Wednesday, November 23, 2011

By the Way

By the way, don't freak out at the EXTREME cliché properties of the story. The point of NaNoWriMo is more speed than originality.


This is seastar01's character-

Black hair, long. Goes to her elbows. Bright blue eyes. Bright pink lips. She has diamond, stud earrings. She normally wears a black turtleneck and dark wash jeans. Her name is Raven Clicker. She is a shape-shifter. She shifts into a cheetah.
The parts I crossed out I'm not going to use.

Here's the edited version-

Name: Raven Clicker
Description: Albino, 5' 5", always wears black
Species: Shape-shifter
Speciality: Shifting into animals, especially cheetahs.


Indeed, there's even more...

You haven't as of yet come forward about your strange dislike for these parts and why you are so very eager to leave, so I think I'll keep a few secrets of my own. Anything else you want to know?
"Yeah." He turned to his sister. "Lilly," he said, "what happened with you? Why didn't you just shift into a dragon yourself?"
Lilly was crying. She didn't seem too hurt, sporting just a few bruises on her arms and legs. But she was definitely upset. "Couldn't," she whimpered.
"What?" Zenon stood and wobbled over to her, sitting down beside her and wrapping his arm around her shoulders. "What do you mean, 'couldn't'?"
"I tried," she whispered. "I couldn't. Couldn't even shift into a dragon when we were leaving the forest. I tried, but n-nothing h-happened." She gulped. Right then, she looked way younger than eight. And she looked scared. I didn't really understand how shifters worked, but I gathered that not being able to shift wasn't a good thing.
Zenon himself seemed very concerned, and, though he tried to hide it from Lilly, he looked worried. "You couldn't? Really?" He glanced at me quickly then looked away, but I caught something. He looked like he knew what had happened, and he looked guilty. I noticed that, though he seemed innocent and young, there had been something in his past that had happened, something that had taken away his innocence. I looked at him for the first time as someone that wasn't a hatchling, but one that had to master hiding his conscience. "It'll be okay, Lilly," he said, but he wasn't looking at her.
Shame, I teled so only he could hear, and he jumped. He looked at me, this time not hiding his feelings from his face.
What? he asked, a little too late.
I can read you more than your sister can. Shame.
Zenon looked down and teled, How much do you know? Can you, he paused as the possibility took effect, can you read our minds? His guilt switched to anger, and he looked up at me and glowered. Hey, that's just wrong! You'd better get your mind out of mine, because, well, it's mine.
Relax, I'm not a psychic. I simply speak with my mind to others that have one. He glared at me, and I kept myself from making any wisecracks. Anyway, I hope you know that your sister thinks you're .
Guilt again. Don't say anything to Lilly, he teled, and ended the discussion by telling Lilly that he was going to get some sleep. The sun had only just gone down, so he had apparently forgotten his preference for traveling by night. He laid down beside Lilly and turned on his side so his sister couldn't see what he was thinking. I shook my head in confusion and collapsed to the ground, exhausted from saving two lives and trying to figure out the mind of a young shifter. I slipped into sleep without realizing it.
Dragon! I jolted awake. Zenon had just kicked me in the snout.
Shifter, there are other ways to anger a dragon, but waking one with violence is the perfect way.
Oh. He didn't look sorry, but he stepped away. Um, darklings are bad news, right?
I stretched and stood. Darkling is a word that comes from the Drakelish word Drakeling or Drakling, and means, 'essence of shadow and evil intertwined with dark energy'. They are a breed that was created when, nearly a decade ago, a drake accidentally created one by taking a vicious rabid panther and trying to cure it by stripping its being and reassembling it. It worked both better and worse than he had expected when the panther lived. However, its mind was damaged irreparably, and it went insane. It fled and grew in power and size, eventually splitting in personality until there were literally two. After that its other half split, and continued doing so until there were hundreds of thousands. Some have split faster than others, becoming smaller as itself is divided, but others are slower, larger, and more dangerous. The bigger, the badder, in those cases. Since they all come from the original Drakling, they refer to themselves as 'we', even when speaking of only one of them. This all started nine and a half years ago, and already they've dominated thousands of species, completely eliminating many. And this all came from that first Drakling. The other half, the one that was part of the original Drakling, he's still in one piece. He's their leader. Which means he carries the mostly-intact demented mind of the original Drakling. But the others are still deadly. Bad news doesn't come close to correctly describing it. Why do you ask? All of that had come tumbling out without my meaning it to. Except for the last part, I was pretty sure it all came from one of the passages from our Stones of Foretales I had had to memorize.
Wow, Zenon teled. I just wanted to know if it was bad that there's a darkling following us.
Tele what? I asked. Then I sighed. Oh, you're joking. I sniffed, and detected the faint smell of smoke coming from the south. At least, you'd better be.
Zenon shook his head. I'm serious. I saw it over there. He pointed toward a small, almost nonexistent valley we had flown over during our escape from the dull, short-tempered rabbit. Low hills surrounded it, and the River Zip flowed along the eastern edge. A few leafless trees had burgeoned along the river, but thin, light green grass was its most common occupant.
I don't see any darklings, I teled, and turned back to the shifter. And I don't get the funny part of the joke either.
But I did see one, Zenon insisted. I'm sure I did. Just before I woke you up.
Whatever. Let's just get Lilly and leave. I waved my wings and flew into the air, waiting for the shifters to get ready. My stomach reminded me I hadn't eaten in a few days, so I teled, Actually, you can get things ready yourself. I'm starving. Be back soon. I flew towards the valley. I headed for the river, where there was hopefully something lurking around, alive and edible. As I had suspected, no darkling appeared and pounced on me with evil intentions. But after I saw the deer, I didn't care. It was thin and scrawny, only barely living from the sparse, tenuous grass. But it was food, all the same. I killed it quickly and was about to devour the entire thing, but my mind had to have the decency to remember the shifters. Dragons could live awhile without food, but shifters were nearly as weak as humans, and I bet shifting took up a ton of energy. I grumbled to myself and picked up the doe with my claws. It wasn't heavy, but it was a strain on my wings to carry the extra weight.
I dropped it near Zenon, who was drinking some water from the river. He hopped back, startled. Um, that was fast. Thanks, he teled, and stepped further away from it. It's still raw.
Oh, I suppose you want me to cook it now, don't you? I landed on the other side of the deer and opened my jaws. Deep blue flames poured out and encompassed the doe, charring the fur and cooking the insides in a matter of a few moments. Some of the shifter's hair got scorched and he darted away.
I wanted the deer to be cooked, he teled angrily.
Yes, dear, I replied, and chuckled. The food's ready.
Yes, it's all ready, like I said. I waited, but no guffaws. We just didn't connect humor-wise.
Lilly stumbled over to Zenon and said, "She got food?" She looked at me. "Thanks."
Save some for me. I step back to let them eat my would-be sustenance. They were starving, and made no pretense that they weren't so. They ate more than I thought, leaving barely more than half the edible part left. When they stopped, I teled, You've got more stomach than anything else. I snatched up what was left and swallowed it, leaving nothing but a few burnt strands of hair. Zenon stared at me and looked like he was going to be sick.
"Yuck," Lilly said.
"Indeed," Zenon replied, then made a confused look. "I mean, yeah."
Delicious. I took a long drink from the lake, completing my delectable breakfast. My stomach was starting to feel queasy, but I didn't really pay any attention. It's time to shift and leave, I said, and flew upward. Zenon shifted, but it wasn't into a dragon. "Oops," he said. Um, I can only shift into the last animate object I touched.
But that deer was not animate.
He paused. I guess I need to touch you again.
I obliged by thwacking him with my tail. He shifted into my double and wrapped his tail carefully around his sister. We headed toward our home.
We landed, and I let my sister down gently. The sun was at its utmost position, and we had decided to take a respite until sunset. I was very glad the dragon, or 'Nightfall' as she angrily told me when I called her the dragon one too many times, didn't argue. There was no way I was going to tell her why, but she seemed not to care anyway. I had told Lilly to keep her thoughts to herself around the dragon when Nightfall had gone hunting, just to be safe. But even Lilly didn't know some things.
We had landed in another valley, and it looked like a veritable a twin of the other we'd crossed. It was one of many unnamed valleys that existed in the miniature mountain range dubbed the White Hills, or known as 'Wight Hills' to anyone that had been there before and had lived after experiencing the reason for its other name. Both names suited it well. There was something in its components that made the hills shine white whenever any unnatural light was exposed. Which, oddly, happened a lot, at the weirdest times and in the strangest places. Of course, someone knew this only if I'd --I mean they'd-- been there before.
I looked at the others, and both were sound asleep. To make sure, I called softly, "Look, there's a darkling!" Neither jumped up in a panic, so I safely assumed they were sleeping.
You called, shifter? I swiveled around, surprised. A darkling had come out from behind a tree stump.
Oh. I relaxed a little, but still kept my guard. No, I was just making sure they were asleep.
At last you are starting to learn to be more careful, it hissed inside my mind. I winced, still trying to get used to the ice cold, vice grip of its mind that froze mine whenever it chose to speak. The darkling was large, around the size of a dog. It stepped lithely over to the dragon and sniffed. Disgusting. If only it weren't so necessary to keep alive. It would be such a joy to kill one. It raised its inky paw over Nightfall and slipped out its claws.
You can't kill her, though. There's a reason she's been kept alive this far.
We know that. It retracted its claws regretfully and backed away. We know, but we don't like it.
I tried to put my question in a way that would fool it, and maybe I would learn something. Um, I forgot why she was so important. Could you explain it to me again?
The darkling wasn't fooled in the least. Its mind compressed mine without mercy, and I cried out. What you are supposed know you already do. Asking for more information isn't a smart thing to do. That fool rabbit asked why we were torturing her, and we had to kill it to quiet the questions.
You killed Holkys' page? I asked. I was completely shocked and horrified. She was just supposed to bring me to Holkys. Why did you have to kill her?
No one can know you're here. I didn't see that as a reason to murder. Which you haven't explained yet.
Explained? I thought you already knew everything.
We don't know how or why you left the Mountain region, and how you did it so quickly. We assumed you were trying to run away. We followed to kill you.
Um, I still get confused on the whole 'we' thing. How many 'we's followed us here?
Twenty of us followed you. Yikes, I thought. So, are you willing to answer our questions?
Oh, so you weren't listening when I explained it to the dragon? You didn't find us until afterwards?
Lies can be told. We were listening, but we know that absurd story couldn't be the real truth. Naiads can't travel nearly fast enough. Tell us how you traveled.
I knew it was risky to lie to a darkling, but I couldn't safely tell them how we really got there. What I said to the dragon was the truth. I thought that if I told the dragon as much of the truth as possible, it would leave her with no doubt that whatever else I said was the truth as well.
Is that so? The darkling considered for a moment, then decided I was telling the truth. I suppose that you were right to do so. I nodded, and tried to hide any involuntary signs of relief from showing.
So, is that all?
If you and your companion and the heir were indeed pushed by naiads down the river, then I suppose the reason for your unexpected travel is simply that you were trying to... melt the heir. I suppose-- whatever the darkling was going to say next was cut of with a loud yowl coming from the darkling. It started shaking rapidly, then fell face first onto the ground. It reached out its front paws in the opposite direction and started clawing, as if it wanted to go in two separate places at once. Then it just split neatly, or not so much neatly as quickly, in half with one last ear-splitting yowl. I was afraid Nightfall or Lilly would wake to that sound, but I didn't dare look away to check. I was morbidly fascinated and disgusted. Each separate half shrunk and stretched, looking more like moving shadows as they deformed into their detached state. When they solidified, I was looking at two smaller darklings. Each one scrambled and stood, stretching and completing a few last shape changes, growing a leg an inch more or shortening a tail.
Twenty-one, the one on the left hissed. I nodded, still freaked out by what I'd seen. We must leave, to return to our others. The right one nodded, and they both scattered out of the valley, leaving a few wisps of shadow in their wake.
I turned to look at Lilly and the dragon. I didn't know how, but they were still sleeping. I even checked to make sure. Now all that I had left to do was wait.
I spent my time practicing my shifting ability. The river crossed to the right in this valley, and I hid behind a copse of trees in case one of my companions decided to wake up and come looking for me. I decided to see all of what I could shift into. I knew I could change into rock, but I wondered if I was able to shift into any other element. I had to be careful for testing the first element I though of. I had to be touching nothing but water. Which meant swimming. I stuck my left foot and then my right into the icy cold river. The current looked stronger out towards the middle, the only place the where water was deep enough for me to try. I walked upstream so the current wouldn't carry me too far away. Then I took a running start and jumped.

I haven't written any more, so be patient.

More? Okay...

You want even MORE? You asked for it...

Alright, what is wrong? the Maw asked, concerned. From the look you two were giving, I deemed it necessary to come here.
You may be right, Zark teled.
May? I could tell she was getting more curious as we have her vague hint after vague hint. Please, come out and say it. She tried to hide her impatience, but she snorted a little smoke, and then said, It has something to do with darklings, doesn't it?
How did you know? I gasped.
With you two being so secretive, it was either that or one of you snuck into the supply room and ate all the minks. I assumed it was the former.
Oh, I teled. Well, really, it's not about darklings, but it has to do--
I think it would be best to let me tell her, Nightfall, Zark reasoned.
But I'm the one we will be discussing, I tried to tele him.
I know, but it will be best if it is mainly her and I that speak about it. If you will remember, I wasn't going to let you even be here, but you--
Enough. The Maw sighed. I don't care which one of you tells me, but if there is some sort of danger that you know of, speed would be essential.
Sorry, we both teled. Then Zark came out directly and said it. Nightfall possesses the power of a darkling; she can shadow-shift. The Maw gasped and was about to say something, and Zark continued quickly, staying her surprised exclamations. She says she doesn't know how or why she can, and she seems to be completely dragon. I myself don't know what to come of it, but I think she's telling the truth. Nightfall, show her.
I was surprised by the order, and was very hesitant to comply. But Zark, I don't--
Please, Nightfall, the Maw teled. I need to see it for myself.
I looked at her, then nodded and melted into shadow. The Maw stepped back nervously as I seemed to disappear into dark air. I reformed behind Zark and teled while looking warily over at the Maw, I really am all dragon. Please believe me.
I don't know what to say. Each Maw has certain abilities as you know. I can sense certain things. Darklings always exude a certain chill that I can pick up whenever they transform. Although it was faint, I felt it coming from you when you shifted. And yet you also are most definitely a dragon. That I can also sense. I'm not sure how that is possible. Nightfall, what all do you know? She was great that way, not acting irrationally.
Just what I teled to Zark. You both have known me all my life, and you knew both my parents. I don't even think I've been alone in my life until after my Welcoming. I think the only time was when I brought the shifter here. And I'm sure nothing happened then. I was hoping you would know something.
The Maw seemed to be thinking over something. Then she teled, I think I know what happened. your-- she stopped and gasped. Darklings! She flew to the hole and teled, Come! There are darklings nearby! Zark and I stood stunned for a moment. As Zark I joined the Maw I realized that the darklings had picked a terrible time to arrive. It wasn't going to help anyone believing my innocence.
When we raced down the tunnel leading to the Hall we could hear roaring and growling coming from the Hollow on the other side of the Entrance. The Maw flew over to open the door, but nothing happened when she pressed the stone. She tried once again, then recoiled when she touched the stone. It's charged with dark energy. She stared accusingly at me, and I knew that whatever part of her that had believed my story had changed. There's no way to get in or out. And judging by the state of the Entrance it wasn't forced open at all. There is only one way they could have entered, by invitation. She growled, and jumped and slammed into me, knocking me against the rough wall. I yelped as my wings were torn. She hissed and growled deeply, letting bright green flame lick across and singe my scales. You traitor.
Wait, Zark said. She couldn't have let them in, She was with us the entire time.
I suppose so. How, then, did they get in?
I know, Zark said. Just like Nightfall got out. She slipped through the cracks around the stone. That must be how they did it.
But how did they get past everyone without being noticed? We heard more growling and groaning coming from inside, but the Maw kept her vice-like hold on me and snarled again. Maybe you can tell me, Nightshade.
No, please! I started to panic. Please please, I didn't do it! I hoped you'd understand my condition, and... after you seemed to open, I thought... and then the darkling attack, and... please please, I'm innocent! I gulped and tried to stay still against the rock wall. I know it looks bad, but believe me when I say that I'm as on your side as Zark, or my mother, or even Linnig! I... I had run out of things to say to her and remained there, eyes wide open and looking almost as scared as I felt.
When it comes to darklings, Nightfall, there is no mercy found within five leagues of me, the Maw hissed. When a dragon chooses to ally herself to them, I will do everything I can to annihilate them and her. Oh, I know what to do, she paused, and slowly released her grip on me. I fell to the ground, and struggled to scramble up as the Maw pressed her maw against the side of my head. I will give you to the darklings. If you are in league with them then they won't harm you. If they do seem violent towards you then I will probably put a stop to it. It was the word probably that scared me the most. It meant that, even when I was proven to be innocent, I might still die.
The darklings? They'll kill me! Please, I don't want to die.
I started shaking as the Maw dragged me up by the horns on my head and pulled me over to the door. Shadow-shift yourself through this door and unlock it, or do whatever needs to be done to get us in there. If you fail to let us in it will only prove that you are on their side, and I will do everything in my power to kill you personally. Believe me, it will be a slow one. I'll make sure it takes place in an echoey cave so that you can hear your own yelps for help reverberating, with no one there that will answer them.
She really didn't like darklings, I guessed. Or anyone associated with them in any way.
Get through the door, she grunted, and threw me towards the Entrance. I slammed against it hard, and it shook against its hold. I didn't feel any 'dark energy', so I dissolved and wafted through the cracks and into the Hollow.
I would have gasped at what I'd seen, if I'd had a mouth and voice at that moment.
I'd never actually seen a darkling before, but of course, from the stories I'd heard as a hatchling, I'd seen them several times in my mind. In my mind's eye, they had been huge creatures with long, ever-sharp fangs, and talons to match. What I didn't expect was an entire army of....
From the time I'd first heard of them until a few moments ago, I'd thought they looked like enormous black tigers or panthers, but there wasn't a single one that was larger than a groundhog. Yet they made up for it with their ferocious and savage violence. I won't go into the extreme details, but it involved the removing of scales and teeth and... well, they were massacring my kin.
I quickly turned and surrounded the large stone door, spreading my shadow thinly. I focused on rocking it back and forth between both sides. It barely moved, and I got a little impatient. I forced what strength I had into ramming against one side, and the door made a large cracking sound as it ripped away from its hold and smashed to the ground inside the Hollow.
The Maw charged through before it even hit the ground. The darklings stopped, temporarily stunned, and stared at her and Zark, who followed closely behind her. Then the hissed in unison and stepped away from their victims. A single darkling separated from the others and walked toward the Maw with casual calmness. It stopped about five yards away from the Maw and sat. Then it motioned for our leader to do the same. She did not oblige, but it didn't seem to expect her to anyway.
The air is here.
It sounded disturbingly like our own way of communicating, yet it was definitely the darkling that said it. I assumed he was the leader of their group. When my mind registered what he said I thought to myself, Duh. Of course 'the air is here'. I would have rolled my eyes. The Maw was the only one that seemed disturbed by the phrase.
I wasn't aware that it had wandered so far from your domain. What they were saying was making less and less sense. All I could think of was that some magic gust of wind had escaped from their homeland.
The darkling shook his head. He teled to the Maw again- You know it was never there. Cursed-one brought it here before it hatched. I was about to go completely stupid and solidify just to ask what on earth they were talking about.
What do you mean? the Maw asked. Apparently she was on the same page. At least, mostly. It never came here. It was lost.
The darkling growled. Enough of your lies. We sense it is here. He looked above the Maw, where I was floating. Though before he hadn't seemed to, he appeared to be able to see me. He stared so long, I was tempted to move out from the grasp of his sharp gaze. But I kept still. Finally he looked back at the Maw. I figured that he hadn't seen me after all. Maybe I wasn't darkling enough for him to sense.
Where is it, then? the Maw asked. Then something seemed to dawn on her, and her head bent. Oh. How is it the air took the form of one of us? Yup, they were talking complete and utter nonsense. Next they would probably state that the air was really a dragon that wanted to return home to its kind and loving evil master. Or something.
You should know that. Our King has only one to take his place, and it was because of the Cursed-one that it was of a dragon species. All of the sudden I knew.
Duh. So it was me that was the ignorant one all along. Now all of it made sense. The more I thought, the more I understood. Their evil kitten lord had only a single heir to his throne, and a dragon, this 'Cursed-one', must have stolen it. That worked, but something still didn't seem right. The darkling's last sentence was wrong. Then, from out of nowhere, my brain came up with the answer. Maybe, the heir was a dragon. That made tons of crazy sense. It must have been one of our own kind that had given their leader his only heir. But if that were so, then that heir would be abnormal, different. It might even have the characteristics of a darkling....
Oh. It all came together. I was the one they came for. They wanted me to return with them to be their next leader. I was their... princess? That was the most mortifying thought of all the rest, and it pushed out all my reasoning. I reformed in between the two, facing the darkling, and screamed into their minds, No! Stop! The darkling and the Maw both jumped back. Everyone's eyes were glued to us three. I didn't know if they could hear the conversation, but I was so riled I didn't care. I'm staying here with my family, my only family. Go away!
No, Nightfall, you shouldn't have revealed yourself! the Maw teled me, and groaned. It took the lead darkling a few seconds to recover, and then he smiled. It was the creepiest thing I had ever seen. Sure, he was no bigger than my foot, but his thin, sharp fangs looked ready to tear apart anything, no matter the size, and were just waiting for orders.
You...what? He seemed to think that I had briefly gone out of my mind, as if common sense was a tool only he possessed at the moment. My Lady, you have no choice. That was so weird, being called 'My Lady'. And by a darkling, no less.
As long as I have a mind that works properly, I have a choice. He tilted his head at my answer and contemplated what to say next. Before he could throw some more of his common sense into the discussion, I added, Though I might be this 'heir' of yours, there is no way I will come with you. I know you think that I couldn't possibly disagree with your immaculate plan, but I happen to be able to think that you are dead wrong. And I can even help with the dead part. Wow. I could really be nasty sometimes.
You are quite mistaken, he said confidently. Pretty speech, but you don't have a choice, or a chance. His soft and cunning tele-voice scared me more than I wanted to acknowledge.
We'll see.
Indeed. Or rather, only we will see it. You'll be out cold, so to speak. He flashed his Cheshire cat grin and meowed to a few of his followers. First, we must take care of these vermin. I realized he was talking about the clan.
Hey, you're not exactly winning me over to your side, I tele him.
We'll fix that soon enough. But first... The lights flickered a few times, and then the room fell into utter darkness as all the torches in the Hollow were extinguished. They lit up again a few moments later, and every dragon except for me in the room was conked out. You know, we think it will be better if you willingly come. You will feel much better.
Really? I say. I pretend to think. Then I evaporate into shadow. The darkling smiled directly at me, and I realized that he could see me after all. He motioned for five of his minions, and they stepped forward. I floated above them, but they followed suit and surrounded me. I saw minuscule zaps of energy fly between them, and they closed in. But instead of lightninging me to death, they...escorted me. I was flown through the hole of the Entrance and into the Hall. They carried me a little ways, and I stopped struggling. I waited, hoping that my fast-formed idea would work. They seemed to be relived that I had stopped trying to get free, yet they were wary of me. They slowed for a moment, which was perfect, and I squeezed into as small, thin and sharp a form as I could and sliced out through the middle of one of them. I sped ahead, fleeing as far as I could away, yet oddly they didn't even try to follow.
I didn't realize why until the ice crystals started growing on me. I fell to the ground, frozen, in my dragon form. The ice burned terribly, and it spread across me like water spilling onto the ground. They had let me fly straight into the Maw's tunnel. The burning sensation grew until I was silently screaming, and then I blacked out.
The feeling of fire was so relieving. I sighed and welcomed its cooling touch. It wore away at the burns I had acquired and healed them with little effort. It was, to say the least, amazing. When I opened my eyes all I could see was a black background with stunning blue flame brushing the air and swirling around me. It crackled and sighed a hello to me, then gathered around and seemed to sink into my body, filling it with unbelievable strength. Then it slowly faded, leaving me its still warm memory.
When I really opened my eyes, it wasn't nearly as peaceful. There was still blue flame, but it was layered with orange and yellow and red flames, and it was coming from a campfire. That I was laying on. And it wasn't cool at all. I jumped up and scrambled away, kicking dirt into the fire and causing it to crackle, this time angrily. I let loose my own flame, and it overwhelmed the meager supply of firewood, turning it to ash. I snorted and the ash blew upwards and floated away. My eyes followed for awhile, but then I blinked and looked around me for the first time, wondering why I had slept on a fire.
I was in a forest populated mainly by bare tree trunks. There were no branches or leaves or even grass to be seen The only bright color, illuminated from a pale sun hidden by thick dark clouds, was the flowers that grew amid the stark stumps, flowers that ranged from blue to red to white--if you count white as colorful. Other than that, it was brown, brown, dull, redundant, monotonous brown. Just flowers.
And the yellow eyes of the two shifters staring at me.
I growled and backed away, even though they weren't advancing toward me. They were sitting down a few feet from me. I recognized them, and hissed. Where, when, why, who, what and how? I asked the older one, not caring to elaborate.
"Um..." he said, looking confused. I hissed. Clearly, their minds resembled the state of the forest. Do you understand, shifter? I asked you six important questions, and I expect thorough answers for all of them.
"I was--" he stopped and corrected himself. I think my sister and I deserve to ask a few questions ourselves.
I laughed incredulously, and both children winced as if I were about to repeat my actions with the campfire. I'm in a better position, I think, to do the asking. I was captured b-- Darklings! my mind screamed. Where are the darklings? I looked around, but found no evidence of any darkling camp, or even one of the little beats on their own.
Oh, you mean the cats? the boy asked.
Nice cats, they were black! the young one added.
No, I meant the small bundles of evil energy that take the form of felines, I snarled.
Oh, you mean the cats? the older one repeated dumbly. Well, they kinda got scared when me and Lilly found them carrying you--did you know you were a large chunk of ice?--so they started saying things like, 'Shifters! They can harm us with mice--
Ice, I corrected.
--and kill us!' So they...well, they just disappeared. He gave Lilly a certain look, like that wasn't really all that had happened. And then me and Lilly carried you-- more like dragged me, I thought --here, and made a fire. I thought that, since dragons breathe fire, you would be fine sleeping in fire, so I built the fire, and you melted. You seemed okay, and you started melting, or the ice did, so we fell asleep. We woke up when you started humming.
Yeah. It was weird. You were humming for about an hour. You woke up just as the sun as starting to lower, so it's a little past midday. So, your answers are, Here in the Forest Tragic; Just after noon; Because I'm a kind person; Me and Lilly; I'm not sure what the full question was; and Not as easily as it sounds.
I had to think to remember what the questions were in the first place. I was satisfied with the curt answers and relaxed, oddly believing everything the shifter told me. I settled down and yawned. The shifters scooted back to avoid being hit with any accidental flames. So, I asked the little one, Lilly, did you miss me?
She looked to her brother for an answer, and he said, No.
Then how is it that you were at the Cave when the darklings carried me out?
Oh. Uh, we weren't at the cave.
What? I looked at him. Wait, where did you say were are? The...
Forest Tragic, he teled.
But, that's in... it's in the southeast, over in Rement, near the Glade Ever. We can't be that far away. It's on the other side of the map! I started breathing faster. That's thousands of leagues away! I pumped my wings and flew into the air, trying to start for my home, though no one had wanted me there in the first place. I just had to get back.
Um, I think you should wait, the older shifter teled carefully, trying to keep me from speeding away, though I had no idea why.
What? I asked. It vaguely occurred to me that that was the one question of mine that he hadn't answered.
Well, he teled slowly, as if he was speaking to a hatchling or something, when we found you, they were carrying you across River Zip, where you had-- he looked at Lilly --taken Lilly, my eight-year-old, innocent sister. He gave me an evil look. But then they... scattered, leaving you on the ground frozen stiff, we thought that the river might melt you, or rather might melt the ice off you. I listened, barely believing it. I wondered why the darklings hadn't brought me with them when the fled. Their king must be furious. So, we dragged you to the river and dumped you in.
How kind. I rolled my eyes.
But you didn't melt, you just started to float away. We caught up to you, but then a couple naiads got a hold of you and started pushing you further downstream. So we then ran up to you and shifted into leeches-- I burst out chuckling, and he glared at me --and we latched ourselves to you so we wouldn't get left behind. The naiads were fast, though, so and one time Lilly fell off and I had to grab her, which was hard to do without arms. The naiads pushed you for hours, I suppose they thought it was fun, but they stopped when we reached the lake.
Does the lake have a ridiculous name, too? I asked.
Yes. So, the naiads left, then, leaving us in the middle of the large lake. We shifted back and swam to the shore while pushing you along. We built a campfire near the edge, but when the sun set, all sorts of crazy lake creatures were attracted to the light. We pushed you some more, and when we entered this forest we built another fire. I set you on top, and that did the trick. You know the rest.
So, I teled, you're suggesting that two naiads pushed us down the river for 'a few hours', and we managed to cover over three thousand leagues across the land?
How else do you think we got this far? he retorted.
Touché. Okay, I have two things to say. one- Why did you follow me when I was being escorted down the river?
The changeling looked at his sister, as if they really hadn't thought about it. We, being kind, he said finally. I didn't believe him.
Alright, Second, I need to get back to the Cave. Can you guys maybe shift into something to help? Besides leeches? Because you're so kind and all?
The older shifter shook his head. Before, we were going downstream. It would take weeks to go back, even if we walked or flew.
Can't you shift into something really fast, like a cheegon or something?
Look, we really want to get home, too, the boy teled. I'd forgotten that they lived near my own home. Unless there are a few cheegons waiting around for us to touch, I don't see how we can do it.
But we have to, I teled. We should at least try. Even if we crawl, we'll get there eventually.
Maybe, he teled, thinking. He looked around the forest hopelessly, and I realized that he was as helpless as I was. What do you think we should do? he asked me, and for the first time I felt like the one that needed to take control of the situation. I was the one that needed to think rationally.
I think we should prepare to make our way back home. There's no reason for us to stay here.
"Yeah, there is," Lilly teled. "Zenon, tell her."
I looked at her, surprised, then looked at 'Zenon'. Yes, Zenon, tele her.
The older shifter gave his sister a withering look and teled, She means we need food and water first. Then we can leave. But I could tell he was lying.
"But Zenon, your teacher said you--"
"I'm not going, okay, Lilly? There's nothing wrong with me. We're going home." I looked at each shifter in turn. Here was yet another conversation I didn't understand. Zenon seemed to realize that they were speaking out loud and I could hear everything they'd said. We're going home, he teled, obviously ending the matter.
Then how do you propose we do? I ask. It seemed we had switched roles.
"We'll need food and water first," he spoke aloud to Lilly could hear. "The dragon can pack it all."
'The dragon' doesn't like being used as a pack animal, I teled. Why don't one of you shift into a mule or something?
Zenon mostly ignored me, simply giving me the most menacing look he could assemble. "Of course, we'll be following the river, so that takes care of the water. So, um, what do dragons eat?" he asked me.
Anything that annoys them, I say and growl. Lilly hid behind her brother, but Zenon wasn't phased. So I teled, Meat, usually.
"Okay. We'll eat meat too, then. I suppose the dragon can catch something for us every time we eat. So that takes care of the food. Do we need anything else before we leave?" He looked at Lilly as he asked that last question, making sure she didn't say anything else that was supposed to be kept secret.
I'll be fine, as long as I don't have to carry anything. I am small for a dragon, after all. So, will you two be shifting into something that can fly? Because, like I said, I'm not carrying anything, even you two.
"Then I guess we'll shift into dragons," he decided. "After all, we won't have to go looking around for one."
True enough, I teled. So, we should get going, before it grows dark. I stood up and looked at the position of the sun. It had sunk fast, and wasn't far above the horizon. I assume we'll be traveling by daylight, unless we have something to hide from. Again, Zenon stared at Lilly, silently clamping her mouth shut with a look. "Well, we will be crossing a small desert soon, and in the day it's really hot..." he tried to come up with another reason for us to travel in the night. "Plus, you never know what we'll be coming up against."
Especially in the dark, I pointed out.
"But in the daytime they'll be able to see us," he countered.
And at night we won't be able to see them.
"But at night they won't be able to see us as well, either," he retorted, and quickly added before I could say anything, "and plus, it's always just... better to travel by night. And me and Lilly will be traveling that way. You can do what you wish." He
And leave you starving, I thought to myself. Fine, by night it is, I teled. We'll just have to wait a little while, for Nightfall. I'd meant it as a pun, but it was lost on them because they didn't know my name.
I sighed and walked away from the twosome, leaving them to their whispered secrets. I was starving, and was going to catch something large to eat. Maybe a moose, or a water buffalo, or whatever they grew around here. I spread out my wings in a tree-free clearing and flew above the dull forest. Right away I could see that it would be very difficult to find anything worth eating, or anything really at all.
I searched around the forest for at least an hour, yet there wasn't even a kangaroo mouse to be seen. So I flew back to the clearing and headed back to the shifters' camp. Before arriving, I had a weird idea. Maybe, if I shadow-shifted, I wouldn't be hungry because I wouldn't have a stomach. I was bored, so I decided to test it out, disappearing into thick black shadow.
I was closer to the camp than I thought, and I heard suppressed tones coming from a ways to my left. I floated a little closer, curious, and stopped when I heard a very wrong sounding voice. It was a woman's, and she was losing her temper. I heard Zenon say something to her in an angry tone of voice, and this time I could hear the woman's reply:
"Idiocy! We received the letter nearly three days ago from your teacher explaining what happened when you and Galway had your little spat, and Holkys has wanted to meet you ever since. After all, it's not every month we receive news relaying evidence of a Special."
"I'm not one!" Zeno shouted. "Get it straight, okay? I was just trying to think of an excuse for fighting with Galway, and my teacher took it the wrong way. He was incorrect, alright?"
Zenon was adamant, but the female voice was as well. I moved in closer, and finally saw the two voices' owners. Lilly was asleep beside Zenon, who was disputing with a... rabbit? Yes, there was a fluffy brown rabbit standing in front of Zenon. And it definitely belonged to the unfamiliar voice I'd heard. My guess was that it was another shifter. Maybe not all of them were on the same side. I was about to solidify and pounce on the only food I'd seen so far in the forest, but it spoke just then. "Guess what, Zenon," the rabbit said, and hopped closer, trying to look menacing. "You don't have a choice. You're coming to meet Holkys before the sun sets. Which means now." Part of the sun had already gone behind the mountain.
"I'm not going. Hop back to your Holkys and whoever else is working for him and tell them, I'm just another normal, everyday shifter. That got away." Immediately, as if it was rehearsed, he shifted into a beautiful black dragon, head held high, with a perfect row of ivory spikes trailing down the length of a slim body, and scales that shimmered a deep, mesmerizing blue when caught by the sunlight. Powerful black wings raised him into the air, and ivory talons lifted his sister delicately, executing perfect balance and poise with flawless certainty.
All that to say, he shifted into my double.
Zenon flew high into the air and headed north. I followed, still floating as a shadow, following the two siblings. Lilly had woken up, and Zenon tried as best as he could to help her climb onto his back. She ended up climbing the row of horns up his tail like she would a ladder. She couldn't find anywhere to sit that wouldn't impale her and had to lay on his left side, looping her right arm and leg around two spikes. You hanging on all right? Zenon teled her.
I think so, she replied. Just then a strong eddy threw Zenon off course, and Lilly slipped off. I quickly reformed and dove after her. Using one of the techniques I'd learned in combat class, I angled myself below her and flipped upside down, using my wings to slow my descent. Lilly caught up to me and landed on my belly but slipped on my smooth scales and slid off. I grabbed her with my tail and wrapped it around her several times, tightening my grip to keep her from falling again. Zenon was diving down to us, and I had to roll to the side so he wouldn't slam into me. He tried to slow to a stop, but didn't have the experience or knowledge of how to do so, and spiraled towards the ground. I dove down to him and grabbed his flailing tail, albeit with some difficulty. Stop struggling! I teled him. It isn't helping either of us!
AHHH!!! his mind replied. It had shut off with terror. He continued to try and catch the wind with his wings, but kept getting blown around sideways.
STOP! I raked him with the spikes from my tail, careful not to ram Lilly into him, and he obediently went limp. I hadn't noticed how close we had come to the ground, but thankfully we had slowed quite a bit by the time we collided. I let go of Zenon and Lilly so as not to land on them as we skidded and rolled and bumped to a gradual stop. Or, most of us did. As was ground into habit through many painful training sessions, I rolled and landed lightly on my feet. Zenon grunted and shifted back to himself. He groaned and rubbed his head. "What happened?" he asked.
We were flying due northwest, away from the bad rabbit, when you dropped your sister, and I heroically saved her. Then I stopped you from splatting on the ground by executing perfect aerial moves.
"For some reason, I don't think it happened quite like that," Zenon muttered and winced when his hand ran over his forehead, where he found a jagged cut close to his right eye. "For instance, you weren't anywhere around until Lilly slipped off. In fact, you weren't even there when we were speaking with Lola. Explain."

More, I Know, I Know

There be even more to the story--

What have you done with Kaviin? He stepped forward, sending a few small stalactites raining down from the high overhead ceiling.
She's fine, she...uh... This was the flaw I'd seen in her plan. If anyone saw me they'd recognize my form as being Kaviin's. Look, she's totally fine. I just... um... I touched her when she was sleeping. She had nothing to do with it. I suppose it was my strong sense for honesty and integrity that pushed me to pulling through with the lie me and Kaviin had set up. Or maybe I just didn't want yet another angry dragon coming after me. Believe whichever you wish. Anyway, the large, aged dragon was not happy in the least, and didn't seem to believe my story about an innocent sleeping Kaviin.
Nonsense, she wouldn't fall asleep during her mission.
Her...mission? I hesitated to ask, but sometimes curiosity is just too strong to resist.
She is the official Carrier of the Boughs.
You mean, she collects firewood?
To put it simply, yes. He suddenly seemed to remember that I was an enemy, and he probably thought I was getting information from him. He bared his teeth again. No more, changeling. You must be punished for intruding.
He inhaled, preparing to literally blow me away. I quickly picked up a large pebble between my claws and flew into the air just as he let loose an enormous red flame, scalding everything in its path, including the tip of my tail and the bottom of my feet and claws. Well, it worked before, I thought, and shifted into the pebble, aiming for the dragon. I hit him right in the temple with a thunk, and the large brute tottered. I bounced off of the ground a few times, then quickly shifted back into my true form and run as the large dragon fell right towards me. His large body thumped onto the ground and I stumbled. I seriously hoped nobody heard that, but it seemed that I wouldn't have anything to worry about. Except for the large red dragon and Kaviin, the whole area seemed to be empty.
I raced silently toward the end of the hall, but slowed down once I saw what was at the end. The largest round door I'd ever seen, and probably would ever see, stood at the end of the open room. On it, meticulously carved and accented with immaculate filigree, were rows and rows of runes. I assumed they must've been names or dates or something of the sort. I realized that the dragons must have carved them with only their claws, which made me appreciate it all the more. But the problem was getting past it. As far as I could see, it virtually sealed the tunnel, matching its edges to within an inch of accuracy. I wondered how they got it open at all, much less used it on a regular basis. There must be something really special behind that, I figure out, albeit a bit slowly. Then very faintly, I hear a roar, and feel a small thud from the ground. I put my hand on the door, and, surprisingly, it felt a little warm. I felt another thud, this time through both the ground and the door. I searched around for a way to get past it, looking everywhere, even back toward the large prone dragon. I was surprised he was still unconscious, with him having an especially thick scull and all.
I jogged back to the gate. A squeak came from the bottom of the round stone door and for a moment I thought it was the sound of it opening, but it turned out to be a rat wriggling out of the left of the door. It fell to the ground with a plop, and scurried past me. I'll admit I'm a little slow at thinking sometimes, but here's at least one instance where the idea came to me almost before I thought I thought of it. I grabbed the rat by its tail and quickly let go and it was about to turn and nip at me. Then I shifted into its exact copy and scurried towards the now-bigger-than-life monument. Getting through the tiny hole was a bit of work, but it was nothing compared to seeing what was on the other side.
I'd never seen such a huge room in my entire life. And that includes the ones above ground. I could hardly see the sides, and the ceiling was too dark to see. But there was something more amazing inside the room. More dragons lay on the ground than I had thought lived in the entire world. It was more colorful than any amount of rainbows, with deep blues, yellows, reds, gold, and even blacks and whites. They all seemed to be facing something, so I followed suit. There, on a dais, was what I assumed to be the Queen. Her scales shone a deep green, the only green I'd seen in the large room. Then I noticed one large (but not nearly as large as the one I'd met outside) and one small red dragon, with an even smaller purple one standing off to the side, moving with a decided limp, standing in a large white ring of white below the Queen. Then they slowly moved over to a dug-out hole, filled with... My eyes widen as I realize what the dragons were about to do. I've got to save Lilly. I try to yell, but it comes out in a squeak. I shift into my normal self and yell, "Stop!"
Time seemed to pause. Everyone was staring at me. The Queen was the first to recover. Instead of ordering guards to grab me, she herself flew over to me, taking her time because she was certain I couldn't escape. She landed in front of me, her armor clinking menacingly.
And you are... Her voice was deep and lulling, with a mix of authority to it. Though she asked a question, but it seemed more like a command. I could feel her slowly taking control of my mind as she spoke. At first I resisted, but she sent a pleasant feeling into my head, and I let her. She was kind enough not to shift through my memories. She was content to just ask me, and I was content to answer.
I'm Zenon, a shape-shifter. I came here to rescue my sister, Lilly. It seemed like it was safe to tell her; she seemed nice enough. And her voice was so soft, so lulling.
You mean the little one we were about to prepare as our meal? She thought for a moment. Is that the only reason you are here? And how did you know where she was?
I only came to rescue her, not discover your secret of fire. The Queen tilted her head at that. I talked to Kaviin outside, and she told me that Lilly was in here. But we agreed not to tell anyone, though I saw several mistakes in her plan.
Interesting. Did she happen to mention what we were doing in here?
No, she didn't say anything about this. I try to remember what I came here for in the first place. I was going to do something important.
I suppose I should let you have your sister back, then. I thought that was very kind of her. She was a good leader, letting a complete stranger take her food away.
Oh, I don't have to take away your snack if you don't want me to, I thought to her, if that would make you unhappy. Or hungry.
She seemed to be considering it. but then politely shook her head. No, you can take her back. It would be cruel of me to eat her when clearly you don't have any food to eat yourself.
Oh, I'm not hungry anyway, I thought to her. Thank you for offering, though. And for giving me my sister back.
You are very welcome. But I must ask for something in return.
She seemed to regret having to have me do something for her, so I quickly assured her. Oh, I'm willing to do anything.
I'm afraid I'll have to erase part of your memory, so you won't remember ever coming through the Entrance.
I hesitated. It seemed unnecessary to have her take away part of my memories. Well... Then I felt her tighten her grip on my mind. Okay, I won't mind, I tele her.
I felt her mind start tearing into mine, and I scream, falling to the ground. The pain quickly made me lose consciousness....
The large red dragon inhaled, preparing to literally blow me away. I quickly picked up a large pebble between my claws and flew into the air just as he let loose an enormous red flame, scalding everything in its path, including the tip of my tail and the bottom of my feet and claws. Well, it worked before, I thought, and shifted into the pebble, aiming for the dragon. I hit him right in the temple with a thunk, and the large brute tottered. I bounced off of the ground a few times, then quickly shifted back into my true form and ran as the large dragon fell right towards me. His large body thumped onto the ground and I stumbled. I seriously hoped nobody heard that, but it seemed that I wouldn't have anything to worry about. Except for the large red dragon and Kaviin, the whole area seemed to be empty.
I raced silently toward the end of the hall, but slowed down once I saw what was at the end. The largest round door I'd ever seen, and probably would ever see, stood at the end of the open room. On it, meticulously carved and accented with immaculate filigree, were rows and rows of runes. I assumed they must've been names or dates or something of the sort. I realized that the dragons must have carved them with only their claws, which made me appreciate it all the more. But the main object that caught my attention was the little form heaped against the bottom.
"L-Lilly?" I whispered, completely stunned. I ran over to her, checking to see that she was alright. Her eyes were closed, but they fluttered and opened when I touched her."
"You came!" she said, then grinned and hugged me. "How did you find me?" she asked once she sat up. "Did you beat up the dragons?"
I tried to think, but an explosion of pain rolled across the inside of my head, and I shook it. "I-I don't know." It was easier than I thought it would be, that was for sure. "But hey, let's not worry about it for now. Come on." I picked her up and started walking back the way I'd come, making sure her head was faced the other way when we passed the large dragon I'd knocked out. Just before heading into the narrow tunnel that would lead us out, I stopped and turned to look back. There was something curious about what had just happened, but I could feel the headache starting to come back, so I turned back to walk down the tunnel.
I watched Maw's confrontation with the changeling curiously. They seemed to chat for a few minutes, and I could tell she was slowly taking control of the shifter's mind. He started smiling pleasantly, and looked like he would do anything for the Maw. I was very glad that each Maw was given special powers used to help the rest of their clan. If not, even small threats like the shifter would give us more trouble than usual. When the Maw started the mind-rip, the shifter began to shake, and his face showed only the pure pain he felt. I winced involuntarily, imagining what it would feel like to have part of your mind ripped away. Once the boy was unconscious, the Maw placed a time-change enchantment on him, sending him back to the last place his mind remembered. She then looked over at the small girl, and two of the white dragons flew over and picked her up in their claws. The door opened a crack as the two handed 'Lilly' to the Maw. She set the little one down on the other side of the door and had it quickly closed. Then she flew back to her place on the throne.
It has been successfully taken care of, she teled all of us. In return, we growled and grunted in approving thankfulness, and she bowed respectively at the praise. What she had demonstrated was not only her power over our enemies, but the strength and wisdom to to so peacefully, without any life casualties on either side. That was how we chose Maws, by their judgment as well as combat skills.
Now where was I? the Maw said, more for show than anything else. Ah. I remember. The Meal. Would you three do the honor of preparing our small feast?
They nodded, and once again stepped forward. But while the new members slowly cooked the Meal, everyone was keeping only one eye on the ceremony, and the other on the Entrance. The shifter's appearance had unsettled all of us. Who was to say that, when he got transported back, there wasn't an army, waiting to see what would happen to him? I only hoped that, if that was the case, they would see how kind the Maw had been.
A moment later I berated myself. I was obviously overreacting. I supposed that stealing the changeling's sister wore a little on my conscience. But that was only expected, since I was one of the newest members of the clan. Still, I felt like I'd done something wrong. Then and there, I decided, to ease my conscience, I would go see that the two were safe. I looked back, and most everyone was now focused on the new members preparing the Meal. The Maw was smiling at them, proud that they were working together. Now was the perfect chance. I got up slowly, then sat back down as I decided to try something I hadn't dared try in public before. It was a secret I'd kept from everyone, even the Maw, because I was afraid of what it would mean. Because so far only one species was known to possess this particular gift. No, I told myself. There's no reason for me to think that it's more than a coincidence. I'm definitely not one, I just possess one of their gifts. That's all.
I vaporized into shadow, then floated over to the door and slipped between the cracks around the edge. I reform, facing the Entrance. I was on the other side. I checked to make sure no one had seen me, then turned around. And there was Zark, the largest, oldest dragon in our clan. He was staring at me, teeth bared and eyes narrowed to slits.
Now what would a dragon like Nightfall be doing floating around in shadow, a power only a darkling possesses?
I was frozen in place, scared out of my nerves. Zark was known for skipping ceremonies and celebrations to catch up on sleeping, since the rest of the time he went out to catch our colonies' entire stock of food. But he was very awake now. And very sharp in the mind for one of his age. Zark. I know what this looks like, but there's--
I see. Excuses, just like the shifter's. You know what happened when he showed up in Kaviin's body? He tried to lie to me. And anyone that lies to me regrets it for the rest of their life, usually in the form of a large scar. Understand?
Yes, of course. I could see that the only way for me to get out of this was to tell him the truth.
Please try to understand, Zark. I'm completely 100% dragon, okay? You even know my mother, Harla. And you know my father died in battle before I hatched, right? Zark grudgingly nodded. And everyone here has known me all my life. I don't know how I can shadow-shift. And there's the whole story.
Zark thought for a moment, then teled, Everything you've said is true, and yet there is still doubt. You might be a darkling posing as the Nightfall I know.
But darklings can't shift into forms other than their own. They can only change into shadow. And I'm so shadow, am I?
Zark shook his head. But then, how can you--
I said I don't know. I was kind of hoping you did. I mean, you're the oldes--um, wisest dragon in the entire colony. Surely there have been other dragons with I was about to say curse, but didn't know which it was. Perhaps a bit of both.
Never, he said with a frustrated air. If you indeed are teleing the truth, then I have no explanation. This is a very unusual predicament. He paused, contemplating. He looked at me, and then looked at the Entrance, maybe remembering how I'd gotten through it. Then he looked at me again. I think it's best if you left the Cave for awhile, until the Maw and myself can figure out what to do.
I suddenly panicked. No, you can't tell anyone, especially the Maw! She won't believe me as you have. And I can't just...leave. You can't expect me to. Please, let's just keep this a secret for now. It'll be easier.
Zark shook his large red head. No. You have to leave, for safety's sake. I knew he meant, 'unless I really was an enemy', and I slumped. He looked at my expression and added, For your safety as much as ours, I'm sure. If word got out, you would be at the mercy of suspicion and doubt. So it would be better if you left until the Maw and I figure out what this all means. I know it'll be hard, but I believe you can take care of yourself very well, especially with, as you put it. I'm truly very sorry, but you understand--you do understand why you must leave, do you not?
No, I teled, I don't. You said you believed me, and I'm holding to it. We can both speak to the Maw, because I'm the one we will all be teleing about anyway. I'm staying.
Zark sighed. I see where you're coming from. All right, we may both speak to the Maw. She will decide what must me done.
Thank you, I teled, and bowed gratefully. We should probably wait until the Test is finished right? As soon as I teled the words, I growled. The Test! I forgot! The Clan members are supposed to individually congratulate the competitors! I've gotta go! I rushed to the door, then paused and slowly turned back to Zark. Um, I've got to... I gesture vaguely at the Entrance.
Zark nodded. I understand. But after this, it'd be best not to do it again, alright?
Yes, I won't. I shadow-shift and float through the cracks and into the Hollow. Everyone had eaten, and there was a line leading to the three young dragons, who were set in their own line, with Stree on the far left, followed by Linnig, the small purple dragon, and then Awaag. He was glowering, hunched over in a large mass of poorly hidden anger. Yet everyone politely bowed to him, once they had done the same to the other two. But he knew it was out of ceremony only, and didn't take any pleasure in it. He once let out a stream of smoke and a loud growl when his friend Grrag, the white-scaled and future Helper to the Maw, went up to him and teled as he was bowing, At least you tried, so that everyone could hear. Grrag just smile and walked away.
I blew over to the end of the line and solidified behind the Maw, who was last in line so she could personally welcome the three. Psst, I teled to her, and she stopped, then turned around.
Nightfall. What are you doing behind me?
Zark and I need to speak with you when the Welcoming is over. Immediately after.
Is something wrong? Even with the innumerable possibilities of danger, she remained absolutely calm and continued to walk forward slowly as if we weren't even teleing.
No, there...well, maybe, but I...well, I don't know. I don't think there is, but Zark said there might be. He said you should be the one to decide.
Is that all the information I'll receive until I speak to you and Zark?
Um, I guess so. I think it would be best. I mean, unless you really want to kno--
I will wait, she teled, and chuckled. I will, if you will. I can't speak with you two until I'm finished here. And by the way, you'd better get in front of me. We're almost to the Newcomers. She winked, which erased any notes of harshness that might have been detected. I looked ahead, and saw the Maw was right. Not including us, there were only five dragons that had yet to welcome the threesome. I skirted around the Maw and squeezed in between her and Skojun, the mother of Awaag and Stree. Besides the Maw, the family and close kin of the Newcomers were the last to welcome them, because they usually had the most to say and would hold up the line otherwise. Thankfully, though, the family congratulated the three without any lengthy speeches or such. Awaag and Stree's father, Ghar, walked by Stree without seeming to notice him and instead glared at Awaag. Even though what he teled was private, I could tell by Awaag's dejected look that he had said more or less something like, I'm extremely disappointed in you, Awaag. When we're finished here, you and I are going to have a long, harsh, and probably very rude telesation. Then he walked away without bowing to any of the three young dragons. That was considered very abrupt and unkind, and the Maw shook her head, no doubt planning to have her own harsh telesation with him.
After that display, the twins' mother showed contrary manners, and bowed deeply in front of Stree. Their father's favorite son had always been Awaag, so their mother tried to balance it out with showing preference for their more petite one. Seeing him win the Test was his mother's slight surprise and utter joy, and she intended to show it. After giving a short congratulations, probably filled with high praises and doting fondness, and bowed to Linnig, then nodded curtly to Awaag so as to complete her Welcoming. I bowed to Stree and teled, Congratulations, then did the same to Linnig. When I came to Awaag I almost said something condescending, but I figured he'd get enough of that from his father later, with or without the Maw's chiding him. So I just said, Whatever, and moved on.
I joined the rest of the clan and watched the Maw finish the whole thing by saying to everyone, I now welcome Stree, Linnig, and Awaag to our family. Do you think they are worthy and ready to accept the duties and responsibilities of joining our colony? As usual, there were no answers. If someone thought that one or more of the Newcomers wasn't ready, they would usually speak to the Maw privately afterwards. Only two or three times had there ever been someone who shouted against it at this time, and it had never gone well in the end. A few subconsciously looked at the twins' father, but he didn't tele against either son, though he looked like he was about to.
Welcome, was the Maw's last formal word. Then she nodded, and looked over at the Entrance. Awaag and Stree flew back over to it and slowly lowered the large round stone. The crowd flew over to and through the opening and back to their homes in one of the tunnels off the Hall. The Maw and I were the last ones through because we waited for everyone else to leave. Then we met Zark on the other side of the door. We'd better speak in my quarters. Follow me.
She flew to the first tunnel on our left, the largest and smoothest of all of them. It was also the most guarded. Though they weren't easily spotted, there were traps of all kinds to keep enemies out. And they weren't just any old traps, either. They ranged from spurts of flame to acid rain--literally. As weird as it seemed, though, the most prominent traps were those of ice. Darklings were afraid of only that one thing, and we used it to the fullest. It had taken our race centuries and hundreds of deaths for us to figure it out. All the other elements passed through darklings as if they were only shadows, which was mostly true. But ice sliced them as easily as claws to dirt. And if frozen, darklings were forced to solidify and freeze. Plus, they couldn't move, making them vulnerable to any attacks. Ice was their only fear (because everyone has to have one). But we, fire-dragons, have a hard time with ice, since it usually melts when we're anywhere near. It takes careful thinking to keep ice in a dragon cave.
Anyway, thankfully the Maw's special aura stayed the traps, and we walked past without any mishaps. I was deathly scared that one of the darkling traps would spring on me, so I stayed as close as I could to the Maw. I sighed when we finally reached her quarters, unharmed.
Her 'quarters' was the largest room in the Cave, save the Hollow. Food was preserved and stocked in the far corner, and there was enough room to fit the entire clan inside. And that was the point. If ever the Cave was attacked and breached, everyone would gather in this room, not the Hollow, to be kept safe. The Hollow was for ceremonies, but it looked like the most obvious place to hide the colony. And those with no respect for the names on the door of the Entrance would eventually break it down. But in here everyone would be safe. When the traps were set no one could get in or out. It was -proofed against any and every enemy known, and even against a few allies that tended to be untrustworthy.
The Maw motioned for us to follow her over to a large hole on the side of the wall. Step in here, she instructed us, and we obeyed. When all three of us were fitted, the wall surprised us by moving. Or, maybe we were moving. When the spinning stopped, we were in a much smaller room, with only a single hollow in the floor. I guessed this was where the Maw actually rested. It must have been hard to have all these secret rooms, and this was just to get to bed.