Kerren's eyes opened as he awoke from sleep.
The past few days were a blur. First he had been recruited to the Protector's Alliance by a business card. Then he learned that every single myth was true. Infused, primals, magical soul-searches, and a very loud dragoness.
Groaning as he sat up, Kerren was regretting the intense training he had undergone for the past couple days. Thursday had been spent just learning how to hold a sword properly in combat. Friday had been endless drills that had strained his muscles in ways that he never would have imagined from holding a simple stone sword. As it was, he had grown incredibly sore.
He still had to train today, though. The pale green dragon dragged himself out of bed.
That was another change over the past few days: he had moved all of his stuff to the sanctuary. His landlord had demanded payment for the rest of the month anyways, but Kerren could care less. The old apartment had been stuffy and cramped, and his neighbors were less than friendly. Or courteous, for that matter. He had lost more nights of sleep to rowdy parties than to work or study.
The couple nights he had spent here in the sanctuary were far calmer. The only thing that kept him up at night was training. Riala and Sofia often went without sleep entirely, something to do with their fiery natures, but their rooms were situated on the other side of town hall.
Plus, there was no rent.
Kerren stumbled across his room to his dresser, grabbing clothes for the day and donning them quickly. Wincing at every step, he made his way outside. Kerren was no stranger to exercise, but this was something else. Sofia pushed him to his limits and beyond, all while making it seem like he wasn't trying at all.
And at the same time he still wanted to continue.
That was the best part of the whole thing. It was exhausting, strenuous, and humiliating, but it was one of the best times of his life. His passions may have included physics and biology at one point, but now he was most interested in magic. Magic and combat.
Flexing his shoulders to try and shake off the soreness, Kerren started off towards the gym. Today he would actually be putting what he had learned to use in combat. Sure, it was just a sparring match with Sofia, but it would still be a test of his skill. Sofia certainly wouldn't go easy on him, even if she had more than enough control to keep from overpowering him.
Arriving at the massive gym building, Kerren made his way inside. The arena they would be sparring in was the mat room, the same one where he had been thrown around like he was some sort of ragdoll. At least he had always landed on the mat, and his body was durable. He couldn't recall ever breaking a bone in his life, and he had very rarely bruised.
That was normal for dragons, of course. They were naturally far more durable than almost any other species. Yet oddly that draconic feature was failing from generation to generation. Less and less dragons had this ability, just like the shorter and less useful wingspans.
Kerren shook his head and pushed into the sparring room. As expected, Sofia was already there, a stone sword in her hand as she went through her usual morning exercises.
Without saying a word, Kerren took up his own sword and joined her. They had done these exercises the previous two days as well, Sofia making him repeat them until he had the exercise perfect. It was worth it, though. Even after two days he was more accustomed to holding a sword than he was at first.
After an indeterminate amount of time, the dragons completed their routine exercises. As the activity came to an end, Sofia spoke, "Are you ready?"
"As I'll ever be," Kerren replied.
"Then on your guard, Kerren Null!" With that, Sofia turned and swung her sword at Kerren's midriff.
Reacting on instinct, Kerren whipped his sword through the air to block Sofia's. The two stone blades connected with a clack, then both dragons drew their blades back. Kerren dropped to the defensive as Sofia continued the assault, the stone swords connecting several times as Kerren tried to keep the ruby dragoness from tagging him with her blade.
That last impact sounded so different from normal, something had to be off. Kerren glanced at his sword, and to his incredible surprise, there was a dent in the blade.
Yet Sofia's own sword was still smooth and flawless.
Mentally disregarding it for a moment to focus on the fight, Kerren blocked another incoming swing. Sofia's next strike came in hard, and Kerren immediately dodged around it. Using his new positioning to get a good strike on Sofia, he swung his sword.
Sofia moved far faster than should even be possible, her body twisting and her sword coming up to block Kerren's.
There was the horrible sound of stone grinding on stone, and then something hit the mat with a thunk.
"Well that's not supposed to happen."
Kerren blinked and looked at his sword, finding that it had been cleanly sheared in two. He very slowly reached out with his other hand and touched the destroyed blade, recoiling as it cut his finger. "Um. Did I get a dud sword?"
"Impossible. Valzan enchants every weapon he makes with the exact same spells…" Sofia gingerly picked up the end of the sword, examining it. She began to scratch at the stone, and much to Kerren's surprise the stone flaked off. "The enchantment is dead. Something drained it."
"What can drain an enchantment?" Kerren asked.
"Depends on the strength of the enchantment, really. I'm no expert, but as far as I know just about anything can drain these enchantments if it's trying and has the means. But just being able to do it requires an absurd level of magical talent…" Sofia glanced at Kerren. "You're not holding out on me, are you? You doin' some kind of black magic?"
"No! I don't have any magic." Kerren shook his head.
"That's really weird…" Sofia stared at the broken sword blade for a little while, then shrugged. "I'll get Valzan to reinforce the enchantment on your next one."
"What about this?" Kerren asked, pulling his homeward talisman out from under his shirt. He had only taken it off since getting it when he took a shower.
"Hah, those things are nearly indestructible in every sense. Can't be crushed, disenchanted, snapped in two, blown up, hell, you can't even lose them: they teleport back!" Sofia chuckled. "Trust me, I've tried. In any event, take the rest of the day off."
"Doing what?" Kerren sighed and handed the hilt of his destroyed sword to Sofia.
"I dunno. Relaxing? Spending time with your girlfriend?" Sofia suggested, putting her own sword on a weapon rack.
"I don't have a girlfriend," Kerren protested, confused.
"Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but you don't seem like the kind of guy to have a boyfriend. That, and the fact that you're intelligent, physically endowed, and filled with dark allure tells me you'd have girls all over you." Sofia grinned. "Plus, that bird you've been seeing is enamored with you."
"Wh- Alison?" Kerren sputtered.
"Dunno her name, that wasn't part of the report." Sofia shrugged. "All I know is that she sought you out, then asked you out. That's what the intelligence says, anyhow."
Kerren wasn't listening, he was already on his way out of the gym. "Crap, it's Saturday!"
Sofia just watched him leave, then shrugged again. She looked at the broken sword and sighed. "Now how the hell do I explain this to Val?"
Kerren stumbled out of the tunnel into the staffroom, waving at the cat who manned the tunnel entrance as he went past. The museum was packed today, because it was the weekend, meaning that Kerren had to carefully slip through the crowds to get outside. Once he was though, he shot down the street at top speed.
How could he have forgotten? Today was the day he had agreed to meet Alison at the mall, to… explain…
He slowed to a halt just outside the mall, realizing that he couldn't possibly tell her about the Protector's Alliance. If he did, she would never believe him. There was also no way he could tell her about infused, or magic, or the sanctuary. He couldn't be honest and still be believed. And even if she did believe him, he was pretty certain that talking about the Protector's Alliance in a public place was just asking for trouble.
And now he had a headache.
Shaking his head to try and clear his thoughts, Kerren slowly walked inside. He mentally smacked himself for not specifying a location in the mall for them to meet, and looked around.
Fortunately, Alison's color stood out. There were plenty of folks who dyed their fur or feathers, and dragons with vibrant scales, but there were very few avians with red feathers all over their body, and even less with green tipped feathers on their wings.
Of course, there was only one who met all of those criteria and was waving at him.
Grinning in relief, Kerren waved back and made his way over. Alison was standing just outside of a game store, wearing a simple t-shirt and jeans. As Kerren approached, she smiled. "Hey! Almost didn't think you'd make it."
"I've had a lot going on lately," Kerren apologized.
"I betcha. First you're fired, then you just drop off the face of the planet." Alison giggled. "What's that about?"
"Well…" Kerren hesitantly began.
"Wait! First we need to get something to eat," Alison interrupted.
"Er, yeah. I'm starving." Indeed, Kerren felt like he hadn't eaten in ages. He blamed it on the lack of breakfast. It was approaching lunch time anyways.
Alison grabbed Kerren's hand and dragged him off to the food court, pushing through the crowds along the way. So many people were in the mall, mostly teens who had nothing better to do or families having a good day. But of course, that was because it was Saturday. If it was Sunday then the Holy Church would be where many people were spending their time, and during the week many folks had work or school.
"Hey, are wraps okay?" Alison asked, stopping at a table in the food court.
"Yeah." Kerren nodded.
"Gotcha, stay here." Alison darted off, vanishing into the crowd.
The dragon shrugged, then sat down at the table. He looked around to try and locate the red avian, but he couldn't see her in the bustle.
It didn't matter too much, because after a couple minutes Alison returned with a paper bag bearing the logo of a food company. She set it down on the table and sat down opposite Kerren. "Alright, two grilled chicken wraps, right here."
"Chicken?" Kerren asked, raising an eyebrow.
"What, did you think I was a bird that ate bugs or nuts?" Alison shot back, taking a wrap out of the bag and removing the paper wrapping.
"No, I was wondering if it was real." Kerren took his own meal from the bag.
Indeed, most meats were made of plant proteins. This was because of the vast variety of folks meant that there was invariably a person of the same species as the meat in question. That wasn't even bringing into account the lack of wild creatures that were known to the vast populace of Enersity. Nobody wanted to eat the meat of some creature from their nightmares. The only real solution was to use plants.
"Of course not." Alison shook her head. "The real stuff is banned just about everywhere."
Kerren nodded in agreement. "Doesn't stop some…"
"Yeah, but that's the same people who kill for money. They have no morals anyways." Alison took a bite out of her wrap.
"Maybe…" Kerren began to eat his own wrap. After taking the first bite, he ravenously downed the whole thing. He didn't even taste the thing, he ate it so fast. And yet he still felt like he hadn't eaten for months.
After a moment, Kerren realized that Alison was staring at him. She shook her head and just handed him the rest of her wrap. "Y'know what, you seem like you need it."
Kerren accepted thankfully, and was about to eat the second wrap when he suddenly felt nauseous. He slowly put it down and slid it back across the table. "Never mind."
Alison shrugged and wrapped the meal up in the paper once more. "I'll save it for later." She leaned forward and rested her forearms on the tabletop. "So, let's get to business. What've you been up to?"
"I…" Kerren hesitated. His headache was only getting worse, and the nausea wasn't going away. "I… don't know how much I'm… allowed… to tell you." True.
"Do you have some sort of spy job?" Alison asked, her eyes wide with rapture.
"No," Kerren answered, "But… I do work for the government." True. Technically.
"Really? Are you a military agent?" Alison inquired.
"Of sorts." True.
"Ooh! Are you privy to some sort of top secret conspiracy due to your position?"
"No." Technically a lie, although Kerren didn't want to.
Alison seemed to notice something in his demeanor. "Uh-huh. And what is this conspiracy you're not allowed to tell me?"
"If there was a conspiracy…" Kerren began, "And I'm not saying there is, but if there was," He took a deep breath, finding it surprisingly difficult to breathe. "You said it yourself: I wouldn't be allowed to tell you."
"Well, fair enough." Alison shrugged. She paused for a moment, looking at Kerren's face. "Are you okay?"
"I'm…" Kerren tried to answer, finding himself unable to speak. "Not sure. I'll be… right back."
With that, Kerren pushed himself to his feet and stumbled off towards the restrooms. He wasn't quite sure what he would do when he got there, but he was quite certain that he should get out. He needed to get out. Out to where, he didn't know. Maybe to the sanctuary. That was what the homeward talismans were for.
Kerren placed his hand on his chest and winced as pain shot through his heart. If he wasn't as healthy as he was, he would have thought he was having a heart attack. As it was, he felt as though he was dying. He hesitated, then changed course.
As soon as he was out of the crowded areas of the mall and into an abandoned section, Kerren pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialed in a number that he had been given for emergencies. After a moment, the person on the other side picked up.
"Riala, it's Kerren," Kerren quickly said, "I… I know you were talking about it yesterday… but what does an infused experience before their first transformation?"
Alison tapped her fingers on the table, glancing up at the clock on the wall. Kerren had been gone for nearly ten minutes. Whatever problems he was experiencing, they should've resolved themselves within that time.
In any case, she had certainly seen him change course. Usually when someone was green in the face, well, greener than usual in Kerren's case, they went to the restrooms in case they vomited. They did not change course at the last minute and head into an abandoned section of the mall. That was what someone did when they had something to hide.
Tired of waiting, Alison stood up and walked towards the place where Kerren had vanished. She really was worried about him. She had grown to admire the dragon who devoted his life to myths and legends. Alison was thankful for the twist of fate that had allowed her to enroll in Kerren's class, then the coincidence that led to the two of them bumping into each other afterwards.
But she was especially thankful for the two dragons who had been the reason she even learned about Kerren's existence.
But that was a story for another day. Right now, she had to find out if he was alright. Despite her prodding earlier, she would hate herself forever if she made him do something he wasn't supposed to. If Kerren got in trouble because of her stupid questioning…
The avian turned the corner into the abandoned section of the mall, expecting to see Kerren there. Instead, what she saw defied explanation.
There, hidden just out of view of the public section of the mall, was a swirling blue vortex. The edges were wavering and tapering off into nothingness, and the center of the vortex held a perfect image of the quarry just outside of Enersity.
As Alison watched, the vortex began to shrink and shimmer, seeming to grow less stable by the second. Consumed by curiosity and a burning need to know, Alison walked up and slowly stepped into what she could only assume was a portal.
There was a gut wrenching tug…
Then she was in the quarry.
Behind her, the portal vanished with a faint pop!
Despite her way back disappearing into thin air, Alison wasn't thinking about that. Instead, she was more worried about the pale green dragon who was on his hands and knees in front of her.
Kerren was definitely looking worse for wear. His scales were even paler than normal as he barely held himself up. The dragon's arms were trembling as he heaved, looking like he was about to vomit at any minute. As he took one deep breath in, and let it out, Kerren closed his eyes.
Alison had seen dragons expel their breath weapons before, and they always went through the same motions. Take a deep breath in, wait a moment, then expel it in a burst. Kerren went through the motions once, twice, three times with no results. Then Kerren did something Alison had never seen a dragon do.
Instead of expelling his breath in a burst, he began to inhale faster. His body heaved as he took a large breath in, causing the dust on the ground to swirl and almost invisible streams of light to spiral towards his mouth.
Then he changed.
Where once was an intelligent, civilized dragon, there was now a feral, instinct-driven beast. In spite of the complete shift in posture and being, the change wasn't physical in any form. Yet.
Kerren took a huge breath in, causing a solid stream of green light to flow from the ground into his mouth. The stone underneath him slowly lost color, then turned to dust and entered the vortex that originated from his mouth.
Alison slowly backed up, away from Kerren as he continued to draw energy from the stone. The dragon's whole body was convulsing as the vortex continued.
It was at this point that he began to grow.
Kerren's wings began to grow first, their size doubling, then tripling, then quadrupling in size until they were maybe a hundred feet from wingtip to wingtip. His clawed hands gripped tightly into the stone, increasing in size and strength to such a degree that the stone cracked and crumbled beneath his grip. The hands twisted and changed until they were hands no longer. Kerren's back arched as the spine elongated and realigned, changing from a bipedal form to a quadrupedal. His chest ballooned outwards as he continued to pull energy out of the ground, only to collapse inwards into a swirling void of matter and energy. The chest cavity seemed to contain nothing but the vortex, the flesh and exposed bone around it crumbling and falling into the void.
In a matter of moments, Kerren had transformed into a giant feral dragon, easily over twenty feet in height at the shoulder.
The towering dragon reared its head back and aimed its vortex breath at the scraggly bushes that dotted the quarry, causing the leaves to turn brown and wither in seconds. As more and more of the plantlife died, the gaping hole in the dragon's chest slowly sealed shut, the bone regenerating and the scales growing back over the rejuvenated flesh.
With a final pulse of energy flowing from a dried out tree into the dragon's mouth, its jaws snapped shut. The dragon's eyes opened and its nostrils flared. The horned head of the creature turned, its once golden eyes a blood red.
Those crimson orbs were staring directly at Alison.
Something within Alison snapped at that moment, shattering her curiosity with fear. She had always heard the legends of dragonfear, an aura that the reptilian creatures exuded naturally that caused any lesser creatures to experience nearly paralyzing fear. Experiencing the aura was something else entirely, causing her to abandon all rational thought and run.
And run she did, turning and scrambling along the rocky ground in order to do something, anything, to get away from the monstrous creature behind her. She would spread her wings and fly if she wasn't wearing a t-shirt that restricted her movement so.
Alison turned her head to see how close the dragon was, catching sight of the faded green out of the corner of her eye. She didn't get too much chance to see him, however, as her foot caught on a rock and she went tumbling forwards.
Now, Alison knew how to take a fall. She had taken self-defense courses as a teenager, and a good part of that was learning how to hit the mat without breaking her rather fragile bones. Of course, while under the influence of dragonfear, and falling onto a slope downwards, there was no way she would remember how to survive.
First she tried to break her fall with her wings, only to hear two sickening crunches as her bones snapped. This left her undefended as she fell against the rough slope, breaking her ribs as well. A particularly sharp stone sliced through the front of her shirt, slicing her skin and leaving a nasty gash across her chest.
Alison continued to tumble down the slope into the gravel pit, receiving countless bruises, scratches, and scrapes. By the time she reached the bottom, she felt as though every bone in her body was broken, her clothes were in tatters, and she was bleeding from a hundred different injuries. Yet all she could think about was getting away. Where to didn't matter when she had those blood red orbs burned into her mind.
So she huddled at the bottom of the gravel pit, unable to move because of her broken bones. She shuddered with fear and pain, the blood painting the stone around her red. Alison knew, deep down, that she was going to die here.
A deep grumbling noise alerted her to a massive reptilian head above her, its crimson eyes looking at her as though out of a cave. The dragon's head inched forwards, its long neck snaking forward until its head was less than a foot away from Alison.
The dragon's eyes scanned her body, eventually resting on her face. Alison shied away, trying to get as much distance from the massive creature as possible. The dragon just inched forwards, eventually bumping its nose against Alison's shoulder. Alison hissed in pain, turning to look at the dragon and freezing.
While its eyes were a different color, they still held the same intelligence that Kerren always had.
With that, the dragonfear faded. This wasn't a giant monster that Kerren had turned into, it was just Kerren. He might have a different body, maybe even different thought processes, but it was still the same dragon.
Kerren's mouth opened a small amount and green fire flowed out. The flames covered Alison's body, burning away the blood, the dirt and dust, and the tatters of her clothing.
Yet while the fire burned so hot that it destroyed rock and burned blood, her feathers and skin were untouched. In fact, they were cleaned and healed. Her bones snapped back into place and her skin closed over the wounds, the feathers growing back in seconds. In a matter of moments, it was like she had never been injured at all.
Then, the dragon gently picked Alison up in its teeth. At first she thought that the dragon intended to bite down and kill her, but then she realized that that would be a waste of effort. If he had healed her, he wouldn't then kill her like that.
The dragon's wings spread, then began to beat against the ground. In moments, the massive bulk of the pale green dragon was lifted into the air and the wind was breezing past. It didn't take long for Kerren to get to wherever he was going, landing in front of a cave and heading inside.
Kerren gingerly set Alison down inside the cave, padding around her like a giant cat. The dragon laid down, curling its neck and tail around the avian and covering her with one of its wings. In a matter of moments, the dragon had fallen asleep.
Alison just lay there stunned. A dragon, a real, honest to goodness giant quadrupedal dragon, had picked her up and carried her off to a cave. If said dragon hadn't then curled up around her and fallen asleep, or if it wasn't Kerren, then this would be something like the stories of abducted princesses. Except she wasn't a princess, and the prince she would hope to rescue her was currently a giant dragon.
So lost in her thoughts was she that Alison didn't even realize she was nodding off.
The transition into sleep was seamless.