It had taken me nearly a full day to construct my appearance. It would have been easier if it hadn’t been years since I’d last touched a Drakk; it was always easier when the transfer was fresh, but it was not impossible to use an old memory. It was simply… complicated. Every scale needed to be perfect or it wouldn’t fit with the others, every jagged, needle-tipped tooth needed to be sized just right or it would throw my entire jaw out of line. The only thing I left unchanged, the only thing I ever left unchanged, was the color of my eyes. I was a Mimic, I could be anything I wanted to be; but I needed an anchor, a reminder that nothing I became was permanent. And no matter what shape I took, the silver pools of my irises always remained – so I could look at a mirror and remember.
Sometimes the shift can take over; it can swallow you whole until you have forgotten that you’d ever been anything else. I’d watched Mimics fall to the Ceaseless Shift, and as a result, I was ever vigilant against any sign of it in my own life. I had enough secrets to bury me and too few people to ground me; I could sink into a Ceaseless Shift and no one would ever know.
I waited on the outskirts of Cileka, tapping my new claws rhythmically against the wall I’d propped myself against. The onyx hooks at the ends of my digits glittered in the sunlight. I could feel the glossy maroon scales of my appendages basking in the warmth, absorbing it and distributing it throughout my body. I closed my eyes, content. I ignored the strangeness of wearing a tunic over such a bestial figure, though the tail was admittedly the strangest part.
I could hear the swooshing flaps of massive wings a few dozen meters to the west and I turned my head toward the sound; it was marvelous to hear so clearly, to know simply by the subtle changes in wind when the wings rose and when they fell. I could have counted their beats, if I wanted.
Ignaiciér landed gracefully, the gust of wind that settled him to the ground blowing small flecks of dirt over me. His cardinal scales glowed beneath the blazing sun, his nostrils exhaled small plumes of ashen smoke, and his enormous wings shrank against his spine. It had been a long while since I’d seen a Drakk up close, but I’d never forgotten the unsettling beauty of their existence. So dangerous but so unthinkably lovely.
I smiled a mouthful of jagged teeth at him, and said, my voice heavier, scratchier, than I was used to, “Greetings, blacksmith. I trust your travels were uneventful.”
I attempted to study the scar beneath his eye without letting on that I was doing so, but the light was behind him and his face was distorted with shadows. I felt less guilty studying him once I caught the subtle twitching of his nostrils as he endeavored to discern whether I was a born Drakk. I dismissed both of our curiosities in favor of something greater: my anticipation. How eagerly I had been awaiting this moment, this business between myself and the Drakk stood before me.
“Greetings, Miss,” he rumbled, straightening his posture once his wings had retracted. “They were.” He slipped a carrying sack off his shoulder, which he immediately offered to me. “Though I have to admit I was expecting a Mimic.”
I smiled again, my teeth fitting together with an ease I hadn’t expected, and said, “I thought this would make me easier to spot, and make you more comfortable.” I could hardly believe the weight of the bundle in my palm – it was so light! No weapon I’d ever carried was as light as what was hidden inside the bag I held in my trembling, claw-tipped hand. I realized I didn’t want to hold it for the first time in Drakk form, knowing the weight and the feel would be completely different. “Now that you’ve found me, however, if you would give me a moment, I would like to change forms,” I added, reluctantly setting the sack on the ground at my feet.
Ignaiciér nodded and, in an uncommon show of consideration, turned his body away from me. Shifting to my preferred form was much easier than shifting to anything else, and within a minute I was comfortably back in my elven skin, flesh tight across my knuckles, my hair twisting down my spine. A small sigh escaped my throat before I could reign myself in, and Ignaiciér turned back to watch me pull the delicately wrought weapon from the cloth.
It uncoiled like silk, the grip nestled perfectly in the grooves of my palm, in a clinquant stream of silver. I could not tear my eyes away. I heard myself murmur, “Oh Ignaiciér, it’s magnificent,” but I could not even feel my voice in my throat. I felt as if I could weep – the intricate weave of metal was more delicate than I could have ever hoped for.
I could hear the smile in his voice, the way it changed the pitch, even though I couldn’t bring myself to even spare him a glance. I was astounded by the beautiful whip I clasped in my hand. It was worth a hundred times more than he’d agreed to make it for. My eyes stumbled onto the curved hooks at the very end, so slender and keen-edged. My heart stuttered with excitement.
A thousand times more than what we’d agreed on.
“I am pleased that it is to your liking.”
There was nothing about the way he said it that made me think he was holding something back, and yet I found myself wondering what it was. It occurred to me almost immediately – I hadn’t paid him. Quickly, I dug into the inner pocket of my tunic and pulled out a velvet coin bag, which I extended out to him until he accepted it. “I feel I owe you a hundred times more. Your craftsmanship is unparalleled.” Even with his payment in hand, still I felt as if there was something else he wanted to say.
“Listen Miss Mimic, I don't usually pry into the lives of my customers, but after working on this whip for four days and delivering it to you at a special point, I'm interested to know what you're going to use this thing for. It's definitely not for an ordinary foe, that's for sure. So, what do you plan on hooking with that whip?”
Only at that did I really look away from the staggeringly perfect weapon he’d created to look at his face. I thought, briefly, that if it had been anyone else asking I’d have rejected their inquiry; but I felt a great deal of respect for Ignaiciér as I admired his handiwork, and for some reason, that left me feeling obligated to answer him.
“I am hunting something,” I said, “something that moves quieter than snowfall, something that can sweep into a room as easily as the wind. It moves in a mist that I cannot track, but maybe, now, with this, I can catch what hides in it before it vanishes.”