The trek up the mountain had been long and arduous, especially since it was on the edge of the storming season. She had started her journey on chocobo back, but had soon set the bird free to return to its stables and continued on foot through the dense undergrowth. There was no sense in bringing the innocent creature with her to her fate.
Now Luna stood at the massive, yawning entrance to the ancient den, shivering from nerves in the thin, ceremonial dress she had brought along for this purpose, trying to find the serenity that had helped her up the mountain these last few days. Instead, all she could feel was the very real and human fear for what awaited. It was tradition after all. A sacred duty of her line for generations. There was only one way to protect Tenebrae from a threat of this nature, and as the current Oracle … it fell upon her shoulders.
She hoped Ravus would forgive her, when he got back from his latest campaign to find what had happened. He had never believed that this particular duty of the Oracles would or should fall to her.
Steeling her nerves and ignoring the rain beginning to fall on her shoulders, she folded her hands and started to sing. She wove her magic into the song, a lure and an offering.
It took until the seventh verse in the ever increasing rain before she sensed movement inside the mouth of the cave and heard the scrape of claws against stone. It took until the tenth to see it and her voice faltered despite herself. Astrals above, it was huge.
This was not a Niflheim dread wyvern come from over the mountains to settle in a den far too close to Tenebrae for her people’s safety. This was … was …
She did not even know what kind of dragon this was. It looked like the paintings and tapestries in the high temple. The ones of the sky dragons, the beloved children of star dragon Bahamut, King of dragons, prophecy, and stars. But that was impossible, because the sky dragons had gone extinct long ago, lost along with their home continent two thousand years ago. If they had ever truly existed to begin with.
But if ever they were to exist, surely this would be what they would look like. Easily twice the size of even the largest dread wyvern, with scales that glinted in the rainy light like black and dark blue gemstones, horns and claws of blue crystal, and wings speckled with silver. Four legged instead of two, with a long, elegant neck and vulpine muzzle that poked out of the cave before the rest of it. When it emerged fully to stand before her and inspect her suitability as a sacrifice, its shadow dwarfed her. She would be less than a single bite to this beast. If it so chose, it could swallow her alive and probably not even taste her for more than a few moments. She could only pray her magic would last longer in its belly. That the rite would work on a dragon this large and different to keep her people safe.
It bent its long neck and Luna flinched, closing her eyes with a sharp breath, not wanting to see the moment it snapped her up. Hot breath washed over her, heating the rain on her skin and making her shiver. When nothing happened for what felt like a long time, she opened her eyes again. Did she have to start singing again? To attract it into finally snapping her up? The sooner it devoured her, the sooner her home would be safe. At least for however many years took for the dragon to finish digesting her magic —long, long after she herself was dead and gone—. Years it would spend asleep and unable to fly down to destroy the city of people who had no means of killing or fighting off a dread wyvern, let alone a dragon like this.
The dragon was staring at her, head tilted to the side to study her with one great blue eye. Then it pulled back, shifting slightly on its paws and tilting its massive head in something akin to confusion. Did it … not know what to do? Dread wyverns were always eager to devour an Oracle’s magic, was this one not as interested? Luna tried to muster the courage to sing, to weave magic into her voice to attract it to powerful prey. It’s jaws parted before she could and it-.
“What are you doing all the way up here in the rain? Aren’t you cold?”
…The dragon had spoken.
This dragon could speak. Was intelligent like a man.
Luna tangled her fingers in the fabric of her dress, trying to ground herself as her mind scrambled. No wonder it had not blindly fallen for her song, but she had a duty, she had to protect Tenebrae by any means. She didn’t have time to panic over the revelation that this strange dragon could talk, “I am here in offering, Oh Great Dragon,” she managed to choke out, “my life and magic in exchange for the safety of my home.” It occurred to her a moment after that she shouldn’t have told it the truth. What if it was a cruel dragon, like the daemons of the ancient stories? What if it chose to attack her home instead of settle for her? What if…?
The dragon tilted its —his? The … voice was masculine— head the other way and leaned in close again to inspect her, “And you … accepted this role willingly?” It sounded surprised. She supposed it must seem baffling to an apex predator to find prey that willingly offered itself up to be eaten.
Luna could feel her heart slamming against her ribs like a terrified bird trying to escape a cage, but she forced herself to raise her chin and meet that large blue eye, “I did. I still do. I offer myself freely.”
A slow, thoughtful blink. The dragon raised his head again, “…Alright then.” Luna closed her eyes in relief and dread. This intelligent dragon had accepted. Her death was assured but … her people would be safe.
She squeaked a moment later as, instead of jaws snapping shut on her life, large claws wrapped around her and lifted her up. The dragon curled the paw holding her close to his chest and turned back to his cave, “It’s too cold out here for all this talking,” the dragon whined, more like a child than some intelligent, hungry monster, “and there is far too much rain. If it starts storming any harder, lightning bolts will start hitting my horns again. Iggy will kill me if he finds out I got knocked out by lightning because I was talking in the rain.”
Luna pressed her hands against the smooth, glassy scales of the dragon’s paw, unable to think of anything else to say or do. The dragon radiated heat like the summer sun through a gap in the trees. It baked into her rain-chilled skin and she shivered from the change in temperature, which kept slowly rising the deeper into the cave the dragon went. She didn’t know how long he carried her or how deep into the mountain these caves went, but eventually the darkness gave way to a soft light, almost like starlight, and Luna stared at the patterns —the runes— carved into the walls of the cavern they had entered, bathing everything in a soft white light.
Just past the tunnel they were exiting was a deep pool of water that glowed like a round moon in the light of the magic runes —the runes this dragon must have made, because no dread wyvern had the intelligence to use magic spells— and near the center of the cavern was what she could only assume was the dragon’s nest. It was a lumpy, cluttered mess of what looked like any kind of fabric thing, which made her stomach flip thinking of how many towns the dragon had to have burned down before coming here to have collected that many blankets, curtains, and pillows. The dragon made straight for the nest, flopping down in it with a sigh and curling into a loose circle before letting her go. Luna fell over into the sea of blankets and silk pillows, trapped in the circle formed by the dragon’s body and tail. The dragon rested his snout on the ridge of his tail, staring thoughtfully down at her, “I didn’t know humans had magic like yours,” he rumbled with a flash of white teeth.
It sounded almost like a conversation opening, and for lack of any other ideas, Luna shakily sat up with her knees tucked against her chest and answered, “I am a Nox Fleuret. It is said that the women of my family were gifted magic many ages past by the Dragon King Bahamut.” Her heart skipped at the thought of the dragon looking for more Nox Fleuret’s and she added hastily, “I am the only woman present alive of my house.”
The slitted pupil watching her slowly rounded in some emotion she couldn’t place, “That’s sad,” the dragon hummed with a disturbing amount of sincerity, “You have no mother?”
Luna’s mouth dried as she thought of the Raid. Her mother’s death at human hands rather than a dragon’s maw or the old age she deserved. She shook her head, “She died when I was a child.” The dragon made a low rumbling noise that filled the marrow of Luna’s bones and his muzzle came closer. She squeezed her eyes shut, assuming the conversation was over and the dragon was content to have dinner now, but all he did was nudge her lightly with the tip of his snout and a puff of hot breath that nearly bowled her over.
She peaked her eyes open and found the dragon had resettled his head on his tail, “I lost my mom young too,” he offered, almost shy, and Luna stared. She didn’t understand this dragon. Why he wanted to talk to her first, why he had offered … personal information? Sympathy? Did dragons even form bonds with their mothers? Perhaps they did, he seemed genuinely sad when he spoke. And it was the height of foolishness to lower her guard, to stop focusing on preparing for her fate, but she couldn’t stop herself from uncurling and gently resting a hand on the scales of his shoulder. The dragon rumbled again, and the sound almost sounded like a sigh.
Then he blinked and yawned, and the sight of his massive white teeth made her heartbeat stumble. But he only curled up tighter around her, leaving just enough space for her to lie down herself if she wanted, and then closed his eyes, “It’s too rainy for talking,” he grumped again even though they were dry and deep underground, “we can talk in the morning. Oh,” he blinked awake again, “before we do … what’s your name?”
Luna stared. The dragon wanted the name of his meal? Was apparently planning to … what, eat her in the morning? But despite the sheer illogicality of it, Luna felt her court manners nudge her into responding, “Lunafreya. Lunafreya Nox Fleuret.”
“Can I call you Luna?”
“…If you wish.”
A curl of his snout into something like a smile, “Thanks.” His eyes closed again, “Night, Luna.”
Luna stared at the dragon’s face for what must have been hours. Watching as his breathing deepened into slumber there in the tangled nest of blankets and pillows and what might have been fuzzy carpets. She suspected her life would end on the morrow, but for tonight she was still alive and her people were still safe. She didn’t expect to fall asleep herself, surely she had too many thoughts spinning in her mind and too much stress. But the warmth of the dragon’s scales had dried her off from the rain and the lumpy nest was soft and she was so tired from being scared.
She didn’t notice when she drifted off until she woke up and found herself curled up against the dragon’s ribcage, blessedly warm and halfway lulled by the deep thud of the dragon’s heartbeat that was so much bigger and slower than hers. She almost slid back into sleep despite herself, but then a new sound echoed from the ribcage and she jolted away in fear. The dragon stirred as his stomach gave another unhappy growl. He raised his head and yawned, blinked awake and shook himself like a dog might. Luna curled up as far away from him as she could, which wasn’t far when he was surrounding her. Terror slid back into her veins like ice as he spotted her, tilted his head with something like confusion, then remembrance. He uncurled and stood up slowly and Luna forced her breathing to remain slow and steady.
“Wait here,” said the dragon, “I’ll be right back.”
Luna gaped, “I- where are you going?”
He looked almost confused by her question, “…To get breakfast? There’s this spot further down the mountain where some really nice prey gather-.”
Luna thought of the city at the base of the mountain, all the people living there, her duty to protect them, and she scrambled to her feet on the unsteady surface of the nest, “No! You can’t!”
If a dragon could raise an eyebrow, this one would, and the expression was so calm and innocent despite the topic that it made her sick —how had she ever relaxed her guard around this monster for even an instant—, “…Uhh, why not?”
“You accepted my offering! You can’t harm the city, my magic will be far more filling than any amount of other humans, I’m your prey to devour-!”
The dragon whipped around to face her fully, wings flaring out like star-encrusted shadows, “You’re my WHAT?”
The bellow knocked her over, and those jaws were so close-, the tight hold Luna had kept over her emotions finally snapped. It was too much. Too different, too terrifying. She had come here to fulfill her duty and the dragon had accepted, yet now sought to devour her home anyway and she had tried-. The world got blurry from more than tears, the air felt too thin and too hot, she couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t speak, she couldn’t think. The dragon loomed over her, booming sounds and hot breath that made it all worse and Luna didn’t even have enough mind left to be ashamed of herself and her loss of control as she sobbed and gasped and despaired.
Somewhere in her tears, the dragon’s booming voice and puffs of hot air went away. In its place there were suddenly gentle hands on her shoulders, warm arms rocking her back and forth and a soft, sad voice murmuring soothingly into her hair. Slowly, terror left her and was replaced with a numb, baffled sort of exhaustion. She was still sitting in the nest, but now it felt like she’d been partially hauled into someone’s lap while they held her tight and rocked her back and forth, humming softly. Her face was tucked into the crook of a human neck, and confusion finally made her take a shaking breath and raise her head.
Blue eyes blinked at her in concern and Luna gasped. The face was human, the body was mostly human, but the eyes were slitted, two blue, crystalline horns poked out from amid flyaway black hair, and if she looked closely it was clear that the scattering of black freckles on his cheeks and forehead were actually tiny black scales. It was the dragon. The dragon could take on a human form?
“I’m sorry I yelled and scared you,” he murmured, and there was genuine remorse in his voice that made everything even more confusing, “do you … feel any better?”
Luna inhaled, blinked at the burning in her eyes from having already cried too much, “…What are you waiting for?” She whispered, hoarse and tired, “Why won’t you just … eat me?”
The dragon’s face folded into a very human scowl and his arms tightened around her waist possessively, “I’m not going to eat you. I never was. I’m … I’m sorry I made you think that? I don’t know how-. I don’t know what I said-.”
Luna shook her head, too wrung out to be afraid of interrupting him, “It is the duty of every Oracle. When a dragon settles too close to Tenebrae, to the city, the Oracle of the time must journey to their den as a sacrifice. My- the magic of an Oracle can put a dragon into a digestive sleep for years, during which the city will be safe. Nothing can kill a dragon but time so … my duty is to buy time.”
The dragon stared at her, mouth hanging open faintly to reveal still pointed teeth despite his human appearance. He slowly closed his mouth with a click, then managed, “Okay … that. That is horrifying. I’ve never eaten a human in my life and I don’t know any other dragon that would even think about it. Except maybe dread wyverns, the mindless lumps of scales… which is probably the only kind you’ve dealt with for the last two thousand years.” The dragon pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed heavily, a tiny puff of smoke slipping past his lips as he did. Then he raised his head again, “I … things are different back where I come from. I thought you were here as a-.” The dragon’s face actually tinged with red and he looked away, “Where I come from, young dragons are supposed to leave once they reach a certain age and establish a personal territory. Human cities often try to entice the young dragon to … claim the city. Because that means we’ll protect it from monsters and invasion. Some cities bribe dragons with gold, or specialty items, or fresh livestock to eat or … um … a willing human as a … dragon bride.”
Luna tried to wrap her head around the idea. She wanted to say it was a lie, but she had never seen a talking dragon, and he had to have come from somewhere far away, with another culture, another way of thinking. Or even other ways of dealing with dragons, the creatures no mortal man could kill. There very well might be cities that bribed talking dragons with gold or livestock or “…Bride?”
“That is the human word for it, right? For- for a mate?” The dragon’s face was definitely red now —definitely blushing, all the way to his ears—, “Dragons only have one Mate in their lives and … and it’s hard to find the right one. So sometimes people offer themselves in hopes of winning a guardianship for their city and the honor of being a … a Dragon Bride. When you were outside the cave and … and you were singing so nicely, and your magic was so similar to a dragon’s-. And then you said you were here, willingly, to secure safety for your city, so I thought…”
Luna opened her mouth, shut it slowly, then managed to squeak, “You thought I was proposing?”
Luna found herself at a complete loss for words for a long time. The dragon just kept blushing and staring at a random part of the nest, his arms wrapped loosely around her from when he had comforted her, helped her when she broke down and cried. Finally, she said, “But, you said you were going down to attack the city.”
He wrinkled his nose in open confusion, “No, I didn’t. There’s a lake about a mile down the mountain from here where deer like to gather. I was going there to get us some break…fast. Oh. You thought I was going all the way down to the city. I wouldn’t attack a human city like that. Besides, I can’t even go halfway down the mountain, let alone to the base. It’s still storming like crazy out there. Trying to go that far is bound to get me struck by lightning in this weather. Ramuh might be said to favor my family, but that just means his jungle storms knock us out for a few days rather than kill us.”
He slowly unwrapped his arms from around her waist and Luna felt a blush heat her own cheeks as she realized she was still in his lap. Sliding off to sit next to him on the nest itself, she folded her hands tightly in her lap while he leaned back on his claw-tipped hands, “When the storming season is over,” he murmured solemnly, “I can take you back down to your city. I’m not going to eat you or any other human, I swear. Maybe when the weather clears up I’ll … move or something. Since you’ve already had so much dragon trouble. No sense making you uncomfortable just because you have a nice cave nearby”
Her first instinct was to disbelieve him, but he had no reason to lie in such an elaborate way. Or to lie at all when he could just eat her. Her next instinct was to thank him and focus on being able to go home. Her third instinct was the one she actually listened to, as reckless as it was, “If I … were to offer myself as a Dragon Bride, would you accept?”
Blue eyes blinked at her, wide and confused, “What?”
Luna tilted her chin up and tried not to show her nerves, “You said that your … people … will sometimes guard a city in exchange for a Dragon Bride. Would I be an acceptable one? Would you stay and guard Tenebrae from the dread wyverns in exchange for, well, me? In exchange for my becoming your … mate?”
He stared at her for a long time, long enough she started to fear he would laugh at her or suddenly return to his true form and kill her for impertinence. What person in their right mind attempted to arrange their own marriage with a dragon, after all? But instead of either, he hesitantly smiled, cheeks still dusted with red, “I … you would be a great, um, Dragon Bride. But are you sure you want to do that? You … you thought I was going to eat you until about two hours ago. …Less than that, actually.”
Luna nodded, firm despite the faint shaking in her hands, “I am the Oracle, it is my duty to keep the city safe from the threat of drag- of dread wyverns, by any means. If my … marriage … to you will secure the safety of my home, then it is a price I am more than willing to pay.”
The dragon made a face of discomfort, “That’s admirable, but if I’m … it’s supposed to be willing. You’re not a pet, you’d be my- my mate. That’s … supposed to mean sleeping in the same nest and kissing and … stuff.” He picked idly at the fabric beneath them with his claws, “I don’t actually know what Dragon Brides and their dragons do, to be honest.”
“Well,” Luna offered shyly, “I suppose we could always figure it out as we go along?”
He peaked at her, “You’re absolutely serious about this.”
“Yes.” Luna hesitated, then held out a hand, because despite all the misunderstandings and fear and tears, this dragon had ultimately been nothing but kind —if confused and working under just as many misunderstandings as she—, “I cannot promise not to be scared of you at first, your … real form … is very large, and I have been taught all my life to be afraid of dragons. I also cannot promise not to be confused at times, because I suspect our cultures are very different, but if you will guard Tenebrae from monsters and dread wyverns and bring no harm to my people, then I will endeavor to be your wife- your mate- in all the ways I can.”
Very slowly, the dragon smiled at her and took her hand in his. It was an oddly shy, sweet expression despite the sharp teeth, “This form is as real as the other one, I just happened to be born in one before the other. But … yeah. Okay. I will accept your home as my territory and place it under my protection in exchange for you as my Dragon Bride. And when the worst of the storms are past, I’ll take you back down to the city so you can explain to everyone what’s going on and that you’re not ... dead and stuff.”
Luna smiled back, a tentative relief uncoiling in her chest, “Thank you…” she stopped when she realized something, “I’m … I’m afraid I don’t know your name.”
The dragon stared at her, seemed to think back, then hid his face in his free hand with a whisper that sounded a lot like I am so stupid, “Noctis. My name is Noctis Lucis Caelum, of the Lucis Caelum clan of Sky Dragons.”
“Noctis, then,” Luna said while swallowing down the possibly reckless urge to laugh at how utterly sheepish the dragon looked, “Thank you.”