Breathless, Avril watched the dragon strike the bondsan who’d been crossing the street to apprehend him. The bondsan’s blaster fired angry red bolts that drew stark but fleeting lines across the blue sky, and then the bondsan was down, knocked flat in the street. The dragon continued forward and collided with the assault vehicle, flipping it onto its side and through the windows of a glass-fronted building.
Avril scrambled backward and to his feet as the dragon beat its wings and circled once overhead before charging the assault vehicle again. As the dragon swooped past Avril a second time, the certainty he had nothing to fear from it returned.
Nonsense, Avril thought without conviction.
Metal scraped on concrete and glass shattered, and Avril retreated further into the alley.
The bondsan the dragon had struck, lay motionless in the street.
Glass crunched beneath booted feet, and Avril saw another bondsan, this one with cuts on one side of her face, sneaking around the back of the assault vehicle. She carried a large blaster, and the dragon would be in her line of sight as soon as she cleared the back of the vehicle.
She wasn’t paying attention to Avril. He glanced at the dragon and then back at the bondsan.
I’d better not regret this, Avril thought.
He crouched and reached out with one hand to steady himself against the wall next to him. He closed his eyes and visualized the electricity running through the weapon then forced too much power into the transformer. As the weapon exploded, the bondsan fell back with a startled, pained cry, and Avril grimaced but pushed away thoughts of the injury he’d caused her.
The dragon flinched at the sound and beat its wings to put some distance between it and the explosion.
The bondsan lying in the street regained enough of his wits to run for cover. Vast wings beat the air and buffeted Avril as the dragon landed with a ground-shaking thump.
The size of this creature was even more shocking up close. Avril still didn’t feel threatened, but then he remembered thinking the docile state he’d experienced on the wall came from hypnosis.
How could anybody stand by such an obvious predator and believe they were safe?
The dragon’s back was to Avril, its neck low, and head down as it investigated the vehicle and watched two bondsan retreat. Its tail, as thick as Avril’s waist and four or five times longer than Avril was tall, moved from side to side. Barbed scales the size of Avril’s hands lined the tail in two rows, and each barb looked capable of causing fatal injuries.
You’d better not fucking eat me, Avril thought.
Metal scraped, and another window shattered as the dragon pushed the assault vehicle with its snout. Two more bondsan scrambled from the back of the car and ran around the corner away from the predator.
Avril gasped as the dragon turned one golden eye on him.
The deadly barbed tail rushed away from Avril as the dragon continued to turn, and both eyes regarded him. The barbs retracted, and Avril blinked when the scales lost their rough edges and transformed into something resembling skin.
He looked up as the dragon shrank in on itself. Its massive leathery wings folded back and down, its broad chest narrowed, the piercing golden eyes shrank and moved closer to the ground.
Dualist, Avril thought and stepped back. Who can transform into this?
The idea was appalling.
The shifting dragon advanced, and the transformation quickened. There was a blur of swirling black motion, and clothes assembled themselves around the man who’d replaced the dragon. Transformed, the man stood in front of Avril wearing a long black coat, combat boots, and fatigues.
Avril saw no weapons, but when somebody could shift into a deadly dragon, why go to the effort of acquiring nano-weaponry that assembled and disassembled itself the way his clothes just had.
“Why did you help me?” Avril asked, his voice squeaked on the final word.
The man was tall and solid, and he looked the way Avril might expect a dragon-become-man to look. His eyes hadn’t changed color between the transformation, and the golden irises looked exotic against his black skin.
He continued to advance, and Avril wondered, Was he a dragon or a man first? Dualists are born human, aren’t they?
Avril’s knees weaken at the prospect of dragons assuming human form, rather than the other way around.
“Why did you—”
This time the man cut him off. “Go south. Drive to the coast, and when you get there, don’t leave. Don’t come back to Damar.” His voice was deep and angry.
Avril thought they were about the same age, and he tried to imagine having the power of a dualist who could transform into that.
Avril said, “That’s thousands of klicks away.”
The man stopped a few paces from Avril. “Leave now. Don’t come back.”
Avril studied him and staggered against a wave of dizzying recognition and the nagging sensation he knew this man. It’s because I saw him as a dragon first, isn’t it?
There were a dozen questions he might ask, but he repeated his earlier question. Every other inquiry paled against his need to know. “Why did you help me?”
The dualist grimaced as he seemed to consider. “You don’t know?”
Avril shook his head.
The man’s scowl deepened, he seemed about to say something but stopped himself, then said, “Go south. I will not help you again.”
“I didn’t—” Avril stopped as something moved in his peripheral vision. He turned, already knowing what he’d find before he saw it. His hand came up to point, and words formed in his mouth to warn the dualist. Four bondsan had returned with weapons and were about to shoot.
Before Avril spoke, gunshots echoed along the street. He flinched expecting lasers to burn through them both, but the bondsan who’d crept up on them dropped to the ground.