Shrouded in red the boy charged right at me, slowing a bit as he waded through the waist deep water, almost falling forwards before righting himself and putting on a burst of speed when the water level dipped again.
“I’m going to turn your hide into boots you fucking monster,” he yelled as I desperately tried to scramble up slipping in the water and falling backwards. Head going under I turned clambering for purchase in the pebbles with my claws and launching myself forwards when they dug in. Gasping for air, my head came up and I half crawled forwards through the knee-deep shallows, waterlogged clothes dragging me down.
I turned seeing a haze of red out of the corner of my eye and I threw myself to the left spinning onto my back to see him hack down viciously with the dagger where I'd been a second ago. He’d been aiming for my head.
Gaping in shock I couldn’t form words seeing the nervous excitement in his eyes as he went to slash at me again with his dagger. Aron threw himself on the boy’s back with a scream, trying to wrap his arms around his neck, when they lost balance and the boy fell backwards onto Aron who went underwater. The boy flailed around with Aron’s arms still wrapped around him, wildly swinging his dagger through the air.
Terror flared in me as I saw him about to stab behind himself at Aron and I lunged forwards, my wing leaving a thin trail of blood in the water. I caught his fist in one hand but my right hand closed around the blade of the dagger and in my panic I refused to let go, gripping it tightly as he tried to break free. Eyes wide I saw blood trickling down the blade and over our joined hands but I couldn’t feel anything. His other fist came up and caught me in the side of the head and I staggered sideways.
Double vision blurring everything for a second and the next thing I saw was him standing above me raising his fist and bringing it down on my head again as agony bloomed. In the background I was vaguely aware of Aron bursting out of the water’s surface gasping and choking for air, arms swinging and coughing out water.
I was still clutching his hand and the dagger with both hands as his left fist came down again and reflexively I curled my lips back and jaws snapping, I lunged forward sinking my sharp fangs into this hand.
He let out a high-pitched scream and tried to tear his hand away but I clamped my jaws down hard, tasting iron and feeling the nauseating sensation of bones grating against my teeth. He yanked back hard, dragging my head with him but I refused to let go and he fell on his butt screaming, I was half on him, still gripping his other hand and dagger tightly in mine. I could feel warm liquid oozing around my mouth and flowing over my scales. Bile rose up when I smelt the blood as it sloshed up my nostrils.
He cried out, shaking his hand and I clamped down harder when there was a sickening pop and all the tension of him pulling my head was gone as my mouth closed completely. Dumbfounded, my tongue tapped forwards and I felt something thin and bony move in my mouth and I spewed fingers and vomit onto the boy, retching while he squealed holding up his left hand as blood poured down his arm.
I continued emptying my gut still holding onto the dagger and his right hand like a lifeline, kneeling over the boy as he blubbered and cried sitting in the water. He raised his bleeding hand and half-heartedly started hitting me on the head, spraying blood in the air and on my face as tears poured down his face “You goddamn monster, just die, why won’t you die”
I knelt there frozen ignoring his weak blows as my stomach contracted repeatedly and I tried to keep the remaining acid down. The sloshing of footsteps alerted me to Aron’s approach and he caught the boy’s wrist.
“What are you doing, why aren’t you killing it? You should help me!” the boy stared at Aron, genuine confusion and fear marred his face.
“What are you-“ Aron stopped, taking a deep breath as anger consumed his face “You tried to kill my little sister!” he yelled and drew back his arm and punched him in the face, connecting with his cheek causing his head to snap to the side. I looked on wide-eyed; I hadn’t thought Aron had that kind of punch in him.
The boy looked dazed swaying slightly as blood and saliva dribbled out of his mouth “I don’t- “ he rasped, “I don’t understand, aren’t we supposed to kill the monsters?”
Oddly I remembered the Orc, it was a thing to be frightened of: something to kill before it killed you. I’d looked at it as a monster, just like this boy had looked at me, something inhuman that wasn’t even a person.
I let go of his hand and the dagger abruptly as I sat down heavily in the cold water catching myself on my good hand, numbly looking at my cut one. I gently straightened the fingers wincing at the numerous lines cut deeply into the scales of my palm and fingers. A flash of white indicated the dagger had gone to the bone but I barely felt it as blood mixed with water ran down my hand.
“She’s not a monster, she’s my little sister” Aron looked down at him fiercely, breathing heavily as I sat there. I hadn’t considered myself a monster, or even thought that others might, the concept had been so foreign. It was one thing for people to be prejudiced or racist (specist?) like the [Blacksmith], but to not even be considered a person was new.
I looked over at the sobbing boy, dark wet hair plastered to his forehead with puffy red eyes. He’d let go of the dagger, which had sunk to the riverbed and was clutching his bleeding hand. He looked so pathetic now; I’d been terrified of him a minute ago. The excited look in his eyes had shaken me, he’d been excited to kill me; I wasn’t a person to him.
“Why did you try to kill me?” I asked emotionlessly scrutinised him. He stopped crying for a second just staring at me confused “You can talk? But you’re a monster”
I scowled, nostrils flaring as my anger surged, tail slapping the water “I’m not a monster, I’m a drake”
“But– but weren’t you trying to kill him?” looked between Aron and me a bit lost as he loudly breathed unsteadily.
“No you idiot, he’s my brother, we were just arguing and had a fight” clenching my fists, outraged at the thought that I would actually hurt Aron.
“Yeah it was just water fight, what’s wrong with you” Aron stared at him angrily and the boy looked ready to cry again as we loomed over him glaring down at him.
“Are you-“ he choked “Are you going to kill me?” his voice got quieter and squeaked at the end.
Aron looked down at him in disgust before looking at me “Lets go” he stood up letting go of the boy’s bloody wrist and reached out to help me up. I could feel his hands trembling, but he showed no other reaction to what had happened and we started trudging towards our boots.
“Wait wait, are you leaving me here?” I looked back to see the boy scramble up clutching his bleeding hand to his chest. His leather armour was soaked, the midsection covered in vomit and blood and I didn’t want to look too closely at the fat twigs floating down river in some blood streaked vomit.
“What else would we do?” I asked, I knew I didn’t look much better, vomit also caked my trousers and blood was running over my hand and forearm while the hole in my wing also hadn’t stopped bleeding.
“I-“ he stopped and started awkwardly “I’m Daniel, I’m sorry, I don’t know how I got here. I just, I woke up here a week ago and-“
I stiffened as looked at him “What?” I almost choked out.
“Yeah I know it sounds crazy but-“
“Wait wait wait” I stormed towards him again, he started to open his mouth again looking a bit fearful as he shrank away “No stop” I said holding up my good hand. I was pretty sure I knew what he was going to say and I did not know how to deal with this right now.
I took a deep breath, conflicted and clueless about what to do “Ok Daniel, you attacked me-“
“You bit two of my fingers off” he exclaimed, but he wilted as I glared, lifting my head a bit, tail raised and stiffened.
“You attacked me” I repeated “For no reason, you shot me! There’s a hole in my wing,” I pointed at it “And look at my hand, you can see the bone” I shoved my injured hand in his face and he paled. I didn’t really open it to show him the bone, but that wasn’t the point “The only reason you lost your fingers is because you tried to kill me and you lost” I said flatly, suddenly reminded of the sensation of human fingers in my mouth and I involuntarily spat out a ball of saliva with some blood.
I inhaled thinking about how to go about this “Do you have a Class?”
“What? I mean yeah I’m a [Scavenger], I got that a few days after-“
“Ok ok, I don’t care right now,” I interrupted sourly, if he really was from earth as I suspected then I should build some kind of positive rapport with him and at least make sure his story didn’t mess with mine. But even if it was a misunderstanding since he’d obviously never seen a drake before, he’d tried to kill me and I wasn’t mature enough to forgive and forget immediately.
“Ok Daniel, you can come with us and we can talk about everything else later after we eat something”
“What? He’s not coming with us, he tried to kill you” Aron balked angrily, glaring at Daniel who shifted on his feet uneasily.
I staggered a bit as the adrenaline started wearing off. My hand was beginning to hurt and I held it, squeezing rhythmically with my other hand trying to numb the pain, but it just intensified. My whole body ached and my left wing burned. I closed my eyes and focused on breathing, walking back to the boulder where my boots were. I sat down shakily ignoring the other two, trying not to cry out at the pain as it all became very real.
I heard Aron splash water as he came and sat next to me. I heard cloth ripping as he tore off part of his shirt and reached out to awkwardly try to bandage my hand. His hands still trembled slightly, but I didn’t resist, though I refused to straighten my fingers completely. He attempted to clean the wounds with river water, which was probably very unhygienic but then again the water had already gone into every crevice so it was kind of a moot point now.
He wrapped strips of cloth around my hand but he used a lot of small strips, some didn’t even go all the way around and the whole thing looked like it would fall off the second I moved. But something about the look of earnest concentration in his face as tried to adjust it made me break out in fresh tears and I turned away trying to muffle the sound of crying.
I looked at my left wing, the searing pain radiated to my shoulder, but at least the bleeding had stopped. Dried blood crusted around the edge of the hole and it was congealing in watery trails down my light blue wing. The plum sized hole was right in the middle of my wing and I had no idea how to bandage it so we just left it.
The dark haired boy was crying silently and standing there a bit forlornly attempting to use the bottom of his shirt to apply pressure to his stumps. At some point the red aura around him had faded to blue. Ignoring him I rinsed out my mouth trying to get rid of the taste of bile and blood while trying to scrap the most of the vomit from my trousers. Aron was wringing out his shirt, pushing his wet hair out of his eyes.
“I’m sorry” Daniel burst out and we looked at up him, “I mean for attacking you, I thought you were a monster trying to eat him, I really didn’t know, I’m really sorry”
“Are you stupid?” Aron gaped at him incredulously “What did you think she was? An extra tiny blue river troll?”
Daniel flushed, eyes flicking to me and back as he working his mouth “No I just, I mean she’s not human-“
I could see the anger contorting Aron’s face “So what if she’s not human, she’s not a monster, you attempted murder, if anything you’re the monster” he stabbed a finger in Daniel’s direction.
Daniel paled, looking scared “I didn’t mean- it wasn’t murder- I just, it was a misunderstanding” he swallowed nervously “She’s not a monster, I can see that now” he hastily added.
Aron crossed his arms scowling with narrowed eyes “Some misunderstanding” he muttered watching Daniel distrustfully.
“Please I'm sorry, you’re the first people I’ve met here, please let me come with you” he begged desperately.
“Give me your dagger,” I said looking up from my bandaged hand.
“What?” he asked fearfully.
“Give me your dagger, Aron can take your bow and arrows and we can take you back to the village” I paused “Do you have any other weapons?”
He looked relieved “Ok sure of course and ugh no, just the dagger and bow” he looked around trying to see where the dagger had fallen in the river, leaning over to pick it up and awkwardly shuffled closer to us holding out the dagger hopefully.
Aron reached out and grabbed it from him suspiciously but Daniel offered no resistance. Aron eyed him disgruntled and looked at me “Why do we have to take him with us?” Aron whined, “He’s clearly a bad guy”
“He’s injured, alone and stupid, if we leave him here then we’re the bad guys” I retorted and Aron scowled unhappily. He turned to Daniel, pointing the dagger at him.
“Ok fine, but listen, if you try anything I’m going to string you up by your ballsack and whip you within an inch of your life till you beg for your mother. Now go get the bow before I flay you, you little turd, go on faster”
Both Daniel and I gaped at Aron and Daniel almost fell backwards into the water as he scrambled to the other side of the river.
“Where did you get that from?” I whispered to Aron, shocked he knew language like that. His ears turned red and his stance faltered a bit “Its something uncle Rudy yells when he’s training new [Guards], did I do it wrong?” he whispered back.
“No, that was great” I tried giving a thumbs up with my functioning hand “Just don’t let Jak ever hear you say that” He nodded, nervousness flashing through his eyes at the thought of Jak finding out.
Daniel hurried back splashing through the water, struggling a bit to carry the rucksack, bow and empty quiver in his only working hand, which he quickly turned over to Aron.
“Grab the two arrows in the river, no point in wasting arrows” Aron said as he shouldered the rucksack and quiver, handing me the dagger. Daniel rushed to pull them out of the riverbed with one hand; luckily they were stuck in the mud instead of floating down river. He gave them to Aron who slipped them into the quiver while Daniel stood there swaying a bit, he was looking quite pale and his shirt seemed to be glued to his bloody stumps now.
I tucked the unsheathed dagger into my belt and struggled briefly to put on my socks and boots with one hand. Standing up I stood at the rivers edge between some reeds while Aron walked over and crouched down to put on his boots. Daniel hesitantly followed; his boots were filled with water and squelched with every step he took.
“Alright lets go back,” I said, my legs felt a bit weak, but I pushed past it and turned to head back along the trail of crushed grass we’d created on our way here. Aron followed me, shooting glare in Daniels direction before jogging to catch up with me. I could hear Daniel’s squeaky footsteps as he silently followed a few meters behind us.
My hand hurt, an intense pulsing pain emanated from it, but I was getting used it. It was the excruciating pain from my wing that made me want to cry every time I focused on it, so I was trying my hardest to ignore it and make sure that nothing jostled my partially extended wing. It hurt too much to fold it completely.
I shivered as we plodded along, the cold finally making itself known as we walked in the shade of the tall grass. Some of the strips of my bandage came off but most of it managed to stay intact. Strands of grass seemed grab our soaking wet clothing, sticking to it, trying to drag us back. Annoyed I ripped through it focusing on putting one foot in front of the other.
“You ok?” Aron asked me, concerned filled his big brown eyes.
“Yeah I’ll be fine” thinking back to Dante’s arm, I was infinitely glad for the advanced healing available in this world.
Aron nodded and inspected the bow. Before long he was trying to inconspicuously mime firing arrows, making quiet sound effects under his breath while we walked. A smile twitched at my lips as he tried to defeat invisible enemies.
I breathed a sigh of relief as we broke out of the grass and onto the road; something about being in the grass scared me a bit. Looking back I could see Daniel taking unsteady steps, looking at the floor with laboured breathing as followed us, clutching his left hand to his stomach.
I felt a tad guilty looking at his hand but I crushed it thinking about what he’d done to my wing. A sense of vindictive satisfaction surged and I tried to shake it off, as much as he deserved it, I really shouldn’t be proud of biting off someone’s fingers like a savage animal. Even though, if I was honest, I was a bit proud that I’d finally won a fight.
My tail lifted a bit higher, as it swished side to side, betraying my feelings of satisfied superiority as we headed towards the village. The moment the gate came into view, I subconsciously straightened and squared my shoulders a bit, but coming closer I slumped slightly. Nervous butterflies buzzed in my stomach as I took in the sight of a group of large horses with armoured riders in uniform standing outside of the gate.
They had a standard bearer with a blue and white flag flapping in the wind and we talking to Rudy and a few other village [Guards]. Rudy looked a bit unhappy but otherwise there didn’t seem to be an altercation.
“Who are they?” I hissed at Aron quietly, panicking at the thought that they were here for Daniel or me.
“Oh they’re from Lady Trostin’s household, they come every year for the midsummer allegiance ceremony and to see if they can recruit anyone for the army from the upper classes” he paused thoughtfully, clearly unperturbed by their presence “I always wondered, drakes don’t have nobility, so how do you like keep a kingdom safe without nobility using Skills?”
I looked at him blankly “I don’t know, maybe they have different people with similar Skills?” I guessed, but that really wasn’t my main concern right now. “Huh” Aron said turning away.
Getting Daniel inside past the group without too many questions would harder now. I scrambled around as I thought of a solution, I came to an abrupt halt and turned walking up to Daniel quickly and leaned close to him even as he shrank back fearfully.
“Listen, you’re an orphan, you worked for small time traders and you were attacked by Orcs on the road a few days ago. You’re the only survivor and you attacked us because we surprised you and you were scared ok?” I whispered firmly, looking into his puffy blue eyes as they widened, something seemed to click and he started “Are you like m-“
“Not now, later” I looked at him meaningfully as Aron trotted up to us scowling.
“What did he do?” he looked at Daniel suspiciously.
“Nothing, just making sure he knows not to freak out when he sees other non human people in the village” I looked at Daniel and he looked down guiltily.
“Ok lets go,” I said and we continued towards the gate, the mounted riders barely spared a glance towards us and I could see the village [Chief] was talking to the leader of the riders, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying.
The [Guards] also didn’t seem too bothered until Rudy caught sight of us and stomped forward “Aron what happened?” he exclaimed coming towards us, interrupting the discussion between the two leaders. The rider seemed irritated and the village [Chief] was sending murderous glares at the Minotaur. I had in inkling that this wasn’t the first time Rudy had disrupted social decorum in front of the [Chief].
“This idiot tried to kill us” Aron boldly stated and I wanted to throttle him, that was not how I wanted this to go, but Rudy just laughed.
“Got into a real fight did you? We can still make you into a [Warrior]” he patted Aron’s shoulder and I could see Aron straining not to fall over from the force as Rudy’s eyes danced with happy pride. He turned to look Daniel up and down, who gaped up at the enormous Minotaur and looked ready to shit himself when Aron said he’d tried to kill us. Thankfully Rudy didn’t seem to take that remark too seriously “And you boy, don’t worry, you’re not left handed are you? We can strap a shield to your forearm and you can fight no problem, don’t need all your fingers for that”
Daniel looked up terrified at the massive [Guard] towering over him. He seemed clueless as to what to do with that advice and just nodded quickly. Rudy turned to me smiling, broad horns glinting in the sunlight “You’re going to have some battle scars too, have you unlocked any combat Classes?”
“No, I don’t think I’m going to be fighter” I said trying to meet his gaze, as friendly as he was now, his physique was incredibly intimating. He nodded a bit disappointed “Yeah it’s not for everyone” he grunted, “Better get to the healers though, don’t want to get that infected”
I nodded and hurried Aron on before he could start anything about Daniel, trying to ignore the looks from some of the riders and [Guards]. The [Chief] had gone back to talking to the leader of the riders but she did not seem pleased.