The smoke trail was thin, and I had to speed up to keep from losing it altogether. The trail lost altitude as it got deeper into a large mountain range. Finally it stopped near on particularly large mountain. Mist completely covered the foothills, reducing vision to nearly zero. Then, just once, I saw a bright flash of blue light. I inhaled heavily, and fell into a paroxysm of coughing. Smoke, I thought. That flash must have been fire from a--dragon. Just like in my dream. I flew back up a ways, then took a deep breath. Then I dropped, letting gravity take care of me for a moment. Then, when I sensed I was getting close to the ground, I opened my wings to stop me from crashing. The strain was harder than I thought it would be, and I almost fell again as the muscles in my wings were stabbed with sharp stings of pain. I landed heavily near the mountain's start, not catching the ground with my feet in time and smashing into a large boulder beak-first. I couldn't help a squawk escape from my tiny mouth, and it echoed along the foothills as if I had screamed it. I shifted back into my regular self just so I could bite my tongue to keep from doing it again. If I was right and the blue flash was caused by a dragon, it would still have been near enough to hear him crash-land, even without the squawk.
Sure enough, a large glittering blue mass materialized out of the smoke. It looked straight at me. Its marble-black eyes narrowed, and its giant maw opened. I knew that in about 0.79 seconds I was going to be toasted, so I shifted back into the bird form and shot upward, my wings still sore from my earlier plunge. I looked back down and from what I could see the dragon was completely befuddled, its mouth still open. The, recovering, it shot a quick blue flame straight up at me. I barely had time to think before it hit me. I fell to the ground with a thud. But it was more gravity that brought me down than anything else. Turning into a boulder in mid-air can do that to you. I turned back into myself and lay there for a second, thinking nothing but, Ow. I've got to stop doing that. Then I jumped (as much as I could while laying down on my back) when the dragon stepped into my view, standing straight over me.
What are you?
It was weird. The dragon didn't open its mouth or anything, and yet I heard her voice echoing on the edge of hearing. It was definitely a she, though I couldn't think of how I could tell, when the voice was so soft and echoey. "Um, I'm a--"
In your head only. Speaking with one's maw is just... primitive.
She growled, and it shook the ground below me. I don't take pleasure in primate humor. Answer my question.
Would it kill you to put in a please? I thought to myself dryly, and the dragon growled again, this time opening her mouth and letting out a thick cloud of smoke.
Yes, it would.
"Oh," I say, then quickly remedy my mistake. Oh. I'm a shape-shifter. You know, someone that can change shape at will and--
She snarled. I know that. I've eaten my fair share of changelings in my time. But their kind are only able to shift into animate objects. It's a law of nature. So how is it that you can shift into a rock, when clearly it is a cold, dead, inanimate thing? What are you?
Um... She had me speechless for a moment. Or, think-less, or... whatever. I couldn't think of what to say. I-- I just-- well, I just can, I guess.
The dragon rolled her eyes, then sighed. Oh please, she thought to me, then realized her inadvertent choice of words. Oh come on. For a creature of your talent, you are very-- she stopped herself in time, but I could tell what she was going to say anyway.
Thanks. I'm always looking for insults from casual enemies.
It's a pleasure, to be sure. I'll keep it in mind.
I try to think of a way to explain. Look, I'm just like every other shape-shifter out there. Now please let me go so I can rescue my sister.
Ah, so that little one inside is your sister? Hmm. She narrowed her eyes even more. Then she smiled, which was known to twist all dragon faces into an evil sneer, and was no exception in this case. Then I suppose you won't be thrilled to know that she is going to be a snack for the winner of the Test.
"WHAT?" I didn't care that I was speaking out loud, I just wanted to get out from under the dragon and go rescue my sister. "She's going to be a snack? That's just wrong!" I start thrashing around. "Let me out!" I growl, and try and wriggle my way out of her legs. The dragon just squeezed them together until I could hardly breath, much less move. P-please let me go, I ask, vaguely noticing that I could also gasp from lack of air while thinking. I cough from lack of oxygen and of smoke. I even s-said please.
She tilted her head and seemed to be thinking, though I knew what her answer would be. Before giving her a chance to say no, I shifted into the last animate object I'd touched, and the only thing I could think of; a dragon. The female dragon's eyes widened in surprise as I grew bigger under her. She raised her wings and flew a few feet into the air as I grew too large for her to stand over me. She sent a barrage of flaming blue balls at me. I scrambled up and dodged the first few, then flew upward, trying to get above the mass of blue fire and thick smoke. I evened out once I was sure that the dragon was below me. Looking down, I saw her form growing as she flew towards me. I opened my mouth to send out my own barrage of fire, but strangely nothing happened. I was told that a shifter would possess the skills of any form they changed into. And I'd thought it was true, until then. I didn't have time to recover from the unexpected discovery before she rammed into me, causing both of us to fall. I'm sure she was laughing at me, laughing at my failed attempt. We spiraled toward the ground, and I was sure I was going to be the one on the bottom when we landed. Just before we both became...well, smushed, she opened her wings and let go of me. I hurriedly did the same. my forepaws glanced over the ground as I strove to get back into the air. When I recovered my balance, I heard more laughter, this time I was sure.
You ignorant changeling. Has no one told you that a dragon's fire is special and unique only to the dragon species? No one knows our secret, and that's not going to change. Leave, and you'll have the grace of not discovering just how deadly our fire is.
It didn't even cross my mind to do as she said. I came for Lilly, and I was leaving with her. I don't want to know your secret. I just want to go get my sister. Can't you understand? I was trying to reason with her, hoping that I could peacefully coax her into letting me rescue Lilly. But even as I said the words, I realized there was a large hole in my plan. Where was Lilly? As a matter of fact, where were the other dragons? I was sure I would've seen them down below, even with the haze of smoke, just like I'd seen the dragon now across from me.
I looked over at her, wondering what she was doing, and why she wasn't killing me. Perhaps I'd accidentally struck something in her with my random reasoning. She seemed to be contemplating something. Then she looked up at me, seemingly deciding what she was going to do.
I will let you try to rescue your kin. But you must give your solemn word that none of this ever happened. I was never here. You did not meet anyone, you simply found our home by sheer luck, nothing more. In exchange for your silence, I won't tell the others of our kind that you tried to sneak into their home and steal the secret of our fire. Of course, you won't be getting that far anyway. So, do we have a mutual agreement?
I saw a flaw in her plan, but thought it best not to say so, to. Agreed. Now, where do I find my sister?
You'll have to figure that out yourself. I can't help you, because, as I said before, I was never here. She flew away, leaving a small smoke trail in her wake.
Gee, thanks, I muttered in my head to myself.
After quickly searching the upper part of the mountain, I decided that the entrance to whatever cave or underground cavern they called home must be somewhere in the thick blanket of smoke. Hence, the smoke. It was way easier to navigate through it as a dragon. Perhaps they had built-in filters, or something. Apparently the smoke was supposed to hinder all other species to , because they didn't bother concealing the actual entrance. It was simply a large, gaping hole on the side of the mountain. It was several yards from the ground, to keep most land-creatures from getting inside without being noticed. I landed just inside, and quickly folded my wings to keep them from being torn on the rough walls of the tunnel. I was glad when it started widening, giving me room to move comfortably again. I stopped when I reached the large hall. It seemed to be empty, which struck me as odd. Too late, I thought that the dragon I'd met could've sent a telepathic message to anyone within mind-shot. Too late now, I decide, and start walking toward what I hoped to be the end of the large open space (without anywhere to hide). I started passing random branches of tunnels leading off of the main tunnel. I slowed before walking past each one, expecting to find an armed dragon just waiting for me to show myself.
Instead I found something a little different from what I was expecting inside one of the tunnels. An enormous red dragon lay sleeping, facing toward me. I jumped and quickly backed up when I first saw it, but soon realized that it seemed to be snoring. Judging from the wear and tear on its scales, I surmised that it had been a great warrior-- in its day. I could also tell that it was very old, mostly from the way its scales drooped, and its wizened face. Deciding that it could be of no harm to me, I walked past it, albeit warily. What I didn't know before is that scales rubbing against a cave wall sounds exactly like fingernails on a chalkboard. The large beast woke up so suddenly its head hit the ceiling, which didn't look hard to do considering its height. It looked straight at me, then seemed to relax.
Ah, Kaviin, you startled me, as usual. He laughed (it was in fact a 'he'), and stretched, letting out a thunderous yawn. So, what have you been up to?
It took me several seconds to realize that, since I had shifted into the form of the dragon I had met outside, this dragon thought I was her. Um, I was just messing around, I think to him, and try for a friendly smile. The dragon's huge eyes narrowed suspiciously.
What has happened to your tele-voice, Kaviin? the old dragon asked. I wasn't sure what he was talking about, until I noticed that my thinking-voice sounded nothing like what's-her-name, like Kaviin.
Um, I...uh... I supposed that 'getting a cold' wasn't something that happened to dragons very often. I...um... The dragon's eyes narrowed further, and he bared his teeth. Shifter, he hissed, and rose to his full height, towering above everything except the ceiling.
More is to come later... Muahahahaha!