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User:Michael Bard/Swimming from the Dragon

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Swimming from the Dragon

Author: Michael Bard
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Tales of the World story universe

The goddess Luani had been separated from her husband Vashigan for almost a month and so tonight was the night with no moon. Taking advantage of this, the tiny plane flew just above the waves, making sure to stay below the level of both radar and magical detection. A door opened and a small snake, black as night, was thrown out. He clenched his tiny arms against his body and flapped his black feathered wings. The plane turned around and headed back towards its carrier.

The snake flew perfectly silently, his wings modeled on an owl's. He had no trouble seeing the island because his eyes were also like an owls. Staying just above the tips of the waves, he eventually reached shore and then flew a bit higher and landed in a palm tree. He curled his tail around a branch and held onto the trunk and looked around.

Further inland the snake could see the concrete bunkers and machine gun nests of the elf outpost. The war against the elves had raged on and off for the last 200 years, ever since the destruction of the Dragon Empire. The elves had fought on in its name, in memory of a thousand years of lost glory. The humans, and the few Caldayans that had survived the Empire's cleansing, fought the elves, fighting to keep them from forging the Empire anew. The war had never been continuous, but it had never really stopped. It just paused. Currently there was peace, but in a cold war the struggle to keep the elves contained went on.

Tonight it was the snake's job to continue that containment. Maybe he could even get rid of some of them.

Beyond the machine gun nests were the concrete and stone bunkers of the research base. It was here that mage intelligence had determined that the elves were conducting their heavy water experiments. Nobody knew how close they were to an atomic bomb, but everybody wanted to make sure they never got one. Given their desperation they would not be afraid to use it. And if they did, then only the Gods could save The World from nuclear annihilation.

The snake silently flew from tree to tree, making his way closer to the bunkers. His flight was silent, but he could hear the buzzing of insects and the rustle of the palm leaves. The snake stayed low to the ground - he had been a winged snake for almost two weeks, almost at the threshold where his new reality would become The World's reality. Then he would actually be a winged snake. And with a winged snake's mind, or lack thereof.

The advantage of this was that he was almost natural. There was very little disturbance in reality to reveal his changed shape. That was why they had waited almost to the threshold before they inserted him.

He landed on one of the bushes near one of the machine gun nests and listened. There was silence except for the waves and the wind in the trees. He began to hear a faint whine of aircraft from the far side of the island. Good. It was the diversionary attack. Hopefully it would get some of the elvish bastards.

The radio inside the bunker spoke: "Main base to bunker 2. Vilariel, any trouble? Over"

He heard a female voice reply. "All silent. Over"

"Well be careful. We've detected enemy planes from the north. They may be a diversion. Over"

"We won't miss anything sir. Over."

"Main out."

The snake heard static for a moment, and then silence. From the north he began hearing the faint rattle of tracer fire - it was time to move on. Silently he flew away from the bunker, the long grass tickling his chest, until he reached the main building. Fortunately the compound was kept dark, the elves confident in their night vision. According to reports, the prototype reactor would be in the main building.

He reached the main building without problem and swooped around it. The roof was likely mined with magical detection devices. He winged his way around the edge of the roof, looking for a vent. As reported, it was present. Although it was only a foot in diameter, his body was easily small enough. And, as planned, he was just small enough to fit through the grill without touching it. He dove through and into the shaft, making sure not to touch any part of the grill. He had drilled that maneuver for the past week.

Silently he landed on the inside of the shaft and began to slither along. The shaft stayed horizontal, and then joined another shaft that went left and right. As planned, he went right. He would stay right until he found an exit. He had lots of time yet - part of his new form was an absolute time sense. He memorized the pattern as he went so that he always knew the fastest way out.

For over an hour he slipped through the ventilation, looking out various grills. He saw hallways, a dining area, and some bunks where elvish soldiers were sleeping with their machine guns nearby. Occasionally he saw guards patrolling the hallways in their dark green leather. He held his breath as they passed, making sure they couldn't hear his breathing. He continued on until he finally found the reactor.

He stopped at the grill and looked out into a large room. Two elves in light green lab coats were there talking. In front of them was a large pile of baked bricks. That had to be the prototype reactor. But there was worse. The two elves were standing in front of what looked to be the bomb, suspended from the roof on chains. The elves were talking.

"Do you know where they plan to test it?"

"Word has it they plan to teleport it out over the enemy fleet base at Angalan. That'll show them we have the bomb, in style."

Dear Gods. They did have the bomb!

"Then by tomorrow we'll know if it works."

"And tomorrow we can get some vengeance for our dead, and begin the road back to Empire."

Both of the elves hugged each other. Then they walked away, switching off the overhead lights as they left.

The bomb had to be dealt with tonight. The best way would be to detonate it - that way he could incinerate all of the elves on the island. The snake slipped through the grill and glided down to the bomb, and then began circling it. It definitely looked like they had a working device. He remembered the diagrams he had been shown of the human's early bomb designs. This matched almost exactly. The mages were probably right about the elves stealing the plans. Unfortunately the elves had no problem getting the U235 - all they had to do was transmute some and let it sit for a month until it was real.

The snake circled closer to the bomb, examining it. If they were going to teleport it for an aerial detonation, then maybe it would have a timer. Yes, there it was. That was typical of the elves - they would probably land it aboard one of the carriers just long enough for the crew to realize it was ticking before it went off. He would show them! All he had to do was set it and leave. He flew over and landed on the top of the bomb. It swayed a bit on its chains, but there were no alarms. Good. He might have time to escape the explosion. He used his arms and slowly moved the timer to 15 minutes. That should give him enough time to get away.

Now all he had to do was escape. He could get away and survive to kill more elves in the future.

The timer was set, and the clock started. Its ticks sounded loud in the silence, but not too loud. With any luck, no one would hear it until it was too late. Just in case, he tried to pull off the dial. It came. He grabbed it and flew back up to the grill.

Fourteen minutes left.

He reached the grill and made sure the dial would fit. Good, it would. He slipped through and landed and gently set the dial down. Then he jumped into the air and flew down the ventilation shafts as fast as he could. It still took almost two minutes to get out of the main building.

Twelve minutes left.

He swooped low to the ground and stayed near some brush, trying to make his way to the shore as quickly as he could. He was running out of time to be cautious.

"Vorondil - what's that?"

Some elves must have seen him! He flew towards the shore faster.

Eleven minutes left.

Behind him he heard the elf call into the radio, "All patrols, Vorondil. I spotted something at checkpoint beta. It was small, but didn't seem to be a bird. There was some faint magic.." The elf faded into the distance.

He passed the machine gun bunker, close to the ground.

Ten minutes, thirty seconds.

"...received. Will increase strength of detectors. Vilariel out."

Likely they wouldn't detect the small ripples of his snake form. That meant they would check the bomb next. He needed a distraction. He landed and willed himself back to human form. He made the change quick, and loud. His body enlarged, his wings changed to legs, and the rest of him was sucked back into his body. Then he was crouching on the ground.

An alarm siren began howling.

They had detected that. Good. Now he had to get away.

Nine minutes, forty seconds left.

He ran down to the beach, staying low to the ground, weaving from side to side. He heard the stutter of machine gun fire behind him, and saw tracer bullets off to the right.

"Intruder spotted! All patrols to checkpoint gamma five."

There was more machine gun fire behind him. A bullet ripped into his leg, but he willed the pain away. He leapt over and behind some brush and kept running. He could smell the ocean. Soon the wound wouldn't matter. He heard more voices behind him.

Nine minutes left.

There was more firing behind him. More than one gun this time.

He ran into the surf and dove under it. The water was warm, almost like elven blood. Now he had to become a fish. The first thing was his breathing. He made gills appear in his neck, and then started swallowing. Now to make the transformation slow and careful to keep the splash of magic quiet and below the elves' detector threshold.

Eight minutes left.

He started to stretch his tiny tail bone out behind him and form his skin into a tail. Slowly it grew until he could start to use it. He swam faster with it, but still kept it growing. He started pulling in his legs to form anal fins. He healed the bullet wound as he did. He had already decided on a tuna form. It was very fast, and common in these waters. He could find a school and hide within it in case the elves came after him.

Seven minutes left.

He started to shrink his arms and thin and heighten his body. He had to hurry, but not too fast. The elves would likely have aquatic patrols around the island, and by now they would be looking for him.

Six minutes left.

His breathing became difficult and he swam faster to aid it. Tuna had to swim to breath. His eyes moved to the side of his head and his head flattened. His neck slowly retracted and his head was pulled snug onto his body. As he became more streamlined, he swam faster.

Five minutes left.

He saw some lights off to his left - a patrol. He turned to the right and swam downwards. Now he was making a good 30 kilometers an hour. Good, the patrol was fading - his slow transformation hadn't registered on their detectors.

Then he saw another patrol directly in front of him. No! They turned and one shone his light onto him. They sped towards him with their finned tails. One slowed down and aimed his spear gun and fired.

No more time for subtlety. He finished the change. Scales popped out over his body, and various fins grew out. In an instant the change was done. He pulled his side fins tight against his body and shot off into the darkness. The spear missed, but the elves turned to follow.

Three minutes left.

He knew they couldn't match his top speed. He would soon start to burn the dark muscle blocks that had grown along his sides, but it couldn't be helped. He shot away at nearly 70 kilometers an hour. Behind him he knew the elves were signaling with their radio reporting his position and form.

He swam as fast as he could, out to sea, hugging the bottom. His mental timer counted down and he swam harder. Even with his speed causing water to shoot over his gills, he still began to run short of oxygen. But he refused to stop.

Two minutes left.

He kept swimming downwards until the bottom leveled off. He wouldn't stop. He could swim for another two minutes. He had to.

He sped through the ocean, raising a cloud of sand behind him. Then he felt a pressure wave from off in front of him - it was something very large and hard. It was probably an elf attack sub. Hopefully his comparatively small size would make him harder to detect - he couldn't see much in the dark. Mentally he shrugged. He couldn't afford to worry about it. He had to use all of his effort to make speed.

Thirty seconds.

He passed below the sub and kept swimming. He felt the pressure wave from the sub behind him as it turned to follow. He rode it as much as he could to gain a little bit of extra speed.

Ten seconds.

He kept swimming as he counted down. Soon he would know if he had succeeded in his mission.

Zero.

The water turned from black to a dark green from the light of the explosion, but he felt little else. He was far enough away, and deep enough, to be safe.

He'd made it!

The light faded and he slowed down to rebuild his oxygen levels.

Unfortunately the pressure wave from the sub was still present. It had survived too.

What could he do? He recalled what he knew about it. It had a crew of 15 and had unlimited depth - the crew were simply transformed into water breathers and then the sub was flooded. However its engine's requirement for air limited its time at depth to a few hours. It was armed with two torpedo launchers. Likely, that was what they would use against him. They couldn't shoot at him directly, but they could launch the torpedoes and detonate them manually, hoping to get him in the shock wave.

He felt a pressure wave from a torpedo launch.

A torpedo he couldn't out swim. He dove to the bottom and transformed into a giant clam. He hadn't time to make the transformation quiet, so the elves would certainly detect him. He willed the change and dropped into the sand. The transformations were getting harder, his mind was getting tired. His skin hardened and turned to shell, his body softened and hid inside it. He pulled himself closed just as the torpedo exploded.

He felt his body pushed deep into the sand by the explosion. But he knew he couldn't stay there since his last change had ensured the elves knew exactly where he was.

He switched himself back to a tuna. It took almost a second before he could summon the will to force the change. He couldn't do many more. His shell was sucked back into his body and he leapt out of the sand, pumping the cold grit out through his gills, and sped towards the sub. He would use it to shield himself from its torpedoes as long as he could.

He reached the sub and easily kept up with it. He actually had to circle around it as its speed was too slow for him to breath comfortably. He felt the shock waves as another torpedo was launched towards where he had been hiding in his shell. He slowed down and stayed snug against the sub's sides. He started to grow faint from lack of oxygen, but he could survive it for the few seconds it would take.

The torpedo exploded.

The pressure wave hit the sub and pushed it into him, and then wrapped around the hull to crush him directly. Fortunately it was no longer strong enough to hurt him, but it did shove his two metre length into the sub's side. The impact made a loud thud.

Hopefully the elves hadn't heard that.

A light appeared on the conning tower and shone down towards him. Oh shit, they had.

He darted underneath the sub but it sunk towards the bottom. He went out the other side but the light quickly found him again. He dashed around, but the light followed. He turned around and saw a hatch open and two elves start swimming out.

Like the others they had their legs transformed into a tail. Unlike the others, one carried a staff and was surrounded by a glowing field. Gods, they had a mage!

At least the sub couldn't launch any torpedoes while they were out.

The elves started swimming towards him. He had to do something about them. He spun around and swam towards the mage as fast as he could. She seemed to be female - maybe he could ram and kill her. She fired a spear of magic at him, but he dodged to the side to avoid it. It turned to follow.

And impacted.

He had no time to react, and wasn't allowed to. The sorcery encased his form and immobilized him. He started to suffocate. He tried pushing at the spell, but could tell there was no way he could break the elven mage's will. He had to escape, but he was so tired. He had no strength left to break the shell. Hatred for all the elves filled him and he flung it against his prison, but to no avail. Finally he stopped and waited, helpless, as the mage and her companion slowly swam up to him. All he could do was hope that they would make a mistake. They stopped and he watched them use hand signals to communicate.

He started gulping the water faster and more frantically, trying to get enough oxygen, but failing. He could feel himself begin to die.

The pair of elves turned back to face him and suddenly he felt water begin to flow over his gills as though he was swimming. He guessed the mage wanted him alive.

The pair started swimming back to the sub, pulling him along with them. He tried to beat himself against the magic restraining him, but his struggles achieved nothing. He kept trying as the mage pulled him into the sub after her. His dorsal fins pushed against his body and were partially scrapped off as he was pulled aboard. The elves either didn't notice, or didn't care.

The three of them stopped in a small room and he heard the gurgling of the water being pumped out. He was kept in a little bubble of water and the mage changed the two elves back into their normal air-breathing, legged form, once their heads were above water. With some scraping, the other hatch opened and the elves crouched and went through the door, pulling him after. There were cloth uniforms hanging there and the elves got dressed. Somehow the mage managed it without ever letting go of her staff. A young male elf was standing there, and waited until the pair was done.

"Captain?"

"Yes?", the mage asked.

"What are your orders?"

"Go up to 150 feet and extend the snorkel. Then begin making your way back to our base at Soldingar."

"Yes ma'am."

"And have the steward send some coffee to my quarters."

"Yes ma'am." The elf saluted and jogged off.

The elf mage walked down the hallway, her staff clacking on the deck plates, and climbed down a ladder to a lower deck. There her companion left her. She walked another short distance and eventually entered her quarters. All this time the tuna bobbed along behind her, trapped helpless in his bubble of water. Occasionally he would struggle a little, but the bubble didn't even ripple. He floated in the middle of the mage's quarters by the time she closed the hatch. Then she put her staff in an ornate holder, turned around, and stared at him.

She stared, her eyes piercing him to his very soul. He felt the force of her will burrow into his mind. He tried to keep her out, but his best barriers only slowed her for a moment. He was so tired, he couldn't resist. Swiftly she ripped all of his secrets out into the open. All his memories, everything he knew. All she left untouched was his hatred.

When she was done she left his mind and walked over to her bunk and sat down. "So, now what shall we do with you?"

He just glared at her with utter hatred. The elves had bombed his family. His brother had died fighting them in the last war. He was glad she knew he had blown up all the elves on the island.

The elf sighed. "I didn't kill your family. It was war. People die in wars. I lost my family too, but I don't hate you."

She must still be in his mind. But he didn't care. She already knew all of his secrets. All he had left was his hatred.

"My last surviving brother was on the island. But it was his choice. My people's choice. I think they were wrong, but we all have to follow orders, don't we?"

She paused and looked at him. All he gave back was hatred and contempt.

She shook her head. "You must have been a perfect tool for them. They just wiped out any military secrets you knew, fed your hatred, and tossed you against us."

There was a knock on the door. She stood up, turned, and waved her hand. The hatch swung open and another elf stepped in with a tray and coffee. He put the coffee on the table, saluted and left, pulling the hatch closed after him. The mage reached over, added two spoons of sugar and some cream to the cup. She sipped it, and then turned back to face her prisoner.

"Back to my original question. What shall I do with you? Any suggestions?"

He just filled his mind with hatred and threw it at her. He tried to focus it, to struggle, but couldn't break the grip of her will.

She slammed her cup down onto the table and stood up. Forgotten, the metal cup tipped over, starting to dribble coffee onto the floor. She stalked over until she stood right in front of him and glared her own hatred back.

"Why'd you do it?!", she screamed. "Why did you give up everything just to blow up some elves! Don't you care about anything else? Even if you broke free, you'd just drown!"

In the background the last of the coffee dripped onto the deck.

He struggled harder, trying to get free. He had to get free. He had to kill this elf.

The elven mage just stared at him as he thrashed about in her prison.

"You don't even care about life anymore, do you?"

He stopped, frantically gulping water. He would wait and horde his strength. Maybe later, he could break out and maybe, somehow, take this elf down with him.

For a while the elf mage just stared at him. He would beat her. He would wait until her guard was down. Somehow he would kill her.

"Fine. If all you have is your hate, then let your hate save you."

She relaxed her will and the bubble burst. Tuna and water fell to the floor.

She walked over and looked down at him as he lay there, his mouth gulping for oxygen. "There. You're free. Enjoy it."

She turned, opened the hatch, and walked out, closing the hatch behind her.

The fish tried to force a change, to keep from drowning in the air, but he had no more mental strength left. He tried to use the force of his hatred, but even that wasn't enough to overcome his exhaustion. His gulping was more frantic.

He would kill them. He would kill them all!

Finally his gulping stopped, and he died.