Disclaimer: Characters belong to their respectful owners
Fandom: Fate/Grand Order
Pairing(s): Siegfried x Karna
Genres: fanfiction, fluff, humor
Characters: Siegfried, Karna, Arjuna
Arjuna has a person he needs to rescue from the evil dragon’s claw. You may think it’s a beautiful princess because that’s how a normal fairytale goes. In some way, it is, as Arjuna is a young, valiant and handsome prince. Still, even if he manages to defeat the dragon, he’s guaranteed not to have his happily-ever-after ending where they ride off into the sunset. Why? Because the person he’s going to save is not a damsel in distress.
Here is how the story goes: A Young, Handsome Prince rode over mountains and rivers on the back of his trusted stallion. Many an obstacle had he overcome until he arrived at the Evil Dragon’s lair. There the Prince valiantly fought the Evil Dragon in an epic battle that lasted for days and at last, slain it. Exhausted but elated, he marched to the Beautiful Princess and asked for her hand in marriage. And then they lived happily ever after…
Arjuna was the hero of that story. True, he was a prince, a young and handsome one, who would one day inherit the throne from his queen mother and rule over the kingdom. True, he had ridden over mountains and rivers, fought malaria and swamps of bloodthirsty mosquitoes and overcome unspeakable dangers to fight an evil dragon (no capitalization, please). True, he had a person to rescue from said evil dragon’s claw and bring back to his kingdom.
His story should have gone like that, except it didn’t, due to two major alterations. First, it wasn’t a beautiful princess whom he had to rescue, it was a beautiful prince. And before your shipping tendency runs amok with several (titillating) scenarios, that beautiful prince was his own brother, born to the same mother. Okay, maybe that was fetish-fuel for some of you out there but we just leave it at that. Eight years senior to Arjuna, his brother should have been the heir to the throne, and he had been reared as such before an unfortunate incident occurred.
The memory of that fateful day was still fresh on Arjuna’s mind even though he had been but a snotty seven-years-old back then. And it would likely persist until the end of his life.
It had happened too fast and too sudden that all the little prince could do was watch, eyes wide and mouth agape, his rational thinking scattered in the gentle breeze that was supposed to soothe the intense summer heat even just a little. He was strolling to the grand garden to find his elder brother to show him how immensely his skills with the bow had improved since last time – had always both envied and admired his brother’s archery – when a gigantic shadow glided over his head and blocked out the sun. Frozen in fear, the little prince was rooted on his spot, panicking with a thought that a huge chunk of the sky was falling to the earth. Then, out of the periphery of his eyes, the dark shadow descended and revealed itself to be a magnificent beast. Its body, covered in obsidian scales, glittered in the sun, its eyes were liquid flame and there was smoke rising from its nostrils as its long, thick tail the size of Arjuna’s body was beating the ground with leisure rhythm. There was no doubt the whole garden would be incinerated with a single breath of its. So horrified Arjuna was that his awareness of his surroundings seemed to shut off and he didn’t register that the beast had grabbed his brother in its claws – big enough to completely engulfed him – and flapped its enormous wings to fly away. Only when the cacophony of screams from the guards and servants flung the palace into chaos did he finally snap out of his paralyzed trance.
His queen mother had cried her eyes out for days, abandoning all hope that her firstborn could survive such malevolent fate, but Arjuna hadn’t shed a single tear from that day on. His sockets remained dry as his hope that Karna was somehow still alive flooded his small heart and his resolution solidified: there would come a day when he slayed that sinister dragon and rescue his brother, bringing him home. Such rock-solid resolution had fueled his endless effort to perfect his skills with the bow so that in a span of eight years, he had become unparalleled in the entire kingdom. By the time he entered adulthood, he couldn’t find a single opponent in the neighborhood kingdoms. And so he believed that he was ready.
No amount of tears or threats of disowning from his queen mother could have deterred the young prince from setting off on a perilous quest to find the lair of that cursed dragon.
As he laid under the dense canopy during the nights on his journey, Arjuna had all the time to conjure several scenarios in his sleepless, flaring mind. He imagined his battle with the dragon, lasting for days without coming to a definite conclusion, where he would many times be pushed to the edge of death. He imagined his hard-earned victory that was finally achieved with a streak of luck, and himself, worn out and battered, finding enough strength in his lethargic limbs to dash to his brother, who was emacipated and weak but by a miracle still alive after ten years in captivity. He imagined wrapping his arms around that bony frame, pressing his face into Karna’s rib-prominent chest and crying his ten years’ worth of suppressed tears. He imagined his defeat, an inevitable outcome that he had been aware but not anticipated due to his burning desire to save Karna and his mortal arrogance in his skills. He imagined himself being torched alive in the dragon’s flame, his lonely scream piercing the sky while his brother could only stand aside and watch his renewed hope die. He even imagined himself reaching the dragon’s lair after unspeakable hardship along the way only to discover that Karna was long gone from this world, and that his zealous training all these years for this moment was utterly meaningless. He imagined the despair afterwards sucking away all of him until he was left a dry husk of a human.
Of all the scenarios he had constructed in his mind and then demolished to mold a new one, what he saw after climbing to the peak of a rocky mountain range was not one of them. Time seemed to have swirled back to the day he had witnessed Karna’s capture, and the young, valiant prince was suddenly replaced by the shaken and powerless seven-year-old boy who could do nothing other than staring while his brother was being taken away. His jaws dropped to the ground, together with his heart. His courage and his will to fight all fled him in one huge swoop, rendering him an empty sack where all the rice had flooded out.
What was he seeing that produced such extreme reaction?
He was seeing his brother, Karna. Compared to his memory, Karna had grown older – that was to be expected, and bigger, with some refined muscles in display where his garment, looking somewhat tattered and faded, didn’t cover. His face had lost its baby fat and gained more defining features, his jawline had gotten sharper and his cheekbones more prominent. The Karna in Arjuna’s memory had been beautiful and his beauty had straddled the line separating genders, making him an object of both covet and envy. There were more than a couple times when Arjuna had overheard the officials whispered amongst themselves how Karna’s visage was lacking the imposing assets of a future sovereign, and that it would have been marvelous if he’d been born a princess instead. Made Arjuna want to put an arrow through their disrespectful skulls every time. Karna would have made a wonderful and just king, who would have seen through their lies and deceit as though they had been transparent. No one could have convinced Arjuna otherwise.
What came as the biggest surprise was that Karna was laughing. Not a polite, close-mouthed smile he had been known to show almost everyone in the palace, his little brother not being an exception; rather it was an uninhibited laugh that put his perfect, pearly white teeth in display. And the sound… Arjuna couldn’t recall any occasion where he had heard such melodic sound; the tall walls of the palace had forbidden it, and crushed it before it ever had a chance to be heard.
He would have been overjoyed to see his brother alive and well and all grown up; he would have rushed to his side and embraced him and told him how blissful that he’d finally found him and now he would bring him home and restore his birthright as a true heir to the throne – his miraculous survival would be sung by countless poets so that it would last for hundreds of years and beyond. He did none of those; instead Arjuna stood like a stone statute, with only his eyes alive and moving to watch his brother being embraced in the muscular arms of a man. Not a man. On closer inspection, Arjuna didn’t miss the pair of sharp-looking curved horns protruding out of his wild silver mane. Nor did he fail to notice the patches of dark, glittering scales littered on bare skin or a long, thick tail wrapping around Karna’s ankle in an almost possessive manner. ‘Almost’ because the tail wasn’t acting as a shackle to keep him from moving; it coiled and uncoiled, and moved up and down his calf, mimicking a hand to caress his skin and produce his laughter. That his reserved, somewhat distant and cold brother would allow such physical contacts shook him so terribly that it took a while for the strangeness to finally get into his brain. What was this… man (that was a stretch) who possessed physical traits of both man and beast? Arjuna had never seen anything like that before, and he had never thought the existence of something as peculiar as this possible. None of the documents about magic and mystical beasts he’d spent hours perusing every day without fail had mentioned it. At least the ‘white’ documents had not. There were a couple ‘black’ ones his wise and senile master had kept out of his reach both physically and metaphorically. There was always a dear price to pay for ones who dabbled into the dark arts, he had said with a forlorn expression hinting a personal experience. Now Arjuna somewhat regretted that he had not dared to defy his master’s words.
In his startlement Arjuna had let it slip his mind that he was stepping into a supposed dragon’s lair and thus he should be cautious with every move. He stepped back unconsciously and stepped on a branch that was just inconveniently positioned underneath his soles, and the result was a dry, cracking sound announcing his unwanted, invading presence. The beast-man was instantly alert when his eyes, red and gleaming like embers, focused on Arjuna, causing his heart to skip a beat. Letting go of Karna, he stood to reveal a tall, intimidating frame with a pair of black wings as big as himself wide-spread. A pattern that resembled some sort of magic rune began from his abdomen, stretched to cover most of his chest and reached his cheek. As the pattern glowed with menacing light, sickening noises of bones cracking entered the prince’s ears and he started transforming into Arjuna’s childhood nightmare of nostrils flaring, obsidian scales glittering and eyes like two orbs of molten lava reflecting the young prince’s fear and helplessness right back at him. The dragon that had abducted his brother while he watched in silence, his blood cloyed in the overwhelming terror that he would be the beast’s luncheon, his flesh and blood and bones all devoured, leaving nothing left. His sweat-soaked recurring nightmare. His relentless pistol that kept pushing and pushing him towards his goal of slaying it. But Arjuna was no longer a green boy playing with swords and bows; he was a prince and a warrior, armed with his well-honed skills and a lethal weapon blessed by gods. So he would fight and if the gods were kind, he would emerge victorious. He took an arrow from his quiver and notched it on his bow. Already its slender body was glowing with the blue light that was signature of his power. As he aimed – but actually didn’t need to since it was impossible to miss a target of that size, he could feel his magical energy swirling around the body of the arrow like a miniature tornado, buzzing at the iron tip, aching to be released.
A voice was a cool bucket dumping on Arjuna’s boiling spirit. His brother, who from the moment the beast-man’s transformation had been covered entirely by the dragon’s massive body, walked out and stood between them. With a loud ‘whoosh’, his magical energy dispersed, reverting it to a normal arrow of wood and iron that wouldn’t pierce through the dragon’s armor-skin. The position Karna had chosen was just too perfect in shielding the dragon’s heart that if Arjuna wanted to let the arrow fly, it would go through Karna’s chest first and had its powered halved, thus unable to obliterate its intended target. And with an arrow imbued with magical energy to kill a phantasmal beast… he didn’t dare to imagine what would become of his brother if he got hit.
On the other hand, it could be Karna’s intention to stand between them; he had been rather… close with the dragon from Arjuna had seen and it should come as no surprise that he didn’t want any harm done to it, even if that meant putting himself in risk. The thought that his own brother, a prince and a noble man, would be in cahoots with a beast sparked a flame in Arjuna’s heart and the sight before his eyes quickly fanned it into a fire. His throat constricted and every swallow ached. His tongue tasted acid and copper.
On the other side, the dragon appeared to be no less impatient than Arjuna himself, as its huge clawed feet continuously carved long gashes into the soft earth. Its jaws were open, baring ragged teeth and smoke escaped from the depth of its throat like an active volcano. Nevertheless, no matter how it stood there fuming, the beast had not made a move, staying obediently still behind the small human as if in the dragon’s eyes, the human somehow had acquired the status of an unbreakable steel wall. Karna caressed its snout and spoke to it in low enough volume that Arjuna couldn’t hear. Whatever came out of his lips had a calming effect on the agitated dragon, and the beast closed its eyes and rubbed its oversized forehead against his palm. The sharp scales were sure to scratch his skin but Karna’s smile was nothing but indulgent.
If only his brother had ever graced him with that kind of smile…
“Why are you protecting that monster? Answer me, Karna!” Arjuna spat, his emotions a tidal wave rolling in his chest.
The dragon grunted and it looked like it was about to charge forward, triggered by Arjuna’s emotional tone, but a small, firm hand held it in place, both literally and metaphorically. Karna’s stoic expression broke by a dash of surprise. Then in a voice deeper than Arjuna’s memory he asked, “Who are you?”
Never had Arjuna known a three-word answer could have such heavy impact on a person. He felt tears pooling at the rims of his eyes like a seven-year-old who got picked on by his elder sibling, except he wasn’t a boy and Karna had never bullied his younger brother. Closed up and always just a little out of Arjuna’s reach but not abusive; such was beyond his kind nature. Arjuna clenched his hold on the bow so hard his palm was molded after the shape of its body to keep his tears from falling. He couldn’t afford to look childish in front of his Karna, whom he had come to rescue; he wanted him to see how he had grown and that he was dependable.
The thought that Karna might not remember his brother had not once crossed Arjuna’s mind during his sleepless nights. He didn’t know from where he had extracted such confidence that Karna would always recognize him no matter how long they had been separated and how much both of them had changed; he had only had a firm belief. Now his belief came to bite him hard.
“It’s me, Arjuna,” he tried, “your brother who always sneaked out and tagged along to every of your archery training.” As he spoke, Arjuna summoned the scenes of his childhood in his head, clinging onto a faint hope that ten years in captivity had not robbed Karna off his unique ability, and that he could pick up his thoughts like he had always been able to before Arjuna even said a word. “And you indulged me, never slipping a word to Mother. Sometimes you taught me a thing or two about the bow although the bow was too big for me. You even gave me a bow tailored made for my size and strength so that I could practice. But I didn’t have a chance to show you how I had improved…”
By the time he finished what was compressed in his heart, Arjuna was painting, and his hands hold the bow and arrow were quivering. He wasn’t sure if he still had the power to shoot anymore.
The surprised expression gradually faded into realization. Karna opened his mouth but only to exhale. His piercing eyes were fixed on Arjuna’s face, trying to compare this young man’s features with the memory of his previous life, inevitably subjected to the steady erosion of time.
Ten years was indeed a long time and it took more than a few vaguely familiar traits to retrieve what was mostly lost. Yet he did catch the stream of images Arjuna had wished he could. It ran in front of his mind’s eyes like the scenes on the stages, only they were mute and featuring only two actors. A little dark-haired, dark-skinned boy tailing his pale brother, who from his point of view looked so tall, so big. The boy hugged his customized bow close to his chest, grinning so hard the sides of his mouth hurt. The boy clutched the body of the bow in his tiny arms and shot arrow after arrow at his target on a tree, never minding that his shoulders were starting to numb from overexertion…
Karna knew that boy, knew when he had arrived at this world, when he had had his first walk, first teeth, knew his laugh and his cry.
Karna knew him and the young man before him was one.
His lips moved and a name was pronounced, “Arjuna.”
To be continued
I’ve never thought one day I’d write Arjuna’s POV since he isn’t on my favorite list (mostly because he killed and beheaded Karna, who is on my favorite list; he did regret it later but his remorse won’t change the fact). And yet here I am, writing Arjuna’s POV.
Karna has psychic abilities and it will be explained in the second part.
I apologize for not focusing on one fic and finishing it.