Chapter 3: Fight and Flight
a while, something changed in the void. Two things, notably: the
darkness lightened, and Bobby's pain increased, bringing with it a
new wave of screams. But of course, no one was around to hear them.
The darkness kept gradually getting lighter, until Bobby could actually see himself. He looked like a ghost, pale and translucent, and it seemed like he was floating in midair. At that point, the pain changed. He could still feel that burning, unbearable cold, but it was as if he was separate from it. He discovered that he could think around the cold.
I'm going crazy. There's no way all this is really happening. Any moment now, I'll wake up. He waited, for what almost seemed like an hour, but he didn't wake up. Instead, the void continued to lighten, and Bobby could see more and more of his surroundings. Another few minutes, and he could see quite clearly.
He appeared to be hovering above a small campfire in the woods. Surrounding the area was the wreckage of a large red truck and destroyed vegetation. Mina sat near the fire with Ben, who was awake and alert. The boy's shoulder was wrapped tightly in linen bandages, and a narrow strip of linen bound his forehead. His leg seemed perfectly fine, though Bobby could swear it had been horribly twisted.
Mina looked the same as ever, sitting cross-legged with her silver bow and arrows in her lap. The two had an air about them, as if they had just had a tense argument. They were both staring at a corner of the campsite, Mina with expectation, Ben with horror.
Bobby followed their gaze, and nearly swallowed his ghostly tongue. They were staring at him. The thing was barely recognizable as his body. For one thing, it was as big as his truck had been, and it was naked. Scraps of clothing littered the ground beside it, and anything that would have marked it as a human male had vanished.
The skin was changing, too. From what Bobby could see, his body was covered in dark orange scales. There were several other oddities as well. His knees were facing the wrong way, what seemed like ragged flaps of skin hung off his back, and he was growing a tail. Worst of all was his face.
His snout had elongated, like a lizards, and his lips were gone, revealing a strange array of human teeth and what looked like crocodile teeth. His eyes were wide and staring, pupils slitted like a reptile. Four large bumps adorned a scalp that was empty of hair.
The thing shuddered, as if cold, and Mina spoke. “It's almost over.” As she said it, another wave of cold pain wracked Bobby's ghostly body, and he was drawn toward the giant lizard-like thing. Suddenly, he was the lizard.
The pain was still there, and as he returned to his body, the blizzard exploded anew in his heart. He couldn't help it, and curled his strange limbs into a fetal position, letting out a sound that was half scream, half hiss. Then, within his core, the cold slowly began to abate. It intensified outwards, as if the blizzard knew that this was the last. His body burned with cold, as though the blizzard had fingers that were pulling, stretching, tearing, shaping his new form.
His heart was finally, blissfully warm, though it felt impossibly large. Too big, much too big. Then, that heart, that single massive organ, began to beat. The warmth crept outwards, driven by that sonorous drum. It was a battle, and both parties seemed doomed. The blizzard surged fiercely in it's last moments, and his heart worked strongly, to warm his body before it froze. For a moment, both forces were perfectly balanced, and Bobby seemed to float in an eternity of pain and bliss.
Then, with a massive THUD, the cold was vanquished, and the thing that had been Robert DeFallon lay there, panting in relief, the warmth the only thing that he was concerned with.
Then Brighteyes opened his eyes, and looked about with absolute wonder.
Everything was so bright. The sky was a dark indigo that seemed to glow from all the tiny silver pinpoints that dotted it. It was nighttime. The trees were a vibrant green, like fresh-cut emeralds, and the bark looked like chocolate. Surrounding him were strange pieces of corrugated metal, as if a metal comet had touched down here. About ten yards away lay the shattered chassis of a large truck, red as a ripened cherry. The grass terminated in a broad circle around him, giving way to the bare earth. A fire glowed in dazzling orange and yellow hues at the edge of the circle, casting just enough light that he could see the two creatures staring at him.
Brighteyes cocked his head. How strange they were! They had four limbs each, two of which had five smaller bits of flesh protruding from the ends. The flesh of their bodies were strangely multicolored, as if there were multiple layers, and both were completely hairless except for a patch of fur on their heads. One had hair like a pine cone, long and frizzy and brown, while the other had hair like starlight.
As for their faces, Pine Cone Head was rather ugly. Wide brown orbits covered with strands of hair, a pasty lump for a nose, and a mouth that was basically a horizontal gash filled with flat pieces of tooth. Brighteyes wrinkled his nose. The scent that came off of that one clearly said female. As for the other, the scent was male, if delicately so.
The male was slight, though well muscled, and compared to the female, definitely more pleasing to the eye. Dark blue eyes like the deepest seas stared back at Brighteyes, and the snow-white hair framed the face quite nicely. Tiny brownish dots speckled his face, and his mouth was twisted oddly, as if he were chewing.
Something about the male triggered a powerful instinct within Brighteyes, an instinct that whispered Protect so fiercely that he nearly shot forward and curled around the small one. But he held back, his other instincts screaming Fragile! Delicate! And Brighteyes saw, too, in those blue pools, a hint of what possibly might be fear.
That hint sent his body into overdrive. He swung about, eyes searching frantically, muzzle pulled back to expose his fangs, as he sought the threat. The small male flinched at the movement, he noted, though the female remained still. Those thoughts occurred in the back of his mind, as he was mostly scanning to ensure that there were no threats.
As soon as he was satisfied that all was safe, Brighteyes turned back to the creatures by the fire. As he did so, he caught sight of something that had eluded him before: A large fragment of chassis, stuck in the ground and polished until it reflected like a mirror. Looking into this mirror, Brighteyes immediately understood the fear in the small male's eyes. Ah, he thought. I am the threat
Reflected in the shard, the two small creatures were facing what looked like a large serpent with legs. The thing was sheathed from head to toe in iridescent orange scales in different tones. The beast had a large, squat body like a barrel, easily twice the size of the ruined truck, with a roughly ten-foot neck and a very long tail. Hard knobs of scale protruded from its hide all along its length, down to an especially large knob on the tail the size of the female creature. Ivory white talons extended from the forepaws, easily ten inches long and very sharp looking. Giant wings sprouted from the knobby back, more than double the size of the serpent and shaped like the wings of a giant bird, with elongated scales that were almost like feathers.
The head was the most terrifying part, and yet, strangely, the most benign. It was elongated like a wolf's head, snout filled with razor-sharp crocodile teeth. At the back of the head was a crest formed by four horns. And the eyes were the size of the smaller creatures' heads. They were a fiery orange, slitted like a reptile, and filled with curiosity.
Staring at Brighteyes was a dragon.
His first thought: I look good. His second thought: I feel good. Brighteyes could feel the rolling muscles, and the raw strength flowing through his limbs made him want to crush something. Something drifted to his nostrils through the trees, a scent of clean, cold water, and he was abruptly very thirsty.
Suddenly, his nostrils flared, and the other scents of the forest cascaded into his mind. The slightly metallic tang of recently turned dirt, the pleasantly snappy scent of pine needles, the smoky essence of flame, and a scent reminiscent of warm cocoa that could only have come from the small male. And from the ugly female...
Ascent of warmth, a scent of wet, an odor so mouthwatering that Brighteyes' throat, dully throbbing of thirst before, began to bake like a desert sun, and that scent promised to wet, to fill, to sooth. Instinct overtook conscious thought, and Brighteyes coiled into a hunting crouch, a menacing growl ripping it's way free from his throat.
The small male yelped, a high pitched note, and scrambled away from the dragon, while the female stood on her spindly legs, holding a silvery stick. She let loose a barrage of high pitched noises, and the small male responded. A small part of the dragon's mind registered that they must have been communicating, and that he should understand the sounds.
A small part. Very small. The greater part was focused on one thing: Hunt. It coiled, muscles tightening like steel springs, and sprang forward like a lightning bolt. The female jumped up to meet him, and a sound like a thunderclap rolled through the clearing.
Brighteyes collided in midair with what seemed to be a deathly pale snake. His eyes registered scales, claws, wings, tail like a whiplash, and his mind registered dragon. Like me. But he was a hunter, and the pale thing still smelled absolutely delicious, and his instincts ruled. He attacked, snarling like a granite rock slide, and the dragons clashed.
The other dragon was strong, and fast, but Brighteyes was bigger. He bore down on the female, a furious onslaught of flashing teeth and slashing claws. He felt his talons sink briefly into flesh, and the female screamed in pain. The pale thing blurred, and pain like a white-knife slashed across his abdomen. Brighteyes roared in fury, and spread his wings.
The thin membranes clipped the female as they extended, and as she reeled, dazed, he darted forward, jaws snapping shut on her tail like a steel trap, and, pulling with all his strength, hurled her into the air. Wings fully unfurled, he sprang into the air after her.
The wind whistled under his wings, and he flapped to stay airborne. The female regained herself and did the same before they collided once more. The world flipped, twisted and turned sickeningly as the two dragons fought, snapping and slashing through the sky for about ten seconds before they crashed back to the earth, rolling over each other. The noise was deafening.
The two giant beasts pulverized the forest around themselves, trees and rocks and turf no match for their titanic strength. They continued to trade blows with claw and fang at breakneck speed, and Brighteyes could feel his strength beginning to wane. So, too, did the female's, who took every opportunity to disengage and distance herself for a moment, but the orange dragon invariably closed in again.
It ended suddenly, for a brief span, when the female delivered a powerful kick that sent Brighteyes flying into the air. He tumbled for a few seconds, and then manage to steady himself, flapping once to gain balance before he hit the ground. He and the female faced off, twenty yards apart – a distance that they could both cross in a flash. They crouched, and snarled at each other, wounded.
From this vantage, Brighteyes could see that the female was nearly exhausted, not to mention heavily wounded. Her front right leg was shattered, her back and neck riddled with slashes, one wing in tatters. The orange dragon was lightly tired and lightly wounded, ready to close again. The heady scent of her blood filled the air, and he had never wanted anything else so badly.
He would have the blood in mere moments. The female could not stop him. He roared forth his challenge, and charged in for the kill.
A loud, squeaky noise stopped him in his tracks. Brighteyes regarded with shock the small male who had somehow gotten between him and the female. The small one had his arms spread wide, and his back was to the snowy dragon. Those dark blue orbs fixed with the dragon's, and Brighteyes was nearly overcome by an urge to stand down.
He settled into a crouch, keeping one eye on the injured female, just in case. It was for naught, however. The pale dragon shuddered once, then shrank, her body compressing itself until the short female creature limped toward them once more. The threat gone, Brighteyes snorted and turned his full attention to the male. The female's scent nearly galvanized him once more into a hunting frenzy, but he squashed the impulse this time.
The male was speaking. Those long and short squeaky sounds had to be words, he just knew it. He also knew, somehow, that he should be able to understand the language. It was so frustrating! It seemed like he almost understood, but the meaning kept slipping away. Brighteyes focused all his mind on the male's voice.
He was making the same series of sounds – a message, repeated over and over. “Ay uh. Ay uh” The sounds were becoming more distinct. “Ayk uh! Ayk uh!” It was right on the tip of understanding, so tantalizingly close!
And just as Brighteyes was convinced that the meaning would slip away once more, something... clicked inside his mind, and the words burst into perfect clarity: “Wake up!” Brighteyes understood, and obeyed.
A rush of images, memories, feelings and sensations spilled forth into his mind as if a dam had been shattered, and Bobby sat back on his reptilian haunches, looking at the distressed look on Ben's face. What the hell?! Where am I? What am I?! Bobby twisted around trying to look at himself, trying to comprehend what was going on.
Ben's voice cut through his confusion and panic. “Hey, hey, it's okay, calm down!” Bobby froze, then looked at him with distress. “How am I supposed to calm down?!” Or at least, that's what he meant to say. What came out instead was a terrible strangling snarl, as if a lizard were choking on a spoon. The shape of his mouth and tongue was all wrong for speech. Bobby cried out in frustration.
Ben spoke again. “It'll be alright, you're okay, you're alright!” Bobby latched onto those words, and repeated them to himself, taking deep breaths. Once he had calmed somewhat, he looked around much more slowly. Everything was coming back: the shadow women, the shivering, the crash, the wolf and bear, Mina with a bow, Ben injured and bleeding...
Calm down. One thing at a time. Bobby examined the small boy closely. Aside from bandages on his forehead and arm, he looked perfectly okay. That couldn't be, could it? The dragon moved closer, and his claws scratched as the dirt. He stared at the claw and mark for a moment, fascinated, before an idea occurred to him.
Bobby waved his claw in Ben's face to direct his attention, which worked quite well, then, pointing the claw into the dirt at his feet, began to scratch out shapes. Within seconds, a simple message showed in the dirt: Are you okay?
Ben read the message, then looked up at the dragon and nodded. “I'm alright. I got busted up pretty bad, but Mina drew some sort of symbol on my forehead, and bam! Good as new, somehow.” He said this with a cautious glance at Mina herself.
Bobby followed his gaze, and relief, horror and confusion welled up inside. Relief: Thank god, we're not alone! Horror: I attacked her, I hurt her, I tried to kill her! Confusion: Why is she dressed like that, and what's with the bow?
Mina smiled gently at both of us. “Don't worry, children. You are alright for now, and I promise that I will explain everything.” She raised her undamaged arm, pointing through the trees, where Bobby's keen eyes could just make out the school parking lot, and the dozens of flashing red-and-blue lights. “But we need to leave, now, before the police find us.”