So, flight was a no go.
Ruth stood up and stretched with both of his arms above his head. He grimaced and put his arms back down at his sides. His reach was pretty pathetic compared to the five meters of body he had previously enjoyed. This body seemed to be more accurately balanced for walking on hindquarters, though when he did hunch over and go on all fours that felt comfortable too. His tail was swaying in order to keep him balanced when he moved about in this fashion. It was… strangely enjoyable.
Ruth made a note to investigate the enjoyable tail swinging sensations at a later date.
Ultimately, after a quick and rather flimsy planning session that you could barely call planning at all, he decided that he would walk upright because he could see further away. The idea of traveling that low to the ground without being able to see further away made his tail twitch back and forth in agitation.
This tail seemed to have a lot more personality than his old one. One of the bright sides at least? Ruth was not so secretly enthralled with the tail and it wasn’t just because he found its familiarity comfortable. Not at all.
That was the good news.
A tail that did what it was supposed to do and was surprisingly independently sassy? Check. A brief moment of mourning for the old tail and all the gold and jewels he had encrusted in it. The new tail was fantastic but nude. A moment of silence for the old tail.
The moment of silence seemed to be respected by the other woodland creatures, pleasing Ruth greatly. He would try not to eat any of the creatures too near him as a way of thanks.
The bad news was mounting up though.
He did a quick inventory of his body and found that his skin wasn’t very tough. He didn’t have any scales or even any of the armor that he had developed into his body made up of long years of treasure lazing, making him effectively nude as the hatchling he was born as more so since he felt an uncomfortable breeze now and again passing between his legs. Finally, his ‘claws,’ so to speak, were a lot less intimidating and felt clumsy. He wasn’t sure if he could cleave anything in half with these. He would have to just grab things and hold on as best he could and use strength or teeth to fight.
Or could he use his breath?
Ruth stood well away from some of the trees so that when they exploded they wouldn’t hurt his pathetic and feeble body. He turned, took a deep breath, and used the knowledge that he had been born with to breathe a crystallizing icy breath of destruction. The wave, he imagined smugly, could go for about twice the distance as he’d been long.
The long stream of icy death he had imagined perfectly forming from his personal store of mana did not materialize. Instead, almost as if it were taunting him, he had only produced a gargling sound and distressingly feeble roar that had steamed the air with his breath slightly. The steam, as he considered it, seemed to be a result of the cold weather and not any form of breath attack.
That’s fine. Ruth tried to think positively. There had to be something this body could do naturally. Some sort of advantage that is gained from simply existing. Even prey animals had their natural survival mechanisms. He wasn’t in a herd or anything so it couldn’t just be panicked running.
Start with the basics then.
His mind started to seek out memories that were pushed deep down into his mind long ago. Back when he had been in his egg stage. No, too far! When he had hatched among his brethren! Yes, that was a good place to remember.
Ruth had been one of the first to hatch, which was just as well. They had all scrambled out on top of each other, lightly mottled blues and dark silver hues suddenly writhing like a swarm of angry spiders emerging from a nest with no seeming purpose -- at least until they got to each other. Flightless, breathless, and their claws had not yet solidified so they crawled and pounced and tackled one another, using sharp teeth and light bodies to hold down and to tear into fleshy eggs and like-kind too.
Ruth realized that remembering the eating of his clutch was just making him even more incredibly hungry. What the hell was up with this hunger? He didn’t feel this hungry when he was a dragon and his stomach had been however many times larger.
Ruth looked down and put his ugly, dumb, useless hands on his taut and well-sculpted stomach below his rib cage as it gurgled at him again. Horror began to overtake his features. Maybe this whole body was a stomach. He had seen snakes before. They were just heads and stomachs. Could he be a snake with arms?! Legs too, he supposed, remembering he had those as well now. The distinction wasn’t quite so clear when he was a dragon. His stomach growled at him again, startling him before a dreamy look came across his face.
Tamara stood in a space that appeared to be completely empty. Despite the nothingness of her surroundings, she stood quite easily, as if she were standing in a glass box suspended in the darkness of space.
The only illumination in this place came from a small faded window that was opened all the way, incredibly out of place for the emptiness that surrounded with its garish featuring. Intricate gold lacing surrounded the surface of the window in fanciful barding, almost giving it the appearance of an old gothic vanity mirror, save that some of the shine seemed to have worn off over a great many years.
Despite the antics of the one known as Ruth, her face was impassive as she watched. She stood with preternatural stillness, the only movement of her body was when her golden eyes would occasionally shift. Her gaze would move from left to right, up to down, or further in any direction to follow the movement of the fledgling Ruth.
Hair as golden as corn silk spilled down one side of her head, artfully curled and spilling over her right shoulder and side. The left side of her head was shaved almost to the top, an intricate tattoo of a black rose vine twining down from under the line of her hair, along the skin of her scalp and around her ear, dipping down her throat and slipping under the collar of her high, white shirt. The shirt itself was form-fitting, long-sleeved, though the sleeves were currently rolled up past her elbows. The tail of the shirt was untucked, flaring at her hips and draping in daggered points. From beneath the shirt hems, black leggings melded almost seamlessly into thigh-high black boots; boots such as these were only incredible, the final piece in the contrast that was Tamara, pale skin, blonde hair, white shirt, black pants, black boots, a harlequin split top to bottom, rather than side to side.
“Tamara.” A voice called from the darkness of what could be considered behind her if you were like to wonder of such things.
Tamara did not turn around and her eyes never left the window, never left Ruth. “Heath.”
“Ah, so you have made a selection after all? Just the one? I selected over a hundred, but I do have my favorite with me.” The man identified as Heath was tall with tousled brown hair and a rather unremarkable face. His skin was warm and sunkissed, and his garb was that of a simple bartender. Despite his simple appearance he towered over Tamara by four or five heads and outmatched her appearance with elegant style. His clothes became easier to understand as he neared the luminous window. His style seemed to be a tuxedo without the smoking jacket.
“I am only concerned with quality,” Tamara said, still not bothering to turn around.
“There are many factors in a multitude of worlds. Luck being chief among them. You could pick the best of the best and they could simply fall down a hole and die!” Heath spread his hands, smiling lazily. “Best to spread out the yield a little bit…”
“I am not so free.” Tamara retorted, though a smile did briefly twitch across her pale lips. “Announce your favorite then. With her first words, I will judge her.”
“Judge me?” A melodious voice called out. “I am…”
“This is Amaranthe.” Heath interrupted smoothly. “Amaranthe, this is Tamara, my friend, and peer. Consider your words carefully, this is an opportunity for you to get a feel for talking to upper-level management without being instantly murdered for insolence.”
Tamara shifted from foot to foot very subtly but didn’t rebuke him.
There was a calmness to his voice that gave Amaranthe pause and set her fox ears twitching nervously. Yes, fox ears. She had nine tails and wore an expensive kimono that had slits on either side for extra movement. Two fans hung off golden chains at her ample hips.
Amaranthe couldn’t see Tamara very well in the low lighting. In fact, this very journey into the expanse of nothingness would have terrified her if not for the assistance of Heath. To Amaranthe’s eyes, however, other than some particularly beautiful golden eyes, Tamara seemed largely unremarkable. In fact, Amaranthe considered as her eyes narrowed, Heath was looking at her with a knowing look and a slight grin. She’d been near him long enough to understand he was mercurial, though not long enough to always understand the lesson he was trying to impart on her.
“Speak.” Tamara interrupted.
Amaranthe looked to where Tamara was looking but couldn’t see anything through the window. She looked at Tamara once again and slowly moved to the side so that the other could see her in profile. “Greetings, Tamara, I am Amaranthe. Heath has chosen me for consideration as his god candidate.”
“Okay,” Tamara said after a moment. “You may both leave. I’m busy.”
Amaranthe frowned, feeling upset but wisely deciding to keep her words and thoughts to herself. She had cast a skeptical glance at Tamara and started to turn away.
She doesn’t seem like much. I’ll bet her chosen is a joke, too. Is she even a-
“The arm,” Tamara said.
Heath sighed in a knowing way. “A long ways to go, Amaranthe.”
“What?” Amaranthe was baffled. She had no sooner turned away than Tamara had spoken to get her attention. She, at least, felt like she had been polite. Surely nothing had been said that could have caused offense or been misconstrued.
Tamara threw a pale arm on the ground at her feet, startling Amaranthe and causing her to jump slightly. Where the hell had that arm come from? It looked like someone had yanked it clean off whoever had been attached to it.
Amaranthe swayed on her feet, suddenly feeling dizzy as a sense of danger washed over her body in a belated fashion. She looked down with a dreadful premonition and a shriek let loose from her lips moments before she even felt the pain that started to pulse from the ragged stump of her left shoulder. Blood oozed down onto her kimono as if her bodily fluids had merely been awaiting her attention before they began to flow freely.
“Think more politely,” Tamara suggested, not seeming bothered by the twitching arm at her feet. There was no blood on her anywhere.
Amaranthe backed away in her heels, her tails swishing murderously. Despite her attempts to rein in her temper all she could think about was her beautiful arm. She bit her lips in order to keep from screaming or from threatening. She now understood that Tamara, despite her appearance, was far beyond her understanding or control.
Maybe Tamara was… Amaranthe looked at the window deliriously, trying to see through it to see what her chosen looked like… If I can’t have my revenge on her…
Golden eyes turned away from the window for the first time as Tamara turned her full and terrible gaze on Amaranthe.
From deep within Amaranthe’s soul a cry of despair rang out. Her spirit, shaped like the legendary nine-tail fox just like the form she inhabited, immediately rolled over within her sea of consciousness and began begging for mercy. The image of a Three-Eyed Golden Crow juxtaposed itself over Tamara in her eyes, and in those eyes, there wasn’t a thing known as mercy.
“Now, now… I believe lessons were learned. Amaranthe will now swear a soul-shatter oath to leave your chosen to his own devices. She has experienced much, and I would consider it a personal favor if you allowed her to learn from it. If everyone was just killed immediately there would be a lot of rude people running around you know?” Heath smiled winningly, spreading his arms in front of Amaranthe, cutting off the image of the terrible crow from her line of sight.
Amaranthe collapsed straight down behind him, falling on her butt and hardly managing to spread her legs enough to accomodate the position. Warm liquid dribbled down her legs and mercifully off into the nothingness expanse.
“You’ll owe me.” Tamara had considered his terms and turned back to the window, having lost all interest. “Swear it or I’ll know.”
“Of course.” Heath waved a hand and an invisible hand seemed to grab Amaranthe by the back collar of her kimono. She slid after him on the floor that didn’t seem to exist, her eyes blank and almost lifeless as blood still streamed down her body and onto her once pristine clothes.
The two disappeared before long.
Tamara went back to watching the window.
She no longer paid heed to the arm near her that had finally stopped spasming.
Ruth stood in the middle of a cold stream and screamed his triumph! He dropped the rocks he had been holding as extra ammunition and snatched up a fish he had just brained to death in the water.
He closed his eyes, savoring the delicious feeling of raw fish in his mouth as he tore bites off and swallowed noisily.
Not long until all the flesh, skin, and even eyes had been peeled from the fish, he started to chew the bones. He wasn’t pleased with the feeling of pain between his teeth and in his mouth from the way the sharp edges stabbed into his gums, but he chewed carefully and swallowed them anyway.
He stood naked up to his knees in the frigid water and looked down, deep thought on his face.
It is cold. He decided. I cannot clad myself in dragon scale. I must clad myself in something else. Hunger is sated, now the elements must be conquered.
Then I will find this Tamara, he thought.
His eyes narrowed dangerously.
Elements conquered. Belly full. I will still eat it, this Tamara.
Ruth was, by this point in his adventure, mostly confident that he was a snake.
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Bio: I'm not by nature a very courageous person. If you have been around enough you might have surmised as much on your own. I started writing these gaming books because I was frustrated, and in desperate need of a way to give voice to the ideas and concepts that I hope to see in a game some day. I'm also trying to write a book about a former dragon without making him into too much of a murder hobo. I hope you enjoy them. If you don't, that's alright too. :)