Seeing Things Differently
Chapter 1: Changes
"Alright, gentlemen, your 12 km route march will begin shortly, after which you'll be transiting directly to your field camp site. Understand?" Barked the sergeant, at the bunch of us recruits who had already formed up in our rows, ready to start the march.
Field camp is arguably the apex of a recruit's training, in which 4 days are spent living in the field, in this case the forest. It is the time when the sergeants get sadistic, sleep is lost, yet new things are still learnt. What ran through my mind as I shouted an affirmative together with the rest of the company was what our commander had said to us some time back, 'After field camp, you'll all see things differently, very differently. You'll come out a changed man and more importantly, a soldier.'
As we marched off, I couldn't help but wonder how things would go for the next four days...
At least morale was high, and as we marched, we began to sing.
"Training to be soldiers,
fight for our land.
Once in our lives,
Two years of our time...
Have you ever wondered,
why must we serve?
Because we love our land,
and want it to be free,
to be free..."
Eventually, I lost myself in the rhythm of the march and the many marching songs that we had. Now and then, the commanders would walk past, checking on us and reminding us to drink up for it was a hot day.
However, that being said, some people obviously didn't drink enough, as three people had to be evacuated to the medical centre due to heat injuries...
Thankfully, I wasn't one of them. However, the heat injury cases did result in us stopping to rest more often than normal for a route march, and we reached the camp site two hours late. We had to rush through our lunch, which consisted of combat rations, which contrary to popular belief, did taste quite good, before being rushed off to construct our tents.
Already tired and drained from the march, most of us moved sluggishly, including me. Not surprising, really. However, we soon found out that the commanders were far from pleased about it.
One of the sergeants came into the middle of the area and shouted, "Ey, 4th coy! Take your time some more! Walk some more!"
He then paused, but it was quite obvious what was coming next, so I put down the support string for the tent in preparation.
As expected, he then bellowed, "FUCKING IDIOTS WHOLE LOT KNOCK IT DOWN!"
We all then somewhat reluctantly went into pushup position... only to be shouted at again.
"Slowly move some more. Crunches change. Pushups change. Crunches change. Pushups change." As the commands changed, we all scrambled to change the position, kicking up small plumes of dry dust as our feet skidded on the floor when changing position, flipping upside down into situp position, then back to push up position...
In the end, we did 20 pushups... Not much in my book, not because I was very fit, but because I simply expected worse... Our norm was usually 40, i guess they knew that we were tired out from the march...
The sergeant shouted again, as he walked off. "Fucking hell, stay low and move FASTER LA!"
As per outfield procedures, we gave him the thumbs up and scrambled to finish the shelter...
Eventually, after rebuilding the tent a few times owing to them not being aligned with the rest, we were handed over to another group of sergeants who were charged with teaching us some basic movement skills and such.
It was actually quite interesting, yet mind boggling on how complicated simple things became when executed in the army fashion.
Even using the toilet was a hassle. One had to wear everything, including the load bearing vest (LBV) and take one's rifle to relieve oneself. I decided there and then to just hold my shit till we returned to our proper bunks and use a proper toilet, rather than feed mosquitoes at the latrine point, even though that would mean holding it all in for six days...
The first two days passed relatively similarly, in which we would be shouted at in the morning, then lessons till the evening, after which, rest and more screaming.
The third day was the one I was dreading to quite a large extent, mostly because it would involve a lot of digging. We were to dig shell scrapes, which were more or less single man trenches for one to lie low in, and fire from the cover it provides. Considering that even my bag had to go into the blasted hole, I would have to dig it quite deep,and long (curse my lanky stature) . Luckily, we were given practically the whole day to dig.
So, after breakfast, we dug, and dug. I was making some half decent progress, having dug out the rough shape of the hole, when my hoe (or entrenching tool, which is what the army calls it) slammed onto something hard just below a layer of soil, with a loud metallic 'CLANG!'. It was so loud that the people around me stopped their digging to shoot me curious looks.
Considering that I had no idea what I had hit either, I just gave a tired smile and said, "Eh, maybe I hit treasure chest!"
That did get me a few chuckles, before everyone else went back to work. I levered out the small amount of soil that was covering whatever the obstruction was, then began to test the area around it, intending to dig around the thing, and then remove it once I got deep enough.
Meanwhile, an acrid smell wafted over from my friend's trench. He had hit some ancient latrine point, and it was not going to be pretty on his end... At least the sergeants said that he could put his ground sheet inside to sleep on later on fro hygene's sake.
Of course, due to my rotten luck, at this point, my rifle, which I had to sling with me at all times decided to be annoying, and somehow got my arm tangled in the sling, and fell to the ground with a soft clattering sound.
As I fumbled with the hoe, which I had been partway through moving, I used my free hand to pull the rifle up. However, the weapon had somehow managed to get itself stuck somewhere. Sighing in annoyance, I put the hoe aside and looked to the gun, to see that it had somehow started to sink into the ground... Into the thing that my hoe had clanged against earlier.
The object was jet black in colour, and had a rough, yet somehow shiny surface. Its dark colour stood in stark contrast with the light orangey-brown colour of the surrounding clayey soil.
Right smack in the middle of the exposed object stood my rifle. The rifle had been slung on my back, but since I had been bending down, it had coincidentally come to slam onto the object. Stood, with the rifle butt somehow partially stuck in the object.
My initial reaction was to stand there scratching my head. How could something that had been solid enough to cause my hoe's blade to resonate so loudly give way to the plastic butt of a simple SAR-21?
I spent another second or two unslinging the rifle, then looking at the thing. It began to sink in even more, much to my alarm. I knew all too well that the loss of the weapon or any part of it would lead to the whole platoon, or in extreme cases, the entire army camp's occupants would be activated to search for it. On top of that, I was liable to get charged.
Obviously, I didn't want that to happen.
Seeing that the rifle was accelerating in the undesired direction, I quickly grabbed the handguard, braced myself on one of the walls of the shell scrape, and then pulled with all my might. Or more accurately, with the tiny scrap of strength I had left, which wasn't that much anyway.
Hence, it was no surprise that I failed miserably, and only served to plonk me onto the hard ground unceremoniously...
Then, I noticed a commotion over at one of the other shell scrapes, a short distance away. One of my friends had slammed his hoe deep into the dirt, the sergeant who had been walking past had decided to be helpful, and stomped the entire blade in.
He was screaming at my friend to lever the entire chunk out. "EHHHH don't pull it out! Lever it! You'll get a fucking huge chunk coming out! Come on, Wing Bun!"
I couldn't help but pause and watch as Wing Bun tried the push the handle. At first, it looked as if he was making progress, as millimetre by millimetre, the hard sun-baked and boot-compacted ground gave way, and bits of dirt began to fall off the edges...
Then, with a loud 'PAK!', the entire blade of the hoe snapped, leaving the stunned recruit with about a third of the black blade left.
All were stunned for a moment, before the sergeant just burst out laughing, assuring Wing Bun that it was not his fault, before running off to get him a replacement.
The rest of us soon began laughing too, complementing him on his 'strength'.
By the time I turned back to my own problem, I realised that I was an idiot.
In the time that I had spent watching and laughing, the rifle had sunk in much more, and now only half of it protruded from the object.
I muttered a curse and made up my mind. I would ask one of the commanders for help. Needless to say, I would probably get into trouble for letting the rifle get stuck in the first place, for that would qualify as not taking care of the blasted thing. However, the folks with the three chevrons or the one bar would probably stand a better chance of getting the gun out of whatever it was stuck in.
However, there was one small problem. When I made my decision, I found myself capable of doing everything but what I intended to do. I could raise my hand and ask a friend to toss over a pack of biscuits, and shout curses at the rifle, but I could neither speak nor move when I wanted to call for help in getting the rifle out. It was extremely unnerving to say the least.
There were forces at work here that I neither knew nor understood...
...and frankly, it scared the hell outta me.
However, I knew that I had to get that weapon out of the ground, and fast, before someone saw my predicament. If I couldn't ask for help, who knew what would happen to someone who tried to help me call for help... I shivered at that thought, scenarios of violent dismemberment and simple disappearances running through my mind.
Not really surprising, really, considering the number and sheer goriness of the ghost stories that I had heard about the training areas... I wasn't one to believe in such things, but nonetheless, I didn't want to become another 'legend'...
I needed to get that rifle out of the ground.
Once again, I grabbed the handguard, and pivoted myself. Using everything I had (which was surprisingly much, mind you), I pulled, pushed and shook the weapon, all to no avail.
What I didn't notice, however, was that I had unknowingly stepped on the black thing myself.
I soon found out, when I found my right foot unable to move.
A glance told me all I needed to know. My right foot had also gotten stuck, up to the ankle.
Now, not only did the thing have my rifle, it also had my foot.
Then, it occurred to me that only the boot was stuck, not my foot... Time was precious as the object seemed to like my foot a lot more than the rifle, and had begun to pull me in alarmingly fast.
I knew that I only had one chance at this. I quickly untied the bootlace...
Then, it occurred to me that untying the damn thing would be too slow. I fumbled around with my pockets, looking for my swiss army knife. Once I found it, I hastily opened it, and cut the bootlaces with the sharp blade.
Whatever that was controlling the object seemed to sense my intensions, and the next thing I knew, I was up to my knees in the thing, the sudden downward acceleration having jerked me deeper into the glass-like substance, violently slamming in my other foot as well...
The suddenness of the whole thing made me jerk involuntarily, sending the knife flying out of my grasp, and into the far wall, where it was stuck in the dirt, just out of my reach.
As I continued to sink, I grabbed the hoe, and in a last ditch attempt to escape or at least draw attention to myself, I slammed it against the object.
I got the same response as I got earlier. The blade struck the suddenly hard surface of the object with a loud 'clang!' that made my ears ring, then bounced off, and out of my grasp, thrown out of my hands by some unseen force. I saw it careen off behind me, into the forest and heard it land some distance away with a dull 'thud'.
This, of course was the last straw. Like liquid flowing over a table top, terror coated my mind, muffling my thoughts.
It was obvious that I would not be able to breathe in that thing. Was I to die like that, asphyxiated in some black glass, waiting to be found by the next sad soul sent to dig here?
Or perhaps this was some sort of creature and I was its lunch?
All this time, I was sinking deeper. Eventually, when I was up to my shoulders in the thing, with the rifle nowhere to be seen, I reached the point of not caring anymore.
I let myself go limp and just sink. If I were to go in this manner, I wanted to at least go relaxed...
Whatever might happen, if I were to survive, I promised myself to give whoever was behind this a piece of my mind, with my fists.
Then, I accelerated downwards, practically flying through the whole depth of the object, spectacles, LBV and all. At some point, I found myself whooshing past the rifle, which sped up to follow me.
The next thing I knew, I was unceremoniously dumped on the floor of a large chamber, out of a chute of the material.
The rifle shot out of the chute, and chattered onto the floor some distance in front of me.
Rubbing my bum, on which I had landed, and therefore was now quite sore, I stumbled forward, and picked up the weapon, which had acquired a large dent on the butt of the plastic, as well as several new scratches.
The armskote people were going to love me...
Using the rifle as a support, I straightened my stance, popping nearly every joint in my body in the process.
Then, I was interrupted, then I realised that my unlaced boot was missing...
The day was getting better and better...
"Are you quite done?" The voice that sailed over was regal, with a slight undertone of arrogance. Not the sort of arrogance that was uncalled for, but rather, arrogance born of knowing that you were the superior one in the room.
For the record, I didn't like the tone, and on top of that, I had a gun. Granted, it was empty, but the other party didn't have to know that.
I got up, and hoisted the gun in the general direction of the voice, while I turned to face the speaker.
What I saw made me drop the weapon in surprise. Luckily, I caught the rifle just in time.
In front of me stood a dragon. A biped one, who was looking at me with a slightly amused expression. His scales sparkled with the light from the bulbs that lined the walls. They were a midnight black, except for on his belly, where the scales were a whitish-grey colour, like smoke. On his head was a pair of milky while horns, and a pair of piercing blue eyes. He had a set of spines that ran from the back of his head, presumably along his back to the tip of his tail. The tail itself was tipped with a triangle, like an arrowhead. His wings were black, with membranes of a smoky grey colour. On top of all that, he stood at least a head taller than me, with a proud, upstanding posture...
A magnificent creature by any standards.
And a dangerous one by the same standards... I held the gun up again, aiming down the scope.
The dragon chuckled, then he sauntered forward and gently pushed the barrel of the gun down, forcing me to lower the weapon. "Come, now, do you think I would have brought you here if that peashooter was loaded? And at any rate, I mean you no harm, so put the silly thing away."
I was too stunned to really do anything but gawk, for I was being spoken to by a legendary creature, literally. However, after a short while, my brain started working again, and seeing that I had no alternative, I lowered the weapon. I wanted to say something, but my mouth was still not responding... However, it was safe to say that I was pretty much scared out of my wits, for I didn't believe a word of the 'I mean you no harm' story.
The dragon gestured at a table that had appeared out of nowhere, which was a short distance from a door, which had also appeared out of nowhere. "You can put your vest-thing there, along with your hat and rifle. Oh, and your boot flew to the other side of the room, go and get it on your way."
I nodded and complied, putting the helmet on the table with a 'thunk', then went to pick up the boot, and put it on, not wanting to carry it around. The dragon chuckled again. "You know, I know of when my people wore those, it wasn't that long ago. But then again, I am old, by your current standards anyway, and that was a very long time ago by those same standards."
I raised an eyebrow at him, as I walked back. The dragon gave me a disgusted look. "I heard that humans were pungent, but you take the cake!"
I made a face back at him. "Pfft. This is what happens when you don't bathe for three days, and counting."
The dragon seemed even more disgusted. "Why ever would you not bathe?! Yuck!"
I shrugged. "Field camp. There's no place to bathe in the forest."
"I thought you monkeys moved on to cities quite some time back?" came the tart response.
"We have. But the military still loves jungles. Don't ask me why." I then looked around the mostly bare room. "Now, why am I here?"
"That, I will answer after you've had a bath." The dragon replied flatly, then escorted me to the door, which he opened. All the while, he was covering his muzzle with one hand, presumably because of the smell...
I shrugged. "Fair enough. You know, I'm one of the less stinky ones. At least tell me where I am?"
The dragon snorted, then directed me to a door which opened into a bathroom. He pointed out a cuboidal washing machine that would allegedly clean my clothes instantly, along with the normal bathroom things, including soap, scale polish (I had no idea why he pointed that out. What would I polish, my backside?), and a showerhead with hot and cold running water.
I shot the dragon a sceptical look about the machine, before closing and locking the door. No matter what he was going to do to me, one thing I wasn't going to turn down was a nice, hot bath at this point, dragon or no...
I stripped, then tossed my clothes into the machine, and pressed the only button on it, hoping that it would at least be fast, if it were not instant.
I then proceeded to have a long bath, scrubbing every spot. The water flowed off my body black. That was three days of filth I was washing off...
Eventually, I finished up, and f dried myself off with a towel I found on a convenient table. One thing I noticed about the whole room and its facilities was that everything seemed slightly bigger. However, judging from the size and height of my dragon tour guide, I wasn't really surprised.
Wrapping the towel around my waist, I proceeded to open the washing machine thing, to be surprised to find my uniform and underpants inside, completely spotless. Even the broken bootlace had somehow been mended...
Considering that the whole uniform had been covered in the orange soil from all the digging I had been doing earlier, and soaked with my sweat, I was astonished. That was some technology I was looking at...
"Can you hurry up?" piped in a voice. Evidently my host was getting impatient. It was an awful lot of trouble to go through for a meal...
"Ya, ya coming!" I snapped, while struggling into my boots.
I made my way out of the bathroom to find my guide standing there, his tail swishing from side to side in impatience. Evidently, the myths about the creatures being incredibly patient were utter hogwash...
I was led to a small room, reminiscent of an office cubicle. Unlike the corridors, which were more or less just passageways carved into the orange-black granite of the bedrock, this room had been done up nicely, however, it was also quite spartan. Inside was a simple white-wood topped table, a black device that resembled a laptop, only thinner, and without brand markings, and two large chairs, each with backrests with parallel depressions on each side presumably for the dragons' wings, and a hole at the bottom obviously for the tail. The chairs were made of the same white wood as the tabletop. On one of the whitewashed walls hung a picture of a vegetated island, presumably Singapore, but before the country came to be. In one corner sat a sad-looking potted plant, along with a well-used clothes stand.
I was directed to sit at one of the chairs, while the dragon sat opposite. He pulled out a drawer and put on a pair of reading glasses, then tapped the laptop thing, which I surmised to be a computer.
I couldn't help but snigger. In front of me was a large mythological creature, fangs, wings, tail and all, wearing a pair of tiny, frameless reading glasses, hunched over a 13" screen.
If I had had my phone with me, I would have snapped a photo.
However, I didn't have it with me, and the creature in question wasn't amused.
He just snorted, then tapped away at what I assumed to be the keyboard, the contents of the screen reflected in his glasses. However, the reflection itself was too small and distorted for me to really see what was going on. I could only tell that some sort of digital form was being filled up.
"I need all your particulars." He ordered, not unkindly.
I raised an eyebrow. "Whatever for? My death certificate?"
"Don't be silly. I'm not going to eat you. We haven't eaten your kind for centuries." He then looked up, and looked me over. "I need them to wipe you off the face of the earth. The human side anyway, so please cooperate. I do dislike shouting at people."
I sat bolt upright at his words, spluttering, "Wipe me of the... Earth?! What the fuck?! Why?!"
"Isn't it obvious by now? Considering how nice I've been to you?" came the unperturbed response.
"Obviously not." I replied flatly, staring blankly at the piece of paper and pen that the dragon had pushed over to me, obviously for me to write down my particulars.
He snorted, then shrugged. "Obviously not indeed. I'll just tell you, then. Once I finish with the human networks, I'll be making an entry for you in ours. You are one of us now, for our population dwindles, and we need a larger genetic pool to survive. So, we chose you, along with a few others based on various criteria."
My jaw practically dropped onto the floor. 'One... one of you? But-"
He cut me off. "Yes, I know, not one of us in body. That will be rectified shortly. As for your life on top, it's over. Now, please give me the information so that I can get this over with."
His tone made it quite obvious that I didn't have a say in all this, so I quietly took the paper and scribbled down my particulars, including identification number, address and of course, name.
The dragon took the paper and began hammering on the keyboard at an impossible speed. He commented on everything, saying that my name was interesting, but would be gone soon, as well as the house I stayed in. I was quite sure that he googled my address and facebook, for he commented on things that I didn't write down.
At some point, I nodded off, for I hadn't slept well during the past few months, as below the ground sheet I slept on, there were several protruding rocks that poked me all over the place, making me wake up to move around several times each night.
I woke to find the dragon standing over me, staring. To wake to see the close-up of a black, scaly muzzle was unnerving to say the least, and I practically jumped off the chair when I woke.
The dragon just gave me a toothy smile and laughed, saying that he had always wanted to do that.
Then, it occurred to me that all my things were still in the first room. I asked about them, and was told that they would be thrown out, the rifle somehow returned to the armoury later on, when they sent someone to clean up the written records, among other things.
The dragon then exited the room, taking the laptop with him. He told me to stay put, for he would be returning later.
Finding the oversized chair somewhat uncomfortable, for the top of the backrest was poking into the back of my head, I went and lay on the floor to continue sleeping. Since we were forbidden from touching the beds in the day, most of us recruits had quickly acquired the skill of sleeping anywhere, even the floor, which in some cases was quite comfortable if done properly.
I woke to the door being opened, then a gasp.
I sat up to find two dragons staring at me in disbelief. One was the same black one from earlier, and another was red scaled, with an off-white underbelly, and orange wing membranes. This one wore what looked like a lab coat, and was carrying a small metallic box. I assumed that the new guy was probably a doctor of some sort.
The next thing I knew, they were both all over me, prodding my stomach, chest and limbs.
"What the fuck?! Get off, get off me dammit!" I practically screamed, struggling out of their grasp and getting up in a huff.
"Well, you WERE lying on the floor. We thought something happened while I was gone." Came the annoyed response.
I shrugged, still straightening out my uniform. "Fair enough. You know, I never did get your names."
The black one snorted. "True. My name is Talorath. Ring any bells?"
The name did make something click in my mind, but that was it. I shrugged again. "And the lab coat guy?"
Talorath seemed to notice, but if he did, he didn't show it. The lab-coated figure took a small bow and said, "Doctor Brennos. I'm here to... make you look acceptable."
I scratched my bald head (the army had shaved my hair off). "Acceptable? I know, my uniform looks messy, and my pants have a hole, but is it really that bad?"
The doctor gave an amused snort. "Come now, you know what I mean, and the hole is quite revealing."
I nodded, then covered the hole, glancing at them, to find both looking at me expectantly.
"What? Are you expecting me to dance in joy or something?" I snapped, glaring.
"...no, but you'll have to sit down." The doctor replied, not unkindly, while he pulled the chair over.
I sighed and sat down, and the doctor moved over to the table where he opened his box. Inside was a vial of clear liquid, as well as what looked like a high-tech syringe, somewhat similar to those I had seen in star trek.
The doctor slotted the vial into the bottom of the syringe with a soft 'click'.
It was then that I realised that I wanted to protest. "What if I don't want this?"
The doctor stopped short, and regarded me with yet another amused expression, then rolled his eyes at me. "Why is it that everyone decides that they don't want this at this precise moment? Always this moment. Not when they are having a bath, not when they are giving their names, but now. Always now." He then seemed to calm down a little. "Either way, you don't have a choice anymore. We've already started to delete records."
I then shrugged. "Fine. Then inject me and get it over with I guess. Might as well say that I like dragons anyhow."
I received a huge smile from both parties, then the doctor sauntered over. "Now, that's the spirit! Take off your shirt please."
I hesitated for a moment, then glanced at the large wings that sprouted from each dragons' back. Then, I took the shirt off, knowing well enough that the wings would either break the shirt or the shirt would break the wings as they grew.
Knowing my luck, the latter would be more likely to happen.
I then felt a pair of warm hands clamp onto my shoulders, the claws cold against my skin, simultaneously, I felt a sharp prick in my back, as well as the sensation of an icy liquid being poured into my veins there, as if someone had poured a cupful of cold water below my skin at that spot.
I looked up nervously to see Talorath holding me down, against the chair. "Is this really necessary?"
He smirked. "Sometimes two people are needed. Brace yourself, the transformation will bring some slight pain."
I sat stock still, waiting for something to happen.
Time passed. Seconds turned into minutes and minutes into hours.
Nothing happened. No pain, nothing. No changes either.
Yet, the two dragons seemed unfazed.
Eventually, I needed to use the toilet.
Somewhat nervous, and finding myself highly restless from being held in the chair for so long, together with my bursting bladder, I attempted to get up, only to be pushed back into the seat, albeit gently.
"You're not supposed to go anywhere. It may be dangerous to be caught alone and unaware when the changes start." Came the tart instruction.
All I could manage was a plaintive "My bladder bursting already."
The doctor chuckled again. He seemed to take this whole business very lightly. "That's normal. Let him go, Tal. If not, I think he'll end up letting it all out on the floor later- not a very dignified way to join our proud race."
Grateful for the chance to relieve myself, I bolted for the restroom...
This also gave me an excuse to mull things over, while walking back. However, I found that my mind was blank. Literally blank, however, it was not as if my entire personality had been swept away. Rather, it was more like everything had been collated, categorised and shelved neatly somewhere to be reused later, much how one would pack one's things away for the duration while the house is being renovated...
However, by the time I reached the room, I was seized in the gut by a burning pain, as if an inferno was raging inside my stomach.
I turned the doorknob, and literally fell into the small room. The doctor was unperturbed, however, Talorath rushed over and pulled me in, closing the door behind me.
I found myself lying on the floor, curled up in a little ball of pain, as the intensity of the pain increased steadily, climbing from my stomach area, up my neck, and eventually reaching my mouth.
For a split second, I felt the pressure build, then, I could keep my mouth shut no longer, and opened up, to see a jet of red-orange flame erupt from my own mouth.
If I hadn't been in so much pain at that moment, I would have stared in wonder.
"Fascinating, I've never seen an inside-out change before. Normally it's the other way round. I must take notes!" the doctor quipped, and I saw him scuttle to the table, take out a small notebook, and begin scribbling with a pen that appeared out of nowhere.
One thought that popped into my head was 'great, now I'm a lab rat.'
However, that was soon wiped away as the pain spread, and began to encompass my entire body. My toes and fingers started tingling, while my head erupted with the headache of the century.
So, there I was, writhing in pain on the floor, not knowing which area to clutch in pain, as everything was hurting badly all the same. Meanwhile, the doctor sat at his laptop taking notes, while Talorath sat by one side, watching with mild interest.
These guys were definitely veterans.
However, my thoughts were pulled back to that of my own body once again, when I began to feel pinpricks of pain all over my skin, as if some crazed person with a whole box worth of needles decided to subject me to hos wrath.
A glance at my forearms told me all I needed to know. While the sensation intensified, I saw small, black scales begin to push their way out of my skin, and spread both up and down my arms.
On my chest, I saw slightly thicker, smoky grey scales begin to push out as well. These caused considerably much more pain, and more so since I had curled into a ball on the floor. Hence, I ended up lying flat on the floor, belly up, watching in fascination as my entire body started sprouting scales, while at the same time, wincing in pain, as the various internal organs began rearranging themselves. There were sickening crunching sounds, as my skeletal system began to reform, and rearrange, as well as some other disgusting sounds as my digestive system followed suit, along with a humongous fart that would have caused much embarrassment had I not been in so much pain.
Meanwhile, my manhood quietly retracted into a sheaf, and a thought crossed my mind that I should consider taking my pants off lest the tail destroy them, which I hastily did, along with my boots, which I quickly flung aside, as my arms once again ignited in pain...
It was so bad that I had to bite my singed lips to stop myself from screaming and thrashing there and then.
And when I thought that the pain couldn't get much worse, I found myself subject to a whole new level, when two spots of my back began the focal points of pure agony, as I felt the pressure there begin to rise as well.
At the same time, I felt a tugging sensation on my face as I saw it begin to elongate, pulling out into a snout, accompanied with an intense shearing pain, as if someone was using my flesh to futilely sharpen a knife.
The snout was also covered in black scales, and a small, white horn pushed out at the tip, while a pair of horns shot out of the back of my head, splattering the wall behind me with blood.
As if on cue, the skin on my back gave way, and out burst a pair of bloody, black wings, which I flared to dry, compelled by some new instinct... The wing membranes were the same smoky colour as the scales on my chest, and the joints were each tipped with a small, milky white claw.
Meanwhile, I felt a sharp pain in each of my fingers, as white claws erupted from my fingertips, making my nails fly off to one side, lying in a small pool of blood.
There was a sickening series of crunches from my feet, and I held down my bile as I both felt, and saw my five toes merge into three, each also sprouting much longer claws than those on my fingers.
At the same time, the pressure at my tailbone began to grow, and in one huge burst of searing pain, a tail shot forth, out of my back, complete with scales.
At this point, I could feel the changes slowing. I was almost done.
As if as a finishing touch, I felt my hair grow slightly longer, then spread down along my back, and down my tail. A mane.
This was when the two other dragons walked over, and Talorath handed me a towel, along with a small mirror.
"Go and have a bath, but first, take a good look at your new self." He said, with a hundred watt smile.
Peeling myself off the floor, I accepted the towel, feeling the soft fabric against the newly formed thin pads on my palms. I also noticed that my senses had been heightened, with colours looking more vibrant, and smells more pungent.
Stumbling several times over my own tail, and nearly falling on my new muzzle, I clumsily made my way to the bathroom.
Midway there, the doctor caught up with me.
"Well, for a new guy you're in a hurry." he commented, still holding the laptop.
I nodded. "I just realised how bad I smell. And what's with the black dragon... Talorath and memories?"
The doctor snorted and shrugged. "His older brother passed on some time back in some sort of accident. He's hoping that he's been reincarnated and would be brought here eventually. So, take it as fair warning that he may be pestering you for a while, especially since you're a black dragon too."
I nodded. "I see. Curious, what was his name?"
"Hm?" the doctor cocked his head at me, midway through typing something into the laptop.
"Talorath's brother. What was his name?" I persisted, one hand on the door to the toilet.
"Oh, about that, you should ask him yourself. The information is his family's and theirs alone to give, not mine. That reminds me, I'll have to educate you on the norms here as well as our quirks. Come and meet me later when you're settled in, we'll draw up a schedule." came the unnecessarily long reply.
I nodded, then slipped into the bathroom, and had a nice, long and hot bath.
I opened the door and nearly yelped when I saw Talorath standing there holding my clothes, and a slightly larger bathrobe.
"I have your old clothes, but I don't think they'll fit. You've gained quite some bulk and height. I have a robe here for you if you're uneasy with walking around without anything like the rest of us..." He prattled on, while eyeing me over.
In those piercing blue eyes of his, I could have sworn that I saw a hint of recognition, and longing.
I nodded, and looked at the uniform, then the robe. "I'll keep the uniform as a souvenir. Put the robe away, I guess. Since everyone's nude, and there's nothing to see, I'll go without.... And why are you looking at me like that?"
Although I asked, I already knew the answer. I could read it in his eyes.
"You... you just look like someone I used to know. Think nothing of it." he replied, putting the robe aside, and handing me my uniform, which had been neatly folded.
I nodded, and took the now rough-feeling fabric. "I think I have a general idea who. Now, are there any accommodations for me or something?"
He once again gave me a strange look, before snapping out of it and nodding. "Yes, follow me. My family's taking you in, so you'll be living next door to me. I hope you're alright with that?"
I nodded again, then noticing that he was muttering to himself as he led me down the stone corridors. 'no its not possible... he's exactly like him...'
I chose to keep quiet and follow, only raising an eyeridge at him for a second.
He seemed to notice, and winced.
That warranted raising both eyeridges at him. "Something wrong?"
"It's... nothing. Don't worry about it." Came the curt reply, while he opened a door set in the wall, which opened into a brightly lit room, complete with a study table with a laptop, a table lamp, a chair and a simple bed and a clothes stand.
I entered the room and put the uniform aside, and noticed that he lingered in the doorway. I beckoned him over, and sat at the study, opening the computer and powering it on. It was surprisingly intuitive, and I felt a sense of deja vu while using it. I had used something like this before, yet that was impossible. The thing didn't even run any system I had seen before...
"Well, it doesn't look like you need any help here... Why'd you ask me in?" came the pointed comment from Talorath, yet his tone hid something else. I couldn't quite out my finger on what.
I pushed the device aside and looked dup at him. "I want to know who I remind you of, and to what extent, though I have quite a good idea who already."
This caught him off guard, but he recovered quickly with a nod. He gave a simple reply. "You're practically a clone of my older brother, both in personality and in likeness. His name was..." There, his voice trailed off.
The name popped into my head as if on cue. It came out of nowhere, and had no link whatsoever to my life experiences, yet there it was. I could choose to ignore it and stay silent, or try my luck and speak.. However, it was quite obvious that he was testing to see fi I remembered something...
Disappointed at my silence, Talorath turned to leave..
Then, I decided to take a risk, and mumbled the name. "Tano'rath isn't it?"
The dragon froze, then turned slowly and stared at me, his eyes narrowed to slits. "Come again?"
I snorted, an action that I had not been accustomed to myself, yet it came so naturally... "You heard me, Tal. I may not know much, but I know that you're not deaf."
That was certainly not something I would have said in this situation either, for I didn't know him that well, yet now I spoke to him as if I had know that dragon for all his life...
Perhaps I had. I knew that I would see things differently during field camp, but the events of today had really brought meaning to that term, though not in the way intended.
However, my thoughts were cast aside when I heard a low growl from Talorath. "The Doctor put you up to this didn't he?"
I shrugged. "No. He didn't even give me the name. He told me to ask you."
He seemed to let his guard down a little, but still seemed suspicious. "Fair enough. We'll see in time I suppose. If you really are him... then the memories will start to come back in due time...."
I shrugged again. "I hope so. It's hard to go around knowing a name and nothing else..."
He snorted. "you really sound like Tano. Now, I'll leave you to your business. Let me know if you need anything."
I nodded and watched him leave. I pulled the laptop back over, and poked around the system. At some point, I found my way into the public registry.
Somewhat curious about my host, I pulled up his public file, only to find that it had very little information, apart from the basic facts and such. His family was adoptive, and his original roots unknown. As far as they knew, he just turned up some day, and they took him in after finding that he was of pretty much the same species..
Very interesting character, this dragon.
And also very mysterious.
However, my attention was promptly diverted away when I discovered the games, and I ended up spending the next few hours playing some strategy game. The graphics were stunning, and the game very responsive.
For once, I actually enjoyed the game, rather than getting bored of it.
Eventually, Talorath poked his head in and asked me to come over for dinner. I, however was absorbed in the game, and he had to come over and close the laptop to get me to move.
He chuckled as I grumbled about my about winning the game. "So, I see you discovered the games, haha."
I just smirked, as we made our way to what I assumed was the dining room. We ate alone, for the parents were busy with their duties, when queried, Talorath simply pointed at me, saying that getting em used to my new life was his job for now, and that I would be seeing him very often.
I nodded, then dug into my steak. One thing I noticed was that they served very few carbohydrates.
The meat was a thick slab of beef, marinated in a thick brown sauce. There was one hitch, however, the meat was raw.
Then, I saw Talorath breathe a jet of flame on the meat, cooking it.
Taking my cues from him, I followed suit.
The meat tasted surprisingly nice, and in passing, he commented, "Good, isn't it?"
I nodded, swallowing my food. My new teeth were more efficient at cutting things up than their human counterparts. "Nothing beats self-flame cooked food."
He stopped and stared at me for a while, then continued to eat, mumbling into his steak, "That's what he used to say..."
I shrugged, then polished off the steak. I looked around, wondering where the drinks were. He seemed to notice, and offered to get me a drink.
I received a disapproving snort when I asked for beer, but he gave it to me anyway, albeit grudgingly, chiding me about the ill effects of alcohol.
I just snorted at him then gulped down the bitter-sweet drink. It was somewhat strong, and had a peachy aftertaste. A good drink, but my host refused to give me seconds.
I smirked. "Still wound so tight after so long? I thought I'd have at least taught you to enjoy a good beer before being polished off..."
Then, it hit me full in the face, and I froze, dropping the mug in the process. Darkness engulfed me. I felt myself falling, but I didn't feel myself hit the floor