[Siegfried x Karna] Tale of a Dragon (3)

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 3

Siegfried had made no promise to the child named Karna and so far he’d been sticking to it. The fact that he hadn’t left this claustrophobia-inducing cave had nothing to do with it. After Karna’s leave, he continued to try his luck with the fish and surprisingly, he was met with success. The layer of ice had broken due to his fall earlier and indeed there were some fish – small and undoubtedly bony but still better than no food. A growing dragon had a matching appetite and he soon found himself craving for something to chew again, despite the buns. Perhaps either the frigid water or their naïve belief in the protection from the ice had made the fish sluggish and careless that with only a couple whips of his tail, he had his first catch of the day. This he had learnt from the bears, and while the bears used their front limbs, he couldn’t use his hands in the same manner. The threat of getting frostbite was palpable, so his tail, completely covered in hard scales and thus immune to frost and ice, came in handy. A dragon never got frostbite, nor did they have soft, smooth skin, but given his unnatural nature, he couldn’t be too careful. Years of watching out for himself had taught him that much.

“One, two, three…” Siegfried counted aloud and inhaled deeply to fill his lungs with air. The chill gave him a minor pain when doing so but it was endurable. Much better than hunger anyway. Delight bloomed in his heart to feel a familiar heat from the depth of his throat and soon, a fire stronger than he’d ever been able to produce came out. To think a full belly (first time in his life!) could yield such marvelous result. He was suddenly hit with the childish urge to compare his fire with his siblings’ and in a brief condescending moment, he allowed himself an imaginary victory. If this was his potential than he could hope to match his mother someday.

Alas, his upbeat mood lasted about as long as a sheet of paper in the fireplace. The fish was small so it couldn’t withstand the sheer direct heat of his fire. What Siegfried had in his hand was a piece of charcoal shaped in the form of a fish, which crumbled immediately once he touched it. He stared at his supposed meal until his eyes bulged out, wondering what could have possibly gone wrong. Feeling sorry for this creature which had lost its life to him and his own effort poured in catching it, he tried a bite. His eyebrows knitted due to the unpalatable assault on his tongue and now he had discovered the texture and flavor of charcoal and would be sure to learn both by heart. Clearly entirely inedible. He came to a disheartening realization that both the fish’s life and his effort would be wasted by his own clumsiness. Siegfried understood that he should adjust his flame but had no idea how to do it right, having never done it before. Back in his days at the lair, he had only scraped up the leftovers of his siblings, which were already roasted by his mother’s flame. They had been living atop a mountain peak, where food was horribly scarce and the chance of him finding any food up there had been none. So, zero experience in the field of roasting food.

Picking up another fish, the smallest one so that even if he spoiled, it wouldn’t be such a big waste like his first failure, Siegfried took in a moderate gulp of air. The air should be the key – the less he inhaled, the weaker the fire, and though there was no ground to back up his deduction, he should give it a try, seeing he had no better choice. Gently, carefully, he blew at the fish. The flame wasn’t as strong as before, just like he wished; however, it was merely strong enough to singe the fish’s skin and fins while the flesh remained bloody raw. He grunted and blew harder, converting his frustration into the heat. It seemed Fate decided this was the right moment to sprinkle in a bit of her good humor, because all of sudden he felt something tickle his nostrils. Naturally, he sneezed. Just a sneeze, should be nothing big, right? Except it was a dragon’s sneeze, which took the form of a burst of flame. Speechless, Siegfried gawked at his hand. What he was holding was yet another charred, inedible failure ready to be tossed away. His stomach loudly complained.

In later years, whenever he took the time to reflect upon his strange relationship with Karna, Siegfried would be reminded of how often Karna had found him in a situation where he was embarrassing himself by showing his incompetence at being a dragon, a fact that he always found vexing. Had to be his luck. First was him landing into a pond and almost freezing arse off (quite literally) and now it was him burning his limited shortage of food in the name of cooking his meal.

It wasn’t his footsteps – for they were creepily soundless – that alerted Siegfried; it was his chuckles, followed by his voice, “You can build a fire if you want to grill the fish without burning them. It’s so simple even a kid like me can do it. Let me show you.”

Agitated, Siegfried barked, “Who needs the human way when I can do it just fine the dragon way?”

“But you’re burning them. At this rate you may not have much to eat.”

“I’m testing them,” Siegfried stubbornly rebuked, whipping his head around. “And it’s none of your business–… What’s wrong with you?”

He abruptly changed the subject once he saw Karna, looking significantly worse than he had been earlier. The child was leaning against a rough-looking trunk with his right hand clutching a low branch. His face was paler than the snow under his boots, making a stark contrast with the red makeup around his lower eyelids (Siegfried only noticed it now), his huge eyes were clouded, and in spite of the weather, there were traces of perspiration clinging to his temples. That wasn’t the worst part, though. The reason for his sweats to be visible to the naked eyes despite his complexion was because they possessed a tinge of pink, which grew a shade darker as they rolled down his temples to his chin. The color pink, normally so lovely to Siegfried since it was a wild flower he so loved, gave him a queasy feeling in his stomach, especially when it was accompanied by the scent of metal, iron to be exactly. There was something really wrong with the child, and even though he rationalized that whatever had put Karna in such miserable state was none of his business, his tongue thought otherwise.

“It’s nothing, really,” Karna replied.

“It’s not nothing.” Curse his tongue for acting on its own again. “You look half-dead.”

He didn’t understand what it meant to be ‘half-dead’; he only knew ‘dead’ and ‘alive’, clear as white and black. Somehow such ambiguous word managed to wedge its way into his speech. A proof that it was entirely his tongue’s doing.

“It’s normal training for me,” spoke Karna weakly. “The mage, no, my mentor is usually very strict. It’s for my own good, he says. He actually went easy on me today.”

“Tch, mages,” Siegfried mumbled with disdain. The most wretched of the wretched mankind. They would do anything to gain more powers even if it endangered their life.

That meant, this human child too…

“Are you training to become a mage?”

Karna, who had sat down under the tree since his quivering legs couldn’t bear standing anymore, had a startled look manifesting on his features. Perhaps he hadn’t anticipated a question. Perhaps he hadn’t expected this sort of question from a child of his age. His pearly teeth worried his bottom lip until it was red as a strawberry. “I… I don’t know,” he hesitated. “It may be what they want me to become, but they never really tell me anything. They say I have to go train with him and so I do. If I don’t, they will get very upset, and it scares me when they get upset.”

Siegfried was ready to mock any answer from Karna, and when he got it, all he had for response was a prolonged silence. This sounded like an echo of a recent past. His past. Left tattered at his mother’s talons when she abandoned him. Born an anomaly and growing up as one, he had been hyper-aware of his own differences and his potential to be a disappointment. Thus, he had been holding his breath in a constant fear that he might do something wrong to enrage his mother and his kin. A scared and clueless little hybrid, who had learned too slowly that it was what he was rather than what he did that had bred hatred into his kin’s hearts.

“They?” The single word after a long pause was an echo of Karna’s own word.

“My… caretaker.”

Siegfried decided not to dwell into the matter regarding his ‘caretaker’ and why he didn’t mentioned his parents. He took off Karna’s cloak and tossed it to the boy, eliciting a surprised yelp. “You’re shaking. Must be cold. There, I give your cloak back.”

“I’m not cold, so you keep it. You seem to need it more than me.”

That was true. Soon as it departed from his skin, Siegfried’s body was immediately invaded by the chill. But he would rather die than admit it to a human brat. His frame began to shake.

“I don’t need it.”

Without a word, Karna took the coat to Siegfried’s side and sat down, draping the cloak over both of them. Their bodies were close enough Siegfried could feel the human heat and scent radiating from Karna. He smelled like sunshine on fresh meadows. How strange it was to have a summer scent when it was in the middle of winter. Karna probably could feel his hard scales too. Did he not mind them since his skin was so tender, so prone to scratches?

“There, we’ll both be warm.”

“If you felt cold, you shouldn’t have given your cloak like that,” Siegfried chided, feeling the tips of ears heating.

“I’m not feeling so cold, so it’s fine without it. Weren’t you trying to grill the fish? I know how to build a fire. First you need something to keep the fire burning. It’ll die out soon no matter how strong it is.”

Siegfried watched Karna gather small branches around their feet. There were a lot on the ground. Siegfried hadn’t paid them any attention until now; dragons had no need for them.

“They should be dry or else they won’t burn,” Karna continued. “Lucky us, they are. There, some fire, please.”

“To these?”

“Yes.”

Siegfried didn’t quite grasp Karna’s intention but he saw no harm in obliging him. He blew as carefully as he could; the last he needed was an outburst, which could harm the fragile human by his side.

The branches quickly caught fire and soon they were burning.

The young dragon stared at the fire, deeply enthralled by its erratic yet mesmerizing dance. Dragons and fire shared a unique bond that no other species on earth could comprehend. To them, even the humans who arrogantly claimed to ‘tame’ it, fire was a greatest destructive force of nature whose presence they fled from. Ever seen a beast approaching the flame? However, fire was the essence of a dragon’s soul, and when a dragon perished, he breathed his last fire before his soul extinguished.

Siegfried wasn’t the only one hypnotized by the flame; his only companion appeared to be also. Gingerly he extended his hand toward the flame as if it was a substance with shape and texture to be touched or held. And he would have been licked by the flame if Siegfried hadn’t caught his wrist in time. Didn’t this human child possess any common sense? Even if that was the case, shouldn’t his instinct have indicated fire was danger? Every creature’s should, as far as Siegfried could tell. “Don’t know it could burn you badly?” the dragon hybrid grunted, frustrated with Karna’s several oddities he had displayed. Siegfried couldn’t say if it was how humans acted, having interacted with only one so far, or Karna was being a peculiar case; he just knew there was an unsettling feeling in his stomach that couldn’t be shaken off.

“I’m sorry,” said Karna. “It was so beautiful I couldn’t help myself.”

“Other creatures won’t agree.”

“I’m special and I like it,” Karna replied with a childish pride. “But you like the flame, don’t you?”

“I’m a dragon and fire can’t harm me.”

“Should I not like something that jeopardizes my safety?”

Siegfried shrugged. Was that a rhetorical question?

“Huhm…”

Karna poked the fire with a branch while wearing a contemplative look, probably digesting the matter. “Well,” he began after a while, “if it’s how logic goes than I shouldn’t be get close to you. You said earlier that you could eat me and I knew you could because dragons eat humans, my caretakers often say. But–”

His untimely pause was followed by a wide grin. “But I like you a lot.”

Siegfried scoffed.

“I’m telling the truth,” Karna retorted.

“Whatever,” Siegfried said, trying to keep a nonchalant tone. In his head he had denied for the tenth time what Karna didn’t mean a thing to him. He never knew the tips of his ears had gone red, and Karna might have already seen it. “The fish…” he muttered, changing the subject so abruptly he surprised himself.

Karna blinked. “The fish?” he echoed, confused. “Oh right, sorry. You must be really hungry.”

Aren’t you? Siegfried thought. The sun rays were dying, which meant it was about time for supper.

Karna grabbed a smaller branch and swiftly impaled the fish with it. Perfectly from head to tail. He then held it over the fire, turning the fish every few seconds. “You try it too,” he encouraged.

Siegfried regarded the fish being cooked on the fight with dubiety before imitating Karna. Still, his technique was far inferior to Karna’s and when he held the fish over the fire, it slipped right off.

“Don’t laugh,” Siegfried growled.

“OK, I won’t,” Karna answered with his half-hearted attempt to muffle his coming giggles. “One, two, three… you have fives fish, not counting the one you just fed the flame.”

Siegfried have him a sully look. This human way wasn’t going too well for him either. Maybe the next time he caught something, he’d eat it raw and save himself the hassle. That sounded alright; he would just have to learn to adapt to digesting raw food.

“There, it’s good,” Karna said, giving him a fish, whose skin had turned a golden brown and was giving an enticing aroma entirely different from the pungent smell of charcoal. His mouth watered and his stomach grumbled, urging him to appeasing its need. He took half a fish in a single bite and experienced the taste of flesh-water fish for the first time in his life. Different than meat but delectable nonetheless. He wouldn’t mind adding fish to his diet.

Finish the fish with record speed, Siegfried examined his remaining fish and after some consideration, he chose the biggest one and impaled it on a branch. It was big so the task went much smoother. He handed it to Karna – more like shoved it into his hand. “This one’s for you.”

“Me? But I’m not too hungry.”

“Not too hungry means you’re hungry and I don’t want to owe anything to a human.”

A dumbfounded look was what Siegfried got as a reply.

“You gave me your food earlier so now I’m sharing mine with you,” Siegfried said. “With this we’re even.”

“Umu.”

Siegfried failed to comprehend just how a fish could make a kid happy but Karna was beaming so brightly that he was envious of him. Smiles had been scarce in his life, and he didn’t find a lot of reasons to be happy. On the other hand there was something truly appealing in that kid’s smiles that immediately dissolved the envy in his heart and filled it with fluffy warmth. He was determined to find out what it was someday.

Wait, did that mean he intended to meet Karna again? He didn’t abhor the notion as he should but still…

By the time they finished all the fish and stood up with their bellies full, the sky was a purple hue. Darkness would soon come engulfing the land.

“I should be going home now,” Karna said, dusting the snow off his clothes. “I’ll be back a couple days later. Can I find you here?”

Siegfried had been thinking about searching for a bigger cave but it wasn’t like he would find it in a day or two. “I’m not moving anywhere. Not in a few days at least.”

“Great. Next time I’ll bring more buns with the special jams Nan makes. You’ll love it.”

“Are you… alright coming back by yourself?” Siegfried hesitated, looking at the trail ahead. When darkness fell, it was hunting time for predators.

Karma beamed, puffing his small chest. “I know the trails in this wood by heart and I can take care of myself, but thank you.”

Siegfried looked away, embarrassed. “It’s not like I’m going to escort you or anything…”

He might know the ways around here a lot less than Karna.

“See you,” Karna said, waving his hand as he walked into the trail.

Curling up inside his cave that night, Siegfried didn’t have a good sleep. He had a weird dream of watching a pack of wolves devouring something. He couldn’t see what it was but the crunching noises were loud and unnerving. And then there were turfs of white hairs and pieces of red fabric on the ground which looked disturbingly familiar to him.

To be continued

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