A sudden jolt woke her. She felt her limbs - they were very heavy, as if made of lead. The floor was cold. It was smooth, but cold, perhaps stone? Her toes wiggled unconsciously; her body was testing to see if it still worked.
She wanted to stand up, but an unknown weight on her chest kept her on the floor. Something wasn’t quite right. Plus, her cheek was getting cold.
Did I always have four toes?
She blinked, forcing her eyes open. Lifting her head, she became aware that she was in fact somewhere and not dead, but she didn’t know where that somewhere was. She looked at her hands and blinked.
Four? Four what?
Fingers. They are fingers.
Yes, of course. How could she forget that? But, they looked different. They were much thicker than she remembered and the nails were in great need of cutting. They almost looked like…
Bracing against the floor, she tried pushing herself up again. The sound of her fingers clacking against the floor startled her. Her heart jumped and she fell back to the cold ground, knocking the wind out of herself.
Gasping, she rolled on her back and inhaled the stagnant air. She glanced around the area, becoming more aware of her surroundings. She was in a very brightly lit cave with a high ceiling. At the same time, she noticed her snout.
Snout? She thought, reaching up to feel her face. What the hell...?
She sat in utter disbelief as the truth finally became clear. Her body was no longer what it once was. She was now covered in glittering scales from her head to her toe.
She leaped up, which she soon realized was a horrible mistake. Her head pounded as if it was inside a bass drum being beaten by a rather untalented player. She fell back in agony and let out a groan.
“Ah, you’ve awoken.”
The voice startled her, but she couldn’t react due to the immense pain in her skull.
“Don’t worry. I didn’t do anything harmful. This is what you really are.”
Still struggling blindly with the pain, she saw stars for a split second, and then collapsed on the floor.
She felt as if she was floating in a sea of darkness. A dim light, like that of distant street lamps, shone over the whole scene. A shadow, blurred by a foggy haze, grew larger as it approached. It seemed to resemble the shape of…was that a dragon? She felt a pang of fear, but could not hide herself in the sea of nothingness.
“Who are you?” she said to the figure.
“You will learn when you are ready,” it replied, halting.
“Why can I not see you?” She squinted to try to make out its form, but it remained incorporeal through the mist.
“You will see me soon enough. Worry not,” it replied, its voice echoing in her mind.
Then, there was silence.
Slowly becoming conscious, she became aware that the material she laid on. It was soft - much better than the cold stone she was first exposed to.
This room felt much warmer, but the air still had that strange musty taste as if there was no incoming air and had not been for many years.
There was a small lantern on a ledge across from her cot. The only lighting in the room, it cast shadows on the wall and gave the alcove a sense safety, as if it was home. She turned on her side, feeling what new muscles she had acquired. Her legs were stiff, but able to move. However, sitting up was still not an option.
There was something extra on her hind end. It moved when she thought about it. Was it a tail?
She thought about it again and it wiggled.
Yes, it was indeed a tail.
Trying to get acquainted with her new self, she felt around her face.
A snout, really big teeth, huge nostrils, scaly face.... She took notes mentally. Horns...
She had only heard about this in scary stories mothers told their children to behave or they would turn into big hideous beasts. She couldn’t wrap her mind around it.
How did this happen...?
“Welcome to the world of the living.”
That same voice, the awful, mentally grating, voice that was like a cheese grater on your brain, though physically not that bad to listen to.
What is this? Where am I? she thought.
“Use words,” the voice replied. “You have vocal chords.”
“I do...?” She started at this sound. Her own voice was different than she remembered – much deeper and thicker.
“Seems that you have a brain, too,” the voice mocked.
She wanted to scream back at him. She wanted to say “Hey, I’m the one covering in scales! I’m the one who was lying on the freaking floor, you ass!” but her energy was gone. A soft “You...” was all she could muster.
“Yes, me. Now that we’ve established that, we can move on.” She still couldn’t see who the voice belonged to, but she knew instantly that she hated it. “I can see you’re not quite yourself, still, however, we don’t have time to worry about that. We have a lot of work to do.”
Whatever work was meant, she had a feeling it couldn’t be as bad as what she just went though.
“Come this way...” the familiar voice of the strange dragon came again.
A force pulled her closer. “Why?” she asked the voice.
“Come and you will see...” She was halted at a rather large door which appeared to be made of the same fog the shadow was. It swung open as if on its own volition.
“Now...go,” the voice continued. “Go and find yourself.”
She didn’t realized she had fallen asleep again until she was awake. This time, when she sat up, her head didn’t pound, so she thought it was best to see what was actually going on. With a grunt, she stood up and turned down the dimly lit hall.
The hallway was dark, lit by a few scant candles covered by what seemed like paper lanterns. They were plain and slightly yellowed by the years of wear on them, though they seemed rather decent considering. The lack of wind made it possible; if wind had been present, the coverings would have burned away ages ago, leaving nothing but a smoldering pile of disfigured wax.
She wasn’t sure where she was going, but something told her to follow the trail of flickering light. She could tell it wasn’t a large hallway. Her shoulders kept scraping against the stone sides as she walked.
Getting used to her new body wasn’t at all easy. She could no longer walk upright, but on all fours like some dumb animal. She was glad her brain was still intact after the massive migraine she had suffered. Her legs we slightly stiff, but she had worked the kinks out of them, but not before promptly hitting her head on the low bedroom ceiling.
She had established she was some kind of very large lizard. She hadn’t seen herself in a mirror yet, so she wasn’t exactly sure what kind, but she had a feeling she was much bigger than a person. At least the low ceiling made her feel rather massive.
A small speck of white light came into view. She felt her heart jump and picked up speed until she found herself nearly galloping.
The entire hallway was suddenly full of light. Her pupils instantly shrank, leaving her blind. She squeezed her eyes shut with a groan, covering up the source of brightness with a front claw.
When her eyes adjusted, she blinked a few times. The room before her was very well lit, just as the room she had awakened in. The ceiling was about half the height of the former, but the floor was much more expansive.
There wasn’t anything in the room, but a very large grated door loomed ominously on the other side.
“I see you have awoken,” the same horrible voice spoke. She growled and rapidly looked around trying to find the source.
“Don’t worry,” it reassured her. “You’ll meet me soon enough. Now, before we can begin, let your transformation be complete.”
A sudden and intense pain sprouted from her shoulder blades. She roared in anguish, her eyes clenched tightly shut, her teeth bared. She felt a hot blood dripping down her back and roared in pain again as two limb-like objects pushed their way through her skin. The monster story her father always told her when she was misbehaving flashed in her mind.
Their leathery feel confirmed the greatest fear. They were wings.
“Soon the inner beast will be free. Soon you shall know your true purpose.”
She wanted to scream out in anger, but the pain was so intense...
Her mind sent her to a serene location to protect her from this pain, but the grating voice brought her grudgingly back.
“Don’t hide from your true destiny, dragon. Don’t hide from your true fate.”
Dragon? She was a dragon?
The voice seemed to be quite happy about what was happening. Who could take pleasure in causing so much pain...?
“You will change the world...”
The pain was now a dull thump as she opened her eyes again. The lights were extinguished and the room was dark as if no one had ever been there. She made out the dark spots of blood on the floor, bringing her back to reality and confirming what just happened wasn’t a dream.
Her head didn’t hurt anymore, which was good. She began to replay the events of the last few hours in her mind trying to figure out where it all started.
She remembered a falling sensation, though not a scary. She felt very at peace with herself reviewing this feeling. She wondered what could have caused such an odd feeling. She remembered someone calling her name with a tone of dread in their voice. They sounded panicked.
Her name...what was it?
Racking her brains, she searched for the letter combination that the voice had called. It all sounded like a jumble.
Her head snapped up in remembrance.
Lorelei...where did you go...?
She blinked a few times, her opalescent eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness. She recalled the memory, trying to make it clearer.
Don’t leave us, Lorelei....
Something welled up in her chest and she felt her eyes getting damp. Blinking away the tears, she tried to focus on the memory.
A different voice this time.
Lore, I told you to be careful. I always knew you were a troublemaker....
Her tears made damp tracks down her reptilian face. She had never known dragons to cry, but there’s something new to be learned every day.
I promise I’ll be ok.... This was her own voice, a slightly less dense version of her current one, though given, it seemed that she wasn’t a dragon in this part of her life. It’s just a few scratches.
Lore, honey, don’t downplay things....
Calm down, Dad....
Her vision was clouded by tears. She couldn’t see ten feet in front of her, not that it was any easier with the lights off. She lay on the floor, overcome with dull pain and emotion, trying to get a hold on what was happening.
“This is a very difficult process for you, I know.”
That voice again! She growled from deep in her throat, her eyes still flooded with tears.
“Calm thyself, beast.” It seems closer now, less ethereal. “Now is the time to meet your savior.”
“If you call yourself my savior,” she snapped, “then you had better get your brain checked out.”
“Ah, she speaks!” The voice was closer now, almost as if the source was right in front of her. “Follow that light and we shall meet.”
She was just about to ask “what light?” when a small flickering lantern turned itself on in front of the general location of the grate across the room. A loud grind of a chain followed and she only assumed this was the door opening.
“Inside that hallway is the truth, the reason you are here.”
“Why don’t you just freaking tell me?”
“It’s much better that you see.”
The hallway was just as dimly lit as the room she had just exited, however she could at least see where she was going. Her scales rubbed the cold stone walls a few times and she wished it was a tad wider.
It was a bit tricky, but she managed to fold her wings against her back. She tried to relax them, but they were still stinging from their eruption-esque appearance on her shoulder blades. She grimaced in pain and forced them to relax.
She wasn’t sure where she was going, and with no physical person to lead her she could only assume going one way was correct. There were no other adjacent hallways, so it was like a one-way street.
Walking down the hallway, for the first time she really took stock of herself. She mentally went over her entire body trying to figure out what kind of changes she had achieved. She felt the weight of the iron-like scales and wondered how dragons really survived with this much covering them. She reasoned that her muscles would develop to compensate and hoped she was right. Unease swept over her as she realized just how massive the change was.
The hallway ended in a very odd fashion. There was a small enclave about the size of a motor home, not much bigger. The wall was made of polished granite and a large collection of candles burned along the sides of the wall. A small cup made of clear red glass sat on a stand in front of the wall filled with some kind of sand. In the sand, thin sticks of wood were jammed as to hold them up. On either side of the cup were more candles, each burning a sole flame inside a cup of similar make.
“What is this?” she asked.
“This is the reason you are here,” the voice said, now much closer.
She looked around hoping to finally find the source of the voice. She squinted her eyes against the darkness and felt her heart leap at the sight of the flickering light reflecting off a face. She couldn’t make out the face clearly, but she could tell it was most definitely not human.
A hand-like extension reached out from just under the face and grasped a nearby candle-cup. Lifting it from its slot, she could make out claws similar to her own. She held back a cry of fear and followed the candle with her eyes.
The wall reflected back the light, displaying an outline of the cup against the smooth rock. She saw some indents on it indicating some kind of carving. Moving closer, she saw they were letters.
“What does it say...?” she whispered, mostly to herself.
“Can you not read?” the creature said mockingly.
What she saw made her heart jump to her throat and nearly knocked her to the ground.
Lettered very neatly into the stone in what appeared to be a drawer of a columbarium she read the words.
Lorelei Browning - daughter, friend, companion. March 21, 1987 - September 11, 2001.