Day 68 ContinuedChapter 17Disclaimer!
I attempted to give Vunguza something resembling a Scottish theme. I spent some time researching as I do not claim to know Scottish accents/words/phrases too well but I apologise greatly in advance if I do offend anyone. Also, while the idea was the other dragons would also be confused, do let me know if you would prefer I not do that and give him just a theme rather than going all-out with it.
There were arguments. There was almost a fight. There was a lot of yelling and teeth and claws and things being thrown. Matar was not in the least bit amused by Vin's decision to keep a Serthis hostage, even though he was adamant in claiming it was not hostage. Whatever the true reason was ended up lost as both sides stormed away huffily, the Spiral beckoning the snake-man to follow. With those two discussing something between them and the Coatl fuming to herself at the water's edge the rest of the group was left to their own devices. What was left of it.
An almost deafening silence had fallen on the Serthis camp after the fight, the only sound other than objects being moved with the occasional clink of glass was Isaura's sobbing. The Guardian had been given space as she grieved for her lost friend while Makani and the white Wildclaw cleaned up around them.
One thing was for sure, outcast or not these Beastclans knew how to keep a good stock of items: herbs and potions and tonics and poisons were of course prominent but also antitoxins, food supplies, various tools and other items pilfered from dragons and other unwelcome passers-by. Most precious of all it turned out they had gone so far as to raid nests as two pristine dragon eggs sat in a bed of straw and cloth. Both were green but that was where the similarity ended; one was more membrane than shell with the contents visible, though unclear, through the skin-like layer. The other was solid and patterned with darker green swirls.
“Why would they take eggs?” Makani found himself asking as he admired the eggs. Something cracked under his paw as he leaned forwards to get a closer look at the Plague one, looking down to find himself standing on shattered shell. Seems there used to be more.
“I've heard tales,” the Wildclaw responded, her anger long since subsided and leaving her in a kind of hollow state, “that Beastclans pilfer dragon eggs whenever the chance arises. Some clans do different things with them, even among their own species.” She was busy gathering up the rope that had tied them all down and placing it in a neat pile next to the group's own, if diminished, supplies where she'd already moved some of the food.
The Fae sat back on his haunches, staring up at the female with his large red-green eyes. “What do they do with them?” Had he the capability his voice would have quivered in worry. His splayed but down-turned fins did instead.
A soft, yellow eye met his, suddenly full of sadness. “I suppose you're too young to have been taught this.” A small sigh left her long jaws and she came over to sit next to the tiny green dragon. “The Beastclans are our enemies. Always have been since the first dragons walked Sornieth. Some say they came before us and great wars were fought even to this day. While some clans have found it easier to live or work with us, like that Serthis your Spiral friend is talking to, most would prefer we went away.” A graceful claw gestured at the eggs, then at the scattered shell fragments. “I can't say if the broken one was an accident or not, but either they'd kept these eggs to destroy them or to raise their own dragon hatchlings to turn on their own kind.”
“They'd make dragons fight other dragons?”
She nodded. “If they can control them. Most would simply kill us and smash our eggs.” She balked slightly as the quivering increased in intensity and the young dragon looked down. With a soft, soothing voice she added, “Hey, hey, we saved these two. We can find their families and return them. They'd be safe and happy.”
Makani lifted his head to look at the Wildclaw again and, while still quivering slightly, his fins “smiled” by lifting and splaying further. “I'm glad.”
“As am I.” She glanced out over the river they'd been taken down to, watching the sunlight playing in the ripples as a light breeze passed through the camp. “I need to apologise, little one. I should not have acted the way I did in the cave.” She offered a sharp-toothed grin. “I've been known to lose my temper very quickly. Other species see it as natural Wildclaw behaviour but my fuse is somewhat shorter than others of my kind.”
Fins no longer quivering Makani rose to full height and placed a claw on his companion's leg. “It's okay. You were sad and scared because someone died.”
The Wildclaw seemed taken aback by the statement. “You're so young. How do you know about death?” Indeed she'd expected to hear him piping about why the grey Coatl wasn't getting up and why the red Guardian was so upset.
The fins and crest collapsed sadly. “I saw my friend die. She got run over by animals.”
“The fires...” she muttered. “I am truly sorry. And now you've lost another. It must be so hard on your tiny heart.”
Makani nodded slowly, turned away for a moment then flitted up to perch on top of the Wind egg, curling his long tail around its contours. They both sat in silence as minutes drifted by. Further away Sora's sobbing had receded into soft sniffling though she still lay by her fallen friend.
“I'm Noelani, by the way.” the now-named Wildclaw added after a moment.
“Nice to meet you, No'lani.”
She couldn't help but snicker at the young Fae's attempt to say her name. “And who are you?”
Maki puffed up a little at being talked to like this. “I'm Mak'ni. Or Maki. That's my mother, Matar,” he pointed at the sulking pile of red feathers, “that's Izara and... Russ,” he pointed at the grieving Guardian and the deceased Coatl she held, “and over there is Fin.” he finished pointing at Anvindr.
Noelani nodded at each mention, keeping the names in mind. Particularly Matar and “Fin”. She parted her jaws to reply only for another, gruff voice to cut in. “I's nice 'n all that yer getting' ta know each other, but might'n ye quit yer bletherin' an' help a dragon oot?” Both of them shot to their feet, twisting their necks around to spot the owner of the voice. “O'er 'ere ye daft lot!” Eventually the pair found the origin of the voice: What had been discarded as a pile of clothing was actually a Snapper, bound in a similar fashion to how they had been not long ago.
“Oh my, I am so sorry!” Noelani exclaimed, tugging at the ropes and motioning for Makani to do the same. “I didn't realise anyone else was here.”
“Och cannae be blaming ya fer that I suppose.” the orange Snapper replied in resignation. “those glaikit Serthis gave me somethin' that made me sleep fer ages.”
Noelani and Makani exchanged confused glances. What were these strange words? Shrugging they continued to free the odd dragon. As they did so none of them managed to notice a small purple-and-green shape land in a tree behind them, scribbling furiously on a notepad. What made them finally notice that they were being watched was the sound of strings being plucked and a soft voice sounding out words and sentences in time with the music, followed by a sigh of exasperation.
“Ahoy there!” the Snapper bellowed, making Makani and Noelani cover their ears at the closeness of the loud call.
It also startled the figure in the tree, huddling up to themselves momentarily before sheepishly gliding over to greet the group and revealing themselves to be a Nocturne garbed in the clothes befitting a bard or musician. “Ah, hello there. Sorry to disturb you.” She bowed low, then assumed a semi-shocked stance akin to the Fae and Wildclaw although her expression lacked any kind of surprise. “I am but a travelling bard seeking inspiration for a new yarn to spin. However fate has been most unkind in teasing me with ideas with no end!” The three turned to one another, shrugged and regarded the Nocturne curiously, awaiting her next words. She mimicked the tilted heads, once again lacking the confusion that would accompany such a gesture. “My name is Camelia and I was so dearly hoping that by examining the on-goings of a camp such as yours I may yet find what it is I seek. Woe it is that once again,” she brandished her notepad to show the trio, “that once more I have only words and phrases and no song or story to come of it. Perhaps... would you be willing to allow my presence while I comb out some inspiration?”
Under his breath the Snapper muttered, “Oy, she seems a right bampot that one.” The Wildclaw shot him a disapproving glance before moving between him and the newcomer.
“Unfortunately this is neither the best time nor place for such a thing.” She clasped her hands together and bowed apologetically, starting a bit when Camelia did the same. Oh, of course. Nocturnes enjoyed mimicking others. Feeling a little bit silly for forgetting that obvious trait she continued, “You see I myself am a traveller seeking aid from this group and we found ourselves attacked and ashamedly subdued by Serthis. We were able to escape and fight them off but that has left us tired and potentially irritable.” Her talons tapped against the grass as she said this.
What they'd expected to be disappointment was instead an overjoyed clapping as the bard hopped from foot to foot excitedly. “Oh! Oh! Yes! Tell me more! The ballad of the adventurers who found themselves accosted by Beastclan only to overthrow them all and live to tell the tale! Yes it would be the most wondrous-”
“Not all of us.”
Camelia paused in her celebration to follow Makani's gaze to the fallen Coatl and Sora, who had collapsed tiredly with an arm over Eurus' still form. “...oh. My apologies.” She sat back on her heels as she pondered this. “Maybe not then...”
Lani was quick to continue. “Of course you are welcome to stay awhile if you still like. We could use a hand cleaning up so we can continue on our journeys.”
“Oh? Are you not all part of the same caravan?”
“No. I was seeking someone who has been cruelly taken by the same Serthis that did this to us. I no longer have need to stay. As for this one,” she eyed the Snapper, who eyed her back, “I'm not sure. We found him in the same way we were but have never seen him before.”
Whatever other conversation was to be held between the four dragons was cut short but a shout from Vin's direction. Makani was first to scamper over followed by Noelani. The Snapper and Nocturne shrugged at each other, mimicry or not, and headed after them.
“No no no! No! Stop that! What do you think you're doing?!” the Spiral's shrill cries carried over the entire camp, causing Matar to look up from her misery and even rouse Sora, though neither made a move to see the ongoings. “Those are extremely unstable experiments!”
When the group arrived they found both the Spiral and the Serthis attempting, and failing, to hold back a rather short, purple and cream-coloured Wildclaw with impossibly large green wings for his stature. In his claw was one of the vials Vin always carried with him, the other a container belonging to the Serthis, both containing different coloured liquids.
“Unhand me!” the Wildclaw demanded, shaking off the two serpentine creatures and bringing the first tube to his lips.
“What the heck do you think you're doing?!” Noelani shrieked, racing forwards and slapping the glass object from his grasp. It hit the ground and, while it did not shatter, the liquid poured out over the grass and sizzled.
The strange Wildclaw was as aghast as Vin was as the Spiral snatched up the tube and managed to grab the vial from the other claw before plonking himself in front of the arrangement of chemical apparatus he and the Serthis had been working with. “Me? What do you think you're
doing?!” The male seemed almost hysterical as he whipped his head down to look at the result of the potion. “Look! Look at that! Is that not beautiful
?!” Indeed the blades that had been covered had turned a spectacular shade of gold, seemingly otherwise unaffected. “That could have been me!”
Everyone simply stared in utter confusion. Camelia slowly reached for her notepad and wrote something down as she observed the grass. “Ssso that'sss what that doesss...” the Serthis hissed contemplatively, taking the vial from the panicking Vin, who was trying to slide the instruments away, and staring at the remains of the concoction.
“It could have been meeeeeee!
” the huge-winged Wildclaw lamented, falling to his knees and picking at the golden grass. “I could have been beautiful!”
Camelia, Noelani, Makani and the Snapper who had yet to reveal his name all exchanged puzzled expressions again. What the heck was going on today? “If'n ye don't mind, would ye please stop yer haverin' and tell us straight-like what is goin' on?”
“Oh if only I could say!” the Wildclaw drawled, tilting his head to give everyone an over-the-top baleful look. “You would not understand!”
“A name would be a nice start.” Chided Matar as the Coatl finally decided to join the kerfuffle.
Immediately his mood changed and he bounced to his feet to give an even more exaggerated bow than Camelia had previously. “My name is Shadow, but a shadow I refuse to be! Oh no, I once was a dark purple Spiral not dissimilar to your alchemist friend here. But how I hated it! Hated, hated! I watched other dragons go by with their magnificent colours and stride! Especially the Wildclaws. How I so wished to be a brightly coloured Wildclaw! That madman Baldwin, he started it. He found the way to turn us into Bogsneaks
,” he basically spat the word, clearly not being a fan of the mutant species, “so maybe, just maybe he could do something to me. And look at me now!” Shadow stood as tall as his stature would allow, almost toppling over as he fanned his too-big wings.
“Wait wait. You were a Spiral who turned into a Wildclaw?!” Camelia asked excitedly, scribbling so hard onto her pad that the quill could tear through and poke out the other side at any moment. “And you used to be purple? Tell me how! Oh this could be amazing!”
Shadow grinned smugly. “Oh don't get me wrong it took a pretty penny to get where I am now. And yes I do admit I am quite handsome as I am.” The group, minus the highly inspired Nocturne, collectively rolled their eyes. “Alas the novelty has long since worn off. I must, simply must
, change again. Oh but no one wanted to help! Even Baldwin turned me away. Sure he claimed to be out of the ingredients that made me this way but I do not believe him! He's given up on me, like everyone else! No no you cannot keep changing. Just accept who you are! No more! I will change again and I will be the most beauteous of all dragonkind!”
The Snapper whispered to Makani and Noelani, “Forget what I said aboot yon Nocturne lass, this un's more of a screwball than any else I be seein'.” Ilmatar lifted an eye ridge at the other two, who shrugged.
“So what you're saying,” Matar butted in before Shadow could continue his tirade, “is that you're trying to poison yourself just so you can change the colour of your fur and wings?” She frowned, completely sceptical of these claims.
The other Wildclaw placed a hand on his chest, feigning hurt. “Poison? Oh Deities no! How can one be beautiful if one is dead?”
“And yet you don't seem to have any concept for dies and tattoos and the like.”
He made a face of absolute disdain. “Ugh how could you even utter those words? Dye? That is not permanent! Some may hang around but they fade and become hideous! Tattoos? While permanent they mar the natural beauty of our skin! Why would I even consider those?”
“If we give you sssomething that makesss you change will you ssstop complaining and leave?” the red Serthis asked, barely masking his annoyance at the intruder. Already he had slithered over to the pile of herb bags, rummaging through each for useful ingredients.
Shadow stepped slowly after. “Possible, if I'm happy with the results.”
“And if you're not?” Matar asked flatly.
“Then I will have to stay until you do.” he replied matter-of-factly.
The Coatl's brow furrowed deeply and she leaned down to hiss at the Serthis, “Look, I still don't trust you or understand why Vin wants you around but if you can do anything
to get rid of this lout then you can consider yourself safe.”
Unfazed the Serthis nodded, taking his choice of herbs, two of his vials and one of Vin's tubes and began mixing. Anvindr perked up, coiling up to watch with interest.
Time dragged as different solutions were poured, mixed together, tested and either discarded or used for further testing. The odd band of dragons discussed various things to pass the time, not least of all Noelani introducing herself and apologising to Matar but also her and Makani explaining the Snapper, who let out that his name was Vunguza and how he was actually, despite his current demeanour, quite pleased to have met them all. Just as he was about to explain why this was the Serthis and Vin returned, each carrying glass containers of sloshing liquids, all of different shades and colours.
“Uhm. Try these?” the grey Spiral suggested, offering the ones he was holding. “D-don't worry, we tested them to make sure they aren't toxic.”
“We can't guarantee there won't be other ssside effectsss however.” The Serthis added drily.
All too quickly Shadow snatched the proffered vials, guzzling the contents greedily. Then he gasped, staggering back as it took effect. The alchemical pair had done wonders it seemed, as the brew proved potent enough for a very quick change. As Shadow clutched his stomach his hide darkened, cream becoming blue. His wings, once pale green, also became darker, purple. Most notable however was his underbelly, which had become a rather off-putting shade of brown. Catching his breath he made his way down to the river to admire himself, only to wail in despair, charge back and quaff another vial.
“I don't think he liked that one.” Noelani chuckled, amidst a chorus of chuckles and snorts.
The same effect took him, this time turning him a sickly green with red wings and pale belly. Another cry, another tonic chugged. This time a rather pleasing pale blue and lavender. Noelani actually crooned, the others nodding in admiration. But no, it was still not enough for the narcissistic Wildclaw, who grabbed two more of the remaining vials and drank them together. Not a good decision it turned out as he became a very unfortunate yellow dappled with blue spots and grey-ish wings.
Amidst the snickering, chortling and whimpers of frustration was the scratching sound of quill tip on paper as Camelia took in everything. So many pages had been flipped over to contain the ideas, the things said, the reactions and of course the different colours. Her tongue peeked out from her mouth, pressed over her upper lip as she continued to scribble.
Only one potion remained, which the now pink-gold-and-green Shadow grabbed. Rather than toss it down straight away he bowed his head, held the glass to his forehead and whispered something. Then he tossed his head back and all but swallowed the vial completely in his desperation. As it took effect he waddled, belly swollen with all the liquid he'd guzzled in so short a time, down to the water's edge to watch the last transformation. Everything paled. Pink turned off-white, gold to a light blue-green, green to electric blue. He sighed, flopping to the ground and rubbing his tummy. “Why? Why do you taunt me so, oh muse? Why can I not find true beauty?”
“I dunno, you look pretty nice to me.” Sora commented, having made herself join the others after all. Her face was still streaked with dry tears and she appeared exhausted.
?! I cannot merely be nice
!” Shadow wailed, waving his arms in dismay.
Ilmatar stood, stretching like a parda. “We could all go on about what “true beauty” is but then we'd be here til the end of time.” she turned and began to pad away. “I suggest we have something to eat, let you recover and then go our merry way. What do you all say?”
A chorus of agreement as everyone gathered around the pile of sacks and boxes containing an assortment of food types. Shadow, unsurprisingly, couldn't hold much down with everything else he'd ingested so far, taking several bites and then laying down. Camelia had to practically be force-fed as she tore through a second notepad. This time it seemed she was writing actual lyrics and working out the best timing, rhythm, order of how her new ballad would go.
It took a lot longer for the Wildclaw to recover than first thought, and so everyone pitched in to haul the goods and eggs to the safety of the cave they'd been in, which thankfully wasn't as far away as they'd imagined. Then again, it wouldn't have been easy for a group of Serthis to drag down a full-grown Coatl and a mid-sized Guardian.
The night passed uneventfully. When day broke they indulged in breakfast. Or most of them did – Camelia was still asleep having passed out from too much writing. Once finished they returned to the camp and dug out a small hollow near to the river in which they lay the body of Eurus. Sora cried again and they all paid respects despite how little they had known of him.
After it was all said and done Shadow made to depart. “I thank you all for indulging me and for your assistance, as limited as it turned out to be. Many times one part of me became beautiful while the other did not and not a once did all of me become as I hope. Perhaps we shall meet again another time when finally I have achieved true beauty.”
Everyone waved to him as he climbed over a hill to wherever he was headed next. “Psst, do you think having consumed all that stuff will have an effect on him?” Sora asked Vin and his Serthis familiar. Both of them cracked wry grins. Sora blinked, then looked up at the departing Wildclaw who, as he disappeared over the ridge of the hill, began his newest, unintended transformation.
A little later Camelia emerged from the cave, blinking in the light and found her way down to the river with everyone else. “I am so sorry. Truly, I must have used up all of my energy writing this piece. However I can tell it will be a splendid tale and I insist we meet up so I may regale you with this work of art!”
“We'll consider it, if we're ever in the same place.” Matar agreed, nodding in approval. Though if it were genuine or not it was hard to tell.
“Speaking of, where had my subject run off to? There are a few things left I want to add if only I could find the correct way of describing it.” Her eyes widened when it was explained that he'd already left. “Oh no! I must fly to catch up to him!” She hastily crammed a few large insects into her mouth and more into a bag and set off to follow her subject.
“You might find he's another colour by now!” Noelani called after the bard, who waved in response as she too vanished over the hill. Some of her notes fell out from her pouch in her rush. Curiously Makani picked one up to read, then passed it around for everyone else to see as he picked up the next. There was actually some potential in what was written. Maybe one day they'd see the strange little Nocturne again and hear the Ballad of Shadow the Ever-Changing after all.