Chapter III: Running away
I saw the ground approaching and started wondering how could I land. In Istaria: Chronicles of the Gifted, dragons flapped their wings when they were close to the ground to decrease their vertical speed, in order to ensure a safe landing. I pondered doing so, but then I found the reason why I was still so small: I was probably just a hatchling... and a hatchling's wings weren't strong enough to fly, only to glide. Because of that, they would land rather roughly after flying in such a way. If I did the same I would most likely get hurt. However, I had to try. The ground was less than a meter away. I waited until the last possible moment and braced myself for touch-down, flapping my wings hard. It slowed me to some extent, but it didn't prevent a bone-jarring impact with the ground. The world spun around as I rolled, finally coming to a stop after a few loops. I dizzily checked myself for injuries, finding only a minor, nearly painless bruise on each of my forelegs. Not bad for my first landing.
I allowed myself a moment to rest and to adapt to the new reality I was thrown into: freedom. It's a strange, bittersweet thing. No one relies on me, yet I can't rely on anyone. No one will bother me when I'm happy, yet no one will comfort me when I'm sad. I mulled over my situation, when suddenly I remembered my parents might still be after me. I relunctantly rose onto all fours and trudged my way through the grass, careful to stay as hidden from view as possible.
I kept walking for what seemed like an eternity until I found myself right in front of my friends' old hut. I gazed at the battered, small building with wonder. Me and my elementary school friends had built this for our "meetings". 'This brings back memories...' I thought. I remembered when we perched here watching our surroundings, pretending to be scouts and when we shot imaginary arrows at nonexistent foes, just for the fun of it. 'Aah... good times...' I sighed. Those had indeed been good times... no worries and no cares about the world. I took my eyes off the aged shack and resumed my trek through the small hill. I kept walking, sometimes running when I heard human voices, which were perhaps more distant than they looked, due to my enhanced hearing, but I ran nonetheless; I couldn't take any risks now.
As I finally reached the top, I allowed myself a moment to rest my tired limbs and to ease my panting breath. Just then, I remembered I hadn't eaten anything since I woke up. As if on cue, my stomach growled loudly and painfully. 'I have to find food. But how?' I thought it over for a moment.
'I could steal a chicken from the neighbor.' I told myself.
'No, the noise could attract unwanted attention.'
'I don't want to starve to death!'
'I could always search for wild food, instead of stealing from others.'
'Those "others" will kill me on sight. Why should I worry about stealing from them?'
'I will give them one more reason to kill me.'
'Good point.' I paused. 'But I haven't solved my problem.' I growled as another wave of pain reached my stomach.
'As I said, I could search for wild animals.'
'Rats, rabbits, snakes... I have plenty of choice.'
'There are no rabbits here, the rats are hard to catch and the snakes might bite me.'
'Well, that's where you're wrong. Remeber when my father spotted a couple of rabbits a few days ago? They weren't far from here.' Of course!
'But how can I locate them? They are surely a long way from here now. I don't think I can go on for that long...'
'I might not have to. I have a dragon's body now. Use it.' I recalled my research on how dragons hunted.
The chase started by smelling the prey. Simple enough. I took a long, deep sniff but, to my surprise, I felt nothing but air. I sniffed again and I got the same result. 'Strange. Is my nose disabled?' I let out a weird growl, despite my efforts to stop it, which I somehow could identify as a confused one. I searched my draconology librabry and found dragons, being unable to display facial expressions like humans, use growls to show their emotions. I searched it again, but couldn't find anything about a dragon's sense of smell. 'Wait. I'm a lizard, perhaps?...' I flicked my forked tongue out and I was immediatelly flooded by information. 'Of course!' I did it again and an image started to form in my head. As I repeated this process over and over, the image started to become clearer, until I had a complete scent map covering at least fifty meters in every direction. It reminded me of an infrared camera. It wasn't nearly as good as my eyes, but it had its advantages: I could see through stones or other scentless obstacles. It could do well in complete darkness, when I couldn't see my prey.
Excited with my newly found talent, I started looking for food. I flicked my tongue numerous times to catch a whiff of a rabbit, or even a rat. I spotted something a few meters in front of me. I started walking in that direction but suddenly, I bumped onto something. I let out a squeak and, just then, I found my eyes had been closed the entire time. I clicked them open, circumvented the obstacle, which I could now see it was a tree, and resumed walking, never ceasing to flick my tongue to and fro.
As I neared my destination, the smell started to become stronger, and now I could really indentify it as an animal's. However, when I reached the point where it was strongest, I saw nothing. Confused, I started wandering around the place, trying to find the source of the scent. 'Wait, what if it's underground?' That could pose a problem. 'I'll just have to dig it out.' I returned to the epicenter and started delving into the dirt, but stopped myself just in time. 'What if I scare the rabbit, or whatever it is?' I tried to shrug. 'I'll just have to dig fast.' I plunged my claws into the earth and started digging as fast as I could. My scales were getting dirty, but I didn't care. I was hungry and nothing was going to stop me from getting a meal. I darted my tongue again and found the smell was getting even stronger. 'I must be close.'.
Finally, the ground gave way and I locked eyes with my quarry: a big, beefy rabbit and three little, skinny ones. Never having seen a dragon before, the animal just stared at me, unsure if I was a threat or not. I was just about to lunge at it, but stopped. 'If I kill the parents, the litlle ones will die, an then there will be no more rabbits for me. However, if I take those three, it won't fill me as much as a big one.' I thought it over for a few seconds. 'Well then, I'll just take them all.' I growled and pounced on the larger rabbit. It squealed and squirmed under my grip, giving me a bit of trouble keeping it under control. On that instant, something took over. I felt my head move and my jaws open, only to close a scecond later on the animal's neck. It continued to struggle, but a violent shake of my head put a stop to that.
I felt the beast go limp in my mouth and the coppery tang of blood dripping on my tongue. 'What just happened?' I thought to myself. I slowly lowered the rabbit to the ground and stared at its bloody form. 'Will I really eat this... raw?' My stomach growled very painfully, making me growl too. 'Looks like I have no choice.' I slowly lowered my neck towards the corpse and took a tentative bite. I was expecting to retch as soon as my tongue touched the morsel; however, I was very surprised when I found it was quite tasty. It made me want more. After a brief hesitation, I tore viciously and ravenously through the carcass, devouring every piece of flesh I could find. I even tried to eat a large bone, but I soon found it was too tough for me to break it, so I spat it out and ate the smaller and thinner bones. After what felt like a few seconds of biting, tearing and blood splattering, although it had surely been at least a minute, the rabbit was stripped clean of meat. Only the thigh bones, forearm bones and the skull remained whole.
I stared at the remains of what was once a living, breathing rabbit in disbelief. Had I really done that? What was that... thing that took control and made me strike at the beast's neck? What?... Wait. Panicking isn't going to take me anywhere. I slowed my thoughts down to a comfortable pace and reasoned. 'What could have been that thing that threw me onto a backseat of my own body? What if it had a mind of its own?' I shook that horrible thought off. My mind is my own and nothing else's; it's my ultimate sanctuary, and nothing will ever breach it.
Having the possibility of having my mind being shared with something else ruled out, I weighed my other options. I compared myself with other predators. 'The lion. When hunting, what drives it to lunge on its victim's neck?' Could it be? 'Instinct!' Was it instinct that drove me to bite that way? It made sense.. As I thought it over, I found it was the same thing that gave me that flight-or-fight urge when my parents had me cornered. 'I'm not so different after all.' I tried to smile but, once again, instead of curving my lips, I produced a weird growl. 'Probably this emotion growling is based on instinct too.' As I thought about growls, I noticed my insides weren't making noises anymore. Just then, I remembered I had eaten a whole rabbit, save the bones. Following the train of thought, I started feeling heavy and sleepy. My draconology book inside my head told me dragon hatchlings ate nearly half their own weight in meat right after exiting the egg, falling asleep moments later. Although I didn't exactly hatch, I was bound to be hungry after transforming into a dragon in my sleep, the latter usually lasting eight to ten hours. I had to find a place to doze off.
I trudged my way through the grass and up the small hill, feeling sleepier each second. When I thought I was just going to collapse, I found what I was looking for: the ruined shack. With the last bit of strength I had, I climbed the small step, dragged myself to a corner, looked around to assure myself no one was nearby, although in my current state it wouldn't make a difference, and promptly fell asleep.
"Open your eyes." A somehow familiar voice commanded. I did as instructed, albeit slowly. I was no longer in the old shack. Instead, I saw a huge waterfall with a frozen top. The water fell from there and crashed with tremendous force on the bottom, creating a raging river, which slowly quieted down to a gentle flow further downstream. My jaw dropped at the sight. Suddenly, I hear a strange sequence of growls. I snapped my head towards the source of the sound and found myself looking at a very big dragon, easily bigger than my house.
"Who are you?" I tried to ask him- or at least I thought it was a him, but, once again, I just emitted an incomprehensible series of growls and squeaks. The dragon growled and snarled. All of a sudden, knowledge that was not my own rushed into my head. It was strange, but somehow all those previously weird noises now made sense with this new insight.
<Now we can understand each other.>, he growled, but I managed to understand, thanks to this strange knowing that was now mine. <You asked me who am I?> I nodded. <No.> I tilted my head the left and let out a confused growl. <Do not make that gesture. You are a dragon now, not a human.> I nodded, realizing my mistake too late, and growled apologetically.
<Yes.> I said, surprised with how easy it came out. The elder dragon growled approvingly.
<To answer your question, I am Drulkar, the first of the dragons.>
<Where am I?>
<I have two answers: if you want to know what is your current location, it is the same as the one you were in before you fell into slumber. However, I am inside your mind, for I am no longer among the living, having to assume a spirit form, only able to influence the world by entering others' minds. What you are seeing is Drakul, our ancestral home, once a volcano full of lava, now a life-giving mountain. Do these answers satisfy you?>
<They do.> I said, barely resisting the urge to nod.
<Very well. With this new knowledge, you are now ready to face the world. Awaken.> On his command, the landscape started to blur.
<Wait! I have more questions!> I tried to say, but It was too late. It all faded into darkness.
I slowly opened my eyes. As I shook my head and streched to clear the sleepiness from my body I took a look at my surroundings. I was in the shack. 'Was that just a dream?' I didn't think so. To prove it, I tried to speak.
<This isn't a dream.> I growled with delight. It wasn't indeed.