There are a lot of things Logue can't talk about when he comes back from the dragon's lair. They're all parts of the same thing, really. It's all one big ugly mess, like the writhing tangle of Umbra's serpentine limbs, spraying ichor in its death throes. Everyone asks why he turns down the post of Commander. He slew the dragon, and he did it alone! Who could be a better leader for Valdia's armies now?
Someone who isn't tainted, is the answer to that, and Logue can't bring himself to say it. He's too much of a coward, still too attached to life to want to end it on a Church pyre. And he might not be willing to take the job himself, but at least if he sticks around he can help Olifen do a good job with it. Olifen, who yelled at him more than anybody for turning the position down, who was shaking with anger by the time that argument ended. Whose beautiful delicate human fury made the sickness in Logue's blood stir and hiss and slither.
He can't let Olifen be poisoned like this.
The monster isn't dead. That's the heart of the problem, the secret he can scarcely carry. Three days they fought, in the dark of Umbra's lair, the dragon's coils wrapped around him and the air heavy with both of their blood. They tore each other to pieces, and sometimes Logue growled with fury and sometimes it sounded like the monster sighed with pleasure, and nothing he learned from the knights' academy could have prepared him for how it felt to struggle with a Majin rather than a man. Nothing could have prepared him for the feeling of making that last perfect strike, cleaving crested head from sinuous neck and having the dragon's blood drench him like a baptism -- and having the dragon's soul enter him, quick and hungry as a fire sucking air.
He fights its influence as best he can, though he can taste the oily smoke of its hungers in the back of his throat, can feel something in his limbs that wants to crawl and slither instead of walking upright like a man. In his waking hours he can control it. He was victorious. The dragon fell to him. He holds fast to that certainty.
In dreams, he is not so fortunate. His dreams revisit the battle, night after night, turn the struggle into something else -- a slide of scales on skin, an entirely different heat in his blood, the dragon's attacks sliding past his armor to caress and encircle and fill, easy and unholy. When Logue claims his victory, it is not his axe that he sinks into Umbra's flesh, and the proof of triumph that bathes his skin is not blood.
When he struggles against that image, when he pushes away that pleasure, he can feel Umbra's hissing Majin mockery coiling hot down his spine. The question comes half in words, half in pure sensation: Is this better, little brother-self?
They are back in the cave, in their den, and some poor Falsin has come -- again -- to challenge them. For an instant those graceful limbs and fair hair look like the princess's, but the light of a torch proves otherwise: Olifen, face bloodied and hair unbound, defiant and terrified. Logue roars, howls in frustration as he fights both of their nature -- the dragon and the dragonslayer, drawn together in a cycle as old as Valdia's throne, as old as the Goddess. His resistance is not enough, as no Falsin's resistance has ever been enough, and he pins Olifen beneath his claws. His tongue flickers, tasting pain and terror and desperate pride, and the sweetness of deep red blood. Bruised and bleeding, Olifen still struggles beneath him, unwilling to surrender. Logue mantles his shadow wings and crouches above his prize. No Falsin body can satisfy his need without being torn asunder. He lowers himself, surges forward --
And wakes in his own bed, in his own shape, sweat cold on his brow and fresh-spilled seed still warm on his belly. Beneath the pounding of his heart and the rasping of his breath, he can hear the whisper of Umbra's laughter.
"It's not going to happen," he says aloud to the darkness.
Umbra's answering purr is only in his mind. Yes, the dragon hums. Struggle. Fight me for as long as you can.
"I will," Logue says. He pushes back the blankets, gets up to go wash the damning evidence away. Bravado is a futile show, faced with a monster that rides his soul, but still he says, "And I'll win."
The dragon's laughter shivers across his skin, no matter how hard he wishes it gone.