Authors: Andy Holland
Becoming a Dragon
By Andy Holland
Copyright 2015 Andy Holland
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favourite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Table of Contents
Crystal was enjoying her dream. Like all her dreams, she forgot them within seconds of waking, but as she awoke, she knew it must have been a good dream, as she felt particularly relaxed and well rested. Crystal looked about, trying to remember where she was, and why she had awoken. She was lying sprawled in long, dry, green grass, with her long blonde hair spread in disarray around her. There was a gentle slope that led down to a very pretty stream and the late afternoon sun warmed her; altogether a perfect place for a nap. Sitting up, she pulled twigs from her hair and recalled where she was; the capital city of the Kingdom, Furnace, near to her new home that she and her mother had moved to just a week ago from their family home in Black Rock, the capital of the southern principality.
A second deafening screech rang through her body, and reminded her of exactly why she had woken up. Bearing down on her, moments from landing was a large, angry-looking Red Dragon.
Crystal jumped to her feet and put her hands to her face. "No, please, I…" the words died on her lips. The dragon screeched again furiously before flapping its wings twice and landing in front of her. It was a truly impressive creature, with a large head with powerful jaws, a long slim neck with a single crest of spines running down the back, a long lean body ending in an even longer tail and standing on four long legs that ended in very large black, razor-sharp claws. It stood over twice as tall as Crystal, and its wingspan was at least ten metres wide. It glared at her for a second, before transforming into a tall, cross-looking lady, with long red hair.
"Mother, I'm sorry, I completely forgot the time…" Crystal apologised falteringly.
Her mother was furious. "How could you? I can't believe you fell asleep! You were meant to be back hours ago."
"I know, I know, I'm not sure how it happened. I must have just drifted off."
Her mother continued to reprimand her. "It's your birthday party, and guests have already arrived and you're out here sleeping. I thought you would already be dressed, but no, you're nowhere near the house!"
"I know. I said I'm sorry."
"I can't believe you at times, girl. You really try my patience. I'll have to carry you back."
"Oh Mother, please, do you have to?"
"Of course I have to!" her mother shouted. "It would take you an hour to walk back, and you can't transform yet so you wouldn't be able to fly yourself, would you?"
"I know, but I hate been carried in your claws," Crystal complained.
"I don't care!" her mother shouted again. "I've a good mind to delay teaching you how to transform as a punishment."
Crystal knew this to be an idle threat. Her mother was more excited about it than she was. "I'm really sorry; I'll make it up to you."
"Humph," her mother said. "We'll talk about this later. I can't believe how ungrateful you are."
"Please mother, you can't be cross with me on my birthday, surely?" Crystal pulled a sad face and held her mother's arm.
"It's not your birthday till tomorrow," her mother objected, but her voice was already softening and Crystal knew she had won.
"It might be my birthday today," Crystal pointed out. "We don't really know when my birthday is."
Her mother's face fell at this comment. "I know, but we've always celebrated it today, as this is the day that we found you. You looked like you were about a year old, so it could be your birthday," she said sadly.
Crystal knew that this was a bit of a low blow, as her mother didn't like being reminded that her daughter was adopted. "Of course Mother. That's a good thing to celebrate. I don't really mind you carrying me."
Her mother nodded and smiled. She stepped back from Crystal, and pulled at a cord that held the back of her clothes together. Crystal was always fascinated by her mother's transformation, as she was the only dragon that she had seen transform. She'd seen her father, Lord Robert, as a dragon many times but had never watched him become a dragon.
Crystal's mother stood facing Crystal, and she watched as her mother's eyes blazed red, and red scales formed over her face, which started to enlarge and distort. She stretched her neck, which elongated, till it reached about ten feet long, by which time her head had fully transformed into the familiar crocodilian shape. Crystal forgot to watch the rest of her body, and wondered how her mother always managed to fold away her clothes so neatly into the little bag that was now strapped to her chest. The whole transformation took over thirty seconds, and Crystal knew that her mother had done it slowly solely for her benefit, the teaching process already having begun.
Her mother reached forwards carefully with what had been her right hand, but was now one monstrous clawed foot, and carefully closed it around Crystal. Her mother had such good control that Crystal was never afraid of being injured, although she sometimes found the grip a little uncomfortable. Her mother lifted her gently from the ground and held her close to her chest, with her front left foot joining the right, in case one wasn't enough to keep her safe from falling. With a sudden jump, her mother took to the air, beating her wings a couple of times before gliding forwards. Her mother was a good flier, and rose quickly in the thermals, ascending a few hundred feet above the ground before gliding back towards their house. She never flew particularly high when she was carrying Crystal, taking every precaution to keep her daughter safe. She landed expertly on the neatly-trimmed grass in front of their new home, a grand mansion just outside the inner city that was far too big for Crystal and her mother, but where they would stay for the last two years of her schooling. Her mother gently lowered her to her feet, before rapidly transforming back to her human form.
"What's it like, Mother?" Crystal asked as her mother fastened her cloak around her neck. "Being a Red Dragon."
"You are a Red Dragon," her mother said. "It's who you are."
"You know what I mean," Crystal replied. "What's it like to actually transform into a dragon? You've never told me that much about it."
"That's because you've never asked, dear," she said. "You'll find out yourself soon enough."
"I know, but I want to know before it happens. What does it feel like? Is it uncomfortable? Will it take a long time to get used to?"
Her mother shook her head and smiled. "It's not uncomfortable at all, dear. It might feel a little strange at first, but after a while, when you change into a dragon, it will feel like you're changing back into the right form, and that this form—the one we have to take at night—is the strange one."
Crystal thought about this for a few seconds. "But does it change you? Change who you are? Does it affect how you think?"
Her mother laughed. "Of course it does, dear. Haven't they taught you anything at that school?" She paused, shaking her head and smiling. "Well, firstly, you can't talk, well, not in the way you do now anyway. You communicate through your mind instead. That's very strange at first, and takes quite a bit of practice to get it right. Having to communicate like this forces you to take more control of your thoughts or everyone will know what you're thinking. It's a little hard to explain, but you'll know what I mean once you've transformed."
"How else does it affect your thinking?"
"Well, as a dragon, you're calmer than as a person. You'll find that you will have a better control of your temper, although admittedly you've never had a problem with that anyway, not even as a young child. You'll also find that you are less prone to be afraid of things. I don't know if you've noticed, but you'll never meet an adult who is afraid of spiders, but plenty of children and even teenagers are. Once you've transformed, that goes away; after all, how could a dragon be scared of a spider? And then after you've transformed back, you'll find that the fear doesn't return."
"So, the changes are permanent; you're always calmer and less afraid?"
"No, not really, the changes are there just while you're a dragon, but the silly fears you have don't come back, because they're irrational and changing into a dragon allows you to see that more clearly. Oh, and as a dragon, you'll find it hard to think about boys in the same way, and obviously that comes back afterwards."
"What way do you mean Mother?" Crystal asked, feigning ignorance.
"Yes, very good, Crystal. I'm not spelling it out for you." An impatient look quickly returned to her face. "Now, go girl. I want you to be ready in five minutes. We've wasted enough time as it is."
"Alright Mother, I'll be as quick as I can."
She turned to run inside, but her mother caught her arm with her hand. "Oh, and Crystal, don't worry about your hair. You're just as much a Red Dragon as any of us."
Crystal bit her lip and nodded before running into the house to get ready for the party.
Crystal peered through a side door to the great hall to survey the party. There were about fifty people in the great hall, all dressed for the occasion, and immediately Crystal felt very self-conscious. Most of the guests were adults—friends and colleagues of her father, the Lord Commander of the Southern Army—but there were quite a few people of her own age, none of which she recognised. A number of the guests must have been pretty important, as there were guards posted on each of the entrances to the house, brought in especially for the party. Crystal and her mother had just the one guard, Edward; he was currently nowhere to be seen. They could have afforded more, and had several back at their home in Black Rock, but the capital was much safer than the south, being much further from the borders with their enemies, and was never subject to raids from the Green or Blue Dragons.
The additional guards weren't the only extra staff her parents had hired; Crystal couldn't see their maid, Janet, anywhere, but there were several serving girls employed for the occasion scurrying back and forth from the great hall to the kitchens, serving refreshments to the guests. Her parents had clearly gone to a lot of trouble for her party. Much more than she had expected.
She glanced across the hall at the wide mirror on the opposite wall, and stared sadly at her reflection. Crystal wore the red dress that her mother had given her, which she had loved when she first tried it on, but now she realised it drew even more attention to her long, golden hair, when she wanted nothing more than to hide it completely. Why wouldn't her mother let her dye it red, or cut it short or at least tie it back?
Crystal looked back into the room, where the guests were all chattering loudly, and she entered cautiously, hoping not to be noticed by anyone before she could join one of the groups. She had little hope of success; everyone in the room—everyone in the whole
—had red hair. Everyone except her.
Her mother had arrived before her, dressed in an elegant black gown. Her sharp eyes spotted her daughter immediately, and called her over. "Go and talk to your cousin," her mother told Crystal. "She's been looking forward to seeing you."
Crystal brightened at the thought of seeing Jenna again. They had seen each other at least twice a year for as long as Crystal could remember, and life was never dull with Jenna around. True, she could be selfish, jealous and moody and she had a sharp tongue, but she had always treated Crystal more like a sister than a cousin and her good qualities more than made up for her bad ones. Going to school with her this year could prove to be quite fun.
Jenna was leaning against a supporting pillar at the far side of the great hall, playing with her hair and although, as always, she looked stunning, she also looked a little bored. She was looking intently at a young couple talking to Jenna's father, and didn't see Crystal approach.
"Oh hello!" Jenna said when she saw Crystal, embracing her lightly as she kissed both cheeks. "Where have you been hiding? I've been here for over an hour."
"Sorry," Crystal said. "Mother has already made me feel bad enough. I sort of fell asleep."
"Fell asleep! On your birthday! You're absolutely hopeless. I'd have expected you to be dying to see me."
Jenna pouted, but Crystal knew it was just for affect. "I was, I promise; just not everyone else. I hate these events."
"Don't be ridiculous. You love it really. It's all about you today anyway, so you have to enjoy it. At least pretend to; that's what I always do."
Crystal laughed, knowing that to be a complete lie. Jenna loved to be the centre of attention and wasn't really happy unless she was. "So, who are you staring at over there?"
"That's Arthur and his twin sister Daisy," she replied casually, nodding her head at the striking young couple on the opposite side of the room. "The prince and princess. Well, the ones from the Western principality."
Crystal glanced at them and took in their features. They were both quite tall, slim, but facially very different. Arthur was handsome, with wavy dark red hair, and looked very confident and self-assured. His sister, Daisy was almost as tall as him, but her face made her look much younger. She had a sweet expression, and was nodding attentively as Arthur spoke. Her dark red hair was long and straight, and she was exceptionally pretty. Their features alone identified them as being from the Western Principality, the largest and richest of the five regions that made up the Kingdom. That she was beautiful was not particularly surprising, as it was rare to meet someone from that Principality that wasn't beautiful, but Crystal wouldn't have guessed that she was a princess. She would have expected her to have looked more confident, more imposing.
"Not identical twins then," Crystal observed.
"No," Jenna replied. "Not usually the case with brother and sister," she commented drily.
Crystal reddened at her mistake. "I know, I know. You know what I mean."
"No," Jenna said with a laugh.
"I mean they don't look very alike," Crystal pointed out. "I'm not sure I'd even guess that they were siblings, let alone twins."
"They're not alike," Jenna agreed. "He's wonderful, and she's just annoying. I suspect she was probably dropped on the head as a child. Come on, I'll introduce you. Perhaps you can distract Daisy for me. And don't go shaking your long blond hair at Prince Arthur. I saw him first."
"He'll probably think I'm a freak anyway," Crystal muttered.
"Oh, you're not still worried about what people think about your hair, are you?" Jenna asked. "I can't understand you. I'd love to have your hair. It makes you unique. Everyone else just has different shades of red. You stand out wherever you are."
"I know. I wish I didn't."
Jenna sighed irritably, grabbed Crystal's hand and pulled her across the marble floor towards the twins. Crystal reluctantly gave in and allowed herself to be dragged along.
"Hello Crystal," her uncle said in greeting, kissing her on both cheeks as his daughter had done. "Happy Birthday!" Jenna's father was a jolly man, with a round face that was almost as red as what was left of his hair, and a well-rounded figure. He had inherited a lot of money and as far as Crystal was aware, had never done a days' work in his life, and as ever, was dressed very casually. Fortunately Jenna had inherited her mother's looks.
"Hello Uncle Jacob," she said warmly. "But it's not my birthday yet."
"Well, Happy Birthday for tomorrow," he replied. "Are you excited about your first transformation?"
"Of course she is Father," Jenna interrupted.
"Oh, haven't you transformed yet?" Princess Daisy asked; her big eyes wide with surprise.
Jenna sighed irritably. "Of course not. It's her birthday tomorrow, remember? She's not allowed to transform until she turns sixteen."
"Oh, of course not," the princess said with an embarrassed laugh. "I like your hair, Crystal," she added with a friendly smile. "It's so pretty."
"Sorry, allow me to introduce you," Uncle Jacob said. "This is Prince Arthur and Princess Daisy, son and daughter to Prince Robert, the heir to the Western Principality. They've just moved here a couple of weeks ago to finish their schooling in Furnace."
"Just call me Daisy," Daisy said with a smile. "Princess sounds funny."
"So you will rule the West after your father?" Crystal asked Arthur. She had a very limited knowledge of any of the ruling classes outside her home in the Southern Principality. Being related to the prince who ruled the Southern Principality, albeit not a close relation, she found it hard to get excited about members of the other royal families.
Arthur shook his head. "No, I'm the second born; we have an older brother, Gerald, although he's second-in-line, as it is my grandfather who is the current ruler."
"Gerald's the only one of us who is allowed to wear a crown," Daisy explained. "He doesn't wear it though, as he says it looks silly. He's three years older than us and he went to school here as well, and is still here. He finished school a year ago, but decided to stay for a couple of years. He's looking after us while we're at school."
Arthur looked slightly irritated. "I wouldn't say looking after us; just providing us with somewhere to stay and showing us around."
Daisy put her hand to her mouth. "Sorry, I forgot you don't like me saying that. Well, he's looking after
anyway. Arthur doesn't need looking after, but Mother and Father wanted them both to keep an eye on me. It's quite exciting being here, as I didn't get to go out of the palace much back home. Not without a little army of guards anyway."
Daisy spoke quickly and nervously, and Crystal warmed to her immediately.
"How nice," Jenna commented. "If you ever feel like a break from babysitting, Arthur, feel free to pay me a visit. I expect I can show you more of Furnace than your brother can."
Daisy coloured at the slight, and Arthur frowned slightly, showing his displeasure. "Thank you, although I never get tired of my sister's company. Twins have that bond."
Jenna coloured herself. "Of course. I'd be happy to show you both around Furnace."
Daisy brightened. "That would be lovely. We have a few days before school starts. Perhaps we could meet up tomorrow?"
Crystal smiled sympathetically. Daisy would be so easy for Jenna to manipulate, and probably wouldn't even realise it was happening.
"Hello Crystal," a familiar voice called from behind her. "Did you have a nice sleep?" She turned about to face her father, Lord Robert, who was beaming at her. He couldn't have looked more different to his brother-in-law if he had tried. He was dressed formally, in his military uniform, and looked very elegant.
"Father!" she said, giving him a big hug. "I wasn't expecting you till later! When did you arrive in Furnace?"
"Just moments ago," he replied. "I had to see my birthday girl."
"It's not my birthday till tomorrow," she protested.
"Probably," Jenna observed. "Of course it could be today as far as you know."
Crystal glared at her angrily. She hated being reminded that she was adopted, despite having done the same to her mother only hours earlier.
"What do you mean?" Daisy asked; her innocent face full of confusion.
Her father saved her from this unwelcome conversation. "I've invited a few of your new classmates," her father said, gesturing to a group of children behind him that Crystal hadn't noticed before. "This is Seth. He's from Furnace and he's the great grandson of King James VI, which makes you how many in line to the throne?" King James VI was the father of the current ruler, King Henry III, and had died just a couple of years ago. Having married three times and leaving behind many children, Furnace was probably not short of his descendants.
"About one hundredth I imagine," Seth said with a smile. "And I'm a distant relative to all of you of course. Pleased to meet you Crystal. The princess isn't wrong about your hair, it's stunning." Seth was a pleasant-looking young man with an athletic build and a friendly, handsome face. "And you must be Jenna," he said, extending his hand.
"I must be," she agreed coldly, taking his hand. She looked a little put out, probably because Crystal was the centre of attention.
"This is Kal Greytower, from the eastern principality," her father said, introducing her to a tall, muscular boy with a disdainful air. "His uncle, Lord Greytower, is a colleague of mine on the military council, and his family make up much of the military in both the eastern principality and in Furnace."
"The command, not the low soldiers, of course," Kal corrected. He appeared to be looking down his nose at Crystal, and she had the distinct feeling that he didn't like her very much.
"And this is Amber, another of Furnace's students who will be in your class. Amber's father is a financial advisor to the King, as well as owning much of East Furnace."
"An empire built up over many generations," Amber announced proudly. Their school was established for the children of the nobility, but those of exceptional wealth were also welcomed, especially those whose wealth had bought significant influence. Amber was a pretty girl, although not beautiful, and had long curly hair, and intense eyes that seemed to bore into your head. "Pleased to meet you, Crystal. I'm sure we'll be best of friends."
"Pleased to meet you too, Amber," Crystal replied, a little unsure of how to respond.
"And finally, this is John, who will be attending your school on a scholarship, working for the Keeper of Records," he said casually, gesturing to a young man who was standing in the shadows, standing apart from the group while observing them all quietly. The Keeper of Records was a member of the military council, although he wasn't much more than a librarian as far as Crystal could tell. He managed the Royal Military Library, the largest library in the country and a place so incredibly dull that Crystal had begged her father never to drag her there again.
The young man stepped forwards from the shadows and offered his hand to Crystal. "How do you do?" he asked formally, without a hint of a smile.
Crystal's jaw dropped, for as he came into the light, she could see that his hair was golden, almost the same colour as hers. Everyone else was silent, just as surprised as she was. Despite having spent her whole life looking at her own golden hair, on someone else it looked alien and unnatural. She knew that there had been other Red Dragons with golden hair; her mother had told her about one who died some years before Crystal was born. She was the beautiful daughter of some rich lord from the east, born with golden hair just like her own, and had set a trend for young women dying their own hair to match hers. Many people assumed that Crystal was doing the same, but that was long ago and she was unaware of anyone else alive having her hair colour. Immediately, looking at John, she could tell that his hair wasn't dyed. If John was surprised at Crystal's own golden hair, he didn't show it; his face was an unreadable mask. Even Jenna was dumbstruck.