All I knew was pain. My joints ached, my insides twisted up inside me. The constant heat of fever that could not be lessened. A low moan escaped me, and I heard my friend bend over me, saying something. I couldn't make it out. I seemed shrouded in a land of illusions, and could never be sure if what I was seeing and hearing were true.
But the pain was all-encompassing. It suddenly increased, my whole body exploding into agony. The worst was on my lower back and between my shoulder blades. I thrashed, crying out in pain. It was growing harsher with every breath, my body feeling completely alien by the time it lessened.
The pain slowly, slowly began to subside. I lay still, panting hoarsely. My body felt oddly heavy, stretched and weak. I felt as if I'd just scaled one of the large, uncertain cliffs back home -constantly moving from crumbling rock to crumbling rock, aching and sore for a week by the end, palms bloody and knuckles raw.
I shifted slightly with a whimper. I could hear my friends quiet, shocked tones and pricked my ears to listen. Something shifted on my neck. Lifting off. It was on my head. Slowly, I opened my eyes. I was lying in the middle of the deck.
I carefully lifted my head, but nothing seemed broken, even though it still felt alien to me. The wind brushed by my ears, but in a strange way. They felt . . . strange. Almost longer. I began to lift my hand to feel them, and froze when I saw the black paw and foreleg of a dragon, half-raised in the air before me.
I started to move my hand towards my knife. The paw moved as well. I placed my hand on the deck, and the paw mimicked my action. I slowly moved my hands onto the deck. The dragon mimicked my action.
I tried to edge to the left, but spotted a flicking tail with flicking fins on it. I tried to shift away AGAIN, but the tail moved with me! I had a sudden realization before horror struck me. I shakily pushed myself up with my hands. The rest of my body slumped and I had the sudden notion that this was a good sitting position. I shook it off and pushed my legs up underneath me.
I toppled over the moment I tried to stand up, thumping bodily onto my back. Oddly, it didn't hurt. Not really. I felt a slight pressure put on something that felt a bit more delicate in comparison to the rest of me. A warning, blunt as pushing a bruise. I rolled onto my stomach, and tried to look back at my body, but when I tried to turn my head and stretch my neck, it hurt, so I stopped.
I focused on my back. To what was now connected there. A twitch from the strange appendages. I twisted my body around in a way that should've been unnatural, but didn't hurt me, grabbing at the tail, getting a good look at the wings. Pawed at my ears and the little ones that ringed my head. Flicked them a few times, honing in on screeching gulls, the splash of the sea against our boat.
All my body covered in black scales that seemed to soak up the dying rays of the sun like water in cloth. There was no denying it any longer. I had become a dragon, somehow, and that made me the enemy.
With a sudden chill, I realized that I hadn't heard my friends since the pain had gone away. I moved slowly, trying to keep myself low to the deck as I sought them out. Any threatening move I made would only make my death quicker. I could not be certain that my instincts to defend myself could be reigned back in time.
They were huddled together as far away from me as they could manage. They were in various states of shock. My healer was completely stunned, my warrior calculating, and my sister was hopeful.
That last one threw me for a loop, but my thoughts quickly turned to how this had happened. I scowled, teeth bared with a low growl, "Damnit, Orrick! How could you do this?"
I creeped slowly across the ground, hiding behind a scant bush for shelter. The dragon, bright as the sea at dawn, would be challenging to hunt. I could set no trap for it hear, could not lure it away into some place where its' attacks would be useless.
I was on my own, and had to figure out some way to kill it. The fire they breathed in short, hot bursts, the poisonous spines that they could throw from their tails. Quick as anything, they were. Very difficult to herd anywhere. And even worse to approach it in the open. But it was smaller than most, still young. An easier kill. I just had to get close enough . . .
. . . only for the dragon to whip its head around to sniff the air, growling discontentedly. I froze, still as stone. The dragon huffed and sniffed at the air, before turning about and looking out over the cliffside. I bit my lip. I had to do this NOW, before it flew off. I moved, slowly and silently, to one side of it, going at an angle. I did this for about twenty minutes, the dragon staying more-or-less put.
I crept closer, still as stone whenever it looked at me. I held my breath when it fully turned towards me to sniff the air, before walking closer to me. I resisted the immediate urge to lunge and slit its throat as it sniffed and knocked its head against my body lightly. Seeming to deem me as "safe", it looked back over the cliffs. I crept just a little closer and slowly drew out my knife.
Rock tumbled down rock behind me, and the dragon tensed, whirling around so quickly that I startled, trying to step away from its swinging tail. The earth turned to dust beneath my feet, and I plummeted. I was too surprised to scream. Eyes wide, I fell in silence, looking down at the ocean far below and the cliff itself, banded thin and red between the sandstone.
My shoulder smashed painfully into an obtruding rock, pulling a cry of pain from me. I bounced from another bit of cliff and scrambled for purchase before I could roll off of a tiny protruding ledge.
I looked at my shoulder and winced. Such a fall would leave me covered in bruises, possibly broken bones, if I were wearing my usual clothing. This hunt required stealth more than protection against such blunt or tearing blows. Dragons' skin was best for the normal hunts, but for this one, I'd had to borrow some older heirlooms of Zuma's.
My shoulder had a long gash on it, bleeding swiftly. I glanced over the side of the ledge. Only ocean, much farther down below me. I looked to the side. The cliff narrowed to barely half a foot for twenty feet either way before vanishing. Up . . .
The warriors that had accompanied me were looking down at me, pointing and talking amongst themselves. I almost shouted up to them, when a bit of what they were saying drifted down to me.
Long live Chief Orrick.
I shut my mouth and glowered at them. It didn't matter if Orrick had put them up to this. Didn't matter if they simply disliked him as chief. It didn't even matter if they merely had no idea how to get me back up and had given me up for dead. There was nothing I could do. Orrick would be chief now. Even if I figured a way to get back up, I hadn't slain the dragon.
I must have been hours, but it only felt like a few minutes. The sun was beginning to set. I was weak from bloodloss. Despite the odds of being able to climb the cliff back up, I'd bandaged my wound the best I could. I kept my back to the cliff as I curled into as tight a ball as I could manage. Nightfall brought with it a frosty chill. I could just see my breath.
I cast a single glance back to the sea and sky, then closed my eyes. "Please," I spoke lower than a whisper. "Keep my sisters safe. Keep them and my village safe."
Silence followed. Minutes passed, and it grew colder around me. Out of nowhere, something grabbed me, holding me close as if I were only a child. The air rushed around me, tugging at my clothes, before I was gently set onto the ground. I opened my eyes, suddenly afraid that some maleovant spirit had snatched my soul from my body. Instead, I was met with the worried face of stranger.
He was thin, almost scrawny, with brown hair, fair skin and green eyes. I couldn't quite believe that what I was seeing was real. "Are you a spirit?" I muttered hoarsely, cringing slightly.
The boy, perhaps near Zuna's age, shook his head. "No, I'm not." he looked over me with concern, stopping on my wounded shoulder. "Oh gods! You're hurt, here, just let me," he turned towards a darker patch of shadows. It was dusk, rapidly shifting into night. "Toothless, bud, a little light?" he dumped a small armload of branches onto the ground.
A moan and trill, before fire shot from nowhere! I tried to scramble back, but I was too slow. It didn't hit me. It struck the wood in a burst of purple, lighting a merry little campfire.
And in the brighter light, I could make out the dark form of a dragon. Its green eyes turned to me and it trilled again, stepping closer. I tried to inch away, before slowly reaching for my knife. The boy moved towards the dragon, but I reached out and tripped him.
He landed with a surprised yelp. The dragon growled, glaring at me. "Sh, its' okay bud!" he exclaimed, holding a hand out towards the dragon.
I reached out and yanked him back. "What're you doing?!" I demanded sharply, forcing myself to stand. I lunged before he could answer, knife drawn at the last moment to strike the dragon.
The boy gave a horrified cry of "NO!" and grabbed at me, throwing off my strike. My knife cut deep into the dragons' foreleg before I yanked it back.
It roared in pain and anger and immediately lashed out, raking claws over my injured shoulder as I fell back. claws that were already drenched in its own blood, the blow making my wound cry out with old and new agony, sharp and fresh.
I shrieked and fell back, covering my face as I curled into a ball. Feet thumped against the ground, every other step sounding like the boy was hitting the ground with a metal pole.
"Oh gods, Toothless. Here, let me just," the boy murmured, horrified and worried. A rustling of medicine cloth, the soft whushing of air. "Lets get out of here, bud." The air rushed around me, raising some dust.
I peeked out, just catching the dark shadow of dragon and boy in the night before they vanished like spirits. Hauling myself to my feet, I gasped at the pain, nearly reeling with it. Bracing myself, I turned in the direction of my tribe's dwelling. And whatever awaited me there.
Shaking such thoughts from my head, I slowly began to creep forward, saying softly, "It's me, it's still me," and it was a surprise to hear that my voice was . . . the same. I still sounded like me. Not the growls and cries of a dragon. So I kept repeating my words, along with the names of my companions.
They huddled further from me, squashed together. Then Zuna, my stubbornly brave sister, pushed away from the others. She marched right up to me. I lifted my head hopefully. She drew her knife and I flinched, cowering away from her.
"Zuna, no . . ." I stared up into her amber eyes, sharp and hard as outsider metal. I ducked my head to the deck, pressing my face. . . .muzzle against it. "I won't hurt you. . ." I murmur softly.
Footsteps hit the deck, but no blade struck me.
"Zuna, what are you doing?" Hissed Zaire.
I peeked up, just a little. Zuna was standing before me, her body angled into a sloppy battle stance, knife raised. Zhi was tucking his smaller form behind Zaire's larger frame. Both were completely incredulous and caught between worry for Zuna and caution towards. . . .me.
Her stance did not change. "He is still in there. He's the whole reason we left," I felt an immediate pang of guilt, but she did not once falter. "Quothe is our leader, and more than that, he's my brother; I will fight for him, even to the death."
Zaire and Zhi glanced at one another, before nodding. "But how can we know for sure that he's still in there?"
Zuna paused, before marching over and grabbing a red-stained bowl. Marching back, she sat before me and set the bowl aside. Boldly, she lifted my chin up. She pointed at the bowl, then offered her bare arms.
The bowl had a mix of seawater and red ochre. I understood immediately. I looked up at her with a pleading expression, before giving a slight nod. I looked to my right. . . .paw, eyeing the claws. I tried moving them, and was rewarded as they flexed. Now came the tricky part. Carefully, I moved my claws until only one was sticking out.
Slowly, I dipped it into the bowl, then lifted it dripping red. I let most of it fall back into the bowl, before ever so slowly beginning to mark Zuna's arms. First on side, then the other. A set of stripe, some dots, a whole ring around certain parts. It was sloppy, and a few times I was afraid I'd broken her skin. When I was finished, she turned towards the others and held up her arms.
"See? No other dragon could do it. We all saw him change into one. It is Quothe." she said firmly. I caught an undertone of relief.
Zaire approached me slowly, reaching out a hand. "Quothe?" she hesitated until I nodded my head exaggeratedly. She stooped to one knee and lightly touched my side. She grew thoughtful, calculating this change into our scarce plans.
Zhi approached with more caution, carrying some of our few healing supplies. "You're injured." he stated, crouching beside me and wrapping medicine cloth around my shoulder. I looked myself and caught a glimpse of red tearing through black. A tear going from the shoulder and into my upper arm . . . foreleg . . . whatever, with four or five ragged,red lines perpendicular to it.
I held still, trying not to lash out or growl. When he was at last done, I sniffed at the cloth and then reached out a. . . .paw, lightly batting his shoulder with a chuckle.
Zhi stiffened at first, before grinning weakly at me. "Nothings changed. . . ." he murmured, but I heard him quite clearly.
Zaire was eyeing the suns descending arch into the sea, before roughly patting my side and standing. "Well, it seems you're not sick anymore." was all she said, with the unspoken, Better start working like the rest of us.
Zuna laughed quietly and curled up nearer me, blowing on her arms to dry the paint. "Lets just drop anchor and rest for tonight. We're all exhausted."
Zaire hesitated, then nodded. I sat my hindquarters down and watched with interest as she heaved the strange metal contraption overboard. I'd been too sick before to properly notice the spectacle. The chain was rusty and the sound of clinking, squealing metal hurt my ears. At my best guess, my hearing had been enhanced. I'd have to experiment a little to see what I could and couldn't do.
Exhaustion washed over me and I yawned, wide and loud. I caught the others staring at me in surprise and immediately felt sheepish. Zuna poked one of my ears as it flicked upright. I turned to her, a surprised trill escaping me. She only put her hand on my side and lightly shoved me towards a pile of bedding. I moved towards it on trembling legs, which suddenly decided they didn't want to hold my weight.
As I curled up, I quietly watched the others go about preperations. None of us had been on a boat. Well, excluding Zaire, and even then, not for more than a day or so as part of her training. The rest of us would've had to wait until we were twenty-two back home.
I felt a pang, realizing that, once again, this was all my fault. They wouldn't be stuck out here without me.
Zuna came over, laid down beside me, and pressed her body against mine. I looked at her curiously. Lightly, she tugged on my wing. I allowed her to pull it down over herself, like some sort of blanket. I curled around her and allowed myself to drift off, feeling at peace for the first time in days.
I wasn't sure how long it would last.