Lily strode purposefully up to the prone, draconic form of Prei, causing the girl to avert her eyes in shame. Lily walked up to the head of the dragon, the head itself about four times bigger than Lily’s body, and wordlessly flicked it with a metal finger, striking the area between Prei’s eyes.
The pain caused Prei to cover her forehead with her large, scaled, forelegs. Lily spoke in a stern voice.
“That was for worrying us. Move your claws away.”
Prei hesitatingly complied, exposing her head. The moment she did, Lily flicked it again, causing her to return to her previous position, her forelegs crossed protectively over her head.
“And that was for attacking us. Move your claws away again.”
Prei remained as she was for a moment, eyes watering. Lily narrowed her eyes.
With a whimper, Prei slowly, tentatively, uncovered her head again. When she did, Lily took a step forward, causing Prei to flinch backwards. However, instead of delivering the forehead flick that Prei was fearing, Lily hugged Prei’s head and kissed her snout.
“And that was for being safe. Don’t you ever go running off like that without telling me again, okay?”
Prei nodded slowly as Lily stroked her snout. Standing at the side, Tate could not help but be amused at the scene before her, of a lone woman standing before a dragon many times her size, scolding the dragon. It was a ludicrous scene. After a few moments, Lily spoke again.
“Well then, Prei. What happened?”
Prei averted her gaze again, a deep sadness reflected in her eyes. After a while, she spoke in a quiet voice.
“Mmmm… Well, you see- actually, this form feels weird to talk in. Right now, I should be able to…”
Prei closed her eyes. A soft glow gradually covered her body, causing her stark white body to shine even brighter in the middle of the forest clearing. The light rearranged itself into another form, taking on a human-shaped form. Lily breathed a deep sigh of relief at having her foster daughter returned to her. As the light dissipated, Prei was left suspended midair, fully naked, completely human in appearance except for a pair of draconic wings which sprouted from her back. Prei opened her eyes in surprise and craned her neck, trying to look over her shoulder at the new appendages.
Lily held back her surprise and cleared her throat.
“Prei. What happened.”
Prei jumped, her wings flapping hard to bring her higher into the air.
“Eh?! Um…Okay, I think I got it.”
The flapping of her wings slowed down, allowing Prei to slowly lower herself to just above Lily’s head, then she abruptly folded them up against her back, allowing her to land solidly on the ground. She reached a hand behind her back and touched the leathery membrane of her wings.
“Huh… Feels strange to have these things sticking out of my back.”
“You can’t hide them or something?”
“I don’t think so… I tried to, it didn’t work.”
“Hmmm… I might need to look into altering your clo- wait, no. That’s not important. What happened. Tell us.”
Lily shook her head to clear it of the distracting thoughts about Prei’s future clothing needs, focusing on the issue at hand. Prei took a few deep breaths, composed herself, and looked into Lily’s eyes with a clearly sorrowful gaze.
“I remember. Who I am, who my parents are.”
Lily closed her eyes and sighed. She had expected as much. Furthermore, just by seeing her other form, Lily had already guessed Prei’s origins. Still, it would do the girl good to say it out. Mentally preparing herself, she opened her eyes and glanced at Prei expectantly.
“Earlier, back at home, I started feeling really hot and uncomfortable, to the point where I couldn’t sleep. After a while, I decided to go wash myself in the lake, in the hopes that it would relieve some of the discomfort. Around this time my back started itching, but I didn’t pay it much mind. I walked down to the lake, but as I was starting to take off my clothes, I suddenly changed. It was really sudden; The heat just got really intense, and the itch on my back got a lot worse, and suddenly I was a dragon.”
As Prei said this, she spread out her wings and refolded them, as if to demonstrate her point.
“I didn’t even realise I had changed, I just noticed that I seemed a lot taller, and I was on all fours for some reason. Then I glanced at the lake’s surface, and saw my reflection. The moment I saw my appearance, all sorts of pictures and sounds flashed through my head, giving me an enormous headache. They were all jumbled together, and made no sense. I was confused and panicked, so I took off in a random direction. Eventually I found myself in that clearing, where I tried to get my thoughts in order. While I was trying to piece everything together, I felt… angry. Confused. Then you all appeared. I was so confused and upset, I didn’t recognise you, so I attacked. And when you hit me, I finally came to my senses and properly remembered everything. Everything…” Prei paused and bit her lip as tears began to freely flow from her eyes. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry…”
Still sobbing, Prei lowered her head in apology, prompting Lily to draw her into a hug.
“It’s okay. I understand.”
Prei pushed Lily away, with clear streaks of tears running down her cheeks.
“No, you don’t! Not just for attacking you, but for everything! The dragon that bit off your legs? That was my mother, my birth mother. I was there, in a corridor, I saw everything. I saw your friends die, I saw you bleeding, half-dead! I saw you disappear! My mother took away your legs, your friends, and yet I dared call you mother! You were so kind to me, to me whom you should hate! I- I-!”
Prei began to choke on her sobs, taking a few steps backwards, away from Lily.
“I don’t deserve to be this loved! I don’t deserve to be by your side!”
She turned and jumped into the air, flapping her wings powerfully to carry her away. However, her attempted flight was halted by Lily, who had wrapped her wires around Prei’s arm. Prei struggled, but Lily held firm.
“…I’m not letting you run off again.”
With that, Lily yanked on the wires, and Prei was jerked back to the ground, into the waiting arms of Lily, who wrapped up the girl in another tight hug.
Prei stood limply in Lily’s arms, crying into Lily’s shoulder. Lily lovingly stroked Prei’s long, soft hair.
“Silly girl. You don’t deserve to be loved? That statement’s way more painful than anything your mother ever did to me, you know? I don’t care who your birth mother is, or what she did, or how she wronged me. She’s not you. You’re Prei. My daughter. My lovely girl. Even if I didn’t give birth to you, I’m your mother now. That’s not going to change, even if you suddenly have wings. Or do you no longer think of me as your mother?”
Unable to answer through her sobs, Prei responded by placing her own arms around Lily’s torso and hugging tightly, clinging with a strength that resembled desperation. Her answer was as clear as if she had vocalised it. Lily chuckled.
“I thought so.”
As they stayed in the embrace, Lily glanced over to Iris and Tate, who were watching them with warm smiles. Continuing to pat Prei’s back, letting the girl cry out the rest of her tears, Lily allowed herself a wry smile. When she had initially found Prei and had grudgingly taken on the role of foster parent, she had not realised she would come to be this attached to the girl. The words she had spoken were spoken from her heart; she loved Prei as surely as if the girl had been her biological daughter. Prei was, at this moment, perhaps the second most important person in her life. As for the first… she glanced at Iris, but quickly stopped that train of thought. This was not the time.
Noting that Prei’s sobs had grown softer and her body had stopped shaking, Lily gently extricated herself from the hug, holding Prei by the shoulders at arm’s length. She looked into Prei’s damp eyes, which gazed back at her with a mix of apprehension and sadness.
“Now then, Prei. Since you’ve remembered, I’d love to hear what happened after I was sent away to the Wasteland. But this place is damp, and cold. We can talk about it over a cup of tea back in the mansion. Unfortunately, this place is rather far from the mansion, if we were to travel by foot. On the other hand, if we could somehow fly back to the mansion…”
Prei’s eyes widened as she digested the obvious implied request. She seemed on the verge of tears again, but quickly used the backs of her hands to rub away the remnants of her tears, then nodded with a bright smile.