necks. The young dragon looked up in curiosity and examined the speaker. His guard dropped a little.

It was a human standing in front of him. Although Siegfried hadn’t truly encountered a human in his short life, he had seen enough to make a speculation on the age: this one wasn’t a mature specimen and by its height and look, Siegfried could speculate that it was around the same age as him in dragon years. The gender was harder to guess though, the round, soft face with huge eyes and pink lips constituting a sense of androgyny. Siegfried had heard that a human’s appearance didn’t always denote the gender, especially the young ones – children in their language. What terribly strange creatures they were.

A human child was unlikely to pose any threat to him and even if he did, Siegfried could at least manage an escape. Nonetheless, he wasn’t too naive to not consider the possibility that this child was not alone. The adults might be lurking around, waiting to launch a surprise attack. He eyed the human child warily, his wings flapping in slow motion to shake the frost off the skin and help the blood circulation. He prepared himself to take off any moment.

“You’re shivering,” the child asked. “You’re cold, aren’t you?”

To Siegfried’s bafflement, the child squatted down, his red, extra-fluffy cloak pooling around his feet and making a stark contrast with the snow-covered ground. The color was striking, and Siegfried was reminded of his mother’s mighty red flame.

Cautiously the young dragon dragged his foot a few inches back when it was almost touched by the glaring red cloak as if he was afraid it would singe his bare skin. It was absurd, even he was aware, but it seemed his subconsciousness was one step ahead of his rational thinking. “Isn’t it obvious?” Siegfried scowled, trying to sound intimating despite his teeth clattering. His effort apparently failed because the human child’s big pale eyes blinked at him, unfazed.

“Aren’t you afraid of me?” Siegfried’s voice had lost a great deal of the strength he pretended to have, leaving it a denouncement of his current miserable state: starving, freezing and absolutely vulnerable. Even the flimsy hope that the child would be scared away by his appearance had vaporized as fast as the breaths leaving his chapped lips.

The child blinked again – it seemed to be a habit more than anything, and extended his hand to touch Siegfried by his cheek. His first instinct was to squat the hand, but the warmth from the skin uncovered by any fabric – odd, he thought – was so tempting that instead of backing off, Siegfried leaned in, even nuzzling his cheek against the palm, giving no thought about the small patch of scales near his eyes scratching the child’s silky skin. It was funny how the child’s hand was so warm despite it had probably been out in the cold for a while, but again he couldn’t say he possess much knowledge about humankind. It could be attributed to humans being hot-blooded though.

Later Siegfried would be mortified to learn that his reaction was typical of an animal receiving a common affectionate gesture from its owner known as “petting”. Karna, the child – a male one, or boy in human language, was quick to assure him that it wasn’t petting but Siegfried was stubbornly unconvinced.

Karna tilted his head slightly as his hand moved from Siegfried’s cheek up until it touched the silver mane, small, nimble fingers tangled with unkempt locks. His face sported an inquisitive look as he stated matter-of-factly, “You have ears just like me, and your skin, for the most part, feels soft. But you also have horns and scales and wings, and your eyes are slit and glowing…”

Growing impatient with the child’s description of him, Siegfried growled and caught both his hands which were attempting to reach Siegfried’s horns. Horns were a dragon’s pride and he, despite being only a disappointment of a dragon, would be damned before he allowed a puny human to play with them.

Surprise dominated Karna’s features but for a few seconds before that was soon transformed into a precocious look unbefitting his age. “You don’t like your horns being touched, I get it. I won’t.”

“Shouldn’t you be afraid of me?”

It was as clear as daylight the human wasn’t.

“Why should I be?” Karna replied, blinking again. “You don’t look a threat to me.”

“I’m a dragon,” Siegfried snarled, trying to show his tiny fangs, which he never knew could be considered ‘cute’ by some humans. This child’s fearlessness was irking him. “I can crisp you or devour you or tear you apart. Or do all three at the same time.”

“You can breathe fire?” Karna asked with a gleeful tone, Siegfried’s threat likely censored to his hearing. “Show me, show me.”

What’s wrong with this one? This was nothing like what his kin had told him about the humans. Humans, in spite of being small and weak, were extremely cautious and cunning, and they would unlikely approach a dragon with such bizarre audacity this child had been displaying.

He wouldn’t admit he was motivated by the absurd need to prove himself to a puny human. As a dragon, he had a pride to keep, even if that meant he had to grant a childish request. He sucked in a cold breath and slowly breathed out, his mind summoning the flame from within his core as he felt the heat spreading through his chest, getting more intense by the second. That’s it. He opened his mouth wide to release a dragon’s fury. Nonetheless, instead of a flame, what he had was an embarrassingly feeble puff of smoke.

“That’s smoke, not fire.”

This child might have a habit of stating the obvious.

“I’m hungry, alright?” Siegfried petulantly rebuked, the smooth patches of skin on his cheeks reddening.

And freezing and exhausted and frustrated and alone. The list went on and on.

Karna wordlessly untied the bow under his chin and took off his fiery red cloak. He then draped the cloak around Siegfried’s shivering shoulders and meticulously tied the knot. Siegfried instantly felt the familiar warmth that had once nurtured him, protected him, lulled him into sleep before his egg hatched and he was flung to the cruel, cruel world. Moreover, the warmth didn’t come from the thick fabric alone but there were traces of magecraft intricately woven into each thread making up the garment. They were very faint but he could detect them nonetheless, being a species sensitive to all sorts of magic. This discovery made him see this human child in a total new light. Could it be that he came from a family of sorcerers? That seemed a possibility since he didn’t shy away from making contact with a dragon hybrid as a normal human kid should. Could it be that his family was nearby, hunting rare beasts?

The thought of fleeing rose again, but his legs were still numb and clumsy and the warmth was irresistible. He doubted he would make it very far in a chase.

“My name is Karna. What is yours?” the child asked.

Such a strange name. But again, Siegfried had landed on a strange land.

“Why should I tell a human my name?”

A dragon’s name was a key to ride them, a condition for submission, and he would not give it up so easily.

The child blinked, his lower lip slightly sticking out in a pout. “But I tell you my name.”

“I didn’t ask for it.”

Siegfried was very pleased with himself for such a smart rebuttal, even more so by Karna’s tears swelling up in his winter-blue eyes.

He didn’t let them fall, however; instead, he put the punnet he’d been carrying since he met Siegfried on the snow-covered ground. He unwrapped the cloth on the top and steam rose, together with an enticing aroma that had Siegfried’s stomach growling like a beast on its own right and his mouth watering. The dragon hybrid had no idea what was inside the punnet; he just knew that it had to be food and right now food was what he needed the most.

“I’ll give you one if you tell me your name, maybe two,” Karna said, holding a soft-looking oval-shaped piece of dough that Siegfried wasn’t sure what it was exactly but it smelled good enough to make him drool. Then, Karna’s condition sank in and his insides got a jab. Humans were wicked and cunning creatures; they wouldn’t give you something without expecting something else in return. Even a child was no exception. See how quick he was to take advantage of Siegfried’s state and strike a bargain? But no, Siegfried wouldn’t fall for this trick, tempting as that might appear. Besides, what good was that steaming brown piece of dough anyway aside from the smell? If only Siegfried could catch some fish then he would be fine.

The young dragon firmly shook his head.

“A pity,” Karna sighed. “Then you won’t complain if I call you ‘Hornie’, right? Because of the horns.”

Siegfried huffed, earning himself a chuckle from the human. He certainly didn’t expect Karna to thrust that piece of dough into his hand. “I’ll give it to you even if you refuse to tell me your name. I can’t eat that much anyway.”

“What is this?”

Karna’s eyes widened. “Oh, you don’t know what it is? It’s a bun, freshly baked. Our baker Mikael puts in some hazelnuts for extra-crunchiness. It’s delicious. You should try it.”

“What is a baker?”

“You don’t know what a baker is? He’s the one to bake bread and other delicious cakes and pastries.”

Siegfried eyed the thing in his palm with suspicion. Should he consume it? It could be poisoned or laced with some tranquilizing potion to subdue and capture him – such tales were not unheard of. But he was so famished he would perish without having food anyway, probably even faster than being poisoned. In the end, his hunger triumphed over his paranoid thoughts and he took a large bite. The outer crust was slightly crunchy and filled his mouth with a nutty flavor, which Siegfried was surprised to find not all that bad. The flesh inside was warm and fluffy and left a lingering sweetness at the back of his tongue even when he had swallowed the bite. He couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten something warm and soft; his daily meals had always been cold and chewy since most of the fleshy parts had been consumed by his siblings, leaving only the bones with bits of sinews and charred meat clinging to them. On a lucky day, he could break the bones and suck the marrow but those days had been few and far between. With such a diet it was no wonder he had been undergrown. With tears blurring his vision, he swallowed the rest of the bun.

“I have more if you’re still hungry,” Karna said, offering yet another steaming bun. He must have noticed the wetness in Siegfried’s eyes.

Siegfried wordlessly wolfed down the bun and the next, and the next. By the time his stomach was relatively full and his hunger had been pushed back to a safe distance, he had consumed nearly everything in Karna’s punnet, leaving only two smaller buns, one small apple and a couple red berries.

“Wow, you’re such a big eater,” Karna exclaimed with genuine admiration. “You’re going to grow up very big and strong. That’s what my nanny often says.”

Siegfried huffed. He didn’t believe a word from this human child. He had always been the runt of the litter and his siblings, well fed and cared, had been growing much bigger than him. Moreover, given his hybrid nature, he would never surpass them in size and strength.

But, even so, he would grow up to be bigger than an average human being, that was no doubt. Take this Karna child for example. Judging by his look, he appeared to be given enough food to eat, and yet his height was inferior to Siegfried, malnourished and undergrown. As if to prove the theory going inside his head, the dragon stood up straight, towering over the squatting human child. The loose knot came undone and the cloak slipped from his shoulders to bundle at his bare feet. With the warm food nestling in his belly, Siegfried found a new energy flowing through his limbs, washing off two days’ fatigue; rapid recovery was a perk of being a dragon. His legs no longer felt so numb and his wings, creating small winds with their flapping, were ready to take flight.

He was ready to do just that when he suddenly felt his tail grabbed by a hand, causing him to shudder.

“Hey, don’t fly away yet.”

Siegfried turned around to a plump face whose notable features were eyes sparkling with moisture and lips forming a pout. Siegfried knew he shouldn’t feel that way, didn’t have to feel that way – after all he had begged for neither the cloak nor the food – but somehow despite his reasoning, he couldn’t help a feeling of guilt tugging his heart like that tiny soft hand tugging his tail.

Not letting go of Siegfried’s tail, Karna stood up and indeed, he was shorter than the dragon by a head.

“Don’t go away yet. It’s just… you’re the first kid who isn’t afraid of me and talk to me.”

Siegfried looked the child up and down. Again and again. He squinted his eyes and raked his dragon brain to find something remotely scary or freaky. He found none. What could possibly induce fear in this skinny little human? His androgynous face framed with white hair like a snow fox’s fur? His huge, trusting eyes showing no fear of a predator? His pale, unblemished skin? His small hands emitting only faint traces of magecraft? He looked entirely human, no mixed traits of another species. Siegfried didn’t get it.

“I’m not a kid,” Siegfried rebuked, choosing not to voice his other thoughts. “I’m not human so you don’t scare me.”

Karna’s eyes lit up as he beamed, squeezing Siegfried’s tail, eliciting a frustrated growl from the young dragon.

“Can we be friends?”

“No.”

Siegfried didn’t know what ‘friends’ meant but his instincts told him it was a human thing and if it was a human thing, the answer would be a crisp ‘no’.

“Please.”

“No.”

Once the second ‘no’ rolled off his tongue, Siegfried made another mistake (he seemed to have made one too many today): instead of just flying away like he had intended, he paused and waited for a response from the child. Why? He couldn’t fathom. What he got was a pair of watery eyes fixing on him as though he was the biggest, meanest bully in the world. There was no other times that he cursed his human part more than at the moment. Dragons were never seized by the grip of guilt; nor should any true dragons feel bad for bringing tears to a human child. Siegfried wished the same could be applied to him. Unfortunately, it was the opposite.

How those eyes reminded Siegfried of a dragon hybrid, weak and mistreated by his siblings and unable to seek protection from his mother. How many times had he himself looked at them with helpless tears in his eyes and earned not sympathetic but scornful glares?

“Don’t cry…” he said weakly, feeling the tears brimming at his eyes. The earlier determination had faded from his voice.

“I’m not crying.”

“There’s snot running from your nose.”

Karna sniffed. “I’m not,” he denied, stubbornly childish even when he was wiping his nose with a finger. “I’m going to have to travel deep into the woods to train with a mage there. But I’ll be back in a day. You will be here when I return, right?”

Siegfried really didn’t wish to argue with a human child, no more than he wished to see him weep. On the other hand, a dragon didn’t give their promises on a whim, for promises were a géis to their species. He told himself to keep his mouth shut with a thin hope that the child would be put off by his silence and give up. Humans were easily discouraged, or so he had heard.

Unfortunately, this peculiar child took his silence for agreement and squeezed his tail, making Siegfried jump with a surge of pain. Growling, Siegfried snatched his tail back with more force than necessary.

“I’m sorry,” Karna said sheepishly. “I’m going now. See you later.”

As he went up the trail ahead, Karna kept waving at Siegfried until he became a small dot and disappeared.

He didn’t make promise to not leave here and wait for Karna, Siegfried told himself, but it wasn’t like he had somewhere else to go, being a stranger to this vast land. The cave would shelter him and maybe the fish in the stream would fill his belly for a while. The thought of food made him unconsciously lick his lips, reminiscent of the warm, fluffy texture of the buns. Maybe if he stayed here, he could have another chance to eat them, and he would take his time to savor the taste.

And…

It seemed Karna had forgotten his cloak. Hadn’t he felt cold? Strange. Siegfried picked up the cloak and draped it over his shoulders, feeling the hum of energy dancing across his skin, fighting off the chill.

To be continued

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