Monday, October 1, 2018

The Shalafae Archives - Hunter Interrupted

I don't write these pieces in chronological order. Whatever is plaguing my brain just has to come out, or I go crazy. Like a bad dream that won't stop. This happens a few thousand years into Morrigana's life.

I also wrote this approximately 15 years ago, when I was still honing my talent, so I overuse words and don't have as flowing a style. But I'm not going to change it just to suit my current skills; better to show how I've progressed than to lie.

***

Morrigana growled a draconic chuckle, and the deep rumble rolled across the verdant hill. ~It's easy. Just relax and let it come. If you just open your mind, you'll find my memories.~ She puffed breath through her nostrils, watching the spicy air stirring the clothes of the golden elf before her.

Elthanael smiled furtively, looking up at his cousin. "You say that, but it's natural for you. Last time I checked, elves aren't born with wings." Frustration tinged his words, and Morrigana knew the pain in her cousin's heart. One of his few flaws was that he wanted to be perfect at something on the first try.

The hybrid laughed, and willed herself back to elven form, not disoriented by the sudden change in perspective and vision. Smiling broadly, she poked the elf in the chest. "No, you guys aren't born with wings. But we are related, which means we're connected. If we're connected, you can find my memories. If you find my memories, you can get the feel of the form, and come hunting with me." She licked her lips, body grumbling with hunger. Too long had she gone without the hunt, and she was overjoyed to share the experience with one of her closest friends.

He closed his dark golden eyes, sighing, shoulders slumping. "You're as demanding as your father, Gana-tii. You could just share your mind with me..." He looked up through long lashes, eyes glittering with humor.

She laughed, sitting down on the thick grass, her black hair pooling on the ground. "I could. But then you wouldn't learn how to do it. I mean, we've only been together for nearly two milenia. You should have learned to do this by now."

The assassin glared from beneath pale lashes, his cheeks bronzing slightly as he blushed. "Bitch," he whispered, and then he closed his eyes, concentrating once more on transforming to a dragon. Strands of chaos magic whispered past her as he pulled it to himself, and she held her breath, dimming her aura so as not to distract him.

Transformative magic has always been hard for him. Not just the little superficial changes we can all do. It's in our family blood. But growing wings and a tail is different from growing out the length of one's hair. Elves have never been known for their skill at shapeshifting.

The air seemed to ripple around the elf, and a sudden groan escaped Elthanael's lips. Morrigana cringed as he fell to one knee, pain crossing his features. His skin bubbled, hardening to diamond tip scales, and she sighed with his success, watching his body distend. He groaned again, his voice cracking as it dropped through several octaves, and his clothes bled into his rippling flesh. His fingers grew quickly, the first two fingers joining in to one thick finger, skin spreading between them, and all too soon they became oversized wings, trapping his body on the ground. He heaved back, and his chest barreled, shoulders broadening, vestigial legs growing from his lower ribcage. Elthanael's voice distorted as his face sprung forward, the delicate elven features becoming the fierce snout of a warrior dragon. Narrow eyes opened, he howled in pain, the transformation finished.

Morrigana smiled, her friend's new body collapsing on the ground, panting from the exertion. Spicy breath washed across her body, and large draconic eyes closed wearily. ~That was possibly the most painful thing I've ever done. I think I'd rather be tortured again.~

The hybrid laughed, reaching a hand out to stroke the tip of his golden nose. He stirred, and she felt as her father must feel standing beside her; even as tall as she was, she would barely span the length between nostril and nose. The hybrid felt the briefest moment of intimidation, understanding why so few of her enemies could stand against her when she wore her dragon form.

Seeing her cousin like this was like looking into some kind of distorted mirror. He was the same size as her, with the same arrangement of spikes and sharp armor scales on his shoulders. Even down to the pale yellow markings around the eyes, Elthanael looked like a golden version of her draconic shape. Morrigana smirked to herself seeing the same scar she wore nestled in the middle of her chest.
"Are you all right?" she asked with a laugh, standing so she could change again. Elthanael watched her, and shook his narrow-snouted head as she seemed to slip effortlessly into her scaled form.

~Oh, just splendid. I want to do that every day for the next century.~ His sarcasm brought a growl of laughter from the black dragon, and she unfurled her wings.

~Get up. The best way to get past the pain is to just start moving.~ She jumped into the air, and with three heavy beats was circling Elthanael.

~How much is it going to hurt when I crash?~ he asked, throwing himself into the air. Morrigana watched his clumsy wing beats clutch at the air, slowly lifting his bulk into the sky, wingtips brushing through the grass before he gained any kind of altitude. Morrigana was impressed by how quickly he took to flying, considering it wasn't natural for him.

~A lot if you break a wing,~ she answered with a laugh, rolling in the air, wings tucked close to her body. She kept herself at a slow pace, letting her friend get used to flying. His weariness left him rapidly, and soon Elthanael was flying ahead, his growls resounding in the cloudless sky, his wing strokes sure and confident.

~You ready to hunt?~ the hybrid asked, hunger lining her voice. Her talons twitched, and she felt the sudden hunger leap from her cousin. Chuckling in her head, she arrowed through the sky, spotting a fat boku beast ahead of them. Elthanael crooned behind her, and she wondered what the instinctual feeding desire felt like to him. The sight of the plodding creature, larger than herself, head whuffling through the high grass, cropping it in a wandering swath cause her stomach to grumble, her entire body to clench with desire to rend and feed, to feel the chunks of meat flow down her throat.

Boku beast, brought in just for us. It's good being a rheksha. There's nothing the Takishidar clan won't do for their leader, even if it's a little hybrid like myself. Growling, her eyes were locked only on her prey, her heart racing as hunger whipped her to a frenzy.

A shadow crossed the lumbering herbivore, and Morrigana's eyes darted to the sky. She watched in anger as an enormous red dragon dove from high above, plunging to the prey. Larger than the boku beast, the red dragon dropped his full weight onto his target, back legs arrow straight, crushing the beast beneath him. The boku screamed piteously in pain, twitching as bone splinters shredded its insides, blood spurting as flesh tore beneath the other dragon.

Snarling sharply, Morrigana fluttered to a landing, breath heavy. She heard Elthanael land with a heavy thump beside her, but her eyes were only upon the red dragon, who was already burying his thick snout in the belly of the beast.

~Sheimii clan. What are you doing here without a sponsor? This hunting ground belongs to the Takishidar clan.~

The Sheimii red looked up at her, three times her size, dark brown blood dripping from his teeth. He made a show of slowly swallowing the gobbet of entrails he'd torn free, the large rack of his head spikes glittering in the afternoon light. His scales were sharp, like razors, and his maroon talons arched dangerously. Heavy scale growths covered strategic parts of his large body, scars dulling his shine, his eyes hidden below a heavy ridge. He crooned deep in his broad chest, his wings out in a dominant position. Morrigana sneered as he used the sound one used to chide fledglings, her teeth grating against each other as she continued to stare him down.

~Little hybrid, you're too small to enforce your clan's territories. And if you're the only one here to drive me off...~ He growled a laugh, tearing free another piece of boku meat. ~Why don't you just run off and tell your rheksha and let me finish my meal.~

Elthanael stiffened beside her, and Morrigana knew he understood the insult. It was clear to any other dragon she was not full blooded, with the silver markings on her face, and her clear size difference compared to the other members of her clan. She even smelled slightly different than her clanmates, and it was seen as a sign of weakness by the warrior clans to have impure blood. This Sheimii was additionally treating her like some fledgling, too young to be out of the nest, and his behavior was unforgivable. Walking closer, stiff-legged, Morrigana snarled silently with head held high, her body rigid, wings held low to the ground, wide from her body. ~I am the rheksha and I demand you leave at once.~

The red dragon cocked his head, blood and saliva drooling from his parted mouth. He hissed, snaking down on to the ground, his movements slow and deliberate, calculated to show the restrained strength in his bulky form. Morrigana held her place, her mind racing. She knew she would end up fighting this Sheimii warrior, and was having to calculate the best strategy. Centuries of training had honed her to a killing machine, able to find the best solution in the span of heartbeats.

~Let me help you,~ Elthanael whispered. ~You can't take him by yourself. Even I can see that. You need my help.~

She knew it was true. But all of the partner's normal strategies would not work against a dragon. They were used to fighting humanoids and elementals, but they had never been commanded against a dragon. The elf had yet to face a dragon in its natural form before, and certainly in nothing other than friendly sparring matches. She'd never gone claw to claw against one this much larger than herself. She knew she could take him easily if she used her natural form, if she wielded the swords gifted her from her father, but pride welled in her. It would be seen as weakness to use anything but her draconic power to defend the Takishidar clan honor. She had to fight him as a dragon, no matter the potential damage he could do.

Keeping her body rigid with dominance, she opened her mind to her friend, letting him pick out the information about draconic fighting he would need. The hybrid trusted the elf's natural skills, his ability to fight with any weapon; he should take to fighting as a dragon just as easily. Hissing with delight, he circled around the boku beast, keeping himself low to the ground. The Sheimii ignored the elven assassin, his narrow eyes only on Morrigana.

~Oh yes, I know you. You're that little bitch. I heard your mother had named you rheksha to keep your father pleased. But I'd also heard you have not truly led your clan yet. Do you honestly expect me to listen to some scrawny hybrid and her little pissant lover? You have no idea who you're messing with do you?~ He drew his head up, puffing his chest out, his entire body seeming to expand as he posed.

~A Sheimii weakling who has to steal the prey of other clans because he can't face his own people.~

Morrigana's jibe hit target, and the dragon darted forward, looming over her. He snarled loudly, his venom splattering across her scales. She gritted her teeth, pain eating its way across her nerves.
Damn the Sheimii clan and their acidic venom. But I can't get too far away, or he'll use his flames. I'd be willing to bet he's got great range with his flame.

~I am the war leader of our clan. I have fought many battles. You faced my father at the battle of Three Rivers. I am greater than he was.~

Morrigana laughed mentally, lifting her head contemptuously. ~Fool. He died like a mortal, begging for his life.~

The Sheimii let her say no more, attacking then. He sprung forward, attempting to crush her beneath his weight. She darted to the side, avoiding his wicked talons, springing up towards the soft joining of wing and chest, that small segment beneath the shoulder that wasn't covered in heavy scales. Her talons scored his flesh, but not deep, and he closed his wing on her, holding her close. She tossed her head back, letting her crown of horns tear at his patagia. Morrigana snarled sharply in pain as his teeth found her foot, attempting to pull her out in front of him. Letting him tear at her limb, she maneuvered for his eye, doubling back on her body, wings helping her move, hoping to blind him on one side.

The red tossed his head, flinging her to the side. Morrigana spun in the air, landing on her feet, saving her wings from breaking, tail whipping around as she regained her balance. Her talons dug furrows in the ground, pain lancing up her leg from her ruined foot as she forced it to brace her weight. She opened her mouth, feeling the pulse of muscles in her cheek constrict on the venom sacks, spitting a gout of flame at the red as he charged her. The sticky venom splattered across his face, but not burning deep before he barreled into her, knocking her small body back.

Morrigana recovered her balance in time to see a lance of dark flame coming straight for her. The hybrid threw herself into the air, hoping to avoid it, but the venom caught her, engulfing her body. Heat seared through her scales, damaging the soft skin of her wings, and Morrigana collapsed to the ground, rolling in the grass, attempting to dislodge the sticky flames. Her scales would hold out against the flame, the pain not indicating levels of serious damage, but blood vessels in the thin leather of her wings would sear and collapse quickly, rendering the hybrid flightless.

The Sheimii dragon loomed over her, stepping on to one crispy wing, stopping her in mid roll. Morrigana snarled, lunging for his throat. The size difference became apparent to her then as she came up short, her shoulder screaming in pain, tendons stretching as the force of her lunge carried her forward.. His chuckle rumbled through his chest, venom dripping from bloody teeth, hissing on the ground as the acid ate at anything it touched.

~I wonder if anyone would miss you if I killed you, little rheksha.~ He opened his mouth, rows of teeth glittering above her, and Morrigana wondered if she could force flame down his throat before he crushed her head in his jaws.

The warrior stopped and howled in pain. Morrigana looked past his looming mouth to the golden blur on his neck. El? What's he trying to do?

The Sheimii attempted to shake the golden dragon free, but Elthanael dug his talons under the razor edges of the red's scales, and clung like a tick. The large red dragon shook as he growled desperately, and Elthanael trumpeted in triumph as he sank teeth deep down into dragon flesh.

Morrigana crawled free, the Sheimii shaking and bucking, watching her friend burrow deep into the flesh of the red dragon. The warrior reared up, screaming desperately, his wings batting futilely. Elthanael kept his place, throwing loose scale and flesh, blood staining his bright scales.

The Sheimii collapsed hard to the ground with a defeated squeal, and Elthanael leapt free, his golden skin liberally coated with dark blood. The red dragon growled deep in his chest, but was unable to move, his eyes darting between his enemies. Morrigana realized her friend had paralyzed the attacker, a tactic they'd employed before.

As Elthanael approached, she collapsed to the ground, concentrating on the pain in her body, forcing the burnt flesh to heal. Her nerves tingled as healing energy coursed through seared veins, rejuvenating damaged flesh.

~So, when can we do this again?~ the elf asked as he laid himself beside the hybrid, long tongue lapping at his bloody muzzle.

~Oh...real soon. As often as you want.~ She laughed to herself, crooning as she rubbed her head along his body. ~But next time, you get to be burnt.~ Their rumbling laughs brought smiles to their draconic snouts as they recovered from the fight.

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