(AKA: Hizashi has a dumb lizard brain and Aizawa has lizards on the brain)
A Dragon’s Nest
‘When tracking dragons, it’s important to understand the different signs of nesting between age and status. One does not want to wander unprepared into the den of an ancient and territorial alpha, or a cave housing a clutch of eggs and a protective parent.’
- A Complete Guide to Dragons by Eraserhead
It wasn’t easy being a dragon slayer: the hours were long, the job was isolating, the casualty rate was predictably high, and while it wasn’t a thankless job – if anything everyone was always exceedingly thankful – Shouta Aizawa chalked that one down as a negative. He worked best while on the move, and although it was difficult to turn down the kind offers of a hot meal and a comfortable bed, he hadn’t taken this job so he could settle.
If a town was safe, there was no reason for him to remain. In the words of a song he’d heard years ago: ‘Twas better to be all alone.’
The sun glinted off his authentic dragon-scale armour as he marched through the small town, head held high, his raven black hair tied in a messy ponytail. A dirty green cape trailed behind him, kicking up whenever it was caught by the occasional gust of wind. The hunting arrows rattled in their quiver, his bow dipped and swayed with every step, and his dark blue robes parted slightly to reveal a worn leather doublet beneath.
Every piece of clothing was covered in frantic patches and unruly stitches, while everything he needed to survive weighed down his several bags. At his side hung a sheathed sword, the scabbard made of dark wood, native to his distant homeland, while the hilt was curiously ornamental to anyone keen enough to notice.
He could feel eyes watching him from behind closed shutters, but only a few had the courage to open their doors and mumble some sort of greeting, typically along the lines of ‘Thank the Lord you’re here’ or ‘We’ve been waiting for you’.
No, it wasn’t easy being a dragon slayer, and the townspeople were only half the problem.
When Shouta had been a young child, he’d listened to heroic tales of brave knights and vicious dragons, and he’d been drawn into the fantasy as easily as any other youth. In reality, there were no brave knights, but there were plenty of vicious dragons. They came in so many shapes and sizes, with tempers as fiery as the flames they breathed, and the numerous scars than lined Aizawa’s firmly built body were testament to the many he’d expunged.
They were beautiful beasts too, majestic and intricate, but he kept that unique observation close to his heart.
He wouldn’t’ve considered this area adequate territory for a dragon, but a slew of reports suggested a beast was setting up a nest nearby, despite the poor conditions. Livestock had disappeared, farmers had found tell-tale scorch marks in their fields, and a few had even reported seeing a ‘golden serpent’ slipping between the trees. Aizawa wasn’t so sure about that last point: he’d never encountered a golden dragon before and he doubted he’d find one around here.
Whatever colour the beast was, hopefully it hadn’t found a mate yet, or else he’d be dealing with two angry adults and potentially young, and there were very few things he hated more than slaying defenceless fledglings...
However, judging by the amount of livestock that’d disappeared lately, the beast was probably alone, so it was better to deal with it now, before it found a mate and had the chance to breed. Spring was fast approaching, after all, so time was of the essence.
He reached the field where the most recent sightings had been reported and examined the area, his armour making a rough scraping sound as he moved. The scorch marks were several days old, but that didn’t mean the beast had left the area, especially if it was building a nest.
He removed a thick leather glove and let his fingers brush over the blackened ground, feeling the rough texture beneath his skin. It was impossible to discern whether the beast was male or female, for this pattern could’ve fit either. Hopefully it was the latter, for a male would begin to gather more and more food to attract a mate, and when the livestock ran out, its eyes would turn to the helpless people in the town…
Shouta straightened up and glanced around the paddock, noting the old wooden fencing. He trailed along the field’s perimeter, slowly and methodically, his sharp eyes scanning for…
His boots crunched against the ground as he stopped and ran his fingers over several deep gashes in the fence, where a beast had scrambled over to escape with its kill. Aizawa pulled his glove back on and unfurled a scroll from his belt, his steady eyes running over the blotches and fine ink lines. According to the map, there was a mountainous area to the north-west.
Aizawa put the scroll away and examined the claw marks more closely, trying to gauge the size of the beast. It was certainly an adult, but was probably still quite young, which would be both a blessing and a curse: it wouldn’t have a mate yet, but sometimes the younger ones were more aggressive over territory, especially if this was its first spring since coming of age. He withdrew a bandolier of small leather pouches from his bag, each sealed tightly to retain the contents inside. He counted each one and stopped at the fifth, before he pulled out several blue feathers and proceeded to tie them into his hair. The wind brushed through them, fanning out their unnoticeable scent, and he grabbed a handful of dry dirt.
His face and armpits were quickly smeared with the grime, creating dark streaks over his pale skin, and the remainder was purposefully poured into his boots. The feathers and dirt would mask his scent for a while, at least until he found the dragon’s lair amongst the foothills and caverns. A few nearby farmers who’d come out to watch looked at him as if he were crazy, although their faces blanched once he accidentally made eye contact.
Aizawa almost cursed himself. Once he’d habitually looked away from people, to hide his shame, but when working with dragons...
“You see his eye?” one farmer growled in a rough, callous tone. “Boy’s got a demon eye.” The group murmured some religious prayer for protection, but their cruelty was ignored.
Now wasn’t the time to think about that: he had a job to do. Aizawa hopped the fence in an impressive leap and started north-west into the forest, leaving the superstitious farmers behind. As he moved, he made sure to run his palms over the trunks of trees. It would rile the dragon up, to have some of its territory claimed by a human, but that was the entire point: they were easier to fight when blinded by rage.
It was an odd balance of leaving his scent and masking it, but there was a reason Aizawa was still alive by this point in his career. To kill thy enemy, one had to know thy enemy.
He was surprised by the minimal territorial marking though: there were a few scratches about, and some trees were bare where bark had been rubbed away by scaly skin, but these were few and far between. This was peculiar, especially for a young adult, who’d typically overcompensate with their territorial marking.
Was it a female then? Or perhaps the dragon had been distracted by something…
The environment shifted subtly from the flat forest to rockier slopes. The trees were more spread out here, making it ideal for a wyvern, but that contradicted the other patterns the monster had left. Perhaps the dragon had been orphaned at a young age, and was inexperienced...
He spied several small cave openings nearby, and a brush of warm wind told him he was nearing the nest: dragons always kept a fire blazing at the heart of their homes
He crested a small hill to find a short drop on the other side, with claw marks raked into the gravelled slope. Heat washed up from below, and he noticed the flicker of a flame-cast shadow. In the distance, the sun was already nearing its final descent behind the horizon, the sky painted in luscious hues of orange and red.
It hadn’t taken him too long to find the nest, and that was exceedingly peculiar, despite his dedication to the job. Dragons were usually better at hiding their homes, and even the selection of this area was peculiar. Gravel was an obvious giveaway for claw marks, so most beasts avoided territory with it, not to mention the lack of trees to hide the entrance with. Honestly, judging by the rough markings on the ground, it almost looked like the dragon had recently fallen over the ledge, but a dragon wouldn’t be that inept… right?
Aizawa closed his eyes and listened. The wind whistled over his ears, gently brushing the azure feathers against his face, and with it came the sound of something snoring.
Shouta opened his eyes and carefully descended the hill, his soft boots moving precariously across the slippery gravel. He reached the bottom without incident, which was thankful since the sun was getting low: travelling down would’ve been far more dangerous in the dark.
An orange glow lit his destination: an opening about four times his height and several metres wide. It wasn’t something an ancient dragon could squeeze through, and even the cavern beyond didn’t look too large compared to some dens he’d encountered in his many years of slaying. His sensitive nose caught onto the scent of burnt meat, and he knew he’d found his livestock killer - apparently it was fond of barbeque…
It mustn't have sensed the stirrings in its territory, for it to still be asleep… Good.
Aizawa inhaled deeply and crept inside, ensuring his boots moved silently. The heat was more intense here, yet certainly wasn’t unwelcomed after the chilly breeze outside. He reached the end of the brief tunnel and peered inside at the large bonfire at the cavern’s centre, noting the yellow flames with stark curiosity, until…
His eyes slid to the side to see what, at first glance, might’ve been nothing more than a boulder with fuzzy moss peppered across its surface, dyed yellow by the flames. Nevertheless, on further analysis, the rock was breathing. Aizawa’s heart skipped a beat at the awe-inspiring colour the creature reflected.
It really was gold: he’d never seen a golden dragon before! Well, it was almost entirely golden…
An odd discolouration scarred the scales on the creature’s left chest, as if it’d been partially burned, which was an impossibility in itself since dragonhide was fire-proof.
What could’ve easily been mistaken for exotic moss was actually a smear of yellow feathers, which covered the beast’s legs, back and the top of its (mostly hidden) head like a mane. On impulse, Shouta moved closer, merely to get a better look at the magnificent creature. His heart was hammering as his eyes roamed along its long, jutting horns, to its slim serpentine neck. For a dragon, it wasn’t especially bulky, but it was long, although the full length of its tail was tucked tightly within the curl of its body. The beast was about the age he’d predicted, despite its carelessness, although a true estimate was difficult to guess, even for Aizawa.
Its hoard of treasure was … minimal, and that was disappointing. Such a beautiful creature should’ve had an equally beautiful hoard. He could only spy a few small coins and bracelets poking out from beneath its sleeping position, winking greedily in the light of the fire. The creature mustn’t’ve been here for very long as only a small pile of animal bones were tucked away in the corner, just shy of the fire’s luminous reach.
It was rather saddening to know he’d have to destroy such a dazzling creature, but he’d at least end the dragon’s life quickly and mercifully, long before it had the chance to hurt anyone. However, just as he drew the black steel sword from its sheath, the slumbering beast moved.
The beast stirred at the scent of something strange inside its nest, an odd mix of approaching danger and an expected arrival. As it came to, it was able to better distinguish the smell: a male dragon! At long last, a mate to court! However, the awaited smell was tarnished by the twinge of death...
Death: death was in its nest.
The dragon snapped to its feet in seconds, its long neck towering above the intruder.
Intruder. Intruder. Not a nice intruder: a bad.
Their horrible stench was masked carefully, yet now he had detected it, it was all he could smell. It was a human who reeked of dead dragon, and blood, and feathers, and dirt, and sorrow. In its hand was a slither of evil metal, as black as the night, yet the weapon smelled of nothing.
Reptilian eyes searched the shape up and down as rage thrummed through him. This human had dirtied his territory, had killed his brethren, and had now invaded his nest with dragon skin draped across him and a sword-with-no-smell.
He backed away from the human, forcing some distance between them as he gathered fire in his throat to defend his home. Before he could gather enough, however, the flames vanished.
Before the beast could think more on its sudden lack of fire, something flew through the air and wrapped around his snout, throwing the dragon’s entire head back. Smoke poured from his nose, yet there were still no flames.
He lashed his tail at the man, but he leapt over it with practised ease. The dragon instinctively swung his head back and forth, trying to rid himself of the face-bad and to regather his fire. Where had it gone? Where had it gone?
The beast turned to the human. Their hair was flying, and a strange red fire burned in the villain’s right eye.
The man had strange eyes: one black and one burning red.
The dragon paused at the sight as the Other stirred inside him.
Man, this guy looked weird. Wasn’t there a clan that had those-
Hizashi took a step back as his pupils expanded and his stomach wrenched. Oh thank god, he was back, and there was someone who could help him! Wait, no, he was attacking him!
He tried to open his large mouth, even though he wouldn’t’ve been able to talk anyway, but the bola wrapped around it secured his snout too tightly. Dammit, what was the time? Was it almost sunset?
The attacker lunged with his sword, and Hizashi tried to parry it with his paw, believing it would harmlessly skirt off his thick skin. However, to his shock (and horror), it sliced cleanly through the back of his paw, shooting searing agony through his body. He felt his mind falter as the dragon stirred inside him again, but he forced the beast back down by focusing on the human’s face. It was difficult, but manageable: he refused to succumb and hurt this man, even as he threw another bola at him. Hizashi was too caught up in staving off his inhuman instincts to avoid it.
The ropes wrapped around his front legs, and the next thing he knew he was slamming into the ground. His head swam with pain, and dizziness obscured his vision. For a moment, he’d feared he’d dipped again, but his human mind was miraculously intact.
Dammit, why was this happening to him? After three years, was this how everything would end?
Hot blood ran from his paw where the blade had cut, but he suspected the wound would soon be the least of his concerns. His ears twitched as he heard boots approaching, each step scuffing against the ground. Every footfall made his stomach wrench. Hizashi tried to talk again, tried to scramble to his feet, but his back legs refused to co-ordinate. Had there been poison on the blade?
His body shuddered as numbness spread through him, coupled with exhaustion, although his mind remained sharp. Those boots stopped beside him, but Hizashi could barely keep his eyes open. A voice in the back of his mind told him to give in to the beast, that it was his only chance at survival, but he refused: he’d rather die with his humanity than become a mindless monster.
He closed his eyes in anticipation and waited for the blade to pierce his neck, but instead a hand ran through his feathers. “Shhh,” hushed the man, and the voice nearly brought tears to Hizashi’s reptilian eyes. Oh damn, a human voice: how long had it been since he’d heard someone speak? The hand continued to stroke his monstrous face, slipping tenderly over scales and brushing between feathers, like a man comforting a dog during its dying moments. “It’ll be over quick,” the voice promised him gently. “Think of home.”
Home? Right, this was okay, because Hizashi didn’t have a home anymore. He belonged nowhere, so this was okay. He’d die before the curse consumed him and he’d take that as a final victory.
His reptilian body relaxed and the dragon slayer must’ve sensed the change, for his tender hand pulled away. He missed the touch already, but he did as the man asked and thought of his childhood home, in the few days that’d been happy. He only wished he hadn’t been numb, so he could’ve felt the weight of the small jade pendant around his neck when he-
His eyes snapped open.
Without further warning, his monstrous body was bathed in a dazzling light. No, he was the dazzling light. Pinpricks of liquid joy glossed his vision, and hymns of salvation filled his head with harmonious chords.
The sun had set and he was alive. In moments, Hizashi Yamada would be human again.