Sora stumbled, then fell. Unable to will himself back to his feet or even his knees, he lay face down in the dirt, dirt that was rapidly cooling as the sun continued to set, sending offensive bands of red across the sky. Sora hated red.
"Leave me alone," Sora mumbled. "Just go away. You'll be ok. Just go." He wanted nothing more than to sleep. Unfortunately, his friend did not offer him that opportunity, and before he could so much as close his eyes, a thick silver tail was hauling him upright, but not before delivering a clean smack across the face.
"Don't be an idiot," Riku said sharply. He was a naga, half snake and half human, and it was only his snake half that had gotten them this far in a desert.
In any case, Sora did not respond to either the slap or the insult, and continued to walk doggedly west towards the sunset. The very thing he feared most.
Sora, in-every-way average human peasant, had done an incredibly stupid thing. At least, he thought he had, though as much as he tried to rack his brain, he couldn't remember what it was. Wrong place at the wrong time, he supposed, though it wasn't entirely fair for him to have to give his life for it. He'd been accused of attempting to murder a member of the royal family, and now, every armed man, woman, or creature in the entire world knew of the bounty on his head. One particularly talented group of hunters had tracked Sora and Riku for weeks before chasing them into the desert.
Where they were now.
Sora fell again. The dull thud of his body hitting the ground was inaudible over the howling winds. If a peasant falls in the desert and no one hears him, does he still make a sound?
"Come on, Sora," Riku grimaced, but this time, pull as he might, Sora's legs refused to support him. He crumpled into the cold sand, and looked up at Riku.
"Seriously. You don't have to be here. I'll just freeze to death, and you can go do whatever nagas do, and some lucky bastard will find my body and get rich."
"No," said Riku simply.
"Why?" Sora demanded.
"Because we're friends." He said it with finality, as if that were enough. Nagas were weird. Sora sighed and shut his eyes.
"There's no way I can survive out here," he said quietly. "We both know it. There's nothing left for you to do but watch me die."
"Don't say that. I'll figure it out." Sora wanted to scream in protest, pull his hair out, punch the optimism right out of Riku's scaly gut. But he was too tired, and it was cold, so instead all that got out was a petulant:
The geography on their world was odd and violent and not at all suited to human life. Human populations were concentrated into towns with vast expanses in between. During the day, people traveled, worked, talked. But at night-
Night was problematic.
The temperatures began to drop in the late afternoon, and by sundown, the air was far too cold for anyone to survive. The winds cut through layers and layers of fabric. The whole world became cold enough to freeze blood. People were forced into their homes, unable to go out until the morning thaw.
Sora was in open desert, miles from any sort of civilization. He didn't have a chance.
"Come on," Riku said. Nagas were, by virtue of their physiology, relatively immune to the cold, enough so to survive it, though they usually chose to seek shelter as well. "We need to get you out of the wind." He dug a hole, a lone blemish on hundreds of square miles of flat, perfect earth. It wasn't enough, it couldn't be, the wind was already cutting straight through Sora's clothes, but he let Riku try. He couldn't not let Riku try.
"Come on," Riku shouted again. Sora didn't move, so Riku moved him. Soon he was lying down in a ditch with a naga tail pressed down over him to protect him from open air. For the moment, Sora felt ok, but the sun had only just gone down, and they had several hours of night left ahead of them.
"Well, at least the hunters will have to lay low, too," Riku said.
"They stopped all the way back in the town we passed. Because they're not stupid."
"If we'd stayed in that town, we'd both already be dead," said Riku flatly. Sora stayed silent. Maybe Riku would be ok, but Sora, frail even by human standards, was as good as dead out here anyway. The tracking group probably wouldn't even bother to look for his body. Wait, no- they'd need it to collect the bounty.
"Riku," Sora whispered. He opened his eyes and peered up at his friend's face. "You don't really believe I'd try to kill anyone, do you?"
"Duh." So, that was that conversation.
"Ok." Sora could practically feel the sun go down. Layers of cold crept over his body. Pain eased into his joints. "I'm glad you're here with me," he said, closing his eyes again.
"Hey," Riku shook him. "Hey! I'm not going to let you die of exposure," he snapped, the urgency more than present in his voice. "Not after we've made it this far."
"Well, w-w-what do you sug-g-ggest?" Sora chattered. The pain was disappearing. He was already losing feeling in his extremities. Not too long now before he lost consciousness completely, and then it would be over. Once you fell asleep in weather like this, you didn't wake up. It just wasn't done.
Riku moved quickly, seemingly oblivious to Sora's pain, or rather, lack thereof. He wrapped his tail tightly around Sora's middle. Sora barely felt it, not that it would have mattered anyway- Riku produced so little body heat as for it to be negligible.
"Easy," Riku said. "It's a trick they do with baby nagalings. I'll just swallow you whole."
He'd thought of many unappealing things in his short life, but none so unappealing as being swallowed whole and then, presumably, spat back up again. Which would be worse? He moved to scream in protest, but the cold air froze his lungs solid. With effort, he did manage to shake his head a little.
"No protests. I'm not going to let you die." Sora was moved by the emotion in Riku's voice- figuratively, of course, since he was literally frozen in place and quite helpless to do anything about the fact that he was about to become naga chow. Riku worked quickly, slackening his jaw and lifting Sora into position.
"Just try to relax," he said quietly. "Don't be scared."
The first bit of Riku that Sora felt was hot breath hitting his face. Naga breath wasn't so hot as humans', but it was warm enough that Sora was able to feel it, which was reassuring. The warm air even tried to melt some of the ice around Sora's eyes. Riku's tongue flicked out and hit Sora's face before recoiling with a sharp hiss- apparently, Riku preferred his food warmed before eating. Sora was able to see Riku's irritated grimace before his friend steeled his body, opened wide, and began working his lips over Sora's head.
The smell was the first sense to bust through Sora's frozen body- the smell of drool and partially digested meat. It was gross. He felt dizzy. His eyes unfroze and he found himself squished into darkness. He could feel himself being swallowed. Riku's muscles weren't working in any sort of organized fashion. Half seemed determined to get him down and the other half were trying to expel the offensively cold meal. The result was schizophrenic, and Sora was hauled down inch by jerky inch.
Outside of Riku's body, he was completely numb. His legs might as well have not existed at all. The inside of Riku's body, on the other hand, was just warm enough to allow him to remember how cold he was. He began shivering uncontrollably, which didn't help the swallowing situation.
"Mmmoonnngghhh," Riku moaned around him, shaking a bit himself, an admonishment Sora correctly interpreted as 'stop moving around.'
"I c-can't h-help it," Sora gasped, finally able to speak again. But once he opened his mouth, the smell inside of Riku's stomach gagged him, and he thrashed.
Riku finished up quickly, forcing himself to pull in Sora's frozen legs without complaint. Sora crunched uncomfortably into the bottom of Riku's stomach. He'd seen Riku eat plenty of meals before, of course, but he'd never once imagined how it would feel. His face pushed into squishy flesh, his arms crumpled, his legs bunched up on top of him. His frozen joints groaned in pain as they were forced to bend.
As soon as Sora's feet entered Riku's mouth, he became aware that Riku had pulled his shoes off. He hadn't even noticed. Riku's lips closed gently over his stocking feet.
Sora was in. He was in.
Staving off the claustrophobia was difficult. Riku was not exactly roomy. Sora was completely pinned in place, squeezed on all sides, overwhelmed by bodily sounds and smells and unable to move even a pinky toe. He was trembling. He swallowed a scream.
Riku's breathing was heavy, the way it always was after a big meal, though Sora was used to hearing it from a decidedly different perspective. He knew Riku would have his eyes closed, breathing slowly, with both hands resting on his stomach.
But then, Riku groaned.
Sora was familiar with the standard range of naga sounds- from the outside, of course. Inside was completely different. The sound was overbearing, deafening, shaking through every cell in Riku's body before tumbling out of the mouth. Sora couldn't plug his ears. The stomach tightened around him. He gasped for air, he was choking-
A sudden movement, a drop of a foot or so, a heavy but not painful thud, and everything stopped.
Riku's heartbeat was steady, but his breathing was ragged.
"Riku?" Sora asked quietly. He was afraid- he was still trembling. "Riku, are you all right?"
"Sorry," came a gasp, finally. Sora might have missed it if he couldn't feel the irregularity in Riku's breath when he spoke. "It's just- you're awfully big."
Sora laughed, in spite of himself. It was a big laugh- well, as big as he could manage- the release of all of his anxiety. At being chased, at being frozen, at being eaten. All of it. Riku groaned again at the sudden noise and movement, even more pathetically than before, and Sora quickly silenced himself.
"Bit off more than you can chew?" he whispered.
"Shut up," Riku groaned. "You're alive."
"Yeah. Thanks," said Sora sincerely. Riku grunted a response. Sora was settling into the stomach now, and he was beginning to lose feeling in his left hand. Riku's body munched on him contentedly, all movement and noise. Sora was tired, bone tired, but in these circumstances, there was no way he was getting any sleep at all, short of passing out from lack of air.
"It's gonna be a long night," he sighed finally. He got no response. Maybe Riku fell asleep? A long pause.