Chapter 2

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It takes me less than a second to put all the pieces together and right myself.

Less than a second to reach the wall mirror on the far side of my room, my hips and shoulders pushing against the rough tatters of my dress. And then even less time to scream, which comes out as a heavy roar instead.

What has the wizard done to me?

So much for trickery, mother...

My chest tightens with my quickening heart. Panic overwhelms me in wave upon wave. What am I going to do?

I find the mirror beside my bed and stumble back on my over-sized feet. Horns have sprouted from my hair, and claws extend from my toes. My skin is changing, growing scales of red and bronze, right before my eyes.

Rodan has turned me into a monster...the worst kind too. My father used to hunt dragon's for sport. What would he think of me now. I have to get out of here. I have to escape. I have to leave before I grow too big to fit in my own room.

I'm going to track down that wizard and I'm going to beat him until he changes me back.

I make it to the windowsill without stumbling over my own clumsy feet.

Someone knocks on the door. I try to hold my breath—to make it seem as though there is no one here—but apparently dragons can't hold their breath without burning their throats with the gas build up. A horrendously loud snuff-cough escapes me with a cloud of smoke and sparks. The person at the door begins to bang their fist against the thick wood. My nose is visible now, right in front of me--long and red, holes for nostrils at the end.

This time when I look to the door, the faint outline of the person's body appears. No facial markings or even skin. Just a tracery of bright veins and a heart thumping away in their chest hidden behind a slab of wood and metal.

"Isa?" Maureen. She sounds annoyed. "I know you're in there. I can hear you walking about." She sighs. "Should I send for a healer?"

Without thought, my mouth opens and a soft whine escapes. As soon as the sound is out, I freeze. So does Maureen. Her veins brighten as her heart pumps faster, thumping like a small frightened bird. She scared. Of me, obviously. Or maybe for me, if she knew what was happening.

"I'm not playing anymore, Isadolla."

Neither am I. It is that blasted Rodan who has been playing.

If I don't leave now she'll find me. I don't want her to see me like this. I don't want anybody to. I can already hear Gretchen's 'told you so'. They won't let me live. Our past with dragons is too full of bloodshed for them to think anything but monster when they see me.

A deep flap sounds. My heart skips a beat until I realise the sound is coming from me. I twist my head--further than should be possible--to find a humongous wing. Black skin stretched tight like a thin membrane over the red bones. I have wings.

I have wings...

I spin back to the window and push my head out, shattering the glass and wood frames.

"Isa!" Maureen screams on the other side of the door.

This could be my only chance. My body is still growing. At this rate I'll be trapped in a stone prison with no way out.

I lean until I'm staring at the dark gardens below my third story window. Then glance back at the wing hanging from my shoulder blade. Learning to fly feels like giving in to whatever twisted monstrosity the wizard has done to me. The ground's not that far away. I could make it without hurting myself too much. Maybe.

I suck in, which is a bad idea. Heat crawls up the inside of my throat, igniting an itch that sparkles through me. When I breathe out, a puff of glittering orange flame and a white arc of electricity comes with it. I back away from myself, then misstep. The claws of my back legs slip against the stone windowsill, my tail with its deadly spiked edges going with it.

I have a tail. I have to force myself not to scream.

Suddenly I'm falling, and not the right way either. I hit the ground on my back with a bone-splintering thump. My wings, which are definitely a part of me now, are crushed under my own still-growing weight, causing them to spike with a sharp pain down my spine. With a groan, I roll onto my side and then up. It's going to take more than a third story window and a wizard's curse to beat me. I throw a satisfied snort over my shoulder, my gaze catching on a girl leaning from my window.

Maureen's eyes widen, her fingers clench the windowsill. And then I'm looking at her veins, unable to control what I want to see.

My gaze picks up a half a dozen more faint, veined outlines around the far bend of the tower I fell from. I hear voices.

"Over there, I think I heard something."

I need to move. If the guard find me looking like this... the head of the last dragon that entered this queendom is still hanging above the heavy wood doors of the entryway. Mother took it down on one of her hunts before we were born.

I tip my head back to see Maureen one last time, but she's gone. Probably to alert more guards and start a hunt. This is hardly the time to waste standing about in sorrow. I grunt like a piglet, then turn toward the dark outline of the wall bordering the castle grounds.

My body feels heavy and unresponsive. Each new step trips me up until, finally, I fall forward and start out on all fours. Every time my claws hit the grass they curl and get stuck under the roots. I pause for a moment, draw in a breath and concentrate on uncurling my claws like a would my own fingers.

"There!" a guard shouts behind, his voice echoing uncomfortably through my ears. They're closer. And they're armed. Their weapons clang against each other as they take chase.

I push myself to go faster, and then I'm not moving at all. A sharp tug on my spine pulls me to a sudden aching stop. I twist, my elongated neck making it far too easy to spot my tail wedged in a pair of jutting rocks and tangled vines. A puff of orange sparked smoke snorts from my nose. I tug against the rocks, but all that does is jar my back in pain.

"Surround it," the leader of the guard commands. The flicker of their torches moves from a small clustered group, into a long inescapable line.

No, I growl it instead of speaking.

Some of the men hesitate, slowing their steps as they approach.

The forest is only a few more steps away. Once I'm in the shelter of the trees the guards won't follow. Not at night. The Wizard's Darklands monsters like to sneak into the queendoms by moonlight to steal people from the villages. If only I could get my blasted tail free.

I yank again. The spines scrape against the rock, but I can't escape.

The circle of torchlight begins to close in. With one last heave, my tail cracks and comes free. Ignoring the shooting pain running along my spine, I leap into action, racing for the wall. Remembering, even breathless and afraid, that I have to uncurl my claws each time they hit the ground.

My giant body bangs against every surface of the rock wall as I hoist myself up and over. It crashes against the leaves of the trees as I trample through their low hanging branches. Even my own godsdamned wings slap against my sides as I run.

My breaths haven't eased from the change. I still feel as though I've spent an hour on horseback, hunting.

The sound of palace life fades as I get further away. The guards aren't pursuing, as I expected. But that leaves me with little comfort.

It's under the soft sway and rustle of the cedar trees of the forest that I finally stop and slump to the ground. The scales of my belly grate against the undergrowth, cracking twigs and small trees under my weight. It's humiliating. The enormous hanging weight of my wings settles limply at my sides. If mother could see me now.

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