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She saw the great scaled beast in front of her. She screamed as it devoured her parents in front of her eyes. Her twin brother cowered beside her. They were terrified. They were only four. She lost her arm. He lost one eye and was badly burned. They were the hunted.
Thirteen years later they watched a beast inch closer to their hiding place. This time they knew how to react. They were the hunters. They were ready for anything it could throw at them. She took aim with her electric daggers. She was just a distraction. Her brother was climbing the tree to her left. He was ready to take the shot that would take the dragon down. He smiled as he set up the weapon. He took aim and hit it dead on, saving his sisters life. As the beast fell in front of her, she looked up and nodded at him. He packed up the weapon and carried it down the tree.
"Nice shot Zix," She said. Zix glanced at her.
"Come on sis. Let's see if there's anything that is worth keeping on this one," He said.
"The scales aren't gold or black. They won't be worth much," She said.
"I know, but it may be a changer. Those scales are worth some cash if we can get them as the body is going back."
"Hey Zix, we need to talk." Zix was already on the dragon, checking for salvageable teeth or signs that it was a changer.
"Unless you think you're a changer, than I don't see what about, Curlz. Now come on and help me get the teeth. It's not a changer."
"Zix, what happens if one of us is a changer?" Zix looked at Curlz. His robotic eye focused and his scars glinted in the fading sunlight.
"Curlz, we are dragon hunters. If one of us is a dragon than the other will be obligated to hunt them. Changers are rare and no one in our family has ever shown that they were one. So, that won't happen."
"What if it does? Could you do that? Could you really slay me like we just slayed this guy?"
"I won't have to. But, while we're on the topic, do you think you could do it?"
"No. Dragon or not, you are my brother. I'd protect you. You're probably right anyway. We're okay. It's not like either of us are showing any signs of being a changer." Zix nodded.
“Now get your bionic arm up here. I can't pull these out on my own." Curlz laughed. She climbed up the dissipating dragon and helped her brother pull out the teeth. They shoved them their bag.
"Bag's almost full. We need to find a trader in the morning. Then we can get some more cash and food."
"Yeah. Hey Curlz," Zix said, carefully.
"Yeah, bro?" She closed the bag and quickly jumped off the dragon as it disappeared for good. "Walk and talk if you want to make it home before sunset."
"I think it's time." Zix wasn't moving.
"Time for what?" She kept moving.
"Time to go after the black one. Time to get payback." Curlz stopped.
"I thought we decided that we'd wait 'til we were eighteen. We're only seventeen. You know we're not ready. Even if we are we've promised everyone we know that we wouldn't do it until we were of age. If you go after that dragon now I will not help you."
"Come on. We'll be eighteen in two months. It'll take that long to track down witch one it is, where it is, and how to beat it."
"Where and when did you lose your mind?"
"Curlz think about it. We're ready. We can handle it."
"Skeezix, I will not help you catch and kill this dragon." Zix laughed.
"Are we using full names now, Curlazia?" He was smiling recklessly. Curlz had never seen him like this.
"Shut up. Why do you want to go after it now?"
"Because we can. Come on Curlz. We can do it."
"Zix tell me why." His smile faded. "Please, Zix. Why are you being so reckless right now?" He looked utterly sober now. He took a deep breath.
"I don't think you're ready for it."
"Come on, bro. I can handle it."
"Are you sure?"
"I can take it?"
"I think I'm a changer."
"What?" Curlz shouted.
"The full change ability and symptoms of it don't develop until age eighteen."
"Zix," Curlz started.
"Curlz, if I'm am a changer I will be hunted as soon as I change the first time. I want to catch the dragon that killed them before I do that and I have to take my own life."
"No. I will not let you do that, even if you are a changer."
"You won't kill me so I have to keep from being hunted."
"Zix, I will do anything to keep you from doing that. I will help you catch the black dragon, just please don't kill yourself. Suicide is never the answer."
"Come on Curlz. We need to get home. Uncle will kill us." He took the bag and led her away from the bloody clearing. He didn't just think he was a changer. He knew it. He knew she was to.
Zix was in a tree again. He was staring down at the great beast he and his sister had once watched devour their parents. Zix prepared the weapon specifically for this dragon. He squatted to get ready to shoot. Curlz was fighting the monster. Her robotic arm was empty but her other one held a double edged, long, electrically charged sword that she was wielding against the dragon. Zix focused his robotic eye on the dragon. It was the last dragon he would ever kill. It was their eighteenth birthday.
Zix took his aim. Then he heard his sister cry out in pain. The dragon reeled back. Zix refocused his eye on Curlz. She was bent in half, on her knees. She looked up in her pain and signaled for him to take the shot. He took a deep breath and aimed the weapon again. He had to take this shot. For his parents. For his sister. He pulled the trigger as the beast turned to him. He saw the human eyes as it tried to change before it died.
“Your mother tasted better than your father!” The dragon yelled in a half human shape. Zix fired again to finish him off. The dragon dissipated immediately. Zix growled and left the weapon in the tree as he flung himself to the ground to help his sister. He knew what was happening. He could feel it starting in him. She was older, but only by a little. He’d be in as much pain as she was in less than an hour. Right now though, he needed to be there for her when she changed for the first time. He noticed a dragon in the woods. It was red skinned and he knew it was a changer like himself and his sister. He didn’t care. He could see golden scales forming on his sister. She deserved them, but they would make her a target. The dragon in the woods was changing into a human. It was a girl. She was almost to the point where she could talk.
“You just killed my friend,” She said. Zix didn’t reply. He stepped away from his sister, hoping that this dragon knew something. The red one stepped closer. “He was the only family I had.”
“He ate our mother and father. He deserved it,” Zix said. The dragon girl was closer.
“Were they hunters too?”
“No. They were just protecting us. They were before the
dragon selling frenzy.” The girl nodded. Curlz screamed again. “Is there anything we can do for her?”
“Do you trust me with someone who means that much to you?”
“Why not? We’ll both be like you before night falls today.”
“How do you know?”
“My parents were changers. I knew it was coming. I looked into their past while she was learning how to work her arm. My uncle and other family members have no clue. They die if they found out. I figured out the signs. I’ve known for years we’d change before we’d get the chance to catch your friend if we listened to them. Sorry you lost him, but please help my sister.” The girl smiled.
“What’s her name?”
“Curlz.” The girl nodded and walked right up beside Curlz. She knelt down beside his sister.
“Hi Curlz. My name is Sunova. Your brother wants me to help you. I’m going to try. I’m a changer. You are a rare one. Golden scales shine brighter than the sun. Now, Curlz, if you want your brother’s begging to pay off, you have to let me help you. You have to trust me.” Curlz was crying now. Zix could only assume it was the pain. “Do you trust me?” Curlz nodded through whatever pain and tears. “Then listen to me. Let it happen. Don’t fight the dragon. Just let it come. It’s part of you. It’s natural.” Curlz seemed to relax. Then she roared. Zix stumbled even father back. He could feel it coming in him. The pain was building. Zix closed his eyes to block it. When he opened them again, there was a golden dragon in Curlz place. He smiled weakly.
“Nice,” He managed. Sunova looked at him. The look on her face told him it was different for him. He wished he knew how. Curlz looked down at him. She knew he was in pain. Her pain had passed. She was a dragon. Sunova looked up at her.
“Try to change back. He’s going to need your help, not mine. I don’t even know his name,” Sunova said. Curlz nodded her bulky head. She then stared helplessly at the girl. “Remember your sweetest human memory. Then concentrate on taking the form of someone who could still experience that emotion. Normal dragons can’t. Come on.” Curlz closed her eyes and remember the first time Zix had come up with the nickname Curlz. They had been in their first dragon training class and they were both talking about the curse of their names. She had laughed at Skeezix for the millionth time and he was sick of it.
“Can’t you call me anything else Curlazia?” He had said. She had laughed at her own name.
“Do you want me to call you Skee or Zix?” She had replied.
“Curlz or Asia?”
“Okay, I like Zix better.” She had laughed again. She was such a giggly child.
“I like Curlz.”
“It’s better than going around being named after a continent.” He had ended with one of his rare laughs. That always made her feel better. She clung to that feeling and wanted so badly to be the girl who had felt that again. She felt herself changing and when she opened her eyes she was staring right into Sunova’s eyes.
“Good job, Curlz,” Sunova said.
“Uh, thanks, I think,” Curlz said. Her voice was dry. “What’s wrong with my brother?”
“Nothing. It’s just a different transformation than yours.”
“He’s a black dragon. You can see the scales there by his neck. This type of transformation normally takes a lot of time to happen but the scales are spreading like he’s changed before.”
“Would they develop that fast if he’d been working on this transformation for a two months?”
“That sounds like the right time line. Why?”
“That’s when he said he knew he was a changer. That’s also when he stopped taking his shirt off during his work outs.”
“All right. Well, there are a few other things that a black dragon’s first transformation entails that makes it very different than any other changers.”
“It’s more painful. It’s more violent. It not only changes the appearance, but the dragon is very different from the person inside at first. Black dragons are reincarnated dragons that were killed painfully. You hunted in a kind way. Many hunters didn’t. Black dragons were so much rarer before dragon scales became an important export of our country. I fear that what sparked the war on dragons of every kind was the death of your parents. I’m sorry. I’m getting off topic. The dragon can be so unpredictable. It can be the reincarnation of a dragon killed twenty years ago or twenty minutes ago. It can also change the person who’s hosting it. That’s what happened with my friend.” She sighed “That’s a story for when we’ve gotten this well in hand. He will cause damage and he will all most definitely not recognize you.” A roar interrupted Sunova’s warning. One glance at her brother told her that he was going to finish whatever change he was going through any minute now.
“Oh my gosh. Do I need to be a dragon to handle this?”
“No. It’s better to be someone he will recognize once he gets control. I, however, will be in dragon form to keep you safe. Once he figures out who he’s hosting, it’ll be easier. Even that bionic eye of his will come in handy. No offense.” Curlz clenched her robotic fist.
“None taken. Do your thing.” Sunova nodded. Her eyes glinted red. Curlz would have watched, but her brother screamed in pain.
“You do yours, but get away fast when the time comes.” Curlz nodded than ran to her brother.
“Hey Zix. You’re going to be fine. This is normal. You’re a black dragon. You have to let whoever it is through. They will let you back in. I promise. Please don’t fight.” Curlz saw him nodded and heard a mumble. “What?”
“Wh-who’s Zix, Clarice?” It wasn’t Zix’s voice, but she recognized it and the name Clarice. Clarice was her mother and the voice was her dad’s. She didn’t have time to process what this meant. A roar exploded from her brother’s lips. She was on her feet in a split second, running from the spreading fire that had come with the roar. She pulled her electric daggers from their sheaves. She didn’t want to use them on her brother. Or her dad. The black dragon formed from the fire. She didn’t hear it move behind her and she see couldn’t more than a foot away in the smoke from the fire. She turned slowly and carefully. This reminded her of her first hunt. Only this time her backup wasn’t in a tree behind the dragon about to take a kill shot, it was the beast in front of her. He let out a flameless roar in her face. She let out a scream that seemed to shake the beast. She knew who it was. She could help.
“Daddy!” She screamed as the smoke started clearing, revealing the large black body of her brother and father together. “Skeezix! It’s me. Curlazia! Please stop fighting each other long enough to recognize who you’re fighting! Please?!”
Zix heard her screaming, but only just barely. He was fighting too hard to actually listen. He hated losing control. He was trapped in battle against a spirit in his head. There was no control in this situation. He could feel the dragon, immobile around his human body. It felt familiar, like he was somewhere he knew well, doing something he had done a million times. The only problem was that he wasn’t used to being a dragon. It wasn’t his emotion. It was the dragon’s emotion. Hadn’t he heard that dragons didn’t have emotions? What was going on? He felt the force he was battling with all his strength forming in front of him. He was literally only a mental being now. So was the man standing in front of him. A man he hadn’t seen for years.
“Dad?” He said. He was so lost.
“What’s your name kid?” It was his dad’s voice.
“Are you trying to get me angry?”
“That’s my son’s name you liar. My son can’t be a black dragon. A black dragon comes from a line of black dragons and neither me nor his mother does.”
“What human knows anything about dragons? Especially black dragons. They’re hunted for their scales teeth and the fact they can almost always be caught changing when they’ve been hit by one of the weapons I made before I knew that we were a family of dragons. I kept them and kept using them trying to hunt down the dragon that ate you and mom while we watched. It destroyed our lives and left me and Curlazia disabled and forced to depend on each other even if we wanted to develop something to make our lives easier. I needed her to see and she needed me to actually put the stuff together. Oh, and if you say that I’m lying about that, just asked Curlz. She’s standing right in front of us.” His dad stared at him for a while.
“Please tell me she escaped our curse?”
“It didn’t use to be a curse. It was once a wonderful gift to be a changer in our family. It meant that the dragons could be protected for another generation. Some changers didn’t like our family having that much power. They decided to take me and your mother away from you, so that you couldn’t train and the dragons would be forced to choose a different family of changers. It doesn’t appear to have worked that way, based on what you have said. They must have had a power war and the humans must have collected some of the scales from the losing sides of each battle. Then, when changers were too scared to come into the public’s view to stop the loss, the public got brave and started hunting dragons with new weaponry. Weaponry that dragons weren’t able to defend against.”
“I’m kind of ashamed to admit it, but Curlz and I became hunters at the age of seven. We aimed mostly for the young ones, but we gradually worked our way up to the dragon we took out this morning. The dragon the destroyed our family.”
“Skeezix, being a dragon means you aren’t who you used to be. Prey or hunter back then doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are the protectors now. You and your sister must try to stop the hunting of our kind.”
“Dad, we won’t let you down, but I need control to be able to do anything except talk to you.”
“You may have it, so long as you actually listen when I give instruction.”
Zix could feel the beast around him fading. He fell to the ground gasping in pain and shock. He heard Curlz walking toward him. He opened his eyes and saw Curlz in front of him with Sunova in dragon form behind her. He groaned. It was all so much to take in.
“Zix?” Curlz sounded unsure.
“I’m, ah, I’m okay,” Zix managed.
“I knew that. I just didn’t know who won. You or Dad. I like Dad, but I’m glad it was you.”
“How did you know it was Dad?”
“Right before the full change happened, I was talking to you. But when you responded, it didn’t sound like you. I knew it was dad, not just because I recognized the voice, but because he called me Clarice.”
“He-I thought you were mom?” Curlz nodded.
“Are you both okay?” Sunova said. Her eyes were glowing red. They both nodded. “Good. Then I think it’s time that the next generation of protectors were introduced to the council. They won’t like the fact that you were both hunters.”
“Yeah, but we know how to work, disable, and defend against the magma weapons,” Zix said. Curlz looked at him.
“How?” Sunova was angry. She already thought she knew the answer. She thought it was because they had been hunters. Zix did one of his rare smiles. Curlz was already smiling. That was her nature. Sunova got angrier. “You can smile about killing you own kind?”
“No. I can smile about being smart. I can smile because I know that you and most others don’t have the full story and I do. I can explain and for once, I can help someone I’m proud to help,” Zix said. “And now, I’ve got nothing to prove. We know how because we made them. Magma technology was our idea. We used it in my eye, then her arm. That when our uncle suggested us using that technology as a weapon. We didn’t come up with, he did. Now, all we have to do is tell the other dragons how to handle the effects. We’ve been feeling with the down side of Magma for thirteen years. That’s what gave our uncle the idea of weapons. They were hurting us while they helped. I think we can figure out how to explain our ability to other dragons.”
“Then let’s go to the council.”
A day later they were waiting at the council’s door. Sunova and Curlz were talking quietly while Zix tried to get his dad to stay quiet for a little while. Then the doors swung open and an elderly man came out. He looked angry. Smoke streamed from his nose as he stormed off past them. Then a woman that would have been as old as their mom came out and looked at them.
“Skeezix and Curlazia Protram, I presume. Sunova, if these aren’t Clarice’s children I will prosecute you for wasting the courts time.” The woman had a sharp nose and anger written on her upon seeing that it was Sunova bringing them in.
“I would expect no less from you,” Sunova said, eying the woman.
“Come on you three. The court is ready for you,” the sharp nosed woman hissed. She turned quickly, expecting them to follow her. Curlz followed and grabbed Zix arm as he jammed his eyes closed and tried to grab his head. Sunova laughed and followed them, knowing what was going on with him. The room they entered was a huge room with hidden elders on a balcony ten feet above the ground. Zix was still in pain because of the volume of his dad’s voice in his head. He wished so much to control it but he knew that would take a lot of time and practice. Or it would take his dad shutting up. The council let out a growl when they saw Sunova.
“I’ve been here a lot, trying to help the black dragon you killed yesterday,” Sunova said.
“Why don’t we try to keep them from knowing just how involved in that we were? I don’t think they’ll take kindly to a couple of hunters claiming to be the rightful protectors of the dragons. Okay?” Zix said. Curlz held in a laugh but she understood the punishment for killing hundreds of dragons in the past ten years. Sunova had warned them of the dragons’ laws and punishments. The punishment for the knowing murder of any other dragon was death in fire.
“All three of you state you names,” A deep voice came from the only place with light in the room. “Your real names and the color of your dragon.
“Sunova, red dragon. I have never had a last name.” There was a scoff from the sharp nosed lady, the only other person they could see.
“Curlazia Protram, golden dragon.” The sharp nosed lady eyed her suspiciously. Zix took a deep breath.
“Skeezix Protram,” Zix paused, “Black dragon.” The entire crowd gasped.
“Are you positive you are a Protram? The Protram line has never shown any evidence of ever becoming a black dragon’s line,” The deep voiced echoed again.
“Have you looked at my mom’s side? I don’t know her maiden name though so that’s your problem,” Zix said. He was cocky. He was just angry that his parents were being brought into question. They were good people. They didn’t deserve to have their own children investigated because Zix and Curlz had a revenge plot. He could literally hear his dad’s anger at the so called ‘injustice’ they were being shown because of his scales.
“Your mother was the first dragon in her family. It’s unheard of for a second generation dragon to be a black one, no matter who the father is. Mr. Skeezix, we need you to prove your identity or I will have to separate you from Sunova and Ms. Protram.”
“How do you expect me to do that?”
“Who is your dragon?”
“Who is the dragon that is in you?” Zix had pinpointed the voice and was now using his robotic eye to see the man questioning him.
“Why does that matter?”
“In other families that have recently developed into a black dragon line, the first black dragon was a family member. Maybe a grandfather or a great aunt. Is yours like that?” Zix saw the man. He seemed like he had lost the ability to change completely back into a human. He had dark green scales going up his neck and wings farther into the darkness. The man looked vaguely familiar. He had warts on his face and hands and reptilian eyes. They showed open hatred for Zix. Zix gathered his courage.
“The dragon in me is my father. I know that you hated my father, green dragon, but that gives you no right to hate me for whatever you think my father did. Did it have something to do with your inability to change completely one way or another? Or your lack of a family? Or maybe it has to do something with the fact that you think we’re going to take all the power from you if you admit that Clarice and Keni Protram are our parents? News flash: we are not the enemy here. We don’t know enough about the inner workings of dragon politics to take over. We don’t want to be leaders. We aren’t meant to be. We are just meant to guard and keep safe. So, get over yourself and leave me and my sister alone.” Zix finished and glared at the old dragon. The old dragon didn’t reply. A new voice replied instead.
“That is inappropriate in our courts. If you keep acting so immature you will be removed from the court and you will be prosecuted for every dragon you killed before and after you found out what you are. Then I will revive you with your own technology, technology that you created to kill dragons,” A woman from above said. She had a piercing voice and Zix located her almost immediately. She looked like the sharp nosed woman on the ground.
“Skeezix, you do not have to respond to Mrs. Hardman. She is out of line and her comments are to be disregarded by the court. That is, if you don’t want to reply to her,” The old dragon said, defending him.
“I’ll answer. Are you a twin, Mrs. Hardman? Then you know about half of what I’ve been through with my sister. We watched a black dragon eat our parents, before they had any hope or chance of defending themselves. Then, that dragon burned me severely, destroying my eye. It scratched Curlz on her arm. Its claws were so large on her four year old body that her entire arm had to be removed. When we turned six, I figured out how to harness the power of magma. Curlz was my eyes while I was her arms when we built my eye and her arm. When our uncle saw what we had done in one week, he told us to try to build something to help hunt the dragon that killed our parents. He told us all dragons were bad and that we need to sell their scales and teeth to get money to continue our research. We were six. We thought our uncle was the smartest person in the world. He was wrong though. I know four good dragons, in this room, that would have helped my parents, instead of leading them to the slaughter like this one did. I don’t think many of you would do that.”
“May I ask, Mr. Protram, who is the fourth dragon you speak of? I understand that you, your sister, and Sunova are included,” The old dragon asked.
“You. I was wrong when I first read you. You weren’t angry at my parents. You just didn’t like me for making the weapons that have been used by myself and others to kill dragons. Now you understand where that came from. You were a friend of my dad and you couldn’t believe that a person that hunted dragons for a living and in revenge for the majority of their life could be the son of a person that died, ready to protect any dragon, even the one that killed him.”
“You read me? How? You can’t even see me in this light,” The old man said. He was smiling.
“My eye, sir. My, uh, bionic eye. I made it with my sister’s help. It was the first thing we made that was powered by magma.”
“Does it have any type of memory in it?” Mrs. Hardman asked. She was on to something and Curlz didn’t like it.
“Yes it does. It has the ability to record up to twenty years of footage. It learns as it ages. I upgrade it as needed. I don’t have any battle recorded on it accept the one yesterday though. So, don’t try to get me to show you any hunt via my eye,” Zix said. His glare never left Mrs. Hardman. The old dragon laughed.
“Mrs. Hardman would not be allowed to ask for any such thing. As head of this court, I recognize you as Skeezix Protram, young man. I also recognize you as Curlazia Protram, young lady. And you Sunova, we all know. You three may leave, but I would like to see the Protram twins in my quarters in five minutes. Mrs. Myra, please show them there.” The sharp nosed lady nodded and ushered us out of the room.
“You’ve impressed our highest official. That is, until you two break what you said in there and take over. This is his room. He’s already inside.”
"We're not going to take over. We just want to keep dragons safe," Curlz said. Mrs. Myra rolled her eyes and opened the door. Zix and Curlz went in but Sunova was stopped.
"He just wanted the twins," Mrs. Myra said. Sunova growled, but didn’t try again. Inside the twins looked around the room and located a place to sit. The old dragon was already seated. He smiled when they sat down.
"Welcome Protram twins. I'm am glad that I get the chance to meet you and to tell you what your parents always wanted to tell you. Having your father within your mind, Skeezix, is a great advantage in a fight, but a spirit can't tell you everything. You parents were great people. Oh, I am your godfather. The only one they ever named. The humans don't know about me. I am called Major Helmsmilt. You can just call me Major. You know, your parents told me that the other dragons were getting restless and that they might try something. They said that if anything happened to them, I was supposed to try to get custody of you two before your uncle got to you. He hates dragons and wanted every one of us dead. Ha! Probably still does. I was being hunted by the same group the day your parents died. That's how I ended up like this. Anyway, they said that when I got custody I was supposed to explain to you what your family is supposed to do. You fathers line, going back to before any of our records, has protected all dragons as best they could. You are supposed to follow their leads. Both of you. Your training puts you in a perfect place to take up after your father. You literally made the weapons that kill us. That means you have to know how to prevent damage from them."
"Actually we do," Curlz said.
"Well, you are endorsed by the Council and myself to do whatever it takes in this affair. If there is anything you need, just let me know." Zix and Curlz looked at each other. They knew what they needed to stop the dragon hunters.
"We only need one more thing from you," Zix said.
"Name it," Major said. Zix smiled.
Six months later, Curlz was in a tree. Zix could see her from his place on the ground. Their other partner that actually had the same endorsement as they did was the bait. Sunova was coming into view as the dragon hunters inched closer. They had been hunting a green changer about an hour ago. Sunova displayed her power as they had taken aim with the weapon Zix had made. It made him happy thinking about the loss of his blueprints had made the weapons already made, the only ones. The problem was how ample the weapons were because of his uncle. He saw Curlz signal that the hunters had taken the bait. Zix focused his eye on the hunter.
"All right, Dad. It's time to scare the daylights out of those new hunters. They aren't very good, so take it easy on them," Zix said in his mind. His father smiled.
"You're not getting soft, are you Zix?" His dad said.
"Not even close. We need some publicity." His dad laughed.
"Then let’s go."
Zix thought of the change that had taken place in his life as the black scales formed on his body and he grew to size. He had gone from a dragon’s prey to hunter. From a dragon hunter to a hunter's prey. Now he and his sister were more than just some other dragons to be hunted by humans. They were the Dragon Protectors.