Dustin Ashe awoke with the blood pounding in his ears. His eyes, light-sensitive even in the predawn hour, took in the glow of the coming sun and a huddled, prone form next to a long-since dead fire. The wicked-looking elf Gaimon leaned against a tree in his typical trance-like state. A twinge of pain, like a horsefly bite, drew a growl from Dustin’s throat. An itch taken up residence just beneath his skin had kept him tossing all night. He had been scratching along the road for days now. He felt irritable, unsettled, and, now he realized, voraciously hungry.
The dark wizard Asmodeus awoke to the sound of someone helping himself to the group’s rations. Opening the door of his tent, he unsealed his dark eyes and fixed them on Dustin. The young man seemed larger, no, thicker, and even seemed to shine as the sunlight played crimson on his bare back. Asmodeus wetted his lips before muttering dryly, “It’s a good thing we’re rich men, what with that appetite and the cost of living.”
Dustin grunted in response as he threw more food into his mouth. He could still hear his own pulse thundering in his ears. It was like the drumming of some relentless, ancient song. “Asmodeus,” he said with more earnestness than the wizard had ever heard him muster, “something’s wrong. I feel, I don’t know, weak and powerful all at once.” He smiled wanly, trying to downplay what he’d just let slip, “Maybe I caught something from that elf maiden.” He glanced at Gaimon and mouthed, “Maybe I’m allergic to elves altogether.”
Asmodeus laughed and shook his head dismissively. He was used to this banter and saw through it easily now. “No, but I think your Draconic is coming along better than either of us expected it to. Tell me how you feel again, using what I’ve taught you this time,” he ordered.
Dustin assumed the role of student quickly, having grown accustomed to these language exercises. He closed his eyes a moment, then brought the primordial words to mind. They came easily this time. “My blood sings,” he related in the ancient language. “The flesh bristles with rage, but I feel calm, confident. I seem to grow, like a wyrmling molting his first scales.”
Asmodeus raised an eyebrow. He was impressed. “Well, your Draconic certainly is improving. Almost perfect grammar,” he chided. “Almost.”
“I think we’ll take the day off from our lessons,” he continued. The pupil nodded assent. “You’re metamorphosing, Dustin. A lucky few take on the traits of their ancestry. I expect you will look more like your grandfather all the time.”
Dustin grinned fearsomely. “What are you saying? I’m becoming a dragon?”
“Let’s just say your exterior is beginning to resemble what’s been on the interior all along. Instead of language lessons, go fight Gaimon.”
Dustin unsheathed his blades in the blink of an eye and approached Gaimon menacingly. The elf immediately assumed a fighting stance, a look of hungry anticipation on his face.
The warriors sparred the better part of the morning. For the first time, Gaimon felt like he’d gotten a good workout with Dustin. The boy seemed to be faster than ever. The elf flashed his perfect elven teeth as his sword firmly rested on Dustin’s throat at last.
Asmodeus nodded in satisfaction, then turned to see Nock, always the last to arise in the morning since he was usually the last fall asleep because of nightmares, finally emerge from his bedroll and trudge off to find a quieter place to pee.