Hello again, children. Once more we are gathered, refreshed and ready to wrap up this fantastical tale. I'm certainly eager to see it through. How do you think will it end? Let's find out.
Nick and Charlotte hurried through the swamp, meandering their way carefully against the waning daylight. Evening gave way to night by the time they came upon the clearing before Nick's, or rather Leftie's, lair. The two-headed hydra was nestled comfortably within the cave, and beside it there was a raggedy tent with a small fire burning nearby.
"Hey! Hey! Look who's come back!" that insufferable crow cried from his perch by the tent. The two hydra heads stirred from their spot and stomped forward, fixing their gazes on their returned brother and his gal.
"Oh hey, Leftie, you're back already," Rightie greeted. "Didn't take ya long to miss this old cave, huh? Wait, is that the human? What's she doing here?"
"Didn't she say she was going off somewhere?" Middle asked.
"Plans changed, but I got to show your, er, brother around," Charlotte explained. "Awful sweet of him to come visit. Had to show him how to get there, first. And also how to get back."
That got a chuckle from Rightie.
"You're back awfully soon," came the soft voice of the Transmogrifier, stepping out into the open to see his customer. "Hopefully you enjoyed your time among the humans."
"For the most part. But then it became a little… hectic," our good old Leftie answered, somewhat evasively.
"And you must be a friend of Leftie here," the old man said to Charlotte.
"Yes. I'm Charlotte; and you must be the Transmogrifier bloke Nick, or Leftie rather, told me about."
"That I am, young lady." The coot then noticed Leftie's bareness. "Whatever happened to the clothes I gave you?"
"Well, that's part of the reason I cut my visit somewhat short—"
"The whole village was set afire," Charlotte blurted out. "On accident, and it wasn't entirely his fault. Kinda had my hand in it, and it just sort of happened."
"You razed a human settlement on your own? In that puny form? That's outright impressive," Middle said with sincere pride in his voice.
"And did some major carnage from the smell of it!" Rightie remarked.
"I only killed a dog and two people… two of which were complete accidents."
"Heh, look at our little brother trying to be modest," Rightie said while obnoxiously nudging his "elder" brother. "There's no fooling my nose, Leftie: you absolutely reek of gore. It's making me kinda nauseous."
"I have no idea what you're—"
A twang filled the air before an arrow plunged into Leftie's shoulder, followed by a cry of pain from Charlotte as one embedded into her upper arm. The Transmogrifier snatched an arrow in front of him without flinching, dropping it before he and the hydra heads looked forward.
Stomping from behind a large gnarled tree appeared the Dragon Slayer, his cape and plume burned away and his armor looking rather charred. In one hand he held a fancy automatic crossbow, cocked and ready to fire, and his eyes flared a deep red that shone through the shadow of his visor.
"You were foolish in assuming an explosion could stop me. Now your underestimations have led me to the lair of my prize." He tossed his crossbow aside for some reason, possiblybly for dramatic effect. "You traitors of humanity will be dealt with after I'm done here."
Striding further into the open, the Dragon Slayer stared up at his massive quarry while reaching for a hilt jutting from his back. He drew forth a long thick blade, rusted red by countless coatings of dried blood and ichor, then locked his legs and held a duelist's stance before the cave and its occupant.
"Your time of terrorizing and lording over this land is at an end, foul hydra. I, Dragon Slayer, have slain innumerable members of your kind in my quest, and your death shan't be the last. By my father's honor and the soul of my mother, this blade shall sever thee from this re—"
Whatever else he had to say was lost as Rightie snapped him up from the ground, then looking to Middle he let his brother bite down on the kicking legs before they twisted and yanked, ripping the slayer in twain amidst a spray of blood and guts as they gobbled his pieces, armor and all. Let that be a lesson to you, children: be careful who you monologue to.
"Blegh! Rancid." After spitting out some fetid bits, Rightie looked down at Leftie. "Looks like you still need us to protect your sorry self, eh?"
"Yes. Much appreciated, Rightie." Leftie pulled out his arrow before going over to comfort Charlotte, who was handling an arrow to the arm like a champ.
"That disgusting warrior finding us means we're compromised," Middle stated solemnly. "We must leave immediately before more start showing up."
"Please take me with you," Charlotte said, catching Middle and Rightie off-guard by such a request. "My entire village is mostly ashes by now, and I don't think father will want me back after I so boldly defied him. Also, I've grown rather sick of how everyone treats me there, I realize now."
"We have a hoard to carry away; there's no room for the likes of you," Middle firmly growled. "You can go with the Transmogrifier if you want to take flight."
"Nuh-uh! No way some scrawny dame is tagging along!" that loudmouth crow cawed in protest.
"We take her."
Gasp! Leftie, of all people/dragons, speaking against the command of his wise brother! Middle was very much shocked by this, doubly so Rightie, but before they could become justifiably angry, Leftie quickly rectified himself.
"At least until we find a human settlement to drop her off at. The villagers had me locked up and she came to my rescue. I could've broken out and saved myself more readily, to be honest, but she still risked her life and made the effort. It's the least we can do for her help. And also, I've… I realize I have something of a fondness for her."
"HA! I knew you had fallen for those wretched human wiles!"
You tell him, Rightie! That's just typical of young academics: falling for the first passably decent-looking person to catch your eye. All that education but no common sense to form sound judgment and discerning taste. I don't care if he's almost a half century old; I'm going by the dragon model for age. Did you forget what kind of story this is?
In any event, this revelation seemed to work a charm on the wounded darling in question.
"Oh Nick, I mean Leftie… It does my heart wonders hearing you say that, but if I'm just going to be a bother for your brothers and make things unpleasant for you, then I may as well go elsewhere."
"I might have a solution to your dilemma," spoke the Transmogrifier, conveniently rejoining the conversation. "Bear in mind, this is solely from the perspective of my profession, so it may not be the best course of action. But from how I see it, I can do one of two things for you, good Leftie. I can further alter your present form, create some essential organs and… appendages, and thereby make you wholly human. Alternatively, I could reshape you into something akin to your original form. Smaller, slimmer, but with your own limbs and organs, and very much draconic.
"Either option will mean severing you completely from your original body, however," he warned. "There will be no way of returning to what you once were. But you'll be truly independent, free to go wherever and do whatever you wish without the concerns of your brothers to weigh your decisions. A frightful proposition to some, but at least you will be able to accompany your beloved wherever she may go."
That was quite the offer, let me tell you, and Leftie thought the same. True independence, at the cost of cutting himself off from the only family he's ever known. Before he could think on this, Charlotte had something more to say.
"Excuse me, Mr. Transmogrifier? You can warp and change people into other things, yes?"
"Into other living things, but that is correct."
"Then if it's alright with you, could you turn me into a dragon for Leftie's sake?"
Just when you thought all the shocks of the day were over, the biggest one yet hits the little gathering like a thunderbolt. Everyone's jaws dropped, including that filthy crow's beak. Even the unflappable Transmogrifier's eyebrows were raised at what had been said.
"My lady, that's a very extreme measure to take, and I daresay wholly unnecessary."
"It might seem like that, but well… I have a confession to make." Charlotte took a deep breath. "Everyone in the village didn't like me much, on account of my enjoyment of books and being a total doormat, but also because of a 'phase' I went through. Back when I was eight years old, a royal scholar had come through town and left some books behind by accident, so I took them for myself without anyone's knowledge. Among them was a book on dragon physiology, filled with all these highly detailed and beautifully drawn pictures. When I first saw those magnificent, powerfully-built, sinuous creatures… well, there's no real appropriate way to say it but, seeing them… made me feel incredibly bothered."
Gasps abounded from her listeners; for shame, you naughty storyteller! The burning blush on her face reflected the awareness of her indiscretion.
"It's embarrassing saying that, but that's what happened. I was completely infatuated, poring over every page of that book, cover to cover and back again. It was all I could think about for weeks. I devoted every second of my free time marveling at those creatures, fantasizing as to what they'd look like in motion. I must've let it slip to my father at some point, because he immediately took those books and threw them in the fire. Word got out about my hobby and I was teased relentlessly, and no boy ever had an interest in me ever again. Not that they ever had any to begin with, but there was definitely a reason not to change that.
"And the thing is, despite all that humiliation, I never got over it. I kept it to myself, but I still dreamed and fantasized about those creatures, and that grew into longing as I got older. I felt this burning desire to go see one, or some equivalent. The truth is, Leftie, that day we first met, I had gone into the swamp to try to see a live crocodire. There had been talk of them going extinct in the area for unknown reasons, so I had to have a look while there was still a chance. Just a quick peek, nothing more, I told myself. It nearly got me eaten, but never would I have imagined that I'd come face to faces with a real live dragon. It was a dream come true; I thought I might've died or hallucinated."
Charlotte paused to look longingly at Leftie. "But then you spoke to me, and vouched for keeping me alive, and everything else that followed. In all the time we spent together, talking and learning about one another, you became less a foolish young girl's obsession and more an actual honest-to-goodness friend. Now I want to say, after everything I've learned from you, I would like to give being a dragon a chance."
"Ah. I see how it is," the Transmogrifier nodded sagely. "But such a transformation would be excruciatingly painful, and so advanced that you may be unable to return to your original form."
This grave warning only earned a shrug from Charlotte. "That's fine. Human life isn't all that cracked up to be, at least in my experience, so I'm up for trying something new. Especially if it means being able to, heehee, easily intermingle with Leftie in his natural form. Besides, I could better fend for myself, so he won't have to leave his brothers for my sake. They might even like me better if I was the same species."
"It'd, be an improvement," Rightie said in a vain effort to gather his wits, but after what's been divulged, can you blame his bewilderment? Yet to Leftie, this solidified Charlotte's place in his metaphorical heart, and proving he was indeed a match for this farm girl's insanity, Leftie took up both her hands in his own with a look of support and admiration.
"You need not endure alone, Charlotte, and you'll need someone to teach you the ways of being a dragon. Therefore, I'll become one myself and join you."
Guess it's not that much of a surprise with all the lead up, but it certainly was one for Rightie and Middle.
"Are you sure about this, Leftie?" Rightie asked. "You barely know how to work a left claw, and you won't have us to watch your neck."
"Then all the more reason to learn to protect myself," Leftie said firmly. "I'm sure I'll be able to work it out.
Middle felt the resolve in his little brother's words, and allowing himself a faint, somewhat sad smile, he nodded. "You have changed, Leftie, in so little time. Whether it's for ill or not, you now have a determination in your attitude that I can respect. You have become your own individual, and you should be allowed to go elsewhere."
Leftie practically choked up when he said "Thank you, Middle," then turning to the Transmogrifier he asked "Can you do the transformation right now?"
"Not quite: I still need some more components to do a full transformation. Additional dragon parts are needed for both you and the lady, which is simple enough. Just the remainder of your neck will do. Along with some claw trimmings and a portion of the tail."
"What!? That part's strictly ours; there's no way you're butchering that!"
"How much do you need, exactly?" Middle asked, ignoring his brother's protest.
"Only a third. Should make for enough bone and muscle."
Middle gave Rightie a stern look that couldn't be argued with, so the hot-headed head groaned before saying, "Never say we never gave you anything. Actually, consider us even after this." Leftie nodded in the affirmative.
"Apart from those, I will also need dragon organs or some equivalent," the Transmogrifier continued. "Preferably that of a large reptile. An entire crocodire of decent size would suffice."
"But we haven't seen one in a month," Rightie complained, but Middle glared at him.
"Then we will have to have to search extra hard for one."
"You mean right now?"
"I recommend waiting until morning," the Transmogrifier suggested. "Easier to search in the light, and it will provide us rest before the procedure."
"We don't need to rest like you do, human, and our eyes can parse any shade of darkness. We will return, soon if luck is with us."
Rightie could only groan some more, resigned to yet another unwinnable argument. "This is the last thing I'm putting up with. I mean it!"
Without further words the hydra stomped out of the cave and into the nearly pitch black swamp, leaving just the two humans, the shapeshifted dragon, and one dirty birdie to hold down the camp.
"I suppose I'll make the preliminary preparations in the meantime," the body warper decided. "Beginning with the removal of that arrow in your arm, madam."
"Oh, I had forgotten about that. I'm surprised you said nothing about it."
Charlotte brushed off her loverboy's comment. "It's no worry. Not the worst thing I've been stuck with, believe me."
Alright, speeding through things a little: Rightie and Middle spent the whole night sniffing, tearing and upending every dreary foot of that swamp before they came upon the secret lair of a young crocodire, the last of the swamp variety in the world. His story would've been one of survival, redemption and faith, but it was cut short by a quick and brutal chomp on the neck.
The light of early morning was filtering in by the time they returned with their catch, and true to his word the Transmogrifier had readied nearly everything (after some sleep and breakfast, of course). All that was left to do was a quick dragon manicure and the clean, painless removal of the rest of Leftie's former neck and part of the tail. Oh, and dissecting the crocodire of its organs and additional whining from Rightie, of course.
Finally the procedure could begin, with our two subjects and the raw components placed in a circle marked by the mysterious paint-like fluid. The Transmogrifier read deeply from his tome, and as before everything in the circle was encased in blinding light as a dual transformation occurred.
Leftie wasn't having nearly as bad a time of it as before. Sure it still felt like every inch of his being was being stretched well past its limit as foreign organs were slammed and melded to his reforming skeleton, but he at least sorta knew what to expect and just focused on remaining conscious.
Charlotte, on the other hand, was wholly unprepared for the sheer sensational agony of having her physical form bent and twisted to the point where she couldn't describe what pain was shooting from where. But she was cognizant enough to scream her splitting skull off until the elongation of her mouth and limbs made it hard to properly vocalize. A small mercy for the observers and whatever wildlife was unfortunate enough to be within a two mile proximity.
After a minute and a half of horror it was finished, and the results were stunning. Leftie looked like a juvenile of his species, being twelve feet long but having only the one head, whereas Charlotte had become a slender, ten foot long beige-scaled dragoness, with auburn hair and striking razor-thin lashes. The crocodire organs and added neck parts had Leftie feeling truly whole and detached from his former life, which is a real dandy thing to feel. The claw trimmings were put to good use in giving Charlotte a clean set of claws on each of her four legs. I'd even say they were dazzling.
"Those arrows you were hit with were made from enchanted steel, so I couldn't remove the scarring," Transmogrifier remarked, referring to the scars located at the base of their shoulders. "On the bright side, they can easily be passed for respectable battle scars."
The couple and the hydra spent a minute marveling and checking these new shapes before Leftie broke the silence.
"Do things feel good on you?" he asked Charlotte.
"Incredible! I look so beautiful. And my teeth are so sharp now." She gave her fangs a lick to test said sharpness. "That whole ritual was ridiculously painful, but this makes it so worth it."
"Gotta agree with rock-breath: you're a knockout compared to what you were before," that crude corvid just had to say.
"Thank you again, Transmogrifier," said Leftie. "How can we ever repay you for this?"
"That trinket from yesterday more than covers this extra procedure," the Transmogrifier deferred. "I'm happy you are satisfied with my services. On that note, can I add you to my list of referrals?"
The happy pair readily assented, and after giving their information it was time for everyone to part for good. Leftie looked up to his brothers and the body that had been his home since birth.
"I suppose this is goodbye," he said. "I wish you luck in finding a new lair."
"You better not come crawling back after all you put me through," Rightie said, choking up a little. "Don't blow this by being a brainy wimp."
"I'll be rude and mean when I have to, Rightie. And Middle, I'll make sure Charlotte is given the lessons you gave me."
"Worry more about yourself, Leftie," Middle replied. "Whether you live or die is solely dependent on you from now on."
"But not as 'Leftie'," Charlotte chimed in, snuggling against her partner. "This looks more something a 'Lawrence' can accomplish, especially with me around."
"Yes. Yes you're right," Lawrence joyfully agreed.
Without further ceremony, the newly-formed dragons slinked off into the swamp, toward an uncertain but exciting and hopeful future. Will they get far, or be slaughtered at the first ranger outpost? I believe some optimism is warranted.
As for Middle and Rightie, they departed the swamp soon after their brother, carrying as much of their treasure hoard as they could. They were sad in their respective ways, and never again would they see their once-timid and annoying sibling. But dragons of their mettle don't dwell on sorrows for long, for they inevitably turn their focus toward the acquisition of more treasure and dominance over others of their own kind. Their future seemed a promising one.
Then there's the Transmogrifier who made all this change possible, hiking to parts unknown and feeling invigorated with his recent success. His feathered disease carrier of a partner flapped by his head, making inane small talk as he was little good in anything other than being a nuisance.
"Sure got pretty crazy back there, huh boss?" was one such example of his blathering.
"That tends to happen when young love is involved," the gentleman in tatty clothes said, a mite wistfully.
"Makes me glad I'm flying solo. No murders for this free spirit. Anyway, talk about a big-time score! Can't believe the luck that they had one of those gems."
"Yes, quite the considerable find." The Transmogrifier pulled out the amulet he received the previous day, letting the light of late morning shine over its gleaming red centerpiece. "This will speed things up considerably. Shouldn't be much longer now."
...before you can carry out your real scheme. That was what you were going to say, right? You must think you're very clever playing the benevolent magician, but I see the things you take when your clients aren't looking. And rather than make off like the dirty thief you are, you charge them for your services and take even more from them. All to fix up that special ring of yours.
Oh yes, I know about it. It lets you see, and you think you can enhance it. Make it capable of stopping me, because you don't like the way I tell my stories. Think you'll be quite the powerhouse with all those jewels and animal parts you've been collecting.
But yours is a fool's endeavor, old man. You will fail, because I won't allow you to succeed. Nothing will tear me away from my darlings, especially some moldy hypocrite. The moment you set foot here is when your destruction is assured. And it will be agonizing.
Oh yes. So incredibly agonizing.
Soon enough, children, you will see the extremes I will go to keep you safe. Then you will know how much I truly, TRULY care for you...