Fire Lad & the Dragon
Lying on the diagnostic bed, Staq felt like a bug on collector’s board, and tried not to fidget as the minutes crawled by in silence. Impassively reading a medical scanner, Mon-El’s features betrayed nothing of whatever information he was gleaning from the beeping machine, and the Substitute Legionnaire code-named ‘Fire Lad’ was well past being ready to scream, just to break the silence.
Staq’s body had been deteriorating for well over a year, by the time the effects became obvious. When his hair burned away and was replaced by flame, he thought it was actually pretty awesome, and even tried out some new ‘hairstyles,’ such as a flame ‘mohawk,’ but now that his eyes had similarly burned away, and been replaced by glowing orbs of fiery plasma, that seemed to work just like his original flesh and blood eyes, he was taking the slow incineration of his body much more seriously. He’d known since the accident that his digestive system had changed, to become more like a Bismollan digestive system, based on incinerating anything he consumed on a molecular level, in a process vastly more efficient than anything his original digestive tract had done, but the process was spreading to systems that had nothing to do with generating his fiery breath, and he was desperate for a cure, or at least some way to stem the tide of his degeneration, before there was nothing left of him but fire, and the dire fate of spending the rest of eternity in one of Wildfire’s old containment suits…
Mon-El hadn’t moved for long minutes, other than his finger continually scrolling the datapad so fast as to be a blur of activity. Staq recognized that he was processing data at superhuman speed, taking advantage of one of his dozen or so Daxamite powers, and felt a surge of irritation at the unfairness of it all, that his one super-power, not even good enough to be a Legionnaire in the first place, was proving to be such a curse.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Staq.” Mon-El said in an abrupt tone. Staq nearly jumped out of his skin at the Legion leader’s sudden speech, and blurted out, “Oh, come on! You can read minds, too?”
Mon-El looked away from the pad, his finger finally stopping as he met Staq’s fiery eyes. He wasn’t sure how the Daxamite did it, but there was a suggestion of a smile around his eyes, and in his voice, as he replied, even as his demeanor remained as expressionless as before, “You were subvocalizing. I could hear the words in the back of your throat as you tested them out.” Mon-El put down the medical scanner, apparently having gotten all the information he could from the machine and placed his hand on Staq’s shoulder in what was probably meant to be a comforting gesture, but came across as subtly intimidating… “Being a hero, and especially being a Legionnaire, isn’t about raw power. If that’s all we cared about, we’d have recruited Dev-Em and Atmos and possibly even worked on getting Validus out from under Tharok’s mechanical thumb, and we wouldn’t have recruited Bouncing Boy and Duplicate Damsel in first place, let alone put them in charge of training potential Legionnaires.” He seemed to notice that his gesture wasn’t doing anything to calm Staq’s nerves, and moved his hand back to the datapad. “Being a hero is less about power and more about heart.” He actually did smile thinly, as he added, “Now let’s see what we can do about stopping yours from burning away, shall we?”
“Yes, sir,” Staq agreed a bit too quickly, worried that he might have offended the man who was devoting his time to helping Staq with his problem. Deciding to go ahead and go all in, as long as he might already be in hot water, he asked, “Have you spoken with Brainiac Five about this, sir?”
Mon-El shook his head slightly, and his look turned rueful. “The conference on Colu is taking up all of his time, at the moment. I sent him a message, and he replied that it was obvious, and that after I compared your blood samples to those of Ultra Boy, I’d figure it out in less time than it would take him to explain it to me.”
“Don’t worry. Brainy may be the smartest man in the galaxy, but I was a scientist a thousand years before he was born, and I can read and process information as fast as he can.” Mon-El assured him.
Turning away, Mon-El spoke into his Flight Ring, “Jo, prep a cruiser. We are headed for Shwar.”
Ultra Boy had selected a smaller cruiser, which was not the fastest the Legion possessed, and led Staq to the thought that maybe they weren’t in that much of a hurry, that his situation wasn’t as imminently dire as he had feared. As he stepped on-board, he noticed that much of the passenger seating was filled with medical equipment that Mon-El was bringing on board, leaving the cruiser surprisingly cramped for a six-man ship. He was already uncomfortable with taking up so much of the Legionnaire’s valuable time, and the thought of being stuck in such close quarters with him for the day and a half it would take to reach Shwar did nothing to lighten his spirits.
Jo was fiddling around in the command area as Fire Lad strapped himself in. Staq couldn’t help but compare the two Legionnaires. Mon-El and Ultra Boy had the same set of powers, more or less, and yet they couldn’t be more different. Ultra Boy was ‘one of the guys,’ fun to hang around, uncomplicated and casually friendly. Mon-El was distant and terrifying, to Staq. Every move he made was precise and measured, as if he was constantly restraining the power to tear the planet apart, which, indeed, he was. While Ultra Boy could be every bit as powerful or dangerous, he never seemed to carry that around like a weight. Mon-El’s power was a palpable thing, oppressive in its weight, while Ultra Boy seemed to benefit from being able to turn his ultra-energy off, and just be a normal guy.
At the moment, Ultra Boy had his feet propped up on a console as he finished up the pre-flight checklist, while Mon-El moved the last of the medical equipment into position and secured it for transport. Feeling that he had already pushed his luck enough with the team leader, Staq turned to Ultra Boy. “So why did Brainy suggest to compare my blood to yours to find the solution?” Jo looked up with a blank expression, and looked to Mon-El, nodding his head towards Staq, “What he said.”
Mon-El set down the last piece of equipment and said, “Both of your blood samples showed signs of ultra-radiation. And that only means one thing.”
Jo nodded, clearly understanding what Mon-El was talking about, and at Staq’s shrug, clarified, “Space dragon.”
With that, Mon-El left the ship and the door cycled shut, as they cleared for launch. Any thoughts that they weren’t in a terrible hurry fled as the ship’s engines remained silent, with all power devoted to structural fields, as Mon-El pushed them into orbit at an unsettling rate of acceleration, and then, clear of Earth’s atmosphere, cut loose and began pushing the ship at speeds the engines never could have sustained on their own…
Staq felt a twinge of guilt for not recognizing his own star as it came into view, but as it grew larger, he realized that this must be their destination. He hadn’t been home for years, living primarily on Earth now, with his Sub teammates, and as his world turned into a brown, gold and green marble in the viewport, he recognized the continents that he’d learned about in school, so many years ago, finding it odd, and perhaps a bit sad, that he’d never bothered to look at Shwar from orbit when he left, those years ago, having been so excited to get the hell away from it.
Ultra Boy had handed him a datapad on Shwar, a UP document, more detailed than the standard tourist fare, and told him to brush up en route. He had no idea what specifically he was supposed to be focusing on, but Jo had insisted that he was going to be their ‘local expert,’ since neither Mon-El nor Ultra Boy had ever been to his world.
For his part, Ultra Boy seemed to be absorbed in his own studies, and Staq could hear him and Mon-El chat on a private frequency, via their Flight Rings, throughout the journey.
The ship rocked slightly as they entered the atmosphere, the Legion vessel having been automatically cleared by the space control satellites above the world, and Staq was somewhat grateful that he didn’t have a normal digestive system, as he suspected that it would have been upset at the turbulent entry and landing, depending entirely on Daxamite musculature, instead of computer-controlled grav-thrusters.
Jo took a shot of a hyper-oxygenating compound, to help prepare himself for the oxygen poor atmosphere of Shwar, and they stepped forth into the Camarin Plateaus, where, several years before, a young Shwaran named Staq Mavlen had gone hiking along in the mountains, and encountered the meteor that changed his life.
“You’re on point, Fire Lad.” Mon-El said, as they stepped out of the ship. “Lead us to where the meteor landed.”
Staq nodded, finding himself light-headed for a moment as his body re-adjusted to his native environment. The air seemed cool and crisp, and he activated the Legion Flight Ring he’d been loaned for this occasion, rising into the air and attempting to get his bearings visually, before giving up and consulting his data-pad. “I came into the preserve from this region,” he said, enjoying the rush of the world moving beneath his feet as the Flight Ring warped gravity, so that he ‘fell’ forward. The old trails he had spent days hiking appeared and melted away beneath him as he moved effortlessly through the thin air. He remembered how he had bundled up, to handle the cool air of the plateau, those years ago, but now the fires burning within him made the near-freezing temperatures pleasant on his skin.
“This is Mount Coronis,” he said, speaking as much to himself as to the Legionnaires flying a few meters behind him, “where I was getting ready to climb the rock-face, when the meteor struck.”
The mountain before them looked like the site of an ancient volcanic eruption, the meteor in question having smashed into its side, like a fist from the heavens, smashing it into a crumbled shell of its former splendor. The sight of the once majestic peak in such a shambles was sad, somehow, reminding Staq of a once-strong man, now bent with age and unable to stand. The sound of a machine behind him beeping away drew his attention and he looked back to see Mon-El scanning the area. Next to the Daxamite, Ultra Boy’s eyes glowed a soft blue, and he spoke up, “There’s a trace of ultra-radiation in the middle of that mess. And, wow, I didn’t even believe it until now.”
Mon-El looked up from his scanning device, and his eyes also looked far away for a moment, before he nodded in agreement. “There it is.”
“For those of us who can’t see through mountains…” Staq said, attempting to hide his impatience at the strange combination of stoicism and puckishness that had led the Legionnaires to not bother explaining to him the purpose of their visit.
Jo smiled and turned to his friend, “You honestly didn’t tell him, did you?” Mon-El just looked back and shrugged.
“Okay, here’s the short version. What you thought was a meteor, was actually a larval space dragon.” Jo began, waving off any interruptions, “They descend to a planetary surface in a hard external carapace that is weakened by the heat of atmospheric entry and then cracked open by impact. The hatchling is small, for a space dragon, about half the size of our cruiser, and unable to fend for itself, at first, so it releases special pheromones that cause nearby creatures to partially transform, and to become devoted to bringing vast quantities of food to the hatchling, so that it can feed and grow. This particular hatchling happened to land in an inhospitable area, where there was nothing to eat, and no living creature other than you was affected. Additionally, the mountain then collapsed on it, so that you were never fully infected, and nobody else ever was.”
“So how does this help me?” Staq asked, trying to avoid asking the many other less immediately useful questions that darted around in his head.
Mon-El replied, “Space dragon DNA isn’t like human DNA, and is very different, from creature to creature, as it gets tangled up with the DNA of the various creatures it feeds upon during this stage, which is why space dragons can vary so much in appearance. We need a sample from the creature that infected you, which is buried within this mountain, *and* we need a sample of your DNA from before you were infected, which we should be able to find where you grew up. Using the DNA of the space dragon, we can weed out any changes it created in you, and using your un-tainted DNA, we can create a baseline.”
Staq nodded thoughtfully, “My mom should still have some of my old stuff in storage. You might be able to find a hair or something…”
Mon-El interrupted, “That’s a good idea, but I’ve already got that covered.” He receded as if falling backwards and a loud crack accompanied his disappearance, as he began moving at super-sonic speeds. “Where’s he going?” Staq asked, and Jo shrugged with a grin, “Probably to get the DNA you were just talking about. He’s surprisingly impatient for someone who remembers when they invented pants.”
Jo’s Flight Ring spoke up, in Mon-El’s voice, “I heard that. Start digging, why don’t you?” Jo laughed, and descended to the tumbled ruin that had been Mount Coronis, and began tossing boulders the size of buildings towards the base of the slope, each crashing to the ground with earth-shaking force.
“Uh, can I help?” Fire Lad said into his borrowed Flight Ring, wincing at the timidity of his own voice.
“Just keep an eye out for nosy tourists.” Jo said, hurling another boulder over his shoulder, “We signaled ahead to make sure the area was cleared, but you never know…”
Staq resigned himself to scanning the skies, staying well clear of the base of the mountain, where a pile of boulders continued to slam into each other and occasionally crumble into smaller fragments. A few minutes later, he spotted a small flier, probably a two-seater, and as he moved to intercept it, he recognized the insignia of the Shwaran media service. He flew to right in front of the pilot’s windscreen and just shook his head in the negative, pointing for them to back away from the area. The pilot clearly recognized him, and the camera-woman in the passenger’s seat took a few pictures of him as the ship began to recede to a safer distance.
He smiled to himself, pleased that he’d had some sway over the locals, at least, even if he felt like a small fish next to his Legion companions. The sound of thunder distracted him from his feel-good moment, and he saw that Mon-El had returned to join Ultra Boy, carefully tossing boulders alongside his friend.
Staq returned to hover a safe distance to the side of their excavation, and attempted vainly to peer through the dust cloud they were kicking up. Jo flew up to join him, and, perversely, the speed of the excavation increased as Mon-El no longer needed to hold back to avoid accidentally endangering his non-invulnerable friend.
“Does that ever bug you?” Staq asked, noting Jo’s questioning look and adding, “That he had to hold back because your powers don’t work like his?”
“Not really,” Jo says with a shrug. “Even with only one power at a time, I’m still luckier than trillions of other people.”
The sound of distant rumbling subsided, and Mon-El suddenly flew past them, tumbling out of control.
“Problem,” Mon-El said, regaining his bearings. “The space dragon didn’t starve to death…”
A roaring sound from the excavation site was accompanied by Staq’s first glimpse at the creature who, unknown to him until today, had changed his life. It was easily the size of the smaller Legion cruiser they had taken from Earth, and it shot a blast of radioactive fire into the sky as it spread its wings and bellowed a challenge to those that trespassed upon its territory. Thick scales covered its squat bulky body, with an intimidating array of sharp edged spurs and horns. Serrated tearing teeth the length of a man’s leg left no question as to what sort of food it craved.
A wave of heat seemed to pass through his body, as if he was burning from within, and his body felt tight, as if his skin had shrunk two sizes, and his body was about to burst free… In a voice he barely recognized as his own, he growled, “She’s so hungry…”
He could dimly see both Mon-El and Ultra Boy looking at him, and found the looks of alarm on their faces aggravating. Couldn’t they tell how urgent the situation was? Where they just going to float there looking surprised and confused, while she burned with the hunger of years denied sustenance?
The moment passed, and he was shocked to see the skin splitting on his hands, revealing talons at the tips of his fingers, and scales beneath the skin. What should have been painful instead felt like sweet relief, as if his old skin had been binding him tightly, and now he was finally free of its confines.
Like an annoying buzzing in the distance, he could hear Mon-El talking to Ultra Boy, but the words spun around into nonsense fragments and syllables, irrelevant in the face of his aching need. Ultra Boy seized his shoulders, and had to shout into his face to be heard through the sound of his own growl, “Staq! Think! You are transforming, and we need you to think! The space dragon is going to go on a feeding spree that will end in the deaths of thousands, we either have to kill it, or feed it something to keep it distracted. What on this planet can feed something like this? The bigger, the better!”
His head was burning with frustration, but the Legionnaires grip somehow helped him find focus, and he dredged his memories for the information they needed. “There’s a giant mollusk in most of the bays and harbors, it weighs a couple of tons. The Titanians assured us it wasn’t even close to sentient when they were surveying Shwar during the UP admission process…”
Mon-El said simply, “Keep it here.” and took off fast enough that it sounded strangely like ripping paper, as the air parted and reformed in his wake.
Ultra Boy turned to fly down towards the space dragon ‘larva,’ who looked like anything but a larva to Staq’s clearing senses. Like something out of a cheap space monster holo-drama, it reared up from the mountain it had destroyed with its fiery arrival, and beat its wings as if preparing to take flight.
It staggered back into the rubble as Ultra Boy took advantage of his invulnerability to fly directly into it, but regained its footing quickly and countered with another gout of radioactive fire, which washed harmlessly over the Legionnaire. As Jo switched to ultra-speed, and began flying circles around the creature, Staq was left wondering what he could do to help, and decided to fight fire with fire.
The familiar feel of his own fiery breath was alien to him, as his transforming body belched forth a torrent of flame far easier than it ever had before. The flames should have been a feeble flicker in the low oxygen atmosphere of Shwar, but they poured forth in a torrent, as much plasma as flame. They washed over the space dragon, not visibly harming it, as he had suspected it would not, but distracting it. The dragon’s massive head turned to face him, and he prepared to dodge a counter-attack, only to see the dragon turn its head to the sky, and expose its throat and belly to his flames.
He paused for a moment to draw breath, and the creature’s head looked back to meet his eyes, before he again poured forth flame with all the intensity he could muster. Again the space dragon raised its head and spread its wings, as if basking in the flames.
Jo flew up next to him again, and pulled forth the scanner they had been using earlier. “Keep doing whatever it is you’re doing, man.” He said, shaking his head. “It’s been starved not only for food, but also for energy, and it likes this!”
A spray of warm water announced the return of Mon-El, even before the thunder produced by his speed. Staq had never actually seen one of the creatures the Shwarran colonists had named ‘krakens,’ but the shell was at least 10 meters in length, and Mon-El pried it open with greater ease than a human would the hand sized Earth clam it resembled. Hundreds of fine tendrils, used to filter food from the tidal waters it frequented, spilled forth, and Mon-El dropped the mass in front of the space dragon.
The dragon did not react until Staq paused again for breath, at which point it lowered its head and began to devour the gargantuan mollusk. Mon-El watched impassively for a second, before turning to Fire Lad, “It seems to like this just fine, but we should vary the diet. Who knows what nutrients it needs. Is there anything else on Shwar that might provide a ton or more of protein, carbohydrates, etc.”
Seeing the vast creature feed, he felt a sense of satiation, but knew that more was necessary. “In the swamps, there are all sorts of fungal growths. They are white, very visible against the browns and greens, and they are just the tips of the greater growth, which is about five meters underground, and the size of a shuttle pod.”
Mon-El nods, “Giant swamp truffles. Got it.” And with that, the Daxamite was gone again.
The space dragon had finished off the mollusk before he returned, but another blast of fiery breath calmed the beast, and Staq could visibly see her growing, somehow using the energy he was providing to immediately metabolize every scrap of the unlucky shellfish. A few minutes later, Mon-El returned, with even travel at the speed of sound having failed to remove all of the mud from his hair and costume. A potato-shaped fungal mass, also dripping mud and swamp slime, dropped to the creature’s feet, and Staq again took a breath, as the dragon stooped to devour this latest offering.
“No more swamp truffles.” Mon-El said with a sour look. “Very much not worth the aggravation of trying to dig them out from under a swamp without tearing them into a million pieces… Are there any other options, or are we back to the giant tentacle clams?”
Staq held back a smile at the Legionnaires mud-drenched appearance, “In the middle of the oceans, there are algal rafts, like the sargasso’s of Earth. They can be up to a half kilometer across, but you can tear off a chunk without killing the colony.”
Mon-El nodded and was away again, just in time for Staq to turn back to see the space dragon finishing off the last of the giant fungus. Is it my imagination, or is she eating even faster now? he thought as he resumed bathing her in fiery plasma.
This time, when Mon-El returned, he looked like he’d brought back a carpet sized for titans, having rolled up a mass of the algal mat that must have been three meters deep at its thickest point, and a hundred meters long. The whole thing dripped with rank seawater and reeked of decaying plant matter. The sodden Daxamite dropped it with a sickening squelch, and rose slowly to hang in the air next to Staq. As he ceased his fiery exhalation and turned to the disheveled Legionnaire, Mon-El asked, “So tell me truthfully, are you deliberately sending me out to handle the foulest-smelling and most disgusting creatures this planet has to offer?”
Ultra Boy laughed, but Staq stammered, “No, sir! Really, it’s just everything big enough to not be a waste of time lives underwater!”
Mon-El just nodded, and Staq was almost sure that the Legionnaire was kidding with him. “The space dragon better be willing to settle for those mollusks from now on.” he said, turning to take a look at the scanner that Jo was holding. “Hmm. At this rate of growth, we’ll be here a few more hours, at least…”
He turned and flew away, back to the eastern sea and its plentiful open harbors.
Hours did indeed pass, and the space dragon continued to expand in size, until finally, it pawed absently at Mon-El’s latest offering, and turned away, beginning to dig into the ground, done with its feeding frenzy.
“Congratulations gentlemen, we’ve just accelerated a process that takes months of frenzied feeding and results in the destruction of entire nations, to an afternoon’s work.” Mon-El said, clearly pleased with the results. “Now we just need to stop it from cracking the continent in half…”
“What!!!” Staq said, momentarily forgetting his own bewildering transformation.
“The next stage of the life-cycle is to burrow down into the planet’s mantle, and use its stored ultra-energy to trigger a volcanic eruption. It uses the force of the eruption to hurl itself into the air, and explosively burns off the thick outer layer it has grown to reach escape velocity. Once it’s in space, it unfurls it’s wings and feeds exclusively off of solar energy.”
“And that will cause earthquakes all over the continent,” Jo finishes.
“And we use a lot of geothermal energy, so even the areas that aren’t affected by the earth-quakes will have no energy for emergency services…” Staq adds, dejectedly.
“You have a plan for this, right, sir?” he asks the Legion leader hopefully.
“To be honest, I wasn’t expecting any of this. I’ve been making it up as I go.” Mon-El admits, and at the expression on Staq’s face, hastens to add, “But I’m sure we can handle this.”
Jo nods, “Yeah, we got this. It wants to make a big explosion so that it can get into space. If it’s ready for space, I say we give it space.”
Mon-El smiles, “And *that* sounds like a plan.” He ponders for a moment and adds, “Staq, the outer layer of the space dragon needs to be burned off as we leave the atmosphere. Normally the magma and the friction take care of that. The space dragon can’t survive in vacuum unless all of that armor is burned away. Jo, his Flight Ring isn’t going to be able to keep up, use your ultra-speed to keep up with me.”
“But, it absorbs my flames…” Staq protested, “How can I burn off its outer hide?”
Mon-El shakes his head, “That was during its ‘eat everything in 1000 kilometers and grow’ stage. Now it’s in another phase of its life-cycle. It used your flames to power its metabolism to add mass for this stage, and now it will use your flames to shed the mass it needs to shed before reaching space. Trust the dragon to know what it needs to do, its whole life-cycle is built around this.”
Mon-El then descends to where the space dragon has already dug down into the earth, and flies in after her. Moments later, rocks explode in all directions as the struggling juvenile space dragon futilely attempts to resist the Daxamites immeasurable strength. Slowly, but at an ever-increasing pace, Mon-El accelerates into the air, the flailing space dragon unable to slow his ascent. Staq can feel Jo grip his arms under the shoulders, and move him into position and he takes a deep breath, before unleashing the flames.
From the ‘safe’ distance of two kilometers out, the lead reporter of the Shwarran Planetary News Service got the picture of a lifetime. Several tons of angry struggling space dragon being pushed into orbit by a barely visible figure in red and blue, bathed all the while in a massive torrent of flame from Shwars’ one and only native superhero, Fire Lad.
The void of space felt chilly, but Staq knew that had to be all in his head. If his transsuit hadn’t protected him fully from the vacuum, he’d be dead, not ‘chilly.’ The space dragon, stripped of its thick brown and black scales, was now sleek and a pale greyish-green in color, looking more like a slender serpent than the bulky creature it had seemed back on the planet. It was coiled, appearing dead, for long minutes as it drifted in orbit.
Mon-El’s voice came over the Fight Ring, “I hope we didn’t rush it too much, and it wasn’t able to adjust quickly enough…”
Fire Lad felt an indescribable sense of loss at the thought. This creature may have ended his old life on Shwar, and be responsible for whatever transformation he was undergoing now, but he felt like he was losing a parent, or perhaps a child...
Slowly the creature stirred, and he felt his heart shudder, as if he’d been holding his breath so hard that his heart had stopped for a moment. Its head, sleeker and less menacing looking than before, without its array of horns and spines, peered around and from the sides of its body, vast diaphanous wings unfurled, trailing off dozens of meters away, and arcing to absorb the maximum amount of sunlight.
It locks eyes with Staq one last time, and as solar energy converts to ultra-energy, accelerates away towards the Shwarran sun, eager to begin the next stage of its existence. He waves to it, pausing to look at his hand, now fully transformed into a reptilian claw, smooth scaled like the final stage of the space dragon’s own existence, but still nothing like his original human hand.
Mon-El is speaking into his Flight Ring, alerting local shipping traffic of the new arrival and warning them to keep out of its way, but Jo notices his introspection. “Well, the upside is that your body isn’t burning away anymore, and there are at least a half-dozen reptilian races in the UP that are pretty hot…” he says, attempting to lighten the mood.
Staq laughs a short, sharp involuntary laugh, struck by the absurdity of the situation. They came to Shwar to stop him from losing his humanity, and ended up accelerating the process, and endangering his homeworld at the same time. Still, looking at the receding space dragon, now shimmering with an iridescent play of ultra-energy, coiling through the darkness of space like a snake through water, he can’t bring himself to regret everything that has happened today.
Mon-El finishes his conversation with traffic control, and joins the conversation. “We’ve got samples of both your original DNA and of the space dragons DNA. Nothing has changed about our objective, other than we don’t have to worry about you burning away into pure energy anymore.” He switches to a private channel, and takes Staqs’ unfamiliar taloned hand in his own, “And even if you have to stay in this form, for a while, or forever, there’s a few of us out there who know what it’s like to undergo a change that means that you can never go home again, never truly have a connection to one’s own people again. As hard as it can be to no longer have anything in common with your own people, trust me, it’s a far better fate than to lose your corporeal form, and spend lifetimes unable to touch or be touched…”