That first half of the semester was fun. That first day was something, I walking into work and Debbi thought I was a different dragon and tried to shoo me out from behind the desk. I was able to explain to her that I was me and after a little evidence proving my claims, personal info and all that goes a long way. She asked me if she could expect any more alterations to my body.
"I hope not. I'm tired of it myself," I told her, finally relaxing after a long and tense interrogation session.
Once I was proven to be me, she showed me off to the other employees to make sure they all knew of my new looks so there wouldn't be any confusion. It didn't help that I had to go shoeless for that first week. I got into the habit and tucking my feet under my chair to keep people from both staring at my talons or tripping over my feet.
That weekend I broke out my leather working supplies and rebuilt my boots from all the left over leather I had. I had quite a bit of it from my first pair and this time I even had the patterns already made. I did have to cut the pieces a bit bigger, my feet had grown just a bit so I had to make a few alterations to the size of each piece. I just remolded the rubber soles of my first pair of boots into my new ones, adding a bit more rubber to thicken them up a bit and increase tread depth. One big change was the side zippers. On the inside side on each boot now had a side zipper to make it easier to put them on and take them off. I got the idea from some of the military combat boots I'd seen at the military surplus store where I bought all my airsoft tactical gear from. I put an extra lip of leather behind the zipper to water proof the boots, always a plus.
It took all weekend, but I had my boots again and now with the side zips, it was a breeze to put them on and take them off. Set and forget laces are also a very cool feature you get from the side zippers; you never need to tie them once you set them.
As the epoxy cured, I flew to the Carlinville John Deere dealership to get my all important hat. I didn't bother wearing a hat since I was going to get one, it didn't seem right to wear a hat to go get a hat. When I got there, the dealer looked a bit surprised to see a red dragon in his shop, but I just did what I normally do which was start talking before he could think I was an animal.
"I need a new hat," I told him, holding my voice strong and clear to come across as an intelligent being and not a beast.
The reason I did that is because I found out that the farther you go into the country, the more the people see dragons as animals. I could understand that mentality unfortunately; farmers and ranchers see animals all day long and work with them. They see a dragon and they see just another animal. I try to shut that opinion down as quickly as possible.
we got a few for ya," he replied, looking at me with a wary eye as I set my claws down on the counter just out of sheer habit.
I leaned forward on the counter to look at all the colors of hats he had. There wasn't as many as I would have liked. Green, dark blue, camouflage, orange and that was it.
"You don't have any black ones?" I asked, looking over the selection again to make sure I didn't miss any.
"Nope, sorry," The dealer replied as he rubbed his white haired head with his right hand, "We sold out of those a few days ago and I just haven't gotten new ones in yet."
"Well, I guess that dark blue one will do," I said in defeat, I needed a new hat and that was the best one they had.
Once I bought it and walked out the doors with it in my hands, I saw the colors better. Navy blue with a silver logo and name with a silver rope in the outer rim of the bill.
"A John Deere hat with Ford colors," I said to myself, just a bit amused at the fact it matched up with my two favorite brands. I slipped on my new hat. With a little adjustment, it was a nice fit.
After I got my boots and my hat, I was good to roll. The next few months were pretty average. Well, average if you happen to be an 8 foot tall, bipedal red dragon. I went to work and class. Once again, people got to recognize me like they did before. Some people saw it right off, others took a bit to see that my face was still the same and still others thought that it was all just either some massive dragon tattoo thing or I was in some kind of stage two in my transformation.
"Uh oh, that dragon is still changing," said some random guy in a mocking tone as I walked one day through the halls of Lewis & Clark Community College. He was pretty much just trying to get under my scales, "Better watch out, he could change again and turn into Godzilla."
I just ignored him and walked off. It's best not to feed people like that with a reaction, that's what he was going for so why give it to him? It wasn't long before I found myself in the one place I really wanted to be in for a long time, my happy little rut. It was day in, day out, normal. People didn't get scared of me to a degree that it mattered; I did accidentally scare a few people when I would unintentionally sneak up behind them. Honest, I didn't mean to, they were all too focused on the printer to notice me till I would try to get past them to take a look at it. I was doing my job and I did apologize to each one of them, so it was all cool.
Weeks went by and my three sociology classes and computer literacy classes seemed to be going very well. Computer literacy was a breeze for me, right up until Excel and Access. Those sucked. It was pretty interesting those first few days of those two programs. I didn't have any instructors that I had previously in other classes so it was all new. Thankfully as time worn on they all seemed to not mind me anymore than any other student.
One of the more interesting details was the fact more dragons were starting to show up at LC. It was slow at first. The first one I saw was a black dragon in walking to the Science building, then an orange one in the café. As time wore on, I started seeing a dragon at least once a day and it wasn't long before I found out the reason.
"Those are the people that mugged me for that box?" I asked Debbi one day in February just after another red dragon left with his books and I was up at the circ desk getting the key for the storage room to get more paper. She let me in on the reason because she was just informed herself from Dennis only about an hour prior.
"They are," she replied, "Turns out the government was holding them till a few months ago for psychological testing to make sure they weren't a danger to the public. Their parents were protesting the whole time for their release. They finally got it and since it was so far into the Fall semester, they couldn't make up the time. So they all got compensation for their time loss and a free scholarship for 2 years as an apology. Though whatever they did to them seems to have scared them stiff. None of them will even say a word about it. If you ask them, they get this frightened look on their face and back off. That was probably hush money they gave them. I just hope nothing too bad happened to them because obliviously something bad did happen while they were being held."
"Same here," I said to her, just feeling saddened over it all. I still blamed myself for what happened that day, it was my fault they suffered and there was no way I could be convinced otherwise. Just another regret on a pile of them for me.
As the semester went on, the other dragons seemed to perk back up, finding new friends, both human and dragon, and enjoying life. They still carried emotional scars from what happened to them as evidenced by them sometimes just wanting to be alone and getting the long stare of a victim. I just hoped that they could move on and live their lives as they saw fit. None of them seemed to be interested in me. The most I talked to any of them was work related, printer not working and the like. When they did have to talk to me they seemed upset and agitated towards me. I figured it was resentment for what had happened that day. I didn't let that get to me, I warned them and it was their choice. I could beat myself up over my actions, but they weren't blameless in what happened.
It was the normal day to day stuff after awhile and I was happy that I had won back my sense of normality. I'd wake up, get ready for work and class, go to work and class, feel like I belonged there, go home, work on a few of my projects, stay up late talking with my friends online and finally pass out in my nice soft bed. I fell into a routine and I was happy to be in it. Well, at least for awhile.
I remember it all that day. My little Deviant Art page was doing well. I wrote my experiences in my first few weeks of becoming a dragon and put them up. I read a ton of other dragon transformation stories first. Some were quite interesting, others not so much. Still, I wanted to see what the standard was, I hadn't written anything for a long time but I felt it was time to open my little word processor and write. I had a story to tell and I was going to tell it. It was netting me a respectable amount of attention, but I was mainly just getting a story out of my head. But what really got my attention was the day Scales introduced me to another one of his friends. He went by Fireflash-Rainclaw on DA and Scales got me to log into MSN to meet him. Claw had added me to his Deviant watch list a few days prior, but that was getting common so I didn't pay much attention. I had my normal thank you reply and normally that is the end of it. But when I was introduced to Claw in MSN, I got something I didn't expect.
'Howdy,' I typed the moment I was tossed into the group chat by Scales.
'Hi.' Claw replied, 'I'm a fan of your work, you are really good.'
'Aw shucks *^.=.^*' I typed back, 'Thank you, I try my best.'
'I read all your work twice,' he commented, 'It was the best story I've read in a long time.'
'Thanks, I was hoping to entertain,' I responded.
"This guy sure does like my work," I said to myself in wonder, "That's good, it means I'm doing something right,"
'So, you really that dragon on TV?' Claw asked.
'Yes I am,' I replied.
'Cool, I was hoping to one day get to talk to you,' he quickly typed in reply, 'Thanks for taking the pressure off me, I couldn't leave the house very much before you made dragons known to the world.'
'Oh, so you're a dragon too huh?' I asked and then said aloud, "The joys of text based communication never can see the other person so a lot of easy details such as species get missed,"
'Yep and proud of it,' replied Claw, 'Now I'm back in school and doing well. Not to mention I can now hunt during the day. ^.=.^'
'You hunt?' I asked him in surprise, 'With a rifle I assume.'
'Nope, claws and teeth,' he responded, 'What dragon needs human weapons for?'
'Scales nudges Claw,' typed Scales, 'Farm is a bit more skewed towards a human mind set. You get used to it after awhile. None of us have managed to get him to enjoy the more draconic side of his new life. Not for lack of trying mind you.'
'I'm just a more restrained dragon is all,' I shot back, 'Nothing wrong with that.'
'I didn't say there was,' Scales replied, 'I'm just saying you should get out and flex those wings of yours. I sure hope you are still flying to stay in shape.'
'I am,' I told him with a snort just out of irritation, 'I fly to work when it's my only thing since I don't need my backpack and on the weekend. I also take fun flights to keep myself in shape.'
'Not to sound like I'm shooting you down or anything Farm, but you should really enjoy your more draconic side.' typed Claw, 'It won't lead you to going nuts if that's what you're afraid of. Look at me, I'm on a computer and talking to you. I'm okay and I fly everywhere and hunt with only my body. I'll be on a full day's camping trip, minus all the camping gear. Just a dragon in the wild, it really clears up my head.'
'I'm not so sure it's for me Claw,' I typed hesitantly, 'I'm just not that kind of dragon.'
'Farm, you went battle dragon for 2 days,' Scales shot at me, 'If you had any, and I mean any, chance of going feral, it would have happened then.'
'You were a battle dragon?' quickly asked Claw, 'Oh wow, I'd love to have seen that. Please tell me you are going to write that story. Did you pull any trees out of the ground?'
'Yes, yes and no,' I replied, 'I'll write that story when I have time, but I'm busy with what's going on in order so I'll get to it when it comes to that time.'
'Cool, I bet you looked cool as a battle dragon Farm,' Claw said.
Then a little message from Scales jumped up stating that he was sending a file to Claw.
'That isn't what I think it is Scales,' I asked him warily.
All I got from him was a '^.-.^' and that was it.
'Oh WOW!' typed Claw, 'You looked badass, almost badass as me. ^.=.^'
'I'm not that dragon anymore,' I shot back in text, 'I look a bit different now. I lost a lot of the extras I had when I was a battle dragon.'
'That's too bad,' he replied, 'a normal two legged dragon with all those features would have looked kickass.'
'Looked kickass and naked,' I replied with a huff.
'So?' replied Claw, 'You're a dragon, nothing to see most of the time.'
'You don't wear clothes?' I asked him.
'Just pants to make my mom and dad happy,' he replied in a very short amount of time, 'But it doesn't matter to me really. Once I was very late to class and I went naked. It was a little uncomfortable, but normally I'm naked in gym class anyway, and on all fours. ^.=.^'
'You sound like you really enjoy being a dragon,' I told him, amazed by his enthusiasm.
'Who wouldn't be?' he typed, 'So much freedom of movement and with dragons now out in public, it's all cool.'
"This guy sure is a complex person," said to myself, just trying to sort it all out in my head, "If what he says is true, then pretty much for the most part, he's a feral dragon, but a very social one. I don't think I've come across a dragon like him before. I'll keep talking to him and see where this all goes."
Over the next few weeks I talked with Claw more and more. He had me intrigued with his views of being a dragon. I think what got me thinking was the fact he had reasons for his actions. In chat room role playing, I would play myself, a relatively powerless dragon without any overblown special abilities. Normally I would be sidelined and just end up sitting there as the others got to show off their really overpowered attacks. I left a lot of the big group chats because I neither was very effective in them and I typically didn't know half the people in them. Normally any action I took resulted in a swift death for me, sometimes being followed by zombification. In other words, it was no fun for me. So I left the big chats and stayed in the private chats and tiny groups. Frequently I was the wet blanket person of the group. Always trying to keep things fun for everyone and trying to dampen any god-modders toying with others for their own personal amusement. That always gets me riled, it's no fun unless everyone is having fun and people that just god-mod all the time just are annoying. Main reason why to this day I'm not a chat room RP guy, they just are annoying.
That doesn't mean I don't have RP elements in my chats. I'll typically have action bits in there for fun, but one I was a stick in the mud for was my clothes. I always had them on in RPs and there were a number of other dragons that kept trying to get me to take them off and loosen up. Normally it wasn't much more a series of "just do it", "come on" and "why not" comments so I never really paid much attention to them. I think the major reason was that I was a real drag on their chat room fun and they were trying to get me to join in.
Claw got me intrigued which is saying something because till that point I wasn't about to loosen up in the slightest degree. His relaxed and causal nature just was a fascinating look into what color the grass was on the more feral side of the fence. I mean, he was fine and pretty much just as much a functional person as anyone else, it's just he had his more feral side as well that he used as an escape when he needed it. I began to consider looking into my more draconic side and see what options were there.
Spring break came up pretty fast, the 16th of March was the start date on the calendar, but I had Fridays off so technically my Spring break started on March 13th and ended on Sunday the 22nd. So there I was, that night after talking to Claw for hours about the details, I was set and ready to head to Canada for Spring break.
'I guess I'll see you tomorrow then,' I typed.
'Looking forward to seeing you in person Farm,' he typed back, 'I don't think you'll be able to miss me. ^.=.- '
'Take it easy man,' I replied with a smile on my muzzle.
'You take it easy,' he shot back as per his normal response.
I logged off and shut my PC down for a long while. I stood up and looked at all the things in my computer room. Over the last few months, I felt like the room was closing in around me, like I was suffocating in a box. One of the major reasons I decided to go visit Claw was because I felt like I needed it, to get out of the house and stretch out. My poor wings weren't getting the exercise they needed, little joy flights just didn't cut it. My back ached, my tail almost always would cramp and my legs just felt like they were asleep a lot more than they should be. I needed some time away from it all, get out of my rut and stretch so that when I went back to my happy little rut I could be happy. I needed a long overdue vacation.
I got my papers all in order well in advance; it wasn't too bad to get a passport in order, although they did tell me to go get a new picture and updated IDs when I tried applying for the first time. That was a bit of a hassle, but I got it. It's always good to get all your papers in order first before you commit to anything else. Also I got a debit card for my bank account, I wouldn't be able to get at my account any other way on the road. Once I knew I had money on me and food to eat, I was good to go.
I loaded up all the camping gear, food supplies and clothes I would need for the trip into the back of the Ford Saturday morning. I was just trying to cover all my bases just in case. Camping is never a big deal for me; we have a lot of the supplies.
"Tents, cooking equipment, box of snacks and food, flashlights, batteries, shovel, toilet paper, ax, matches, kindling, newspaper, tarp, gasoline, lanterns and portable propane stove," I said aloud to check off all of the items I would need on my trip, "It's a good thing we used to camp a lot when I was younger, all this stuff comes in handy. Oh and my revolver with plenty of ammo and a holster. Claw said there were bears up there. I don't want to be without it if a bear should attack."
Once all the gear was in the back of the truck, I went back into the house to say goodbye to my family for Spring break and met Mom and Dad in the kitchen right when I walked inside. Mom looked like she was there to say goodbye forever with all the tears running down her red face.
"You drive safe now," she said as she sobbed a bit, "We love you honey and you come back safe and sound now."
"I will Ma, don't worry about me," I replied, trying not to cry myself. It's a response I've always had, someone cries, I cry. I just get emotional is all.
"You take care now son," Dad said to me in his calm and a bit proud voice, "It would be good for you to get out and get a taste of the real world. You need it."
"Thanks Dad," I replied with a smile on my muzzle, "I'll be careful."
Mom came over and wrapped her arms around me and gave me a big hug. I gave her one right back and rested my head on her shoulders. It was then I think was the first time she kissed my cheek as a dragon. I don't recall if she did that before that point. She used to do it in situations like this when I was human, but I think that was the first time she kissed my scaly cheek. I just hugged a bit harder and smiled.
"I love you Ma," I told her.
"I love you too sweetie," she said with a soft voice, still a bit choked up.
We broke away from each other and Dad and I did our normal long trip farewell, I firm handshake and a pat on the back.
"Take it easy Dad," I told him as he shook my claw with pride.
"You too son," he replied with a pride filled smile on his weathered face.
"Gonna leave without saying goodbye to me Big Red," Sam said as she walked into the kitchen.
"I was wondering where you were Sam," I said to her with a smirk, "I figured you'd be off doing something and wouldn't come out of your room."
"A whole week and a half with you out of the house," she said as a playful laugh crept into her voice, "how could I not come out and tell you that I'll enjoy going through all your stuff while you are away."
"I locked my doors and changed all my passwords on my PC," I told her, "You won't be able to get into anything."
"Week and a half lizard, I have a week and a half to crack everything wide open," she said to me, being dead serious, "You might as well be gone a year, I have plenty of time to bust your security."
"Sam, don't you go into his apartment while he is away," Mom scolded, "He doesn't go into your room while you are gone."
"We are just playing Mom," said Sam, just trying to play defense to ditch the heat, "I won't go down there."
"Bye Sam," I told her as I stuck out my Claw.
"Bye Eth," She replied as she took it and we shook hands.
Sam was always more likely to shake hands with me than hug me. It's just how she is. She hugs people, just not me so much. Personal preference I guess.
"Well, I best be off. Take it easy everyone," I said as I made my way out the door.
"Be careful," Dad said to me.
"I will," I said back as I closed the door.
I walked out of the door and got into the Ford. I started her up and away I went down the driveway. As the tires popped on that gravel road, I knew it would be a long time till I heard that sound again; I just enjoyed it for the seconds I had left till her tires met the blacktop road.
It was over a 13 hour drive to Claw's house in Toronto. It was a long drive through some fun roads. Sun shine to rain coming down in sheets so bad I couldn't see more than 40 feet in front of the bumper. Drive by the taillights of the guy in front of you and hope he knows what he's doing. When I got to the border between Michigan and Canada just outside of Detroit, the border guards seemed a bit wary of me.
"Any reason for traveling to Canada?" a well built, black haired guard asked me.
"Just Spring Break. I'm on vacation," I told him matter of factly.
"And why would a dragon need to drive to Canada?" he asked, "You got working wings."
"I'm going camping and I have a friend that lives there," I replied, still keeping my head on straight, but he was sounding like he was digging for something, "I needed to haul all my camping gear. I can't fly with it all. Besides, I like to drive."
Another guard used the mirror on a stick to look under the Ford for anything out of place. I didn't have anything to hide, so I just let them look her over.
"You enjoy yourself," said the guard in a rather upset tone of voice.
I drove off to the Canada checkpoint thinking,
'I wonder who peed in his cheerios?'
I kinda expected the same treatment I got from the US border patrol from the Canadian border patrol. That wasn't the case in the slightest.
"Welcome to Canada, enjoy your stay," Was what the Canadian mountie told me just after I showed him my passport and stated my business.
"Thank you sir, I will," I replied as I drove off and with a smile I said to myself, "What a nice guy."
About couple of hours later, the Toronto skyline was laid out in front of me. It was very impressive. Claw had told me he would sometimes fly up to the top of the big space needle like structure called the CN tower and sunbathe on it, then BASE jump off of it. Seeing it for myself, I was wondering if he was crazy. That thing is high. I'd be petrified to stand on it, let alone jump off of it.
Toronto looked very modern and high tech. Massive urban landscape with architecturally fascinating structure so huge they'd dwarf even the largest of dragons I'd seen. As I rolled through the city's crowded streets and alley ways, I drove by a very familiar building.
"It's that pair of curved office buildings from the 2nd Resident Evil movie," I said while looking at the impressive building.
A sign out front told me what the buildings were, it was Toronto's city hall. To have a city hall like that, this city must be doing very well. I had to move on though; my architectural side would have to be satisfied with the meager glance at that impressive building. I love buildings; just the flare of some of the designs gets to me. It sometimes bothers me when people don't see it in even the plainest of buildings. A plaster frieze here, decorative trim around a cement column there and a building comes to life. Those little details make a place feel more inviting and that's what the designer wants, a building must welcome you into it or it'll have negative reactions to the people that dwell within it. Obvious exception to this is a prison or other places that are designed to ward people away. Even then there is purpose behind their looks. I'm a carpenter's son. I've choked on enough sawdust, pounded enough nails, hung enough drywall and laid enough shingles to know that each and every choice in the design of a building had meaning. Large or small, they have purpose.
As I rolled down the busy streets, heading for the address Claw gave me, the nervous feeling came over me that accompanies meeting someone I've talked to a lot before, but never saw in person. The online world offers a number of social padding for slip-ups and typos. The real world you tend to get called on if you stutter or say the wrong word. It's also something that you can go years with talking to someone and never see past their avatar. It gets to be their face to you, no matter was it is. One difference with being a dragon in real life is I am my avatar now. I've happened across a number of fakes, people that claimed to be dragons but aren't. It's all understandable, online you can be anything you want and use that to have fun. It's all personal preference and my preference is to be myself.
When I got to the street I wanted and started down the road nice and slowly so I'd have time to read the numbers and names on the boxes. I spotted one on the side of the road and spoke the name,
I looked at the address and Claw's real name on the sheet of paper that had my directions on it, it read 'Paul Valus.'
"So either this is a relative's house or the right spot," I said as I pulled into the little driveway, "I'll find out soon enough I guess."
I shut off the Ford's engine and got out. With a slow walk, I made my way to door. I saw there was a doorbell, so I rang it. A steady series of thumping sounds came from inside the house and sounded like they were coming closer to the doorway. Moments later, the knob of the door twisted and the door swung open a bit. A clearly draconic face peered through the cracked open door. Ash grey scales with a oddly plated eye ridge and with a teal colored, slit pupil eye looking right at me.
"Farm Fresh I presume," said the dragon in a nicely spoken, but growly tone. There was even a strong Canadian accent in there.
"Fireflash Rainclaw I take it," I replied in turn.
"Glad you made it man," he said as he opened the door wider and revealed more of himself.
He looked just like his drawings of himself, of which he drew many times. He had ash grey scales that covered his whole body and a series of large, thick, oval V shaped plated running along his entire underside from his jaw to the tip of his tail and all of them were a strong teal color. His claws, talons and horns were a dark grey, almost black. He had a beaked muzzle, a single horn poked up from just behind and between his nostrils at the end of his snout, then right between his eyes started a ridge of them that curved backward over his head and along his spine. They stopped at his shoulders though and his back was smooth with just scales from there down. His eye ridge was one of the oddest I've ever seen on a dragon. A series of over lapping from the front of the ridge back was a line of curved, shield shaped plates that ran over his eye ridge and fitted around the base of his long, shallow sloped horns that grew out of the back of his head. He had a pair of rather small, sharply pointed ears. Very angular and with harsh edges. Running along the back of his jaw as it curved up along the returning curve dragon's tend to have due to our massive mouths sat six jaw spikes, three on each side. He had a very pointy head, but a slick and smooth body, outside his claws and talons of course. He was also very well built. Even with his scales, he had excellent muscle tone. You could plainly see each bulge of muscle under them. His tail was also pretty thick. He wasn't joking when he said he was tough looking dragon, he clearly looked like he hunted a lot and was well fed for it. His wings were all folded up, but I could see they too had strong flight muscles in the wing arms and the darker grey wing membranes looked rather weather beaten. In good shape, but clearly used. Spots, stretch marks and an overall leathery look to them.
He just opened the door wider and let me in,
"Please, make yourself comfortable. I'll be just a moment," he told me as I walked into the nice 2 story home.
As he walked away I noticed he was wearing his pants, but nothing else.
'Not kidding about that either.' I thought to myself.
While I could see how that would be easier to deal with, I liked my clothes and my appearance too much to go as far as he seemed comfortable with. I also noticed his back looked a wee bit different than that of my own. While my wing membranes stopped at just above my lower back, allowing for a shirt to be worn and have a base around it intact, his wing membranes stopped over his hips, he even had to tuck them into his pants to wear them.
'That has to chafe after awhile.' I thought, 'Maybe that's a contributing factor in why he doesn't mind going without them, they hurt him a bit to wear.'
After he went upstairs, I sat on his couch and wondered how long it would take for him to return. Pictures lined the walls and sat on a few of the tables. I saw a happy family in them, a human family. One with a young man in it was a fuzzy beard and thick glasses smiling caught my attention. I got up and went to it. Doing what I always do in other people's homes, look but don't touch, I carefully examined it with my claws clasped behind my back. A mother and father flanked either side of him, he looked happy in it.
"This has to be Claw before he became a dragon," I said aloud.
"Aye, that's me alright," he said as he descended the staircase, "Back when my body was just riddled to problems."
I spun around to see him, the look on his face wasn't one of fond remembrance, but one of bitter hatred.
"You told me a bit about you before...well, you became a dragon," I replied, just a bit put off by his much more apparent growl.
"Becoming a dragon wasn't just a dream come true for me Farm," he shot back as he hit the bottom of the stairs and walked into the room. It was then I noticed he was now lacking clothing of any kind. He just stood there with a very upset look on his scaly face and in only his scales, looking more like a feral dragon then before. Just minus the hiss, "It saved my life. I wasn't really suited to keep going for as long as a human being should last. It seemed problems with that body just kept coming. Near blindness, diabetes and who knows what else was coming to enter the race to end my life. I'm glad I'm not human anymore. I saw nothing but a slow end to my existence as a human. Now as a dragon, I can live my life to the fullest. I'm glad Farm, I'm glad to have shed my human body. I'm never going back if they found a way to reverse this. Never. I'm staying as a dragon. This is my life, and I will live it in the way I choossssse to."
The sudden hiss that escaped his muzzle caused me to jump and take a step backward.
"Sorry, sometimes I'll spend a week or two in the woods and run into a few feral dragons," he said, sounding like he was more explaining himself than apologizing, "I've picked up a hiss and sometimes it just kind of slips out. Personally I like it. Adds more to my personality."
His words didn't stop me from recoiling a bit more. Less of a comfort and more of a worry. He seemed to see my sudden and much increased discomfort and his features drooped, suddenly realizing he had put me in a very uncomfortable position. Probably because I felt all my facial muscles tense up and the look one my muzzled face must have really made my feelings apparent.
"Look, I know you've dealt with ferals before," said Claw, this time with an actual emotional change in tone, one of comfort but still just explaining something, "I know you've been outright attacked by them more than once which would leave a lot of scars on your mind and put you off on the idea of talking to them. I also know that as much as you seem to avoid expressing it, somewhere in that draconic heart of yours you want to be like them. That's why I'm here, I want to set you free and be a real, one hundred percent dragon."
"But I am a dragon already, I'm just a modern dragon," I said in my own defense as I regained my composure, also spotting a label I didn't like to have stuck on me.
"What you are is a human with a dragon body," he shot back, he even bared his teeth at me for a second or two as he spat that line at me. He walked closer and took a hold of my shirt collar, "Look at this, you've fallen for the humans' ploys over and over again. They are trying to make dragons conform to their rules and you've bit that hook so hard and even swallowed it down. This is just sad. Look at this powerful draconic body of yours and you hid it under these clothes for the sake of conformity. This needs to be fixed."
Once again, I recoiled, tugging back against his grip on me and just nervously looking at his face that was all bunched up in disgust and frustration.
"I don't think I need fixing," I replied with a shaky voice, his behavior threw me for a loop. I thought I was going to a friend's house for fun. Now he had my by the shirt collar and telling me something was wrong with me. I started to fear what was going to happen if I stayed if this was what happened in the first hour of meeting him.
"Yes you do," he snarled, "and don't lie to yourself. As I said, you've dealt with ferals before. Now you are looking at one that has you by the shirt collar and you haven't attacked me at all. You just recoil in the hopes that I'll stop. I won't stop. I'll show you the true face of being feral, not that mockery the Hierarchy uses as nothing more than a cover for its own selfish goals."
"You....you know about them?" I stuttered in shock, my eyes widened in horror.
"What dragon these days hasn't?" he growled, "I was contacted in the normal manner to join. Four of them jumped me while I was hunting, threatened me with death if I didn't join them. I beat the crap out of those wannabes. They claim to be true ferals, but they aren't. I could smell it on them, that sense of comfort and security only offered by those with luxury. I don't think that they are even half the 'true' dragons they say they are. These days, not many dragons are true ferals. I keep these human frills on myself because I learned that even they have uses. I might be a dragon to my core, but I also will not give up what makes me happy. My family makes me happy, my home makes me happy, my stuff makes me happy and being a dragon makes me happy. The thrill of the hunt is a pleasure and one I'll indulge in. I'm a dragon to my core Farm, and deep down under all that nice guy, restrained and emotionally stable mask you wear to fool everyone including yourself, you have a beast chained up. It's why you came to me, it's why you have only recoiled in fear this whole time and not slugged me in the jaw and told me to shut up. Deep down that beast knows I can let it loose and you want me to do it."
I grabbed his arm and pushed it away. He just let go of my shirt collar and stepped back a bit as I staggered backward a couple of paces and stooped over. I head was just rife with questions.
'Why didn't I stand my ground?' I thought, 'Why didn't I fight back? Why did I let him keep telling me those things? What's going on?'
I heard a steady set of thumps and slowly looked up to see his ash grey scaled face looking down at me with a confident grin on it.
"Now, my friend, you are starting to see the light," he said, his voice sounded even more animalistic with the growls in it being brought up to more auditable levels, "You are starting to get some use out of those instincts of yours. The drive to be with others like yourself, to live in a clan. While I don't think that's what it'll turn out to be, you'll at least pay attention to my words. Now, let's go on that vacation shall we? I promise it'll be one you are in desssssperate need of."
The return of the hiss scared me. My paranoia suddenly kicked into overdrive, thinking that maybe this was some elaborate way to get me to go feral. I looked into his eyes. While I saw that he had a darker side to him, I didn't see any trace of deception in his words. His goal seemed to be exactly what he said it was. I stood up and just tried to regain my composure.
"I'll go with you only because I feel like I can trust you," I told him, "While I see your goal is to get me to be free and you think that means feral, I'll show you that I can do just fine on my own with my own methods."
"You wouldn't have come here if your own methods hadn't started to fail you," Claw shot back, "Now come on dragon, its time you see some things you should have seen long ago."
He started to walk out the door and I felt the strange urge to follow him. Something deep inside me, something I didn't know was there was now stirring and driving me to go with Fireflash. I couldn't stop my feet; I just started to walk out the door with him.
"Now I know you're gonna fight me on this, but seriously, leave your stuff here," he told me once we made it outside, into the sun, "It'll be safe, I promise you. You honestly don't need anything more then you."
I glared right back at him and stomped one foot, "No Claw, I'm taking it. This is my vacation and I'll take what I feel like I need."
He let out a snort, clearly of irritation by the way his lip curled up on one side.
"Fine, have it your way for now," he growled, "I guess you'll need to be eased into this."
I let a snort go back at him. Our ideals were crashing into each other just like they did online, only now we were staring right at each other and the full range of our emotions were on display. Two dragons with two different ideas on an issue, that was an explosive mix. He just let out a huff, spread his wings and took to the blue sky. I just growled a bit under my breath and went to the Ford.
"Mr. hot shot dragon thinks he can get the better of me," I grumbled to myself as I backed out of his driveway and set off in the direction he was flying in, "Well, I'll show him I'm not so easy to change."
After going through the suburbs of Toronto, it wasn't long before trees lined both sides of the roads. Claw flying just ahead of me served as a guide to the place where he told me was an excellent camping spot. It was well over an hour drive till I saw the cocky dragon start to descend and I followed him to an old dirt path. I pulled off to the side and onto this old, overgrown roadway. The front of Ford was pushing aside the vegetation as I just drove by the sounds of the ancient gravel under her tires that had been mostly covered with soil by that point. I thought he'd taken me onto some off road track till suddenly the brush gave way and I rolled out into a large clearing, must have been a mile across. I hit the brakes as Claw landed right in front of the bumper. The tires ground to a halt and all he did was put his bare foot on the chrome bumper and leaned on it.
"There, now you should be happy," I told me in a very uppity and self assured tone, like he had every angle covered, "No one around for miles, an entire clearing for your precious campsite. This should be suitable for you to be happy in."
I looked around the large clearing, it did look perfect. He smirked at me and stepped aside. I just gave him a wary look and drove to a stand of lonely looking trees in the middle of the clearing next to a little pond and parked under them. A thump got my attention.
"You like to do that don't you?" I said as I got out of the cab, just looking at Claw recovering from his dramatic landing which I missed.
"I got wings, might as well use them and show off," he said with a smirk on his muzzle.
I surveyed the site, then nodded in approval.
"This'll do," I said to myself mostly.
"Glad you approve," he said as he walked up next to me, "I assume you're going to set up camp?"
"That's the plan," I replied, walking to the back of the Ford and dropped the tailgate, beginning to pull out the tent and starting supplies.
"Well, then I'm going on a hunt," he said as he dropped to all fours and trotted to the tree line, "I've been hungry since that bowl of cereal I had for breakfast and the flight here just made it worse. You have fun setting up your little hut."
"I will," I told him, mostly disinterested in what he was saying.
He disappeared into the bush a few moments later, leaving me alone to set up my campsite. I just huffed to myself in frustration. I tried to remain calm and collected, but the irritation of the prior events just got me worked up that each time the tent would fight me. I'd get all bent and growl.
"Oh come on," I snarled when one of the stretchy bungee cords in the carbon fiber tent rods snapped, "You've done well all this time and now you break?"
I just let out another growl as I got my OD green duct tape and just stuck the two pieces together inside the metal tube jacket. Taping the rods to each other and making sure they'd hold.
"There, now you'll do your job," I shot at the stubborn pole, "Oh great, I'm talking to a tent pole. I need a nap."
I just rushed my way through putting up the rest of the tent. So many camping trips and then Storming the Farm taught me how to do that in a hurry, but my mood wasn't doing me any favors. Once the tent was up, I rolled out my sleeping bag inside it and just crawled inside, laying down on top of bag and curling up on it. The sun lit up my tent, the steady sound of the wind blowing through the clearing on that warm day, rustling of the trees around my tent and the steady, quiet roar of the ones around the clearing just made for a soothing sense of comfort. I was so tired, I needed to rest. My eyelids just closed as they weighted down over my vision. Wasn't long before I was fast asleep, just comforted by all the warmth and sounds around my little campsite.
I didn't want it to end, the embrace of a nice deep rest, but it did with a crunch. My eyes shot wide open and my back tensed up. I looked up and around my tent to find the zippered entryway still sealed. With a careful claw, I zipped open a small hole and looked out. I saw Claw's scaly backside was towards me and the back end of a deer was laying off to one side of him, it was clearly right in front of him. When another crunch sounded off and I saw the body jerk around, I knew what he was doing. His head lifted up and I saw as he angled it upward the large amount of blood and crimson soaked meat that he was chomping down. He was eating a deer raw, just chewing it up and eating it like an animal. His muzzle was his splattered with blood as it ran over his face and down his neck. I was both horrified and fascinated, much like a train wreck. He turned his head and one of his eyes peered back at me.
"I heard your breathing increase," he chuckled, "I guess I spooked you. Well, get used to this. I'm on vacation just like you and when I'm on vacation, this is how I eat."
He just quickly dropped his head and ripped off another maw full of the deer's corpse and promptly chewed it down. I zipped the tent closed and took one pillow I had in my tent and put it over my eyes and ears, just trying to block it all out.
"Stop thinking about. Stop thinking about it," I repeated to myself, just trying to drown out the images I just saw.
"Come on Farm," said Claw from while he chewed, "I know you've seen and done either this or worse. Fights with feral dragons and you are not pretty. Scales told me all the stuff he's heard, you turn into a beast in those situations. Why are you being so squeamish now? You've even hunted that one time in the winter. This isn't new to you."
I still had my head in the pillow, repeating my mantra and trying to ignore it all and calm down. The sight of him eating like that sunk deep and split into two distinct sets of feelings. One was utter horror and shock, the other was a sort of urge to take that kill for myself out of greed and hunger. I just tried to fight it off, wasn't easy with him still chomping away just outside my tent. He even pulled the carcass closer, just outside my tent. He even seemed to be chewing intentionally louder, the squished and wet rips of flesh just ripped my head in two, both sick to my stomach and hungry. The pain from my gut felt like I hadn't eaten for days although I had a sandwich not more than a few hours prior.
I couldn't understand it. So I did the one thing I could do, lay there and just wait for him to run out of meat to eat. That deer wouldn't last forever, I figured I'd wait him out. The smell of blood was both disgusting and intoxicating as it filled up my snout. I'd blast the smell out of my nostrils with a snort, even if it was gone for only a millisecond.
"You'll love it Farm," he chuckled right before he took another large bite and another series of horrible and inviting sounds came before he spoke again, "The taste is something you'll learn is an acquired taste and its very tangy. Blood is just as good a drink as anything else for us dragons. So, enjoy the smell for now. You'll be enjoying the taste soon enough."
'It's not me.' I said in my head, 'It's not me. It's not me. I'm not like that. I can't be like that. I won't be like that.'
The sad part was as much as my mantra and ranting was holding my more animalistic urges back, they weren't nearly enough to do the job needed to silence them for good. Something was pushing me, but it wasn't something external in my mind like before. This was different, this was something that wasn't in invading presence, this was a pure, unaltered, unwavering instinct. Like breathing, drive for survival, self preservation, this was a hunting instinct. This instinct was the drive to kill for food, to live off the wild life. This was a predatory instinct.
My mind was a battlefield, trying to repress it like a bad urge. It was being stubborn, refusing to go away fully. Claw's eating wasn't helping. The sounds of ripping flesh and popping bones just drove that side of my head bonkers, working it up into a frenzy. The smell of fresh blood hung in the air, it was a fresh kill. It slammed at me to go and eat, but I fought back, desperate to win the battle for my integrity.
It seemed like hours, but finally the sounds stopped. The smell remained, but with the chomping and tearing noises gone I could relax a little bit as the drive subsided. It wasn't satisfied, but I was glad it wasn't. It meant I had won. I rested a bit more, the sounds of breeze came back to comfort me and blow away the smell of blood in the air. Steady and quieting thumps as Claw walked off, on all fours by the number of pounds to the grassy field.
'I guess I won that one,' I thought to myself, 'but why was it so hard? I'd never have been like that before. What's wrong with me?'
I laid there just lost in my own head. It was only day one and already I was having issues that gave me cause for concern. I just started to shove those thoughts down and back like normal, but they were proving far more troublesome than usual, like they didn't want to leave me alone. I just fought them back by sheer force of will and with a lot of conscious effort, I was able to center myself.
After I was a bit more rested, I got out of my tent and just set up the rest of my campsite. A fire pit, set up my chairs and because of Claw's little snack time I was hungry, so I got into my cooler of food and made myself another ham and Swiss sandwich with a can of Dr. Pepper.
As I ate it sitting under a pine tree next to my tent, I couldn't get over the taste of the bread. It was grainy and dry, it didn't have the satisfying taste I remember it having and it wasn't as filling when I swallowed the last bite. Even the meat wasn't as tasty as I remember it should be, like a lot of its former flavor was gone. I just let out a disappointed sigh and walked over to the Ford.
"I don't know what's wrong with me sweetie," I said as I leaned on her hood next to her, "I just think all the stress and strain is getting to me. That's probably all it is, just stress. I've finally got my happy little rut back, a sense of normality and general acceptance in my life. Why am I not as happy as I thought I'd be?"
"Because that happy little rut of yours isn't one for a dragon!" Shouted Claw from the wood line as he walked out of it, still on all fours just like he was when he left. He quieted his voice as he got closer to my campsite, but he still had it up loud enough to make it clear and plain as day, "You were going for that same happy little rut you had when you were human and that's not the case anymore. Being a dragon requires a change to your happy little rut. Bottom line is that you need a new rut."
"But I was happy in my old rut," I replied.
"Well, scales alter that a bit," he shot back, stepping right in front of me and looking up at me dead in the eyes, "Wake up Farm, you can't have that same happy little rut anymore. It's not going to be exactly the same as it was before, it can't ever be. It's not so much the rut as a lot of your new drives and instincts that cause conflict with your normal rut."
"But I drove those instincts out of my head," I told him, steadfast in my convictions that I had.
He let out a snort and shot back at me,
"That's bullshit. I saw and heard you when I was eating that deer. If you did drive them down or off before, they are back now and you are starting to become even more like the creature you are. Whether this is a normal progression of your human mind warping to fit the new situation or something else, the fact remains that you are becoming more dragon like each day. I've seen the why you act online, you've pulled back and have become a very quiet person. You are wrapped up in one thing or another and your free time suffers for it. A lot of the time you just like to think of yourself last and try to help others first. A trait that is rare, even more so among dragons, but you take it to the extreme. You'll try so hard to fix everything to the point that you are so emotionally taxed that you just snap. It's not even stuff that really you should be worried over, it's just kids problems."
"But they normally ask me to help them," I replied, just trying to defend myself, "I can't refuse to help them in an emotionally hard time. Not when I can help."
"But you take it to the extreme to the point that you walk away with more stress than either of the two people you went there to help. You've had them both spin on you and start to wail on you even though one or both came to you for help. I know, you've told me stories and posted me chat logs. You seem to think that they are as emotionally stable and thoughtful as you. You are a rare case Farm and I don't think you fully realize that."
All I did was look away from his face and start to think his words over carefully.
"I'm not asking for much Farm," he told me sympathetically as he stood up on two legs to be eye level with me, "Just use this time you have away from your life and everything that normally clouds up your judgment to explore what it's like to truly be a dragon. With all the other things that are comforting you and swaying your judgment, you can't see something for what it truly is. Out here, almost all of your comfort items are far away. You'll get the clearest picture of what it's like and best yet you have a lot of time to play around and find your new rut."
"I don't know Claw," I told him, unsure of myself on what to do, "I have about a week to rest, but I don't know if I should just lose myself for this time. I don't know what will happen."
"The point of an adventure is the journey Farm," he replied in a very flat tone, "So, have an adventure and just lose yourself for a week. I promise you, you'll be fine. You'll be better than fine, you'll feel rested and ready to return home with a whole new bite on life. You won't go feral to the degree you fear, you'll be in control the whole time. Just please, loosen up and have fun on your vacation. It's what they exist for."
I let out a sign and just went over as many angles as I could to try and figure out what would most likely happen and none of them seemed to be the for certain one. It was all a big grey zone and I didn't have a clue of where it was gonna go. So, I did what I always do in situations like that. I just wing it and hope for the best.
"Okay then Claw, you win," I told him, swinging my head around to face him, "Tomorrow morning I'll follow your lead. All I ask for is this one evening to enjoy my camping trip how I want to and then pack it all up tomorrow morning. I'll just make sure the Ford is in a safe spot."
"You don't have to worry Farm," he replied with a satisfied smirk on his muzzle, "There isn't anyone for miles around and it's not hunting season. You and your truck will both be safe, I can assure you."
"Well, okay," I reluctantly told him, just a bit wary of this plan, but not enough to throw the brakes on.
I must admit, I was kind of both worried and excited to be experiencing something new and different. I was scared of it too, but I felt like I could handle it. I just sat in my camping chair and tried to relax and take in the sounds of nature. I was gonna be hearing them for a long time at that point.
I had a nice campfire cooked meal, flame roasted steaks and chips with a soda on the side. Sat in my chair, took a hike around in the woods, laid in the grass and watched the clouds roll by. I was just enjoying all the little things that made life worth living to me. Rest and relaxation was what I wanted.
Once night fell and I crawled into my tent and extra large sleeping bag, I felt a cold chill come over me. I wasn't sure what it was at the time, but I knew it wasn't just anything random. I felt a little twinge in my stomach. I ignored it and fell asleep to the sounds of Claw's rustling in the weeds. He seemed to like hiding in the tall grass and made a little nest not far from my tent. As I heard the slow and steady sounds of the night and the chirping crickets, I just let myself drift to sleep. I put aside the concerns for the next day, I just wanted one last peaceful night's sleep and I was gonna get it. As soon as my eyes saw nothing but darkness, I felt calm and cool. I even smiled a bit in my sleep, I was happy to be rid of my worries. Even if it was only for one night, it was still enough. The next day would bring many changes, many of which I and even Claw would not expect. The adventure was only just beginning.