Part I: Visitor
"Why am I doing this again?"
There was a soft chortle of pure amusement behind him and he snorted in annoyance at the lighthearted sound. When he turned his head to look over his wing, he felt his entire body quake with the effort and he thought he might tip sideways. The thought scared him more than he could put into words and immediately he turned away again. He spread his claws and tried to keep his weight evenly distributed, his wings flapping frantically for a moment. His eyes were wide, panicked, as he looked downward. The air was so stiff and cold up here that he was truly amazed his body heat had not disappeared entirely to leave him frozen.
He supposed he could truly thank his Fire Dragon genes for this small mercy.
"Because, little Gandora, it is absolutely necessary for one to know how to perform an aerial ambush inside of my territory. It's the best battle technique for this terrain. As you might have noticed, being in the clouds offers better camouflage than the stone and dirt that form the cliffs. And the trees are only as tall as us and they are not thick enough to cover us completely. Besides, if you are able to fly this high, most dragons will not be able to get to you afterwards should the fight turn in their favor."
"I wasn't made for this kind of flight," he muttered glumly in response. He wasn't made for this type of combat either. And he was knocked breathless a second later as he tried to judge the height they were hovering at. His belly lurched and twisted, his hearts pounding violently for a moment.
The clouds were all but nonexistent around him, by far thinner than they had ever looked from the ground below. And they seemed like large pockets of drifting mist more than they appeared anything else. It was amazing to him, stunning truly, and it was gorgeous to see them so thin and soft as they were now. When he flexed his sharp claws, they seemed to separate before him and he thought them light ribbon-like tendrils of mist.
It was beautiful.
But it did not stop him from worrying.
He could not hold this altitude for much longer. His body was not meant for it in the slightest. And if he truly lost his balance and fell, it could break a bone in his wings or shatter his forelimbs. He did not think that it would kill him, simply because he was sure his flailing would slow the descent if only somewhat. But he could get far more hurt than he cared to admit and the realization was nothing he wanted to truly consider for more than a heartbeat at the moment…
"No, but you can still learn. And it is hardly as if I am torturing you, Yugi."
"How would you know?" he scoffed. "You're the Sky Dragon."
"Because I am fairly certain that should I do such a thing you would shriek in panic."
Yugi snorted in delight before he could truly stop himself. "That's very true," he laughed. But he felt as if he were about to fall again. The frigid pressure was acute as it encompassed his wings more than ever. He did not think even the burden of desert heat was so powerful when he'd been beneath it before. This was all-encompassing and his body was wracked with the finest of tremors. "I don't think my wings can take this cold any longer, Atem. This altitude is too high up for me."
The Sky Dragon hummed behind him. "Press your claws together, tip the ends of your wings backwards, spread them as far as you can, tuck your paws against your belly, flap, and then dive as quickly as you can."
Yugi blinked, startled by the instructions. He had thought that Atem might ask him to remain there a moment longer. Perhaps he had assumed he might ask him to do so in order to gain more endurance. But the Sky Dragon was sweet, thoughtful.
And it was not as if he were strong enough physically to remove him from the air as it was. He could have thrown him downward with a rapid spiral from overhead. But he could not have helped him to fly down as Yugi could have should the situations have been reversed.
Atem was a lightweight dragon.
Yugi was the heavyweight between them.
In fights between the two, heavyweights often had little to worry about. They could usually subdue a lightweight rather easily. It was body mass alone which enabled this, however. A lightweight fought with accuracy and speed and shallow attacks meant mostly to slow their heavyweight opponents down. The heavyweight, however, attacked with power and ferocity.
There was no waste of energy. They often did not even wait for the lightweight to slow. And oftentimes the heavyweight would go for the first opening they found. Most often the fight would be over within ten minutes. The lightweight would be pinned, thrown onto their back so that their softest body parts were fully exposed. The heavyweight would hold them there effortlessly.
But that was only if they were fighting for less than something of a territory dispute.
When territory came into question, oftentimes the dragons would kill each other. The heavyweight would rip their throat open or simply hold them down and tug until their necks broke and they could all but decapitate them.
Had their roles been reversed while they remained airborne, Yugi could have grabbed Atem by the shoulders and helped to lower him more slowly. However, with Atem several tons smaller than him in weight—and that difference would only grow more abundant as Yugi himself matured fully—he could hardly slow him if he were to plummet.
Atem had the magic to do it, however. The Sky Dragon was a third Wind in genetics. And that could have done him well to stop Yugi being harmed at all should he have lost his balance or his wings grown too cold. It was only this way that Atem was able to help him in any manner. He was a God Dragon, but he was too physically small to be able to stop him. Atem was not even fully matured either. He was not completely grown and would perhaps mature to be double or triple his current size before then. Maybe if he were that size now he could have been capable of doing so. But for now he was too small and he was far too aware of his own limitations to help him more than mere instruction.
He could do nothing else, Yugi knew. He was incapable of doing much more. He could not risk his physical condition in any manner either. He was still sought after, regardless of being mated. He was a God Dragon and lots of dragons wished to claim him.
If he was not in perfect physique when a challenge should come his way, he'd suffer various injuries that could potentially prove themselves fatal later.
Yugi grunted, somewhat flustered by the thought—everything would have been so much easier if they were the same species—and quickly tucked his claws together. The immediate effect was that he lost his balance altogether.
But he trusted that Atem was not trying to harm him in any way. And he knew that the Sky Dragon would most certainly know the best way to get out of the clouds they were hiding in as it was. So he shook his fear away and forced himself to remember his equilibrium. He balanced his wings, flexing his claws, and remembered his core remained in his chest while in flight. That was the main sense of direction and balance for any dragon, though many species were natural born fliers. He himself was not.
In an instant he flicked his wings back. He straightened them like swords of polished black and silver, then pressed his front paws into his belly. He flapped quickly, tipped his weight forward, and shot downwards like a plummeting stone.
Atem watched him a moment longer. The hybrid was feet away from him in all of a heartbeat. Atem did the same seconds later, body as straight as an arrow in order to gain as much speed as possible. And, moving so quickly as he was, the world was one immense wave of blue in his peripheral. The ground was a rapidly approaching blur of soft gold and granite speckled with greenery and brown.
It took him only a quick and powerful bank to the right to maneuver out of his downward spiral. His body lessened its tension immediately and he spread his paws to hover, flapping his wings only enough to remain airborne.
Atem stiffened, startled. His mate was performing something of a similar action. And the Sky Dragon might not have been alarmed by that had it not been for the sound of a soft snarl. But Yugi had tucked his wings back and his claws were hooked downward like a bird's talons. Yugi's teeth were bared, he realized, his claws opened and spread to latch upon something beneath him. The Sky Dragon looked down quickly, bristling with confusion and bewilderment. But it was not hard to see in this position what the Gandora was plummeting towards.
The beast below the black dragon was entirely opposite in color, a sharp contrast of brilliant white like pure virgin snow. Gold colored the center of a smooth crest of scales along its head, where the helm of its skull was sharp with a large blue horn protruding upwards and a pale white one just behind it. On either side of its jawbones was a set of scales much akin wings, a deep purple that was all but transparent and giving him an almost smoky appearance against his pale plates. But Atem was puzzled, looking at what seemed to be a long branch of golden appendages that looked much akin a bird's feathered wings. Its wings were huge, looming, with a fragile appearance like feathers, the scales layered but with a thinner formation than Atem was used to.
"Yugi!" he cried, alarmed. He was heading for a dragon that Atem did not recognize at first glance. And he was going to land on a serpentine-like dragon. If that were to happen and Yugi did not heed caution in his ambush, things could turn out terribly.
Atem would have attempted to dive towards him, to intercept and knock him aside, but the Gandora was far heavier than he could ever hope to be. And he was falling faster than Atem was capable of matching in a dive from his position. And the angle would only slow him further. A diagonal cut through the air was not the best for velocity for him, not when he was no longer plummeting straight down.
The alarm in his tone was enough to make Yugi startle rather violently. But this did nothing more than make him wobble in his flight, nearly losing his balance entirely and plummeting harder. His wings just barely prevented him dropping like a stone through the air.
Yugi wasn't experienced enough with aerial drops. And Wind and Fire Dragons were not known for their speed when it came to magic. Atem himself could not aim for Yugi alone. He was too close to their uninvited visitor. He could not simply support Yugi with a pocketed air current as necessary. It would knock the white dragon to the ground and wind them entirely.
The collision was violent.
The black dragon slammed into the newcomer. He yelped. The white dragon screeched. It tried to writhe out from beneath him, but Yugi's weight was too much. It, like Atem, was a lightweight species and the two of them hit the ground with an immense thud and a cloud of dust twice their size rising into the air.
Atem cursed viciously, spitting the words, and hurried for the ground as well. He hovered for a moment longer, flapping his wings with a powerful beat which cleared the air quickly. The dust was gone immediately, drifting away and dissipating entirely from his face. And, before him, to his shock, Yugi lay sprawled pitifully across the other dragon's back. He was sideways from the impact, and clearly winded as his sides struggled to expand with air. The white dragon looked worse for wear, however, laying beneath him in what seemed to be an unconscious state.
The thought was disconcerting. Either this white dragon was younger than Yugi and Atem themselves, or the Gandora had potentially harmed an elderly dragon.
The Sky Dragon landed unceremoniously, disbelieving and confused, as he approached the two cautiously. Had Yugi truly knocked this dragon out? He frowned and tilted his head, angling it downwards to look with widened eyes. He lowered his head and drew in a deep breath, scenting the dragon in front of him for more information.
It was male, about three hundred years old. And it smelled of another male as well, though of an entirely different species. And there were no other traces of scent to exist on it.
But Atem realized now that the dragon before him was glaring straight into his eyes. The helm of its skull had been large enough to shield its eyes from his sight at an overhead angle, but now Atem could see a golden orb blazing as it bore into his own.
Atem bristled for a moment, studying the anger in the single visible cold eye, and curled his lips back to show the ridges of his teeth in a more pronounced manner. When the dragon's pupils grew enlarged the Sky Dragon lowered his chin further towards the ground and let out a guttural snarl. Yugi roused at the noise, pulling himself up on unsteady limbs, and turned to him with bewildered eyes.
The Gandora scrambled to his side immediately, wobbly with a momentary limp that lasted but a few steps, and brushed up against him minutely. He was snarling and spitting before Atem had even fully noticed it. His blue-violet eyes flared at the newcomer as he lowered his head and arched his back slightly in a defensive maneuver. But Atem was not blind to the puzzlement and mild excitement in his gaze there as well.
The white dragon huffed, pulling itself to its paws and shaking itself out. The scent that came through the air now was mild, like that of pine burned for incense in a human ceremony. Atem bristled further, nearly jerking away with anger. The pheromones this dragon released were stronger than usual, one much akin what another male would express when attempting to challenge him for mating privileges.
It was meant to overwhelm or entice the dragon they wished to court. Atem had often been forced to press his tongues behind his teeth and close his nostrils forcefully. It was a technique used by Water Dragons in order to stay beneath the surface of rivers or lakes for large amounts of time, as none of them possessed gills upon maturing fully. And Atem hunted mainly fish, which had given him reason to keep this skill sharp. The fact that he had been forced to use it against suitors was simply disgusting to him.
But Atem did not think that this dragon was inclined towards such a thing. He could no longer smell the other male on him, but he doubted it had been on him for any true reason. He thought the trace of male scent had to be some kind of indicator that he'd been with the other as their mate.
The white dragon looked more amused than anything, though they were clearly still shocked. And, as it turned to Atem, the first words from its dark purple-gray mouth was a friendly declaration of, "Howdy, y'all!"
Yugi blinked wide, confused eyes. His head snapped towards Atem and he bristled indignantly. What the hell did that mean? It had sounded friendly enough, he supposed. But the way this dragon stared back at Atem made him incredibly wary. And he did not know how to judge this.
Was it a threat?
Was it an insult?
Yugi would kill this male if it was.
The Sky Dragon seemed to consider the white male a moment or so longer. He did not seem to be alarmed in any manner. But when he glanced at Yugi, his curiosity soon became surprised and then confused before his eyes shone with amusement. The red male leaned forward, whispering almost into his ear, "It is the southern dialect from the human tribes in the lower territories. He is saying hello."
Yugi blinked wide eyes and frowned as he shook his head. "He couldn't have just said that like a normal dragon? He couldn't have just said hello instead?" he demanded in the same quiet volume Atem had spoken. "I don't understand…"
Atem smiled at him. His golden eyes were alight with laughter and the gem on his forehead was all but glowing. Yugi felt his body losing its tension as he saw his mate's ease. "He must have lived in that region for a long time," the Sky Dragon explained. "I suppose he forgot that most dragons do not speak as humans do."
Yugi chortled and barely resisted the urge to nuzzle and pounce on him playfully. Instead he turned back to the white dragon again. The newcomer was staring at them both curiously, no doubt wondering at what they'd been talking about.
"Rough landing, huh?" the white serpentine male commented with a soft chuckle. He rose on thin yet muscular legs that were covered in gray scales that looked like melted metal and traced with gold at the elbows. Atem noticed only then that his largest wings were covered in a similar gray metal scale, like a shield upon its back along its shoulders. Beneath he could see the golden faux wings, looking more akin whiskers than feathers. He shook himself out after a moment, then looked over at Yugi with bright golden eyes. They were startling and brilliant against his dark purple-gray muzzle and Atem could see two canines which protruded oddly from his mouth, out of alignment with the rest of his teeth. His muzzle was made for sharper striking bites, unlike those of a Slifer's which was made for crushing bones and holding prey in a death lock.
But the more Atem studied him, the more he found himself curious about the white dragon. He could see pupils within his eyes, vertical as they should have been upon meeting them now that he locked gazes with him. There was no animosity to be found and he was not fearful of them…
He should have been fearful. He was in a new territory, he had not asked for a blessing, and he was standing before a God Dragon. And Atem had the abrupt feeling that this dragon knew such a thing, for surely he could not miss that. Atem was the name that didn't get spoken, but whose physical appearance was spoken of in whispers due to his ferocity in dealing with suitors.
This dragon had to know who he was and in whose presence he stood.
There was no way he didn't…
"We were practicing aerial ambushes," Atem supplied after a moment. He was looking at Yugi, however, watching him rather than the newcomer. The Gandora seemed to be okay. But a wave of uncertainty swept through him and he felt mildly ill.
Yugi had yet to look away from the dragon in front of him.
And, to add insult to injury, the younger male was staring at him with something almost akin appreciation. It was a sense of admiration and even something much akin lust, something Atem recognized from many of his suitors before he'd killed them.
His hearts were racing at the realization. And all he wanted to do now was lash out as violently as he could.
But he did not know who it was he should strike out at. He was growing too irritable to think it through rationally. The newcomer angered him simply by grabbing his mate's attention so keenly, but Yugi upset him by showing him so much as it was.
And he knew that Yugi claimed to love him.
But his species was known for having multiple mates. Both species he was created from had several mates each season and fathered perhaps over a hundred hatchlings every other year. Gandora dragons themselves were not entirely faithful regardless, however, as they did not often mate with the same partner twice. And they were known for flying many miles in order to secure a new mate.
Atem would never be surprised should Yugi turn to him and say he wanted more. He would most likely not even find it in himself to blink. Most likely he would simply strike him down then and there.
But for now…
"You just happened to be flying beneath us when he was diving."
If it did not sound like a violent attack aimed for the other, if it did not come off as purposeful, it was more likely that this newcomer would not retaliate. Atem would not have cared if he did, however. He had fought his species before.
Ice Dragons were rare and his first two fights had not been a suitor looking for courtship but territory spats. But Atem had still known immediately how to fix the problem. He'd subdued them in mere minutes. And he could subdue this male in front of him just as easily should it be necessary.
He also knew the safest, easiest way to unbalance and kill him should he have to. So, if he chose to fight, the Sky Dragon then only had to worry about watching to make sure he did not hit Yugi in the meantime.
Because he knew well enough the Gandora would leap into the fray as well. Yugi was incredibly protective of him, after all.
"That sounds awesome!" the white dragon exclaimed. His eyes were wide and glowing brightly as he turned to Atem immediately again. In an instant his pupils dilated, his eyes narrowing, as his head tilted slightly to the side. The muscles along its jaw flexed for a long moment, as if perhaps tasting the air without flicking his tongue as a weaker species might. Atem could see the muscles bunched along his jaws, twitching as he flexed them and the protrusions beneath his bottom row of teeth were long and sharp. They were almost akin thorns in their design, but he could see that they were simply muscle meant to help strengthen a snapping bite when he turned to attack. "You're a God Dragon, right?"
Atem blinked and looked over at Yugi again. Now his mate was studying him, head tilted and blue-violet eyes narrowed in question. He seemed bewildered but confused and curious as well. But he also seemed mildly troubled somehow, as if he were unsure of what to make of the attention Atem was getting at the moment.
"Yes. I am the God Dragon of the East."
Somehow, abruptly, that title seemed almost meaningless once more. He felt as if he were years younger, side crippled by his brother's violent claws. He felt stupid and small and much akin a hatchling as he had so long ago.
Yugi was still watching him, but he could see that his attention was caught more pointedly on the white dragon than ever. He looked enamored, and that was something Atem was not quite sure how to deal with.
Would Yugi turn to him sometime later that very day perhaps and tell him he wanted more? Would he tell him he wished for more than just what little Atem could provide him?
In truth, the Sky Dragon could not imagine it. But he wanted more than ever to simply demand if that was how Yugi felt. He wanted more than ever to snarl at him to go and never return if that should truly be his desire.
"Great! So I'm headed in the right direction!"
The words caused Atem to lose this train of thought entirely. He narrowed his eyes minutely and flicked his tail. Yugi was more alert now, bristling faintly as if with alarm.
The Sky Dragon considered the white male for a moment.
Had he not meant to come across him? Was he simply moving about the territories? Was he perhaps fleeing as Atem himself once had?
But this dragon seemed to be in perfect health. His muscles were not wasted. His body was not unshapely. He did not appear to be wounded. Yugi's claws had apparently failed to even truly nick him. And Atem could detect no weakness.
The dragon, in truth, seemed all but oblivious to the very real danger that the God Dragon before him posed. It was both amusing and troubling.
Had the rumors stopped now that he was mated to Yugi?
Or was it something else entirely?
"It depends on where you seek to go and what you hope to find."
The dragon shook himself out again, then took a seat and stretched his neck back and flexed his claws. His back limbs were a similar design to his forelegs. His claws were a bright, glowing blue, and his body was littered with gems of varying colors. Each plate on its body was smooth like fish scales and tipped with gold to match the spikes along the edges of its sharp jaws. The dark gray metallic scale along its wings looked like the saddle which some humans in other regions used to ride their horses, Atem realized. And it was dense, sharp and unshapely and large, as if it were meant to keep any dragons from being able to pluck its wings from its body.
Atem blinked and tilted his head. This dragon was not native to his lands by any stretch of the imagination.
And he had been right in assuming him to be an Ice Dragon, he realized. He had merely guessed it moments before, thinking it more to be the shape of his body to pronounce it. But now he saw him and the sleeker design of his body and the layered scales upon his wings and he knew perfectly what dragon it was that he was.
And he still knew exactly how to kill him as well should it be necessary, he reminded himself. He had to remember that more than anything. If it came to combat, Atem would destroy him.
"I'm looking for you, of course!"
Yugi bristled now. He pressed his weight forward and moved a step closer to his mate. Whatever curiosity he'd harbored before was long gone now. The Gandora snarled when the white dragon did not seem to notice and the response was immediate.
The widened golden eyes fell on him, blinking as his pupils flipped slightly and then seemed to grow thinner.
Atem felt the smallest twinge of bitterness in his belly.
Now Yugi noticed him again.
Now Yugi realized he was uncomfortable.
Now Yugi seemed to care to do more than stare at this dragon in front of them.
He swallowed the overpowering emotion away as it began to well up further. It was not Yugi's fault. He was part of a species that did not care to mate for life. He was the result of two such species mating and producing a clutch.
He did not know he'd bruised him so terribly.
He had no idea that Atem felt he might as well have struck him.
So the Sky Dragon forced himself to remain silent.
"Why are you so angry? I haven't even done anything."
Atem huffed. "He's a Gandora. What did you expect?"
The spiteful tone was enough to make Yugi blink and look over with hurt in his eyes. Atem was not oblivious to this in the slightest. But he did ignore it. His own words frustrated him somewhat, but another part of him relished in the very simple fact that Yugi now felt similarly to him. It was spiteful and angry and stupid, he knew, but he had always been arrogant when it came to emotional pain.
Living with his brothers had made him that way. And he had not managed to outgrow it while he had been with Timaeus either. The Wind Dragon had often found his childish anger to be more amusing than anything.
He had called him out on his words when it had mattered. But he never cared in the slightest to make him rethink his statements when he was angry. Oftentimes Timaeus would burst out laughing, realizing he had hurt his feelings, and apologize with a lick to his forehead to make him squeal and dash away.
He shook the thought off.
Perhaps he would apologize to Yugi later.
"I would consider you stupid if you are unable to figure it out," he growled instead, focusing solely on their guest. "It is not hard to ascertain."
But Atem did wonder then if he no longer smelled as strongly of Yugi as he should have. They had not mounted in a few days now, after all.
Perhaps they no longer smelled of each other at all. Sleeping beside each other hardly did anything in terms of swapping scents and merging pheromones.
Dragons did not swap scents as easily as a pair of mammals could. Close proximity and lying wrapped around each other hardly did anything to alter scent. It was likely that doing so would make their scents linger for no longer than a couple of hours at the most. Their bodies were too heavily armored and the scales were meant to completely smother their own definitive smells.
In truth, their scents were only truly detectable by saliva or urine or excretion. One could detect the smell of a certain dragon from any carcass found that was dug into. Then one could trace the smell of a dragon's health and lifespan by manner of the urine or excrement that could be found.
As hatchlings, they possessed nothing of their own scent. They smelled of whatever it was they nested in or played in that day. The reason why was so that dragons of other species could not detect them and hunt them for food while they were so incredibly defenseless.
It was a rare occurrence but a starving dragon was desperate. And sometimes it happened. But by the time the dragonets possessed a scent of their own, their armor was growing in to protect them.
No dragon in existence had a heavy enough scent that they were entirely detectable. Unless they marked their territory or they were constantly exposed to an abundance of pheromones, they did not often have much of a scent. There were glands on the center of their paws and between each toe, sometimes on the base of the tail or the bottom of the tip, and around the cheeks and just beneath the jaw. Beyond these areas, one could sniff another for hours before they might be able to detect something beneath the smothering effect of their scales.
Unless they Claimed one another, a pair of dragons often could not be identified as mates. It was hard to detect even the faintest touch of another on a dragon.
But Atem was in no hurry to place a Claim on Yugi. It was not that he did not desire to do so sometime in the future, but he considered it far too premature at the moment to be warranted. Yugi had barely been his mate for more than two moons as it was. And the Gandora might have been comfortable with the offer to let him Claim him, but Atem himself was incredibly daunted by that aspect altogether.
"You don't have to be so aggressive," the newcomer scoffed. He seemed more dismissive toward Yugi, however, with his attention set keenly upon Atem himself. The Sky Dragon bristled, wondering if he had read him correctly the first time and he was looking to attempt to court him. If Yugi's scent was truly gone from him, then it would make no difference to this dragon that Yugi was there or not. Of course, Yugi would most likely kill him before he'd even let him challenge him, but Atem wasn't going to tell him that. "You seem pretty inclined to chase me off without listening to what I have to tell you."
Atem snorted, disdainful. "You have had plenty of time to explain your being here and yet you have held your tongue."
The white dragon blinked, then huffed loudly and looked at him as if he had grown an additional head. He fluffed up, bristling in annoyance, and scowled at the red male as Atem fought back laughter. He looked absolutely flabbergasted.
"He knocked me out of the sky. Of course I'm not telling you both immediately what I'm doing. Are you crazy?"
"Perhaps my eternal wisdom makes my brain totter between madness and sanity," the Sky Dragon drawled. Yugi snickered at his side, then butted him in the shoulder playfully. But Atem could not find it in himself to look towards him.
He was still raw around the edges. Yugi's attention paid so wholly to a stranger did nothing to help him calm again. And he was far too arrogant to face the source of his pain so soon. He knew himself well enough to understand that of all things. This shortcoming was nothing new to him.
And it had grown into more of a bitter defensive maneuver when he had been on his own after he and Timaeus had gone separate ways. He had been bigger and frustrated after all of the abuse and he had been angry enough that he could not deal with it all.
So he had learned to avoid the thing which upset him most. Of course, doing so had made him more of a target, however, and so he'd turned to killing that which angered or scared him. It was yet another reason he'd jumped to the task of brutally slaughtering his suitors for their disgusting transgressions.
"Are you the same species as Jaden?" the newcomer asked, eyed wide with something like growing excitement. Yugi stiffened beside him, clearly surprised by the inquiry, but Atem found himself snarling.
"You're an absolute fool."
Yugi looked between them, clearly uncomfortable now and more than slightly confused. He was studying Atem for a moment, though he wound up quirking his head to the side as he narrowed his eyes. "Jaden is a Fire Dragon, isn't he? He's considered the Phoenix…right?" he asked quietly. He stared at Atem solely now, ignoring the newcomer as if he had never existed to begin with.
Atem lashed and thumped his tail violently. His head snapped towards Yugi and then to the Ice Dragon once more. For a moment he thought to leap forward and box the pale dragon across the side of the head. He could knock some sense into him that way.
But he forced the impulse away, if only to keep Yugi from getting harmed. "Yes, the Eternal Phoenix," he snarled, huffing loudly as he turned away from the Gandora, "said to rise from ashes and born to heal any who have suffered."
And, abruptly, his aggressive stance made all the sense in the world to Yugi. The younger male turned away immediately. He flexed his claws into the ground and bristled faintly. His hearts ached and he felt sorrow crash through him.
Atem had been hopeful at some point. Perhaps he had not realized that to put an end to his own suffering he would have to find Jaden himself. Maybe he had assumed that, like the Sky Dragon Shadi, the God Dragon would come to find him.
He had to have hoped that Jaden would help to heal the wound on his side and potentially right the emotional pain inside of him…
"He is not a Fire Dragon," Yugi snarled harshly. He stalked forward, wanting nothing more than to lash out as violently as he could at the moment.
It wasn't fair.
Why did Atem always end up getting the short stick?
Why could he never have any good things?
Yugi had ruined his chances of having a nest. And even mating with him caused Atem unnecessary harm. He couldn't fly as high or for as long as the Sky Dragon could and so then he was burdensome when Atem mounted him. They could not stay airborne. They could not remain in the air for much longer than it took for Atem to knot and hook inside of him. And when they were on the ground, Atem could not disengage properly and the time it took to let him come to completion spent too much of his energy. Atem was all but exhausted and starved by the time that happened and sleeping only made him hungrier than ever.
Yugi wanted to scream for a moment.
Atem truly gained nothing from their union.
He would eventually have to move into the valleys with him when winter came. And he would have to learn to become used to having another dragon around him so constantly. He could not survive off of Atem's core diet of fish or birds. And the Sky Dragon could not fly or swim properly when he ate red meat for long amounts of time.
It would damage his stomach to remain on a red meat diet for too long as well. To do so would destroy much of Atem's stomach's lining, because it was not as strong as his own. And red meat was so much denser. It made the Sky Dragon sluggish when he ate it, he knew, and sometimes he would be fine for a few minutes after, then immediately fall unconscious. Sometimes he could go longer, but it depended on when the last time had been that he'd eaten and how slowly he digested it. But Atem had no control over that, unlike Yugi who could store food and water for moons in his belly, and so he could become sick at a second's notice from the change of diet.
Yugi felt now as if he had simply chained Atem to him like a human's dog. It infuriated him. It made him miserable. It made him want to lash out. It made him want to scream and beg forgiveness. But it mostly made him want to hit the newcomer hard enough to knock the air from his lungs. He crept closer, flicking his tongue at the white dragon as his eyes narrowed faintly.
He snarled low in his throat, the noise deep and reverberating violently. It was enough to make the white dragon spin around to look at him with huge, horrified eyes. He bristled in turn, backing up a step from the Gandora.
His paw was held up. His eyes were wide. His mouth opened and closed twice. His wings tucked firmly into his sides. He was clearly too startled to even think to attack him.
Yugi nearly purred at the realization. If he hit him now, the dragon wouldn't recover until he let up on his attack. But he didn't move any closer. He wasn't so violent or mindless, though the thought lingered a few moments longer. It was a Fire Dragon instinct, he knew, one brutal and embedded in his genetics. They lashed out when they were angry.
He had seen it more than once between Jonouchi and himself when they'd hunted together. His mother had attacked his dad once, but she'd only done it when they'd fought over him when he'd gotten himself hurt. It had been as simple as that. And then they'd acted as if nothing had happened to begin with.
But Yugi had always shunned such instinct.
He did not want to possess such traits when he was with Atem. It was not only a reminder of the dragon species that had so often troubled Atem before, but it was also something that made him incredibly dangerous to the Sky Dragon. He could easily overwhelm him in the split second that he could get his claws into his flesh. He could easily force him to the ground and hold him there and lash out until he couldn't anymore. Atem would certainly kill him afterwards—which was the only punishment Yugi would take for such an unforgivable act—but until he'd knock him off…
Yugi didn't want to think about it. He had power in his first few minutes of attack, but he slowed quickly. And Atem was built for deadly accuracy and speed. He was not as strong, but he was powerful enough that he could deal a blow to him that might break him if he truly invoked his temper.
"But that doesn't matter. I want to know what species you are, actually," he snarled low in his throat, forcing away the thoughts. He would never lay a claw on Atem. He'd made that vow long before he'd come to court him. He'd made that promise and swore to every god in existence the night he'd seen his mother attack his father. It had been so long ago, but it'd horrified him and he'd never forgotten it. Fire Dragon genetics be damned, he would never hurt him if he could help it. "Because I've never seen a dragon like you before."
"I have a name, you know."
"Well, you haven't said it yet."
In the corner of his eye he could see Atem turning curiously towards their spat. Yugi thumped his tail and snarled louder when the other dragon faltered. The white male had looked towards Atem as if for support, but now he spun back toward him. The Ice Dragon huffed, rising to his paws, and tipped his beak into the air.
Yugi truly wanted nothing more than to knock the arrogance out of his stance. His beak should have been lowered submissively rather than raised as it was now. He was trying to show a lack of fear and Yugi was truly ready to ruin him for it.
He'd upset Atem enough.
And now he was staring at the Sky Dragon as if Atem were indebted to him. His eyes had grown sharper, annoyed and demanding. Yugi bristled further, slamming his rail into the ground forcefully. He pressed his weight closer to him, snarling and opening his jaws.
"He's a Rainbow Dragon," Atem stated quietly. The words startled Yugi enough to make his head snap around in bewilderment. He blinked, puzzled, and slowly tilted his head.
Had Atem meant to stop them fighting?
Was that why he was talking now?
Because he was hardly paying them any mind as it was. He seemed to be staring off into the distance, beyond the green tops of the pine trees and into the blue of the sky. Yugi did not see anything there and that unnerved him more than he cared to admit. And he knew that Atem was not inclined to look away at any point either.
In his peripheral, Jesse seemed to be trying to find Atem's source of attention as well. His eyes grew narrow, his head tilted, and he seemed to be squinting at him as a human might.
Were Rainbow Dragons close-sighted?
Or was Jesse somehow under the illusion that Atem was focused on something airborne?
"He's an extremely rare little Ice Dragon," Atem continued, turning to Yugi now. He had clearly chosen to ignore the concern that Yugi knew he was showing him. "They're known for gracing the winters with aurora patterns. That's why he has those gems in his scales. They help him absorb sunlight and reflect it into the sky."
Yugi blinked, eyes stretching thrice their usual size with his growing excitement. He spun on Jesse, leaning forward as a hatchling might upon being told a story. And he knew how foolish it made him look, but he could not find it in himself to care. "Really?" he demanded, bouncing on his paws and trembling with exuberance. "That's amazing! I've always wanted to see an aurora!"
Atem fought back a sneer, turning away and clenching his jaws so tightly shut that pain lanced through his muscles. He resisted the urge to snarl, bristling instead now. He wanted, for the briefest of seconds, to lash out and bite at them both.
"It's pretty cool," Jesse bragged, focused entirely on Yugi now. Atem knew this only because he no longer felt his stare on him. But he did not turn to look as well. "I'll show you sometime."
Jealousy and rage came through him in a rush. His body trembled once. And then he slowly turned his head, the speed such a crawl as to rival the descent of the sun from the sky. He trembled once more and his bottom mouth opened slowly. His gums were tingling. His teeth felt sticky for a moment. His tongue flicked forward. His tail scraped through the dirt. His paw rose an inch or so from the ground, claws flexing.
"Atem," Yugi murmured, his voice coming out soft and pleading. The tone was just enough to allow him to turn his focus on him. But it did not calm him in the slightest. And he could not physically remove his eyes from where they were locked on the Ice Dragon. The white male was frozen in place now. Horror marred his features brilliantly. His eyes stretched several sizes too wide with fear. "Hey, relax. It's okay. He was just offering to show me. You know it means nothing."
Atem could not help but peel his lips back further. The ridges of his immense white teeth showed. The action made Jesse stiffen and sit up. The fact that his face could even become more horrified was enough to amaze Atem. It lasted only a moment, however. His hatred was far too abundant. But the Ice Dragon was bristling faintly, realization that he had somehow overstepped crossing his features immediately.
Atem still bore down on him, however. The hatred burned his skin like fire. He was full of the power which came with such an emotion. And Jesse still appeared oblivious as to why he was so aggressive towards him.
Truly the Sky Dragon began to wonder how it was that he had survived to adulthood at this rate.
Yugi came closer to him, pressing his forehead into his flank gently. It was a split second touch, but it was affectionate enough that Atem found himself unable to keep his rage intact. It melted to soft annoyance. And he calmed enough that he was only bristling when Yugi licked and nuzzled his cheek.
Jesse was gaping when Atem looked to him again. Then he recovered himself, just enough to look away with wide eyes. He was shifting his weight awkwardly, reminding Yugi of a scolded hatchling.
"I did not realize you were mated!" he blurted out. Atem snarled quietly, more annoyed than anything else, and Yugi licked at his cheek again in reassurance. Jesse bowed before them, chin to the ground and belly lying flat. Yugi pulled away, startled from his reassurances, his blue-violet eyes wide and startled. But Atem merely snorted, flicking his tail. "My apologies. I had no intent to court him."
The Sky Dragon snorted again, turning away. The action loosed much of the tension in his body as he sneered, "Stand up. I do not care to strike you down for your transgressions."
Jesse raised his head from his submissive, vulnerable position, and the gratitude was clear in his golden eyes. But he did not make any move to stand again. Instead he focused on his paws, licking at them nervously for another long handful of heartbeats. Atem paid him no mind after this, but did glance to Yugi once more. The Gandora was eyeing their newcomer curiously, though he seemed to be prepared to leap at him as well. He was curious but incredibly put off. Atem thought he almost seemed offended on his behalf that Jesse had overlooked their union.
"Uh, what species are you?" the Ice Dragon asked after a moment, raising and turning his head to Atem. He kept his eyes respectfully lowered, however, so as not to provoke Atem any further. "I've never…exactly seen a dragon like you before."
Atem could not help the scorn that came through his tone now. "I could not expect you to have," he snapped coldly. He turned to face him now, knowing his expression to be terrible and harsh, and stared at him. He wondered if the gem in his forehead had turned cloudy, the shadows spiraling like darkened storm clouds as he felt his thoughts were. "I suppose I am one of the last of my species in that regard. Not many Slifers remain as it is."
Yugi leaned a little closer to him. The soft touch was enough to make Atem turn back to him, but he was not sure what it was that was reflected back to him in those blue-violet eyes. They were warm, he knew, but he thought he saw something akin sympathy there as well and Atem could not help but bristle faintly at the thought.
Atem tilted his head slowly to the side.
Bewilderment came through him as they considered each other, though he saw Yugi blink wide eyes beside him. But the Gandora remained leaning into his side, blinking at Jesse and glancing at Atem sideways as well.
"You're the Sky Dragon!"
Atem could do nothing more than blink. The outburst was startling and confusing to him. His scales rose and fell in a bristle as he stared at the other dragon.
Had he expected otherwise? Had he expected another dragon? Had he truly come there with no concept of who it was or which species of dragon he might meet?
He frowned, both mouths pulling downward. It was bewildering to him to consider why the Ice Dragon might be so excited and yet incredibly puzzled. He tilted his head the smallest degree further. He wished he could have said he understood his excitement as it was, as if it might have helped him to understand Yugi's exuberance as well.
"You're the one that Yusei and Jaden mentioned before!" He exclaimed it in that same excited tone. And he was trembling with the emotion in his voice. Atem bristled furiously, startled by the idea that either of them might know of him as it was. The bitter resentment was coming back in waves. "You're the first Sky Dragon to be a God Dragon in over a thousand years. And you're also the only God Dragon to strike down his suitors so violently like that."
Atem bristled visibly now. The resentment was harsh and cold in his belly. He moved his wings to tuck along his flanks, the tips pressing into his flesh. It was a comforting sensation for him, something that he had not done in what felt like a lifetime. It reminded him of being within his egg—which he remembered vividly and cherished more than anything at times—and it was the only reason that he did not leap at Jesse then and there.
"You would be wise to shut your jaws. Now."
Yugi looked between them now, alarm causing his pupils to flip to a horizontal position. He looked between them, startled and confused. And Atem knew he was reacting solely to his mate's growing aggression. But Jesse had grown so amazed that he seemed unable to stop himself any longer.
"You're the one that Jaden warned me about!" the Rainbow Dragon continued in a burst. Atem lashed his tail, his eyes glowing with such intensity that Jesse would have shuddered had it not been for his growing fascination. "But he didn't know that you'd found a mate yet. And he wasn't sure if you were actually the God Dragon. He just said that you would likely kill me on sight the moment I set paw in the territory."
"Well, it is not too late to do so now." His voice was furious as Atem bore down on him viciously. He shifted his weight but it was not in a move to shield himself. Jesse bristled furiously now, clearly terrified of the threat. But then, as Jesse tensed himself and readied to attempt to dodge away when he lunged, Yugi spun suddenly.
The impact was in his side. Atem was nearly thrown sideways. The Sky Dragon bunched his muscles. He clawed at the earth with immense spears of keratin. And then he twisted his hindquarters just enough to hold his weight. He barely kept himself from falling. He did not roll. Nor did he budge but for his legs sliding minutely. His left wing arched and draped downward. It slammed into the ground, absorbing much of the impact.
Yet, Yugi did not look aggressive in any manner. He landed gently, in fact. But Jesse would never have assumed such a thing had he not been so close. The violence Atem had displayed in holding his own ground had been horrifying.
The Gandora touched his shoulder and wing joint. His paws pressed lightly upon them. And then he sprang away once more. The black male landed a few feet away. Then he spun around with a wiggle of his rump.
Atem hesitated for what looked to be an eternity.
His body remained stiff, almost fearful in fact. He peered at Yugi as if he expected more backlash. He looked almost as if he awaited the pain to set in. Then he blinked. He was clearly stunned. And very abruptly his head snapped to the side, regarding Jesse.
For a moment he feared Atem would simply dispose of him regardless. Yugi was out of his range now. He could hardly stop Atem if the Sky Dragon attacked. And he was no longer within range of being struck by accident either.
And Jesse knew more than ever that this was what Atem had been worried about. It had not been with how he might strike out. It had been whether Yugi might be caught in the melee if he was not careful around him.
The Rainbow Dragon readied a scream in his lungs. He'd call for help before he'd fight. Atem was a God Dragon, yes, but he could still at least harm him before he had to face Yugi as well.
He had no delusions that he would win. The two of them were dragons that Jesse knew had to be violent and willing to kill—
He was winded. His legs shook.
Atem had turned back to Yugi. The Gandora wiggled his rump again. The invitation was clear and his eyes were bright and sparkling.
Jesse was shaking, more thankful than ever. He'd fought a God Dragon before. And he'd nearly been killed in the midst of it. Had it not been for his own species and the capability to dislocate their bones and even shed layers of scales and skin at their bidding…
Jesse shuddered to imagine it at all. He had overstepped in failing to ask for a blessing upon entering the God Dragon's territory. And the God Dragon had been much more violent than Jesse had assumed he would.
Atem had been extremely close—perhaps a breath away from it in fact—to attacking him in his anger. He had most likely been upset enough to kill him. He had most likely wished to gut him for so much as looking at him in such a manner.
But he'd been expectant of the reaction as well. He'd known from Yusei and Jaden that it was likely he'd lash out. They'd said he was violent without reason and he had a great many triggers which brought about his wrath. How true that was he couldn't be sure, however. He'd triggered his rage in so stupidly thinking to offer his mate something that an Ice Dragon would use for a courtship ritual. And then he'd upset him further in the fact that he'd spoken of him in that manner.
But now the red male was incredibly focused on Yugi. And, despite the aggression he had seen mere seconds before, he did not fear for even a moment that Atem might harm him.
The two of them ran a few feet away, locking in a mock battle. The Gandora was on his back, claws hooked lightly on his mate's shoulders. Atem bore down on him with sharp teeth and glowing golden eyes.
But then Yugi would kick at him just enough to make Atem back up. And he would dart away again, pouncing on him seconds later. They would roll a few feet, pin one another and then run away again. They locked in mock combat every few minutes, separating almost immediately after. They would growl mockingly, playfully pawing each other off balance and running away.
Jesse could not help but watch these antics in surprise. Most dragons bonded this way in infantry. It was a common trait for clutches and siblings.
But it was also incredibly strange for adult dragons to do such a thing. And, as far as he could tell, they were both sexually mature if not physically. They had to be sexually mature. There was no way that Atem would have agreed to allow Yugi to call him his mate if he was unable to do something as basic as mount him.
That was a must for any dragon pair in existence. If they could not mount, it was a useless bond and they would soon find themselves resentful of each other.
Or so was said of Fire Dragons. Wind Dragons were another story, but they were not far behind them. And Water Dragons were the most vicious in this aspect. They would torture a mate that could not provide such primitive solutions for them. They'd hurt and scare and sometimes even brutally mutilate each other for such weakness.
But these two were rolling around in the dirt.
And Yugi was constantly pulling away, lashing his tail and pouncing again. He would land on Atem's face, the Sky Dragon using the momentum to flip him onto his back with a sharp jerk of his head. The Gandora would land winded, blinking, and Atem would launch himself at him. They'd roll, Atem would pull away again moments later and then pounce immediately…
The bonding ritual was strange to say the least.
A fight between mates that was physical was often seen as a battle for dominance. Especially when it came to two males.
Blood was often drawn. And one would surrender only when they'd been hurt too badly to continue, and the victor would then force them to lie on their belly while being forcefully mounted. They'd often be bitten violently in the neck to show that they'd been pushed to such a stance by their own doing. It was meant to be as humiliating as it was painful. And, only when the victor felt satisfied they had learned their lesson, would they stop the mountings and let them nurse their wounds.
He had never heard of such a thing with a Sky Dragon pair, however. They, much unlike other dragons, were capable of finding compromise without physical altercations. Blood was rarely shed when it came to a pair such as theirs. They were often so willing to please each other that they never had to lift a claw or so much as threaten to do such a thing.
But Fire Dragons were especially notorious for it when it came to single-sex mates, as short as their time together might be. They'd get violent to find out who was dominant. They'd often almost kill each other.
And Yugi was half Fire Dragon.
Yet, somehow, Atem hardly seemed worried.
He even let Yugi bat him in the shoulder. He rolled a few feet and let Yugi pounce on him again. He'd let the Gandora land on his back, pressing on his wings, and bite at his neck. He'd let him leap away again afterwards. He'd let him do all these things, some of which a bystander would have assumed to be aggressive, and never thought twice about it. Atem had, to his amazement, simply sprung up to follow him, growling and lashing out comfortably.
They returned to his general proximity—he realized it had to be an area they spent a lot of time in or else they would have simply left him there—a couple of hours later. Yugi was panting but he was in the lead, head high and paws steady. Atem was behind him now, his expression similar, and his eyes were brighter than Jesse had ever seen them before.
However, when Atem spotted him there, his eyes lost whatever brightness they had harbored before. His gaze darkened and he slowed a few steps behind his mate. "You are still here," he growled out somewhat dismissively. He stopped a few feet away from where Yugi stood, shaking himself out and watching him with a cold expression which shook Jesse to his core for a moment. "Why?"
The single word was harsh enough to make Jesse flinch. But he managed to keep his voice even. He did not want a repeat of the fight he'd had with the other God Dragon. And, from what he remembered, much of the rumors surrounding Atem were more violent than that of the other…
"I didn't tell you why I'd come yet."
Yugi blinked and nodded. "Right, you never told us why you were here."
"Do I honestly care?"
The Gandora snorted and bumped him in the shoulder. "Stop being so mean." He licked his forehead and turned back to the newcomer. He was clearly the more tired of the two, panting as he took a seat and wrapped his tail around his paws. "Well?"
"Jaden is calling a meeting of the God Dragons."
Atem blinked long and slow. "A meeting?" he said softly, blinking again and then snorting. "And that would be because…?"
"We need to decide what we are going to do about the clutches that Keith fathered."
Yugi startled at the name alone, eyes stretching wide. Alarm and dread filled his belly as he turned to Atem. He had forgotten about the various nests which Keith had procured before he had come after the Sky Dragon.
And no doubt there had been more than he'd initially assumed. Yugi himself had heard rumors soon after the fight, though he'd shared none of them with Atem. Jonouchi had told him much more of them than he'd even cared to hear before they'd parted ways again. Keith had bred with hundreds of females. And most clutches were anywhere from two to ten hatchlings. There could be an army of them for all they knew.
"Everyone to have attended the fight and witnessed it will be expected to come. And we are inviting several of the Clan leaders in the nearby territories as well. We want as many dragons involved as possible."
"Why must we do anything about them at all?" Atem scoffed. Yugi blinked at him, surprised by the words, and tilted his head curiously. "They shall come to rot on their own. Death does not care when it claims lives."
Jesse blinked, clearly startled and stunned. Then he huffed and shook his head angrily. He was on his paws in an instant, lashing his tail. "They're a threat!" he spat.
"But they are of no concern to me."
"You're a part of this world, aren't you? If something happens and they are too violent to be controlled like their father proved to be, it will be your problem more than anyone else's, won't it?"
"Perhaps then, yes. But they are not a threat to me now."
The Rainbow Dragon bristled. When he lunged, Yugi sprang. He barred him off, head tipped up and teeth bared. The Ice Dragon froze, realizing himself only then. Yugi only needed a second to sink his teeth into his throat. If he only came forward a step, he'd have blood dripping down his throat.
Yugi thumped his tail, the only warning he would give. And he could feel Atem watching him now, though what expression he wore was a mystery to him.
"Now I understand." Jesse was trembling, his voice enraged and hateful. Yugi thumped his tail again, bristling furiously. "I understand why Jaden told me that you were dangerous. You are not only a bastard. You are not only bitter. You're more arrogant than even Keith was!"
The words were met with an immediate reaction.
Jesse spat and snarled. He flailed violently. His claws hooked in flesh. But the impact winded him. He could not breathe. Teeth were caught in his throat, pressing on his windpipe. He screeched but it came in a gurgle. He kicked and flailed again, snarling. And then he tried to squirm away.
He panicked and kicked and writhed. He gasped and blood soaked his tongue for a moment. He felt claws cutting at his own face. The impact was enough to make him all but faint. He gasped and sputtered and snarled. But the gurgling was all he could hear. And the blows kept coming—
His vision was spiraling. The darkness was dancing there. He could only flail and kick. He was writhing harder than ever.
The outburst was painful in his ears. But he could hardly hear it. His hearts were racing too hard. And he could hardly see the sky any longer. Yet, as he thought this, a painful tearing came through him. Jesse screeched, the gurgling high in pitch and hideous.
His throat was aching, blood gushing. He gasped for air. Then he opened and closed his mouth. He tried for his paws, amazed and terrified. And absolutely furious.
He lowered his body to the ground, snarling and bristling. His tongue flicked from his mouth. But then he froze in place as well.
"I have said it is enough," the red dragon snarled. He thumped his tail and looked at Yugi with terrible anger in his eyes. The Gandora was snarling, his mouth bloodied, but his eyes were confused and perhaps more fearful than anything. He blinked after a moment, then lowered his head a fraction towards the ground.
But then his attention snapped to Jesse. The Rainbow Dragon snarled and spat, amazed that he was not dying. The wound was a deadly one that Yugi had delivered. Had he bitten any further down…
Yet, as Yugi pressed forward, so too did Atem.
The Sky Dragon stepped between them in an instant. His tail thumped, his eyes glowing hideously. "Enough, Yugi," the Sky Dragon snarled again, but now there was something pleading in his tone. "It is done and over with. Stop."
Yugi blinked. His pupils flipped, distress visible there, and he looked at his mate with a horrified expression. Then he glanced at Jesse again, trembling with his rage. "Get out of here," he hissed. "Get out of here before I rip you to pieces."
Atem kept his eyes locked on Yugi. "You'd be wise to listen to him. Timaeus is to the north. When you enter his territory ask him for a blessing. He will honor that. If you do not, he'll most likely end you where you stand." He pressed forward a step. Yugi blinked and looked at him with wide eyes, somewhere between bewilderment and perhaps the smallest degree of fear. "He will meet you at the border if you wait long enough. I would suggest you follow the river. You can use it to heal some as well."