Claw and I wandered down into the large area to locate where the hunting party was being assembled. The amount of ingenuity of these dragons was astonishing. The boxes weren't all just shoved haphazardly into corners; they were stacked neatly with labels facing outward. I paused at one crate and examined the label.
"Residential section 2, chamber 16. Jaden Kingston." I read aloud, running a clawed figure along the text, "Contents, 80 pounds of dried meat, 20 pounds of packaged greens, 3 books and 20 candles."
Claw came back and saw me looking at the crate and said,
"Thissss clan hassss a sssshipping sssysssstem in it to move goodssss and itemssss around to all itssss memberssss equally. Everyone hassss their fair sssshare and itssss an impressssive little economy."
"How do they pay for all this stuff?" I asked.
"Well," Claw said as he thought it over, "Before dragonssss were made public, ssstuff like thosssse bookssss and candlessss either had to be found or ssstolen and carried a lot of risssk to obtain. That made them only available to clan leaderssss and other high level dragonsss. Now, we can jussst buy the itemssss we want right from people."
"But where is that money coming from?" I replied, still puzzled.
"We have our wayssss," he replied, "We ssssell lumber to local ssssaw mills, ssssome meat to the groccceriessss and even water from the underground sssspring asss bottled water."
"You're kidding?" I said back in disbelief.
He walked over to a crate and opened it, pulling out a bottle of water and tossed it at me. I caught it and looked at the label.
"Dragon's Choice Natural Spring Water?" I said as I read the name on the bottle, looking at the happy looking cartoonish dragon mascot on the label.
"That ssssellssss millionssss of bottlessss daily all over the world and the bottling machine we use issss hooked into a paddle wheel generator to keep it powered ssssafely and cleanly," he told me, " The river that'ssss deep in the cave hassss been running for millennia. It comessss from a deep underground geyssser field. That area issss too dangeroussss becausssse to the water issss boiling hot and the cave issss a furnacccce. We're far enough down that the water is cold again, near freezing and all the ssssulfur from the volcanic activity of the geysssserssss hassss ssssettled. We do sssstill filter it before itssss bottled and even a lot of the dragonssss here prefer to drink the bottled water over drinking it right from the river. I ssssstill like to drink from the river perssssonally."
I put the water bottle back and closed the crate.
"Looks like this clan has a stable cash flow and plenty of food and water to go around," I remarked as a looked around again, "I'm glad they seem to be doing okay."
"It'sss a good thing Etoke," Claw said, "It really makesss me wonder why I sssstay home."
I didn't like any part of that statement,
"One, please don't call me that and two, I think it's good you stay home because I love your artwork. It would be a crying shame to see an artist such as yourself stop creating such wonderful works."
"I'm not all that good Farm," he replied, thankfully using a name I liked, "You sssseem to really like my work and that'ssss niccce of you to ssssay, but I think there are far better artisssstsss than me."
"There is always someone better Claw," I replied, "But that doesn't diminish your talents at all. You are getting better with each drawing and I think if you keep it up, you'll improve so much that you'll be creating works of art that you never dreamed you could possibly produce."
"Thankssss Farm, I hope ssssso," he told me with a bit of a sigh.
"One note," I questioned, "Why have you started to hiss so much since we talked to Utoro. You're hissing nonstop."
"I like to hissssss Farm," he told me, "Being here jusssst bringssss it out in me to a very sssstrong degree. I know you are uncomfortable with it, but mosssst of the dragonssss here hissssss sssso me sssstopping it won't make you any lessss uncomfortable. I'd get usssssed to it, but I will promissssse to sssstop when we are going back to my housssse. I need to anyway, it kinda botherssss my parentssss too."
"Thank you Claw," I said appreciatively.
"You know," he said, regaining his smirk, "You ssssshould try to learn to hisssss. Could be fun."
"No," I replied quickly with a slight growl, "I'm not hissing."
"Your choicccce," he said, still smiling, "but you'll be around hissssssing dragonssss for over a week. Chanccccessss are you'll sssstart to hisssss without knowing it ssssoon enough."
"And if I do, I'll punch you in the shoulder each time," I shot back.
"Why?" he asked, trying to look innocent.
"Because you're the one that got me into this mess," I said to him, glaring at him, "I hiss, you get punched."
He gave me a sour look, but I think it was just a funny thing he was doing to get to me. Claw has a habit of being screwy to put his friends at ease. Granted Claw is a far more complex person than you'd first think. Everyone has a history, things in their past that they don't want to talk about. Claw's posture and movement, the fact he'd voice his consideration of leaving his life behind for the life of a feral dragon, which often always upset me. It's not losing yourself, but everyone that cares about you feels loss to. I never want to do that to those that I care for and those that care for me, that isn't fair.
Claw just walked around the area as I followed him. Walking on all fours was starting to become so natural that I started to not notice that I was doing it. I shook my head of a few lingering thoughts, the words of Utoro echoed in my head.
'I have to let myself go with it in order to understand it,' I thought, 'No matter what.'
As much as I felt hesitant about it, I didn't have a choice. It was learning to deal with this and finally after all those months of suppressing it, come to grips with my new dragon nature... or forever live with a hole in my chest. The sights and sounds and even the smells of other dragons around me seemed to comfort me. The glitter of scales, the scrape of claws over the rock floor and the musty lizard smell of dragons all around me for some reason was appealing to me. I didn't know why. I did feel something else within me, something telling me to run away, screaming danger. I searched my mind and found what it was; it was my human side, my humanity screaming at me that I was in danger from all these dragons. I concentrated and quieted it, repeating the thought that I wasn't in danger, I was with my own kind here.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that even when I was at Lewis and Clark, no matter how much I felt like an outsider from being a dragon, I still felt safe among humans. It was in the company of other dragons that made me wary. While I was able to control myself, being with so many really drove my hesitation nuts. To be in the company of your own species and feel comfortable is key, that's what I told myself to calm my nerves. I stayed on Claw's tail to make sure to focus my attention on one dragon I knew to be safe. The rest comes with time.
"Etoke," Claw said as he looked over his shoulder at me, "Trusssst me, you'll be okay. A hunt sssshould help give you a lot to calm your nervessss. I find you forget a lot when you have your prey locked in your ssssightssss."
I growled a bit. I didn't like this plan, but it's kinda what the general feeling of the whole trip was turning out to be.
"Now young drake," said Claw, "You'll find out ssssoon enough that you'll enjoy the thrill of the hunt."
"I'm older than you Claw," I shot back, "Did you forget that?"
"Yessss, I know you are older than I am," he replied with a smirk, "But I've been a dragon longer than you and come much farther in acccccepting it. I ssssometimessss look at the transsssformatisson from human to dragon assss a rebirth. Ssshedding our old bodiessss and becoming ssssomething new. At the basssse of it all, we all have been reborn into new livessss and the chancccce to experienccce ssssomething beyond our wildessst dreamssss. In human yearssss if you count your previoussss life, you are older. However, if you follow my logic, you are a mere hatchling compared to me."
I snorted at him; I don't like being called a hatchling. As far as I'm concerned, I was born, not hatched.
"I'm not a hatchling," I growled, "And I'm 24, you are 17. I've been through a lot more than you and have a lot of experience under my belt."
"Ssssayssss you, assss you are now lacking a belt," Claw said with a smile on his muzzle, "I wasss changed over 2 yearssss ago, you, about half a year. Facccce it Etoke, assss a dragon, you are just getting your wingssss. Mine are fully fledged."
All I could do was sigh, he was right. My experience was very limited in this field; I had to rely on his word for the bulk of it.
"Buck up Etoke," he told him with all the cockiness in his voice he could, "You'll be a changed dragon before you know it. You'll earn thossse wingssss on your back and know sssso much more about the true meaning of dragonssss in thisss world."
"Thosssse dragonsss that are joining ussss for the hunt are to be counted at the main deployment area in five minutessss." Shouted a dragon from halfway across the room, "Be ssssure to have yoursssself ready for the trip."
"There issss the call Etoke," smiled Claw, "How do I love hunting in a pack of dragonsssss. You are in for a treat."
His use of my dragon name started to wear on me a lot, what was worse was I found myself starting to just become accustom to it at a very alarming rate. For the moment, I didn't have much of a choice, if I blurt out my real name, it could cause more problems. So I just put up with it till Utoro gave me the green light.
Claw trotted all the way to the area that the dragon shouted was the meeting place for the hunting pack. It was like a pile of deadly Skittles with multicolored dragons all assembled in the open. There was a large black dragon at the head of the formation. The dragon made a loud click sound and all the dragons shifted into a long line. Claw bolted for the line and got right on the end, I had to gallop to keep up with him, skidding to a stop next to him. Claw seemed to snap to a form of attention. Head up, chest out, tail straight and back level. I did my best to follow suit. My guess was this was inspection time. Made sense, a weak link could potentially get someone hurt or worse.
The twenty three foot long, black dragon walked down the line, looking over each dragon with an experienced eye, sometimes using a claw to touch parts of a dragon's body for a closer look. Around the face, the neck, chest and back, sometimes the hind quarters. I gulped as he got closer to me; he stopped in front of Claw and me.
"Fireflasssh Rainclaw," he growled as he looked over Claw's body, "sssso good of you to come down off you cusssshy human bed with to join ussss on thissss hunt. I would have thought you would have grown sssso sssssoft that you'd barely be able to walk on all fourssss, much lessssss hunt for yoursssself with all that processssssed and altered human food you eat."
"I get out Gredek," Claw shot back at the black dragon who's claw was feeling over Claw's hips, "As I'm ssssure you can tell from the free feel you just coped. Tell me, do you enjoy your job just a little too much?"
"Ssssilencccce!" Gredek roared at Claw, "It'ssss my job to make sure each dragon that goessss on thessse huntssss isss fit to do sssso. One weakling and it could cosssst the life of ssssomeone that'sss actually worth the trouble. You sssseem to regard hunting asss a game, sssomething to enjoy. Out here, itssss life and death."
"Do I passsss?" snorted Claw, clearly annoyed.
All Gredek did was growl and walk to me,
"Who issss thissss runt?"
"Etoke Coldfang," Claw quickly replied, "He'ssss a friend of mine."
The way Gredek's cold blue eyes staring at me, looking over my form and trying to find any flaws with it made me feel uneasy.
"Forelegsss are too ssskinny," he growled, "Chessst is too flat, wingssss look under ussssed, neck issss too sssscrawny, and hisss facccce isss too rounded. He lookssss more like he belongssss in a petting zoo than in a clan of dragonssss. No back spines, no tail blade. Not even a sssset of hornssss on hisss head. He'ssss jussst a runt."
"He'ssss new to all thissss," Claw said in my defense, "He'll be with me, I'll make ssssure he'll be a usssseful hunter."
The black dragon snorted, then smirked and then just threw his head back and laughed before bringing it back down to mock me,
"Thissss runt, a usssseful hunter? He'ssss a worthlesssss dragon if I've ever ssssaw one. A kitten could beat him, a deer would kick the sssshit out of him. I might be ordered to take him along, but he can sit in the back and obsssserve real huntersssss in actisson."
"I'm no runt." I growled, mostly under my voice.
"What wasss that?" Gredek asked, smirking a bit, "The runt can talk for himssself? I'm ssssurprisssed he'ssss had the gutssss to mutter wordssss like that, but that'ssss all he'ssss got I'm ssssure."
I looked up and stared him right in the eyes, glaring back at him.
"You challenging me runt?" he growled, "Causssse if you are new to being a dragon, looking at a ssssuperior dragon like that issss a challenge. I can tessssst you jusssst to sssshow you how worthlesssss you truly are."
"Etoke, don't," Claw cautioned me, sounding worried, "Gredek issss an expert hunter and fighter. He'll tear you apart and I'm not kidding. He alwayssss goesss for the kill."
I don't know what made me do it, but I ignored Claw's words of warning and kept glaring into Gredek's cold blue eyes.
"Let's see how good you really are," I growled at the black dragon.
The dragon didn't waste a moment, his muzzle lashed out and he grabbed my neck in his teeth. I didn't even get a chance to move an inch. I felt his teeth sawing into my scales and roared in pain.
"ETOKE!" Claw screamed, "Gredek you bastard!"
I struggled against the powerful dragon. He seemed to be enjoying this, slowly constricting my neck by crushing it with his jaws. I writhed around till finally I found the strength to lash out with my hind legs and kick into his chest. I felt his hot breath rush over the part of my neck that was inside his mouth as I knocked the wind out of him. I quickly kicked him again and again till finally the brute had to slack up on my neck and I slipped out of his jaws and onto the rocky floor of the cave chamber, gasping for air with raged breaths.
"Ssso," Gredek wheezed a bit while he talked, "Runt'ssss got sssome brainsss. Well that jusssst meanssss more fun for me."
The black dragon came at me again, I rolled onto all fours and darted away from him as he leapt into the air and tried coming down on me with all his claws and talons to spear me. All the other dragons had backed off to safety along the walls and into the crates, even Claw, though he seemed ready to bolt in at a moment's notice. I think he was willing to give me the chance to prove myself, but would step in if I looked like I was gonna lose. As Claw said, this dragon goes for the kill, which didn't bode well for me.
I avoided the dragon's attacks, just seeing if I could tire him out. He was like a locomotive, plowing towards me with his claws and teeth primed and ready to rip me to shreds. The though darted though my skull that just prior to this, Utoro told me I had nothing to fear here and now I was running for my life from one of his own clan members. Some false advertising signs should be put up for stuff like that. Their ways of testing dragons sucked.
Still using my tactic of wearing my opponent down, I tried tricking him into slaming into the stone walls. My greater agility helped me make sharp turns a lot to avoid him, but he wasn't dumb and turned before he hit the wall after a few slips and crashes. I darted all over the wide area, starting to wheeze a bit from all the fear, tension and exhaustion of all this. I felt I was losing steam, and fast. So, as per my usual tactic in situations like this, I did something unexpected and crazy. I got a nice straight run down the middle of the room with the black freight train of a dragon on my tail. I kicked both my right feet out from under me and rolled on to my back, then when he came to tackle me, I used my hind legs and kicked up between his forelegs and into his chest. I used his forward momentum to propel him like a wheel over me and sent him flying straight into the stone wall of the cave, slamming his head into the rock, knocking him out cold. While this had a negative side too, my upper half of my body was pinned under the black dragon's lower half and my snout was being squished into the floor by his crotch plates, at least I knew I had prevailed.
"Lovely view down here," I said sarcastically as his grey scutes pressed onto the side of my head, my voice muffled by all mass on top of me.
I felt a tug on my right hind leg and was pulled out from under the dragon. I looked over myself and saw cracked scales, scrapes and scratches and a bunch of my blood seeping out of them. I felt over my back to find my wing membranes raw and more than a few bleeding areas of ripped off scale and bleeding red flesh. I hissed in pain as I tried to move my wings and back around.
"You took out Gredek," said a bewildered blue dragon, "No one hasss ever done that before, excccept Kato and Utoro and they both are bigger than him."
"I'm wily," I replied as I slowly got to my feet, "Never underestimate the spunky ones."
I just limped away a bit, but I felt oddly better by that win. I showed him I wasn't to be taken lightly.
"You are crazy Etoke," Claw told me as he came up alongside me as I walked over to the nearest rock to rest on, "You ssssshould be dead now. I'm impresssssed."
"I'm in better shape then I look Claw," I told him while I crawled up onto a rock to rest, "Now, you know of any medical supplies for my wounds?"
"Yeah, they ssssshould have ssssome around here sssssomewhere," he replied, "I'll go look. Be right back."
He left and soon returned with a few ointments and bandages. He was a pretty good medic, he tended to my wounds quickly and with practiced claws
"Jeezssse Farm," he said, "Deep cutsssss on your neck, tonssss of road burnssss and bleeding gasssshessss all over your body and you sssstill manage to limp away. I'm really impressed, You jussst keep going. Good thing you didn't break any bonessss though, you'd be out of the hunt if you did."
"What?" I asked.
"I'll get you patched up and in a few hoursssss you'll be jussst fine," he replied, "and we'll be walking thossssse hoursssss on the trail to the hunting groundssss. Sssso let'ssss get you up and moving."
"Who's the leader of this party?" I asked, now wondering who I was going to follow.
"Kato," said Claw, "He heard about Gredek'ssss little bout with you and laughed ssssso hard that sssomeone like him could lossse to you. He'ssss been itching to go out for awhile now, but hasssen't had the chanccce. Utoro likessss to talk and likessss to keep Kato there so he's got sssssomeone to talk to. Thosssse two have a hissstory, but I've never been able to figure it out. Kato and Utoro both have been together for a long time, how long issss one thing I don't think anyone knowssss but them."
I huffed as Claw patched me up. Once all the ointments and patches were applied, it didn't take long for me to feel better. Kato soon came and gathered us all up and he dispensed with the inspection and ordered us to move out. He spotted me and said,
"Etoke Coldfang, you will be with Fireflasssh Rainclaw every ssssecond of thissss trip. You do not leave hissss ssssight. You undersssstand?"
"Yes sir," I replied.
"Itssss yessss, Excccellenccccy," he hissed at me.
I grunted in disapproval, I didn't like having to use that word, but I just bowed my head and said reluctantly,
Kato walked away, back to the front of the hunting party and Claw came up alongside me.
"Don't worry Etoke," he said reassuringly, "It'sss jusssst a title like ssssir, don't let it bother you."
"It means more than that Claw," I sadly replied, "I feel like I'm losing my grip on things."
"You are," he bluntly replied, "You are becoming feral. Don't fight it, acccccept it. It'ssss what you came here to do."
All I could do was sigh. He was right, I came to see was it was like to be feral and the true meaning of it. I guessed that since I was finally getting it I shouldn't complain. It still felt wrong though and I couldn't place why.
We walked for a long time, hours really. As we did, I felt my wounds heal. They were all scabbed over by the time we got to the hunting grounds by nightfall. For creatures with the capability of flight, I wondered why we walked there.
"Claw?" I asked, "Why didn't we just fly there?"
"Becausssse that would alert the herd and other prey of our presssenccce," he told me in a straight tone, "We need to make sure we sssslip in unnoticcced sssso we can sssstalk our prey and enssssure we make off with assss much as we can ssssafely remove."
"Safely remove?" I asked in puzzlement.
"Well we don't want our resssident food ssssupply to run out," he replied, "We obsssserve when they are in mating ssssseason and rearing young. We only pick off the malessss and thossse that are not mothersssss. We rotate which prey we hunt too. We hunt deer, turkey, fisssh at timesss, take down a few bearssss, and rabbitssss are a particularly fun ssssnack and readily available. We hunt pretty much anything in sssseassson we can. Elk, moosssse, wild dogsss, bob catssss, anything really."
"So its catch what we can?" I asked him.
"Pretty much," he said with a chuckle, "Moosssse are hard to take down, but sssso much meat on them. Dang, I want to eat a moossse now."
He started to sniff the air, taking long sniffs of the night air. A long, contorted grin creased his long muzzled face as he breathed,
"I ssssmell a herd of them."
He went to Kato and told him. Kato sniffed the air too, then started making low noises that I didn't understand, but the other dragons did. The all started to disappear into the undergrowth as Claw walked back to me.
"We are hunting moosssse tonight," he said with glee, his eyes were alight with the thoughts of his next meal.
"You sure that's a good idea?" I breathed, "Moose are big animals."
"And so are we," he replied, "Jussssst follow my lead, you'll be fine."
He slipped into the undergrowth and I followed, staying low and watching my steps to make as little noise as possible. I knew how to stay silent because of my airsoft days. I was quiet in boots then, but now I made no sound at all. It was much easier to remain silent barefoot. The pads on my feet made each step as quiet as possible; as long as I was careful I could be as quiet as a cat. I was amazed at how not only I was silent, but every dragon around me was too. I flicked my tongue out, just had an urge to, and I tasted the air. With that taste, I knew where the others were and where the prey was. I kept doing that every few seconds to keep aware of it all. I caught Claw doing the same thing; I was apparently falling into how a dragon hunts quite naturally. Once again, I had that sickly sense of doubt that I was doing something wrong. I fought it back and kept after Claw.
The sounds of the breeze, the taste of the moist night air and the smells of the forest around me were all so intense that I could hardly describe it in words. The feeling of the cold, damp earth between my toes, I just felt stronger and more confident. I was a hunter. No, not a hunter, a predator. I remember that feeling welling up inside my chest and inside my head; I felt like this was what I was meant for, what my purpose was in life. I was swept away by the feeling, I didn't fight it, I couldn't fight it. It was too strong. I felt one last gasp for air from my doubts before a strange feeling wash over me. I felt something inside me shriek out in terror but then it disappeared from my awareness. I felt a rush over my body and a new kind of strength filled my muscles. I didn't understand it, but I liked it. I lowered my head, and I felt myself shift in posture. The movements on four legs felt even less foreign, more like how I felt on two legs before. They felt right, really right. I felt the night breeze over my bare scales, I felt like I'd found were I truly belonged.
"Get down Etoke," Claw quietly ordered.
I immediately obeyed, snuggling into the forest floor to lay in wait for my prey.
"Okay," he told me in a low voice, "Moosssse are up and about a bit later than normal for sssssome reasssson, but that sssshouldn't make thisss much harder. What we'll do issss be the two dragonssss that ssssspook the herd and get them to run to the ressssst of the party. It'sss the easssssiesssst job, but it hasss itssss risssskssss. You and I will take one down together. I'm bigger so I'll musssscle it down and you chomp down on itsss neck and tear itssss jugular out. You cool with that? I know you are ssssqueamisssh about thissss ssstuff."
"I'm good to go," I replied as a grin crossed my muzzle, I was excited for this and I didn't know why really.
"Farm?" Claw asked me, looking at my face with concern, "You okay? You look like you are ssssmiling."
"I'm excited," I replied, not sure where all this anticipation was coming from, "I just can't wait till I make my first kill on thissss hunt."
Claw's eyes widened a bit and he said,
"You are eager to do thissss and you jusssst hisssssed? Are you ssssure you're okay Farm?"
I noticed that he stopped calling me Etoke and resumed calling me Farm, I smirked that he'd shift like that. I scooted over next to him and punched him in the shoulder.
"I'm fine," I told him as he rubbed his shoulder a bit, "Told you I'd punch you and you told me to go with it. Sssso I am."
I punched him one more time and all he did was smirk at me.
"There issss that beasssst in your eyessss I ssssaw locked up before," he side with pride, "Unchained and running free. Welcome to feral life Etoke Coldfang, I hope you enjoy it."
I felt a long grin, baring my fangs as the thrill of the coming attack filled me. I was letting it sweep me away and at the time, I didn't care if I never came out of it. No worries, no pressure, no concerns but the most obvious ones in the world. We crept closer and soon I saw our moose and a herd of others behind it. The closer Claw and I stalked our way to that moose, the more alive I felt. By the time both of us were in striking range, side by side, I felt my heart racing, my blood burned in my veins and my muscles tense with anticipation for when Claw gave the signal to attack. Each second was an eternity as the smell and the taste of the waiting meal in front us, no more than ten feet away was just tempting me to attack. I held my ground, following the words of the hunting pack leader and Claw's. Then I flicked my tongue out and tasted the sweat of the moment, my own, Claw's and the moose's.
Tension was at a peak and I felt a sudden rush of energy and strength as I heard Claw's hind legs shift and then kick off the ground. I didn't even think, I just pounced along with him. The moose shrieked out in a horrible scream, but it didn't get a chance to move before Claw slammed into it and knocking it to the ground. The attack drove the others into a panic and run in the opposite direction, straight into the rest of the hunting party's waiting and very eager, razor sharp claws. Mid fall, I latched onto the moose's neck, driving my claws and talons into its body and holding onto it. I felt the warmth of its blood gushing out over my feet and claws, flowing over the matching color of my scales. I reared my head back, opened my jaws wide, razor sharp teeth ready to do what they were made to do. For a brief moment, I looked into the moose's eyes and saw the utter horror in them. I just snarled and brought my head down and clamped my jaws into its throat, sawing my teeth deeper into its neck and slicing through its jugular vein. Hot blood ran into my maw and down my throat. I growled as I savored the taste of it. I was enjoying it, the feeling of its warmth running down my throat, the taste of it on my forked tongue as it was swimming in blood. I sawed a chuck of his throat and tore it off, chewing it up intentionally taking my time. The raw meat, the feeling of the movement of it in my mouth and because just moments before it was part of a living creature was the most exhilarating feeling I'd ever felt. I never knew before that moment what it was like to hunt and enjoy eating my prey.
On the ground, the moose kicked its last few kicks, but Claw and I didn't wait for it die before we started eating it. Ripping off chunks of meat and chewing them even as it struggled beneath our combined body weight. A leg just stopped kicking moments before Claw ripped it off with one claw and I was gnawing on its shoulders and neck. Blood soaked over me, my face dripped with it and so did my claws. I felt the blood in my mane too. I felt like I was covered in blood. I glanced down at my dark yellow front to see it stained crimson all over, the dark yellow coming through only in a few places along my neck and chest. I just growled a bit and went back to eating.
By the time the carcass was halfway stripped of meat, three other dragons had shown up and started to feed. I just stayed on my spot, chewing down any parts I could get my muzzle around. It wasn't long before I was full of raw meat and just stepped back from the torn apart animal. No sooner than I did, another dragon came in and took my place. I looked at the pile of scales, tails and wings all grouped into a mass that didn't look like many creatures, just a collection of different parts to form one huge mass of scales. I realized that's what I was in moments before; a dragon feeding frenzy I guess would be the term. I let out a huff and walked a good distance away to clear my head.
I walked out into a thicket and curled up into a ball, just alone with my thoughts. It felt like hours, but it was probably only minutes. I was thinking of that horrible sight, the torn apart remains of a moose with my claw and teeth marks all over its neck, blood flowing from the ragged tears in its body and the feeling of the warmth and sweetness from its meat in my maw. I hunted and I liked it.
"Good to ssssee you finally enjoying what it meansss to be a true dragon Etoke," Claw said from behind me.
I sat up on my haunches and shifted around to see him. He let out a low whistle and said,
"You really losssst yourssself in it. You're covered in drying blood and sssspecsss of meat. Now you are sssseeing what it isss to be a real dragon."
"Claw, I don't know if this is what I want," I replied to him, thinking back on it all with some regret.
"Etoke, you mussst underssstand that now that you've loosssed the beassst in you," he told me with iron clad strength in is voice, "There isss no going back to what you were before. At leassst not one hundred percccent back anyway. You've hunted and you've enjoyed it. My advicccce isss to let it run free and sssatisssfy what you've been denying yourssself. Thisss doesssn't have to change your life or who you are, but what it will do isss ssssatisssfy what you are. You are a dragon, that meanssss you mussst accccept that you have the drive to be wild and free, hunt and forage, live in a clan of your own kind and all that sssstuff. You can't hide your sssscalesss Etoke, you are a dragon. Itssss time you sssstart tending to your needssss asss one."
I let out a sigh, he was right. I was handling my life as a human before, just trying to make it work. I needed to realize that wasn't going to hold out much longer. The more I repressed my dragon nature, the more it seemed to pop out in bad ways. Growling under my breath in irritation at work was starting to get too common and even if I thought it was quiet enough some people still heard me and got a little worried. I didn't want to lose my job, not over something like growls. Sometimes I'd look far more angry than I was, I guess it was all the over exaggerated facial expressions I used to express my emotions with this draconic face backfiring on me. I tried desperately not to bare my teeth at all and sometimes that was harder than it sounds. The bottom line was I was starting to become more and more tired and angry with my current habits that weren't cutting it for me and I couldn't understand why till Claw showed me the nature of ferals. I think that showed me a few pieces I was missing.
"Claw, I have to thank you for all your help," I told him, "I'll keep following your advice. I think I'm learning more about myself and what I need to do to keep true to myself and what I am."
"Jussst remember Etoke," he cautioned, "It'sss a fine line you have to walk. Sssstay true to not only your nature, but to yourssself and keep the two in sssset balancccce. You'll be okay asss long assss you follow my adviccce."
"Thank you Claw," I said with a smile.
"You're welcome Etoke," he said right back with a cocky grin.
"You know, that name is starting to grow on me," I replied as I got up and stood on all fours, "I think I like it."
"It doesss have a niccce ring to it," replied Claw, "I like too. It fitsss you, but isss only your dragon name. I sssstill think you sssshould go by your original name mosssstly. It'ssss who you are. Not to mention Farm issss more convenient."
I smirked back at him. As I did though, I felt the dried blood on my scaly lips crack and flake off, reminding me of it all. I just fought it down. What was done was done. I had taken my first shaky steps into becoming a powerful predator and I was starting to enjoy the feeling of that strength.
We hunted more wild animals, deer, moose, elk, loons, even some bears and wolves that had strayed into our hunting grounds. They all suffered the same fate at our razor sharp claws and teeth. Each hunt, each kill taught me more about what I needed to do, how to kill my prey, when it was most vulnerable and to watch its movements for signs of emotion and if it plans to run. The runners were some of the most exhilarating kills for me. Running them down at full gallop and using sheer body weight and momentum to take them down, snapping their neck in my jaws from behind. The bone crunching snap started to be so pleasing to feel it reverberate in my maw that I started to droll a little bit just before I did it. By the end of the night, it was all I could do to remember what it felt like to be nervous before a kill. We flew back to the caves after a quick dip in the river to wash the blood off us. I just waded around and ducked under the surface a bit, going to the shore and shaking myself dry. The flight back dried me off so I'd be able to be all ready for a rest. Claw showed me to the cavern we'd be sharing.
"Thisss isss normally my private little cavern," he told me as he walked into the room, flicking on a light switch with his snout and illuminating the room, "but we can ssshare it for now. Utoro tendssss to keep a few cavernssss open for guesssstsss and wandering drakessss."
"He seems pretty apt to take in wandering dragons," I said as I nested down on an old, worn mattress with no sheets. It was good enough to rest on for the night for my tired body, "Why does he do that? Isn't he worried about not having enough food and space?"
"He'sss pretty much trying to take them in before the Hierarchy sssnatchesss them up," Claw replied as he nestled down on his own mattress, "Poisssoning their mindssss with their liesss, corrupting them with thoughtssss of dragonssss dominating the world and filling them with delusionsss of dragonsss being better than humanssss."
"And this clan has a peaceful agreement with both nature and humanity," I finished, "To show them that dragons and humans can live in the same world and on their own terms."
"Exactly," he said in return, "He ssshowsss them that they can be dragonsss, humansss can be humansss and both can live their livesss in peaccce. One not meddling in the affairsss of the other."
"So either they stay and become a member of the clan," I said as I thought it all over, "Or they continue on, but have seen the truth so that if they are contacted by the Hierarchy, they'll have the prior knowledge of their lies."
"Yep," replied Claw, looking pretty happy, "Thissss clan movessss around a lot too, jussst to sssstay ahead of it all. But they do cccycle back to their old groundsss every ssso often. They sssometimesss leave memberssss to run operationssss in key placesss to keep fundsss coming in. Thisss isss a main hub, it doesn't move, but it'sss also got a lot of protection. It'sss the safessst, bessst defended placcce in the clan'sss territory. Even if the Hierarchy attacked, they'd never win. There are ssso many defensssesss in placcce."
"So we're safe here?" I asked.
"Very sssafe," he reassured, "No need to worry yourssself Farm."
I sighed and just curled up on the mattress and said,
"Well, I'm tired. I think I'm gonna rest."
"Goodnight Farm," Claw told me as he turned off the light with his tail.
"Goodnight Claw," he replied.
I just laid there in the dark for a bit. It was odd for me. In a cave, the low rumble of a dragon's breath nearby. It felt oddly comforting and I felt a tiny, barely there, tug at my mind that I should leave, that it wasn't safe. I just closed my eyes and ignored it, feeling it fade away until it was gone. All I felt was comfort. I was where I belonged and I was finally in a place I could call home. I drifted to sleep, just dreaming of the hunts I was on earlier. Replaying the thrill of each one in my head as I dosed off, enjoying the coolness of the cave around me. I was, for the first time, a very happy and content dragon.