WARNING: If you are under thirteen, this probably ain't for you!
A Fancy Intro
In the Pyrrhia we live in, we go about our lives as if the world weren't about to end; as if we would be safe from any harm, no matter what.
My world is skating on paper-thin ice.
And guess what?
There are ghosts in the streets that shriek.
Your childhood nightmare.
Uh, hi. My name is Tide.
I go to Jade Mountain Academy, which is a popular chain of schools all over this great huge world we live in. Pyrrhia.
I've been here for about two weeks, and it's great.
I'm in the new Mercury Winglet. They had this thing established in the first days of JMA, and it was there were to be one dragon from each of the tribes in every winglet. Heh . . . well, I'm a hybrid . . . as if that wasn't hard enough! There aren't a lot of hybrids that go to the local JMA.
It's a tiny town on the coast, but I don't have a taste for the seafood. I'm sure my drops of RainWing blood would scream their assent, but the rest of me is SeaWing. That little half of me is screaming at me to EAT the fish.
Well, I take algebra, speed through reading and social studies assignments to go and read my book, and suck at any kind of presentation unless it involves some sort of a slideshow. My teacher objects to this method, for it isn't very "creative".
I also take art, which I love with all of my heart.
Then there's orchestra.
I play the viola. I'm the ONLY instrument in alto clef. I'm the leader of the violas. Responsible for every mistake the other violas make. Orchestra is the very best! We have concerts in the winter and spring, and practice every day at school.
Eheh . . . I may LOVE that forty-five minutes of orchestra I get every weekday, but doing it at home qualifies as homework. Even if it's fun.
Welcome to this magical land. We named it Irresponsible Procrastination.
The NightWings decided to stare at me intensely today. I'm not sure why. They're usually pretty smug, and chilled, but today they seem smug, chilled, and . . . sort of eerie.
One NightWing named Lightless came up to me in the hall. Her eyes were glassy and her limbs were oddly stiff. She seemed like a walking corpse.
Okay, I may not have NightWing capabilities, despite being THOUGHT OF as part NightWing. Everyone says I'm "smart like a NightWing" which is weird and irrelevant. I don't have a drop of that sort of power in my bones. I am extremely observant, though, and can pick up tiny cues and see things others often miss. It makes up for my terrible personality, and impaired hearing and eyesight.
Now, of course, something was amiss.
Lightless smiled, revealing white teeth and blowing hot breath across my face. "How are you doing, Tide? Anything . . . happen? Recently? A change, perhaps?"
I shook my head, becoming extremely worried. I glanced behind her, seeing the angle that she was standing in. Her back was towards the end of the hall, meaning she walked out of one of those classes. I frowned. There was Aquatic, Poison/Venom Control, and Mind Reading & Prophecy.
Which door did she come out of? Hmm, boy, do I wonder.
I forced myself to smile, matching her twisted little grin. "No, but, uh . . . I'm excited for the future. Lots of change then, right?" I stammered awkwardly.
Lightless got the hint that I was slowly but surely catching what was happening. Her glassy eyes became flustered, but she held her stance. "Not . . . necessarily. But I need some help with homework. I can't do it with my NightWing competition, can I? Of course, you're registered as a SeaWing, but your NightWing blood makes you superior to the average SeaWing . . ." she smiled in her funny, odd way. It was an enticing, inviting grin. Albeit, I'm still miffed everyone's calling me a NightWing.
I wanted to refuse. To go home. The school day was almost over, we'd finished with our chosen special activities.
Something within me whispered yes. That part of me wanted to know what was going on . . . I ignored that small bit. Time to get out the convenient excuse me.
"I have Aquatic homework, though. We're learning how to state places and names, since we finished up with the basics." Lies.
Lightless's smile faded. "Oh . . . well, feel free to come over! I live a couple blocks away from you, Tide, so . . . just ring my doorbell!" her elastic grin apparently could just stretch and stretch. Forever.
"Okay then," I muttered, brushing my way past Lightless.
Smokeheart, a male NightWing, decided to stop me in my path. "Hi, Tide." Smokeheart didn't wear the same doll-like facade Lightless had dressed herself with, but his expression hid concern. He was trying to be easygoing and calm.
I nodded. "Hi, Smokeheart. How are your lungs doing?" I queried as he pulled out his inhaler. The dragon had asthma, and I figured being nice could get me out of the situation.
He smiled, his grin toothy. "Better, since I got the new one." he waved his inhaler in my face, excited to show me, and less shy now that I had expressed positive emotion.
I brushed past him, leaving the two NightWings behind me. I rushed towards the door, and ran down the street. When familiar scents and sights surrounded me, I slowed my pace to a confident trot, with my backpack slung over my shoulder.
My scales prickled and I looked behind me, but no one was there. I decided it was nothing and kept on walking, but an uneasy feeling remained in my gut.
When I got home that night, and got out my phone. I surfed through recent tabs, opening YouTube. Yes, let's do this all night. I inwardly sighed.
Here's the summary: all of the dragonets live in these apartments a little ways away from JMA. They are cozy and practical, but not that big. I kinda just have a a large room. I have a bed, a desk with a computer,a nightstand, and a dresser. Plus, a little bathroom and a kitchen. There's a counter where I've set up a chair so I can eat my dinner.
Outside, the world seemed yellowed and the air smoky. I was walking to school.
When I reached the large building, I pushed open the heavy door, and even had to lean against it before it fully opened.
I walked in, contemplating whether or not I should skip class to spy. It was my fifteenth day at JMA . . . but then again, we had no important assignments . . .
But STILL! I felt dirty for skipping class . . . what should I do? What should I do . . . ? I'll bring it home, if we have any work to do, I suppose. That would be best for me. That would be best, I think. Yeah. Despite all of the trouble I COULD get in . . .
Bring it on, I say.
I pressed my ear to the door, but realized I was out in the open. I cursed under my breath, realizing the room was strategically placed so anyone eavesdropping could be easily caught, and the walls were built so sound could easily enter, but could not be emitted from within the room.
The perfect place to hide secrets.
I looked around quickly, and spotted a large vent. Quickly glancing from side to side, I realized I wouldn't be able to get it open easily.
The home ec class was working with tools today.
Upon that very realization, I sprinted towards the class, grabbing a screwdriver and dodging the awkward stares and mumbled protests that followed my entering. I've never left a room so fast in my whole entire life.
I jumped on top of the lockers, my feet making a huge CRASH! as I leaped. I held on to the slightly convex surface of the vent, and climbed so I was balanced on top of the lockers. As I settled, I pulled out the screwdriver, and opened the vents. I decided the screws previously attaching it to the walls looked pretty nice on the floor, and the vent grate was left on top of the lockers.
As I climbed, I worried about the noise, but it soon became apparent the ceiling wall was thinner than the side walls were, and sound was enable to transfer from were I was.
I sighed with relief.
The great thing was, there was a vent inside of the room, on the ceiling, apparently. I could watch right from there.
I felt my mental shields go up, removing any nearing presences from my mind before they could realize I was watching and waiting for them to give away some important information, possibly regarding my theorized stalking.
I heard voices.
". . . new recruit named Inkling, who joined yesterday . . ."
The thing was, I couldn't really SEE through the vent, so my ears were all I had. My impaired ears. I turned my head to the left so my right ear was getting most of the sound. It was the better ear, anyway.
". . . Inkling has telepathy, but he has worked for the Darkstalker Project before. He recently joined to spy on . . ."
I couldn't hear the name through the mumbling and muttering of the other NightWings. It was odd, because more than a few of those NightWings sounded older than twenty, and all of those who had registered at JMA were younger than fourteen.
Odd, because I remember we certainly had at least thirty two-year-olds. What was going on? What on Pyrrhia was the fricking DARKSTALKER PROJECT? The answer was beyond me, but my venturing, anxiety-ridden mind liked to make up crazy stories about what it COULD be. Right now, it was putting together a scenario about I-Don't-Know-What, because no one's ever told me the legend of Darkstalker. Apparently it was some NightWing monster, and those two words plus a stalking are enough to scare me half to death.
". . . we'll start it in about--"
My glasses fell off of my snout and onto the metal grate.
I had never felt true fear of death. I live in a small suburban area. I enjoy great technology, though, because I live NEAR a city. Still, I've never been really afraid of being murdered. Actually, I have, but I blame the anxiety and the scenarios my brain creates. There's never been a REAL fear supported by FACTS.
Until now, that is.
I've also never climbed out of a vent so fast. (Not that I've climbed in a vent before, of course.) I didn't worry about staying quiet, either. I pretty much just shoved my glasses back onto my face and leaped out of there.
I landed awkwardly, and stayed on the ground for a split second, wincing. Instantly, though, I scrambled to my feet and ran right out of that door.
I could see the dark, midnight silhouettes against the baby blue sky racing towards me. The thing is, I'm fast. Like, really fast. I can outrun most dragons. I don't have a lot of stamina, though. Distance races aren't really my thing. Blame the asthma.
Luckily for this hybrid, I happen to live close.
I ran inside, slamming the door behind me and closing the lock. Then, I locked all of the windows and closed the curtains. I grabbed a water bottle and some cereal from the kitchen pantry, not even bothering to close the cupboards.
A kitchen knife was lying in wait on a chopping board.
I hid in the closet, behind tons of coats and stuff, my items beside me. My knife was in my hand. I cradled it close to my chest, ready to lunge outward in the event of a break-in.
The doorknob jiggled.
I could hear it clearly.
The curses of angry NightWings.
The small whoosh of a flame starting.
The crackling and crumbling as they burned a hole through the door.
The stamp of them beating the fire to nothing.
The click as they reached through the hole and unlocked the door.
The creak as they opened the front door.
The pitter patter of their feet on my floors.
And, finally, the groan of the old wooden closet door opening.
I stifled a gasp and tensed my muscles. I ached to scream, move, run. I settled for silent tears, letting the liquid roll down my cheeks.
You know, what's terrible is that snot is rolling down my face now. I want to sniffle, to wipe it away, but acting upon any such notion would surely get me killed.
I could hear the NightWing BREATHING. Heavily. I instantly knew it was Smokeheart, the concerned little NightWing with asthma. Like me. I had actually thought he was nice, genuine . . . yet here I am, hiding from him and his comrades.
It was in that treacherous moment I remembered he was a mind reader.
I mentally dug sharp, hooked talons into either side of my brain, pretending to grasp any presences, and throw them in the other direction. It didn't work. I could still hear Smokeheart, coming closer and closer as he waddled around the closet.
Maybe . . . I had an idea. Something so darn preposterous it was a wonder I didn't immediately reject the thought. I knew I was kind of, sort of, only SLIGHTLY out of options at this point. Options that would keep me alive, anyway.
I imagined a wide, fast-paced river in the middle of a thick forest. Anybody travelling by land would not be able to get past the vegetation, so Smokeheart's presence followed me by swimming through the river. I, being half SeaWing, was much faster in the river than him. I sped away, leaving mental wake behind me.
The NightWing sensed my fear. He was incredibly perceptive. Instead, I imagined facing him, head on, and punched the guy in the snout.
Whelp, that sure worked.
He cried out in pain, and another NightWing I didn't know came to his rescue. I almost recoiled from the fear, but held my ever-still position behind the jackets and other assorted clothing items within this closet.
"Are you okay, Smokeheart?" he asked.
I put water inside of my brain. My mind was an ocean. You can't hear anybody underwater. And, besides, I could stay underwater as long as I wanted. I'm half SeaWing. I possess stated water-related abilities.
Smokeheart gasped like he was drowning, but it quickly ceased in the calm of my ocean. Nobody can hear me. My thoughts are limited to my body again.
"She's near." the unidentified NightWing growled.
Flabbergasted. Baffled. Why was I surprised? I'm not sure . . . I should be surprised. Maybe my ocean isn't working.
I take no action.
My ocean remains in my mind for nearly an hour before they give up. I nearly let out a loud sigh of relief, but refrained myself from doing so just in the nick of time. Giving up doesn't teleport them straight out the door, after all. They have to actually walk out.
After I heard the door close, I pushed my glasses back up my snout with a single talon. In the time I had been waiting, my face became a slide. I'm just glad they didn't fall, like LAST TIME. That was like, two hours ago.
I've never glared at an inanimate object so fiercely in my life.
I carefully crept out of the closet, knife in hand, and saw the blue eyes of a NightWing looking at me through the window.
The next day, I had to drag myself out of the closet in which I decided to sleep in. I was scared to go back to school, but figured staying near other BREATHING ORGANISMS was the probably the best option, in order to preserve my life. And possibly my sanity from lack of contact with the real world. Oh my.
I took a small pocketknife with me, just in case. You never know, right? The only problem was, no weapons were allowed on school grounds, much less concealed weapons wielded by a minor with anxiety problems.
As I walked down the streets, there was a NightWing with me, looking down at his phone. I jumped back off of the sidewalk, but held my stance when I realized he wouldn't be able to lay a talon on me. There was a group of SkyWings behind us, and a SandWing athlete ahead and to the right. No way could a kidnapping occur without someone noticing? Even if he did get away, Entos was a small town. It wasn't hard to track somebody down here in the suburbs. Well, unless one reached the city, that is. Then, you're kinda done for.
I'm overthinking things again, aren't I?
And now I'm underthinking it. Of course something could happen! NightWing raided my apartment! I'm being stalked! There's a mystery NightWing who saw me and said nothing! Ack!
I have a sinking feeling in the bottom of my stomach that I'm going to die young.
Today's a special day. Apparently, the choir dragonets are going to be practicing all day for their concert, so each tribe gets to vote for their special class so the choir dragonets wouldn't be behind. Naturally, the enrolled SeaWings chose Aquatic. That's what we were going to do all day.
I walked into Aquatics class, and removed my glasses. It was harder for me to see underwater, so everything was much blurrier than usual. It was still fairly easy to see which of their photophores were lighting up, though, and how they were moving their talons.
I was greeted by the teacher. She flashed one stripe on her snout. I flashed back, with some talon movements signifying respect. She nodded, and I swam off to join my classmates. They greeted me, too.
Class began. We were to interpret directions, then follow through with them. Easy enough. We pretty much play Simon Says, or something like that. According to history books, it was a common game amongst young scavengers.
We had our own version, which was Cirrata says. She was our teacher, and Cirrata asked us in Aquatic to name any polygon. I chose trapezoid.
After the school day, I lingered in the locker rooms. I looked at myself in the mirror. I adjusted my glasses, pretending I didn't see the fatigue and wild fear in my eyes. I nodded to myself, plugging in my earbuds and playing some dubstep music.
I walked out of the school, my backpack over my shoulder, a cord snaking out of it and into my ears. A knife in my hand, which I hid with my body from any passing adult dragons.
As I walked out of the building, I pushed hard on the large doors. I ambled down the steps, glancing behind my shoulder at the letters engraved in the stone. "JMA PUBLIC SCHOOLS". Modeled after the original JMA, but more modern. Better.
As I turned to face forwards again, my eyes widened and my breath caught in my throat as the silhouette dragged me backwards by my wing. I struggled, trying to yank myself free. I plopped down on the ground, but the figure was much stronger than me. He took me to the side of the school, and set me down.
I drew my knife, blindly lunging. I got to my feet, seeing the figure trying to evade my swinging blade. I feinted, and cornered him.
Tears dripped down my cheeks, despite the fact that I had won. It was only because I brought a knife . . . on my own, I'm weak. Useless.
I pressed the flat side of the knife against his throat, to make sure I had him, but couldn't and wasn't hurting him. The least he could do was EXPLAIN.
He was a handsome male NightWing, slightly older and taller, with blue eyes.
"Umm, I would appreciate it if you put the knife away." he said, unbevelievably curtly. "And why the heck are you crying?"
I sniffed, wiping my nose with my other talon. "Well, I would appreciate it if I had a day off from NightWing stalkers. And, by the way, I'm crying because you FREAKING TRIED TO KIDNAP ME, YOU IDIOT!" I roared.
He smiled, as if I were amusing. "That's quite contrary to the truth, Tide. I'm trying to protect you from the others."
I glared, not surprised he knew who I was. "Convenient. Someone who happens to go to the same school as the dragons who want to kill me, someone who knows my name . . ." I trailed off, sensing I had gotten my point across.
"Someone who let you go the day the NightWings raided your home?" he queried. "I'm sorry, I haven't properly introduced myself, Tide. I'm called Inkling."
I recoiled in shock. "You were the one sent to spy on me!" I growled, but my voice sounded pitiful and congested. Blame the allergies! Everything's getting the blame today!
"At first, yes, I agreed. I was thinking, 'oh, this is gonna get me a promotion!' then I was like, 'wait, this isn't ethical. Nope!' and then. . . yup. That's the story."
I looked at him like he was crazy. "You seriously expect me to believe that? Wait . . . actually, yes. I believe you." I took the knife away from his throat, but I was still wary.
He smiled again. It was charming. Intoxicating. Something you could get drunk and delirious over, simply because of that inviting little aura he gave off.
"And why do you believe me, Tide?" Inkling asked, clearly confused behind his smile.
I shrugged as if the answer was obvious; I'm a proud idiot. "Because you didn't try to convince me with some complex answer that would've been sure to make me believe you. You just told me, the way you ACTUALLY would."
He looked satisfied with that. Grinning, he handed me a slip of paper with a series of numbers written on it. "Call me this evening, if you want."
I stared at that paper, my breath caught in my throat, as he simply walked away.
Yeah, it was a fairly nice restaurant. I cleared the fog off the lens of my glasses and straightened my back, trying hard not to throw up.
He was in the front, already waiting on the corner. He held a small plate and a fork in his talons. He wore a loose green t-shirt, and was leaning against a brick wall.
As I approached, a waitress offered me a plate of spaghetti, which I gratefully accepted. I took my place beside Inkling, but felt kind of odd eating in front of him. I pretty much just toyed with my food for a couple minutes before actually turning to him and opening my mouth.
Inkling spoke before I could. "Umm . . . how's the food?"
"Good. What's wrong?"
"What do you mean?"
"You seem agitated."
Inkling sighed. "Fine. I'm going to ask a question. Okay?"
"Do you consider this a date?"
I was flustered. Baffled. Flattered. WHAT WAS I SUPPOSED TO POSSIBLY SAY? I've never been on a date before, much less had a relationship. When I'm stuck in situations like this, I tend to stutter, make little animal noises, and make odd movements.
"I, uh, well . . . Inkling, uh, you see . . . EEK!" I covered my mouth, blushing, because I had already clearly screwed things up for my self.
Inkling smiled, twirling his fork on the plate. "You DO think of as a date, don't you?" Before I could reply, he shrugged, but he was still smiling. It seemed to stretch all around his face. "I sort of like you. You're smart. Cute."
I could tell he was trying hard to get that out. I felt flattered. "No, no. I'm not pretty. Or smart. I'm an idiot." The thing is, I lack self-worth.
Inkling glanced at me, seeming to understand. "Anxiety," he guessed.
I nodded. "Do you have anything?"
He shrugged. "No."
I nodded again. "What do you want to do at this point?" I asked, unsure what to do. Should I steer our relationship? No. No I won't.
Maybe I will.
I think I will.
"Umm . . ." I stuttered, and Inkling's eyes glittered. "do you want to watch a movie at my apartment?" I questioned.
"Yeah. What do you have in mind?"
"Let's try an action movie.
"Sounds good, Tide."
Inkling handed the waitress a check, which she took gratefully along with our plates. Inkling's was empty, yet mine was half-full.
We reached my house, and he sort of wrapped his wing around me and covered us in a blanket as the movie played. We weren't afraid to turn up the volume.
I sort of just closed my eyes, after I set my glasses on the table. I leaned against Inkling, warm, safe, increasingly drowsy. It was hard not to fall asleep on his lap.
"Inkling?" I mumbled, my voice muffled.
"Yeah?" he asked, cradling my head as if I were a doll.
"Thanks. For protecting me. That . . . means a lot." I stammered awkwardly, not sure what else I was supposed to say.
Inkling tensed, but only the slightest bit. Then he relaxed. "Thanks for, not, like, killing me or anything. I sure do like to live."
A small bout of laughter escaped my throat. "Do you?" I asked jokingly, "Well, at least I know now you're not suicidal or anything."
Inkling's wing closed over me as he bent over to grab the television remote. He pressed the power button; the sound stopped abruptly, and the light died from the screen, fading into a reflective blackness.
"What are you doing?" I asked, but I wasn't wary at that point.
Inkling sat back a bit, allowing me to sit upright. His features were tense, and I noticed he didn't let go of my talons. He squeezed, but gently.
"What is it?" I asked again.
Inkling sighed. "I suppose it's time I tell you the truth. I'm not here to protect you."
My eyes widened, my heart in my throat. I didn't utter a single word.
I've never screamed so loud in my life. I ripped my wrists out of his grasp, but he was holding so tight as I recoiled, his claws dug into my veins.
I was going to die.
I jumped over the couch into the kitchen, stealing a knife from the counter, and thrusting my talons outward.
Inkling saw me do so, and brandished a sleek silver shotgun. He cocked it, and aimed directly at my chest. His talon was on the trigger, but he didn't pull it. Yet.
"Do it, and . . ." I put the knife to my own throat. "I'll kill myself!" Of course I wasn't going to! But, I couldn't let him call my bluff.
Inkling pretended to look smug, but I saw real concern in his eyes. His expression went blank for a moment, then the authentic smugness really showed up. Ack. I had completely forgotton Inkling could read minds.
I had to get him to not focus on my MIND and focus on NOW.
I lunged forward, taking him by surprise. He fired, but it missed me by an inch. Time seemed to slow down; I could see the dart as it passed by my face. I could hear the tiny zipping noise, the sleek dart shining.
I knocked the gun out of his hand, and it skittered away. "HA!" I screamed, my chest heaving, feeling insane, scared, and exhausted.
Inkling shook his head, and his eyes locked with mine. "The dart can be salvaged, Tide. It is activated when it comes in contact with an organism, namely, you."
I glanced at the dart, not moving. It was stuck in the wall, tiny cracks spreading from where it had pierced it. Sharp. Deadly. Precise. What other words were there to describe it?
I had to get rid of the dart. I bolted towards it, but Inkling grabbed my wing and slammed me to the ground, hard. I cried out as he took hold of the dart.
Luckily for me, his gun was near the door. I was in front of it. He needed nothing more than to get through me, to his gun, and . . . that would be that. Apparently, there's no such thing as second chances anymore.
Apparently, he didn't need a gun.
Inkling loosed a battle cry, jumping on top of me and slamming the point of the dart deep into my chest. He got up as I went still, stiffening. I could feel my muscles loosening and contracting, reacting to the chemicals contained within the dart.
It went too deep.
On top of my slit wrists, I hiccupped, and some blood erupted from deep within my throat. It was hot, metallic, and sticky, like a coin tossed into a cup of vinegar. It landed all over my face, coating my teal scales in my own dark, glistening blood.
Inkling appeared unworried. Amused at my pain. He removed the knife from my talons with ease, then knelt down. His talons brushed my cheeks, and he held my head. He lifted it, so I was staring straight into his eyes.
"Oh, Tide," he mused. "I don't know why you're so mad. I'm trying to help you, not protect you. This is the only way."
He grasped the base of the dart, then yanked upward. The dart came out of my chest, and I gasped as a spray of blood came from the wound.
"Just know I still love you, Tide. I still think you're smart, and cute. But this is for the best."
I screamed with rage. Blood gurgled in my throat. I summoned a wad of reddish spit and covered his face in the bodily fluid. My throat was on fire and my stomach lurched in protest, so I screamed some more at him.
He wiped it away with a single talon, then stood. He used my phone, and dialed a number. I could hear it ring, and then the muffled crackling as someone picked it up.
The same landline he had used earlier.
"Do you have the Class Two hybrid?" a voice demanded.
Inkling glanced down at me, so I assumed I was the 'Class Two hybrid' or whatever.
"Yes." he answered. He resumed to answer some simple questions.
I rolled over, curling into a little ball. Blood trickled out of me from everywhere. I let out a pitiful moan, tears rolling down my cheeks.
I blacked out as the first NightWings crashed through the door.
I didn't open my eyes yet. I had gained consciousness, but I felt as delicate as a butterfly within a cocoon, not ready to spread its wings and fly yet.
The sound of plastic and metal amongst other various objects filled my ears. The buzzing of bright lights glared down at me, rhythmic and never-ending. There were several clean, sterile scents and smells like pennies and rubbing alcohol that occupied my nose. I felt the soft cushion of a bed underneath me.
I tasted the metallic surface of a muzzle.
My eyes flew open. I felt outraged, insulted.
I couldn't speak, though I think anybody sighting me would instantly recognize the emotion I was currently experienced.
"Don't bother. If you're good, they'll take it off soon." a broken, feminine voice sighed. It was so quiet I only just about heard it.
My head snapped in the direction of the noise. It was one of those things; sights, and sounds are your lifeline. Your support. Your raft on a storming sea.
There was an ugly . . . THING . . . in the corner. It reeked of aspirin, with sickness and grime layered underneath. It had silvery fur on its joints, and a possum-like pink nose. The nose was wet and breathed audibly. She had no wings, and where they might have been, there were two wiggling stumps. There were long, fleshy scars all over the body. The face of the creature was long and narrow. Her eyes were pitch black.
I guess I sort of stared with pure disgust, because the creature, who I assumed was female, sighed with apparent sorrow. "I know. I'm ugly."
"Who are you?" I sort of . . . gasped.
"My name is Delphis. And, before you ask, I'm a Warborn." Delphis explained, turning her back towards me.
"Oh!" I snapped my talons. "Merged with an animal?"
"That makes slightly more sense." I nodded.
"Does it, though?" Delphis snapped, her glassy eyes suddenly vengeful. "Do you find it ETHICAL to think of someone like me as DISGUSTING? Something that SHOULD DIE?"
I swallowed, suddenly very guilty. She knew I thought of her that way, because I openly expressed it . . . that was a bad move on my part.
"No." I shook my head. "I don't find it ethical."
Delphis shook her head vigorously, as if to clear it. Her eyes became glassy again. She muttered something nearly inaudible, turning away from me again. The next time she spoke, though, I could hear her quite clearly. "They're coming. If you're smart, you'll shut your mouth."
I felt enraged by that, desperately wanting to engage, but something deep within my gut held me back from arguing.
It was at that very moment I heard the pounding of footsteps on the tile floor. I climbed off of my bed, nearing the metal bars that locked me in. I pressed my face against them, trying to get a better view of what might have been happening. I heard several roars and shouts as the footsteps progressed. I heard the clang! SCREEEECH! as the metal gates on one of the rooms was unlocked and opened. The sound was followed by a soft whine.
More footsteps, some leading away, some coming closer.
I swallowed back the vomit. "Who is that?" I asked, my voice wavering.
Delphis chose that moment not to say anything. She simply wandered towards the door, only a few yards back. She sat down patiently.
A tall NightWing approached the door, a ring of keys and a length of rope. He unlocked the door, and closed it behind him immediately. I noticed he wore armor, which had deep scratches in it. Scratches other dragons made.
Behind him appeared a younger NightWing, who had rope, armor and keys, just like his counterpart. One of the NightWings approached me, unlocking my muzzle. It clattered to the floor, and my whole body felt lighter.
The first NightWing went to work, silently re-knotting the rope he brought. It was sort of in a "noose" shape, so something, I imagine, was supposed to go inside of the loop.
I backed away nervously. "Do I really need the leash?" I asked, my voice wavering, tears welling in my eyes. My stomach fluttered. Butterflies. I was about to spew butterflies all over this room, or cell, or whatever.
The NightWing nodded, thrusting the noose forward, but I dodged under his arm. I looked up to see Delphis being pursued by an annoyed NightWing. Delphis started shrieking, and I covered my ears but kept moving as the first one raced after me. She had been expecting arrival, but not a leash.
Her shriek was like glass shattering. It was incredibly high-pitched and ear-splitting. I winced, imagining blood coming from enemy ears . . .
I shook away the thought, crashing into the second NightWing head-on. Well, I'm not strong, but the weight of a teenage dragoness is sure to knock someone off of their feet.
I landed on him, he crashed onto the tile floor, the other two in the room look on in shock.
The second NightWing grabbed me by the wings, but I pummeled him with my talons. His nose started bleeding, but the first NightWing lifted me off of him and held on while the second NightWing slipped a rope around my neck.
I scrambled around to see Delphis in the same position.
It was a cafeteria, I think. Delphis and I got into a line, where we were served fruit, a glass of water and a heap of something steamy. I curled my lip, not sure exactly what it was, but accepted it out of pure fear.
I looked around, trying to take in EVERYTHING. There was a glowing SkyWing, a couple of weird-looking dragonets I assumed were hybrids, and about three terrified dragonets who mostly just stared at their claws with an odd intensity. There were several more of that sort, probably numbering over a hundred in all.
I noticed a couple of animals, too, who all seemed able to talk, and ate food alongside the others.
Then, there was Delphis and me. A Warborn and a hybrid. A "Class Two" hybrid, to be precise.
As we sat down at our table, I threw back my head and poured some water into my mouth.
Finally, Delphis tapped my shoulder, and pointed out something in the corner.
I gasped, dropping my water glass. It shattered against the table, and all attention was brought to me. I sort of just hid under the table, and when I looked up again, someone had cleaned it up and everybody was disinterested in me.
Delphis whispered to me, "I know. It's an animus enchantment. Just . . . don't get near it."
I nodded, not taking my eyes off of it. What was it, you ask? Well, prepare for grotesque details, my friends!
There were several guards surrounding it. Ropes looped around its body to make sure it didn't escape and kill somebody. It was stick-thin, all bones clearly visible. Wait . . . I don't think you QUITE get what I mean. When I say visible, I mean VISIBLE! Taut, slightly transparent, shiny brown flesh covered it's body; it had no scales, it didn't even seem draconic. I could clearly see it's ribs. Small studs where the vertebrae were protruded from the back of the creature. It's face was a skull with large teeth, and an eternal smile. It had no horns, either. Where eyes might have been were not sockets, but deep, black holes that seemed to bear the weight of the universe. Black shapes moved about where organs should have been, swarmed, moving, wiggling like little maggots within the body itself. I was pretty sure at that point it wasn't a dragon until I saw those ugly pale vestigial wings.
When everyone was done, no one stopped us from taking our plates to a sink and cleaning them off, which I think was kind of odd. Everything seemed so . . . restricted out there. Like, you accidentally bump into a wall and you get the needle. But in the cafeteria, it was like nobody cared. I guess they didn't.
And it was at that very moment I happened to notice someone in the corner. Who were they? Gee, do you want some hints?
Oh, you guessed it.
Inkling was here.
I got so incredibly angry I sort of . . . jumped Inkling. Delphis pretty much knew the deal, so she helped me out.
Wow . . . three whole fights within three days. I'll consider it a personal record.
I threw several punches with Delphis, but no one came to help us. The glowing SkyWing thundered over, and I instinctually backed away as he came near. A searing heat spread across my scales, even though we hadn't made contact.
"Fireborn," Delphis snarled. "what are you gonna do? Which side are you on?"
The SkyWing remained silent.
Inkling smiled, heaving himself to his feet. He grinned at the fireborn. "Sarco's on my side!"
The fireborn's name was Sarco, apparently. Sarco shook his head. "No," he answered, his voice incredibly deep. "I just don't want anyone to die today."
Inkling grinned some more. "Which of us would die?"
Sarco shrugged, averting his gaze, though his answer was perfectly clear. I laughed under my breath as Inkling's smile faded.
It was . . . pure madness after that. Tinsel, wreaths, lights, silver bells, even a large evergreen tree decorated with silver ornaments.
Inkling came behind me, resting his talons on my shoulder. I angrily brushed him away, hitting his face in the process. He continued speaking anyway.
"It's almost the season, Tide. C'mon, smile!"
Oh. I had completely forgotten about Christmas. I wondered how it would differ now that I was . . . here. In this . . . prison? I wasn't sure.
I brushed past some silver tinsel, sneezing, for it had gotten into my nostrils. I angrily waved the glittery strand away, and Delphis pretty much just scoffed.
Of course, though, the little Warborn was much shorter and therefore couldn't be touched by the hanging tinsel.
I guess these are the joys of being tall.
Aha, but that wasn't even the craziest part. There were silver jingle bells framing a huge touch-screen thing that might've been twenty feet tall, as well as a single huge speaker with several wires going from the screen to an outlet in the wall.
There was a resonating click! that echoed throughout the whole room, and the screen flared with its sudden gaining of life. The screen proceeded to glitch for a few moments before a dragon stepped in front of the screen, explaining it was an old screen and their funds were used for others things than the screen.
On that glitching screen, a voice from the speakers crackled to existence.
A beautiful, female NightWing in a clean white lab coat came on screen. The room around her was empty and sterile. She smiled before continuing, and the sound boomed across the room.
"Hello. My name is Doctor --" there was a loud beep that prevented her from saying her name. Then, everything continued. "You all have been here for at least three days, some of you three weeks. Either way, you've all been gathered here for a reason. None of you are normal dragons. Here, we hold fireborns, a Warborn, several hybrids, and quite a few animi. Despite the odds, we even hold animus enchantments."
Everyone turned to the crazy shrieking skeleton-thing, still held by ropes, who was now occupied with a pinecone that had fallen off of a wreath.
There was a fox who shouted something out to the dragon on the screen, while a small swarm of birds chattered in draconic, oblivious to the rest of the gathered individuals.
"Despite the unfair norms our planet currently lives by, to cast out dragons like you all, we took you in. You all, individually, have a very special destiny.
"The wait is over. It's time for everything to be revealed. Are you ready?" Of course, it was pre-recorded, but we all still subconsciously nodded.
"We all know several hybrids are born with genetic and even mental defects. Fireborns lack the ability to form relationships. Animus dragons are afraid of going mad. Warborns are deformed due to faulty science. Well, we try to fix that.
"We are called the Darkstalker Project. You may or may not have heard of Darkstalker, the Ice-Night hybrid who had precognition, telepathy, and animus capabilities. Darkstalker's mother, Foeslayer, was taken in as a prisoner of war. Seeking revenge. he misused his power, but his former lover Clearsight . . . eliminated . . . the threat.
"We strive to create a perfect allbrid with Warborn capabilities without flaws, fireborn capabilities without drawbacks, allbrids with all of the preferred traits, and a perfect system to control animus magic.
"It's not for scientific advancement. The allbrid would help us defeat each royal queen from all of the seven tribes, so we can take over.
"So, of course, you're all here to help us do that."
I went straight up to some other guard with Inkling and Delphis behind me. Delphis was glaring a storm, Inkling looked . . . composed again.
I nodded as the guard handed me the file, and opened my mouth to read it aloud:
"I saw a cold, shrunken, shivering figure through a parting of the trees. It was a cool, rainy day near the city Entos, where I had recently been deployed for my first shot at joining the Darkstalker Project. I had to find a special dragon, or I wouldn't get in.
I needed to get in.
I raced towards the shivering figure, and saw it was a female NightWing. Her mind was filled with scenes of gore and screams . . .
She saw me, screamed something unintelligable, as if she were an animal. The sound was so low and guttural, it took me a moment to realize it had come from her.
As I neared, she suddenly sprung up a tree, her wings dragging behind her like weights and her flexible tail rippling with agitation.
As the branches of trees shook under her weight, raindrops and blood splattered my face. I wiped it indignantly out of my eyes.
After I accomplished that, I raced after her. I ran under the trees I saw shaking. She led me far away from Entos, and I started to become worried. We'd have to run out of trees for her to jump to, right? Eventually? The forest of Entos didn't go on forever. Her strength seemed to revolve around the trees, almost.
As we neared the plains, I stopped, triumphant. There was a river, flooding, raging, relentless! She couldn't go anywhere! I had her cornered.
I took out the tranquilizer, and aimed the gun at her. As I fired, she loosed another scream as it hit her in her bicep.
She fell to the forest floor, breaking branches and snapping twigs along the way. As I heard her make impact, I winced, guilty. Did that hurt?
I jumped down from the tree I had awkwardly climbed, approaching the tossing and and turning figure with extreme caution.
I recoiled as if I'd been bitten. Froth foamed at the corners of her mouth. Her pitch black eyes were wild. Her figure was emaciated, and her pink tongue lolled and moved as if she was drinking water. She had rounded ears, fur in some places, and an odd rodent nose. Her tail was strangely opossum-like.
Her wounds were the worst. Purple and green bruises bloomed on her scales. Talons were wrenched out. Her wings had bones sticking out of them. The joints were swollen and huge chunks of membrane were missing, all oozing red liquid. Claws had been dragged over her ribs. She smelled of sickness and death.
What was even creepier is that she stood, and ran away. Tried to, anyway. I threw a net over her head in the nick of time. It bothers me how she resisted the effects of the tranquilizer, and it hit me. She was an opossum Warborn."
I clapped my talons over my mouth, but calmly handed the file back to the guard at the desk. Then, I turned to Inkling, enraged.
"You. Couldn't. Freaking. TALK TO HER?" I screamed, "She was attacked before you found her, and was bleeding out because some idiot slit her, and you freaking shoot her in the NECK? And, to top it all off, you freaking pretended to like me! I actually thought you did!"
That's a heck of a lot of "freaking". I thought, knowing very well I had overused the word. Oops.
Inkling laughed, shrugging off the insults, but I could see real hurt in his eyes. "It's my job, Tide. It's what I have to do."
"I thought you needed ethics to get a job." grumbled Delphis, who was clearly displeased upon recalling that moonlit evening up north of the city of Entos.
Inkling glanced at her, then back at me. "I do have ethics," he promised me sadly. "it's just . . . you don't realize all of the great things we're going to accomplish. We're not villains, you two."
"Mmmm hmmmm." I said, holding up my wrists, which were scabbed over in a claw formation. I shook my head as if Inkling were a misbehaving dragonet. "You're a villain, a liar, and a traitor. Until you prove otherwise, all of your little 'experiments' . . ." I motioned towards the wide expanse of dragons, then finally gestured towards myself and Delphis. ". . . we all view you, including me, as the guy who keeps breaking hearts and betraying trust. This isn't a threat, Inkling--" I glared straight into his sky-blue eyes. My green ones were hard as a rock and sharp as a knife. "It's just who you are now."
It's just who you are now. My own harsh words echoed in my mind as I turned my back on the NightWing. Did he deserve it? Probably. Delphis . . . me . . . I suppose whatever he says and does will eventually bounce back and come to haunt him.
Delphis took my talons in hers as the tears began to roll down my cheeks.
She sat me down at a table next to a couple more hybrids, Sarco, and one animus dragonet who was fiddling with some kind of stress ball or something.
I pounded my fists on the tabletop, releasing cries that shook my body and sent tremors through my chest. Sarco didn't touch me, or anybody; despite being so tall, he made a subconscious effort to make himself as compressed and small as possible.
Delphis cried with me. We let the liquid flow, drip past our snouts and into our mouths. I wiped at my lips as the salty fluid came in contact with my taste buds.
I sobbed, not caring that there was snot all over my sleeves. Emotional hazard, I guess.
I could feel the burning stare blazing across my back; I knew Inkling was looking at me. What emotion could be contained within his eyes this time? Pity? Guilt? Amusement? Was the idiot a psychopath? I would believe it. He seemed to not care for anybody . . . he seemed so, so . . . insincere!
I wanted to scream, to slowly peel the scales off of my body so I could have something to focus on. I wanted to break something, to smash some glass against the tile floor, maybe step on it later because I'm a forgetful doofus.
Delphis patted me on the back, and I tore my eyes away from the floor. "It's time to go now," she informed gently.
I shook my head. My voice was fragile, innocent, like that of an infant dragonet. "I don't wanna."
Delphis took my talons in hers, and dragged me towards the door where all of the others neatly and obediently followed the guards. Sheesh. The little Warborn kept surprising me.
Locked behind bars. Cold, tangy metal that gleamed, hard tile floors, and the clean smell of freshly washed bed sheets. Nothing on the walls, except a small desk lined with paper and several boxes of cedar pencils.
Delphis was already asleep, or pretending to be, on her cot.
I settled into mine, hating the light blue color, because it so painfully reminded me of a sunny sky on a clear day. How could they be so cruel as to give me this reminder? How?
When morning came, it was the cold tap of someone's talons on my shoulder. I instantly recoiled, and rolled over, to see a NightWing guard leaning over my face. I backed up against the wall, hissing. "Don't touch me," I growled. Ugh, why didn't dragons understand I had a personal bubble, and that no one is allowed to enter said peaceful bubble!