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.