Chapter 30

Altrois flew with Valerie to a cliff not far from the matriarch's cave and landed. He looked out at the sun dipping low on the horizon. "We don't have much time left this evening." He began. "So let's focus on the basics for now."

Valerie stretched out her hand and created an orb of yellow light that hovered a few feet into the air then remained stationary. "If light is an issue I can fix that." She smiled smugly.

Altrois laughed. "I see you have been learning."

"I've had a skilled teacher."

Altrois nodded. "I hope that I can come close to his ability."

"I'm certain you will." She said eagerly. "Besides, who better to train me about the ways of the dragon than the one who gave me his scale?"

Altrois smiled. "An excellent point!" He stretched his wings and let out a roar. "Let us begin!"

"That's the spirit!" Valerie let out a roar of her own.

Altrois chuckled. "Well then, a little history first." He tilted his side to side a few times. "In giving you my scale I forged a pact with you. I was granting you a portion of my powers and abilities. This practice began a thousand years ago in a desperate effort to fight back against Zenith and his forces."

He drew a scale in the ground with his claw. "Scales are considered the first step of the pact. They grant the wielder access to a dragon's armor. Our scales are tougher than any metal and provide protection from the elements through a magical aura they naturally emit."

"Wait, so I can't be easily burned now?" She asked curiously.

"Once you master calling on the power of your scale, yes that will be the case." He confirmed.

"But I think I may have already learned how to not get burned." She told him excitedly.

"What? When and how?" He asked tilting his head side to side.

She picked up a fist-sized stone from off the ground. Placing it between her hands she began to heat it up like she had the metal hinges of the prison cell. As the stone began to glow bright red like a hot ember she held it out. "See, I don't feel a thing."

Altrois mouth hung open. "Extraordinary!" He exclaimed. "From what mother told me this shouldn't be possible until you've learned to call forth you scale armor but I cannot deny what I am seeing." He cleared his throat. "So then, have you learned how to summon your scale armor?"

She shook her head. "I'm not even sure what that means."

"Take off your shirt." The dragon ordered.

"I beg your pardon?" Valerie crossed her arms.

"This next part will be easier to practice if you aren't wearing a shirt." He clarified.

"Oh, I see." She laughed to herself. "I guess I've gotten too used to Frazier's inappropriate behavior and I just expect the worst now."

"I'm not sure what you mean but I'm a dragon so I doubt Frazier behaves the same with me as he does with you." He shrugged with his wings.

She laid her shirt on a nearby rock to keep it out of the dirt. "If he had asked me to do something like this he would have probably said something like, 'I can already see through your clothes anyways so your already naked to me.'" She did her best to impersonate her master's voice.

Altrois nodded. "I wouldn't be surprised if he said something like that, but as a dragon I never wear clothes so technically I'm always naked."

"Yes," she paused awkwardly. "I suppose that's true."

There was a long silence.

"Anyways," Altrois began, "I want you to focus on the scale on your chest, really try and feel it there. Then I want you to imagine new scales emerging out from its edge and going out over your body covering you like a suit of dragon scale armor." He lowered his head toward her. "Does that make sense?"

She nodded. "It does." She looked down at the scale then back up at Altrois. "So just thinking about it should be enough to begin the process?"

"Yes, you and the scale are one so just like you control your arm with your mind so you can also control the magic of the scale." He explained. "In time, like your arm, it will become second nature and you won't even have to think about it to command its power."

"That makes sense." She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Scales expanding out. Scales expanding out. She felt her chest begin to warm at the scale then her skin began to tingle all over the front of her torso.

"Remarkable!" Altrois shouted.

She opened her eyes and looked down. Her chest was now covered in small, silver scales. "I don't believe it!" She cautiously reached up and ran her hand down the scales. "That feels so strange." She then ran her hand back up going against the scales and stopped almost immediately. "Eww, no, that feels horrible."

Altrois laughed. "Yes, scales are best stroked in only one direction."

She shuddered. "Yes, I agree."

"Can you expand the scale to cover your whole body?" He asked.

"I don't see why not." She looked at her right arm and the scales grew out from her chest to her shoulder then up her arm completely covering it and her hand. "Honestly, I thought this would be harder to learn."

"It should be," He humphed. "I knew I saw great potential in you, but even I did not realize it would be this great." He was flabbergasted. "I was told mastering the scales can take a week or more."

She pressed her thumb to her chest. "Well, I guess I'm just a prodigy then! Watch out master wizard, your apprentice will soon surpass you!" She let out an evil laugh.

Altrois covered his face with his foot and shook his head. "That was a little much but I suppose it was akin to what I would have expected from Frazier."

"You think so?" She said thoughtfully as she stroked her chin. "I suppose your right." She waved her hand at him. "Well let's just forget that happened then and move on to what's next." She suggested.

"We can't move on to what's next until you have fully mastered the scales." He explained.

"And how do I know when I've fully mastered them?" She asked.

"Scales are to dragons as hair would be to elves." He tilted his head side to side. "Bring your scales up over your head then retract them and regrow your hair. Once you can command the growth of both hair and scales you'll have it mastered."

She hesitated. "And if retract the scales and I can't regrow my hair then what?"

"Then you're stuck being bald until you figure it out." He winked at her but it looked strange to Valerie since dragons have two eyelids.

"Do dragons normally wink at each other?" She asked with an awkward smile.

"Not really." He replied while shaking his head. "I've just been trying to adapt some human expressions so I don't seem as frightening"

"I see." She paused briefly. "I would leave that one out."

"Smaller creatures are such a mystery." He sighed. "What exactly is wrong with winking?"

She rested her elbow in the palm of one hand then tapped her lips with the index finger of her other. "It's the double-eyelid. It just makes it look bizarre."

"Well, perhaps your kinds are the bizarre ones for only have one." He grumbled defensively.

She giggled. "Fair enough, but if your goal is to seem less frightening to us I wouldn't do it."

"Very well." He sighed with disappointment. "Let's get back to your training."

"Right, of course," she ran her hands through her beautiful silver hair. "I don't really think bald is a good look for me." She stuttered hesitantly.

"Then I hope you get it on the first try." He teased.

He lowered his head closer to Valerie. "What was that?"

"I hope you get it on your first try." She repeated mockingly under her breath.

"Nothing." She replied while shooing him back with her hand. "Now give me some space." She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Slowly she let it out and as she did she felt the scales climb up her neck and begin to cover her head. Her hair fell around her, some of it tangling in her scales.

"Good," Altrois said. "Your head is completely covered."

She imagined the scales retracting back to the center scale on her chest. She also pictured her hair but decided to only imagine it a few inches long

"That's strange," Altrois said. "Your hair came back but stopped short."

She breathed a sigh of relief. "Yes, that's what I wanted. I figured if I could now control the length of my hair it might be fun to try a new look." She ran her hand through it. It felt nice to have such short hair. It certainly wouldn't require as much work to keep it clean and tangle-free. "What do you think?" She asked.

"I'm not sure I'm the right one to be asking." He shrugged with his wings. "Dragons don't have hair and thus are mostly indifferent toward it."

"Oh," she said in disappointment.

"But something about it seems to suit you." He stared for a moment. "Yes, I think this fits your playful personality. Long, straight hair reminds me of Netherrin and he's so stiff all the time."

"Yes, yes he is." She agreed wholeheartedly. "Well, it looks like I've got the scales mastered and a new hairstyle too." She smiled smugly. "What's next, master?"

Altrois smiled. No one had ever called him master before. "You have the armor of a dragon so now it's time to give you the strength of one."

Her eyes grew wide. "How do we do that?"

"You will drink some of my blood, and if you live, you will be blessed with my strength." He told her with a grim expression.

She laughed nervously. "No, but really, how does this next part work."

"You drink my blood." His tone was deathly serious.

"And this could kill me?" She asked nervously.

"A few have died, yes, but you're a prodigy remember?" He winked at her.

"No winking, remember? She scolded.

"Oh, sorry!" He apologized.

"You better be." She crossed her arms and shifted her weight to one leg. "So, you're serious about the dying part?" She asked once more.

He nodded. "In a select few cases, yes, there have been those who for unknown reasons died from drinking dragon blood." He let out a low rumbled. "But I believe, based on what I've been told, those individuals were not suitable candidates, to begin with. This is not at all the case for you." He assured her.

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "You're right." She agreed. "You're right!" She straightened up. "Darn right I am! I am Valerie, Princess of Gunrick and Treyinth, daughter of King Arnoir and Queen Nasha'el, adopted daughter of King Wesley, apprentice to Master Wizard Frazier of Lithdin, and dragon knight in training under the great Altrois!" She shouted casting aside her inhibitions. "I will overcome this next step like none who has come before me!"

Altrois roared in approval! "It's a shame you were not born a dragon for the spirit of one certainly lives within you."

Valerie smiled. "Thank you, master." She placed her hand on the scale on her chest. "I'm ready!" She confidently declared.

Altrois nodded then took the tip of his claw and slid it up underneath a scale on his front leg then pierced his skin enough to cause blood to begin to flow. "Whenever you're ready." He told her.

She stepped in close. His blood was the brightest right she had ever seen. It almost seemed to glow. It also had a strong metallic smell. "How much should I drink?" She asked.

"I was told you should consume as much as you can bear." He replied.

"Very well then." She hesitated. "I don't suppose you have a cup or chalice I could drink it out of?" She asked.

"Oh yes, I happen to have one here in my pocket." He replied sarcastically.

"Point taken." She took a deep breath. Here goes nothing! She leaned in and put her mouth to the wound and began to suck out the blood. It was thick like cooking oil and tasted like a mix of copper and iron. Gulp after gulp she forced it down until she finally couldn't bear any more. She pulled back from the wound, gagging and coughing.

"How do you feel?" He asked with concern in his voice.

She wiped the blood from her mouth. "That was by far the most disgusting thing I've ever done in my life." She grimaced.

He breathed a sigh of relief. "I'm glad to see your reaction was not as bad as what I was told to expect."

"What were you told to expect?" She asked as she spat out some blood.

"Violent seizures and intense pain followed by you blacking out." He said nervously.

She was shocked. "And you don't think you should have told me that on the front end?" She put her hands on her hips and glared at him.

"I did mention not surviving. I thought that would be bad enough." He said defensively.

"Fair enough. I guess I really must be a prodigy to down that much blood and still be standing." She smiled smugly.

"It is quite remarkable." He agreed.

She began to take a few steps toward the rock with her shirt on it. "I suppose I am feeling tired though. Perhaps this would be a good time to..." The world around her began to spin and everything started to go black. She could barely hear Altrois calling her name over the ringing in her ears then she lost consciousness.