I sat back on my couch, sipping a cup of hot tea and staring off into space. I was brought back to reality when I heard someone walking on the porch outside. Curious, I got up to look out of the window when the door opened. I paused and listened as footsteps came down the hall. After setting my tea on the small table in front of the couch I ventured after whomever had come inside. I picked up the scent of a young male, and guessed he hadn't showered in a while because he smelled. Bad. I heard the sink running and followed the scent to the kitchen, where I found a pale-skinned teen with short brown hair, around seventeen or eighteen years of age. He wore colorful clothing that was somewhat baggy. He was at the sink chugging a cup of water, facing away from me.
"Can I help you?" I asked. The pale boy spun around with a gasp, dropping the glass. It shattered on the floor. The boy's blue-green eyes glanced between me and the shattered glass.
"I-I'm sorry, I didn't-" he stammered, bending down to clean up the mess. I discarded it with a wave.
"It's alright, it's just a cup. I'll clean it up later. Who are you?" The boy straightened up and looked at the floor. He remained silent. I noticed he looked a bit thin. "Alright, I'll start." I stuck out a hand for an introductory shake. "I'm Dracustos. But you can call me Draco for short." The boy glanced at the outstretched hand, then at my face. I gave him a smile. The boy hesitantly took the hand.
"I'm Nha- er, 21," he answered as he shook the scaly hand. I tilted my head.
"You started to say something else."
"It was nothing." I crossed my arms with a sceptical look.
"Come on now, don't lie on your first impression." The teen looked at the floor again.
"Nhaleet. My name is Nhaleet," he said quietly. I nodded.
"Alright Nhaleet. Tell me, when was the last time you ate?" Nhaleet scratched the back of his head.
"I don't know... a few days ago."
"And I presume you haven't bathed in a few days either, am I right?" Nhaleet nodded with an embarrassed grin. I chuckled. "OK, how about you get cleaned up, and I'll fix you something to eat." Nhaleet eagerly nodded. I directed him to the bathroom upstairs, then cleaned up the broken glass and began making spaghetti. I was still cooking when Nhaleet came back down. The boy looked in the two pots and furrowed his brow.
"What are you making?"
"Are you telling me you've never had spaghetti?"
"I haven't gotten out much."
"No kidding." I brought out a plate and fork and handed it to Nhaleet. "Help yourself." I began to leave.
"You're not eating?" Nhaleet asked. I shook my head.
"I already ate," I answered. I left the kitchen and went back to the couch. I picked up my cup and took a sip, then grimaced at the now cold tea. I hate it when that happens. After glancing at the doorway, I blew blue fire into the cup and let it sit for a minute before blowing out the flames. I took a drink. That's better.
"You can breathe fire?" I turned my head to Nhaleet, who approached with a plate piled with food and sat in the chair opposite. I closed my eyes with a grin and leaned back.
"I was kind of hoping you wouldn't see that."
"I didn't want to frighten you." I looked up when Nhaleet laughed.
"You've already done that!"
"Heh, I guess I have." We sat in silence for a while. Soon something began nagging at me. He said his name was 21... and he doesn't quite act his age... Something's off.
"You alright?" Nhaleet asked. I blinked a couple times, and realized I was staring at my tea.
"Oh, yeah, I'm fine." I heated the tea again. "Nhaleet... earlier you said your name was 21."
"Were you, by any chance… oh I don’t know... a science experiment?" Nhaleet dropped his eating utensil and assumed a fighting stance. Crap, he probably took that the wrong way. Good job me.
"How did you know?" I slowly set down my tea and raised my hands. So, he was an experiment.
"Whoa, take it easy. I was just guessing. It's a thing with scientists to number test subjects instead of naming them." Nhaleet looked me over before relaxing.
"Sorry." He sat back down.
"You didn't like it there, did you?" Nhaleet shook his head. "Tell you what, how about we share stories."
"Yeah. You tell me about yourself, I tell you about me."
"And what's the point of this?"
"Trust." Nhaleet stared at me for a moment.
A couple hours later Nhaleet had finished his tale and his meal, and I was just finishing mine.
"So, all your powers are because you're half dragon?" Nhaleet inquired.
"Cool." There was a knock at the door. "Who's that?" I got up and started towards the door, then paused. My instincts began to stir, which usually means something wasn't natural. I looked back at Nhaleet.
"Stay here," I commanded. I continued my way to the door and cracked it open. There was a tan, grey-haired man with green-yellow eyes.
"Excuse me sir, may I have a minute?" He had a Spanish accent. I opened the door a little wider, placing myself to keep Nhaleet out of sight should he leave the living room.
"My name is Sanchez. I've been looking for my son." He handed me a picture. It was of Nhaleet. Crap. "People in that town back there told me he came this way." I quickly contacted Nhaleet through telepathy while pretending to inspect the picture.
"Nhaleet, bounty hunter. Side of the stairs, closet, secret door on right. Follow tunnel with star in upper right-hand corner. Hide until I come for you." I handed the photo back to Sanchez. "Sorry, you just missed him."
"Can you tell me where he went?" I pointed west. "Thank you," Sanchez said with a nod. He turned around and walked away. I closed the door with a sigh and began picking up Nhaleet's plate and silverware when there was another knock. I snorted in annoyance. What is it now? I went back to the door and began to open it. It flew back and smacked me in the face, making me stumble back. I growled a curse in Dragontongue, and looked up to see Sanchez walk in.
"Nice try, but I'm not that easy to fool. Now tell me where he is." I crossed my arms and lowered my head, glaring down at the challenger.
"You'd best leave. I won't tell you where he is, and this is a fight you can't win."
"We'll see about that." Sanchez stepped forward and threw a punch. I ducked under it and delivered a kick to the midsection. The bounty hunter flew back out of the door.
"You want to leave, or shall I commence with kicking your butt?" I teased. Sanchez stood up and dusted himself off.
"I was hoping not to use my powers, but it seems I have to with your speed and strength." I furrowed my brow. Powers? The next thing I knew, Sanchez was in front of me and a fist was coming at my face. I ducked under it again, only to receive a knee to the chin. I fell down, stunned by the retaliation. Sanchez jumped on top of me and threw another punch. I tilted my head in a dodge, and the fist plowed through the floor. I scratched Sanchez's face, kicked him off, and rolled back. Great, now I have a floor to fix. I assumed a fighting stance, planting my feet and holding out fists.
"You want to go? Lets go." We rushed at each other. I dropped and did a leg sweep. Sanchez hopped over it, but tripped on the incoming tail. As he stumbled back, I went in for a punch. But it didn't hit its target. I saw movement from the corner of my eye and went for a side kick. Sanchez grabbed it and firmly planted his elbow in my foot. I felt a snap and snarled in pain. Against my better judgement, I used the same foot to grab my opponent and fling him into the living room. The momentum caused me to fall forward onto my bad foot, and I nearly toppled over. This is ridiculous! I need to either end this, or get away. Otherwise I we might end up destroying the house. I straightened up to see Sanchez charging at me. I blew a stream of fire in response. After hearing a thud, I reached inside a basket hanging in the hall and pulled out a few grey spheres. I threw them at the floor, and they burst into smoke. I quickly but quietly made my way to the stair closet and went inside, then opened a hidden door in the wall to the right, went down some stairs, and entered the labyrinth.
I pushed aside the foliage at the end of the tunnel and stepped out into the sun. I was in a small clearing in a forested area. A quick look around revealed Nhaleet was either hidden, or continued into the forest.
"Nhaleet?" I called. "You here?" There was a rustle of leaves in a tree to the left, and Nhaleet dropped from its branches.
"I was beginning to think you weren't coming."
"Well, here I am."
"What do we do now?"
"We wait him out. Eventually he'll leave, and we can go back."
"Wait, so, you didn't kill him."
"No need to. But I have the feeling he's not the average bounty hunter."
"What are you saying?"
"I think that facility you escaped from created him to hunt you down and bring you back."
"What makes you think that?"
"He easily matches my strength, and his speed is well beyond mine."
"Well isn't that wonderful." We stood in silence for a few minutes.
"If you want, we can hold up in the emergency shed. It's underground, so if he comes this way he most likely won't find it." Nhaleet sighed.
"OK. Lead-" Nhaleet stopped, his gaze looking past me. I began to look back when I felt a sharp, burning pain in my back and ribs. I looked down to find a machete coming out the right side of my chest. As I reached for the blade I was kicked down, and Sanchez walked past me with a sort of bounce in his step.
"Nhaleet, run!" I commanded. I began to cough as I watched the boy take a hesitant step back.
"Go!" After another step, Nhaleet turned around and ran. Sanchez began to follow, but was cut off when I summoned a wall of fire to surround the clearing. I have to do something about this hole in my chest before fighting. I can try cauterizing it, but it won't reach the back unless I blast myself. Well, it's better than nothing. I formed a ball of flame in my hand and pressed it against the wound. I closed my eyes and hissed at the pain. I heard Sanchez give an aggravated sigh.
"You know what I don't understand?" He turned to face me. " Why you're protecting him. He's a clone, a science experiment. He wasn't born, he was grown in a lab. He's not normal. So why?" I forced myself onto my feet.
"So are you. But it doesn't matter. He's still human. Still a person. And last time I checked, no human is normal." Sanchez laughed.
"You're really going to risk your life for some lab-grown freak you just met?"
"In a way, I'm a freak too. So why the hell not?" I smiled. "Now, how about I test the strength of that shiny blade of yours?" I held out a fist, and what looked like smoke appeared in an elongated shape. When it dissipated, a sword appeared. I didn't wait for any response. I charged, despite my injured foot, and, ignoring the pain in my chest, brought my sword down hard. Sanchez blocked it, but was thrown off by the blow. I swung again from the side, then went into an uppercut. Both were blocked, but they also kept the bounty hunter off balance. Another swing from the side snapped the machete. I halted the attack as Sanchez stared at the broken blade. He tossed it to the side with a scowl.
"That was my favorite one," he snarled.
"Are you going to cry?"
"No. But I'll do this." In the blink of an eye, Sanchez pulled out a pistol and fired. I tried to dodge it, but was hit in the left shoulder. I fell back and was pinned to the ground by a foot, a gun aimed at my head.
"Hey, that was unfair," I said humorously. Sanchez chuckled.
"Even when facing death, you still have something smart to say."
"At least my target doesn't get away from me." Sanchez scowled and stomped on the wound in my chest. "Ghah!" He leaned onto his knee.
"It's time to end this, funny-boy. Then I'm going after the kid." He pointed the pistol between my eyes and started to pull the trigger. There was a rustle of leaves, and suddenly Nhaleet appeared. He tackled Sanchez, making the bullet miss, and placed himself protectively between me and the bounty hunter. He glanced back at me. He was no longer wearing his colorful clothes. Instead he wore a mottled grey uniform with daggers on the back.
"Are you OK?" I slowly rolled over and got on my hands and knees. Does it look like I'm OK? I have a fucking hole in my chest! Glancing down, I saw that it was bleeding again. Dammit Sanchez! I looked up at the bounty hunter. He was just standing there watching us.
"I'm fine," I choked. I started coughing again, blood splattering from my mouth onto the ground. Nhaleet knelt down to help me up. "I thought I told you to-"
"I'm not leaving." I glanced at Nhaleet and almost grinned. I was disappointed that the boy hadn't listened, but at the same time I was glad. I stood up with Nhaleet's help and smiled.
"Lets show this guy who he's messing with, shall we?" Nhaleet nodded and assumed a fighting stance. Sanchez's eyes kept flicking between his two opponents. He's in trouble now, and he knows it. He doesn't know what to do. I need to get him away from his weapon. I can barely get out of the way, and I don't know about Nhaleet. I began to circle our opponent. "Nhaleet, I'm going for the gun, then you can follow in. But be careful." I charged in. Sanchez raised the pistol, but I had already reached him. I grabbed the gun and kicked its owner away, tossing the weapon into a bush. Nhaleet came up from behind and gave a few quick jabs and kicks while Sanchez was off balance. The man fell to the ground, and the boy planted his foot on his chest.
"Give up yet?" Sanchez only grinned, and he gave the leg a firm fist, making it go inward. I heard a slight pop. Nhaleet fell back with a yelp, gripping his knee. Sanchez quickly got up and attempted to pin the kid down, but I wasn't having it. I grabbed him by the ankle and threw him into the foliage, then looked at Nhaleet's leg.
"Can you move it?" Nhaleet bent his leg and whimpered.
"It really hurts to."
"I think he tore something. No time to wrap it up. Come on, on your feet." I pulled him up. "Try to stay off of it." I turned around to see Sanchez pop up from the brush with the gun. "Oh crap." I shoved Nhaleet down and ducked as I heard gunfire, then jumped into a roll as shots continued to be fired. I should have chucked it farther away. Now I have to wait for an opening. The rain of bullets stopped, and Sanchez started reloading. Now! I went in full speed, delivering a fist to the head. The man fell, rolled out of the way of my clawed foot, and jumped up. I blew a stream of fire at him. The next thing I knew, Sanchez was beside me and brought the butt of the gun down on my head, sending me into a daze. I was then on the ground with a foot on my chest again.
"You are really starting to piss me off," Sanchez spat. He cocked the gun and pointed the barrel at me. "This ends now." I thought fast and let out another breath of fire. The foot was lifted and I rolled over. There was a shout, and I looked behind me. Nhaleet had jumped onto Sanchez's back, attempting to grab the pistol. I coughed as I tried to get up, but I fell down. I'm losing blood, I'm dizzy, everything is pain, and Nhaleet can barely walk. What other fantastic things could possibly happen? I looked up. Sanchez flung Nhaleet over his shoulder, then grabbed him and tossed him against a nearby tree. I grabbed Sanchez's ankle, but was kicked down. I looked up, my vision flashing in and out of focus. I watched Sanchez pick up Nhaleet by the throat and pin him to the tree.
"Looks like the fly has been caught in the web. But don't worry, the spider doesn't plan on killing you." Sanchez gave Nhaleet a quick jab to the face and let him drop to the ground. He reached down to pick up his prize.
"DO NOT TOUCH HIM," I thundered as I got on all fours like a wild animal. I felt the two curved horns grow from the top of my head, and curved spines came up along my back. I snarled ferociously. Sanchez took a step back and drew his gun.
"Stay back." I didn't listen. I rushed forward and swatted the hand away, grabbing Sanchez by his neck. Sanchez brought the butt of the gun down in an attempt to knock me off, only to drop it when I sunk my teeth into his arm. I then tossed him to the other side of the clearing. Sanchez got to his feet in a panicked manner. "Wh-what are you?" he asked. I responded by leaping in front of him with a flap of my wings. I reared up and swiped at the hunter's head. The attack was dodged, and my claws gouged through the tree. Sanchez snatched his broken machete and attempted to shove it into me, but it was swatted away and he received a brutal punch to the chest. He flew into a tree, some of its lower branches cutting him, and collapsed. I grabbed him by the throat and pinned him against the tree with a growl.
"To answer your question, I'm your worst nightmare," I hissed. I drew back my hand to claw at my enemy, and the man against the tree shut his eyes in fear. I paused. No. Don't let the animal have its way. Use him. A messenger.
As I was thinking, Sanchez opened his eyes and took the moment to his advantage, giving another kick to the hole in my chest. I roared and let go, but quickly retaliated by summoning a throwing knife into my hand and driving it through my opponent's arm and into the wood. Sanchez screamed in pain and tried to pull the weapon from his limb, but was stopped by his throat being grabbed again.
"Why don't you just kill me already?" he demanded. I glared at him.
"I want you to deliver a message to your superiors. Unless you want me to take your life."
"What is it?"
"Number 21 is no longer theirs to experiment on. He's free. And if anyone else is sent to retrieve him, they will not return."
"Got it." I yanked the knife from the arm it pinned.
"When I let you go, I want you to run and never return here. If you do, I can't promise any more second chances." He backed away. "Now go, before I change my mind." Holding his injured arm, Sanchez did as he was told. I watched him disappear in the brush.
"Draco?" I turned my head with a growl towards Nhaleet, making the pale figure step back in fright. "Dracustos, it's me, Nhaleet." Nhaleet… yes, the boy. A friend. I looked at the ground, closing my eyes, and took a deep breath. The horns and spines receded. I looked at Nhaleet with an ashamed look.
"Sorry, I don't always-" I was cut short by a pain in my chest, followed by a sudden wave of fatigue, and I collapsed. Nhaleet rushed to my side and helped me lay against a tree. I realized I was breathing heavily. "Well, this has ruined my whole day," I joked. I coughed up more blood.
"What do I do?" Nhaleet asked desperately. I suddenly found it hard to speak.
"Beside the stair closet... there's a cabinet... with a med kit." Nhaleet nodded.
"Just hang in there. I'll be back ASAP." He took off into the tunnel. I looked at all the blood over the battlefield. I think most of that is mine. Losing that much blood... That's definitely not healthy. I found myself struggling to keep my eyes open. Have I ever felt this tired? Maybe I'll close them just for a minute. I let my eyes close for a second, then felt something impact my body. I opened my eyes to find that I had fallen over. I wanted to right myself, but my muscles refused to move. Seconds later darkness took me.
When I came to, I found myself back in my house on the couch. I looked to the side and saw Nhaleet in the opposite chair asleep, his hands and clothes stained in blood. I tried to sit up, then snarled in pain. I lay back and looked at my chest. It was tightly bandaged, as was the bullet wound in my shoulder. I peeked under the stained material on my chest. It was stitched up.
"You're awake!" Nhaleet exclaimed. I grunted in confirmation.
"How long was I out?" Nhaleet looked at the floor.
"About two days."
"And how long have you been sitting there?"
"Two days." He looked up. "I haven't left this spot since I dragged you in here."
"You actually managed to get me back here?"
"You're heavier than you look, but yes."
"How's that knee treating you?"
"It still hurts, but I'll live."
"You did a pretty good job patching me up, though I'd have to say your stitching needs a little work." I gave a friendly chuckle, then grimaced. It hurts to laugh. I heard a growl come from Nhaleet.
"Have you not eaten anything?" Nhaleet turned his gaze to the floor once again and shook his head.
"Like I said, I haven't moved from this spot since I brought you in. I was afraid that if I left..." He sighed. "I'm so sorry. If I hadn't come here this would have never happened."
"Hey, don't blame yourself kid. It's not your fault." There was a moment of silence. Another rumble came from Nhaleet. I glanced between the boy's bloodied hands and his growling stomach. "Well, since I'm clearly not going to die, how about you go wash up." The pale figure glanced at me, then looked at his red hands.
"That's probably a good idea," he said as he stood up. "You sure you-"
"I'll be fine. Now go get cleaned up." Nhaleet nodded. He began to walk out when he paused in the doorway.
"We're friends, right?" I smiled.
"I risked my life for you, and you came back to save me. We're definitely friends." Nhaleet left with a grin. I waited until he was upstairs before fighting through the pain to get up. "I think it's time I put those pain-relieving herbs to work. Now, where did I put them?"