Ella locked eyes with the monster, her fingers twitching anxiously against the hilt of her blade. It was playing with her and it was all she could do to keep her rage in check. She bit down hard on her bottom lip until she could taste blood. The dragon reared back it’s head, the frills along its neck splaying out. This was the opportune time to strike. Time seemed to slow and the droplets of saliva falling from it’s open mouth appeared to fall with the speed of raindrops sliding down a glass window. Ella took one step forward and plunged her blade up. The tip sank into the soft flesh of its neck, and she dragged upwards, each inch sliding the metal deeper into its esophagus. She screamed, flecks of blood traveling in tiny bubbles from her mouth. In her heightened state, fueled by adrenalin and fear, she could see the minute details of everything around her. She could see the flecks of gold in the red eyes of the creature as its irises rolled backwards into its skull. The solider was so close to its neck that the blood from her lip fell upon the soft almost white flesh of its neck, painting delicate blossoms of crimson there. In another life, she might have thought dragons to be beautiful. They were ethereal beings with brilliant eyes and long sinuous necks, wings usually large enough to leave scratches along the sides of buildings in alleyways. Their voices were like melted butter. They chirruped, purred and called into the night like a mad cross between crickets and excited cats. The class seven’s knees buckled and the beads in Ella’s hair clinked together in the wind of its last breath, warm and gentle across her face. A cloud of dust rose from the dirty street as its heavy body gave way, falling onto the uneven concrete. She carefully wiped her blade clean with the front of her shirt and returned it to her hip. She withdrew her pistol from the holster on her opposite side and aimed the red striped barrel at its skull. Pink flesh and dark sizzling blood sprayed up from the hole she had created in the skull of the creature. In another world perhaps she would have mourned the death of a thing so beautiful. Perhaps everyone else would mourn as well. She clicked her tongue against the roof her mouth and smiled slowly, wrapping her hands around the delicate tip of its spiraling ram-like horn and broke it off. It was silver and glittered in the light like a newly minted coin. “Why is it that something so beautiful should have to die?” It was as if her thoughts were voiced aloud and she spun around, pulling her gun from her side and softly placing the cool end against the warm skin of Nia Raldi. The girl’s eyes flashed in the light and she licked her top teeth, her tongue sliding behind her upper lip. “Am I going to wind up like him?” Her voice was gentle for someone with a killing instrument pressed against their head. Ella lowered her weapon and blinked at the recruit once or twice before her anger kicked in. “Where the hell were you? That scalie could have taken my head off.” Nia held up two bottles of pain killers in one hand. She shook them and the blue and red pills tumbled around inside, clicking like soft dragon calls. “Foraging,” She tossed the bottles to Ella and smiled lazily. Nia was either the most chicken hearted girl Ella had ever met or the most stupid.
The taller girl drew her lips back from her teeth in a ghastly façade of a smile. “Nice work. Next time, try to help me finish a job instead of causing a new one,” She gave her a warning look and slunk into the shadows. She could feel Nia behind her, her breath hot on her neck. She flinched, reminded of the dragon she had slaughtered. “Could you back up,” Ella hissed, looking behind her. She stopped and turned around fully, neck cracking as she looked for her new partner. She was gone again, like an echo. “Damnit,” Ella drew her gun and continued down the alleys and back streets of the cities, hoping that Nia would appear again. A loud crash directed her attention and she aimed the weapon into the darkness of a side street. She was shaking, and she never shook like this. She prided herself in keeping a steady hand and an inner calm during her work. Something in the atmosphere around her had changed and time was keeping up a steady beat. It was not slowing and the details of the world were murky and numb. She inhaled and exhaled, trying to calm the thing clawing away frantically at the inside of her ribcage. A slender, small, class five red dragon slithered from behind a rusted dumpster. It tilted its head to one side, studying her with bright orange eyes. She lowered her gun for a fraction of a second, confused at the bright hue of the dragon. She’d never seen one so oddly colored or so small. Ella realized her mistake as soon as the line of fire was directed at its feet instead of its head. It launched itself, wings snapping open and mouth opening. The well trained soldier shrieked involuntarily and scrambled backwards, trying to make a last minute escape. It pinned her to the ground, screaming loudly into her face. She brought her feet up under its stomach and kicked. The creature was small enough that the impact sent it crashing against the metal side of the dumpster. The dull clang was all Ella needed to hear before getting to her feet and running. She could hear it behind her, feeling its eyes locked on her back. She slid around a corner, her body ramming into the side of a dilapidated car. Somewhere in its belly, the alarm still functioned and it went off. The sputtering battery flashed the headlights on and off, blinking like crazed Morse code in the half light. The dragon sank its claws into her back and she fell forward, gun skittering away from her reach. Sharp fangs tickled the back of her neck and a warm rough tongue lapped against her spinal column. She stayed frozen, plastered to the ground. She turned her head so her cheek was pressed against the stone. One eye rolled up to eye the dragon attached to her. It tilted its head again, staring back at her. Her breath hitched in her throat. Its pupils shrank and it carefully crawled off of her, sitting like a dog beside her. Ella slowly pushed herself to her feet, swaying unsteadily. The dragon clicked at her, shaking its head like a mother disappointed in her child. Ella looked to her gun, then at the dragon, and back to the gun. “Well. Aren’t you going to finish me off?” It tilted its head to the other side, ears fluttering. She tensed the muscles in her legs, ready to spring for her gun if the creature so much as moved. The red dragon considered her for a brief moment, its head tipping one way, then the other. It blinked slowly at her before quickly turning and springing up onto the dumpster. Its claws clanged against the metal, tail lashing back and forth in an attempt to regain balance. It scrabbled up the wall and disappeared through a broken window, vanishing like smoke. Ella relaxed for a fraction of a second, pressing a hand to her sternum. She could finally breathe again. She wasn’t sure what had prompted the diminutive class five to abandon its prey. In truth, Ella didn’t really care as long as she made it out of the back streets with all her limbs intact. She turned on her heel and ran. It was like she had the touch of an angel and her feet didn’t quite meet the ground. The soldier’s thoughts drifted to Nia but she shook her head, ridding herself of all thoughts of the coward. If she couldn’t even stay to face a human size class five, she had no business being on their team. She picked up the pace with determination, sliding easily around a corner. Her shoes splashed in an oily puddle, dark rainbow liquid splashing onto the glass windows of the building nearest her. Something was horribly wrong and the hairs along her arms stood on end. There was a dull static in the air and she could hear scalies sliding around nearby, away from her, like they were running. Ella stopped and slowed down, creeping down the street which led to the base. She slid her fingers along the alley wall and cautiously peered around the edge into the next side street. At first, she couldn’t quite register what she was seeing. The red dragon had reappeared and was snarling and hissing at another dragon. How peculiar. The soldier pulled her gun from her holster and tiptoed forward, her heart fluttering up to her mouth. She held it there, a pearl on her tongue and kept her weapon trained on the creatures. The red dragon sprang up and sank its fangs into the neck of the class six emerald wyvern. It screamed in pain, calling loudly into the ever darkening sky. Ella glanced up, noting the angry storm clouds gathering overhead. It was as if the clouds had come to watch the strange fight unfolding below. She almost gasped aloud when the crimson lizard snapped the neck of the two legged wyvern, throwing its body aside. It lay crumpled in a puddle, its warm body still sizzling. Another scalie launched itself from an open window, pinning the red dragon to the ground. This only seemed to enrage the cannibalistic creature and it bucked and threw the pale blue dragon from its back. It opened its mouth and screamed at it, forked tongue sliding out to lie languidly against its bottom teeth.
“I’ve got to get out of here,” Ella gasped. Her grip on her gun loosened and the weapon clattered to the pavement. A deadly silence fell over them all. The red dragon looked up from its fight against the sky colored scalie and blinked once, then twice at the human. She swallowed thickly, forcing her heart back down into her rib cage where it belonged. She could almost hear it asking her politely to go. She stumbled away, leaving her weapon behind. She couldn’t see and the blood in her ears was muffling the sounds of dragons screaming behind her. She ran until she could see the compound again, before falling to her knees. The side door of the hangar banged open and Jacob ran out, cigarette falling from his lips. It hit the ground with a sizzle, a few lone sparks flying up, as if to escape the two inch long nicotine prison. Ella pressed her hands against the concrete and coughed violently, trying to force the air back into her lungs. Her heart was still and heavy in her chest. Her partner was saying something, shouting it into her ear, but she was deaf to his words. She had fallen apart. Weakness was not tolerated here. He hauled her up by one arm and dragged her across the ground. She hissed as the fabric tore on her knees and took skin with it. Finally, his voice bled through the awful white noise in her head. “I said, get up, before the scalies smell your blood.” She struggled to get her feet up and under herself, shoes sliding against the stone. She found purchase and stood, holding tightly onto Jacob’s jacket. He stared at her, his shadowed eyes piercing straight into her soul. “What happened to you?” The hangar door slammed shut behind them and she jumped involuntarily. “I don’t know,” Her voice was hoarse, but she couldn’t remember screaming. She reached up to her throat involuntarily before dragging her fingers away. Ella allowed her eyes to readjust to the dim light of the hangar before turning towards Jacob. “I really don’t know.” He made a noise of disbelief and pulled a cigarette from his pocket, sticking it between his teeth. He eyes her carefully and flicked his lighter. It blazed to life, smoke rolling from the end of it. He sucked it sharply and pulled the stick from his mouth, blowing rings of grey into the air. They hovered there, ghostly halos, before drifting up into the rafters to rejoin the angels they’d lost. “Get your act together, girl, or I’ll get it together for you,” He warned, grabbing hold of the pulley. He pulled his gun from his holster and shot the rope holding the pulley to the ground. He disappeared into the darkness of the ceiling. The only evidence that he still remained in the mortal world was the shadow dancing on the floor. Ella regarded it like an old friend, stepping around the darker portion of the floor and wandering over to the cot along the west wall. She wondered briefly what had become of Nia. She carefully wiped the memory from her mind, clearing the words off the chalkboard. Like all the others, she’d probably died. Ella eased her aching body onto the cot, pulling the charred and tattered blanket she’d kept from her old home over herself.
Ella awoke to the sound of the door opening and slamming shut. She bolted upright in her makeshift bed, fingers searching for the gun at her hip. She groaned and remembered she’d left it during the dragon fight. She drew her sword and sliced it through the air. It flashed in the low light, gleaming like dragon’s teeth. A figure was approaching her. She stood swiftly and placed her left foot behind her right, right hand gripping the hilt of the sword tightly. “Who’s there?” The figure reached out a hand and stepped into the circle of light formed by the flickering lamp beside her bed. It was Nia, looking much less happier than before, yet with more energy. Her eyes were bright and a small smile was flittering across her lips. “I don’t think dragons come in the human shaped variety,” She joked, flashing a full fledged smile. Ella lowered her sword and pressed a hand just below her throat. “I’ve had enough surprises. Don’t do that.” Nia laughed, her voice trilling out like a happy bird’s. She carefully pulled a dark metal object from her pocket with a familiar red mark painted on it. “How did you-” Ella took the gun and studied it, checking it for damage. The red ring was chipped and deep claw marks ran all the way around the barrel. “Found it in an alley. You really should be more careful with your weapons, dear.” Ella bristled and shoved it back into her holster. She felt filthy, coated in dry sweat and dirt. The soldier pulled off her jacket and set it aside, crossing her dark arms over her chest. “Where the hell were you yesterday?” The girl replied by turning away and beckoning Ella to follow with a tilt of her head. Ella snorted in frustration and followed the recruit, her boots clomping heavily against the floor. Nia led her to the hangar door and exited. Reluctantly, the warrior followed, glancing right and left as she left her home. It was twilight now, the sun kissing the tops of the buildings in the distance. She could hear the dragons stirring, the monsters of the night awakening from slumber. “We can’t stay out here, it’s not safe.” Ella rubbed her arms and trailed after the recruit. The night gave her chills, raising every hair on her skin. The recruit pointed a slender skeletal finger at a heap of something lying in the distance. Ella crept towards it, keeping her sword at the ready in case it moved. She poked the lump experimentally, satisfied when it didn’t move. Upon closer inspection, she was shocked to find a class three white male dragon, lying bloody and mutilated right in front of the hangar. “I’d recommend leaving it there, it will ward off any that might wish to attack your base.” Nia’s wispy voice broke the spell and Ella whirled around to face her. “How did you do this?” The girl smiled and waved a hand dismissively in the air, “Oh, I have my ways.” Her amber eyes glittered mischievously. Ella narrowed her eyes and studied the stranger. Something was off about her, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. It wasn’t a bad sort of off, but the sort of off that told of secrets and hidden strengths. “Keep using your ways,” Ella nodded at the recruit. Nia nodded slowly back, her smile never fading. There was something off about her, but Ella found herself strangely liking it.