Chapter 37 - On White-Feathered Wings
Mikaen blasted another drone into scrap with a well-placed electrical blast before leaning forward against Truth for support; between the fighting and using his energist skills, he was exhausted. At least his wings had settled … for the moment, anyway.
Sergeant Jures was there in an instant, patting him on the shoulder. "Take it easy, buddy. We'll clear the rest of 'em out."
A surge of pain beyond anything Mikaen had ever felt before shot through his back. With a scream, he fell to the ground.
Jures knelt by him, shouting at his nearby troops, "Jinne! Rael! Cover us!"
The two soldiers quickly let out a hail of energy blasts at the nearest drones as the sergeant helped Mikaen away from the fighting.
Barely able to keep himself from collapsing, Mikaen asked, "What … what happened?"
"I don't know. I didn't see any weapon fire. You just-" Jures stood very suddenly and backed a way, whispering, "By the Creator!"
Mikaen didn't have to ask what had startled the Galden soldier; he could feel his wings stretching against his back. It was an agonizing sensation, but at the same time, he felt the strangest sense of anticipation running through his body.
One appeared moments later, accidentally bumping into a whirring drone. He spun about and sliced the drone cleanly through its power core with a flick of a fusion blade. After staring at the dead drone for a moment, he shrugged and said, "Er, yeah. Let's go with that."
Shaking his head, One ran over to Mikaen and asked, "You okay, dude?"
"Do I look like I'm okay?" He hissed through clenched teeth.
"What's going on?" Jures asked as One helped Mikaen take off his upper armor.
"I'm no biologist," said One, setting Mikaen's selanium-thread shirt beside his plated shoulder guards, "But I think his wings are about to tear out of his back."
"His … wait, he's a sentient?!" Sergeant Jures blasted a flying drone with barely a glance.
"Don't worry," One said, patting Mikaen's arm, "Tirinia will be here in a minute, and-"
Mikaen grabbed One by the front of his shirt, hissing, "I said I didn't want her here!"
One batted Mikaen's arms away easily. "Don't you think she should have some say in that? She's a tigreth for crying out loud! She can take care of herself. More importantly, she can take care of you!"
"I'm not losing her like I lost Maria!"
"You lost Maria because she did the same damn thing you just tried to do!"
"Maria was only trying to protect me-" Mikaen said angrily.
"Just like you were trying to protect Tirinia." One put his hands on hips. "Now you tell me; how did you feel after you lost Maria?"
Mikaen opened his mouth to argue, but nothing came out. In a quiet voice, he asked, "Is she mad at me?"
"No, but she's gonna give you hell for the rest of your very long life if you treat her like she's some kind of fairy princess again."
Mikaen chuckled. Despite the pain in his back, despite the smoke stinging his nostrils and the heat from the fire, despite the rain which slowly began to pelt him in the face, he laughed.
Jures looked at Mikaen, obviously discomfited by the strange turn in his behavior.
"I'm an idiot, aren't I?" Mikaen asked quietly.
"In the typical in-love way, yeah." One grinned at him. "Feeling better?"
Mikaen nodded, slowly straightening. "The pain's mostly died down. How much time?"
One checked his indicator. "Two minutes. Speaking of which, where's the Breath of Fire?"
Behind One, Mikaen spotted Tirinia and Teria emerging from the forest into the ravine, followed by Maxim, Jeronem, and a small group of idestan. Tirinia spotted Mikaen almost instantly and broke into a run.
Mikaen started to wave, but froze as he saw the answer to One's question descend from the dark sky, its claws outstretched.
"BEHIND YOU!" he shouted.
Swearing, One activated his tek boots and shot forward, but Mikaen could tell he wasn't going to get there in time. Teria was running now, glancing only for a moment at the dragon overhead.
One must've realized it as well; still moving forward, he opened fire with everything he had; bolts, slivers, and even a few bursts of compressed energy. He managed to blast off a few scales here and there, but the dragon remained intent on its target.
The idestan coming out of the forest behind the sisters opened fire, as did Maxim, his right arm transforming into an energy cannon, but most shots were absorbed by the dreadnaught's thick armor.
Mikaen started running, even though he knew his tek-boot wouldn't be enough. His back began throbbing worse than ever, but he didn't care; he had to get to Tirinia first. As the pain peaked, he focused on Tirinia, driving out everything else but the thought of protecting her.
The pain broke and sent waves of relief through Mikaen's body. The world rushed by in a blur of fire and rain as a gust of wind pushed him forward past One in a matter of seconds. He grabbed Tirinia and immediately shot straight up into the air mere seconds before the dragon roared past, its talons tearing into the now vacant ground.
As Mikaen rose higher and higher into the sky, he felt a sense of elation as his new muscles stretched and worked, finally freed from their prison. A quick glance back showed him what he already knew: two wings with feathers as white as snow now protruded from his back.
The wonder in Tirinia's eyes quickly turned to terror. "Teria!" She screamed, pointing back at the dragon.
He turned in mid-air, his wings beating instinctively to give him the perfect view. At first glance, it looked like the dragon had grabbed a chunk of earth. As he kept looking, however, he realized that it had managed to partially catch Teria. She hung from the corner of a claw, her arm trapped in the mass of dirt.
Clutching Tirinia tightly, Mikaen flew toward the dragon as fast as his new wings could carry him. The dragon was fast, but with his energist skills providing an extra gust to move him along, Mikaen was just a little bit faster.
He wasn't alone, however.
"INCOMING!" A blast of gray and green stripes rocketed past Mikaen, heading straight for the dragon.
One hit the side of the dragon, digging into the metal scales with the strength of Headache's mechanical hands.
Teria turned to watch as One scrambled up the dragon's side. Surprisingly non-panicked, she shouted, "Hurry up, already! My arm's starting to get sore!"
"Hold on, Teria!" One shouted, though he wasn't sure if she could even hear him. He clambered his way up to the creature's back. It was extremely difficult; the dragon shook with every flap of its wings, threatening to throw him off. Still, he kept climbing upward, tearing out handfuls of scales with every grip he took until he was finally on top of the dreadnaught.
Walking on the back of the Breath of Fire was as difficult as climbing up the side; even with the magnetic lock on the boots, strong gusts threatened to send him flying with every step. Gritting his teeth, One shielded his eyes from the driving rain and slowly began to move forward.
As the creature dipped down slightly, One got a good look at the distant city of Muonsol, something he would have appreciated much more if he hadn't been on the back of a rampaging dragon.
One felt his feet begin to slip. "Oh no!" he muttered, scrambling to gain a grip, but in moments, he was sliding down the slick scales of the dragon.
At the last instant, he managed to grab on to a spike on the tip of one of the extended wings. "Thank the Creeeeagh!"
The dragon stared at him, its long neck nearly bent double.
"Uh … hi." said One, a foolhardy grin on his face as he hugged the dragon's wing. "I don't suppose … turbo cheesecake?"
It let loose a roar that made One's ears ring. With a flick of its wing, the dragon sent One flying.
"Jerk!" he shouted, barely able to see as he fell.
By sheer luck, he managed to stop his fall by grabbing a thick tree branch as he flew past. After scrambling to the top, he spotted Mikaen and Tirinia not too far away. He started to wave when he realized that Tirinia was trying to say something.
"I can't hear you!" He shouted through the howling wind and rain. She pointed at him frantically, still shouting.
A slow feeling of dread rising within him, One turned around to see the dragon's teeth descending.
He grabbed the creature's jaws just before he was shut in. His boots pressed against the bottom teeth and Headache firmly gripping massive canines, One slowly forced the dragon's mouth open.
A rumble came from the inner-workings of the dragon. Looking down the throat, One could see flames gathering deep in the machine's bowels.
"Cyber-friggin'-cripes!" he shouted, "Can't you hold it for a sec?"
Gritting his teeth, he braced one arm against the creature's mouth. It was enough to keep the dragon from eating him … barely. As he strained to keep the jaws from closing, he flexed his free arm. A can of his 'special' cola fell into his open hand.
"Cool and refreshing." He muttered before lugging the can down the creature's throat.
The can exploded halfway down the dragon's throat, immediately blocking the passage with a massive chunk of solid ice. The dragon's jaw suddenly went slack. A sickening jolt in One's stomach informed him that both he and the dragon were falling. Grabbing the creature's jaws with both hands, he threw its mouth open, and leapt free.
His feet hit the ground less than ten feet away. Stumbling slightly, he made a bolt for the trees, and not a moment too soon; the dragon hit the ground seconds behind him, its head smashing the ground where he had been standing.
One skidded to a halt near the base of a tree, gasping for breath. "Wow." He managed to say between gasps, "That was … interesting."
The touch of a hand on his shoulder made him jump; literally and figuratively. He spun about, but it was only Teria, looking concerned.
"Teria! You're okay!" He was so happy to see her safe that he threw his arms around her and gave her a bear of a hug.
She winced, "Watch the arm! Ow! Let go of me!"
Remembering himself, One quickly released her.
She glared at him balefully, rubbing her injured arm. "I know it's hard, me being so beautiful and all, but try and control yourself!"
"But … you were stuck. How did you get away?"
"I got myself out, thank you very much." Sniffing, she added, "Still, I guess your distraction kinda helped. A little, anyway. So … thanks."
"Null problem." One glanced around. "Where are Tirinia and Mikaen, anyway?"
Teria pointed. One turned to see Mikaen landing awkwardly nearby, Tirinia still in his arms.
"Hey, Mikaen!" One shouted, "Nice job!"
Mikaen nodded breathlessly, stumbling a little as he walked.
Tirinia helped him stand, her face filled with worry. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine; I just feel a little worn out."
"Yeah, the euphoria from your Gineros is probably wearing off. Probably best to get him to a safe location for the time being." One glanced around a moment before the entrance to the cave where the Breath of Fire had been entombed. "There! Take him there. Hurry up; the Breath of Fire's not gonna be inactive forever."
A loud roar told him that the dragon had managed to clear its throat. "Cyber-friggin'-cripes!" One shouted, "Cut me some slack already!"
Turning back to the others, he said, "Get moving! I'll hold it off!"
He had only just started forward when the indicator on the back of his right Headache unit started ringing.
Looking to the sky, One shouted, "Thank you!"
One ran straight toward the dragon as it descended through the trees.
"No! One!" Teria shouted, letting go of Mikaen's arm.
One clamped both Headache units together and aimed them at the sky, shouting as loud as he could, "FINAL FANTASY!"