I bit down on the clothing we’d confiscated from Terry, torn and rolled, my jaw aching. I desired nothing more than to screech and thrash against Warren, but we didn’t know how many enemies were down here, and noise could draw them to us. Thankfully, we’d been able to find a relatively safe place to hide out while Warren reduced my shoulder.
I’d taken a first aid course as a requirement by the clans—we weren’t much for hospital visits for some very legitimate reasons. The basics on shoulder reduction were floating around in my brain, but I wasn’t looking forward to this. I lay on my side, and slowly extended my arm above my shoulder, pausing when the pain washed through me like a storm wave rushing the beach. Warren gave gentle support of my arm when I needed to pause, to make sure I didn’t tire and put it back down before the reduction was complete. Appearing as though I was scratching the back of my neck, I reached behind my head and toward my uninjured shoulder. After some grinding, and a small, meaty pop later, the tension flowed from me and left my body slack, shaking, and sick from the absence of pain.
It had taken longer than I liked, though maybe not as long as the agony made it seem, and I sat up. The blood rushed to my head making the room come into hyper-focus, and my brain reminded me that not all of my injuries would be so easily assuaged.
“We need to shift,” Warren said, as he checked over my other numerous injuries. It wasn’t an awful idea, and the shifting would help to heal some of the more grievous damage; the Drakken blood in my veins giving me a leg up in the healing department. There was a reason advanced spells called for Dragon and Drakken blood—it was mighty powerful.
But I couldn’t help but hesitate. Our Dragon forms gave us certain advantages, to be sure, but our minds entered a more primitive state that reflected Dragon behaviors and tendencies. In our alternate state of body and mind, we lost much of what gave us our moral compasses, and survival of the fittest was the name of the game. If we walked into a precarious situation in our other forms and the girls were in trouble, but to rescue them would risk our lives, our reptilian brains wouldn’t hesitate to walk out or pull punches and not give a full effort.
“I’m not so sure that is a good idea. If we shift and they’re in danger, we might not rescue them. If we shift to heal, and shift back, we’ll be drained of any energy,” I frowned, and grimaced as he poked a particularly tender spot near my left temple. Must have been where the guy with brass knuckles socked me.
“Normally I’d agree with all the above, however you have a serious concussion and your arm is nearly useless. We won’t be able to save anyone like this,” he said, and shook his head. With dark circles underneath his eyes and his grey hair highlighting the pallor of his complexion, he was close to the grave level of sick and tired.
“I’m so sorry, I’ve been all, me, me, me in regards to injuries. Are you injured anywhere?” I asked, and scooted closer to him, slowly though, because, ouch.
“They gave me quite the beat down outside of your house, but I’m healing. I’m just not sure if I’m healed enough to do what needs to be done,” he finished, and looked to me with grim resolution set into the deep worry lines of his face.
I closed my eyes against the truth in his expression, because the only thing worse than not getting out of here alive would be for my alternate self to leave the girls high and dry. I could survive many things but I wasn’t sure that would be one of them. My heart ached, in some ways more torturous than anything physical at the moment, but it couldn’t be helped.
I let out a shaky sigh and opened my eyes.
“Yes,” was all I said, and he nodded.
“I’ll go first—yours might be slowed because of your injuries and I need to protect you while it happens,” he stated.
After stripping back down, he knelt, as though getting ready to pray, but his arms remained loose at his sides. I got up and hobbled around him, and sat with my back against the door to give us an extra second or two if someone tried to get in. Unfortunately, none of the rooms we’d encountered had locks that could be used without keys, and none of Vern or Terry’s keys had matched this room or others near it.
It was always interesting to watch another Drakken shift, especially full-bloods, because from what I understand the transition for them is less painful and more freeing.
His eyes were dark and difficult to read in the low light of a single candle. The hallways were all lit by electric means, but none of the rooms had bulbs or switches, just candles. Everything about the place was giving me the creeps. As he breathed out, his shoulders relaxed and his eyes closed. The skin and bones of his face rippled and shifted, like something alive moved beneath the surface, just waiting for the right moment to get out.
His jaw lengthened and grew, to make room for needle-like teeth, while his nose flattened and the flesh of his nostrils melted into slits. Hard, diamond-shaped, scales appeared along his nose and brow line, which was now more prominent in the same way as a caveman. Though the light washed out all color, the scales sliding from beneath his skin to cover his body from head to toe reflected his clan: grey. Two, large curling horns grew from his skull around where his hairline used to be, though now it was only scales. The horns drew my attention to where his ears used to be, though what remained were barely discernible holes between scales.
As with his face, his arms, legs, and feet grew longer, toes becoming talon-like, and along with the larger balls of his feet they would support most of his weight. Our heels remained off the floor, and our knees and longer femurs made us appear as though we were always at a slight crouch. At his knees and elbows, harder and larger than usual scales sharpened and at a point, lending additional weapons when striking with an elbow or knee; punch daggers conveniently attached to his body. A tail whipped out from behind him and slapped the floor with an acute, hostile ring, and the triangular, daggered end of it bit into the stone, sending fragments pinging against the wall to my left.
He stood and stretched, his claws nearly brushing the ceiling, and when he put his hands behind his head and twisted his upper-body, I got the view of what those scars looked like in this form. They didn’t appear quite as large, likely because he himself seemed bigger, and they left ravaged, broken scales in their wake. Small spikes, straighter and littler versions of the ones on his head, marched down his back, with a couple damaged like broken stalactites where scars crossed over them.
But what took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes, was something his human-form hadn’t revealed: two pitted, ugly craters, one on each shoulder blade, and all that remained of his wings.
A shocked, sorrowful exhalation of air from my lungs brought his attention around to me. My lips pursed and my brows drew down in sadness, and it was all I could do to not weep. To take away a Drakken’s wings is cruelty beyond measure, and usually reserved for only the most heinous of crimes. Not every type of Drakken had them, but those that did relished their ability to fly in the same way bipedal beings cherished the ability to use their legs.
What had he done? Having not only your name stricken from all the clans, but to have his wings removed, as well? I couldn’t reconcile the image of the man I knew, with one of a person who could do something so atrocious to receive such punishments.
He’d remained still in only the way reptiles can during my absorption of the implications, and gave me nothing but a carefully neutral expression. Drakken in that form are focused on very few basic needs: survival, mating, fighting, and hunting, among them. We also display only the base-range of emotions: anger, fear, need, lust, and so on. To be able to control such base desires and give me nothing in his expression spoke volumes about his control, and likely his age.
I stood up and kept eye contact, and slowly made my way over. Though his control appeared superb it would be difficult to resist a fast-moving target, especially since the shifting makes us hunger. When I came close enough that keeping our eyes locked hurt my neck, I looked away, turned my head, and leaned into him. I pressed my cheek against his chest and listened to the nervous beat of his heart; the only clue he was worried. My arms slid carefully up his back, the gentlest of touches to not go against the grain of the scales, or cut myself on their edges. I rested my palms against the physical remains of a painful past, and hugged him to me.
“I don’t care what happened in your past, Warren, and it is not for me to judge. I only go off what actions you’ve displayed, and done, to me, which so far have been nothing but helpful. This changes nothing,” I finished.
A fraction of a second later, his arms gently circled me, not wanting to accidentally hurt me.
“You do not consider me…damaged?” The question came out sibilant and hissing, his forked tongue and teeth making speech like the talking snakes portrayed in movies and television shows.
“You are a strong, intelligent, and capable individual; losing your wings doesn’t make you any less of those. We all have scars, Warren. The only thing I see when I look at yours is strength—the strength to live after most in your position would have chosen not to. So, no, I don’t consider you damaged,” I finished, with a final squeeze to let him know I was backing away.
He released me, and when I moved backward I looked back up into his eyes. He nodded, the gratitude and surprise evident in the way tension left his body, built up from his expectation of horror and disgust from me. I truly did not see them as deformities, especially not after the way he’d treated me as an equal and not the scum of the Earth as most full-bloods tended to do.
“Now,” I cleared my throat, and took an even bigger step back, “it’s my turn.” He nodded, and took up my place at the door.
Half-kins whose other half was human couldn’t transform fully as Warren could, or me, since I was just two different Drakken types. It was also far more painful and slow for half-kins, because their human halves were not insulated from the magic and shifting of the change. In a way, it was the difference between two seasoned boxers duking it out in the ring, versus Joe Schmoe on the street taking on Muhammad Ali. It wasn’t pretty, and whatever gave full-bloods the ability to change painlessly, and in some cases enjoyably, was lost for half-kins.
For me, on the other hand, it took longer because my body always fought to try and transform into both my red and black forms, fully, at the same time. It didn’t work, and one time after I’d first come into my powers I had tried to let it do just that. Think of any pictures of deformed animals and it would be close to the mark. I learned my lesson, and it was painful and beyond the pale embarrassing, and I never let it happen again. My pain, on the other hand, stemmed from having to fight my body wanting to do it again.
So, human half-kins and I had pain and slower transformations but for different reasons. The injuries were only going to make it more difficult to concentrate, and in effect would slow me down even more.
I sighed, but I couldn’t put it off any longer. I, too, closed my eyes and searched deep down in the center of my being where all my power resided, and opened myself up to the other half of my soul. It wasn’t like drawing on power, which made you pull it and concentrate, like trying to drink a sorta thick milkshake through a straw. That took effort and focus.
Shifting, however, was more like opening a door to a room filled with water; it spilled outward and filled up the available space given to it. Seeking and pushing against the confine that was my body. Next I had to separate the two Drakken forms in me, which mingled but remained separate like a delta. It took time, precious time, to shove my red form back into the room within my soul, and it fought like a trapped animal to not go. It drained me, perilously close to not being able to do it at all, but I managed to contain it once again. The effort left me sweating and breathing hard from the pain of the struggle. Though it did feel minimal in comparison with everything else that was wrong me. Small miracles, I guessed.
The rest was easier. I just let the shift push its way out through my skin, and spill along it in a hot wave like a shower that walked the line toward scalding. It was a strange sensation, letting parts of your mind go dark, and having situations became clearer. This mindset was black and white, where grey areas were rarely seen, and when they were they were not tolerated.
When I opened my pure black eyes, like two pits crafted from the emptiness of space itself, I saw Warren, and slightly opened my mouth containing shark-like teeth and hissed my anger. The emotion came on far stronger now that my injuries were almost completely healed and the situation came to the forefront of my mind. It wasn’t directed at him, but at those who encroached on my territory, hurt me, and taken what was mine to protect.
I curled my clawed fingers, the closest movement we can get to clenching our fists, and though my tail did not possess the ability to cut into the stone, I slammed it into the wall with all my strength, and some of the stones groaned at the abuse while dust sifted to the floor.
Black scales ran along my form, eating the light and reflecting nothing back, making me blend almost completely into the the darkness of the room. Perfect for sneaking up on prey and killing them before they knew what happened.
Instinct took over and my mind coldly calculated our priorities. Survival, first. Kill all those not on my side, second. Reclaiming what was taken from me, third. Stop the Dragons from entering the world, fourth. All reservations about being in this form gone, I snarled and moved to the door. Warren moved out of my way, not wanting to get between my and my goals. Smart Drakken.
“Time to hunt,” I growled, and pulled on the handle.