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    Assailant -- Year 226


    "But the dream, the echo, slips from him as quickly as he had found it and as consciousness comes to him (a slap and not the gentle waves of oceanic tides), it dissolves entirely. His muscles relax as the cold claims him again, as the numbness sets in, and when his grey eyes open, there’s nothing but the faint after burn of a dream often trod and never remembered." --Brigade, written by Laura

    [private]  the earth is moving but i can't feel the ground
    Today she has chosen to wear a spectrum of saxifrage, the delicate pink and white blossoms blooming between her rounded snow-leopard ears, and scattered through the thick fur along her ruff. The true flowers are long buried beneath the heavy autumn snow, but patience and practice have allowed her to recreate near-identical facsimiles through the magic of her shifting. Myrna has already shown her flowers to Malik, but her older brother had not been nearly as impressed by them as their mother always is.

    He had told her to stop showing off, but Myrna did not understand, and he did not have the patience to explain it to her. Instead, he’d flown away on eagle’s wings that he knows she’s not big enough to use yet, and left the young cub to wander the slopes of her mountainous home.

    She has spent some time stalking a pale purple hare, but it evades her in the end, skittering across a patch of open stone with speed and agility that even her padded feet and long limbs could not match. She pants heavily, and when her lungs no longer heave with exertion, and she begins to make her way down toward the lake on exertion-warmed muscles. The snow is deep, and though it does grow shallower as she arrives beside the water, the leopard still leaves deep prints.

    The paw prints turn to half-moons when she arrives at the lake, donning her most familiar shape as she looks across the expanse of frozen water. She has kept the pinkest of the saxifrage, and they are bright against her near-white mane. They are the only real color on the six month old filly. The rest of her is hardly darker than the snow, a pale flaxen palomino with a pair of budding opalescent horns.

    The sound of snow crunching underfoot draws her attention, and the filly turns her blue-eyed head to see her mother moving closer, and smiles happily.

    It takes considerable effort for Mazikeen to stop herself from getting caught in the trap of thoughts that begin with this time a year ago. They are difficult memories to carry but they press at her all the same. Reminding her that though she has known (relative) peace for the last six months, it was not very long ago at all that she was at her most cruel and angry.

    But even these thoughts can’t compete with the joy she feels to see movement and turn her head to spot Myrna not much farther down the shore of Hyaline’s lake. The decision to go to her is barely a conscious thought. In part because she is still not comfortable being left on her own with her thoughts for too long but mostly because any chance she can get to spend time with those she loves she will grab and hold onto.

    A soft smile had already been playing through Mazikeen’s expression but it brightens further to see Myrna turn at the sound of her approach and grin at her. It still hasn’t stopped, that soaring feeling in her heart when her children smile at her. The dark thoughts still remain, the ache for the missing puzzle pieces of their family, but it is slowly becoming easier to carry those weights.

    The wings of a snowy owl adorn her sides, aiding her winter coat in keeping out the chill. She doesn’t hesitate to draw close, her muzzle brushing softly against the beautiful little pink flowers in Myrna’s mane. “You’re getting so good at this. Maybe you can teach me how to do it.” It’s a genuine suggestion and she feels proud of Myrna’s abilities, not jealous. It had never once occurred to Mazikeen that she might be able to adorn herself with anything other than bits and pieces of other animals. She isn’t entirely sure whether she can - it would not surprise her to learn that Myrna was a more powerful shifter than she was. There was certainly likely to be a great deal of power in her blood.

    Mazikeen lets those thoughts float away from her and pulls her muzzle back enough that she can focus more clearly on her daughter with her orange eyes bright. “What would you like to do today, little goat?”

    @ Viszla
    It is no longer as easy to crawl beneath her mother’s wing as it had once been, but the lanky filly manages nonetheless, appearing just beside her mother’s shoulder with a contented grin and very mussed hair and flowers.

    “You just gotta practice!” Myrna says in response, bending her head in such a way that her mother might best see the cluster of pink flowers between her ears. The warm glow of Mazikeen’s compliment settles in Myrna’s chest, another piece of a happy childhood. “I ate a lot of them too,” she then admits, because perhaps that had been a part of learning the magic as well.

    There are many parts to magic, she has learned, but the most important is practice. That’s why she is the very best at becoming a goat, and why she’s been getting better at being a leopard, and a small dragon, and a nearly grown horse. Other shapes are still beyond her reach, for there is only so much time a day that a child can dedicate to shifting.

    There are so many other things to do, after all! Things like play with Malik, or follow Bolder, or chase rabbits, or nap, or dream of flying. Or play with her mother, which it seems as though might be on the agenda for the afternoon.

    What does she want to do, she thinks? They have already looked in the Common Lands for her grandparents, but perhaps they could look again? Maybe this time, she would finally be able to catch a frog before it escaped into the water!  Or maybe they could go somewhere new, somewhere super cool that even Malik has not been before!

    Most places are beyond her reach, bound to the ground as she still is, and as she thinks this, a pair of scaled dragon wings begin to grow from her sides. She steps away, not wanting to prod her mother with the sharp-edged scales, and focuses on keeping them (but not the rest of the dragon’s shape). It’s more difficult than she is prepared for though, and soon she is entirely a small pale dragon.

    “Can we set some stuff on fire?!” She asks excitedly. Her eyes are bright and clear, and she imagines a few pines burning like the one beside the lake, like bright spires pointing toward the sky. They will crackle and pop, and maybe her mother would let her get closer to the flames than Malik ever would. He makes her stay far back, even with her healing, but perhaps Mama will be more lenient.
    Although a little more difficult now, Mazikeen hopes Myrna never stops trying to fit underneath her wing. It spreads a calm warmth through her and the grin on her face matches that of her daughter’s. A small chuckle escapes her at Myrna’s recommendation to practice, a phrase that Mazikeen has said often, and another follows at the admittance that the filly had eaten a lot of them. Mazikeen reaches to tickle behind Myrna’s ears in response.

    She waits for the reply to her question, and it is not difficult to keep up with her daughter’s thoughts when they change her form. Mazikeen lifts her wing so Myrna can more easily step away when the dragon wings appear and she watches with a grin when the rest of the pale girl’s body follows suit.

    Her own thoughts about becoming a dragon pause at the request. She’d been expecting something like going to go look for her parents so setting something on fire surprises her.

    She’s quiet for a moment, considering it. She knows it’s not really responsible and yet she can’t really think of a reason why not. With some boundaries, of course.

    “Alright. But there’s going to be some rules.” Mazikeen fixes her attention on Myrna, her voice growing serious in an attempt to convey that what follows is important. “We’ll pick a tree where there aren’t any critters living in it. And one close to the lake. I don’t want to accidentally set Hyaline on fire. I kind of like our home as-is.” It’s a joke, mostly. With the snow it would be hard to do, but Mazikeen isn’t confident dragon fire would be as easily put out as normal. Could she become a dragon that spouted water? Or ice? It had never occurred to her to try - much like the flowers that her daughter had been wearing - but that did not mean it was impossible.

    She had spent so much time caring about her shifting and she didn't even really know her own limits.

    Finally, one more rule. “And you need to stay as a dragon the whole time. The scales should protect you from the flames and heat.” Myrna might be able to heal, but Mazikeen - while clearly demonstrating a little bit of irresponsibility as a parent at this moment - wasn’t about to put her daughter in a position where she could get hurt in the first place. She waits to make sure that Myrna will agree to these conditions before they’d move off to look for a target.

    @ Viszla
    Myrna stretches her wings as her mother considers the request, mindful not to pester her too much lest it guide her toward a ‘No’. The scaled limbs are long and thin, with the taut leather between the slender bones being the same stormy blue as her eyes, and the scales the same palest gold as her body.

    Like the bird wings she can sometimes grow, these are not quite ready to carry her in flight. She tries to flap them though, just in case, but does not have time to get carried away before her mother is agreeing that yes - they can set something on fire!

    Myrna does her best to use her listening ears while her mother explains the rules, but she does bounce from side to side just a little bit, a manifestation of her excitement that she is too small to conceal. They can burn a tree, her mother says, one that has no residents. This makes sense, and Myrna nods agreeably, having once managed to become a squirrel long enough to befriend a pair of the pastel blue rodents.

    She would not want to destroy anyone’s home, or cause undue worry. But she does want to set something on fire, and is happy to follow her mother’s rules to be able to do so.

    She will have to stay a dragon the whole time, Mazikeen says, and that is the only thing that worries her. The whole time?

    “What if...” she is hesitant, her scaled face wrinkling in consternation. Myrna is reluctant to voice her worry, lest her mother change her mind, but she can tell from the Very Serious look on Mazikeen’s face that she needs to be extra honest.

    “What if I can’t do it the whole time? Sometimes...sometimes it’s hard to be a dragon for a long time.”

    Although never particularly hard when she is speaking to Myrna, even when laying out strict rules, Mazikeen visibly softens at her daughter’s worry. She is glad that the filly-dragon felt comfortable enough to at least share it, and there is no time wasted in trying to smooth away the concerns. The pale mare becomes a pale dragon, her long and graceful neck reaching out with ease to nudge Myrna’s snout with affection. “Do your best. If you can’t hold it that's okay, I’ll be there to protect you.” Mazikeen knows that this is not a promise she will be able to keep forever, but it is one she will always try to keep. Wherever her daughter ends up, whatever might change, she will never give up on trying to protect her children.

    Even if, like with Sickle, that means staying as far away as possible.

    She fights the way her smile attempts to falter, fights the sigh that these thoughts try to inspire, and instead she just pulls her head back enough to look into Myrna’s storm-blue eyes. “And if I tell you to get back, you listen to me, okay?”

    Part of Mazikeen is still surprised they are doing this, but she thinks - hopes - it will be some relatively harmless fun. She angles her head, making sure that everything is alright, before leading the way across the snow. Flying would be faster, but there is no reason to save any time by leaving behind her daughter who is still learning. Not when Mazikeen wants to enjoy every single second she can get with Myrna.

    Her heavy body leaves deep footprints and her tail slithers patterns across the surface as she leaps in bounds, mimicking the movements of the goats Myrna is so good at shifting into - just with a much larger body. The waves and showers of snow she sends out with each landing is a simple joy and by the time they arrive at the first cluster of pines, Mazikeen’s smile is vivid and her scales are glittering with snow.

    “What do you think?” She encourages Myrna to investigate closer while she quietly makes her own observations without moving.

    @ Viszla
    ‘Just do your best’, her mother says. ‘I’ll be there to protect you’.

    Myrna nods, because she knows that is true. Her mother will always be there to keep her safe from danger. That Myrna has not been told about the danger has not yet occured to the dark-eyed filly, so she only nods soberly.

    “Yes Mama.” She says firmly. “I’ll listen. I will.”

    Fire is dangerous, that much Malik had managed to impart upon her. But she is sure that her healing could handle it, and she is eager to try. Not today, she reminds herself, but maybe someday soon, especially if she can show her mother how good she is at following the rules.

    The scales along Myrna’s sides shimmer with the same opalescence as her spiraling horns, which are most impressive on a dragon even at her young age. They spiral like Mazikeen’s and fork near the ends, reflecting the bright sunlight as she scampers after her mother.

    While her wings are not yet strong enough to bear her in flight, they do keep the pale filly from sinking too far into the snow, as does the way she widens and then furs her clawed feet to more resemble those of the quick snowshoe hare. Myrna had not realized that she knew such a trick, but finds it as fascinating and far more helpful than the ability to transfigure herself into bits of flower, so she shows her mother proudly on their way toward the pines.

    Once there, she begins to inspect the pines. She yips with a coyote’s bark and turns away from those with nests that quiver in fear. Finally she puts her forefeet on a large and nearly dead tree, one absent of larger animals.

    “This one?” She asks, her voice rising in curiosity. She’s not picked a burning tree before, and she hopes that this will be the first of many. Maybe if she tells Malik that Mama had let her do it, he’d be less reluctant to take her. First though, she has to start the fire.

    Myrna clears her throat, just to warm up, and beams proudly at the tiny puff of black smoke that spirals from her pale nostrils.
    Her gaze tracks Myrna more than it focuses on the trees. A smile tugs at her mouth when her daughter yips as a way of testing where there were nests to be wary of. Finally, a contender is picked out and the larger dragon focuses her attention on it. Mazikeen blinks and her dragon’s eyes change a little, her gaze appraising the tree that Myrna had picked out. She looks for the clusters of heat she can see in the other trees, any hints that there are creatures in hollowed out places, but this one appears to be clear.

    When she blinks again, her vision returns to normal and she is grinning at Myrna and nods in confirmation. “This one.” She doesn’t dare lie down to relax, though it might be good for her nerves if she did. Mazikeen was fine with this endeavour but she wasn’t so fine with it that she wasn’t going to be standing at the ready to perform any damage control she possibly could.

    So she stays close, reaching down to give the young dragon that was her daughter an encouraging nudge. Mazikeen would be here to help, even if that meant starting the fire herself, but she would first give Myrna the chance to try it on her own. She had been an adult when she had first been able to shift into a dragon - her own range of animals had matched Malik's when she had been young - and so she did not know how soon they were able to spout flames. Judging from the smoke, though, she does not think they'll have any troubles.

    Hopefully not anyway. The residents of this kingdom had been through enough lately without Mazikeen having to add 'sorry, my daughter thought it would be fun to burn a tree and things got out of hand' to that list.

    Uncertainty over the wisdom of this decision eats at her but for now Mazikeen just keeps her eyes sharp and focused and her thoughts inside her head.

    @ Viszla
    The pale young dragon takes a deep breath, inhaling the cold winter air. It tastes of snow and stone and forest, and she feels it crackling down through her open mouth and into the inferno that is her chest. Deep within her, it burns like a small sun, racing up her throat and then out toward the lowest branches of the dying lodepole pine.

    The heat does not burn her tongue nor char the sharp white teeth that snap shut after a few long seconds of fiery exhalation. But Myrna hardly notices that, instead intent on the way the flames have taken on a life of their own, leaping from the branch and toward the main trunk of the tree. The scent of burning reaches her scaled nostrils, and Myrna glances toward her mother in excitement.

    “Look Mama!” she shouts gleefully, leaping back and forth with palpable excitement. “I did it! I finally made a fire!” This is not the first time she has attempted to breathe fire, it would seem, but it is her first successful attempt. And it’s working! The fire is spreading, rising up the thin, dry bark toward the crown.

    How tall is the tree, she wonders as she watches, both giddy and breathless. She has no thoughts at all of danger, and hopes that it is tall enough to touch that other tree when it falls, and maybe then that tree will catch on fire too! They can have a lot of trees and a lot of fires, and the burning dragon heart in her chest thumps hard and fast in delight.

    This is so fun!

    “This is so cool!” Grinning with a sharp mouthful of teeth, Myrna looks up at her mother, expecting to see the same emotions that illuminate her face reflected there in her mother’s expression.

    Although a little part of her would not have minded terribly if fire just wasn’t going to happen today, she is proud of the fire that Myrna breathes out towards the target tree. “Good job, baby!” She grins back, more at the excitement that her daughter is showing than the actual skill she just displayed.

    And then her attention pulls back to the fire, her trepidation returning as she watches the flames spread. She begins to worry that the flames will jump, or that this tree will fall towards the others. How quickly will healthy trees catch if it’s dragonfire?

    Mazikeen does try to smile back at Myrna, she makes a very determined effort. But the crackle of the fire draws her attention and then she cannot stand still any longer. She moves forward - taking just as much care not to rush and seem desperate as she had taken care to smile and look like she meant it - and grows her dragon body as large as she can. She places two massive feet on the burning tree, stirring up embers as she does, and pushes.

    The great root system does not give away easily and takes a great deal of snow and earth with it, but eventually the tree falls - away from its living neighbours - and crashes into the ground with a satisfying thump.

    The snow isn’t enough to extinguish the dragonfire flames - and Mazikeen shoves down her disappointment so it won’t show as she returns to being horse-sized and turns to Myrna and beckons. As though this was the plan all along - to offer the chance to see the flames up close instead of watching them tower upwards. “Come on, Myrna. You can come closer.”

    @ Viszla

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