The Pearl Ch. 03byThistlethorn©
© Edited by Wicked
This is a copyrighted work of fiction. All rights reserved.
* * * * *
I watched Chang fly off, uncertain of what to think. He was right; this isn't what I would have chosen as my life's goal. Still, I couldn't help thinking that worse things had happened to people. As I lay in the water, I became particularly aware of the sound of the river flowing past me. I was in a shallower section, so the water was running faster than in the deeper sections that I tended to favor. In fact, as I started to settle into contemplation of my next move, I could have sworn the sound of the river had some form of intent. I raised my head slightly and listened.
What the fuck? I shook my head sharply and listened again. This time I simply heard the water. I settled back in. As my mind again began to drift, the water once again sounded different. Instead of trying to figure something out, I remained as I was and listened. In the murmur of the water I detected something once more.
I didn't move, but bided my time. I found the less I tried to listen for it, the clearer it sounded. I just wasn't sure where it was coming from, so I decided to try something.
"Stay where?" I asked softly.
Well, okay, that was kind of obvious. "Why?" I asked, still trying to ferret out the speaker.
Huh? There wasn't a harbor on the river. And even if there was, it was an awfully odd reason to stay. As I focused on puzzling over the answer, I lost the words again. So, I cleared my mind and blurred out my thoughts. Then I asked "Harbor?"
I felt a distinct pull on the pearl and a fish smacked me in the face.
harbor Then it occurred to me, what if it's the river talking? Chang said I bonded to the river. In having my pearl strengthened, was I more aware of that bond? Now, I never previously considered the cognizance of topographical features before, but then, I never considered turning into a dragon after consuming jewelry. So this made about as much sense as everything else occurring in my life. It also gave me an idea. I got up and traveled to a deeper, fast-moving area. I lay back down and completely submerged myself. My head was entirely under. I then relaxed and opened myself back up to what or whoever was communicating with me. I was struck full force by the need of the river. It had been without a guardian for a long time, was overjoyed at my arrival, and was now desperately afraid of my departure. The river needed a guardian, needed a source of otherworldly power, manna I guess, and was slowly dying without one. The impact of the contact threatened to overwhelm me. I felt like I was being drug deeper into the river, or more correctly, its experience. In a panic, I heaved myself upright out of the water, and bounded to a more shallow section. As I stood, panting, I heard, sorry, and felt the river's remorse.
Still, I had a hard time falling asleep that night.
I must have fallen asleep eventually, because someone searching for me awakened me. Dakota. I could still feel the river, though thankfully it was subdued. I glanced at the sky and realized it was morning, earlier than her previous visits. I hurried toward the feeling and couldn't wait to tell her what happened. As I reached the spot, I could see she was holding yet another cardboard box and was looking for me. I squelched the urge to startle her and simply headed over. She smiled broadly when she saw me. "Hey, you didn't sneak up on me this time." "I didn't sneak up the other times. You just need to pay more attention. Does Toxic Taco serve this early?"
"Yep, thee of everything from their breakfast menu. Thought you might like a change."
"That's very considerate," I said while arching my back. "Do you have your phone set for reminders so you won't be late this time?"
She balanced the box and then climbed on. "I'm good for a little bit, then I have class." I set off for the island again. Once we arrived, Dakota dismounted and we arranged ourselves. Over breakfast I told Dakota everything that happened the night before. She was way more sober about it than I thought she would be. Then she seemed to snap out of it. She asked me several questions about Chang and what he was like. I had to confess, I had a hard time putting his presence into words.
"Wow, I would really like to meet him, if I get a chance. Uh, when did he say you'll be leaving?" Again, there was a certain restraint in her voice I couldn't quite place.
"He's supposed to come back sometime today. But I don't know when."
"Well, I'll stop by later, see if you're still here," she said, looking away. She made a show of looking at the time, but it felt somehow put on.
"Is there something wrong, Dakota?" I asked, concerned.
She looked over at me and smiled. Her face was still as beautiful as before, but the smile on it felt hollow. "No, I'm good. But I'm afraid I have to go."
Dakota climbed up onto my back, but the return trip was awkward and silent. Something was definitely wrong.
"Look, something's up. What is it?"
"I..." she started, then looked away. "I would rather not say."
That cut deep. "All right then." I tried to keep the hurt out of my voice, but I failed. When Dakota looked back up, I was surprised to see tears gathering in her eyes.
"No, it's just...." Her voice trailed off and she paused again. "I feel so awful even saying this, because, you know... You've got to do what's right for you. It's just that..." She looked down again and I realized she was trying to compose herself. She walked over to me and cupped her hand under my jaw, running her fingers through the fur. God, it felt so good I had to fight the urge to purr. "It's that I've just met you, and barely had any time to get to know you. Now you're leaving and I suspect I'll never see you again. Still, I'm - I'm really glad I had the chance to meet you." She gently grasped my jaw with both hands and pulled my face close. She kissed the top of my head and her sweet scent swirled around me, enveloping me. "Thank you again. You know... for saving me that night. Take care of yourself." She pressed her lips to my head again and I wanted to drop down and beg her to keep going, to just keep kissing me, but I knew better. I knew that wasn't what this was about. She was saying goodbye to me! "I have several classes, but I'll stop back when I'm done." And with that, she turned and walked away.
As she moved out of sight I heard, she likes you.
"Yes I got that, thank you." I snapped. As if the river didn't complicate this decision enough already. I slunk back to the island. I curled up so that I was entirely on it. What seemed like a relative no-brainer decision was becoming more and more difficult. The simple truth was, I liked Dakota, too. Clearly, the whole dragon thing precluded certain aspects of a relationship. But as a friend, I was coming to depend on her. Apparently, she was becoming attached to me as well. Now what was I going to do? **** I was wallowing in a fairly full-blown funk when Chang arrived back. It was early afternoon, and I hadn't moved from the island. He regarded me with confusion and some concern.
"What is the matter?"
I sighed and told him everything that happened with the river and Dakota. He listened sympathetically. "I am very sorry you find yourself in this position. After merely two decades of life, you must now make a decision that will define the rest of it." He shook his head. "I imagine this is very difficult. What is it you want to do?"
"I don't know," I answered miserably.
Chang was silent for a moment before asking, "What do you think you should do?"
"I guess go back to being human."
"I had a life there I sort of left behind," I explained. "My parents, my school, teachers, friends. Though, classes here just started, so I didn't have any really close friends and I doubt any of the professors knew who I was yet. But back home, I had friends."
"Is going back different from what you want to do?" Chang prompted.
I thought for a moment. Honestly, it kind of was. I mean, I hated that time I was alone, figuring things out on my own. But the actual experience of being a dragon was a lot better than I would have thought. Then I stumbled onto an idea.
"What if we, well, wait for a bit?" I asked. "Would that pose a problem?"
"Whether that would complicate returning you to being human, I cannot say as I do not know what that might entail. But I do know the longer you stay with this river, the stronger the bond will become. At the present rate, it will not take very long at all for that to become permanent."
"But, perhaps there is a middle ground," he continued.
I cocked my head at him and started to ask, "What do you mean?" but I stopped partway through as he stepped back from me. With a tinkling of scales, his form seemed to compress in on itself. The scaled coils wrapped tighter and tighter amongst themselves, and then he was human. An Asian man of indeterminate age looked up at me, dressed in contemporary clothing. Except for the golden eyes and the enigmatic smile, I would have never known he was Chang.
"How did you do that?" I asked, dumbfounded.
He looked at me with mock reproach. "Now, what was in those books Dakota so kindly read to you?"
I thought for a moment. "That dragons can shape shift?"
"Precisely. I think we need to get started with your first lesson." I stood up and gave him my complete attention.
"I would think the easiest and most obvious shape to start with is your previous form. Picture it in you mind, in minute detail."
I closed my eyes and tried to picture my human self. 5 foot 8, long brown hair, pale skin tone that went straight to burn in the summer, slim build, blue eyes...surprisingly, it took a little bit of effort. I hadn't exactly forgotten, but I guess I was never that hung up on studying what I looked like. That and the dragon form had already begun to feel normal. But with some effort I managed to do it.
"Okay, got it. Now what?"
"Now distill the dragon into the human form," he said, as if this was a simple as pouring Kool-Aid.
I opened my eyes and looked at him. "Come again?"
He patiently explained again. "Take the dragon and put it into the human form."
I looked at Chang for moment in disbelief before surveying my dimensions. "Chang, I'm, what, eighteen feet long? As a human I was less than six feet. That's like fifteen pounds of potatoes in a five-pound bag. That's just not gonna work."
Chang simply looked up at me with what had to be infinite patience as I worked out the obvious.
"Okay, obviously you just did it. Actually, you crammed even more than I have to into the human-sized suit. But I'm just having a hell of a time wrapping my mind around this."
He shook his head at me, but was still smiling in amusement. "My, my, in just twenty years you have such a regimented way of thinking. How did your thinking become so narrow in such a short amount of time?"
I shrugged. "Just a guess, but, living in a universe defined by the laws of physics."
A look of surprised realization crossed Chang's face. "Of course, why hadn't I thought of that? THAT'S where we actually need to begin."
"The laws of physics?" I asked.
"Precisely," Chang answered while sitting on a large rock on the bank, folding his hands on his lap.
"What's wrong with the laws of physics?" I asked, lying back down. I suspected this might take a minute.
"There's nothing wrong with them, in and of themselves. The problem comes from the assumption that they are complete, in and of themselves."
I sighed. "I know this will be a shock, but I'm not following."
"Of course not," he said, shaking his head. "For all that has happened to you, your thinking is still bound."
"Well, Yoda, I don't know how to unbind it," I replied, getting frustrated.
"And you're very well not going to if you don't let me finish," he countered, calm as ever.
I managed to reign in the smart-ass comment that was on the edge of my tongue. "I'm sorry. Please, go on."
"Thank you. The problem is that the laws of physics are an accounting of the universe based on an incomplete observation. They take in the universe as a clockwork, not as a spiritual experience."
I thought I was catching on. "And it's both?"
"Yes." Chang raised his hands and interlocked his fingers. "And as both are required, they are interwoven. If you concern yourself with one to the exclusion, or at the expense, of the other, there becomes an imbalance that is unhealthy. That imbalance will lead to disease and eventually death." He lowered his hands back to his lap.
I thought back to the river. "That's why the river wants me so badly."
He nodded sadly. "Unfortunately, in these later days, the spiritual is not as important in this world."
While I hadn't been particularly religious, I knew plenty of folks who were and said as much.
"While that is true," he paused, appearing to try to chose his words, "the predominate faiths are the desert religions. All three of them teach of the spiritual as elsewhere, not inherent to the world. They would look at this river and conclude that it has neither a spirit nor a requirement for that type of energy."
"I'm sorry to interrupt on a phrase. But, what are the 'desert religions'?"
"Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three arose from the desert, and all three are people of a book."
I had trepidations about asking my next question, but was finally impelled by needing to know. "Are they wrong?"
"Of course not," he said. "A religion is merely a means to seek Deity, and it is never wrong to seek Deity in any way." He suddenly looked very sad. "Unfortunately, what is done in the name of Deity as spoken by men is quite another matter."
I suspected Chang knew a great deal on this subject. While I was very curious in some of the things he would have to say, this was getting a bit out of my depth. Okay, a lot out of my depth. I decided to stick to things I had a hope of understanding, or at least things that were of immediate concern. I found I had a question percolating already.
"Why didn't you tell me last night about the river? You only mentioned I was bonded and the bond was weak."
He again appeared to be choosing his words. "As I believe I said last night, you did not seek this. It was thrust upon you. I felt that the concerns of the river, while legitimate, were not your concerns. If you chose to make them so, that was certainly a laudable decision."
I felt the pull of the river in the pearl. Here we were, back at decisions that would define my life. Still, if I could master the human form, I could conceivably maintain something of my old life. Clearly, my first responsibility would be to the river, and whatever else being a dragon entailed, but at least I wouldn't simply disappear from my family's life. I bounced my line of thinking off of Chang. His smile and demeanor took on a very pleased expression, and I could tell he was happy with my reasoning. I had to fight the urge to perk up and grin. My tail still did a happy flop in the water.
"That is what I meant about middle ground. That is, I hope, an acceptable compromise?" I nodded. It was.
"Very good then. This will actually make the shape shifting that much easier. Open yourself and reach out for the river. When you feel it, try not to fight or fear it."
I remembered what happened the previous evening, being pulled into the river. That made me apprehensive, and the apprehension made relaxing that much harder. Chang caught the resistance pretty quickly.
"I understand your concern," he soothed. "But while there do need to be boundaries set, these things cannot be worked through if you do not grant the river access."
I cocked an eye towards him. "Do you do something like this with the storms?"
Again, he looked pleased with me. "Very good, I do exactly the same thing. Once you have completed this a few times, I would be willing to discuss this subject in more depth. However, I do not want to color your experience. I would prefer you find out how this works in your own way."
I nodded. I could see what he was saying. So I closed my eyes and opened myself to the river. Reaching out really wasn't necessary. The river was waiting.
It wasn't overwhelming this time; the river flowed in very gently. Once the river knew my decision was to stay, all of the desperation was gone and it was a much truer and complete contact. The essence of the river flowed through me, filling the pearl and completing the bond. I definitely knew this was irreversible, but I didn't mind. It was actually really nice, and sensual in a way to which I was completely unaccustomed. I began to lose myself in the feeling of the river, and the effect it had on the body of dragon I now lived within.
Better than any swimming pool or hot tub, it was almost similar to lying on a waterbed. Every surface perfectly contoured to my tremendous body, supporting every limb and joint just right but without any sort barrier between the water and me. And because there was no barrier between the water and me, the river poured into me as well. The internal support felt even better than the external support. Rushing sleekly through my veins and arteries in fluid, scintillating floods of power, the river offered every cell in me strength, vigor, and nourishment. Wrapped in perfect warmth, filled with glowing effervescence, I felt the incredible potency of the river surge straight down into that part of me that was completely and totally male and the reaction was instantaneous.
Pleasure like nothing I'd ever felt before shot through me, rippling along my belly and the tingles of the first great wash of rapture raced up my spine and nailed me right in the back of my head. As it began to fade, I mindlessly reached for more, and happy to feed my needs, the river responded. Again it cascaded through me, and again I felt the amazing rush of ecstasy as it stroked all the best places inside and out on a body that I didn't even know how to pleasure yet in the flesh.
The more I savored this new experience, the more it fed the river, and the more the river poured in. I was well on my way to a mind-numbing climax before I even realized what was happening. Archly aware of both Chang and that there was supposed to be a shape shifting lesson going on here, I reigned my body in and pushed back on the river. For its part the river seemed confused about this abrupt change of direction, but acquiesced to what I wanted. My body shook from the effort the denial took, but in the end, I was successful. I looked over to Chang abashed, but he merely shrugged.
"That happens sometimes. You needn't worry about it," he said, his smile understanding. "Or me."
"Yeah, shape shift?" I interjected, embarrassed as all get-out.
Chang nodded, the incident apparently forgotten (I hoped). "Now that the bond is firmly established, use the element to assist in the shape shift."
"Could you break that down," I lifted my front leg and held the thumb and first claw apart about six inches, "just a little more?"
"All dragons are of an elemental nature. Since you are bonded to the river, your element is water. Envision the ease with which water flows into a receptacle and use the human form as the said receptacle."
Easier said than done, but after many failed attempts - one in which I almost completely became water - I did actually succeed. I found myself standing in the river in my human form, dressed in the same clothes from that night.
"YES!" I shouted in triumph. "Very good," Chang responded. I paused for a moment as a scene from Men in Black came to me. "Just think what I'll know tomorrow," I whispered.