The End of His Days
Nina was dead. She had flown into the steel wall and snapped her neck.
Ryu hadn't told God her name, of course. He didn't want Her to think that he was nostalgic for his old life. He wasn't. But his newer friends needed names, and old names just felt... right.
He cradled her carefully in his palm and walked her over to the place that he never called the graveyard. Here in the garden, where there was only peace, it seemed somehow sacrilegious to admit that death still occurred. He never mentioned such thoughts to God, of course. She would have offered to get him a new bird, and that was really the last thing he wanted.
She had given him a trowel some time ago, in hopes that he would help tend the garden as a way to pass the time. Ryu used it now to scoop a bit of dirt from the ground. Just enough space to fit his fist, if he so desired. Enough space for a beautiful red and yellow bird, its head twisted at an unnatural angle. He placed her into the grave as gently as he could, and replaced the soil.
When he died, Ryu wondered, when the passage of time finally caught up with him... would God bury him as he had done with his little friends during his time here? Teepo's body had been gone by the time Ryu took his place, and Ryu had never asked Her where She had put him. Maybe She had taken him apart, scattered him in the atmosphere. It would be an amazing send-off... but Teepo wouldn't have wanted something so grand. He'd loved this garden too much for that. Ryu resolved to ask Her about it. One day.
He didn't ask Her too many questions. The last question he'd asked had been some time ago, he thought, when he wanted to know how long he'd been here. She'd easily replied that it had been more than a decade... and asked if perhaps he was getting tired of this life. He'd quickly assured Her that no such thought had passed his mind, and resolved not to ask so many questions in the future.
Questions were dangerous, She'd explained years ago--or was it just yesterday? She gave him everything he needed, and there was no need to ask for what She didn't give voluntarily. It was human nature to reach beyond one's means, but Ryu of all people needed to know his place.
And he did know his place. It was here, in the garden. Saving the world from himself.
He dropped the trowel as if it were red-hot and got to his feet. God was looking upon him, and suddenly he felt silly worrying about the bird. Not to mention that his hands were dirty now. What if She took his hand? Would She know that it had been defiled just recently by a dead animal?
But it didn't appear that She was here for one of their occasional talks. Instead, She had a sad smile on her face.
"My dear Ryu." Her voice was sweet, laced with echoes. "We have visitors."
And he understood what She meant. There were no visitors to the garden. There were only invaders. He nodded.
Ryu immediately found himself surrounded by a shimmering light, blinding in its intensity. When it cleared, She was gone... and he was changed. Gone were his simple, grass-stained clothes. Instead he found himself armed with sword, shield and breastplate. These were not the same armaments he'd worn so long ago--these were golden, laced with the authority of God. He had been called upon to do the one thing She had asked him never to do: unleash the Dragon.
It was no time at all before he heard the footsteps. He had expected more time! He'd had nothing but time for so long, and now... Now things were moving too quickly.
He had opened the steel door only twice during his stay here--once out of curiosity, once because he thought he'd heard something. Now it slid open, and Ryu felt his adrenaline begin to rise for the first time in...
Ryu saw them, and his spirit sank. The great gargoyle was unchanged, untouched by Ryu's years in the garden, but the yellow-furred man with the twin daggers showed streaks of gray in a mane that flowed down to his waist. Ryu had hoped against hope that it would not be them. He had already had to bury their namesakes. He didn't want to bury them, too.
And then, when he saw her--the third intruder--Ryu had to fight to keep from being sick. He knew immediately upon seeing her that she, too, held a Dragon. Ryu's emotions threatened to overwhelm him, as his relief at seeing another Dragon was soon followed by guilt and revulsion. She even looked like him, down to the blue hair and blue eyes.
She knew it too, he could see in her stance. Maybe she'd known before getting here. How much did the other two remember? Hadn't God erased their memories? Had they expected to see him here?
When Ryu made no move to attack, she slowly lowered her weapon, a rapier. "Please put down your weapon," she said, in a voice that was both surprisingly familiar and jarringly alien. How long had it been since he'd heard a voice other than God's? She continued, "We don't want to fight you."
"We're going all the way this time," the gargoyle interjected. "Don't make this harder than it has to be."
"I can handle this," snapped the girl. She really was just a girl. Not even twenty yet. "Listen," she said, turning back to Ryu, "My name's Rya. Who are you?"
It was that question, in the end, renewed his determination. He was reminded of exactly who, exactly *what* he really was.
"This," Ryu said in a voice made unsteady through years of silence, "is who I am."
And with that, he released the Dragon.
It was not like most of his transformations had been. He had no control, no thought. Only rage. The Dragon had resented its solitude, its years of imprisonment, and finally it could unleash its wrath on a target. Ryu was gone, and the Dragon's hatred and anger were--
The Dragon had the girl--Rya, wasn't it?--pinned. She had transformed as well, her humanoid form graced with wings and a fiery mane of hair. But now Ryu was awake, and through the Dragon's eyes he saw the trench he'd dug with her body, the furrowed earth and torn roots. Desiccated bones poked through the earth. Nina's dead eyes stared up at the pitiless beast above, and behind the Dragon's eyes Ryu was paralyzed with horror.
It took only that pause, before the sharp pain in his throat let Ryu know that this fight was over. Reflexively, he reached for the source of pain and pulled it out. He stared at the bloody spear in his claws--it was to him as a pencil would be to a human form. He laughed at the comparison in his mind, giddy as the Dragon realized what had happened, and roared its pain and frustrated anger away.
As the roar faded, so did the Dragon. Eventually, all that was left was Ryu, just a man again and lying on the earth as the girl desperately tried to stop the flow of blood. Looking up at her, he couldn't help wondering why she was crying.
Soon, Garr--Ryu could say the name if he wanted, he no longer needed to worry about Myria's disapproval--pulled the girl away, out of Ryu's sight. He was left with the muffled sounds of their conversation and his own labored breathing. He felt the familiar peace of the garden begin to seep over him again, lulling him to sleep.
Rei's silent appearance in his field of vision delayed the smooth transition momentarily. Ryu smiled up at the old rogue, and Rei smiled back. "Fly free, bro," he said, or Ryu thought he said. "Rest easy. We'll look after her."
Ryu wanted to ask Rei... something... But the question slipped away. The Dragon was calling him, impatient. It was time to go and spread his wings.
As his vision faded, the other two visitors joined Rei in standing over him. The girl tried to say something, tried to say it so loudly it must have been important. But Ryu couldn't hear her anymore.
"Hey," he tried to say past a tongue that wouldn't work, "you look like her."
And with that last thought, Ryu left his cage behind.
All That Glitters Is Cold 3 Fanfic Competition
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