The Changeling Danielle, her quest to find her own kind, and where that search may lead.
|For a brief history refer to "Vengeance of the Changeling - Prologue"
I never understood why things that hurt others seemed so harmless to me. I would never have guessed that I wasn't human. As a child when I was stung by a bee, the pain and swelling was gone in minutes. When I was hurt in a fall, moments later I seemed fine. Until just before my 17th birthday. That's when my entire world turned inside out and upside down.
A talent. A reflex. I'd never thought about these things, until I tried to ask my parents. They'd explained to me years earlier that I was adopted. It all seemed so normal. I tried to talk to my father. He seemed confused by what I tried to ask. I was trying to understand how a body changes, and how to control or cope with those changes. He recommended that I speak with my mother. When I talked to her, I came to realize she didn't know what I was talking about, and I thought it was best to pretend she'd cleared up my questions.
By my senior year, long after I learned that everyone else doesn't physically change in seconds, nor in the ways I could, I had learned to conceal my ability, even from my family. Though I hated to deceive them, I realized that they would not, perhaps could not understand what I was. That year, about 2 weeks before the date celebrated as my birthday, my secret was shattered.
I felt a strange sensation, unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Much like the smell of fresh roses draws one to a garden, my heart was drawn toward a small shop down the street. My dearest friend Tami, her real name was Delaney, but she preferred her middle name of Tami, and I had spent most of this warm Saturday afternoon at the movies, and when I mentioned it to her, we figured one more stop wouldn't hurt us too much. The movie wasn't that good anyway so the afternoon had been a bit boring.
As we got closer to the shop, suddenly the sensation became painful, as if it had swollen up inside my chest, pressing against my heart and my lungs. A few seconds later it passed, and we went in. We didn't find anything of interest but there was a man there. He kept watching us, almost like a manager watching to catch us stealing. Trying to be subtle, but not quite succeeding.
We left shortly thereafter, and Tami dropped me off just down the street from home. As I went inside, I saw a car pass by, and I would have sworn then that it was the same man I'd seen in the shop. I rushed inside, and although I knew it would be at least a minute for Tammy to get home, I called her home. The phone rang for what felt like an eternity. Finally, she answered. I asked her to look out her window. I described the car and she did see it outside, stopped right in front of her house. She went to lock the door and I heard a loud crash. Tami was gone.
Without thinking I dropped the phone and dove out of my bedroom window on the second floor, rolling onto the roof of the house. I hadn't been out here since I was a kid. I leaped off of the roof toward the ground below, and felt my body shift around me. I was no longer human. I was an Eagle. I flew, instinctively with perfect form, toward her home. As I neared my destination, the pain began in my chest, strong and sharp as before. My body shifted around me again, and as a human, I felt the ground striking my legs. As the pain of the impact struck me, my body shifted again, as I rolled to my feet. As I assessed the situation, I saw three, creatures, holding Tami some 3 feet off the ground. One had her by the throat. They seemed to revel in tormenting her. Rage overcame my judgement, and I sprang toward the first.
A roar escaped my lungs. With speed the likes of which I'd never dreamed my target reacted. Ducking under me, he rose connecting to my jaw with a powerful razor like talon. I tumbled helplessly to the ground. My veins flooded with anger. I felt nothing but a lust for vengeance against these creatures. A hatred and vengeance I could not understand.
I sprang to my feet, swept at my attacker's legs, and missed as he leaped over me. As I heard his feet touch the ground, I arched backward. My clawed hands dug into the sidewalk like it was pudding. My attacker now became my first victim, as he spun to face me. From his expression it was clear he expected me to be slower. My foot came down upon his shoulder, it's talons ripping across his chest.
Almost instantly, I heard another shout, "Here is the one we sensed!"
The one I had already struck down yelled out, "Destroy it!" as he leaped onto me. I struggled, my arm bending impossibly, my fist smashed the broad nose of one into his skull. My legs rising, to meet the one who was now tackling me. My back struck the ground, as I kicked him from me.
I rose to my feet, my head spinning. All sounds seemed so distant. I had to concentrate to discern any sound. Sirens wailing in the distance. Coming closer. The third of my adversaries, I couldn't find him. Tami was nowhere to be seen. A crowd was forming nearby. Typical. A life and death struggle, and mankind gathers to watch.
The remaining duo began to withdraw, shifting their forms into a bizarre pattern of wings, scales and talons. My determination drove me to leap after them. My body shifting around me. I could not let them escape. They came here, looking it would seem for me. If I was their target, and these escaped, how many more of their kind might they bring when they return?
I pursued them to the best of my ability, my body weakened from the many changes, and by the injuries which sparked those changes. They were faster than I, very much so. I fell short, exhausted. I know not how long I laid in that field. I awoke stiffened and weakened, but still very much alive. My body was human. After many years, for the first time, I had no idea what I was.
Despite my weakened state, I forced myself to my feet. In the distance, I could see the city which had for years been my home. Or rather the charred remains of what was once that city. It appears that whomever, or whatever those things were, they want me dead in a major way.
A voice whispered from behind me, "So you have found again the strength to stand. Have you any fight left in your veins, Child?"
Considering what I'd just been through, despite my pains and fatigue, I turned quickly, casting a desperate strike toward the voice's source. My attack was easily redirected by reflexes that seemed faster than lightning its self. My attempt left me off balance, and I found myself at the feet of a very old looking man.
He smiled as he knelt beside me, feeling my forehead. "This is a good thing. You have fight still in you. To retrieve your friend you will need that fire. To reclaim the birthright, you will need far more than this simple fire. Your father, your real father, and I were very close. To him, I was known as Kelidrin Seryntal. Since that time, I have come to be known by many names, the most common is simply Shaman. You may address me as you see fit, Your Highness."
"My father?" I stutterred as I tried to sit up. My strength was all but destroyed. I could barely lift my head, much less my entire body. "How could you know my father? Or me, when no one knows where I came from? What do you mean Highness?"
"I suspect that it is best first, if you do not try to get up. I will see to your wounds, as I did for your father through many of his days of trial. Your father was called Torren, of the Line of Saral. He became our leader, and in time, our Emperor. You his only heir. We are Changeling." He continued as he applied salves and compounds to parts of my body, I know not what they were. "It is your destiny, as it was written millenia ago, to reclaim your father's throne, and to free those that remain of our people."
He went on to explain something of the Changeling and the Metamorphs. Many things did not make sense, and many more I would have thought impossible, were it not for recent events. Late in the night I awoke. Despite the darkness, I could see clearly. Although I could tell we were not where I last remembered. Sleep again came for me, as my exhaustion was still nearly absolute.
During a day which followed, I awoke, feeling some margin of my stregnth had returned, I slowly climbed to my feet. Far in the distance, perhaps some twenty miles, I could see faintly the rubble ridden remains of my home city. In the air were several almost invisible specks. They were Metamorphs. Somehow I knew, but I could see almost nothing of them. I ran. As hard as I could, I ran. Not away, as I knew I should, but instead toward them.
I reached the city in a matter of minutes. It seems even a weakened Changeling can do things most humans only can imagine. I could see clearly the Metamorphs. They did not even try to hide their inhuman nature. Without thinking, I stepped out into the open and called out to them. "This land is mine. You will leave, never to return, or we settle this here and now!"
One of them walked slowly toward me, his voice like thunder, filled with hatred more virulent than any venom. "Puny Cub! Do you think you can dream of stopping me? I am Danakros, Overlord of the Metamorph Empire. Your kind will at long last be finished at my hands!"
I was nearly crushed by the sharpness and strength of the pain searing through me as he came closer. This pain, much stronger than all that I had felt from them before combined. My senses blurred for an instant. Somehow, somewhere, I could sense that Shaman was nearby as well.
One of the Metamorphs waived his wrist toward me, and patterns of energy trailed close behind. The energy formed flame, which hurtled through the air toward me. Not merely fire, but something hotter than anything man has even dreamed of creating. I rushed forward, through the heart of the searing flames. I could feel the heat long before I reached it. The burning seemed to burrow even within my very soul. As I emerged from the flames I saw my own flesh had become fire. The sensation of burning faded. I returned to the one who attacked me a surge of flames which scorched him until all that could be seen was but ash.
Even as I launched my attack against him, I felt a powerful strike to my chest. These Metamorphs are stronger and faster than am I. I realized this was hopeless. I could not fathom defeating them on their terms I must bring the battle to them, but on my terms. My lack of experience, however, left me with no idea of what my terms would be.
A sudden sharp force bit into my back. One of the Metamorphs had taken the opportunity to dive upon me from overhead. I followed quickly into the air against him. He ascended rapidly, I followed even faster. We met, many hundreds, if not thousands of feet above the ground.
Our talons locked, our wings clashed. We tore at each other's flesh as if nothing else existed. We plummeted even faster than we had climbed. Breaking our melee only seconds before we would strike earth. I knew I had crippled his wing. That injury would destroy him. It was then that I realized my greatest weakness. Compassion. I refused to let him plummet to his death. My talons again dug at him, my wings straining to halt his fall.
We hit the ground, shattering the remaining pavement of the road. I opened my eyes to see my hand, a human hand. I sensed his approach, I tried to rise, but my body would not respond.
I knew it was over, when I heard a voice. Smooth as glass, and seemingly cold as ice, but a faint spark of something more. "Had our positions been reversed, you would have died. You realize that, and yet you risked your life to save mine. Why?"
I spat back at him, "What does it matter? You can see I cannot continue to fight you."
The merciless glare of a killer faded from his eyes in that instant. His eyes suddenly held an innocence, unlike anything I'd ever seen. For that one instant, it seemed that he actually had a soul.
"Destroy the creature now! It is your duty Rishard!" A voice carried like thunder bellowed.
I realized instantly that the voice was that of the one called Danakros. This was indeed a merciless military machine. What happened next was shocking.
The one who stood over me, turned his back on me, facing Danakros, he spoke in a calm, smooth and deathly serious tone. "I give her life back to her, as she has given mine to me."
Danakros staggered back and bellowed, "She is a Changeling! She is without honor, and it is our duty to the Emperor to crush her!" Without losing an instant, his arm shifted ending in a powerful claw that raced toward my head with blinding speed. I clenched my eyes shut, I heard the strike, but felt no pain, no impact. My eyes opened as another voice rolled like a sweet melody to my ears.
"I will not allow this!" Rishard had formed a claw almost identical to that of Danakros, and they had clashed not an inch from my face. "She is mine as Enforcer Captain, to kill or to spare. Remember Danakros, even you have your duty to your honor. To your father, and your Emperor. Although you trained me, need I remind you, you've never bested me."
Danakros backed away slightly. "Rishard, you shall regret this day of betrayal. I hereby relieve you of your command, and banish you from the Empire. You will now, and forevermore be known by all Metamorphs as a traitor to your own kind!" I knew when he said this, that Rishard had made a grave sacrifice for me. It was clear this was a serious matter, for the battle which ensued between them, left no doubt behind.
Everything became quickly a blur. When I awoke, I found myself under Shaman's care, with the Metamorph called Rishard tending many of my injuries. He soon proved himself almost as adept as Shaman in many healing arts. Shaman explained on Rishard's behalf, "It seems that before your new friend apprenticed with Danakros to enter the Metamorph's Imperial Enforcers, he served many years ago to tending the wounds of the Empire's slaves. Most of whom were human, but also the Changelings who were still under the leash of the Empire in your father's time.
"What became of Tami. The girl, the human your people took at our first encounter? Do you know what has become of her?"
His reply came smooth and emotionless. "To the best of my knowledge, Noble One, she was taken as a prisoner to a fortress in what the humans call the Rocky Mountains. If she proves healthy and suitable, she will be made a slave. If she does not, she will be destroyed."
"You say that as though it doesn't matter! I have to save her! I owe her at least that much for all we've been through all this time." My voice made it very clear that my strength was nowhere near returned. Although I knew there was no time to waste.
"You will need many hours rest, Noble One, before your strength will return. If you act too soon, your wounds will tear you apart. You are resilient and strong, but not that strong." Rishard immediately stood and walked away without another word.
For that instant, it sounded as though there was great concern in his soul. As though something mattered to him beyond duty, beyond honor.
Shaman came to me that night, "Child, you must understand that he is not one of us. He shall fight, but he shall fight alone until the teachings of his entire life can be overcome. I do not know if you realize the sacrifice he has made. You are too important to risk. The handful of Changelings left, can be rallied behind you, so long as you live, for your life is proof that the Metamorphs have failed to destroy our noble line."
"If it is true that I am the sole heir to the Changeling Throne, you will honor my request, Shaman. You are the only one of your kind among us. The only one with full memory of our history. I dare not risk losing you. We need Rishard's help if we are to make this work. Find out everything you can about this fortress. I will likely need a diversion to gain entry inside. If I do not return by sunrise, assume I have failed. You will nonetheless begin the gathering of our people." My strength lapsed away from me, but I struggled to finish, "We begin at dusk tomorrow."
"I obey, but I do not approve. In honor of your father, and of your birthright, I acknowledge your command." Shaman's voice was clearly marked with pain.
As dusk approached the following day, I knew my strength was far from replenished. Rishard and Shaman begged me to reconsider, but finally conceded that they could not sway me. We moved near to the entrance to the fortress. I bolted swiftly toward the mountainside, as I came closer to the hidden portal, I fell as the pain I was coming to know as the presence of a Metamorph swelled over me. A moment later, I could see seven men. They looked like men, but I could feel the Metamorph blood which flowed in their veins. It would appear their sensing of a Changeling is not as keen as my sensing of them.
A pulse of energy seared through the air, striking one of them down where he stood. This scattered the others. Rishard had opened fire to give me my diversion. These are his own people, and he kills without hesitation. I wasted no time in taking advantage of the opening. I silently passed around them, and slipped through the waiting portal.
As I passed from the world of man, into a Metamorph stronghold, I saw something I had hoped to avoid. Not ten feet away stood Danakros. He smiled as he spoke. "It seems I was correct about this Changeling. I know her kind better than she knows herself. Living so long with humans has weakened her. She had to come here, for her friend."
I tried to make it back through the portal, but an amber wall of energy stood in my way. It bucked as I made contact with it, pushing me away. Dreading what would happen next, I turned to face Danakros. In the darkness of this fortress, my vision was near perfection. I presume that they too can see as well, or they would provide more light in their own home.
"As I expected," Danakros' voice echoed quietly, "living among humans has weakened this cub. You have come for your friend. You will not live long enough to find her."
Danakros sprang forward shifting his form rapidly as he flew through the air. His form becoming inexplicable. For an instant I froze. Can't think. Too strong. That instant was all he needed. His talons ripped into my flesh, as he lifted me. I felt the amber field pushing me toward him. His talons digging into my stomach pushing be back.
"Soon you shall cease to be, but not before you realize your place. The place of a slave is at her master's feet!" His confidence was clear in his evil voice.
I felt the stone under my feet, then an instant later under my cheek. I could sense little. I could move less. The stone was warm and slick. My weakened body began to shift as his foot came down upon my shoulder. The pain was overwhelming. I could sense nothing but the pain. Like my flesh was being peeled from me. Every nerve was on fire.
Somehow I found myself rising. Hands pressing against the ground, my lungs screaming for air. My shoulders wrought with pain. Danakros began to step back. His twisted face covered by an expression that mixed rage with pain and surprise.
His legs tensed as he threw himself back at me.
I leaped away from him, toward the portal as if to escape. As my feet met with the barrier, I kicked off it with all my might. It's bucking against me boosting my leap. I struck the ground in a roll, to pass under him. I regained my footing and bolted down a corridor, as I heard the sound of the field which protected the portal buck against something else which tried to pass it.
I knew my lead would not last long. They know this place far better than do I. They know what my objectives are, and I was vastly outnumbered. Despite this, I had to try. I raced down corridor after corridor. Dodging Enforcers and other Metamorphs beyond number. A fire burned in my belly. My blood meeting the open air. My vision beginning to blur. I could see little.
The pain, not of a wound, but of a Metamorph presence quickly sparked through me. This time as if all-encompassing. It engulfed me in it's embrace. I stifled a scream and clutched at my open wound. The injuries he'd given me were worse than I'd feared. I fell to the ground losing my sight to pure blackness. A sudden burst of strength overwhelmed my pain, my eyesight instantly becoming clear as perfect glass. My eyes turned upward as a something approached. A Metamorph looked down at me where I lay.
His hand bolted toward his belt quickly. My legs as if perfectly maintained machines responded to an instinct. My open hand changed swiftly from the mundane hand it was, to a powerful talonid claw wrapping around his head as my feet left the floor. The hand opened suddenly, as his thumb first struck his weapon. His head crashed together with the ceiling, my knee catching his hip.
His skin was like stone, yet somehow I had torn through it like paper. He slumped to the ground as I released him. I heard a vaguely familiar voice from behind me, "Enforcer, destroy her." I knew immediately that Danakros had caught up to me.
Dread filled my heart as the Enforcer rose again and started toward me. Behind him I saw Danakros begin to smile.
A hand fell upon Danakros' shoulder. He turned quickly to face whomever this may be. As Danakros realized whom his opponent was, so did I.
Despite my instructions to the contrary, Rishard had followed me in. Now he stood opposing his former teacher, Danakros. The other Metamorph, the Enforcer, stood amazed to see a Metamorph standing against Danakros, for the sake of a Changeling.
I moved to distance myself from the Enforcer. Something of a mistake. My movement drew his attention back to me, and instantly he struck. His talons growing swiftly. My heart pounding.
His blood was on my hand. The Enforcer lay at my feet. My stomach turned as I gazed upon the destruction I was capable of. After what seemed an eternity, I raised my head and looked about. Rishard and Danakros were nowhere to be seen.
I was surrounded by bloodied stone. Several people, neither Metamorph nor changeling had found me, kneeling against the wall. It seems they could not tell I wasn't one of them. They believed me human, as they are.
I moved from amidst them quickly. Several times nearly falling to the ground. I sensed a change coming on. I fought it back as long as I could, knowing that to begin changing now would certainly make the humans around me think I was a Metamorph.
I reared back as I saw someone coming. Someone obviously inhuman. My immediate reaction was to call to the people around me, and so I did. "Scatter!" The only word I could find. As they broke in several directions, I let the pain of the approaching Metamorphs, and the pain of my wounds course through my body sparking a change. A silent prayer upon my lips that my change would be sufficient.
The pain in my body at this point, was dwarfed by the intensity of my change's burning. Never had I felt anything even close to this. My body felt as though it was tearing its self apart as I lunged forward to the first of the approaching Metamorphs.
I struck the first with a knife-like fist, the second with eagle-like talons. The third struck my chest with a bolt of energy the likes of which I'd never seen before. Darkness began to obscure everything. The cold hard stone ripped against my skin. The sensation seeming worlds away.
Smoke faintly wafted into my nose. Heat against my head. Pressure enveloping much of my body. My eyes opened to a blinding light. Within seconds the blinding light became clear. It was a small fire. It created almost no smoke, and only a little heat.
I turned my head, my eyes staring into the distance, unfocussed. Staring back, I could feel eyes meeting my gaze. Distant voices spoke.
"Her fever is strong."
"As is she."
"It is too soon to know for sure."
It was as though each sound came from another voice, in another world. I tried to lift my hand, but it did not respond. I could feel something, deep within myself. But I could not name it.