Chapter 1: Where No One Goes
The horizon stretched out as far as the eye could see, blue skies meeting bluer seas as the remarkably warm air (warm for the Northern Archipelago, anyway) seemed to hum with untapped energy. Clouds towered in the neverending cerulean, white spires reaching up toward the pale, glimmering sun; dark shapes twisted slowly, peacefully through the endless expanse of sky as silhouettes of wide-winged creatures floated tranquilly beneath the gently lapping waves. It was the picture of serenity, untouched by humans, empty of sound and shadow and everything but the atmosphere and the ocean--
And then the spell broke as a blur of black and gold and shining silver shot over the waves like an arrow flying true. The blur, like a bat-winged shadow with a dash of cobalt and smooth, cold metal singed onto one half of its tail, kicked up sea-spray in its wake, weaving in and out of the pod of deep-bellied-round-mouthed Thunderdrum dragons with ease. A figure rose a bit, shifting the elaborate contraption on the shadow’s neck--a shadow with two heads, now, the human who rode it hidden in a suit of sleek, scale-patterned dark leather and streaks of moonlight--as she changed positions, the fin shifting as the metal clicked and whirred, and the two suddenly arced up toward the clouds at dizzying speeds.
“YEAH!” Her voice, a little deeper, a little huskier than it was five years ago from ages spent around flames and the forge and the beasts she loved, echoed as they shot for the upper air, and the dragon’s croon of delight followed. The clouds blocked their combined vision (the dragon's in shades of vibrant violet and stunning silver, the human's a burst of rainbow color) for a moment as they reached the first layer, but soon they were twisting forward together, up, out, always perfectly in time with each other's movements, thoughts, desires. No two creatures had ever been so in tune with each other as these two, and they moved and shifted as one being, diving below one deep shelf of clouds and into the light of the brilliant blue skies.
The dragon, a bolt of pure lightning-dusted shadow, let out an eager growl before flipping over, the rider on its back cackling with glee as she reached down to brush the clouds with one brace-clad hand. The cold, wet, bone-deep chill sent a thrill of adrenaline through her as they hung in the air, the curve of their bodies sinuous and mesmerizing, two souls made one --and then they dove, plunging downwards. Batlike wings were flung open before they could fall below the cloud layer, faster than thought, than light, than life. The rider threw her head back and laughed, the sound piercing the clouds, before shifting the scarlet tail and sending them spinning upwards. They ascended in tight corkscrew spirals, dark wings pulled in up, upupupup higher, higher, higher!
The dragon’s wings slowly unfurled, two great black sails against the endless blue, and a shrieking, delighted cry came from its toothless maw as it folded them and fell back, the rider on its back cheering. Green eyes, alight with adrenaline and joy, glow as it tilts its head, lipless mouth pulled back in a grin as they twisted and level out, the rider unfurling her own arms as they spun slowly up and through the glorious skyscape, the palaces of white clouds and the limitless expanse of cold, bright air. Sharp-winged bright-eyed Timberjacks turned their great heads to look at the new interlopers, the unholy offspring of Lightning and Death itself and the girl who brought him down--and sent them both soaring up again.
“Whaddya think, Meliodas?” The young woman’s voice, bright and cheery, echoed over across the open sky as she leaned forward a bit, resting her elbows on the narrow, scale-covered back of the Night Fury. “You wanna give it another shot?” Blue eyes glittered through the slits in her mask, gleeful in her wild energy, and she snickered as the dragon--as Meliodas --snorted in annoyance. “Aw, come on…”
A thread of exasperated affection leaked through the strange link between their minds, a hint of concern thrumming there despite the dismissive tone of his following words. You’re crazy.
“That’s been established.” She patted his head lightly and he grumbled, swishing his tail so that they wobbled in place. “Aw, don’t be such a baby. It’ll be fine!”
You could die. Also, why the hell do you want to do this? There came another snort, green eyes rolling back as he tilted his head to look the woman in the eye. You humans and your curiosity, I’ll never understand…
“As I said last time --” Her tone implied that there had been a great many of these arguments in the past-- “that’s half the fun!” She sat up, bent back a lever that made that strange red fin on the Night Fury’s tail flare out, matching the gold-dusted black one beside it. A booted foot unhooked from the stirrup attached ingeniously to the saddle rig. Her other foot, a contraption crafted of metal that clicked into place perfectly, came free, and she purred low in her throat. “Ready…”
She tipped over the side with a wild laugh, plunging toward the bottomless sea through miles of clouds and open air and freedom, an Icarus falling of her own free will to taste both open ocean and the farthest reaches of the sky.
The dragon’s form rippled as she plummeted, shifted, from a sinuous, decidedly inhuman creature to a strange mix of human and dragon, black scales rippling up sun-kissed skin, white-less green eyes glowing savagely as sharp fangs popped out of his gums. He looped up and around before diving gracefully after the human, dark tail and darker wings streaming out behind him as he sliced through the air. Clawed fingers twined with hers, and he could sense her grinning through the mask. “You are ridiculous,” he said aloud, reaching up with one claw to poke her; she spun at the touch, sending the normally graceful Night Fury twisting and sputtering as he tried to regain his balance.
Her laughter sounded like sunlight given sound. “Ah, you love me.” The ocean was drawing nearer, nearer, nearer, and she drew it out til the last possible second, craving that insane, wild rush-- and she slid her arms through two loops that suddenly snapped from her pants and flung them outwards, panels of fabric snapping open that caught the wind and sent her arcing upwards. Meliodas followed suit, his dark wings unfurling as they rose together on high thermal drafts.
She spun out ahead of the dragon, at the whim of the wind and held aloft by nothing but her own wings, her beloved partner just a few feet behind her. She glanced over her shoulder at him, wondering if he could tell she was smiling.
The amused grin on his own lips and the green eyes luminous beneath blond bangs told her enough, and she turned her head away before swooping forward. “Woooo-hoo!”
The sky was open here, pumping into her, wild and fearless and she could taste it, like spearmint and embers and lightning coursing off her tongue and through her veins. A blast echoed just beneath her and she swooped over it, laughing as Meliodas swung closer. “Thought you were worried about me?”
“You’ve got a pretty fine handle on it!” Another blast of plasma shot from his hands and she swerved to avoid it, the game continuing as he fired off another round. The clouds grew thicker, the call of the endless blue like a wildfire pumping through her heart, and she felt so full of joy and freedom she could burst, the pressure of her father’s words left behind on the ground.
This is amazing.
Chapter 2: II
Elizabeth is reckless, Meliodas is grumpy, and both of them have an itch to explore. What else is new?
I DIDN'T ABANDON THIS HAHA THIS CHAPTER WAS JUST A PAIN IN THE ASS
Elizabeth-- Meliodas’s voice echoed through their link as she swooped and dove, sounding suddenly alarmed as they entered a fog bank. She glanced back at him, arching her eyebrows from within the helm; he’d shifted back to his full form, dark gold-dusted scales rippling over sun-kissed skin as a being caught between beast and human chose a new shape. He was beautiful, really, almost ridiculously, unfairly so, a bolt of living shadow, star-flecked thunder and brilliance.
She shook off the thought--there were better places, less dangerous places to be waxing mentally eloquent about her admittedly stunning partner. “What is it?” She glanced ahead, just in case, before screeching as an island--a full fucking island over a hundred miles up--loomed up out of the gloom, surrounded by sea-stacks that they were seconds from crashing into. “Oh, fuck! No longer amazing, hey, uh, Meliodas--”
There was a frustrated screech as dark wings beat at the air, her partner unable to maneuver as smoothly without her there--the stones were close, so close, too goddamn close shit shit shit-- “Any day now!” We’re gonna die we’re gonna die we are so gonna die--
A blast shot out, singing her flight suit as it roared past and smashed into a cleft in the sea-stack, the world exploding into light and heat as arms and wings wrapped around her, his body rippling as he shifted from human-ish to dragon and pulled her through the fire. Her laugh (a hysterical one stemming entirely from relief; even she wasn’t crazy enough to enjoy nearly dying--at least, not when it happened like that) turned into another yelp as Meliodas slammed into trees, the two of them rolling downhill, still interlocked--and skidding to a halt just as they reached the edge of the little island.
“Ow, ow, ow…” She pulled free of his wings with a grimace, reaching down the leg of her flight suit, fingers scrabbling for the little switch-- a-ha! With a soft whirr-click, her “flight mode” leg rotated in, switching easily out for her walking one as she pulled herself to her feet, surveying the damage. The tail-fin and flight gear seemed to be in good shape, luckily; she’d just repaired them yesterday from another crash (they really had to work on these landing maneuvers, this was the third flop this week) and flying back to Liones to repair them would’ve been a nightmare, especially with Father trying to corner her.
She pushed the thought from her mind, dusting herself off and peeling the now-useless flaps of leather from her arms as Meliodas shifted fluidly back to semi-human form, his ear-flaps flattened and his expression flat and irritated. A grin tugged at the corners of her mouth beneath her helmet as she rolled the leather up and tucked it into the special pockets she’d developed; the fear had vanished now, replaced entirely with the remaining buzz of adrenaline, the thrill of exploring. “Whoo! We gotta work on your solo-gliding, I think; that was your sloppiest rescue to date and the locked-up tail certainly isn’t helping .” Already there were blueprints buzzing in her mind, new designs and strokes of genius painting them all in scintillating color, and her grin only widened.
“You broke a sea-stack,” Meliodas said flatly as the massive tower of stone indeed started to crumble behind them. “You literally broke a millennia-old natural tower of stone.”
“Technically, that was all you and your penchant for plasma-blasting your way out of problems.”
She jabbed a playful finger at him, grinning as he snapped his teeth irritably in response. “Oh, excuse me for saving your life--”
She laughed, tightening the loops that had held her self-made wigs around her arms back into place by her legs. “For which I am very grateful, love. I save you, you save me, remember?” There was a soft whirr as she spun the dial on her chest, the dorsal fin of her suit retracting neatly once more, his green eyes softening as she met his gaze--and then looked out to the endless horizon, the pale, washed-out blue of the infinite skies limned in fog and brushed with the edges of autumn-tinted forest. One more puzzle piece in the forever-shifting wonder that was the world beyond the Archipelago.
Elizabeth Liones pulled her helmet free, long, unbound silver hair spilling down her back as she tucked it under her arm and beamed at the wide-open sky, the fog rolling over yet another new discovery--another piece of the new world she would create. A world where dragons and humans were united, and she and Meliodas would fly together until their hearts stopped beating and they fell from the sky for the last time. “Looks like we found another one, love.”
Another mystery to solve, another question to answer—another reason to fly until the world turned to stardust and ash, and then soar straight to the steps of Valhalla. Another horizon to reach, another tug on that ancient, primal siren song in her heart, the one guiding her out to a world far from all she’d known. Maybe her youth was ending, maybe her father had been talking about passing on the throne, growing up a little, but Elizabeth would never stop looking. Could never stop looking, until she knew what drew her out to where no Viking had ever set foot, what made her, a hiccup, the pride of her Tribe...until she knew who she was.
A grumble from behind her made her shift slightly, her blissful smile already turning into a wicked smirk as Meliodas’s irritation, so much a staple of her life that it was as familiar to her as his lightning-strike joy or boundless, night-sky-deep love, poured through their bond. She didn’t look away from the view, though, knowing that this, of course, would annoy him far more-- before hissing in surprise as a pebble smacked her in the back of the head. “Ow,” she muttered yet again, before glancing over to find Meliodas in full dragon form, and looking so undeniably sulky (scuffing at the ground with his paws, disgruntled written all over his sleek muzzle in capital letters, tail swishing crossly--like a child that got tricked into helping their parents with chores; gods, this was adorable) that she couldn’t help snickering at the sight.
Someone’s grumpy, she cooed through their link, and got a wordless snarl in response. Laughing, she turned away from the cliff, her steady, loping gait taking her towards the irate Night Fury--not a good decision by any stretch of the imagination, if she had been anyone but the first dragon rider (but she was, and she was the best damn one of the lot, so she could do what-the-fuck-ever she pleased). “Aw, do you want an apology?” she crooned, and scratched under his chin; Meliodas backpedaled and harrumphed loudly at her. “Is that why you’re pouting, big baby boo?”
Meliodas rolled his eyes, made a mocking grumbling noise, lightning-dusted scales and muscle rippling as he turned his head away from her, the mindlink still silent on his end. Definitely sulking, Elizabeth knew, and she grinned even wider. Too easy. “Well, try this on!”
Stronger, she might indeed have been, but nothing but an alpha dragon itself could move Meliodas when he got in this infuriating state, sitting there like a lump as she clung to him, shoving and pushing and gods, she probably looked ridiculous, but he was being so boring. “Come on, you feelin’ it yet?” she cajoled, wrapping her arms around his neck and planting prosthetic and booted feet in the ground before swinging her legs up to kick him in the chest. “Pickin’ up on all my heartfelt remorse--”
There was a low grunt as he rose onto his hind legs suddenly, leaving her feet dangling inches off the ground as he lumbered over to the edge of the fucking cliff, shit, maybe this was a terrible idea. “No, shit, Meliodas, you sit your ass down right now, don’t--” She glanced down to the empty air beneath her dangling legs, the roiling oceans suddenly looking so much hungrier, and yelped, tightening her grip. “You asshole!”
A low, rumbling sound bubbled up in the Night Fury’s chest, and she managed to detach one arm, pounding at his shoulder in annoyance as his voice filtered back through the link. Stupid human.
“Yeah, yeah, you’re a real clever beast, beating up a one-legged woman like that.” His derision at her words was palpable and she was the one to grumble now before squeaking as he leaned dangerously forward, clinging to him again. “ Okayokayokay , you’re right, you win.” She peered up into mischievous green eyes, scowled at him. “Don’t make me say it again-- ack!”
Meliodas’s laughter rang in her ears, bright and amused, as he threw himself back onto the sea-stack and took her with him, sprawling head over heels. She tumbled over the Night Fury, before cackling despite herself as he planted a paw on her chest, grinning that sweet gummy smile that always made her cave in the end.
“Oh, and she’s down!” Elizabeth cried overdramatically, flinging an arm over her forehead like a true thespian before managing to heave his paw off--oh, gods, had he just used that as an excuse to grope her? Asshole!-- and swinging playfully at him. “Ah, and it’s ugly!” The claw pawed at her again, batting at her clawfully like a cat with a toy as she clawed and swung and laughed at him, narrating their fight-- “Dragons and Vikings, enemies again! ” she shouted, and shoved at him, trying to deflect the ever-insistent boops of that paw, “locked--in--combat--to--the--bitter-- aaahhhhuaahhh!”
No fair! she gasped at him, too winded to speak. Meliodas just warbled from where his head rested atop her stomach--before licking her, and not even in a remotely attractive way, getting freaking dragon slobber all over her newly-cleaned flight suit. Why, you-- “Damnit, Meliodas!” She managed to roll away, shaking saliva off the now-sticky leather with a grimace. “You know that doesn’t wash out,” she scolded, trying fruitlessly to flick it off herself as he shifted fluidly back to semi-human, shoulders shaking with muffled mirth. Elizabeth eyed him--no, she was not sulking, damnit, she was just… rightfully irritated, yeah, that was it--before flicking the slobber on her gauntlets at him, eliciting a squawk. “Oh, don’t give me that, you earned it.”
He flattened his ear-flaps at her and rolled his eyes, tail swishing over the ground as he sauntered over to her. “I totally won that fight too, you know,” he murmured, slinging his arms around her shoulders and resting his chin next to the black-leather guards painted with a shimmering design mimicking his dragon form. His warmth was comforting, black wings wrapping around her body (and it was kiiiind of adorable the way he had to stand on his tiptoes sometimes to reach her height properly. Going from four inches taller to seven was possibly the greatest choice her body had ever made) as his steady heartbeat pulsed beside her, calm and reassuring and never leaving her side.
Impulsively, Elizabeth leaned over to kiss him, inwardly grinning at the way his pulse sped and his thoughts turned gold through the link. “Only because you cheated,” she whispered back, and smiled at his whine as she broke the contact, her gaze once again fixed on the horizon, the land she saw spread out before her there. Almost instinctively, she pulled her notebook to her hand, slipped out the project waiting inside as she knelt before the stars and sun, spreading out the piece of paper she knew would be among her greatest creations.
Another piece of paper was torn from the sheaf beneath her left arm-brace, accepted Meliodas’s saliva as glue, and was laid carefully onto the ever-growing map. Elizabeth pulled a knife free of her other brace-- the knife, she thought wryly, the dagger she’d thought that once upon a time would carve out Meliodas’s heart, that she’d leave the blood to dry on and tell her children had been used to kill the greatest menace of all the dragons, a knife that held a purpose greater than any one Viking. A knife that would make her a Viking.
Instead, she’d refused to bring down the knife, and had become so much more.
She sharpened her makeshift pen, sheathed it again before tucking the pen into the mouth and bringing up her right arm, opening the compass she’d attached to the suit. A north star of her very own--a guiding light for when her mind got lost in equations and starlight and even Meliodas couldn’t pull her out. Guide me, she prayed quietly, letting blue eyes drift shut--to Loki, not to Odin, not to Thor, but to another god who was different and strange and yet strong.
“What do you think, love?” Elizabeth opened her eyes, flicked the compass closed and took the pen in hand, glancing at the dragon who had changed everything for her. Meliodas knelt beside her, green eyes already thoughtful as she tilted her head at the landscape. “What should we call this one?”
“Meliodas Is Always Right,” he said without missing a beat, and she scoffed.
“No. Absolutely not. Come on, give me a serious contender for this one or I’m gonna call it ‘Itchy Armpit’ or something.”
“ Ew.” Meliodas shuddered, and she grinned wolfishly at him before following his gaze--over trees stained red and gold, fog touching autumn-stained leaves like smoke drifting up from a fire. “...Sunfire. I bet we’ll end up finding some Monstrous Nightmares and Fireworms down there to back it up.”
It rather did look like the kind of place that should be named for something that burned bright and fast, and Elizabeth scrawled the name down with a snort. “Maybe a Whispering Death or two in the rocks,” she muttered. “Or…”
Another Night Fury. It had been a point of contention for them for a while now--with his brothers in the wind, there was no way of knowing if there was any chance of the Night Fury species dying with them, no way of knowing if Meliodas was going to be the last of his kind; Elizabeth knew what offspring meant to dragons of Meliodas’s rank, knew it meant commitment and alliance and forever, but she didn’t know if children would be possible between them, between a Night Fury and a human, who, brilliant though she damn well was, was just that: human. Just finding another Night Fury would set her mind at ease, but Meliodas wanted nothing to do with the topic, wanted her and only her and gods she felt the same, but…
Dragons lived longer than humans--infinitely so. And Elizabeth didn’t want him to be alone, mourning, for the rest of time when she inevitably fell to age or illness or battle. Didn’t want to leave him holding onto a daydream of a life long-lost, to die of grief knowing he would be the last, that he was truly alone.
Elizabeth knew what it was like to be alone , and the day she let it happen to her partner was the the day Niflheim froze over.
“Maybe we’ll find a way to get away from nagging parents forever,” she sighed instead, sitting back on her knees, and smiled, warmed by Meliodas’s soft chuckle. She twined her fingers with his, glancing into those fire-green eyes, full of trust and love and so many things she didn’t deserve. “So what do you say? Just keep going?”
Meliodas leaned against her, one lightning-edged wing wrapping around her shoulders as he brought their joined hands up, pale, calloused, soot-stained human hands wrapped around scale-scattered, clawed dragon ones, and kissed her fingers. “Until we find what we’re looking for.” What you’re looking for went unsaid.
Because this--this hunger, this energy, this fear, this escape from everything...it was more Elizabeth’s than Meliodas’s.
And she didn’t know what she’d do when she had to stand and face the world she’d built from ashes and blood and dragonfire--when she’d have to stop running and take the throne.
When she’d have to be…well, be Chief.
“Elizabeth,” Meliodas said suddenly, drawing her out of her own thoughts as his grip on her hand tightened slightly. “We’ve got company.”
Elizabeth blinked, turned--and then caught herself smiling at the dragon and rider silhouetted against the sun. At the silhouettes of their friends, a sentence she wouldn't have been able to even think just five years prior.
The future was still a mystery, but for now, she and Meliodas weren't alone. "Ban, Elaine--nice of you to drop in!"