Bonus Chapter 6 – The Ice Dragon

Seth was bored. 

He was usually bored. Life was boring.

His breath misted into the air as he sighed. Which was different from usual. It was summer, so the sun was actually out. Even then, it couldn’t overwhelm his home country’s natural cold, but it made it warmer. Though it was probably the fires causing that.

Fuck, he was bored…The screams, the blood, the panic…it all lost its appeal a long time ago. It was funny, in a way. He’d probably have more fun laying on a roof and staring up at the sky. Or maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe the dull throbbing in his head would stay there. He’d need to make a hole for his tail too, at the very least. Might as well lay on his front then. But then he couldn’t look at the sky, now could he? Logic. Brilliance.

The sun was warm on his bare chest, glinting off his scales like light on ice. His dark red feathers clung to his scalp, matted down with the heat wafting off the nearby houses. There was an enraged scream and some idiot charged him with a cleaver, so he backhanded his fellow icedrake off her feet, cracking teeth with the flat of his round shield. She spilled into the snow, landing hard as more dipshits ran and screamed, fleeing burning homes and running out into the snow, rushing to flee the cackling assholes Seth surrounded himself with. Whips snapped in the air, steel flashed in the light, houses erupted as alchemical bombs were chucked inside.

He was so fucking bored.

“C’MON OUT HARVALD!” Ah, Amato was talking. Dumbass was standing on a roof, shouting out towards the biggest house in the town. “SHOULDA PAID UP WHEN YOU COULD! YOU KNOW WHAT A PROTECTION FEE MEANS!”

Fucker was loud. Brayed at the slightest provoking. Made him a decent spokesman, but fuck if it wasn’t annoying. 

Seth scowled as he walked towards the manor, gripping at his metal club. Some of the hapless dipshits were running for the manor too, trying to get inside the safest place they could find. That was part of the plan. The cavalry burns the houses, lighting them with the blue flames that could last even in the coldest chunks of Brunza, and then all the panicking townsfolk go running for the nearest safe places, including the walled off manor in the center of town belonging to their local lord. 

Course, Harvald Gylling was a piece of shit, so the gates were blocked as desperate dipshits banged on them. Whatever, was a shit plan.

“Outta my way,” Seth grunted as he stomped to the gate, letting the sound fade out as more and more dipshits screamed in panic and ran out of his way, clutching tykes and pets and whatever else they thought was valuable enough to protect. 

His steel-toed boot smashed through the gates, sending them crashing off their hinges. There was a cheer from the assholes and they started riding after him, like they hadn’t noticed the wall of shields in front of the manor, nor the shit lord standing up on his top balcony, glaring down at him.

Harvald was an ass. There was no question of it. Dressed in black furs despite being a rabbit, had a ponytail, little fucking mustache, deep sneer on his pink lips, asshole all around. “Hnph. Coldblood. To what do I owe the pleasure?” Big front teeth too, part of being a rabbit.

“You missed pay, fuckface. Lotta missed pay.”

“THAT’S RIGHT, HARVALD!” Ugh, Amato was beside him now. How the fuck did the wily freak get that fast? He said he was pure human, but the pale-blue hair said cambion. “YOU FUCK WITH US, WE FUCK YOU BACK!”

“Are the troops grabbing the grain and meat?” Seth asked, glancing down at the shorter fucker.

“EH? Oh, uh, yeah boss, getting all that.”

“Good. We got what we wanted, asshole. Could’ve made this a lot easier for all of us.”

Harvald sneered again. “Please, as though I’d capitulate to bandits!” He capitulated plenty for the past year. Was one of the first town-lords to do so, so long as Seth’s band sold their loot in his town and kept him safe from other bands. Then he stopped his protection fee, which brought them all to this moment. “You may burn my town and take the lives of my citizens, but I will always rebuild and regain! So take what pathetic tribute you demand, but know it shall be the last you ever get from me!”

Dramatic fuck. “That’s not how this works. You cheated us. Now we take interest.”

There was more yelling. Lotta “yeah that’s right” and shit from the assholes. Axel and Britt weren’t in the group yet. Probably still directing shit.

“HA! Then come and take it, pathetic wretches! But be warned–Eep!” Harvald ducked a thrown rock, earning laughter and jeers from the assholes. He glared straight down at them, his face turning red. “LOTHUL! KILL THIS RABBLE!”

Seth raised a white eyebrow, then glanced at the big fucker striding out of the house. Real big fucker. Maybe orc, though it was hard to tell with the pitch-black armor he was wearing. 

“TREMBLE, WORMS!” Harvald continued, hiding behind his balcony’s railing, “FOR YOU FACE LOTHUL BLACK-BLADE, FORMER GENERAL OF THE DEMON LORD ORAST!”

Seth paused. “General…” General meant strong. Demon Lord’s General meant real strong. He stepped ahead of the assholes, not grinning yet. He didn’t want to get his hopes up, but for a moment, he thought the big fucker in front of him, clad in full armor, holding a huge broadsword and kite shield, wearing a furry cape, could’ve been a genuine badass.

He shouldn’t’ve.

It was less than a minute later that Seth lifted his bloody club off the wreck of metal lying at his feet. He scowled at the softly groaning pulp, then glared straight at Harvald, who flinched back with a frightened squeak. “Fuck you. Fuck you, fuck your town, fuck this piece of shit.”

He turned his glare at the guards in front of him. More rabbits, most flinching when they saw the murder in his eyes. He drew his hand down his club, gathering blood, and slicked his feathers back, already bored again. “You disappointed me. That means you gotta pay me back.”

“…W-We won’t bow to-” The lead guard squeaked as Seth chucked Lothul over her head, smashing the dumbass through the front doors. “WE’LL BOW WE’LL BOW!”

“I don’t give a shit about bowing. Over by the wall, out of the way, drop everything of value on you. Shields and spears, drop here.” Seth turned his glare up to Harvald, who whimpered, clutching his railing like it would protect him as his guards threw down their useless weapons. “Your manor is mine now.”

“W-What?! I won’t-!”

“Either run, or get thrown. Either one.”

“Gh-! Y-You damned-!” 

He got thrown.

Seth pitched the squealing noble over the town’s wall himself and passed his furry coat off to Amato while the band of assholes jeered at the guards, poking and prodding them as they shoved them outta the town too, most stripped down to their skivvies. Seth did say they should drop anything of value, and clothes had value. 

So did manors and the things inside them, so they hooked up the manor to a few aurochs and ripped the damn thing from the foundations. Took some whacking at the right points, but it came easy. Broke a bit, but eh. Materials were materials, and most of the town was charred.

All in all, a successful raid.

But Seth was still bored.

Seth was bored. 

He was usually bored. Life was boring.

His breath misted into the air as he sighed. Which was different from usual. It was summer, so the sun was actually out. Even then, it couldn’t overwhelm his home country’s natural cold, but it made it warmer. Though it was probably the fires causing that.

Fuck, he was bored…The screams, the blood, the panic…it all lost its appeal a long time ago. It was funny, in a way. He’d probably have more fun laying on a roof and staring up at the sky. Or maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe the dull throbbing in his head would stay there. He’d need to make a hole for his tail too, at the very least. Might as well lay on his front then. But then he couldn’t look at the sky, now could he? Logic. Brilliance.

The sun was warm on his bare chest, glinting off his scales like light on ice. His dark red feathers clung to his scalp, matted down with the heat wafting off the nearby houses. There was an enraged scream and some idiot charged him with a cleaver, so he backhanded his fellow icedrake off her feet, cracking teeth with the flat of his round shield. She spilled into the snow, landing hard as more dipshits ran and screamed, fleeing burning homes and running out into the snow, rushing to flee the cackling assholes Seth surrounded himself with. Whips snapped in the air, steel flashed in the light, houses erupted as alchemical bombs were chucked inside.

He was so fucking bored.

“C’MON OUT HARVALD!” Ah, Amato was talking. Dumbass was standing on a roof, shouting out towards the biggest house in the town. “SHOULDA PAID UP WHEN YOU COULD! YOU KNOW WHAT A PROTECTION FEE MEANS!”

Fucker was loud. Brayed at the slightest provoking. Made him a decent spokesman, but fuck if it wasn’t annoying. 

Seth scowled as he walked towards the manor, gripping at his metal club. Some of the hapless dipshits were running for the manor too, trying to get inside the safest place they could find. That was part of the plan. The cavalry burns the houses, lighting them with the blue flames that could last even in the coldest chunks of Brunza, and then all the panicking townsfolk go running for the nearest safe places, including the walled off manor in the center of town belonging to their local lord. 

Course, Harvald Gylling was a piece of shit, so the gates were blocked as desperate dipshits banged on them. Whatever, was a shit plan.

“Outta my way,” Seth grunted as he stomped to the gate, letting the sound fade out as more and more dipshits screamed in panic and ran out of his way, clutching tykes and pets and whatever else they thought was valuable enough to protect. 

His steel-toed boot smashed through the gates, sending them crashing off their hinges. There was a cheer from the assholes and they started riding after him, like they hadn’t noticed the wall of shields in front of the manor, nor the shit lord standing up on his top balcony, glaring down at him.

Harvald was an ass. There was no question of it. Dressed in black furs despite being a rabbit, had a ponytail, little fucking mustache, deep sneer on his pink lips, asshole all around. “Hnph. Coldblood. To what do I owe the pleasure?” Big front teeth too, part of being a rabbit.

“You missed pay, fuckface. Lotta missed pay.”

“THAT’S RIGHT, HARVALD!” Ugh, Amato was beside him now. How the fuck did the wily freak get that fast? He said he was pure human, but the pale-blue hair said cambion. “YOU FUCK WITH US, WE FUCK YOU BACK!”

“Are the troops grabbing the grain and meat?” Seth asked, glancing down at the shorter fucker.

“EH? Oh, uh, yeah boss, getting all that.”

“Good. We got what we wanted, asshole. Could’ve made this a lot easier for all of us.”

Harvald sneered again. “Please, as though I’d capitulate to bandits!” He capitulated plenty for the past year. Was one of the first town-lords to do so, so long as Seth’s band sold their loot in his town and kept him safe from other bands. Then he stopped his protection fee, which brought them all to this moment. “You may burn my town and take the lives of my citizens, but I will always rebuild and regain! So take what pathetic tribute you demand, but know it shall be the last you ever get from me!”

Dramatic fuck. “That’s not how this works. You cheated us. Now we take interest.”

There was more yelling. Lotta “yeah that’s right” and shit from the assholes. Axel and Britt weren’t in the group yet. Probably still directing shit.

“HA! Then come and take it, pathetic wretches! But be warned–Eep!” Harvald ducked a thrown rock, earning laughter and jeers from the assholes. He glared straight down at them, his face turning red. “LOTHUL! KILL THIS RABBLE!”

Seth raised a white eyebrow, then glanced at the big fucker striding out of the house. Real big fucker. Maybe orc, though it was hard to tell with the pitch-black armor he was wearing. 

“TREMBLE, WORMS!” Harvald continued, hiding behind his balcony’s railing, “FOR YOU FACE LOTHUL BLACK-BLADE, FORMER GENERAL OF THE DEMON LORD ORAST!”

Seth paused. “General…” General meant strong. Demon Lord’s General meant real strong. He stepped ahead of the assholes, not grinning yet. He didn’t want to get his hopes up, but for a moment, he thought the big fucker in front of him, clad in full armor, holding a huge broadsword and kite shield, wearing a furry cape, could’ve been a genuine badass.

He shouldn’t’ve.

It was less than a minute later that Seth lifted his bloody club off the wreck of metal lying at his feet. He scowled at the softly groaning pulp, then glared straight at Harvald, who flinched back with a frightened squeak. “Fuck you. Fuck you, fuck your town, fuck this piece of shit.”

He turned his glare at the guards in front of him. More rabbits, most flinching when they saw the murder in his eyes. He drew his hand down his club, gathering blood, and slicked his feathers back, already bored again. “You disappointed me. That means you gotta pay me back.”

“…W-We won’t bow to-” The lead guard squeaked as Seth chucked Lothul over her head, smashing the dumbass through the front doors. “WE’LL BOW WE’LL BOW!”

“I don’t give a shit about bowing. Over by the wall, out of the way, drop everything of value on you. Shields and spears, drop here.” Seth turned his glare up to Harvald, who whimpered, clutching his railing like it would protect him as his guards threw down their useless weapons. “Your manor is mine now.”

“W-What?! I won’t-!”

“Either run, or get thrown. Either one.”

“Gh-! Y-You damned-!” 

He got thrown.

Seth pitched the squealing noble over the town’s wall himself and passed his furry coat off to Amato while the band of assholes jeered at the guards, poking and prodding them as they shoved them outta the town too, most stripped down to their skivvies. Seth did say they should drop anything of value, and clothes had value. 

So did manors and the things inside them, so they hooked up the manor to a few aurochs and ripped the damn thing from the foundations. Took some whacking at the right points, but it came easy. Broke a bit, but eh. Materials were materials, and most of the town was charred.

All in all, a successful raid.

But Seth was still bored.


There were three types of bandits in the world, by Seth’s reckoning. Not divided by skills or species or any shit like that, but by how they thought. By whatever fucked morals they had.

First type were the ones that thought they were good. Pieces of shit that were sure they, in some fucked way, were doing a good thing by robbing and murdering. They were the type to have “rules”, things they said they wouldn’t do no matter what. Standards. Lies. Most drank, most smoked, smothering that voice they called “conscience”. They explained things a lot, said it was fine because they were robbing the rich until they weren’t, then it was fine because the dipshits needed to know the world was cruel and selfish and dogs eat dogs and drakes eat drakes and then they’d flinch if you said “then eat this finger”. 

Second type were the ones who thought good was shit and so was evil. They were proud, said they were above that. Said things like “might makes right”, not to say they were good but that good was stupid. They talked big, said the world owed them. Explain they were just taking what was theirs, shout loudest and jeer as they ripped the pearls from a necklace, then choke when a knife they didn’t see went in their neck. They focused on themselves, focused hard on what they wanted, and died. Amato was this type. He lasted a while, good enough to keep around. Most weren’t. Most mouthed off. He stopped keeping notches for them.

Third type were the ones who knew they were evil. They knew they were pieces of shit. They knew there was no world that said what they did was good. They knew, and they did it anyway, because there were people like that. The type who knew they were shit from the start, and embraced that. That there was good in the world, and they weren’t that.

Stupid shits liked to say the first type were the worst. They said people who thought they were doing good did the worst shit, thinking they were helping. That was stupid. They were bad, that was true, but the third type knew they were evil. First type had points that they wouldn’t cross, hypocrites they were. Third type though, they knew they were evil. So what was off limits? If a man was evil, then he could commit any evil.

The evil fuck’s brains squelched as Seth lifted his foot. He scuffed it into the snow, brushing it away, then shrugged and headed back to camp. The newer assholes stared at him as he walked through, some wondering if they’d be next. Some might. 

He went to the table, grabbed some booze, and looked over at the bonfire. “…”

He took a deep swig, staring into the flames, then chucked the rest in, sending the blue roaring up higher, flashing green for a moment. Some flinched back, then Axel started laughing, and said some shit about how no one should brag around him. That Seth didn’t like loud shit.

“I don’t mind loud shit. I do mind shit-talking.”

He laughed, reassured him that he knew that. His grin was as easy as ever. It never reached his black eyes.

Britt added something, made a few assholes laugh nervously, and things started again. The manor was resting by their camp, still there. Furniture was being divvied. Amato led that. Amato led lotta shit. Seth was the boss though. That’s what they called him.

Axel the icedrake got into the walls and lowered the gates. Britt the ghoul burned the town, led the cavalry, took charge of the camp. Amato the “human” set tasks, decided loot. But Seth led them.

What a joke.

He scratched at the scales on his neck, still staring at the fire. It danced.

It danced past the point everyone slept.

It danced when they woke.

It danced when Seth pissed in it, so he left it burning. If it wanted to burn, it could do that. They were moving though.

They always moved. Brunza was mountains, icy and frozen, a frost covering bronze land. Someone made them, he heard. Old story, back when he lived in a town. Most bandits lived in a town at some point. They left, wanting more, hating people, wanting strength, being bored out of their fucking skull. Some were born in bandit “tribes” though. They were fucked from the start. Fucked on fucked. That was life.

Life was moving. Keeping in one location meant being found. Burning a town meant people would want to find them. The manor would work better for them now. A moving base. Something they could use.

Seth took point, as always. He was the leader. He sat on a snowsteed. Some called them hrimfaxi, some called them hyoju, snowsteed was simple. Icy things, like horses, made of ice, shaped liked horses, pointed faces and pointed feet meaning they weren’t. Six eyed, along their face. Blue, like his. Easy to break.

They were going up a path in the snow, along a mountain. Looking for a place to settle while they planned the next place to rob. There were decent places. Maybe he’d have something to kill when he reached there.

The snow wasn’t falling. There was nothing to block his vision on the way up. The sun was shining. So how the fuck did he miss the woman walking towards them?

Not walking, exactly. Stumbling, more like.

Axel laughed beside him, riding close to get a better look. Asked if Seth saw the same thing.

“Yeah. Back up. I’m checking this.”

Another laugh, a “whatever you say”. A half-forgotten “boss” added at the end.

Seth let it slide. He did that with Axel. He wanted the fucker to keep testing him. He wanted to see if he’d try to kill him. That possibility made him interesting. If he stopped, if he kowtowed, then he wouldn’t be shit.

That didn’t matter though. There was something new catching his attention, so he urged his steed forward, towards the woman. The tall woman. She was nearly as tall as him on the steed. She was taller when he jumped down and walked closer. 

“‘M not sorry, ‘m not, fuck aw-*hic*-off, f-fuckin’…dammit momma, couldn’t just be born right, gotta…gotta fix, build, but can’t, cos…cos, cuz, caw…” the woman mumbled, pressing a hand over her eyes. The other clutched a large, white bottle. She had hair. It was long and white and…for the briefest moment, it seemed to flicker. Something with the light? It was stringy and limp, hanging loose. “…the fuck’re you?”

She noticed him. “Seth. You?”

“…” She dropped her hand and tilted her head, her hair falling away from her face. She looked normal. Mostly normal. She had blue eyes and a pale face flushed purple. Specks of blue traced across it. That made Seth think she wasn’t human. Goliath, maybe. They were supposed to be giant. “…Do I needa name? You don’t care. No one cares, everyone knows, ‘s how it iz…”

“I don’t know. I do care.”

“Not bout me. Yerself, sure, yeah…not me though, ken seen it.” She sniffed, then rubbed a poofy sleeve across her nose. Her blue dress was sky-blue on top and darkened when it got to her skirts. It looked fancy and tattered, laced with pearls and covered in small tears.

“Tell me your name,” he repeated.

She sneered. “Fuck that. Ugh, you want sumthin’, call me…Eko? Ko…Kol, sure, yeah, Kol’sh fine. Kol, fuck it, why do you care?”

What a stupid name. “Why’s a goliath wandering Brunzaba?”

“Goliath…hueh…dumbass.” She suddenly swigged her drink, her throat visibly moving as she gulped down her drink. When she stopped, her breath came out hot and she hiccuped, wine dripping down on her boobs. She was a mess.

She was a mess with a necklace of sapphires–five of them, shaped like teardrops–and a dress woven with pearls. She had rings on her fingers too, with more sapphires. “Why are you wandering out in the snow, lady?”

“Hnff…’m a lady now? Guess I am…I wander where I want, got it? I  walk, I talk, I…nalk, shmalk, falk, balk at the bounties and beauties blaggard…” She closed her eyes, one after the other, and opened them again. “Wouchu get outta way? ‘M walken…”

“Yo boss! What’s the hold up? This bitch causing trouble?” 

“Fuck off Amato,” Seth muttered, staring at the woman. Kol. Stupid name, stupid drunk. Rich drunk though, judging by the jewels. “You’re walking down this path. We’re going up this path. Think that means we’re at an impasse.”

She blinked stupidly at him. “…Impasse? Why? Move.”

“No.”

She frowned. “I said to move.”

Kol. A giant of a woman, wandering a snow-covered mountain in noble clothes. There was a power there. An implication. “No.”

Kol growled, pushing up her hair and scratching at her head with her free hand. “The fuck do you want?”

Coherent. Was she sobering? He almost laughed. “Your necklace, your dress, everything. You can keep your booze. Call it consolation for the toll.”

“…Are you fucking stupid?”

He nearly smiled. She was getting angry. He wanted that. There was something here, something big, and he wanted to know what. This was interesting. “I’m not a noble bitch wandering the country in silk and lace. You have valuables. I have sixty assholes behind me. Y-”

She snorted. She actually snorted at him, and giggled, pressing her hand to her mouth. “Pffffff, s-seriously?? That’s-You seriously said-Fuck, momma, what the fuck type of moron did I just meet??”

His eye twitched. “Bandits. I have sixty bandits. Maybe more–”

“I mean you weren’t wrong, I imagine most of ‘em have assholes, so you weren’t wrong!” She giggled again–

There was a crack as she backhanded him. 

Seth blinked stars from his eyes, his feet moving to balance–Then he was spitting vomit into the snow and clutching his stomach, not even feeling the fist that left a fucking dent–His head snapped back, blood spraying from his mouth as she kneed him straight in the face.

“BOSS!” There were screams behind him, and he snarled back at them, throwing his hand back to keep the assho-the fuckers from interfering in his fight.

Kol licked her lips. She had a blue tongue. Seth roared, ripping his club from the straps on his steed and–She caught it. With her pinky.

Kol was smiling as his club flash-froze in his hand. “Is this everything you wanted?”

Seth stared at her, then grinned right back as he felt genuine excitement for the first time in ages–

His club exploded, sending shards of ice and iron–

He choked as her fist slammed straight into his slit nostrils, breaking something–

He screamed when his arm was snapped straight in half at the elbow, his forearm hanging limp–

Second snap, second arm limp–

She had two arms but a thousand fists were hitting him at once, sending his body jerking with each brutal impact–

Seth was on the ground, and he couldn’t make a noise as she stomped on his head. He could see everyone in his camp staring in shock. They were making sounds he couldn’t hear. Blood was leaking from his nose, his mouth, his eyes, his ears, his body was broken and a bare foot was holding him down. Then a chunk of frozen iron landed by his head, finally dropping.

“Now what will they do? You, their leader, have lost. What will they do?” Kol’s voice came, pounding in his head, past all the hollow ringing. He couldn’t hear any of them, but she came through clearly.

And he saw Amato stepping forward, shouting with his sword drawn. He saw Axel cracking his whip. He saw Britt with an axe in hand. He saw his…his…all of them, with weapons drawn, shouting, making demands. Not leaving.

“Oh.” Was that surprise? “Honor among dregs then. You gave these people hope, didn’t you?” What? “The worst of the world, utter garbage, and you gave them a place. One where death could come at any time, where they killed and stole to live, a world of violence, but one they could stand. One they felt some belonging in. Is that it?”

Bullshit. It wasn’t. They were all…bandits didn’t give a shit about each other, if it came down to it, they’d abandon-

“But they’re not abandoning you, are they?” 

He looked up at her. She wasn’t…she wasn’t a goliath. Her foot was scaled, but not like a drake, more like a fish. She didn’t have feathers. Her white hair wasn’t hair. It was tentacles. Thick and ice-blue, curling down her head and across her shoulders. She looked down at him, and the whites of her eyes were black and the rest was pure ice, darkest at the center. 

“Getting poetic? Or maybe you recognize something. Who knows?” She had horns. “I do have horns, yes. Have you figured it out yet? Do you know what I am?”

He did.

“Think it.”

Leviathan.

“Good. Now watch me murder your only friends.”

His eye went wide as she raised a hand and pointed at his troops–

“Your friends. The ones you led to their deaths. Remember that.”

There was noise again, and he looked to see the idiots, the damned idiots, all charging, arrows flying and steeds going as fast as they could in such a short distance that there was no way she could possibly–

Seth felt tears gather. He thought they’d dried ages ago. 

The path was barren. That was wrong. The path was full. Full of debris. Frozen flesh raining on broken weapons and legs planted in place, standing on their own. 

The mansion still stood. It was the only thing standing. That was wrong. Legs stood.

The mansion was intact though. What kind of shit was that?

“Life.”

He snarled, glaring up at her as much as he could. What made it worse was how little she cared.

“Heh. You’re right about that. This is typical for me. You get strong enough, and the people beneath you are just so much garbage.”

FUCK YOU!

“Oh? My, you hit an odd point there.” She–the bitch–stroked her chin. “You have potential. Or you would, if you weren’t bleeding out in the snow. Isn’t that just life though? You have something in you, but you won’t ever reach it. You’ll die out here, in the cold you can’t even feel, oh frosted lizard. But I could make you feel it.”

He went stiff. His face was burning where her foot touched. It was burning

He screamed in pain. It burned wrong, it wasn’t anything like fire, it felt unnatural, felt alien, felt–

“It feels cold. That is cold. Die feeling it.”

She was gone. He was alone. Alone in the snow, his face burning. Unable to move. Dying.

What kind of shit was that?

He couldn’t move his fingers to dig into the snow. His legs wouldn’t listen to him. His tail laid limp. He could feel his chest though. He could feel things below his neck. His neck wasn’t broken. His body was, but he could feel it.

He swallowed blood. He swallowed blood and bile and started to growl. His eye moved, furiously glaring at the remains of those people who called him their leader. The people he had failed. He wouldn’t claim they were friends. He couldn’t speak to their feelings towards him, and he knew he didn’t care for them. 

And yet, they had tried to save him. And yet, they died for him. And yet, he was furious.

His bones snapped as his hand slammed into the ground. His breath was coming heavy and cold, his eyes burning. Cracks echoed through the night as he stood. Blood leaked, dried, and dyed his scales red and brown. For the first time in his life, he felt the cold.

And Seth walked.

Not down, but up. He was going up. It was only right. 

He chose this way. He would see it through.

Daylight rose when he saw the walls. It was cloudless again. What absolute shit.

He dropped.

And woke in a bed, blanketed in furs.

Trying to move his body only caused pain to shoot through it again, but he refused to let himself stop. Seth tossed the furs off and grabbed the edge of the bed, then found himself crashing to the floor as he tried to stand up. 

“Wha-? Oh gods, what’re you doing?” There was a voice. It sounded disappointed, and then he was going back up as a pair of shockingly strong hands lifted and laid him back in the bed. “Do you even realize how broken your bones are? Course you don’t, else you wouldn’t be trying to get up.” 

Seth snarled and glared at-…That was a bugbear. Huh.

The furry, bearded goblin raised a bushy eyebrow at him. “You gonna be difficult about this?”

“…” He had no idea what to say here. “…who are you?” 

“I’m the bugbear who saved your life. Now, are you going to try and crawl outta here and make all my work go to waste?” Growling, Seth looked away, letting the bugbear do as he pleased. 

“Good, now stay still, I need to change your bandages.” Walking over, the bugbear began to remove Seth’s bandages, revealing the still very fresh scarring that bitch had left on his scales. “Gotta say, you’re lucky we found you. A run of the mill healer wouldn’t have been able to help you.” 

He didn’t turn to look. Still. “…How did you do it then?”

“Heh, ol secret recipe. Fraid I can’t share it though, you wouldn’t exactly be able to make it if I did.”

“…What does that mean?” A laugh was the only response he received. In a way, he was too pissed off at everything else to get angry at that. 

“Gods be good though, you really took a bad beating, youngster. What in the world did you run into out there?”

“A leviathan.”

The bugbear’s hands paused. “…Yeah, that would do it then. I’d ask how you ran into a leviathan on a mountain, but that’s the sort of thing no one ever has a good answer to.”

Seth grunted and the hands went back to work at…whatever he was doing. He wasn’t going to look.

“Don’t mistake me, I am curious, but a child of Fathom wandering our snowy mountains isn’t the oddest thing I’ve ever heard. Swear I have a book of legends on the race around here somewhere though, now that I’m thinking about it…bah, never mind that, we should be focusing on you and how much rest you’re going to need.”

“I don’t need rest.”

“Try to remember you’re talking to the person who fixed you up. I know how bad you look, and you know how bad you feel. This sort of damage is the type of thing you walk off.” He suddenly chuckled. “Honestly, it isn’t the sort of thing you should’ve lived through. It’s an honest miracle you managed to keep your heart beating, much less walking however far you came from.”

“Nh.”

“Was that you replying, or you grunting?”

“…” Why did it feel like when he was little again, getting chided by his grandpa for breaking windows? “Grunting.”

“Well I won’t stop you if you want to grunt, but you won’t make for a good conversation partner if that’s your only response. Unless you’d rather be left alone?”

“…no.” He hated how small his voice sounded there, so much so he nearly took it back-

“My name’s Arnulf. Most people call me Arnie, because apparently two syllable names are too long for them. Or maybe they just don’t like the ‘f’ sound, considering it’s still two syllables.”

“…Seth.”

“Hm, good name that, strong name. Was it given?”

“…Yeah. Was yours?”

“Yup! Given by my pa when I was born, and his name was Arnold, and his father’s name was Arnaught. Arnbjorn is our family name, and it seemed some fool along the line thought it should be tradition for us all to be Arns.”

“Huh.” Seth shifted as he felt a cool cloth press to his chest. He looked, watching as the healer continued his work. Some sort of…there was a word for it. He didn’t know the word. Cloth, with plant stuff. “…My grandfather said my mother named me. My father wasn’t there for it.”

“Mm. There a story you want to tell?”

Seth shrugged. “Not much of one. Grandfather never said anything about him. Mother didn’t either, while she was around. She died. Not even anything big, just a piece of cliff falling at the wrong time. Maybe she wanted to. I don’t know.”

“I’m sorry. That’s a rough thing to go through. I buried both my parents some time ago.”

Seth blinked. “…Ah…alive?”

Arnulf snorted. “Nah, they were dead. We did check, don’t worry about that. Ma died first, just from age, and Pa went about a week after. I think losing her just wasn’t something he could handle.”

“That can happen?”

“Death from sadness? Yeah, it happens plenty of times. You live your life with someone long enough, they leave an impression, don’t they?”

“…Yeah.” Seth laid back, staring at the ceiling. It was wood. Lanterns hung. Smaller than he was used to. “…how long does it take? Impressions?”

“Not sure. I imagine it depends on the person. You’re making a real impression so far, so hey.”

“…What would you feel if I died?”

“Hmm…I think frustrated, first. I did put a lot into keeping you alive, so that would hurt. Sad, sure. Young people shouldn’t die. That’s something for old folks.”

“…Who do you think I am?”

“Hm?”

Seth didn’t say a thing. He wanted to hear his answer. It was strange. He wasn’t feeling bored.

Arnbjorn waited too, then continued speaking when he said nothing. “Judging from how you arrived here, what you looked like when you did, the clothes you were, all of that, I’ll guess a bandit. That is what most people have been saying here.”

“Most people?”

“You did drop right outside the walls. People found you and brought you in, though there are plenty wondering if that’s such a good idea.”

“That’s smart of them. I’m a shit person.”

“Really? And here I thought you were just bad at conversation. Then again, you turned out to be real talkative, so maybe I’m just a bad judge here.”

“You are.”

Arnbjorn snorted, this time amused. “Yeah, I’ve heard that. Call me soft, but I don’t like seeing people die, even if they come in caked in dried blood.”

“Most of it is mine.”

“See, you say that like it’s reassuring, but that’s not a good thing for a doctor to hear, though you do make a fantastic case study for the apparent life-giving properties of sheer determination to live.”

“It was more anger. Lots of anger.” The throbbing was back. Seth grit his teeth and sat up–Seth nearly broke his teeth gritting them as his whole chest spasmed with pain–

“Ah-Hold on, stay still, you’re still not doing well here!” Arn’s firm, furry hands held Seth down, earning a scowl that was returned with one baring the bugbear’s own sharp teeth. “Yeah yeah, you’re real scary, but you’re also a damn fool if you think I’m letting you up in your condition! Now lay down or I’m strapping you down!”

“…That wouldn’t hold me down.”

“You’d be surprised at how hard that’d be if I sedated you as well.” 

“…Nh.” Grunting once again, Seth laid down. 

“Good, now then, I hope you’re ready for Bugbear delicacies, cause you’re gonna have to get used to it while you’re here.” 


It was warm. And tasted like shit, But…it was filling. 

Such was bugbear food. Apparently goblinoids in general don’t care much for taste, at least according to Arn. Not like Seth had much of a place to argue. Most of the stuff he ate after becoming a bandit was just burnt over an open fire.

Either way, Seth didn’t turn down any of the food he was given. And, as much as he hated to admit it, he owed Arn. Something he was hoping to pay back as soon as possible.

“Hey, I never asked you, you got any family?” 

As soon as he was able to leave Arn’s house, anyways.

“I did say some stuff.”

“Once, sure. You lived with your gramps and your ma, yeah? Anybody else, still around?”

He thought about it as he ate the thick soup. “…I got an uncle. And an aunt. Two other aunts. They lived around, same village. Cousins too.”

Arn nodded, taking a moment to drink his tea. Tea and fabas, food of the mountains. Plateaus. Whatever. “Do you want me to try getting in touch with them? We do have a decent post here.”

Seth unconsciously winced. Last time a group he was with tried robbing a courier, it didn’t go well. Ghouls came back from a lot, didn’t mind the cold, and were relentless when it came to vengeance. Not even fun to go against. Just vicious. “No. That wouldn’t go well.”

“Fair enough, thought I’d ask. Sorry if I drudged up anything bad.”

“You didn’t. You apologize easy.”

“Do I? Probably. I don’t like causing harm, so I try to avoid it. Makes me a bad hunter, but a decent healer, and everyone needs one of those at some time or another.”

“Right.” …Now that he thought about it, his old group never had a healer. Probably wouldn’t have changed shit if they did, but it probably would have helped at other times. 

“You know, if you want, you can go hunting with some of the others, to help you get back on-” Before his suggestion could finish coming out, a loud crash from outside cut him off. “Ah, shit, someone probably dropped something, give me a moment, I’ll be right back.” 

“Sure.” Seth watched Arn leave, then settled back in bed. It was weird. For years, he felt that pulsing boredom in his skull, that constant sense of restlessness, no matter what he did. Now, he was stuck in a bed, doing nothing, and he felt…He didn’t know what he felt. Not empty. Not nothing. Something. Rested.

He’d slept for days. He rested for days. Moved when he needed to, but not doing much. Just two days ago, he stood, leaning on crutches as he went around Arn’s clinic. He saw people. Most were smaller than him. Hairy.

Seth let out a slow breath, then stood. His ribs didn’t hurt when he breathed anymore. Arn said he healed well, some sort of…positive reaction, or whatever. Something about his body. He didn’t get it.

There was a mirror nearby, one Arn had set up, and Seth looked at himself in it. His feathers had gone white. He’d rubbed blood through his feathers before, a way of showing how brutal he was. Something other bandits did. Now they were white. Clean. His bruises were fading. His bones were mended. The bags under his eyes were gone.

He looked better than he had in years. All it took was everyone he knew dying. He could almost laugh.

There was another crash. A loud one. That wasn’t someone dropping something.

Seth grabbed his crutch and went out, looking around the town while icedrakes with blood-red feathers whooped and hollered as they rode in on snowsteeds, a familiar sight he never expected to be on the other side of. They weren’t throwing fire, yet, but they were swinging whips and twirling spears and as one approached Seth stepped out and smashed her straight off her steed with his crutch. She landed with a pained scream, and he slammed the crutch on her head to knock her out. He took the whip, tested it, and swung at the next asshole in formation, catching him around the throat and pulling him up and down to the ground, hard.

“Woah, shit! Ha, looks like we got-” Talky one got the crutch thrown straight into his face, and Seth cracked his neck as he stepped forward, picking a dagger from the closest bandit and glaring at the rest of the riders.

He didn’t see Arn. That made him scowl. He could feel the cold on his scales, and his breath came in small vapors. He was still changed. Good. It made him feel alive.

Cavalry had advantages. Taller, faster, bigger range. Seth killed a lot of cavalrymen. This wouldn’t be anything new.

Arrows came quick and he chucked his knife quicker, slamming it into and through one fuck’s chest as he sprinted to the next, jumping and gripping their face as he wrenched them off the steed and into the snow. He coughed as he landed on his chest. Still injured, would’ve landed on his feet before. Whatever. 

He punched twice, then pushed up as one prick came swinging with a saber. He punched him in the face, hooked his ankle under the bandit’s, and slammed him into the snow, turning and whacking him with his tail as he looked around, trying to find more.  

An arrow to the back nearly sent him reeling over, before he braced himself, gritting his teeth as he refrained from yelling out. Seth had grown far too accustomed to fighting in a group, so fighting by himself would be yet another uphill challenge. 

Grabbing the saber from the fallen bandit, Seth blocked the next arrow coming towards him, before outright chucking the saber at the shooter, catching them in the shoulder and knocking them off their steed. 

But before he could draw his hand back, a whip wrapped around it, giving Seth only a moment to react before he was dragged off his feet, being pulled along by one of the bandits. Nearly feeling his arm pop off entirely, Seth gripped onto the whip with his free hand, and began to pull himself towards the rider. But it seemed this one was smarter than the rest, and they let go of the whip when they made a sharp turn, leaving Seth to tumble through snow before crashing into a building. 

Dazed and looking around, he locked eyes with a pair of cowering bugbears, much smaller than the rest. Shit. Looking out through the hole he made with his body, Seth could see the remaining assholes getting ready to fire on the house. Rolling away from the hole, Seth knocked over a table, making a barricade for him in the bugbears in time for the arrows to come raining in. The tykes screamed and some arrowheads stabbed through the table. They didn’t get all the way through though.

Right, tykes were still there. He glanced at them. He wasn’t good with tykes. He smiled and gave them a thumb’s up. Reassuring. One whimpered, and the other looked confused. That wasn’t scared, so half a win.

“Don’t worry, I’ll kill them,” he reassured. Now both of them were staring like he was crazy. Not scared, so full win.

Then he heard whooping and smelled fuel. So he bolted over the table, tore a handful of arrows–mostly getting the shafts instead of the heads–from it, and pitched them at the closest fucker he could see. The laughing drake’s eyes went wide when one of them stabbed through the twin bottles in his hand, the rest either falling short or stabbing the other archers, and the explosion blew out the windows around, blue fire washing over the patch of street and roaring up into the sky.

He waited a moment, then looked back at the tykes. “Told you.”

Huh. They looked awed. That was different.

“…Shout for me if anything else happens. Or if you see Arn. Arnie. Stay safe.” There, reassured.

He let out a breath, then ran–mostly hobbled–past the burning bodies. There was still noise, and he could hear it getting closer. So he went to the main street. He didn’t know where that was, but the biggest street was probably it, and he knew what to do. 

Once he was there, he took in a deep breath, threw his head back, and ROARED

He didn’t shatter windows, but he heard the panicked shrieks of steeds all around him as they reacted to the sound of a known predator, bucking and bolting as their riders screamed in panic, none managing to stay on as the snowsteeds fled, taking whatever direction would get them out of there the fastest. 

“You.”

Seth lowered his head, his breath coming cold and heavy. The cold was biting into his scales now. He could feel it on every inch of him. That roar might’ve fucked his throat. He rubbed at it, glaring at the black-armored jackass brushing snow off his fancy cloak.

“What a twist of fate, finding you here,” the big fucker continued, his voice booming in his helm, “It does save me the trouble of tracking you down, Coldblood.”

Shit, someone with a grudge. That was annoying. It happened before, but most of the time it was some asshole tracking him down, not a coincidence. And most of the time, he had back-up.

“Really, I didn’t expect to find you at all. I heard your entire band was wiped out. It hurt to hear that. I wanted to kill every last one of you myself.”

Ah, really deep grudge then. Shit. This was probably someone important then…His name wasn’t coming to mind though…

“Though, I suppose the honor of finishing off the job will be enough.” The guy pulled a huge, black greatsword off his back, holding it easy. So he was strong, at least. “I have to say, you really put things in perspective for me. I spent so long thinking I was at the top of the world, then I was knocked down by some lightlander brats. I come here, thinking I can eek by, working for some rabbits, and then you come by and do the exact same thing. Some no-name snowdrake-” Icedrake. “-from the ass end of our own frozen shithole. You’re no chosen hero, no prodigy, just a big fish in a small pond. Big enough to beat me down though.

“So here I am, a full month later-” It’d been a month? Huh. “-getting myself back in gear. I took over my own band of snowdrakes-” Icedrakes. “-and trained every single day until I stood back up, at the point I wanted to start raiding little hamlets like this. But don’t mistake me. I’m not stopping here. I’m going further, not to raid, but to conquer. You’re looking at the next Demon Lord, brat, and I’ve decided, here and now, that I’ll be taking your town as my first territory.

“Ain’t that fitting? Your little hideaway, the place you settled down at, now the seat of my new empire! I think that’s a good payback, don’t you?” This guy talked a lot. “But don’t worry. I promise to send every last one of these little gobs after you when I send you to hell. Your precious village, the home you made, slaughtered, all because of you! Your one shot at redemption that you’ve so desperately clung to, torn down at the hands of the man you wronged! This is my vengeance-!”

“I don’t know most of these people.”

The guy paused in his gestures and looked back at him. “What?”

“I only know one guy. A bugbear. About…” Seth paused for a moment, then lowered his hand to his abs. “This high? I think. I haven’t compared yet.”

“…Don’t think your excuses will stop-”

“Also, redemption. Why are you bringing that up?”

“What? Because…Why else are you here, living among these…dirt people?”

“They’re furry people, not dirt people, so go fuck yourself on that account, and I don’t give a shit about redemption. I don’t feel bad for anything I’ve ever done.” He paused again. “No, that one’s not true. I do feel bad for getting my…my friends killed.” He scratched at his feathers, sighing and walking closer to the armored guy. “That’s shit, and I’m still mad about it, but I genuinely don’t feel bad for anything else. I don’t want redemption. I’m just paying back a debt.”

The guy stared at him, then snarled. “So be it then! If this all means nothing to you, then you won’t care if I burn it to the ground!”

“No, I will. Arnie lives here, and he’s decent. So that will piss me off.”

“So-Then I’m right! You do care!”

“Yeah. Because someone I like lives here. Not because I’m redeemed.”

Armored guy growled again, trying to loom over Seth. He did have the height for it. “THEN I’LL JUST KILL HIM! WOULD THAT FINALLY UPSET YOU, YOU STUPID PIECE OF-”

Seth stepped in close and SLAMMED his fist as hard as he could straight into the center of the guy’s chest. There was a boom as the snow around them was blown back, then a rattling noise.

Something spilled out of the guy’s helmet. Maybe vomit. His legs were shaking, and Seth could feel blood leaking out around his fist, buried deep in the crater in the center of the guy’s breastplate. There was another creaking noise, what might’ve been a whimper, and Seth stepped out of the big guy’s way, letting him drop flat into the snow.

Then he looked over at the ring of bandits, all staring at him in shock. “…So. Who next?”

Something smelled like piss. Then one of the bandits stepped forward, holding his saber in a shaking hand and pointing it at him. “Y-You…Th-There’s still…p-plenty of us, so you-” Then an arrow went straight through his throat.

Seth glanced to the side, then blinked as a full on horde of armored bugbears charged the bandits, who all shrieked in panic and started fleeing as arrows and javelins rained down on where they were at. Most of them didn’t make it before getting swarmed by furry goblins, brought to the ground, and bound up as they were beaten unconscious with clubs and rocks.

“…Huh.” Seth scratched at his head as cheers went up, the townspeople celebrating their victories and stomping on their victims. For the celebration. Right. “Huh…”

“Well you certainly did good there,” Arnie complimented as he walked on up, cleaning his bloody hands off with a rag.

“…Thanks? You, uh…I didn’t think your people could…”

“What, stab someone? We’re plenty good at that. Takes some time to get a militia together when there’s a surprise attack though. Most people want to get their families to safety before mounting counterattacks.”

“…Yeah, I guess that makes sense.”

“They also got really distracted by your whole showdown with tall, dark, and scary here.” He nudged the guy with a foot, receiving a groan in reply. “It was pretty interesting to see, real intense, though you did ruin the moment a lot there.”

“I did?”

“Yup. Granted, I’m surprised this lug could take any of that seriously with you being totally naked the whole time. Were there no pants in the room?”

Seth looked down. “…I have bandages on.”

“You do, true. Well, guess that’s icedrakes for you. Snow doesn’t bother you at all, huh?”

“No, it does. Now, at least.” Seth shrugged, wincing at the pain shooting through his arm. “I think it happened because of that leviathan.”

“…Huh. That’s…huh.” Arnie hummed there, then shrugged too. “Well, we better get you back to the clinic. I hear you got into a few scraps out there.”

Seth shrugged again, ignoring the sting. “It’s fine. Don’t they need you around here?”

“Nah, my apprentices can handle things. Injuries were at a minimum, mainly thanks to you, I figure.”

“…You have apprentices?”

“I do. They hide when you’re up, since you’re huge and terrifying.”

“Ah.” Seth nodded. That sounded reasonable.

“…Is your arm broken?”

“Hm?”

“It’s turning purple.”

Seth looked at his arm. Then he looked at the other one, the one he punched the guy with. “…Yup. It is doing that.” Also bleeding.

“…Let’s get you back to the clinic.”


Annoyingly, the broken arm healed a lot slower, so Seth wound up sticking around longer. Then it did heal, and he sort of just…kept sticking around.

At first, he told himself that he only stayed because he needed to pay back Arnie again for healing his arm. But even after Arnie said he’d done more than enough, he stuck around. He didn’t really have anywhere to go and didn’t have any place he wanted to go, so this town soon became a familiar sight to him.

“Heya Seth, can you hand me the gerinick?” called out Jogal, one of Arnie’s many apprentices, the young Bugbear currently working on some medical concoctions. 

Letting out a small, irritated huff at being treated like some sorta assistant, Seth reached over to grab the recently crushed flower and handed it over. Then he watched Jogal work. It was interesting. So many things were interesting now. He used to find village life so damned dull he would do anything to get away from it. Now though, it felt cozy.

He still felt cold. Not like he felt cold, but he felt cold, and could still feel it. Maybe that was part of it. It felt like the world was more vibrant, somehow. Smells were sharper, sounds were clearer, crappy foods tasted even more shit and actually decent grub was amazing. The world felt new.

Arnie helped with that too. Not just by being his friend, but by giving him this stuff to take whenever his head started aching. It helped keep things clear.

Even when dealing with the occasional bandit groups, he didn’t get irritated at them being weak, instead enjoying being the unofficial leader of the militia. Semi-official, since they did give him a sash. It was nice. White, like his feathers.

All in all, he liked living there. He had a sense of purpose, he didn’t feel bored, and no one was trying to force him any which way. Sure, he had people asking for help, but that just meant things he could do. Like watching Jogal make medicine, least until he heard a bell from outside and went to check. They’d set up a system to alert people if something was going on, using bells to call the militia or even just Seth if it was something easy to take care of.

This was not one of those things. Seth could tell that the instant he laid eyes on that human woman, bundled up in dark furs and grinning at him as he approached.

Seth studied her back, then tilted his head at Arnie and Vilde, the mayor-type person. “Arn. Ma’am.” He looked back at the woman. “Hey.”

“Hey,” she greeted back, raising a hand and grinning. Probably a good sign. The other people around were less of one. See, Seth could tell they were strangers, on account of the simple fact that all of them stood way above the locals in terms of height.

However, he couldn’t tell exactly what they were, due to the thick, dark furs they were wearing too, aside from that they were strong. Far too strong for the bugbears. 

“Did you need something?” 

“Of course, I came here to talk to you after all,” she said as she continued to grin, “My name is Claire Valondrac, and am I correct in presuming you are the drake who defeated the former Demon General Lothul not once, but twice?” 

“Who?” 

It seemed that wasn’t the answer she was expecting. “…Lothul Black-Blade, former general of the Demon Lord Orast.”

“I have no idea who the fuck that is.”

“…Is that that guy in that big black armor that showed up while you were still in bandages?” Arn asked, stepping into the conversation. 

“Lothul was known to wear full black armor, yes,” Valondrac answered, so Seth frowned at her. 

“Oh, that guy? You trying to get revenge for him?” 

“Not at all, in fact, I came to meet you to see if you’re interested in working for me.” 

“Well I’m not. Already did the bandit life.”

“…” It really seemed like she didn’t expect the conversation would go this way. And it seemed the bigger of her two companions was holding back some laughter. Hm. Big, black clothes…nah, different body shape, wasn’t the armored guy. “Well, I’m not asking you to become a bandit. Instead, I came here to ask you to become one of my generals.” 

Seth paused, looking back at Valondrac. “Like that Lothul?”

“He wasn’t one of mine, but yes.”

“And he was a bandit. So you’re asking me to become a bandit.” It seemed like that pushed the bigger one over. She started laughing, holding her stomach as she doubled over. 

“…Again, no. Lothul became a bandit after Orast was defeated. I’m here to see if you wish to become one of my generals as I establish my rule as demon lord.”

“…Lothul wanted to become demon lord. So that’s like. A big bandit boss, right?” 

“If you would allow me, my lady,” the other companion prompted. Claire signalled him to continue, which made sense since she seemed a bit exasperated. Stepping forward, he took off his hood, and flashed a smile. A very sharp smile. A vampire then. “While it is true that Lothul may have intended to become a more violent demon lord, my lady has no intentions of doing so. What she intends to do is bring the Dark Lands under her rule, and while she would prefer more peaceful means, she knows force may be necessary, and as such wishes to recruit you as one of her generals.” 

“And why should I join?” 

“It is your own choice if you wish to join, all I ask is that you listen to my lady before you make a choice.”

“I’m listening now. I already did the bandit thing. I don’t want to do it again.”

“Oh believe me, we are well aware of that, Mister Co-”

“Not Coldblood. I’m just Seth.”

The vampire blinked, then smiled. It looked more genuine. “I certainly can respect that. I can also respect your decision to forgo the life of banditry. There are those who don’t make such a choice though, as I am sure you are aware.”

“…Right. And?”

Valondrac stepped forward again, grinning again. “That’s where I come in. How would you like it if all those bandits stopped their raiding completely?”

Seth paused. He glanced at Arnie, who shrugged, then back at Valondrac. “I don’t know. Fighting bandits feels alright, and not having them to fight would suck.”

The big woman snorted and Valondrac huffed. “Right right, of course it would, but I’m trying to offer you…Alright, look, I want to conquer the Dark Lands, and that includes Brunzaba, and I’m not going to be some idiot who claims to rule but doesn’t actually do anything, so that’s going to include protecting every single one of my citizens and keeping them from getting raided and killed by brigands. Is that clear enough?”

“I guess.”

“…” She looked like she was waiting for something. A minute passed, and she sighed. “Right. Look, Brunzaba doesn’t have a full nation, right? It’s mostly city-states and independent villages, many of which are run by local lords, which can be anything from frostdrakes like you to full vampires, right?”

“Sure. It’s icedrakes.”

“Oh, alright, icedrakes then. And while yes, there is a sort of central authority in the form of the Church of Time, it largely ignores the plight of the general populace, right?”

“…” He glanced at Arnie, who chuckled and nodded. “Yes.”

“…Do you know anything about your home country?”

“It’s snowy. We have lots of mountains. Crops are hard to grow so you should build around a hot spring and set up greenhouses for that stuff. There are some ice-fruit types, but mammals can’t eat them.” He paused in thought. “I guess only icedrakes and ice-type animals can eat them? Something about the cold and hardness.”

“…I…Alright, the…the primary faith of this region is Bleakism, the worship of the Goddess of Time, Bleak. It’s a melancholic faith focused around the idea of inevitability and submitting to it, with an emphasis on conformity and rigid schedule-keeping.”

“That sounds dull.” Vilde lightly kicked him the shin, frowning for some reason. 

“…Your pastor is right there.”

Seth stared at Valondrac, then glanced at Vilde, who had her arms crossed over her chest as she glared at him. “…Oh. Right, you talk about rules and stuff…” He looked back at Valondrac. “That’s different though. She sets stuff so people know what needs doing and when to get things done.”

“That’s the point of the faith, Seth,” Vilde said, then sighed, “I swear, he’s not…no, yeah, he usually is this thick.”

“I can tell.” Valondrac sighed too. “Right, my point is, despite the church’s presence, they don’t do much to curb this region’s absolutely massive bandit problem, which comes about because this is an intensely inhospitable region, which drives people to desperate means for food and supplies, and also because, as far as I can tell, you literally don’t have a legal system.”

“No no, the big cities do,” Vilde continued, “It’s just when you’ve got a town about our size, building a jailhouse, well…it’s kinda a waste. You gotta set up locks, gotta make sure it’s heated enough that the criminals don’t freeze, you need to provide food and clothes and bedding for them…honestly, all around, it’s a waste of resources that you oughta be putting towards something else.”

“Which means we usually just chuck criminals off the nearest cliff and hope they don’t come back,” Arnie added, before patting Seth’s leg, “Course, sometimes we can’t help but be compassionate. You gotta have at least some heart out here, else what’s the point of keeping on with life? Surviving just to survive isn’t any kind of life.”

“Yeah,” Seth agreed, “It’s a shit kind of life.”

And Valondrac smiled at that. “I can tell. It seems like this is a better place for you, though I still want to extend my offer. You’re a strong person, Seth, and I want someone like you on my side. I want to help Brunzaba as a whole, and that means bringing in food, furs, and resources that people need. That means finding ways to curb the bandit populations, like providing opportunities for better lives. You represent an idea here, even if you might not know it, the idea that it’s entirely possible to rehabilitate someone who went down a bloody path in life. 

“I want to do something similar with other bandits. I want to offer amnesty to those willing to take it. I want to add them into my forces as trained raiders and warriors who can be turned to defending all our people instead of hurting them.”

“You want a lot,” he replied.

She smirked. “Oh you have no idea. I’m not going to be an idiot about this though. If they abuse my generosity, I’ll do worse than throw them from a cliff. But if they’re willing to take my second chance, it will be a complete one. One where they can be a part of something, instead of trying to tear it apart.”

“And you want me to help make it happen.” Now he was getting it.

“Yes, exactly. I know your history, for the most part, and how successful you’ve been on both sides of bandit raids. I want someone like you working for me. I can give you whatever you might need to sweeten the deal. Just make the request, and I’ll do my best to fulfill it.”

“Sure. Fight me.”

“Oh?” 

“Now yer speakin’ my language!” Pulling her hood back, the largest of the group revealed herself to be an orc. A green one. Seth hadn’t seen many orcs, but the ones he did were gray, so she was probably from further west. “Here I thought we’d only be talkin’, but if it’s a fight ya want, then I’m all up for it!”

“No, not you. If she’s in charge, I want to fight her.” And with that, the orc seemed to frown at being denied a fight. “I refuse to work under anyone weak. Show me your strength.” 

“Is that so…very well. But perhaps we should move elsewhere. I would hate to cause any damage to this village if we get out of hand.” 

“Sure thing. Lead the way.” 

A short walk later, they were all in a clear snowfield outside the village. Most of them. Vilde had stuff to do, so it was just Arn on Seth’s side, and the vampire and the orc on Valondrac’s.

Valondrac was stretching, her coat in her vampire’s hands, which meant she was left wearing a black sweater, thick enough that the cold didn’t seem to bother her. Then she finished her stretches and let out a deep breath that pushed orange fire out of her mouth, and Seth paused in his own prep to stare.

“Huh. You a fire human?”

“Pfft-Nope nope, normal human here. Well, probably a bit cambionic…also, human types aren’t really lined along elements like drakes tend to.”

“Why?”

“I suppose it’s because we don’t change our physiology as drastically? Classifications are odd, and people tend to argue about what, precisely, humans should be classified by. Skin color is a decent indicator, though not a flawless one, particularly with how the spread of human beings means that they’re present all across the world. Though I suppose that’s the same for drakes, isn’t it?”

“…I guess.”

Valondrac chuckled. “You’re a very straightforward man, huh?”

“Sure. You’re a weird woman.” He straightened, staring her in her yellow eyes. “Any other weird knowledge to share?”

“Hn…did you know that the mountains of Brunzaba are supposedly the great bronze palaces of the icedrakes’ ancestors? Supposedly, they were swallowed in frost when they made a few too many deals with the Perfidians.”

“Right, the ice demons. I know that one. Interesting.”

“I’m glad you think so.” Valondrac grinned, then set into a stance, which meant she had martial arts. Also interesting. 

And as they stared at one another, he couldn’t help but feel eager for the fight. 

And the feeling lasted as the orc called the start and he surged forward. She smirked, and a wall of fire cut him off, making him flinch on instinct and she burst forward, slamming a palm hard enough into his chest to send him flying. 

He rolled with the landing, patted down the flames on his shirt, and went right back in. He was a fighter, not a mage, so no funny tricks for him here. He needed to get in close and down her to win, and she didn’t give him any chance to.

Simple fact was, she was trained and he wasn’t. His way of fighting was wild, brutal, intent on bringing down someone the instant he got to them. Each fist was not just dodged or blocked but slapped aside, the back of her hand or her palm smacking his arm off to the side before her other hand smashed into his chest or face. An attempt at a kick saw his other leg and all sense of balance go out from under him as she shot a sharp kick to his ankle. He landed on his back plenty. But he got up.

Stubborn. Maybe stupid. But he didn’t want to lose again.

Heat washed over him with each blow. It wasn’t a show anyone would enjoy; he wasn’t as fast or as sharp as her, so it went. 

“You’re going easy on me,” he commented after one palm to his chin made his head rattle. He shook it off.

“Yes? It’s a spar, remember? So of course I’m going to go easy at it.” Valondrac smirked. “You’re not bad. You’re not especially good though.”

“So I’m noticing. I’m better with a club.”

“Get one then.”

He blinked. Then he did. A wooden one, made for training. The weight felt right in his hand, and he smirked. “Better.”

The next try gave him a better advantage–He swung his club hard and Claire actually ducked, a surprised grin on her face–with reach and force. He knew how to use weapons, and just that slight bit of comfort made it a lot better.

Hard swings couldn’t be palmed away, and he knew how to avoid overextending. She tried the wall of fire and he blasted it away with the shockwave–Ah, clever lady rushed in quick, nearly got him with a palm but he was expecting it and had a hand free, shooting forward at her face and making her duck, off balance as he rolled with the momentum and nearly slammed his club straight into her chest when he twisted, only for her foot to shoot up and kick it straight up, outta his hand.

She let him get it before the next round, both of them grinning wide by now, and then it went on. 

Claire burned bright, that much was obvious. Not just with the fire she was spewing, but with drive. She was damn interesting, and he wanted to knock her out! In a good way! 

Fuck, he was having actual fun!

Seth started laughing, his smile as wide as hers as palms of burning flame heated the air. The snow below them even started to melt from it, and it felt fucking beautiful! 

This was HEAT! And gods, it felt natural!

His breath was steaming in the air as the wall of earth erupted up and Claire flipped over it, her kick catching on his club, raised to block! There were cracks of thunder as fire burst into lightning, her style changing in an instant as palms became two-fingered jabs! She blocked his swings with closed fists, soil erupting from actual dirt! Melted snow formed to water as she twisted and dodged, smiling all the while! And he knew he hadn’t seen anything yet!

His teeth were getting sharper! More and more pillars of stone shot up as she wove around them and he broke them down, til he spotted her standing on one and his back tore, his eyes burning cold and alive as wings erupted out and he charged for her!

“YOU GOT THIS, SETH!” Arnie shouted from over by the village! They moved far out from it and he didn’t even notice! HA! THAT WAS GOOD, HE DIDN’T WANNA HURT HIS PEOPLE! AND HE WAS HAVING SO MUCH FUCKING FUN!

Valondrac looked small for a second but that didn’t make any fucking sense so he ignored it, swinging his claws down and crushing pillars and trying to catch her with his teeth! She was flying on feathery wings, laughing and wild, and Seth flapped his own leathery wings as his tail smashed through stone, before launching straight for her as she grinned once and–

He flinched back as she flicked his snout, the sudden pain catching him off guard. Which, weird, he’d ignored all other pain up until that point, he had a way high tolerance for it, and also how the fuck was he flying, what?

“…uh.” Seth twisted his neck and looked at his back. Which he could do. Because his neck was long now? And he had wings. And his tail was longer. And his legs were different and what??

“Alright, wow! This was definitely worth it! Ha ha ha! Holy shit, you actually turned into a dragon!” 

“…I did?” He did. “…Holy shit.”

“Yeah! I said that! Holy shit dude!”

“Yeah…huh.” He stared at himself some more, then glanced down at the stone pillars he was standing on. On all fours. Because he was on all fours now. “…Damn, you made a lot of these.”

“I did, yes. I did melt most of the ice, so it wasn’t as though I could use that to great effect. Besides, you’re an ice dragon, that would be like trying to fight a torei with lightning.”

“A what?”

“Olafiban lightning spirit, you can see them if you, saaaaaay, decided to join up with my army, Mister Huge Ice Dragon?”

He glanced back at her. Weirdly, despite Seth objectively being bigger than her, she didn’t feel small in the slightest. “…I didn’t beat you though. And you didn’t beat me.”

“And?”

He paused. Honestly, fair argument. So he nodded. “Alright. This village is mine. I don’t know how this army stuff works, who gets what territory, but this one’s mine. They’re my people, my benefits go to them.”

Claire smirked. “They do say every dragon has a hoard…I suppose at least one of them would start collecting people, wouldn’t they?”

“Nah. Not collecting people. Finding friends.”

“…Ha. To finding friends then.”

Speaking of friends, Seth decided he should show Arnie what just happened.

“Hey Arnie! I’m a dragon now!”

“I can see that! Can you turn back?”

“Probably! I’ll try later! I like this!”

“Okay, but try before you come into town! You were already a giant, so this is honestly ridiculous!”

“It’s honestly amazing is what it is! Ha!”

The orc winced. “Why the hell’s he shoutin’…”

And the vamp patted her shoulder. “Exuberance, my dear bane of lions. Joyful exuberance.”

So yeah! Seth was a dragon now, and he was working for the Demon Lord. Got a good job and reached the divine metamorphosis all members of his race had the potential to reach, yet few ever did. And he was one of them. So yeah, suck on that one, random ice leviathan. 

Seth wasn’t just surviving, he was living.

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