Whoo! I can finally post my greatest work of art! Those of you who enjoyed You Whispered My Name As You Died might not appreciate this one, as the emotional setting is significantly different. Those of you who couldn't quite develop a connection with Blitz or Amy should absolutely love it to death, seeing as how it covers an entire event instead of a small section of one. In any case, onward!
Birth of A Dragon
Kill, kill, kill...
The voice echoed menacingly in his mind, never ceasing, never letting up. There was no visible sign that it would ever slow or stop. That horrible voice in his mind urged him to do horrible things, terrible things, morbid things. It told him to slaughter innocents, to rip out the hearts of the weak, and sever the limbs of onlookers.
Kill, kill, kill...
Over and over it spoke to him, repeating those vile words into his undeserving consciousness. He knew that, were he not detained, he would have no choice but to obey that voice and dip his hands into the blood of innocent victims. And while he knew all of this, he knew it only within the deepest confines of his mind, for he had not awoken in some time.
Kill, kill, kill...
Without warning, an electrical current surged through his limbs, and he was awake. His eyes snapped open and he took everything in with a full sweeping glance. He was in a room filled with stainless durasteel desks, littered with vials and research papers. It was dark, but he could clearly see hundreds of thick glass bubbles fixed to each of the walls, stretching into the distant ends of the room, all bubbling with a green glowing fluid. He was in one of these bubbles. The fluid filled his lungs, but he did not drown; it was just as though he breathed air. Numerous thin secretion tubes--no, wires--were connected to his forehead, neck, chest, arms and legs via circular electropads. He struggled, but his body would not obey him; the wires were excreting an electric charge that prevented him from controlling his own body. That electric current was what had yanked him from his restless sleep.
A figure approached the tube that he was suspended in—which he realized that he somehow knew was a cryogenic chamber—wearing a smug look. The figure had sleek black hair and a shiny pair of monocles; he sported a plain white coat that fell to his knees. Beneath the white coat was a pair of black coveralls, and his feet displayed tall black boots. He snapped a pair of rubber gloves onto his hands and reached for a control panel beneath the cryotank. The fluid slowly drained from within the tank and Drake descended to the bottom with it. He felt an immense fatigue wash over him as he sank, and he went limp against the bottom of the tank while the fluid continued to drain. Sparks emitted from the thin wires attached to his body; the electrical current that coursed through them now sputtered and died.
From a speaker at the top of the cryotank echoed a voice and the sound haunted him. He could still feel the evil words reverberating in his mind, throbbing against his skull and giving him a headache.
Kill, kill, kill...
The voice said, "Well, my subject, it appears that you have finally awoken." The man—presumably a scientist or researcher—rose from the control panel and grinned broadly at Drake. "You have proved quite useful in my experiments—I believe that you are the culmination of my life's work, boy."
Awareness crept back into the corners of Drake's mind as the fatigue fled, leaving behind a physical and mental strength that he had never felt before. The awareness heightened his senses, and he could feel that there were other beings in the room, but what they were exactly he could not tell.
The scientist seemed to notice Drake's heightened abilities and his eyes sparkled with delight. He adjusted the monocles, which had slipped down his nose a bit, back into place. "I must admit, you are quite a remarkable specimen. To think that such a young boy could posses so much power, even before he has matured." The grin dropped from the man's face and he darted back to the control panel. "Do you feel strong enough to walk, boy?" he asked as the duraglass covering of the cryotank slipped down into the machine with a hiss. The scientist rose from the panel again and placed his hands behind his back, grinning in amusement.
The air around him was cold, Drake noticed, and he shivered. He clambered out of the tank with lanky limbs--more lanky than he remembered. The only article of clothing on his body was a pair of plain, tan boxers. As he observed this, he became suddenly aware that his body was a deep black, black as the darkest shadow.
As though he had been anticipating this, the scientist chuckled.
"Impressed, my boy?" he asked, brimming with excitement. Without effort or prompting, Drake noted that the man was exceedingly enthusiastic. "You have a new color scheme, I hope you enjoy it. It is far more intimidating than your previous light-skinned complexion."
To his surprise, it occurred to Drake that the scientist was a good two feet shorter than him. The extent of changes to his body was disturbing—how had this happened? "Did you...?" Drake began, noting that his voice was much deeper than he remembered; much deeper than the voice of a mature man. "Did you do this to me...?"
For a moment, the scientist faltered in words, then he threw back his head and guffawed. "Of course I did, boy!" he choked out through the spastic fits of laughter. The man struggled to control the spasms, and once he succeeded, he quickly composed himself. "Excuse me," he apologized, bowing. "I did not mean to be rude, but your question was rather foolish." He turned and walked to a desk littered with pens and papers; amidst the junk, a holofile sat, sleek and undisturbed and apparently new.
The man motioned for Drake to follow, and he did so. "The transformation you have undergone marks a revolution in mutagen physics," the man stated matter-of-factly. He opened up the holofile and brought up a display that portrayed mind-numbing records of phase-breaking (a method of restructuring genetic particles--creating mutants). In the center of the holoscreen was a cascade of DNA strands magnified billions of times, its particles being rearranged and replaced rapidly. "Using the cellular make-up of dragons as a basis," the scientist continued, "I have altered your genetic structure and integrated dragon DNA into your bloodstream. The phase-break is very unique and is often unrecognized by the body. A new method was designed to delay the body's reactions to the mutagen; thusly, the body came to recognize it and I was able to integrate it into your genetic structure. Many subjects rejected the injection, though; you were the first to survive." The man shut the holofile with a single hand, grinning mischievously.
Another astonishing fact crept into Drake's mind as he realized that, though he was unschooled in mutagen-physics, he understood every word of what the scientist told him. In fact, he understood much more than he had been taught in school: the cryogenics, the molecular structure, and now mutagen-physics!
Another question popped into his mind. "Why do I know this...?" he asked, unsure of how to translate the thought into words. So much knowledge was packed into his mind now; he could not sift through it effectively without aid.
The monocles on the man's nose shifted again and he pushed them back into place. "Simple!" he exclaimed. "The method used required a direct injection of cells into your body. Those cells were freshly sampled from the Great Dragon itself."
Something snapped deep within Drake's mind. A spinning sensation overcame him and the world melted away like running water. He gazed into the nothingness and saw everything: past, present, distant lands, other worlds, the heavens themselves; they all swarmed his mind, unlocking the dam that held back the knowledge locked within him, and he suddenly knew more than his own mind could bear.
Desperate to preserve consciousness, Drake's mind rebuilt the dam, holding back the knowledge that he had only glimpsed. The world blurred into recognition again, and he was on his hands and knees, gasping for breath.
The scientist was staring in absolute amazement. "So you... you saw it?" he stuttered in disbelief. "You saw into the mind of the Great Dragon?"
Drake feared for a moment that the mention of that word would break the dam again, but it held firm. His mind had become stronger than ever, held more knowledge than any man in the world. But he could not touch it for fear of sudden death.
"You did!" exclaimed the scientist enthusiastically. "You have gazed through the eyes of eternity!" He slapped his hands together triumphantly and almost hopped in happy glee, but managed to settle himself before it came to that. Clearing his throat, he spoke calmly, "I was hoping this would happen. Although, mention of certain events or names may trigger the release of massive information in your mind; so much so that your mind would literally ache with its coming." He put his hands behind his back again. "I will ensure that all know not to trigger these releases around you. I wouldn't want my first surviving dragon mutagen subject to meet such a pitiful end, now, would I?"
The man turned and walked purposefully toward the depths of the massive room. After several yards, he stopped and turned to see that Drake was not following. "Come forth, we must dress you and present you to the commander," he said. Seeing little else to do Drake followed.
Drake examined himself in a mirror held before him by what must have been the modern equivalent of squires. The little beings were obviously not human; he could not see their faces, for their short bodies were hidden in cloaks that fell all the way to their feet, which were a greenish-yellow hue. From what he could see, they appeared impish, bordering on cute. The tiny people nervously weaved around him, determinedly taking measurements and calculating the attire he should wear. Drake could not understand them, for they spoke a dialect with which he was not familiar. It was composed majorly of indiscernible clicks, squeaks and chirps. They chittered endlessly as the beady little eyes scanned him, their hands working away with measuring tapes. The constant movement and noise made him nervous; he struggled not to fidget.
When the squire holding the mirror began to argue with another of the squires and wave the mirror around threateningly, Drake took the mirror in his own hands and gazed into it with motley of interest, reverence, and sadness. His body had changed much more than he had seen in the laboratory; not only was his skin the darkest black, but his eyes were solid white, no pupils. His hair had also changed from a cropped, dark brunette to a long mane of milky white. His arms were strong, very strong, and his chest and stomach were somewhat muscular, despite the fact that he had been in suspended animation for—God knew—how long.
Behind him, the squire who had held the mirror leapt upon another of the squires, who squeaked in surprise, and began pummeling him while the other squires, chirping nervously, tried to calm him and peel him off of the surprised victim.
Drake continued to look sadly at himself as the fight broke up and the little beasts quickly selected a heavy-looking breastplate and taserproof steel mail from an assortment of gear in the small armory. Other than he and the squires and the equipment, the room was empty. Drake wondered silently where he was and why he was here. His memory was fuzzy, and the events surrounding his existence prior to the cryotank were locked away along with the vast amounts of knowledge he had been subject to.
Too much had happened too fast, and he had difficulty taking it all in. Who was he? How did he get here, and why was he here? Where was his family—whom he distinctly remembered knowing—and who were they exactly?
The squires had now selected an entire outfit of shiny new armor for him to wear, and stretched his arms out in order to dress him. As Drake looked into the mirror, he centered his mind and tried to squeeze small bits of information from the dam. A trickle of facts about cryogenic chambers and the negative side-effects of being in stasis for prolonged measures of time slipped out the dam gracefully. Inwardly, he smiled with success. Drake tried again to crack the dam very slightly; he met with success again as the knowledge that humans did not taste anything like chicken came. That bit made him shudder; how had he come across knowing that? Once more Drake tried to sift through the knowledge. This time, however, he delved too far; the dam shattered and the torrent of unending pain and suffering swept over him, a wave of horrible torment. He recoiled before the squires who seemed confused at first then began chittering about whose fault it was.
Fortunately, his mind was stronger from the 'transformation', as the scientist had called it, and was able to slowly press back the rushing torrents. When the world returned to his vision and he was aware again, he was gripping his head and shutting his eyes tightly.
The chittering and squeaking subsided and the squires grabbed at his steel-clad body to raise him up. He accepted their help and pushed himself up from the ground with difficulty. As he had traversed the confines of his mind, the squires had finished suiting him. The armor was heavy, but impressive; Drake took several steps across the room to find that, though the ensemble was a burden, it was not overbearing. Step by step, he grew more used to the armor, was able to walk briskly and eventually run, although he purposely avoided doing so.
The squires looked at one another as Drake got accustomed to his attire and squeaked with delight when he nodded to them. They shook one another’s hands, and were suddenly in another argument about who squeezed whose hand too hard.
An older man dressed similarly to Drake, but armed with an oddly designed spear, stepped in front of the door. Seeing the bickering squires, he entered the room and kicked one brutally. "Petty fools!" he shouted in irrational anger. "Get back to your bunks and shut up or I'll have you all prematurely cremated in the burner!" The tiny beasts clambered over one another to cower in a corner of the room. Drake flinched at the treatment given the squires and turned away to avoid looking at their frightened eyes.
The man prodded Drake and motioned for him to follow. Trying not to glimpse the shivering beasts, Drake followed the man out of the room and down the hall. "Where are we going?" he asked in an attempt at conversation.
There was no answer.
Drake, unsure that he had been heard, started to ask again when the man spoke. "You are to report to Lord Cyrus Darkling for the induction ritual, then to the Tribune for assignment." Through all this, the man did not look back even once. "I will accompany you to His Lordship's quarters and await your return. Then I will lead you to the Tribune. From there, you are no longer my concern." Cool detachment filtered through his speech; he was a cruel soul, felt no compassion toward others.
'What could do that to a man?' wondered Drake.
Before he knew it, they had reached the Lord's quarters; the man stopped next to the giant double-doors and tapped his spear against the floor twice. The doors swung open dramatically and a film of mist spilled into the floor of the hallway. Inside, the room was majestic, all marble and ornate columns descending to the back where a remarkable chair laden with gold and red velvet sat. With a start, Drake realized this was a throneroom.
"Enter," said an intimidating wizened voice from the back of the throneroom. As Drake did so, his feet parting mist with every step, the voice continued. "I am Cyrus Darkling, Supreme Commander and High Council official of the Dark Horizon organization." Beyond the mist at the far end of the room, a figure sat gloriously upon his throne. "You," he said, "you are Dragon Unit Number One, and shall be christened so."
From the mist came forth five shirtless muscular men with tarps, and a sixth with a red glowing metal staff, the end of which was melded into a symbol--a brand. Before Drake could react, the five men seized his arms and legs, held him facedown in the mist with the tarps. He struggled against them as the sixth man walked over to him, the heat of the red-hot staff stinging his face even from a distance of two feet.
"You shall be branded a knight under oath to Dark Horizon, and will serve under me, then my successor, then his successor, and so forth until the day you die," said Cyrus. "Let it be so!"
The man with the poker thrust it into his back. The brand burned through the tarps effortlessly and pressed against his skin. All throughout the building his cry could be heard.
Sitting in his bunk, Drake tried to ignore the searing pain on his back. He had shed the heavy armor and tried before to nurse the wound, but his arms could not bend at the proper angles. In the room with him were four men, their hair long and unkempt, their beards littered with food and dirt. They smelled of alcohol and manure, and the sensation in his nose made Drake want to vomit.
He had seen the Tribune after his branding, and his assignment seemed simple enough. 'You shall retire to your bunk and await further instruction,' the gnarled old man had said. 'Someone will see you within the next forty-eight hours.'
It had taken some doing but Drake had eventually found someone willing and stable enough to guide him to his quarters. The boy was a new recruit, as was Drake, and knew the pain of the branding. He had taken pity on Drake and offered to be his guide for the next few weeks. "At least I have a friend," Drake said silently to himself.
He was vaguely aware that one of the smelly unkempt men had spoken to him. "Eh?" he replied.
"He mocks you, Ephra`im!" said one of the men. He looked to Drake and spoke brashly, "You heard the man! What did you say?"
One of the other men, presumably Ephra`im, was bubbling with rage. His face had turned red and was shaking violently. Fists clenched audibly all around the room. This Ephra`im character was drunk, and the rest probably were as well. Drake wanted to avoid a fight, for he was unskilled in combat and not accustomed to pain. Scooting toward the back of the bunk, he held his hands up in resignation.
The men were not satisfied. "This boy is—hic!—afraid, Polis!" Ephra`im slurred to the man who had spoken previously. "Let's give 'im somethin' to be afraid of!" Ephra`im and Polis approached Drake, and the other men now rose from their bunks. The thought of bloodshed was appealing to all of them.
Drake swore silently; this was going to hurt. As the men came closer to him, he felt a wave of fear rush over him, and something deep within awakened. Ephra`im was now only feet from the boy; the drunken fool reached out to grab Drake by his arm, but Drake reached forward to push him away.
Kill, kill, kill...
Something leapt across his arm, a searing blur of wrath, and seized the drunkard by the throat. The man's neck broke instantly as Drake realized with a start that the something was his own hand. With lightning-quick speed and strength Drake never knew he possessed, he had strangled the drunkard in one single motion.
The other men jumped in surprise, which was evident on their faces, but quickly regained their wits with another bout of unreasonable anger. Drake heard a faint ring and saw the gleam of a serrated blade in the hand of Polis; a muffled but maniacal laugh escaped the drunk men’s' throats. Drake cowered in the corner of his bunk, fear washing over him again. As it did, that incredible power that lurched across his arm came alive and filled the entire room.
Kill, kill, kill...
The three remaining men suddenly burst into black flames with a cry of shock. A surprised Drake looked around in fear, unable to understand what had happened. The men sizzled for several seconds, then fell to the ground, dead. Horrible burn marks lashed across their bodies, particularly their faces, and gruesome gashes had appeared in their chests. The black flames had carved out their eyes and pierced their hearts--a terrible way to go. Drake's eyes fell upon Ephraim, the first to die, whose body was unmarred by the flames. Blood dripped from the unbreatheing mouth and trickled down his cheek. The eyes were wide with fear.
Sickened by the sight before him, the boy fled the bunks and ran blindly down the hall. He did not care where he was or who these people were; he only wanted out!
A shoulder bumped into his as he darted down the corridor, and he absently heard an angered "Watch it!" He did not stop, however, but continued running sightlessly, mindlessly through the halls, the cobblestone floor rough on his bare feet.
The back of his tunic caught, and he was yanked back into the stomach of a burly man. He bounced forward, turned around to see an intimidating figure. He would have thought of the man as tall, but he was inches taller himself; this vantage point was too unusual for him. "Where do you think you're going?" The voice was scraggly, and its owner haggard. He looked as though he had been rolling down a hill for a week.
Drake tried to answer, but his larynx locked shut. His mouth hung open vainly.
Pleased that he could have such an effect on someone, the man threw back his head and laughed. When he had regained control of himself again, he released the boy's tunic. "Honestly, have they sunk to recruiting children these days?" he complained. Seeing the surprise in Drake's eyes, he added, "Yes, I can tell you're a kid. I can see the stupid in your face. Where are you supposed to be, boy? Where's your SecIdent?"
Drake stared in stupefaction.
The man let out an exasperated sigh, his shoulders slumping. "Aye, Gods, what have you blessed me with today...?" he muttered, and then swore loudly. "Look, kid, have you seen the Tribune yet?"
Drake waited for something to happen; when nothing did, he looked around in embarrassed confusion.
The man cried out in irritation. "Where is the order?!" he shouted angrily at no one in particular. "Where has the power gone?!" He muttered this part, "If this continues, the Alliance will surely grind us to dust!" The swearing man's eyes fell upon the child before him, and he grinned mischievously. "You! Boy." He gestured with one hand, though it was quite obvious that he was talking to Drake. "Are you of the dragon mutagen project?"
Drake nodded and the man's eyes lit up like strobe lights. "Ah!" he exclaimed. "I see now."
Suddenly, he asked, "And how are your bunkmen? Fried to a crisp, I presume?"
Drake stood absolutely still, every muscle in his body frozen. Was he in trouble? Wait... had they bunked him with those drunkards intentionally?
"I see," the man said. "So they are all dead." He waved his hand in dismissal, saying, "It matters not. They were all a bunch of buffoons, anyway.
"Come, follow me, boy. I am your contact, and I shall be your guide for today. What would you like to see of the glorious Dark Horizon?"
Meeting this man had been a blessing; the riotous bunches within the building were not generous. The haggard old veteran had introduced himself as Lord Feral Gardem, a seasoned fighter in a secret war. What he had seen thus far led Drake to believe that the building must be at least the size of a very small city. From what Drake had gathered, this Dark Horizon was an organization attempting to convert the Earth to better ways devised by the High Council--the sovereign leaders of Dark Horizon. It was hard for him to imagine any one of these drunkards converting anyone to anything.
"And this," said Feral, gesturing proudly to the last remaining door in the building they had not yet explored, "is the second greatest creation man has ever yielded." The door hissed open with a puff of steam. The first time that had happened, Drake had been startled, but now he was used to it.
He stepped into the room and his eyes glittered in fascination. It was a hangar filled with impressive aircraft, big and small, intricate and simple, stylized and customized. The sleek designs impressed him more than anything else he had seen within this building. One particular craft, larger than an aircraft carrier, stood above the rest. It was the size of a ten-story building and several times longer than it was tall; the massive proportions only lent to its splendor. The surface was a sheen of shining black with a wavy streak of sky-blue across the side. Broad, curved wings, cluttered with powerful weaponry, stretched outward from the hulking frame which was lit with tiny, glowing, blue lights. The front held a cockpit large enough to fit twenty or thirty people, but the rest of the craft undoubtedly held numerous additional compartments. There was no landing gear, so the hulking behemoth sat upon the floor.
Drake rushed toward the craft, running his hand along the black polished surface. It was truly a wonder to behold.
"She hasn't been tested yet," said Lord Feral, "but I'm certain her performance will be much better outside the atmosphere."
Drake turned and stared at the Lord in bewilderment. "It-it can go into space...?"
Feral laughed jovially. “That’s right, kid! If it were possible to pilot it alone, I might have to steal it,” he joked.
Tribune had called Drake away from the hangar via a small device similar to a cellular phone called a communications link--comlink for short. Lord Feral Gardem had agreed to lead him to the Tribune's office, but was ordered away when they entered; Feral had bowed out respectfully, but muttered "Good luck, kid!" as he left.
Now Drake was staring the Tribune in the eyes, those all-seeing eyes that cut through him like a blade. He gulped in intimidation. The man sat behind an oak desk; the room was dark, save for the dim light of a candle being used as a paper weight. The walls were very close together, each lined in rich silk that bore intricate patterns.
"You will forgo all basic training, as you are the dragon mutagen subject," the Tribune said to him, his voice devoid of emotion. "I will assign you your first mission immediately." The man pushed a parcel across the desk and Drake took it respectfully. He hoped the fear did not show in his face. "You have your orders, boy. Go and wreak havoc."
Drake was not aware that this was a common parting between members of Dark Horizon; he cringed at the expression. The Tribune did not notice, however, for he had delved into piles of unstamped paper work with a pair of monocles. The intimidating figure was gone, replaced by that of a tired intellectual hiding behind a stack of white sheets.
Drake took his leave quietly, unsure what to do. Once out of the small room, he looked around. There was no one nearby, so he decided to take matters into his own hands. If he was going to look like an adult, he would have to act like one. He unclipped the clay stamp that held the end of the parcel shut and opened it up. Inside was a paper, a very simple paper lined in red linen shapes. It read:
Dark Horizon,High Command
This one, test subject AE97 of dragon mutagen project, shall report to B7 for preliminary training only. This one shall be assigned to a mission immediately following preliminary training and will carry it out as such. Should this one fail to carry out assigned mission, this one is to report back to B2 for disciplinary treatment.
Tribune's office (B2),
Admiral Gen Cheval
The signature was almost unreadable, for the Tribune had devised his own writing style so beautiful and intricate that it distracted him every time he tried to read it. He decided that the Tribune's name would not be important and carried on down the halls.
He eventually became aware that there was a large poster upon one wall--a color-coded map--as he passed by and remembered a time several years ago when he had lost Jacqueline in the mall. She had described its purpose to him, noting that she had used the map to find Drake, and he had made a promise to himself to make use of it one day. This was that day.
He examined the map carefully, taking in the details. According to the poster, he was near the northeast corner of the building, and the exit was on the south end. He examined the map again and saw that the path leading to the south wall was complex. Nevertheless, Drake memorized the path and left the map, feeling a rush of pride that invariably came when one completed a difficult task. He silently wondered, though, whether he was becoming an adult or a dragon.
Drake stood before a massive complex of black obsidian, half-buried in a sea of sand. Dust- encrusted double doors parted in front of him, revealing a welcoming darkness within. A brooding man in black armor had escorted him from B2, as it was referred to, to B7 where Drake would receive orders. The man's face was impartial, devoid of emotion; too much like the faces of others, here, in this adult world. Though he hid it well, he silently craved the kind face of his mother.
Suddenly thrust into the body and world of an adult, Drake was feeling very out of place. His eyelid twitched nervously as it had done so for several hours, but the guide did not notice, or if he did, he paid no attention. The young boy searched the face of his escort for purchase of sympathy, but found none. Steeling himself and clenching his fists for reassurance, Drake stepped into the massive obsidian doors.
He was blinded by the darkness for a moment, but his eyes quickly adjusted--a condition of his new form. The area immediately within the complex was barren, save for a plant and a bench, and there was no sign that anyone had ever been there. The floor was one single marble tile stretching to the distant end of the corridor, black with small white speckles. The walls were the same, unobscured by ornaments of any kind.
The echo of footsteps met his ears--distant though they were, his hypersensitive ears picked the sound out with ease. By the sound, it was a man of at least six feet with a strong build. Drake's assumptions met with accuracy as a tall man--almost as tall as he--stepped out of a well-hidden set of doors off of the long corridor. He was masculine, sporting a flashy leather jacket and white undershirt, black khaki pantaloons, and dark sunglasses. His hands were confidently hidden in his jacket pockets. A cigarette burned in his mouth.
"And you are...?" the soldier asked, his glasses sparkling. "A new recruit, I assume."
The man sighed heavily, the cigarette tilting, but remaining in place. "From the dragon mutagen project, correct?"
Drake nodded again, eking a frown from the man. He muttered something about 'too many, too young' and Drake shifted his weight to one foot nervously.
"I am Tribune of B7, Michael Gardem the Twelfth," he introduced himself boldly. "Follow me to my office and I shall assign you your orders."
Drake stifled a start of surprise at the introduction as the man turned and walked back toward the door he had come through. For a Tribune, this man was dressed rather informally, but that was not what had surprised him. The name... Gardem--he was related to Lord Feral! Nevertheless, the boy fell silently into step behind him, holding his forms to his chest nervously.
Drake stared in horror at the walls in his new bunk at B7. This time, he was the only one in the room, but he felt as though he were surrounded by horrible demons. What his orders entailed was far too gruesome for him to imagine; he shuddered quietly.
Shadows flitted across the white walls, casting dreadful images in the darkest places. The empty bunks seemed lonely, frightening. Greater and greater fear crept upon him, preventing sleep. He could not stop thinking of that horrible message:
Concerning dragon mutagen project, Agent 590326:
This one is to report for duty at 1300 hours in stall court nine. This one is to aid in holding the enemy at bay from all stall courts; take no prisoners, kill all intruders, and do not--under any circumstances--allow any men into or out of the base or stall courts for the duration of 1300-1600 hours. All who resist will be executed without hesitation. Orders are absolute and not subject to question at any time.
Tribune's office (B7)Commander Michael Gardem
Drake shuddered at the thought; he would have to kill people! Shadows continued sweeping over him. There were no windows here, nor was there any light; the bulb had been burst by whoever possessed this bunk previously. Yet, the shadows heeded no reason, and continued spiraling, cascading, dancing over him and the walls.
Drake shivered in his boots, his armor rattling softly. The armory had dressed him in a golden breastplate and silver leg guards. Tight-fitting iron gauntlets covered his arms, and a scabbard containing a light-weight longsword was strapped to a leather belt at his waist. He had never used a sword in his life, yet they insisted that the weapon would come second nature to him.
Packed into a crowd of sweaty men in a large room—what was referred to as a stall court, but was more of a lobby than a court of any kind—Drake felt less at home than ever. Belligerence oozed from these peoples' eyes and fingers and mouths, a frightening thirst for fresh blood. As soon as the large hangar door slid up, revealing the sunlight, they would taste the flesh of their victims.
Drake wanted only to get out of there; he did not want to kill, nor did he want to hold a sword. It seemed as years since he and his brother had fought playfully with sticks, fashioned in their minds to be blades that could easily strike one another down. This was far different from that childish game; now it was real. The sword at his waist could bite into flesh, tear a man apart.
A restless soldier next to him squirmed uncomfortably, though his face was lit with a blood-thirsty grin, and bumped into Drake. He turned on the boy like a striking serpent, whipping out a jagged knife. The knife stopped threateningly at Drake's neck, but even the prospect of being struck awakened a nauseating power deep in his stomach. It snaked out through his face, erupting with a bursting pain, and a loud cry was heard. The ground quaked vehemently as a massive power swept over the room, and numerous men around Drake began dropping like twigs in a wave. Drake was at the center of the falling men. He suddenly realized that the loud cry had been his own.
The quake died as suddenly as it had come, but the effects had been tremendous. Drake looked around him to see at least two-hundred men lying, dead, on the cold steel floor. Blood filtered out from the various skulls that had struck too hard, merging with the blood of others, and coalesced across the floor. The blood trailed to Drake, and he jumped in surprise at the cold touch. Some of the men had been thrown against the walls, their bodies spattering gore in all directions.
Fear snuck upon him. What had happened? Had he done this? The implication that he could have slaughtered so many people in mere moments frightened him. Drake stepped back, mortified by the morbid sight. A flicker of knowledge seeped from the dam at the back of his mind, but the floodgates held. He was not overcome by the vast wisdom locked within; it seeped out in tiny bits. Deep within himself, he was witness to horrible war, murder, senseless violence, thievery, crime, and every sort of heinous act.
Consumed by fear and internal suffering, Drake tore through the bodies, his eyes shut tightly. Vaguely, he was aware of the massive hangar door giving way beneath him, and the strong sunlight shining down on his black skin. He did not look back, but continued running and running and running—forever, it seemed—as his sense of time faded into nothingness. Tears left a trail behind him in the sand, then in the grass. He continued running until he could run no more. Finally, fatigue crashed over him and he collapsed into the grass...
The commander, seated atop the barrel of a massive mortar tank, shouted loudly, "Tear down the hangar door!" His voice reverberated in the heat of the day, causing beads of sweat to form on his forehead and trickle down his prickly chin. Soaked beyond repair from moisture, his tunic clung to his body. His black pants attracted the heat, burning his legs.
The men obeyed, most of them retreating behind the frontlines to man large cannons. Fire rained from the skies, battering the door, but it did not open. Surely the enemy should know what transpired immediately outside their gates, thought Commander Viscen Zeth. "What the Hells are they doing...?" he wondered aloud.
Suddenly, the hangar door gave way under one of the fireballs. Seeing this, Viscen roared out, "Storm the troops! Don't let them form up!"
The men obeyed once more, swarming toward the hangar like hornets. But suddenly, they stopped. Viscen waited for something to happen, but the men simply stood around stupidly. After a moment, he bellowed, "Attack!" but the army instead began to diverge. "What in the Hells is going on?!" Viscen shouted to no one in particular.
The army parted, and a single man came forward. When he reached the commander, he knelt on one knee. "My lord, you must come and see this." The slim man, a runner, rose again and beckoned Viscen.
Puzzled, the commander leapt down from the barrel and followed the runner through the two columns of confused men. The complex was half a kilometer away from them, and it took several minutes for them to reach it, but when they did, Viscen was aghast at a horrible sight.
The bodies of countless dead littered the inside of the hangar, leaking trails of crimson. Some men were slumped against the walls, smears of blood marking the walls above their heads. They had all died in a sort of circular pattern, the bodies forming a spiral to a single point where a pool of blood had converged.
These people, these mutilated corpses, were the enemy of the Alliance. Yet, the very sight was sickening even to the most sadistic persons. Whoever, or whatever, had done this had no affiliation with the Alliance, and was therefore a direct and immediate threat to society.
Viscen shuddered, for a chill had surged through him despite the hot sun on his back. Slowly he turned, his face grave and the sight still burned into his cornea. "Fall back," he said, but his voice was a rasp and did not carry as he intended. He cleared his throat, and then repeated in a much more commanding tone, "Fall back!"
The runner still knelt before him, expecting an additional command. Viscen nodded to him, saying, "Send scouts into the desert--whatever did this could still be out there."
Nodding, the runner stood and streaked off into the distance.
Another chill brushed Viscen's spine; he shuddered to shake it off, but he could not dispatch the morbid image from his mind.
Drake awoke with a start, feeling cold, tired and hungry. His limbs felt like lead, but his eyes were urged open by a low rumble from his stomach. He was sprawled out on the grass, softly illuminated by the stars in the sky, his legs and arms spread out as though an iron maiden stretched them. His head lay on its side, and his ear tickled against the soft ground. Somewhere nearby, a cricket chirped happily. A haunting hoot echoed in the distance.
A new awareness had lurked into the back of his mind, prowling the depths with boisterous stomps. It hissed at him when he beckoned, for he was not its master. The awareness must be that of a dragon, he thought. But what am I to do with it? He decided that the only thing he could do was let it wander his mind territorially.
A fuzzy sensation met his hand, and he turned his head to see what it was. A young white rabbit was sniffing curiously at his hand, which was still callused by the days of creeping through a cobblestone building. Its long ears twitched nervously, but it was bold enough to have approached him in the first place. An unexpected thought caused a pang of guilt through his mind. No, he thought, it's too cute! But, then again, he was hungry...
He decided to let the fur ball live; instead, he shed his armor and wandered through a nearby forest until he found an owl perched on a low branch. After seizing it with a killing blow, he lit a fire--for the first time in his life--and roasted the bird until the feathers had burned off. Unfortunately, by that time the entire bird was shriveled, black and unfit for eating.
Drake tried to find another owl, but apparently word had spread that a hungry dragon was on the prowl. Not even a cricket made a sound as he crept through the trees of a forest. Eventually, he found a squirrel chattering noisily in a tree; he had found its nest, and it would not abandon its young.
Unsatisfied though he was with his meal, Drake let the grateful forest animals rest for the night. Now he sat on a log he had hewn to lie by his second campfire, wondering what to do next. Torn from his mother and cast into this world of adult men with no one to turn to, nowhere to go, nothing to do, he sat and thought. He had no idea where he was, and no idea how to get home. There was little hope that he would ever see either his brother or Jacqueline again; despite that, he did not feel too discouraged.
Now that his hunt was over, the nocturnal animals began their nightly chorus again. Soundless evening turned to beautiful night as Drake brooded in front of his campfire. Obviously, he was quite capable of taking care of himself; he just felt so lonely here. Once more, the same white rabbit hopped gaily to him, stopping to gingerly sniff his boots. Drake smiled at the small, furry animal. Despite being watched by something that it inherently knew to be a threat, it bounded fearlessly into danger. He mused on the similarity between the rabbit and himself, and he felt a sudden calm blanket him. Being as gentle and slow as he dared, he reached down and stroked the rabbit. The animal did not run, but brushed itself against his hand. Its fur was soft under Drake's callused fingers.
Hours passed, unbeknownst to Drake, as he held the brave rabbit in his arms. At least, he thought, I have something to cherish. He looked down at the fluffy, white bundle sleeping peacefully in his care, wishing that he could sleep in the same way.
Drake awoke with a start, the nightmare still fresh in his mind. He had not remembered falling asleep, but he was laid out behind the log while the rabbit nuzzled his chin gently. The furry animal's presence soothed him, and the nightmare of wicked men tearing at him with spears and swords became but a distant memory.
His pet snuck out from his arms as he rose, and began nibbling at a blade of grass. Drake's stomach growled as he watched, but he did not even think of the rabbit as potential prey. Looking around, he saw that the sun was a good ways into the sky, shining warmly on his back. The campfire had long since burned out, leaving only singed grass and charred rocks in its place.
Confident that his pet would not leave without him, Drake set out to find something to eat. Not far into the forest, he discovered a bush filled with berries; deep in his mind, the awareness told him that these were fit for eating. After gorging himself on the tangy fruits, he ripped a section of his tunic off and filled it with more. Then he ripped off a bit of his sleeve and tied the makeshift bag shut.
When he returned to his camp, the rabbit was waiting patiently on the log, its jittery nose constantly testing the air, its red eyes always searching for its mutual friend. Drake crouched and laid out the bag before the rabbit, untied it, and handfed some of the fruits to it. After it had had its fill of the offering, it nuzzled his leg affectionately. Drake scratched its neck--the softest part of its body--and took it up in his arms.
The bag of berries was still more than half-full, so food would not be a problem for at least a day. Taking precautions, he returned later that day to refill the bag and to fill a second. By the time he was done, his tunic was tattered, but still wearable.
When he returned, the rabbit was waiting for him. It leapt gracefully into his arms when he crouched, and nuzzled his chin affectionately. His companion sitting comfortably in his arms, Drake set to wandering the countryside. Surely, he would encounter a town or a village of some sort.
Night fell eerily upon the army as they settled into a grassy plain, that night. The stars twinkled almost mockingly, criticizing the humans' pathetic attempt at survival, for death could creep upon them at any moment in an awful form, some vile conjuring of man.
Viscen's entire force would spend the night on edge, he knew; the fear of whatever horrible monster had slaughtered an entire Dark Horizon outpost in the span of minutes--judging by the fact that they had all died while still in the stall court--bore heavily on their minds.
A centurion wandered up to him, his legs wobbling under the effort of walking. "Commander," he rasped, "we have all spent the fortnight with little rest. My men are tired and hungry," he made a broad gesture of his hand to encompass the mass of units huddled around countless fires. "They grow wearier with each passing day, and our mission is annulled by this discovery. When shall we return to our base?"
The commander had been mulling over this, absently stirring a stick in his own beacon of flames. "Our mission is not yet done, Centurion," Viscen said simply. "We shall find this abomination and destroy it. Then we shall return."
The centurion reclined on the log next to his commander. He, too, grabbed a stick and swirled it in the growing flames. The warmth of the hearth was comforting, but could not drive away the weariness in his knees. "Do you swear upon our namesake, commander?" he jested, a grin escaping his despairing face. "Do you swear upon the name of Keir?"
The commander chuckled softly, amused by the belittling of that sacred name by one who carried it. "I do so swear, O Lord Balrog of the Keir name," he returned. "Complete thy mission and ye shall have solace."
Balrog choked down a laugh at Viscen's bad Old English accent. "You are as foolish as ever, Milord!" the centurion spat jokingly through his fits of laughter.
Though Viscen smiled at his old friend's appreciation, his eyes were drawn to the flames. It's silent crackle of sympathy was not enough to quell the pain that his sister, Cora, had inflicted upon him. Perhaps I was foolish, he thought. Perhaps salvation cannot be hoped for.... Maybe we truly are lost.
Crinkle, crunch, crunch, crinkle...
The leaves snapped under Drake's bare feet as he trudged through a field; he had shed his boots long ago, for they wore on his tired heels. Soft dew from the grass had eased the discomfort, but the occasional sting of a bur or twig did rouse annoyance. The sword, still strapped to a belt at his waist, clinked softly with each step he took. Fearing that some horror would sneak up on him, he had returned to his first camp and retrieved the weapon. Though he felt uncertain when he held it, it offered protection and a sense of security; for that, he was grateful.
His pet, whom he had named Bristle for its tendency to tickle his feet when he slept, was reclining peacefully in his arms. Its motor-like nose was the only part of its body that never rested. Drake found this quality amusing, and squeezed the rabbit affectionately. Bristle responded by nudging his chin, and the dragon-boy smiled.
Travel in the forests and fields was not easy-going, though far easier than the edge of a bog he had passed through some hours ago. Drake preferred to stay toward the grassy terrain where wild animals were less of a threat and the footing was not so uncertain. After an hour more of tireless walking, the boy happened upon a stream of fresh water. Stopping for rest and a drink, he reflected on what had happened to him during the past week, and attempted once more to draw out slight bits of information from the dam.
Recently, he had met with much success; though he did not always understand what he drew out, future information would always explain what he had drawn previously. Drake liked to think of this as a game: he was playing a round of poker against his subconscious, and every time he won a hand, he acquired useful hints. If he lost a hand, however, he was punished with a strong headache, though the pains grew much weaker over time.
One successful attempt had leant him the knowledge of how to condense twigs and grass into pellets, which were suitable for consumption by a rabbit. Bristle had been overjoyed with the meal, for Drake had happened upon a patch of spices which he had used to make his own recipe. It felt odd to be accompanied by such a friend on his trek, but whenever Bristle was pleased, Drake was pleased; likewise for the rabbit. Drake supposed the oddity would recede over time.
However, he had traveled for days, and had yet to happen upon a town. Homesickness was slowly taking hold of him, and he grew more and more discouraged. For Bristle's sake, he tried to remain happy, but it was not easy to impose emotions on himself. Companionship, he valued most, and he would not be a burden on the rabbit, lest it be compelled to leave him.
A tear streaked down his cheek and dripped off of his chin. Bristle's head rose up, suddenly, and it caught the tear--in midair--with its tongue. Drake chuckled softly at the tiny animal's antics. But the sadness within his heart would not go away.
Suddenly, for a moment, Drake felt as though he were being watched. Bristle sensed its companion's muscles tighten, and curled itself up into a cute ball in his arms. Drake turned, expecting some lunatic with a gun, or a mercenary with a knife. But there was no one; only the wispy wind whipped across the grass.
Viscen sat atop the barrel of his tank on that same day, issuing orders from his perch. Luck had led them to a mound, the remains of a campfire, littered with shed armor bearing the mark of the dragon. From it, they picked up an odd trail of static burst leading westward. There were no settlements in that direction, only vast miles of grasslands and low valleys.
Commander Viscen grinned with satisfaction as the army moved orderly through Jura's Bog, but was beginning to grow concerned. At this rate, they would run directly into a Dead Zone within three days; while this would trap the abomination between their army and the brink of death, battle on such terrain would be very treacherous. Nevertheless, the units plunged on, making way for the occasional tank. Approximately thirty yards away, Viscen spied Balrog hurrying excitedly toward him. The commander rapped hard three times on the lid of the tank and it rolled to a stop. Balrog skidded in front of him and clambered up the tank.
"Commander!" he exclaimed loudly.
Viscen rubbed his ear, letting the centurion know that he was being excessively noisy.
Balrog took the hint and calmed himself before he spoke again. "Commander," he continued, "a runner has informed me that a lone man is traversing the plain only two miles ahead of us."
Balrog pulled a snapshot out of his pocket and handed it to Viscen, who observed it carefully. A seemingly inconspicuous mercantile was turning in surprise to the camera. The shot was a zoom, and the runner was still alive, so the runner had obviously not been seen.
Viscen dropped the hand holding the photograph into his lap. "This could be anyone, centurion," the commander grumbled. "What compelled you to show me this?"
Balrog continued grinning stupidly. "He is easily eight feet tall. Look at his hair and skin."
Expecting disappointment, Viscen did so, and was met with surprise to realize that the man's skin was surpassing black, and his hair was a pure, milky white. Viscen jerked his face to meet Balrog's, who was still grinning. "This is it?" he exclaimed. "This is the one we've been searching for!"
"Your command, Lord Zeth?" Balrog quested.
Viscen steeled himself, drooping his head in thought. If this monstrosity was truly what Dark Horizon made it out to be, combatting it would be extremely dangerous, even with this many men. The proof of that lay in a spiral back at the enemy base. A careful strategy would have to be laid out in order to deal with it.
Recently, though, Viscen found himself wondering why a dragon-man would turn on his own allies. He had pushed the thought aside, though it now crept back into his mind, seeking an answer. Something told him the answer was imperative to fulfillment of this mission.
"We will work out a strategy later," he said to Balrog. "For now, take it alive if possible. If not, spare it no mercy. Dismissed."
Balrog nodded respectfully and leapt off of the tank. The centurion hit the ground running, a graceful acrobat.
Drake looked around in confusion. The sky before him was black with soot and smoke, plants were dead, and the air was a little thin. Jacqueline had once told him of dangerous places around the world called Dead Zones, but Drake had never thought he would see one for himself. Bristle had always been content to be petted by a comforting hand, but now the little white rabbit seemed nervous, on edge.
The dragon boy determined that travel beyond this point would be unwise, and so he turned back. Something in the distance caught his eye, and he was suddenly aware that he was being watched. Some hundred yards away and to the west lay a grove of trees; as Drake recalled the grotto amid those trees in which he had spent the previous night, a tiny shape hurtled toward him.
He leapt aside, and the object missed him by mere centimeters. Careful to watch for more of the shapes, he backed to where it had fallen. The object was a long, thin cylinder with feathers lazily embroidering one end and a sharp needle protruding from the other. It was a dart.
As Drake stood and stepped a little to his left, another dart hurtled past his ear, emitting a sharp ring where Drake's neck had been moments ago. The dragon boy whipped around, watching for another of the darts, determined to snuff out the attacker. For seconds, nothing happened, but then yet another dart leapt from the eastmost section of the grove. Drake dashed forward, the dart's entry point marked firmly in his mind and targeted with eagle-like, white eyes.
Another dart whipped by, missing him by millimeters, but it had come more from the left this time. 'Great,' he thought, 'there are two of them!' Heedless of the second dart, though, he rushed on, gaining speed as he approached the grove.
Excitement filled the air around him; Bristle became anxious and wiggled in his arms, feeling the wind leap and dive around its master. Suddenly, the trees opened up before him, and the sharpshooter was revealed. The man, shrouded in a black cloak, jumped in surprise from behind his bush, the dartgun falling from his hands. Consumed by terror, the assailant failed to notice the tiny white rabbit that scampered to a nearby tree, awaiting its master's return. One arm leapt down his throat, tearing the esophagus apart. Blood spurted from the open wound, and the man gripped his crimson neck with his dying breath. Drake's hand retracted, covered in slippery blood, and in the same motion he danced aside as another dart whickered by, a high-pitched whine echoing in its wake. He rushed toward that point, but a stinging pain stopped him. Instinctively, he ripped the dart out of his back and tossed it aside. Strangely enough, Drake did not feel the effects of the sedative; he plunged on through the forest, making certain to zigzag in unpredictable patterns.
Twice, a dart hurtled by, missing by only centimeters or millimeters, always coming dangerously close to his head, chest or thigh. When his target suddenly rose from behind a bush, dartgun ready to fire, Drake leapt into the air, sailing high above. Time slowed as he rose, gliding toward the enemy with effortless grace. The dart sailed harmlessly several feet below, and the assailant could only stare up in stupefied horror as the monster came down on him like a demon, killing with a slash of claw-like fingers.
A head rolled away grotesquely, but the dragon was on the move again. His back to the dead man, Drake turned the other direction, leaping to a tree branch above as another dart whickered by. As soon as his feet struck the branch, he pushed off, flying even above the treetops. Then the trees parted before him, and the ground rose up to meet him. In a fluid motion, the dragon boy hit the ground running. That single bound had covered so much ground that the last assailant was only feet away when he landed. Drake slashed his throat in passing, and skidded aside in the dust to see his handiwork.
Three men, all at least twenty yards from one another, were dead, their gut staining the dragon's tunic and tainting his black skin. Drake looked down at his arm, still poised for attack, and the morbidity of what he had done suddenly landed, like a sack of bricks, in his head. The forearm was coated in blood which sluiced off him in syrupy arcs. The sticky gore stunned him; he had never known that cutting a man's throat would yield so much blood.
For just a moment, he thought he heard a twig snap, and he turned, muscles tense and ready to strike once more. But there was nothing, not even a breeze.
A fuzzy sensation tickled the heel of his foot, and he turned to see his friend nuzzling him affectionately. He let his muscles relax a bit, and knelt down to pet the rabbit with his clean arm. Bristle sported a few tiny red speckles in his fur, but was otherwise still clean and unharmed. A tear rolled down the dragon man's cheek--no matter what he did, this friend would still remain at his side. Pangs of guilt and sorrow wracked his mind, and he collapsed on the ground, sobbing.
Balrog flinched in repressed regret, for some of his favorite men were now dead. "And did you catch sight of the monster?" he asked, trying to hide the sorrow for his men in the back of his mind.
The sentry nodded his head low with horror. This man had never seen the bloodiness of battle before, and the slaughtering had steeped his mind into a deep, inward anxiety. His head was low, and his gaze distant, as he spoke. "I watched the monster," he rasped, almost a whisper, for his voice was hoarse from screaming, "kill the three men with tallons of steel from his hands. That beast was upon them, slaughtered them, all before the Keirs themselves had a chance to react." The sentry's face grew pale with the horrid memory. "The demon took the shape of the Nephilim, its strength and speed was ungodly. It flew through the skies, even, tore off a man's head as it landed on the ground, and there was a great cry that rendered my soul in twine."
Balrog shuddered at the news. 'How can we even hope to capture such a dreadful demon alive, more the less destroy it?' he wondered. Postulations and stratagems ran through his mind, but all ended in disaster. His mind could not conceive of a way to kill, or even subdue, such a violent creature. The centurion swore inwardly.
Only one course of action came to his mind that did not involve rampant, inevitable death, and that was retreat. Balrog let out a long sigh of defeat, and waved the sentry out of his tent. "Tell Commander Zeth that we will fall back and abandon the mission," he said, though a silent dread filled his bones. The commander was not one to admit defeat, even against terrible odds.
Though still pale and withdrawn, the sentry bowed elegantly, then trudged out of the tent, leaving Balrog to muck in his depression. He was almost certain that Viscen would overrule him on the matter, and this terrified him. Once, almost a decade ago, he had fought a true dragon on the distant planet, Y'vakka Prime, and had very nearly been killed. Disturbing memories of fatal wounds and first-degree burns resurfaced, and brought with them a deeper veil of depression.
Drake awoke to the sound of a running stream and happy birds chirping at midday. Thin, black eyelids snapped back over milky white eyes, and the sight of his arm, still drenched in blood and water, greeted him grimly. His face was still tear-stained, and his hair was matted with water. Musing that he must have wandered to this stream without thinking and tried to wash away the blood, the dragon boy rose to his knees.
Bristle was hopping out of the stream, shaking its wet fur jovially. The speckles of blood were gone, washed away by the running water. Seeing its master was now awake, it slunk toward him playfully, then leapt into his arms. Drake hugged the still-wet rabbit, grateful for its companionship; in this lonely world, he needed a friend.
The sun shone hotly on the ground, but a lone tree by the river shaded Drake selflessly. In the distance, to the north, smoke billowed into the sky, a giant pillar of darkness. The dragon's heart dropped into his feet, then, as he realized that an entire camp of men had followed him here, likely with the intent of harming, or even killing, him. Fear crept around him, all unbidden, and the little white rabbit in his arms responded by nuzzling him.
"Will I have to kill even more people?" he said absently to Bristle. "Will I have to use these hands for murder again?" The rabbit nudged him, then seemed to notice the pillar of smoke beyond the distant grove. It stared, along with its master, at the gargantuan message that simply cried out:
"Will you not reconsider, Milord?" Balrog pleaded to Viscen in the simple unadorned tent. Commander Zeth sat behind a plain desk, hardly hearing the centurion's words, for his attention was on a stack of unsigned paperwork. Now, he focused on Balrog, scratching his chin and feeling the traces of a beard returning. "Many men may die because of this decision."
Night descended unexpectedly this day, and the pillar of smoke that Viscen had ordered released still hung above the camp. Silent darkness surrounded the encampment, and no fires had been lit. Everyone slept in fear of the dragon monster, for rumors of the dead had already reached the ears of every unit taking part in the campaign. Darkness was the only comfort; perhaps if the enemy could not perceive them, it would not attack.
The commander looked his underling firmly in the eye, sending a bolt of intimidation through the centurion's heart. "If we turn back now," he said, his voice dripping with acid for Balrog's current lack of honor, "the lives of your men will have perished in vain." The commander returned his focus to the paperwork, shuffling through it with a stamp in one hand. "By moving on, I redeem the bloodguilt of your hands, O' wise Balrog Keir."
Another crushing glare from the commander pierced through Balrog's soul. "If you do not follow me, and instead fall back, you will be held responsible for the deaths of these men, Keir." His gaze was hot with anger, now. "They were your own family; they served you faithfully, without question. Shall you abandon their loyalty now that they are dead?"
The centurion's heart sank again, memories of his dead relatives being relived in his imagination. Their laughter and compliments of his fighting skill rang in his ears, bringing painful remembrance of happy moments; he could not face his commander. "Milord, I was not thinking," he said despairingly. "Forgive my ignorance." He knew that, with his saying this, he would give up any hope of returning home with the remainder of his men. Bound to his own oath of heritage, falling back was now a sin punishable by death--even if none were capable of carrying out his punishment, Balrog would not abandon the loyalty of his fallen cousins.
Viscen rode atop a tank barrel once more as it plowed through the wilderness, toppling sturdy plants and bushes like twigs. Resolute justice was on his mind--the image of good men felled by a demon of untold power echoed loudly in his mind, and he returned it with an expression of pure hatred. No mercy would be shown this monster. He would kill it with his own hands.
Balrog piloted a small hovercraft aside the tank. The slight craft resembled a fish with its sloping front and long, swept tail. Wings without a purpose, other than for show, emerged from either side, both laden in taser cannons and heavy concussion weapons. For a lack of doors, Viscen could see Balrog clearly through the side of the hovercraft. The youthful centurion was visibly fearful, but there was no shame; everyone was afraid now.
The commander himself hid his fear even from himself, determined to conquer this abomination. But as he repressed this emotion, something tugged at the back of his mind. The dragon was obviously capable of defending itself, so why had it not yet attacked the camp? Cutting down the foe would be much simpler than eluding it, but this creature, though sentient, continued to run rather than fight. Perplexed, Viscen put the thought aside; there were more important things to worry about.
Two runners suddenly emerged over the side of Viscen's tank, both exhausted. "Sir!" the first gasped, still trying to catch his breath. "We..." he could not finish his sentence, for he was overcome by wheezing.
The other runner, who was in far better shape, continued for him. "The dragon monster is atop the next ridge, Milord. It is unarmed, save for a longsword, and it carries an animal of some kind. A rabbit, I think."
Viscen kept staring forward, watching the army advance. The runner opened his mouth to say something, but the commander held up a silencing hand. "Very well," he said. "Send the message to Lord Denham that we shall split forces and pincer the creature."
The runner nodded and his companion, still wheezing, shot him a look of disbelief. Nevertheless, they both took off in a run toward the frontlines.
Viscen leaned over the side of his tank and shouted to the centurion riding aside him. "Balrog, send your scouts to predict whether the target shall run or fight." He had to yell to be heard above the din of many machines humming loudly across the plains. But the centurion turned to him, listening intently. "The target is just over this ridge; tell them not to go within firing range. We want information, not more blood."
Balrog nodded and summoned several men riding smaller crafts, but Viscen did not watch him. Half of the military units split off and diverged to the right, catching the commander's attention. Now would begin what could potentially be a bloodbath. He sighed and wondered why exactly Alliance High Command desired this monstrosity.
Twisting his head, Viscen looked back at the pillar of smoke, which had begun to dissipate high in the clouds. Surely, the beast had seen it, and it should know what the pillar symbolized. Smoke was an aftereffect representative of fire, which burns hotly in the hearts of men, especially when something of particular value is stolen or destroyed. This time, lives had been taken, and the hearts of the military burned with blood-fire at the gross disrespect shown to the living soul.
"We shall have our revenge, you dragon of death," Viscen whispered softly. "You shall pay for this crime in blood recompense."
Drake watched the hill as a man emerged at the top, then another, then ten, then twenty. The dragon-boy began to realize what he was up against, and his heart sank at the thought of slaying so many people whom he did not even know. Despite the horror aroused by the thought of death, he could not repress a slight trace of blood-lust.
The claw-like fingers tensed, anticipating battle, but his mind was already at war. He did not want to do this, but knowing that he would, he had shooed Bristle into the grove several hundred meters to his left where the rabbit now waited patiently.
Vision blurred, eyes stung, and muscles burned. His eyes began to see things in a different light; glowing red dots rose over the hill, surrounded by a thousand shades of black, white and gray.
Drake leapt aside, seeing the air ripple with red fire centimeters from where his thigh had been moments before. Something welled up in his stomach, something dreadfully strong, and he suddenly wanted to vomit.
BANG! KZZT! BANG!
Blasterfire and bullets rang around him as time seemed to slow once more. Objects moving at the speed of sound became almost visible as they whistled through the air, and the dragon-boy raced forward, dodging the harmless obstacles. Several men had already reached the bottom of the hill and scattered in the valley where the dragon had waited, but they now took cover among large boulders, leaping out for cheap shots at him.
Before he knew it, he had reached the foot of the hill. Claws hacked down a man in steel armor, cutting through the breastplate with ease. Drake moved on to the next target, highlighted in bright red, singled out among the other dull red forms. The man's head burst open, spilling blood on the field, even as the dragon cut down another foe. Three men were dead in the span of seconds, and more followed very quickly. Drake danced through the valley, a shadowed gray and black, hacking off the limbs of armored enemies and hidden snipers, coating himself in the blood of war.
A sleek object streaked by, almost larger than he was, and the ground where he had been caught flame as shrill PING-PING-PING's filled the air. The dragon cast himself into the air, bearing down on the hovercraft as it rocketed away. It turned at a sharp angle, raising altitude, and headed straight for him, but Drake angled aside, clawing at the craft as it careened past.
Felling enemies left and right even as he landed, Drake heard a loud crash, though it did not register. The blood-fire consumed him, and he fought with rising ferocity. Death cries no longer echoed in his ears, the bullets and blasterfire no longer any problem at all as dead men rained around him.
Regardless of his well condition, the nausea caused by the power in his stomach rose and rose, growing more intense with each man he killed. Ignoring the ailment, he sliced through the skull of three men who had approached with glinting daggers. The longsword slithered from its sheathe, cutting down another wave of foes, filling the valley with bleeding corpses.
Something grazed the back of his head, and he whipped around. A portly man slightly shorter than he held a rifle, at point blank, at the dragon-boy's skull. Drake danced aside as a bolt of blasterfire ripped from the weapon. How this one hand managed to elude him was a mystery, but the dragon did not relent to ponder it. The longsword slipped through the air as though physical laws did not apply to it, but failed to meet flesh. Commander Viscen dodged to the left and skipped inside the range of the weapon, reaching for Drake's neck. But the boy cast away, swinging the sword into the commander's shoulder. The man winced in pain as a minor wound opened in his arm, but did not flinch in the slightest. Drake felled a man who had crept up behind him, then, in the same motion, swung the sword around to impale Viscen's chest, but the man leapt away once more, this time successfully grappling the dragon's neck. The rifle slammed into Drake's head, sending him sprawling back, but he flipped in the air and landed in a crouch. The instant he hit ground, he pushed off and rocketed at the commander with the longsword held outright. Viscen yelped silently, his face contorted in a mix of surprise and pain, as the blade plunged into his abdomen.
For Drake, time was slower than ever, and the commander had been defeated. Already targeting another enemy without looking, he started to yank the blade free of its victim, but something entirely unexpected happened. The commander smashed his fist into Drake's face, snatched his arm, and slammed the dragon-boy on the ground, the rifle suddenly at his chest.
For a moment that seemed an eternity, Drake saw the smug face of the commander over him, and then everything faded into black.
A horrible throbbing pain jarred him from a deep, haunted sleep, and persisted as he woke. His mind was still groggy, and at first, his memory was a blank. He decided not to force it, and his mind slowly began to reveal...
Drake sat bolt upright, contorting in pain suddenly, for the wound on his chest had not been treated. He was in a dank cell, sleeping on an uncomfortable cot of flimsy plastic that could snap off of the steel walls at any moment. Flinching from the wound, he rolled off the cot and writhed on the floor, trying to stand.
The memories of death, blood, murder, pain, horror were all fresh, and an unexplainable fear washed over him. He had to get out of here!
He slammed his shoulder against the iron bars of his cell once, twice, three times, but they held firm. There was no rust upon the bars; prisoners were obviously a high priority among these people. Why did they wish to apprehend and imprison him so greatly?
Drake collapsed on the cold floor, sobbing. Death cries and moans of pain that he had not heard on that battlefield now reverberated in his ears, deafening. The dragon-boy recoiled into a crying ball, bracing the wound on his chest. It would become a battle scar, he knew.
"Get up!" came a harsh, deep voice from the cell across the dank pit. "Stop your whining, idiot! You're a man, act like one!"
Fiery hatred swelled in Drake's stomach, and he rose, the tears evaporating instantly, to see a stocky muscular man in the opposite cell. The convict was leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, an unpleasant--or cruel, Drake could not tell which--scowl on his face. "So who the Hells are you?" he scoffed. "Did they give you off to the enemy as a reject, or did you get yourself captured?"
Drake seethed, clenching his fists and gritting his teeth. That nauseating power welled up once more in his stomach, but this time it was not so sickening. "I am Drake of the dragon mutagen project, scum," Drake said, his voice dripping with something like purest evil. It surprised him, and he nearly jumped, but managed to restrain himself.
The man laughed mockingly, throwing his head back against the wall. "You?!" he guffawed between laughs, "A dragon?!"
As the fool continued to fill the eddies with his mocking amusement, the power in Drake's stomach swelled in a riptide of torrential storms. It reached out to the bars, and the iron suddenly splintered into tiny shrapnel with a loud, dull ring. One piece bit into Drake's forearm and bounced away, but he did not notice. The man's laughter died as the dragon-boy approached his cell, eyes gleaming with bitter hatred...
"How do you suppose we should deal with him?" said Viscen, whose chest was bound in tight bandages. "I saw fear in his eyes when I shot him. Beasts and monsters don't show fear." The commander shook his head, trying to clear the vapors that clouded his thought.
Balrog sat across the room in a comfortable cotton bed, one leg suspended in a sling and one arm completely covered in a large cast. "I don't know," he admitted, ignoring the pain in his lungs as he spoke. "I, too, saw that fear. He fought unlike anything I've seen before, and yet I feel that he did not want to kill."
The commander looked up in surprise. "You feel sympathy for him?" he asked in utter disbelief.
The centurion cast a look of equal surprise at his liege lord, his jaw gaping. "No, Milord, of course not!" he said, waving his hands objectively. "I merely state that he may not be the terrible monster we at first thought."
Commander Viscen lowered his head again, the surprise gone, and nodded in agreement. Such musings had surfaced in his mind during the course of the week he had been trapped in the medical ward, no matter how hard he tried to press them back. "Perhaps that is so," he said slowly, "but he will receive no mercy from the High Command. He will probably be tortured for information, or killed." After a moment, he added, "Or both."
Balrog laid his head back on the fluffy feather pillow the nurse had left him and thought of the grace with which the dragon-boy had evaded his hovercraft's fire, dodged the ramming attempt, and ripped a hole through the entire length of the thing. The fuel line had been cut, and it had tipped the hilltop and crashed into the valley opposite the warzone. Balrog had barely escaped with his life, but was still victim to awful burn wounds. Such amazing battle prowess could not be hated or despised, only admired.
Thinking this, he absently said to the commander, "His fighting style was incredible, Lord Viscen. Even my glider was as nothing to him!"
Viscen laughed shortly, for his chest shook with the effort. "Yes, I was also impressed," he said. "The Celestials forbid, if I were killed, the operation would have been a complete failure." He rested his eyes fondly on the centurion. "After all, we are the only competent men on our respective forces."
Balrog laughed at that, but no chest wound stopped him. "Yes, Milord, this is so." After the laugh passed, forlorn despair replaced it. The centurion brushed back his hair, releasing a few loose strands which fell onto the feather pillow beneath his head. "But so many men lost their lives, Commander. Should we speak so lightly of the event? Are we not profaning their names?"
Viscen shivered at the memory of two-hundred dead men lying around the ever moving dragon-boy, still remembering the blood of a dear friend staining his shirt and hands. They were at ease now, though, for their purpose was not in vain; the target had been captured alive--for the most part--and was now locked safely in the dungeon.
"The memory of them has been appeased, Lord Balrog," he responded with courteous certainty. "We are not wrong in speaking of the event so long as we honor their memory." Viscen crossed his legs and placed one hand on his ankle, trying to relax to some extent. "Let your mind rest, my friend. This has been a long week for the both of us."
The dragon stood over a mutilated corpse within the dank pits of the dungeon, blood dripping down his stained shirt-sleeve and arm, forming a puddle on the cold stones below. He felt a slight bit of regret behind the instincts that were surfacing in him, but flicked the notion away like a flea on his shoulder.
"What's going on down there?" came a deep, angry voice from down the hall of cells and up a flight of stairs. Someone had heard the commotion from the guardroom, though Drake had tried to keep the man silent as he died. The muffled deathcry must have been amplified enough by the prison to be audible aboveground. After a sort pause, the voice called again, "Fine, then! I'm coming down, so whatever's happening had better stop or your rations will do the same."
Drake dashed to the cell next to his own, kicking the one he had broken into itself--the iron bars were now unnoticeable--and quickly tore the hinges from its door. Whipping inside, he slammed the door shut and sat on the uncomfortable linen cot, trying to appear inconspicuous.
A jingling sound came from down the hallway--the guard's key ring, no doubt. The armor- clad soldier strolled by his cell, throwing the dragon-man a steel glare, then continued down the hall. The jingling noise stopped.
Drake cursed silently, already knowing what would happen. Not even waiting for the noise to resume, he leapt from the cot and slammed his foot into the top of the cell with a BANG! Shaken from its hinges, the iron construction wobbled for a moment then began to fall outward just as the soldier dashed in front of the cell. Stopping dead in his tracks, he turned very slightly to see what the sound was. The iron cell smashed into the guard and pinned him to the ground, eking an 'oof!' from the bewildered man. Dazed, but not unconscious, the guard recovered and attempted to push the bars off of him.
Meanwhile, Drake had slashed a section of the remaining iron bars, and was wielding two of them as weapons. The last thing the trapped, screaming man saw was the end of an iron rod angling for his forehead.
Drake did not hesitate with the death of this man, for there would now be others drawn by the corpse' deathcry. The dragon pole-vaulted down the hall, his head barely missing the ceiling, and swung the end of the other rod into a guard who was just rounding the corner to leap down the stairs. Knocked unconscious by the blow, he sailed into the guard behind him, sending them both across the guardroom. Drake was upon them instantly, impaling the both of them like shish-ka-bobs, killing them before either one could call for help.
Detachedly observing the blood spurt from around the wound his pole had made, the dragon-man felt that something bubble up in his stomach again, frothing like a mad dog. This time, it was stronger than ever; he felt it foam until it filled him entirely with an unrestrained power unlike anything he had ever felt before. The floodgates that held back the incredible archives of information in his mind trembled with the effort of holding back something enormous. But there was no headache, now; the way in which the gates quivered seemed almost natural.
Drake heard the shouting of men and the stomping of iron boots coming closer and closer. While he did not see the soldiers cascading down the stairs leading upward behind him, he knew they were already there. His senses were sharper than ever, the gates shook harder, and the power burned like never before.
Suddenly, something snapped.
Back in the Med ward, as Viscen and Balrog rested peacefully, a thunderous quake suddenly shook the entire room, bouncing Balrog two feet into the air and hurling Viscen out of his comfortable chair, jarring both of them awake immediately. Simultaneous with the sharp jolt, the light bulbs above burst, showering the room with tiny razors.
The commander scrambled to his feet, startled beyond belief. "What the Hells was that?!" he cried.
Balrog was too stunned to speak, and instead looked around frantically. Viscen was not quite as debilitated, so he surged to the door, searching right and left in the halls for the physicians. A physician's priority was the well-being of his patient; surely, if something so shocking as this occurred, they would be inclined to check up on their patients? Dust, shaken from the ceiling, clouded his vision, but he could clearly see that no one walked the halls of the med ward.
Viscen leapt back into the room where Balrog was trying to unwrap the bandage around his leg. Were the centurion not stronger than the average person, Commander Zeth would have stopped him, but that was not the case. Once free of the cast, Balrog leapt to his feet, although a bit wobbly, and came to stand next to his commander.
"What has happened, Commander?" he asked, still rather shocked by the quake. "Are the halls still intact?"
Viscen nodded in response, then motioned for his friend to follow. Seeing that silence was advised, Balrog treaded quietly behind the commander, his feet making only an inaudible 'pat-pat' on the cold tile floor.
"That dragon-boy may have escaped, so let us be cautious," Commander Zeth said as he jogged down the hall. "If the initial examinations are correct, that beast's senses are Godlike-sharp, but our vision will be hindered in this dusty haze."
Balrog nodded, but the commander was looking ahead and did not see. "Yes, Commander." His hand rested, instinctively, inches above a taser pistol holstered to his utility belt, ready to snatch the weapon and fire at any given moment. The centurion would defend his commander to his last breath.
In the training room, a young boy of thirteen was surprised to see the holographic projector suddenly shut down, and with it, the lights. Moments ago, he had been in a lush jungle, fending off an army of ringed yathea with relative ease; the training session was never ended until he had completed the objective or come within a millimeter of losing his life, so something unusual had obviously occurred. 'Something must have happened in the control room,' he thought. His leather combat shoes made quiet pats on the tiled floor of the training room as he ran to where he remembered the nearly invisible door being.
"Open," he commanded, but the wall did not breakaway to reveal a cleverly-hidden hatchway.
Frustrated, he repeated the command, this time more forcefully, though he knew that the automated AI would not respond any quicker to anger. "Open!"
…Still no response.
Blitz sighed in resignation, seeing his breath in the cool room. Reaching his hands into the tiny crevices between the tiles in the wall, he felt around for the thin crack between the wall and the door. He found it, and pulled the hatch open manually, though straining with the effort. The airtight hatchway did not activate automatically, so he pushed open the door on the other side. It swung aside without effort.
Blitz was aghast at the sight behind the hatchway: His training instructor's hand fell from the hatch's door, landing in a pool of blood. The man's white coat was stained crimson around a section of the ceiling that had caved in on his back. The boy wriggled through the small space between the crushed ceiling and the hatch entrance, backing away from the dead man in fear.
Something gripped him, an unexplainable dread that he was inevitably going to die a painful death very shortly. His heart thudded in his chest as he shut his eyes, holding back tears, then turned and ran down the corridor, by the medehall, past the cafeteria, anywhere but toward the dread. But no matter how fast he ran, the dread grew stronger. Suddenly, the shouts of men met his ears, and he lifted his head to see a tumult of soldiers cascading up a stairway from his left. Some were crying out in fear, others were dragging injured arms or legs, and others were dying even as they ran from the stairway.
Blitz recognized the area immediately--it was the guardroom entrance, and beyond it was the dungeon.
The crowd of screaming men crashed into him, and he was swept away in the crowd. As this happened, the dread grew slightly lesser, and he turned to run with the crowd, run from the horrible fear behind him.
Black light still buzzed with a sickening crackle from the eye sockets of the dozens of dead, decaying men around him. Some of the bodies still writhed; those still alive now ran like sewer rats. A wave of his hand caused a flickering orb to appear around one retreating soldier; black lightning surged around his armor and pierced his body in numerous places. The orb around the man then dissipated and he fell to the ground, dead. The spark had gripped an adjacent man as well, and he was also killed instantly. Both of the corpses steamed like bacon, and their armor, having burned away, revealed their blackened skin.
Taking joy in this bloodbath that he had induced, Drake leapt up the stairs, slashing with his fingers from which razor-sharp claws had emerged. Two more men dropped to the ground with a bloodcurdling cry, giving in to the pain caused by the bloody gashes in their backs. Drake flicked one finger at a man who had foolishly stopped to see what became of his allies, and the soldier suddenly burst apart in a fountain of gore. The blood blinded the man next to him, and he clawed in terror at his face, caught in some awful hallucination. Drake snapped his index finger and thumb together, and the man suddenly cried out as his skin began to boil. He fell to the ground, still screaming even as he died.
The memories and knowledge that had been unleashed in his mind were pushed away by a blind, red rage that consumed him entirely, a horrible bloodlust that forced him to slaughter everything in sight. The dragon boy had no choice in the matter; a single thought boomed repeatedly in his mind:
Kill, kill, kill...
The boiling man was reduced to a puddle on the floor, and Drake turned to strike down his next victim.
His heart thudded in his chest, skipping a beat. The sight of one particular soldier triggered something inside of him, something extremely powerful. It began to soothe the bloody rage in his mind, bringing forth reason and intellect. The soldier was just... standing there. But he was too young to fight, too young to be exposed to such bloodshed. Drake was vaguely aware that there was a connection between himself and the young boy, but the bloodlust was too strong for him to conquer entirely.
Kill, kill, kill...
Suddenly, the bloodlust was gone, and reason replaced it. He was now aware that blood sluiced down his arm, stained every inch of his clothes. His lip quivered in fear, and he mouthed a single word that came to the forefront of his mind.
That boy stood, looking upon him with unparalleled terror. Recognition quickly sank in, just before the boy was snatched away by another soldier, and Drake now knew who he saw. Guilt flooded the dragon boy's mind, killing any ounce of bloodlust that remained, and he was filled with the urge to run. And so he ran, ran blindly as walls caved in around him, subdued by the power which now seeped out uncontrolled as he ran from himself.
I am a monster! A monster!
"Blitz, what the bloody Hells were you doing?!" Viscen shouted at the young soldier as they hid from the screaming stampede behind a rampart down the hall and around the corner. "That beast would have killed you!" The commander had just barely managed to save the boy before that thing had slaughtered him.
Balrog was scrunched against the wall beside them, holding a blaster around the corner, waiting to target the dragon. But it had bolted, leaving behind a trail of blood and dead men.
Blitz hugged his knees close, looking down. He did not look up to answer, but Viscen could see that he held something dreadful in his mind. A glint of horror and sorrow flickered in a tear that fell from his hidden eyes. His gaze was distant, focused on some unseen thing that Viscen could not understand.
The commander became very worried, now. The young soldier was usually a very jovial character, had always masked his nervousness or fear with a laughable joke. "Hey, kid, are you alright?" he asked, putting one hand on the boy's shoulder. "You look kind of pale."
Indeed, Blitz' skin was very white, more so than usual. Finally, the boy looked up, and Viscen saw that his face was drawn and his eyelids sagged tiredly. "He... he was..." Blitz trailed off before he could form more than three words.
This piqued Viscen's interest; did Blitz know something about that dragon creature? Was there something he could perceive that the others could not? "What?" he said to the shivering child. "What are you trying to say?"
It took a moment and a gulp before Blitz could speak again. When he did, it was barely above a whisper. "He was... my brother...."
Confusion, disbelief, utter disbelief, and then shock flitted over the face of Viscen's mind, and the corners of his mouth twitched involuntarily. "He... what?!" There was no anger in his voice, only a pall that he had never felt before. "You're brother?! What do you mean, 'he's your brother'?!"
Blitz hugged his legs more tightly. "He disappeared... You promised... to help us find him." The words came in short bursts, always so quiet that Viscen could hardly hear them over the tumult of the men, who now ran in panicked circles. "We... we never did. I never saw him again... But..."
Cold realization settled over Viscen as the last pieces of the puzzle fell into place. 'So that's it,' he thought. 'His own brother was used in the dragon mutagen project... How ironic. It wasn't the monster we thought, after all. Just a scared little boy.'
The commander helped Blitz to his feet, though the boy made little effort to stand himself. "What happened to him...?" whispered Blitz. "How did he become... that—”
"Monster?" Viscen finished for him. "I thought he was a monster, too, until just now." The commander felt a very strong pity for the poor boy, now. His own brother had gone about slaughtering men without mercy, right before his eyes. Viscen wanted the boy to know that Drake was not what he appeared to be. "But he's not a monster, Blitz. If it were anyone else, they would certainly have become a monster. But I know Drake through the ways you and Jacqueline described him." Viscen nudged the left side of the boy's chest with his index finger. "He has a heart, Blitz. Don't call him a monster anymore." Blitz looked up to see a bright, hopeful smile on Commander Viscen's face. The hope he saw in his superior's expression gave him hope. He sniffled and rubbed the tears from his eyes. "Can we save him? Can you turn him back?"
Viscen sighed, glancing for a moment back at the crowd of men who were finally beginning to settle down now that they realized the dragon was gone. "I don't know if we can do that, but I do know that we can at least bring him to his senses."
Blitz sniffled again, and then walked into the crowd, meandering between the men, before Viscen could say another word. "Blitz!" the commander called, trying to follow the boy. But Blitz did not turn, and Viscen lost track of him in the crowd.
The dragon boy continued running, leaving a trail of tears, unaware that he was following a dirt road that ended five miles from the compound, unaware that he was being watched by a distant figure silhouetted in the sunlight nearly a mile behind. He did not want to be aware of any of these things; wanted only for the knowledge to creep back into the confines of his mind. But they would not. Drake had no control over them any longer--he could neither hold them back, nor push them away.
Blindly, he pressed forward, trees parting to admit him entrance into a dense forest where, hopefully, no one would find him. Weary, Drake collapsed before a tree, shaded by its massive trunk. The brambles around him were sharp, covered in evergreen thistles, but the immense pain in his mind overpowered the prickles in his legs. He drew his legs close to his chest and wept into his hands. Voices mumbled in his head, but he could not listen to their ridiculing words. An unknown amount of time passed; it seemed to stop altogether for him.
A familiar voice called his name, and he shook his head, trying to dispel the painful throes from his mind. "Go away!" he shouted out loud. But the voice called his name again, seemingly worried. Drake did not let that deceive him; he knew that his eyes and ears were playing tricks on him, now, and he refused to lose the war his heart and mind waged. "Why is this happening to me?!" he called out to no one, but there was a response. The worried voice tried to comfort him, though the tumult of voices in his head drowned it out.
A hand touched his shoulder, and all of the voices, all the dreadful ridicule, all the tumult that deafened him, stopped. Drake hid his eyes, not believing that they would not return the instant he let his guard down. Nothing happened. Slowly, he took his hands from his tear-stained eyes.
"...Drake...?" A calm, familiar face looked down on him. The small, soft features of the face somehow soothed him, comforted him. Automatically, his mind drew forth many memories of his twin brother. Those memories tugged at his heart, making him long to see his brother once more. But the face was silhouetted in a radiant light, as if from the sun. Could this be real?
"Blitz...?" he whispered cautiously, every bone, muscle, nerve in his body hoping. "Is it really you?"
The face nodded, and a familiar warmth embraced Drake. Comforting arms were wrapped around him. "It's me, Drake," the boy said. "I'm here."
Thank you for your kind words, Milady! ^_^ Such compliments coming from my teacher mean much. Heh, heh... I'll bet you're the first person to read it all the way through. Oddly enough, it only took me four days of abusing computer priveleges to write. Strange, eh? Perhaps it's the distinct lack of detail, but something feels as though it's missing. No, wait; the lack of detail offered the detached sensation obtained while reading it, which is something I implemented intentionally. It's actually very hard to do; you have to give the reader just enough information so that they can form a picture in their head, but not give them moving detail. That's why this is my greatest work. I did that successfully! Now I need to start on another short story. It's been a while since I wrote one, but I'm planning on writing one that chronicles what happened immediately after CMoC. In other words, it will tell of Amy's resurrection and give her a reason to be in the BA instead of just "You're here now! Fight something, will ya?" Wish me luck, as well as the power to overcome this damnedable procrastination!
I keep waiting for someone else to review... and waiting, and waiting, and waiting... I figured this might happen. It's just too long, I guess. Nobody has the time to read it. How sad, it truly is one of my best works.
Thank you kindly. ^_^ I greatly appreciate the praise. But I don't break paragraphs just for the heck of it, dude. The reason you start a new paragraph when writing is to adress a point not completely related to the one being adressed previously, or whenever a new character starts speaking. There are a few other reasons to start a new paragraph, but I won't get into them because they're fairly complicated combinations of the previous two. Now I understand that the fic is considerably long and may intimidate those who aren't keen on heavy reading. But I'm confident that those who appreciate it enough will be able to focus long enough to read it all the way through.
Once more, thank you for your review and constructive criticism.
I haven't read all of this yet, WOTS, but I still have a piece of advice for you. In future, don't post 30-odd pages worth of writing in a single post. The sheer length has a tendency to scare people off. That's why most people use a number of these little things called "chapters" when they post a fic.
I wrote this a year ago. I didn't want to take the time to break it into smaller bits (the notion didn't even occur to me until later), and since it was already complete when I decided to post it... Well, you get the idea. ^_^;;
I was afraid people might be turned-off by the heavy reading, but then I figured that those who actually enjoy a good short story would read from beginning to end eventually. This one's for those who appreciate my work and even work with me, but it's probably not a great suggestion for light-readers. If people read it, great! If they don't, well I can't force them. I just have to hope there are more people who actually like me/my work enough to read from beginning to end.
I figured. I've seen a few really bizarre flukes like that. For instance, I once wrote an unfinished Zelda-based fic in eighth grade titled "The Undying Evil". Not too long ago, a character fic under the same title appeared here. Then, there's disturbing character similarities. Blitz and Terrin--two characters created independantly of one another--have so many similar characteristics that it's scary. Both are short for their age, both are the same height and age, both have mastery over the blade and the fire element, both have a high-power handgun concealed in their clothing. And it doesn't stop there.
I have yet to read all of this because I am admittedly lazy, but let me at least say that I really liked your beginning. It caught my attention and drew me in to read more than I thought I would in one sitting, just as good openers should. I always find myself looking for new and more engaging ways to start a piece of work, and I have come to really admire others who do so. I look forward to eventually reading the rest.