Chapter IX: Earning your wings
We reached once again Kerian's human house. I stared at its large form, suddenly feeling a sort of homesickness. 'Why?' I asked myself. We have the burrow. Something didn't feel right, though. It was like it wasn't meant for us. I craved something we could call our own. Something like... a cave? I was unsure of what it was. I snapped out of it and looked at Kerian.
<Do you want me to go with you or can you handle yourself?> I asked.
<I think I should go by myself; one dragon alone must be disturbing enough for them.>
<Wait, are you actually going to let them see you?>
<No, but just in case...> I growled worriedly. I didn't want the same to happen as it did with her brother. But I let her go. She went off, going through the gates, which were now open... conveniently so.
I went behind a tree and tried to watch the action from afar, though I couldn't see much. Just then, I realized I was still hungry. I tasted the air for something edible, finding nothing. However, a lizard did cross my sight. I quickly scooped it up and devoured it. It wouldn't last long, but it would ease the hunger pangs for now.
I waited and waited, but still no sign of her. Without a watch I didn't have a clear idea how much time had passed.
More time passed, and I started to get bored. I started licking my claws, though they weren't really dirty. I kept licking them until they were all shiny. I tasted the air. I couldn't really tell how far Kerian was. Suddenly, I heard a noise, and sighed in relief as I saw her walking towards me.
<How did it go?> I asked.
<I just watched them... I didn't have the courage to reveal myself...> She sighed. <Let's go?> I growled affirmatively.
And so we went. We made our way through the hills, going up and then down. On our way we snatched our 'lunch' and drank some water, probably one of our last meals here. A while back, I had begun noticing the prey I usually caught weren't filling me as much as they used to. That feeling did nothing but increase until now. I began to lose the track of time; I could only see if it was close to dusk or dawn by looking at the sun. I could no longer tell whether if it was morning or afternoon. Unfortunately, I did notice clouds were beggining to form over us. My legs were beggining to ache a bit. We must've gone really far.
Eventually, we reached the top of a particularly tall hill. I looked around from the advantage point, but I couldn't see my former home anywhere. 'Wow, where are we?' Suddenly, as I turn around and admire the landscape before me, I feel a strange, undescribable and unresistible urge. I started climbing the nearest tree. I vaguely heard Kerian calling my name, but I ignored her. I kept climbing, until I reached the very top. At that moment, I lost control of my body, although I could still feel and see. I felt myself jump. I panicked for a split-second, but I soon calmed down as I opened my wings. I flapped them once, rising a few centimeteres before dropping a meter. Alarmed, I tried to turn around, but found myself unable to. If I kept like this I was going to crash. Fortunately, on that instant, I regained control. I imediatelly tried to turn around by tilting my left wing down and my right one up. Like an airplane. It worked and I began turning, although shakily, for my control in the air wasn't very good, until I was facing Kerian. I had lost a lot of altitude. I prepared myself to land. And land I did, this time without rolling like the my first try. As soon as my feet fully absorbed the force of the impact, I took off towards Kerian. We soon met and she didn't waste any time.
<What happened?> She asked.
<I don't know... I just felt something... an urge to...> 'Fly? Yes.' <...fly, I guess.> She growled in understanding.
<I've been feeling that too, though, I guess, not as strongly.>
After that little incident, we resumed our walking. By this time, we could already see some prey, but we would wait until we found somewhere to spend the night. Our concern was justified: the sun wasn't visible due to the clouds, but the light was waning, clearly indicating dusk was near, and I really didn't want to sleep in the open, exposed like that. It might rain, and if it did, things would get complicated. As a human, I really hated it, though I had no idea how a dragon's body would react.
Meanwhile during our search, we noticed night had fallen and, little after that, I felt something cold and... wet hit my muzzle. I snorted and shook it off. Soon after I felt another hit my left wing, and then another on my tail... and another. I realized it had started to rain. It actually didn't feel that bad, but that was probably because it was nothing more than a drop every few seconds. But I knew better: their strength and frequency would soon increase, so I told Kerian to hasten our pace.
We found nothing, though, and by that time there was already a light drizzle coming on us. If this keeped up, we would probably be forced to sleep under a tree. I really wanted to avoid that, due to Kerian's last reaction. So we kept searching.
However, our search proved fruitless. The drizzle we had experienced earlier had evolved to an all-out rain. The impact of the water on my scales didn't feel that bad, but there was one problem: it was cold. Very cold. I was almost completely drenched and I was already shivering, despite the exercise. Only the areas where my wings rested on remained dry.
<We have to sleep under a tree.> I didn't like that, but I was more worried at Kerian. Surprisingly, she agreed without any fuss. We quickly made our way under a tree, gathered some nearby leaves and laid down on them, huddling tightly against and laying our wings on each other, trying to conserve as much heat as possible. The water still reached our makeshift shelter, but it was nowhere near as much as outside. My shivering and hers slowly decreased. I tried to squeeze her with my wing and pressed my head against hers. I felt the same reaction coming from her. We stayed like that, until sleepiness started to overcome our bodies, taking us to a realm where anything can happen.
The next weeks, months, years, I wasn't sure went by like a blur. I completely lost track of time. I didn't complain, though. Quite the opposite. Kerian made sure of that. It was strange, though. Despite the apparent lack of action, I was content. That's when I realized how different dragons were from humans. They were always going to and fro, whether to go to their workplaces, eating, going back to work, cleaning the house, take care of the kids. They are worse than ants. Only now that I'm a dragon did I notice that. Our life was much more easy-going, without hassle. Although dragons also took care of their young, it just seemed... different... I don't know. Sure, we also needed to feed but, as I said before, it's not the same... I'm not sure what it is. Also, I'm certain if I were a human I'd be bored out of my tail... I mean, butt. On the other hand, I wouldn't be able to handle human life on my current form. I could barely do it before... let alone now. I shuddered just from thinking about it. I'm glad of the life I have right now. As long as Kerian was with me, I'd be happy, no matter what happened. Speaking of Kerian, I've been noticing whenever I was very close to her, like when we slept, the feeling I got some time ago when she said she liked me returned twice as strong. It wasn't bad, but still it bothered me. What could it be?
Meanwhile, as the time went on, I began noticing all that playing around and exercising had had its effects. I felt much stronger on my legs. Hell, I could even see the muscles bulging slightly through my scales. My wings also felt stronger, though all my attempts at flying had ended in sometimes painful encounters with the ground. Oh and let's not forget the wonderful muzzlefuls of dirt, which were quite tasty... not! It seems I was missing something, and I was itching to know what it was.
My eyes slowly opened, as if of their own accord. It was still dark. 'Maybe it's still early.' I closed them again, intent on going back to sleep. However, something moved and brushed against me. That definitely woke me up. My eyes opened fully, and I could now see the already familiar waterfall and reddish ground. I couldn't see Drulkar anywhere, though. I looked to my right and saw Kerian. She was stirring, as if trying to get herself more comfortable, but her eyes were closed. I moved slightly away from her and, in response, she growled softly and her wing moved, as if trying to reach me. When she realized it couldn't, her eyes snapped open. She looked at me and then around herself, relaxing after she noticed we were in Drakul.
<Greetings young dragons. You have grown.> My head whipped in the direction of the sound and I saw Drulkar looking at us, chuckling-growling. 'Have I?' I looked at myself, but I saw no difference. Well, apart from my bulky frame. But if I noticed that, why did everything else looked exactly the same size? Well... maybe Drulkar looked just a tiny bit shorter. Or was I seeing things? <You seem doubtful. Let me show you.> Suddenly, two dragon hatchlings appearead in front of us out of nowhere, one green, the other dark blue. I slowly approached, but they didn't move.
<Is this... me?> I stared at the dragonling in disbelief. I vaguely heard a similar sentence coming from Kerian, but I ignored it. If this was true, then I had grown explosively. Well, maybe not, depending on how much time had passed. I was at least twice the size of... well, myself. Damn, not to be cocky or anything, but my small-me was really... cute, for lack of a better word. I always thought human children were ugly but these... they were beautiful. I approached further, intending to nuzzle him. As soon as the tip of my muzzle touched the hatchling, he vanished. I blinked, confused.
<It was just an illusion.> Drulkar said. I cocked my head, silently saying "How?" <Well Serkath, inside one's mind anything can happen!> suddenly, everything started to blur and we soon found ourselves in a grassy landscape with lots of rocky mountains.
<Where are we?> I asked. To my surprise, Drulkar laughed. Again.
<I have no idea!> I let out a confused growl. <Well, but we disgress.> We were transported back to Drulkar. <The fact is you two have grown a lot. In fact, enough so we can begin the most important lesson of your life: learning how to fly.> My heart skipped one, no, two beats. I was going to learn how to fly! I almost jumped in excitement. <Now, now, don't be so eager. Flying is hard, as you two have felt first-hand, am I right?> He said, guessing my thoughts. <But once you master it, it will be the best thing in your life. Also, one word of warning: be careful where you fly, lest you be spotted by humans. Your wings are the most vulnerable part of your body, even more so than your neck. Don't let any harm befall them, for if the damage is too great, you will never fly again. Knowing the humans' tools of death, it will only take one... I think they call it shot, to cripple you for life.> My enthusiasm died down after that, but not completely. <Let's begin.> Drulkar closed his eyes and, suddenly we were on a very tall ledge. I could barely see the bottom. <You will start by positioning yourselves like this.> He put his hindlegs on the edge and his forelegs slightly behind. I tried doing the same. It was awkward... and scary. <Don't worry, if you fall you won't get hurt; we aren't in the physical world.> That reassured me slightly. He kept giving away instructions. <Your hind legs are the strongest part of your body, so you will use them to propel yourself into the air. I tensed my muscles, preparing myself to jump. <Not yet, Serkath. Be patient.> I was a bit startled by that. I tried to compose myself, but unfortunately I began to lose balance as I relaxed my muscles. I felt myself tilting forward. My forelegs suddenly slipped, stripping me of support and causing me to nosedive. Straight down. I squealed... no, I roared as I fell. I instinctively tried to flap my wings, without any effect. Suddenly, it all stopped. Confused, I opened my eyes, only now realizing they had been closed. I looked around, realizing I was in the ledge again.
<Be patient, Serkath.> Drulkar said. Kerian was chuckling. I shot her a glare and she stopped, but if dragons could smile, she'd be grinning from ear to ear. I assumed by precarious position again. <If jumping from a high position like you are now, allow yourself to glide a short distance in order to stabilize your flight path. When that happens, the obvious course is to flap. But not just any flap will do. You must flap vigorously, but it mustn't be too fast unless you want to gain altitude. If that does happen, you will tire very quickly. Let me demonstrate.> He jumped off the cliff, dropped a few meters then spread his wings, slowing his fall. After a few seconds, he began flapping, slowly like he had said. He then disappeared and, I guessed, reappeared next to us. <Your turn to try.>
And so the lesson went on. After we passed the first tests, it was time to include hovering, which was quite easy, and then turning. It turned out, no pun intended, to be very difficult. I had to tilt my wings to one side, not unlike an airplane, while moving my tail to another side to maintain balance. However, after some... lots of time, the movements became almost automatic. I was very grateful for that.
If I thought turning was difficult, my hopes were completely smashed when Drulkar told us to take off from plain ground. Incredibly, I just wasn't strong enough. My legs and my wings together couldn't generate impulse to throw me high enough into the air. Although I wasn't getting tired, it was very frustrating. After what felt like my hundredth attempt, Drulkar intervened.
<Stop. I see neither of you can accomplish this, nor did I expect you to. This is something only adults and some juveniles can do. I just wanted you to know this, because it will be necessary in the future. We have spent enough time here; Farewell young dragons and may the Wind guide you.
I opened my eyes. Again. And again. And yet again. With one final push I opened them a final time before taking in my surroundings. We were in our makeshift cave. It wasn't really one, it was just a small cliff that happened to bend inwards. It protected us from rain, thankfully. It was safe to assume that flying lesson was a dream and this was the place we fell asleep on. I heard Kerian yawn. I looked at her, causing me to yawn too. I stretched fitfully, hearing and feeling my joints crack. I looked up and saw the sun looming above the horizon. I was about to exit our shelter when I suddenly got a feeling that something wasn't right. I looked at the sun, then I remembered our cave was facing east. Realization hit me like a brick 'We slept through the whole day!' Well that wasn't that surprising, considering the lecture we took.
<Serkath is something wrong?> Kerian nudged me. I growled my thoughts. <How?...>
<Look at the sun. Our cave is facing east.> I simply said.
<Well that's not surprising at all. Shall we make up for the lost time?> Of course, I almost forgot! Silly, I would never forget that. Excitement filled my being at the prospect of flying.
<Yes!> I squeaked, nearly overwhelmed by enthusiasm. I quickly turned and started climbing the nearby cliff and Kerian Followed suit.
As I reached the top and peered down, I noticed the fall was much greater than it looked from the bottom. My excitement turned into nervousness and then fear. What if I failed to take flight? What if... As if sensing and interrupting my thoughts, Kerian nudged and nuzzled me.
Those words had a much needed calming effect on me. Gaining confidence, I approached the edge. I got ready and then I jumped. Because this was a shorter fall that the one in our dreams, I had to start flapping sooner. "Don't flap too fast or you'll tire quickly, but don't flap to slow or you won't rise." Drulkar's wise words echoed in my mind. I beat my wings hard. Twice. Thrice. Only then did I dare look down. When I did, my heart leaped. I was flying! I let out a loud roar of joy. It felt wonderful to be airborne. I felt so free. I looked behind me and saw Kerian flying too. I turned around and hovered. Before she could react, I nuzzled and licked her midair. She was surprised, but returned the affection.
We soon started playing games in the air. As Drulkar had said, the game of 'catch' became much more interesting. However, we soon became tired, as our wings didn't have the necessary endurance for long flights yet. That'd come with time. But wow, our first experience was overwhelming. I could barely contain my joy at the wondrous feeling that came from flying. Kerian seemed to be feeling the same.
I looked at the sun. It was almost dusk. We were still panting slightly from our most recent little adventure through the skies, both from tiredness and adrenaline. At that moment, my stomach growled, reminding me I hadn't eaten anything today. As I prepared to search for prey, a crazy idea crossed my mind. 'Why not hunting from the air?' It seemed dangerous, though. I had not idea how to do it. Maybe Drulkar would teach us? I dropped the idea and looked for dinner, so to speak.
With our stomachs rumbling with satisfaction, we began heading for our cliff-cave. That's when I realized it was nowhere in sight. Our little venture had drawn us away from our home. There were two ways to find it: we could search it by scent, but that would take a lot of time. Or we could just fly. A quiver of excitement ran through my body. Yes, I would definitely fly. My wings were already somewhat rested. I relayed my thoughts to Kerian, who more than happily agreed. I climbed a nearbly tree, using my claws to get a firm grip on it. Once I reached the top, I just threw myself into the air, quickly flapping to gain altitude. Once at a comfortable height. I hovered and began scanning the landscape.
<There.> Kerian said, pointing with her foreleg at a distant location. I followed her claw and... there it was. We both sped through the skies until we arrived at our shelter. We quickly landed and settled in for the night. It took a while for me to fall asleep, as my body wasn't really completely tired, it was just my wings.
I awoke with a start. I had dreamed I was crashing into a tree while flying. Glad I woke up right before the impact. I looked around and realized we were in Drakul again. Was my hunch correct? Was Drulkar going to teach us how to hunt from the air? I looked at Kerian. She was still slowly waking up. Speaking of which, I did it so suddenly I had forgotten to stretch and yawn. How weird.
<Greetings Serkath, Kerian. Yes, I will teach you how to hunt while flying. I didn't include this on our last lesson for it was already taking too long and I wanted you two to enjoy your new knowledge, which I'm sure you did.> He closed his eyes and suddenly, we were... somewhere... else. There were lots of elements from each type of landscape, from mountains, trees, grass, rocks... even a small river. <Very well. Hunting from the air is a very useful skill. As you have probably noticed, we dragons aren't exactly the stealthiest of creatures. So we have to make up for that with strength and speed. This will allow to catch your quarry unawares. When it notices you, it will be already too late. Let's begin. Start by taking off and searching for a suitable prey. I have chosen deer for this, as it will be your animal of choice to hunt in the future.> We took to the skies. <As you lock in on whatever you picked, dive towards it and keep your eyes on it at all times. This is very important; if your gaze falters for the tiniest of moments, you will most likely miss your target and alert its companions, causing them to run.> I picked a random animal and began diving. <As you pounce on your prey, use your own weight and momentum to cripple it and, at the same time, use its body cushion your fall. If at that point the beast isn't dead yet, lock your jaws on its neck and snap it. The rest you already know.> My eyes locked on the deer as my altitude dropped. I opened my wings slightly to correct my trajectory. However, I veered too much, causing me to lose focus. I desperately flared my wings, trying to stop before it was too late. It turns out it was. I crashed into a tree. I didn't feel any pain, though. Kerian didn't fare much better. She didn't crash, but her dive wasn't steep enough, causing her to miss the herd entirely. We were transported back to the start. <I didn't expect you to get it right at the first try, so let's do it again. As you have noticed, it's very difficult to keep yourself on course. Try doing it like this.> Drulkar jumped into the air and then dived, forming a slight curve before crashing down on a deer that vanished imediatelly. <This will allow to correct your flight path more easily.> We took off and did as instructed. He was right. It was much easier this way. I approached at high speed, and this time my eyes never left the deer. After a few seconds I crashed onto it. I heard a sickening crack and the animal fell with me. It was clumsy, but the job had been done. I suddenly appeared again at the start. Kerian was already there <Well done, young dragons.> I couldn't avoid a slight swell of pride at his words. <As you become stronger, you will be able to snatch your prey from the ground and carry it with you in the air for a short time. This will reduce the chances you are detected and possibly hurt, should you miss.> He looked at both of us in the eyes. <Now, farewell, and use this knowledge well.> The landscape started to swirl and then melted into darkness.