The Countess laughed as the lizard reached under the blankets, grabbed the professor by the leg and tugged. The professor struggled, but the drug had him dazed and confused still. It would have been futile in any case, as no human would have been a match for the powerful reptile. Raka began dragging him across the floor. “Enjoy your... repast, Herr Raka,” the Countess called after the retreating form.
As a metal door at the end of the room closed with a slam, Victoria stepped over to a well-stocked liquor cabinet and poured a splash of fine cognac into a crystal snifter. She inhaled the intoxicating fumes, oblivious to the muffled screams that began to emerge from behind the metal door. A smile touched her lips. She was a step closer to gaining the Shamir. Raka thought she was his tool. Well, he would learn who was using whom.
The room Raka had designed was a far cry from that of the Countess. He had no use for expensive baubles, but he had acquiesced to her foolish requests to keep her happy and compliant. His lair was more utilitarian. Its main feature was a metal table with grooves that resembled nothing so much as a trencher board. And with good reason, since its sole purpose was to contain bloody meat—which was precisely what now rested on its surface.
It had taken little time for Raka to consume the professor’s body and blood. The elderly human hadn’t even put up much of a struggle. His terrified screams had been somewhat satisfying, adding a special savor to this otherwise rather bland meal.
With the corpse almost entirely consumed, Raka paused. He could sense the transformation beginning; he could feel his claws retracting and his leathery skin gaining suppleness. Shaking his head, he tore back into the now lifeless professor. He would have to hurry to finish this before his lovely, sharp fangs became puny and blunt teeth. He sighed, knowing that getting rid of whatever he didn’t consume would be an odious task. He decided to eat as much as he could to minimize the cleanup. He knew the Countess would never stoop to something like that.
The next morning at dawn, Raka awoke from a deep slumber in the Countess’s living area, his transformation complete. Naked and curled into a fetal position, he straightened and examined his new body, disgusted by the weak limbs and lack of wings. As he stood, he nearly fell, lightheaded from the transformation. He propped himself on a nearby table, then grasped a bench and sat with a thump.
By the hearth, the Countess muttered resentfully, “I did not sign up to be a chambermaid,” as she pointed to the schoolmaster’s clothing that had been drying in front of the fire. When she did not rise to bring them to him, Raka hissed, “Fetch them, Victoria. You know I will not approach open flames!”
Rolling her eyes, she set down her drink and took the garments to the newly human dragon, thrusting them into his arms. “Cover that pathetic body. It’s making me nauseous,” she said with disgust.
Raka took the clothing and pierced Victoria with a withering stare. “Mind your tone, Countess. Despite this form that I am forced to use to accomplish my purpose, I am still your master.” He allowed his anger to transform his right hand into a set of digits with wickedly sharp claws.
Cowed by the reminder of Raka’s power and stung by the rebuke, she winced and said, “Forgive me, Herr Raka. I have let this frail outer form cloud my vision.” She paused, then meekly added, “The previous human whose body you occupied was strong and handsome. I rather... enjoyed... you in it.” Disdain crossed her face as she looked up and down the professor’s form.
“I am no happier with it than you are,” he spat. “But since I may not directly interfere with the boy, I must be able to observe him more closely and watch for openings to take advantage of.” His nostrils flared, and heat flushed throughout his body. As Victoria stepped back in fear, he struggled to regain control of this despicable human emotion. He knew it could take up to two days to settle fully into this form, and any intense mental or emotional shock could turn him back into his reptilian self. With a grimace of exertion, he regulated his breathing and forcefully took control of his racing heartbeat. “We sometimes must make sacrifices to accomplish our goals. So, leave me for now. I need to stay quiet. I will meet you tomorrow night.”
“Yes, Herr Raka,” Victoria mumbled, as she rushed out the door.
Raka sat on the armchair and resumed assessing his new body. As a changeling, he appreciated the reptile glands that were still a part of his throat. They increased his body’s adrenaline output and made him stronger than a human would usually be. He spat into his palms and inhaled with pleasure the acrid, viscous reptilian liquid. To a human, the odor would smell like rotting flesh.
The Dragon savored his essence. Victoria might not choose the body he currently occupied or the modest house he would be living in until he had accomplished his goals, but she would cooperate. He chuckled, reminding himself that he still retained the supreme authority of the dragon. He picked up a silver candlestick from the table and held it in one hand, considering it. I might appear to be the meek Professor Meiss. He thought, but I am far from weak. He quickly crushed the stout silver piece into a twisted mass of metal.
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