Chapter 21: The Appetite of a Dragon

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We saw the family -and any obligation- as a means of slavery, a means of control. Mothers were forced to care for children. We considered that incarceration. When we set out to destroy the family, we wanted to make a nation of free individuals. Instead, we made a nation of betrayers and orphans.

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Thirteen Years Ago

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Janyin was still wrapped up in her husband's embrace when Laidu shot up, took one look at his hands, and screamed.

The two of them separated, Janyin jumping. "What's wrong with my hands?" Laidu screamed out. He stared at them as if they were covered in blood.

"Calm down, son, calm down," Dai Lan said. Laidu was breathing heavily, his starved frame rising and falling with each panicked breath.

"What...is wrong...with my skin?" Laidu asked, horrified.

"Nothing," Dai Lan said.

"I'm not like this all over!" Laidu snapped. When he saw the look on Dai Lan's face, he stopped. "Wait...no, am I?"

"Hold on," Dai Lan said. Janyin's son was still hyperventilating, and she didn't want to touch him. He looked like he was about to cry. She wanted to take him up in her arms and hug him and tell him everything would be alright.

Dai Lan came back with a mirror. "You're gonna find out soon enough anyway," he said, handing his son the mirror.

Laidu peered at his reflection. His hand went to his ridged cheekbones, the small straight line of scales that went down his neck, the sharp teeth. He touched the nubs of his horns. "Hold on... I'm not normal. Am I sick?"

"Not sick. But not normal," Dai Lan said.

"Dai!" Janyin said. "Don't say that! It's mean!"

"No, it's not," Dai Lan said. "It's accurate."

Laidu set the mirror to the side. "I'm not normal. What does that mean?" His scaly shins hung off the end of the bed, dangling. It had been a long time ago, but the room they were in used to be a spare bedroom. It was going to be a children's room. But they had locked it away ever since the winter fever closed her womb. "Sorry, I thought I was sick or something. Like I had really bad acne." That earned a laugh from Dai Lan.

But now, though she was barren still, the room had life in it. He wasn't smiling. No, he focused on Dai Lan as he explained what a Changed was.

"You see, there was this magic thing that swept across the land. Across the world, too, it sounds like, about a year ago. It took certain people and it gave them animal parts."

"Animal parts." Laidu looked at his face in the mirror. "So it made them look like me? Except, with fur and stuff instead of scales?"

"No," Dai Lan said. "You are the odd one. Normally, it's just one part. I know we helped a man with a tiger arm, and a woman who was a lizard from the knees down. But you're the first...blend."

"Oh." He sat there for a moment. "But why a dragon?"

"You must have been close to one when the Change occurred."

Laidu nodded, but stopped. "Wait...you don't know?" he paused. "Why don't you know?"

Janyin sighed. "I didn't want to have this talk this soon," she said to Dai Lan. "I wanted to wait," she said. They had to slowly reveal these things, she thought. But no, the Light apparently didn't want that.

"Waiting isn't really an option," Dai Lan said. He turned back to Laidu. "Well, I'll just lay it out straight." He sat down next to Laidu and gently put an arm around his son's scaly shoulders. "You...well, you were adopted."

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