Story scrap titled Augmentee.
I could tell she wasn't like other dragons, even before I laid eyes on her.
Dragons - when not in human form - normally roost in caves, or in and around mountain peaks, far from the prying eyes of humanity. She made her lair atop a gleaming tower of steel, in the heart of the city, where she could receive visitors. Visitors! Dragons are supposed to eat humans, not entertain them!
Not that I was complaining, of course. I plan to stay alive as long as I can; getting eaten is not on my to-do list. I don't have the time in my schedule for that sort of thing, especially when I've got an exclusive interview to do with one of the richest beings alive.
The trip to the tower wasn't too long, not being far from my office, but the trip up the tower was even faster. I watched the ground rush away as the little round platform I had just stepped on started shooting up to the top of the tower, giving me a breathtaking view of the city and the entire valley around it. I'd heard dragons were strong in magic, but this was the first time seeing it for myself this close up; nowhere else in the city - or for miles around, in fact - displayed its defiance of physical laws so brazenly as this impossibly slim steel needle.
I finally reached the top of the tower, a circular plate perhaps ten meters across with one half-circle cutout where the platform I stood on connected with an almost silent *click* of metal on metal. The subject of my interview, I saw while walking towards her, was laying on a towel and sunbathing.
Brianna Corteza Valentine; one of the descendants of the illustrious (and perhaps infamous) Valentine bloodline, she had moved in some time ago and wormed - wyrmed? - her way into the city's heart, getting her claws into everything she could: government, commerce, housing, education, everything. Over time she managed to make herself indispensable to all involved parties, yet remained neutral and beholden to none. A dangerously savvy lady, from everything I'd heard, and I was going to be the first to interview her since she dropped out of the public eye shortly after achieving her lofty position.
And so, here we were: me in my clear raincoat, gray skirt suit, and black heels, and Ms. Valentine in a deep maroon bikini, regarding me with a vaguely amused look as she sat up, holding a nearly-full glass with a paper umbrella sticking out of it. "You must be the journalist, then. Ms. Alicia Demande, I believe?" Her voice was rich and velvety, thrilling to hear, and rather mesmerizing.
"Y-yes," I finally managed after a moment, regaining my usual composure. "Yes, but please, call me Alice." She had very full lips, colored a red not quite as dark as her outfit, and black hair and fair skin like the rest of her clan, but the thing about her that drew the most attention (my attention, in any case) was the way her skin was augmented in places, or perhaps replaced, with little plates and scales of brightly gleaming metal. They moved almost like skin, and I could only imagine the amount of painstakingly precise work - of skill - it took to create such a masterpiece, a sublime work of art.
"Well then," Ms. Valentine returned with a tiny little smile, removing her sunglasses and revealing a fiery red-orange gaze, "I must insist that you call me Brianna. 'Ms. Valentine' just makes me feel dreadfully old, you see."
"Alright then, ... Brianna," I started, the informal name seeming almost a little wrong in my mouth somehow, "to come to the point straight off: you've got your cl- fingers in pretty much every business in town, yet no one sees you. You're not a public figure by any means, and you haven't been for years. Are we about to see a change in that?"
The dragon in human form grinned, showing off her pearly whites. "Oh yes, I fully intend to take a much more active role in things. Not that I am dissatisfied, of course," she added with perhaps just a touch of haste, "but there are always ways to improve upon success."
I've always got an audio recorder running, but I took out my notepad and pen anyway since it's always nice to remember my thoughts. I began scribbling down whatever came to mind, like I usually do. "So you'll be more active, you say. What sort of things are you planning?"
A soft hmmm~ came from the dragoness, one eyebrow lifting as she came to her feet. "I haven't decided on the specifics just yet, but I do have one major goal in mind: trade relations."
Well, that certainly sounded like news. "Do you have a trade partner in mind? The rest of the kingdom doesn't have that much that we want or need, and we already have trade routes with the nearby cities."
"Oh, I'm quite aware of that, dear," Brianna almost purred, in that voice of hers. And the way she called me 'dear', as if... well, anyway, it sounded dangerous. But I maintained my cool while she continued. "I think relations with certain groups outside the kingdom would provide the city with a great deal of profit and advancement, as it already has for me on a personal basis."
"Legality issues aside, what would a dragon want with personal advancement? Aren't you, what was it, 'the pinnacle of creation' already?"
The fire-eyed lady rolled her eyes and sighed. "Gerard always did have a high opinion of himself." I scribbled: how does she know Gerard / how well? "Everyone quotes him on that, but we are individuals, you know, each of us with our own minds and opinions. I like to think of myself as... progressive. Improving upon success."
"So that's what you're seeking by opening trade with this mysterious outsider group, then? Is that how you got your Augmentation work?" I gestured, as politely as possible, at her metal-plated skin. "I have no idea what it does, but it looks as though it cost a fortune."
Brianna arched her eyebrow again. "Oh, this? This does nothing at all, besides looking nice. No, the real Augmentation is in my true form. Perhaps you'd like to observe it?"
A dragon? A dragon in dragon form, this close? Goddess, yes! Of course I would! Is there anyone who wouldn't?! "... well, if you don't terribly mind it, I suppose," came my reply as I cautiously stepped back to give her room.
How do I explain the process of draconic shapeshifting? The way it looks; the way it twists space around itself for one eye-gouging moment, just long enough for a woman - in this case - to be replaced by a much larger dragon without upsetting any natural laws in the process. Well, that's what the book-wizards say at least, and I'm not learned enough to disagree with them.
How do I explain the presence of a dragon? The way it feels to be rendered so small and insignificant, next to a creature of legend; so overpowered that you can hardly breathe, hardly remain standing even. I've seen plenty of pictures of dragons, and even a few in reality, but always at a distance, soaring and wheeling overhead. I have to say I was completely unprepared for this. But I managed, like I always do; I have an image to maintain, after all, and a job to do.
I suppose it might have helped my composure that Ms. Valentine was amazingly different. I know the way a dragon is supposed to look, and I'm fairly sure they're not normally equipped with metal implants in their wings, sides, and back; neither are they in the habit of wearing fuel canisters or some sort of munitions. Clearly she had undergone some pretty serious work, and costly too no doubt, judging from her graceful, unimpeded, and above all else natural movements, despite her alterations. I gazed up at her for a moment as she flexed those wings of hers, revealing a second smaller set underneath, fully artificial. "I have to say I'm at a loss for words, Brianna. I've never seen anything quite like this."
"I'd imagine not," the dragoness's voice rumbled, sounding like the earth itself tearing before she toned it down. Her clawpoints screeched across the metal platform as she shifted, lowering her head to regard me. "I'm very fond of the entire package, though. I can fly faster and farther than any 'natural' dragon, and when it comes to fighting, none of them can offer a challenge."
"That sounds... impressive. But I have to wonder: why do this to yourself? With your current situation, you're essentially untouchable anyway, with your personal and commercial connections."
Brianna grinned at me suddenly, baring her rather intimidating teeth. I felt a little thrill of fear run up my spine as I realized just how precarious my position was, how utterly defenseless I was against this... powerhouse that reclined barely a couple meters away. "Alice, dear, no one in the world is truly untouchable," she returned. "But I did this not out of fear, but rather to demonstrate how very progressive I am, how seriously I take my ideals."
From the way her grin turned into a smirk, I must have looked rather taken aback at that. "Self-modification is an ideal?"
"Oh, Alice. Dear, dear Alice," came that purr again, albeit louder, deeper, and... quite compelling, actually. "Do you honestly believe that 'wishing to be more than you are right now' is an exclusively human trait?"