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Cannonade from outside rocked the small, four-roomed clinic where I worked. The already-dim lights flickered, causing me to look up and grimace. The windows had been boarded as a safety precaution against flying shrapnel, and the door was steel-reinforced wood. Boxes, some empty and some filled with supplies, were stacked chest-high in corners and against walls. They were and had been essential in my work here. Another nearby blast toppled a stack of empty boxes in the northwest corner of the edifice. I held on to the wooden counter that mostly enclosed the north side of the building, waiting for the tumult to pass. Suddenly, there was a small, panicked scratching at the heavy door. I made my way over and opened the door, dusting off my lab coat along the way and unsure of what I would encounter during the height of this inter-racial war.
Something small and blue whipped past my legs, like a bead of cobalt-colored quicksilver. The thing, a creature about the size of a large housecat, had bolted straight towards the empty boxes in the corner, curling up in the back of one of them. A couple of bloody, sky-blue feathers were left in its wake. When I crouched by the box, the creature was revealed to be an azure Felix dragon, and it coiled into a striking position upon my appearance, hissing agitatedly. Its silvery talons were ready to take a swipe at me, its dark brown eyes narrowed into a frightened glare as it bared its sharp teeth. Its feathered wings, slightly extended as if to take flight, were matted with dirt and congealed blood, as was its navy head-to-tail mane. I reached to pet it, which caused it to shriek and sink its teeth into my arm.
Then, another figure slowly opened the door and staggered inside. This one was also a female, and obviously so, but heavily resembled a bird. She stepped further into the clinic, her gait unbalanced and her talons clicking against the tile floor. Her eyes, though expressing fatigue, were a keen, piercing, deep-glacier blue; her gray beak was held slightly open, and blood dripped from the tip and occasionally into her beak. The deep-brown feathers on her body were covered in a fine coat of dust. The red and navy crest feathers on her head flopped over messily to one side, obscuring her left eye. The humanoid held her right wing-arm close to her body, the same hand covering a wound on her side that stained her purple t-shirt to a dark maroon. Grass stains and a few scorch marks were present on the denim capris she wore. Her slender, muscular form heaved with agony, a slight raspy caw accompanying each ragged breath as she limped to a wooden bench and collapsed upon it, face-up. Her tired, nonchalant gaze rested upon me, almost daring me to try to approach her.
But soon she and the Felix dragon were the least of my concerns, as yet another being barreled into the clinic’s open doors and crash-landed on the floor in front of me. The figure, a male humanoid gryphon this time, lay spread-eagled before me, his head turned to one side and his massive wings reaching from one wall of the room to the other. He was clad in lightweight, crimson plate armor, and had been armed with a double-ended, three-pronged halberd, which now lay near the tip of his right wing. His helm was open from the chin down, and also had openings for his long ears. The armor was battered and dented from fighting, and feathers of various brown shades were strewn about the floor near him. Removing the helmet, I saw that he had tribal tattoo-like markings on his ash-colored beak and under his emerald eyes, which were fluttering as he seemed to hover between consciousness and oblivion. His black hair was streaked with Pacific blue, as was the black tuft on the end of his tail. He groaned, then slowly rolled over, pulling his wings towards his body, sitting up, and looking around the place anxiously, ears lowered.
All heads turned to the door as one final figure stumbled into the edifice. This one was also female, and human. The woman seemed to be having trouble walking. Her dark brown hair, which she apparently kept back in a ponytail, was escaping said style, and hanging in her face. Her brown eyes looked glazed from the exhaustion of fighting. But they were narrowed into a steely glare, and a cross-shaped scar on her left cheek emphasized the coldness of her expression. She was dressed in a black uniform, with light, durable armor specialized for ease of movement. Around her waist was a utility belt, with several pouches containing a myriad of handheld weapons, a holster for an obviously well-used pistol, and a sheath for a katana of similar appearance. Her movements were calculated and swift, as though she had spent years moving stealthily and quickly. Yet she was severely wounded, and she staggered to a chair, where she gratefully collapsed and relaxed. Blood dripped from her fingertips, and trickled down one side of her face.
I looked upon all four of the injured beings, in both wonderment and concern. I would most certainly have my hands full as I tended to each of them. I hoped that my patience would last, for I could hardly afford to make even one of them angry. They all eyed each other warily, as if each one was a member of a separate faction by race, which they most certainly could have been. In this tumultuous war, no allies were certain, and one’s enemy could suddenly become one’s friend, or vice-versa. Only one thing was sure, and that was the fact that nothing was.
I set the Felix dragon on the wooden counter, where she immediately sat and observed. Heaving a sigh, I went to the sink behind the counter and washed my hands in order to get myself ready for the task ahead. I felt four sets of eyes upon me, and made an odd face.
“Well,” I began, “who’s first?” I looked at the three figures in the lobby area, shifting my eyes to each of them in turn. Immediately, the humanoids pointed towards the human, who looked up and saw two fingers aimed in her direction. She sighed, then looked at me with a cool glare.
“Might as well. I’m the one with the most injuries to her name here,” she muttered, resting her chin on her hand. “What do you need me to do?” she queried, cocking an eyebrow. I was rather surprised by her willingness to comply. I coughed softly, clearing my throat before I spoke again.
“I just need you to tell me where you’re injured; if any are in less-convenient areas, I’ll have to ask you to step into the south side room,” I explained. She nodded, standing and walking to the open door, entering and waiting for me.
“Need any help?” asked an unfamiliar, feminine voice. I stopped and turned around, searching for the owner of the new voice. Neither the bird-girl or the gryphon guy were looking at me, but… Wait a minute…
“Where did you come from?!” I exclaimed, pointing at a young lady sitting on the counter. She was clad in navy slacks and a blue long-sleeved T-shirt. She had hair the color of espresso, and eyes to match. A silver ring sat delicately on her right hand, accompanied by a silver pendant on a leather string around her neck. Her boots were fine cowhide leather, with a few signs of wear. A small wound, fresh enough to still be red, was obvious above her eye. Her skin was a light tan, suggesting she was outside often enough not to achieve a sunburn in fifteen minutes. Her eyes were bright and perky, contrasting with the nonchalant and worried gazes of the others.
“I’ve been here a while now,” she chuckled. I was thoroughly confused.
“But who are you?”
“I’m a Felix dragon. I have the ability to appear human when I wish,” she said, shaking a few hairs out of her face. I was a little dumbfounded, and gathered a few bandages and some cloths so I could start taking care of the woman. The Felix dragon, now human, jumped up to help me, regardless of my answer — or lack thereof. She would dig out a wash basin from the cabinets behind the counter, and fill it with water before joining me. The assassin, for I assume that was what the black-clad woman was, had plenty of injuries to tend to.
A good twenty minutes later, I was able to tend to the other wounded beings. My work was relatively easy. The male gryphon had a few cuts under his armor, and one laceration on his wing. The bird-girl had that tear in her side, but it was a superficial wound. The most it would do was somewhat hinder her movement. Comparatively, the Felix had gotten off easy; she merely had a few scratches.
Afterwards, I washed my hands again, as I had each time I reached a separate figure. I started thinking, wondering if any of them were friends or enemies. Though, if they had been enemies, they likely would have already been at each others’ throats. Then something struck me; I had been so ignorant as to not have even asked for their names!
“Excuse me, but I’ve been rude. Might I be graced with your names, and your factions, as well?” I inquired, leaning on the counter. I waited as they silently figured out who would go first, then words began to form in my head, though I was not thinking them. Fairly bewildered, I looked around before asking, “Who is the one that calls themselves Enigma?”
The bird-girl raised her right wing-hand, then stood and bowed. One wing-arm was extended to the side, while the other crossed her midriff. More words began to form in my head: It is nice to meet you, human doctor. Thank you for dressing my wound. I am from the Kh’rythian Air Forces. They sounded stiff and formal, as if she had been trained to respond in that manner. Nevertheless, I replied in kind, uttering a, “You’re welcome.” Then, the gryphon stood, his posture austere and formal, lowering his ears regally before speaking.
“I am Captain Taikizo of the Aerie Nation Internal Security Corps, Toraion Nations. I’m grateful to you for your treatment of my injuries, and you will not go unthanked,” he said, his voice suave, yet stern. He gave me a salute, raising both his taloned hand and his wing wrist to his right temple. I returned the salute, and faced the next speaker: the assassin.
“They call me Eizoryu, or occasionally, the Black Dragoness. I would think that my affiliation is obvious. All I can give in gratitude is this advice: Don’t tick off my employers, whomever they may be. They might set me on your case,” she said coolly, crossing her arms and regarding me with a solemn glare. More than a little alarmed, I searched her face for some clue that she was joking. There was none.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said, laughing nervously. Before I could turn to the Felix dragon, she spoke up.
“I guess that makes it my turn, doesn’t it?” she chuckled. “My name is Sorano, but my parents tagged on a ‘ryu’, which I dropped for simplicity’s sake,” she said, suddenly transforming into her cat-sized dragon form. “This is the only reason the ‘ryu’ part was added,” she noted. “As for my loyalties, they lie with the Draconikas Saurian Alliance.”
I nodded, then turned to do a bit of cleaning up behind the counter and in one of the rooms. I was hardly gone for a minute when I heard scuffling in the lobby. I rushed back to find that someone had irritated someone else. The Toraion captain was restraining Enigma, who looked ready to tear someone’s throat out, her blue eyes ablaze with hatred. The air around her hands was also strangely distorted, almost like heat was pouring from her hands. But the distortion was circular, like a spinning disc of hot air.
On the other side of the room, Eizoryu was being held back by a human Sorano. She had her sword drawn, and her dark eyes were narrowed into a glare as cold as the steel of her blade. She and Enigma were locked in a staring contest of sorts, though the outcome would have been much more violent if Taikizo and Sorano had not been there to intervene.
“You throw another one of your psychokinetic discs at me, bird girl, and I swear I’ll treat you like a farm chicken!”
“I’d like to see you try, human!”
“Both of you stop it!” roared the gryphon, gripping Enigma by the shoulder and reaching over to seize Eizoryu’s collar. “You put your sword away,” he growled at the assassin, lowering his ears menacingly. “And you cut out that psychokinesis tsirokhet,” he hissed at Enigma, using a word I had never heard before.
“Don’t swear at me in your language, half-feline freak,” the humanoid eagle spat.
“I’ll swear at you in any language if that’s what it takes to get you to behave yourself while in the presence of a civilian!” he shot back, nodding in my direction. Both offenders looked towards me and sighed. “I’m going to let you both go now. You two had better behave.” He let go of them, and they immediately went to opposite sides of the room again. Then he looked at me and apologized for their behavior.
“As long as this clinic stays standing, I don’t mind, or as long as no one is killed here,” I said, more than a little bewildered. Taikizo nodded, then perked his ears.
“Sounds like the battle has died off for today. Those of us who can make it back to our regiments should head out now,” he said, looking over at Sorano and Enigma in particular. The former nodded, and returned to her dragon form. The latter merely stood, bowed, and left. Sorano followed, looking back at the rest of us and inclining her head for a moment before lifting herself into the air and disappearing out the door. Captain Taikizo stayed long enough to give me a handshake and a farewell before grabbing his halberd and making his departure.
“And I’m going to stay here,” Eizoryu muttered. “The Black Dragoness is no good to the human military forces when she’s this injured,” she added, referring to herself in third-person. I nodded, and gestured for her to take one of the rooms, where she could sleep. This she did gladly, and thus I was left alone in the lobby once again, with only my thoughts for company.