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“I thought we were supposed to fit in,” I argued, as she circled me like a shark. My dragon instincts growled, annoyed with this game of cat-and-mouse, wanting to pounce and claw and bite. But that wasn’t the point of the exercise, and I wasn’t going to let her beat me again.

She wasn’t using real bullets, but she would definitely inform me if I wasn’t fast enough, if I was shot. “Observe, blend into society, learn to act like a human; isn’t that why we’re here?”

“Yes,” my trainer agreed, and continued to stalk, keeping the gun pressed against her leg. “It is. Learn to act like a human. You must never forget that, first and always, you are a dragon. You are not one of them.”

“I know that.”

“Really? What’s the boy’s name?”

Startled, I almost didn’t react quick enough when she shot at me again. Dodging to the side, I rolled into a crouch and found myself staring at the gun muzzle again. She didn’t pull the trigger, however, just watched me down the barrel with narrowed, poison green eyes.

“His name,” she repeated.

“Why do you care?” I challenged, not wanting this woman to know anything about Garret. He was the part of my life that wasn’t bound to Talon and training and all their crazy expectations. when I was with Garret, I could almost forget Talon’s stranglehold on my life. I could almost forget…that I was a dragon. “He’s just a human,” I told my trainer, still aiming the gun at my face. “What’s one human to you?”

As if she could hear my thoughts, my trainer’s expression went cold and frightening. “Exactly,” she said in a steely voice. “He is just one human. One mortal among billions of unimportant, short-lived mortals. You are a dragon. More importantly, you are a dragonel, a female of our race, which makes you even more precious to the organization.” She finally lowered the gun, though she still glared daggers at me. “Your loyalty, first and always, is to Talon. Not the humans.

They are unimportant. We walk among them, act like them, live with them, but we will never be one of them.” She gestured sharply with the weapon. “They’re a cancer, hatchling. A virus that spreads and corrupts and obliterates everything in its path. The human race is weak and self-destructive, and the only thing they know how to do is destroy. You are part of something far greater than these mortals can ever hope to achieve, and if I ask you a human’s name, you had best give me the human’s name and not question it!”

She raised the pistol, shockingly fast, but this time, I was ready.

Surging upright, I angled to the side like she’d taught me and lunged in. My hands hit the barrel of the weapon from underneath, forcing it up and twisting it out of her grasp. A second later, I stood before my trainer with the pistol pointed back at her, stunned that I’d actually pulled it off.

“Garret,” I muttered, as my trainer seared holes into my forehead with her stare. “His name is Garret.”

She smiled.

“There, that wasn’t difficult, was it?” she said, and I had no idea if she was talking about the disarm or admitting the human’s name.

Taking the gun from my limp fingers, she stepped back and gave me a hard, assessing gaze. “Yes,” she mused, as if coming to a decision in her mind. “I do believe you are ready.”

“Ready for what?” I asked, but she spun and walked swiftly from the room, beckoning me to follow. I trailed her back to the office, where she pointed to the chair in front of her desk. I dropped into it warily, noticing manila folder on the polished surface, with my name printed at the top.

Scary Talon Lady didn’t sit, but regarded me over the desk, her fingers resting lightly on the folder. I couldn’t keep my gaze from straying back to it. My name, in red. What was inside? What did it say about me, and my future with the organization?

“This is a big day for you, hatchling,” Scary Talon Lady announced, making me even more nervous. “As you may know, we have watched you from the time you were hatched, assessing your skills, your behavior, what type of position you would excel at. You’ve completed phase one of your training. Now, we move on to phase two—honing the skills that will serve you in the organization. From now on, you will come to training wearing this.”

She tossed something at me, a dark, full body suit made of light, stretchy fabric. It seemed to cling to my hands when I caught it, and for a split second, I thought it was alive. Shuddering, I held it away from me. It looked like a normal body suit, but it felt almost slimy, and warm. I realized it was the same type of outfit my trainer wore, though I couldn’t imagine sliding into this thing.

“This is a very special outfit,” my trainer explained, as I resisted the urge to drop the creepy thing on the floor. “It’s far too complicated to explain, but suffice to say, your suit will not rip or tear when you Shift into your real form.”

I gaped at her. “Really?” Intrigued now, I stared at the fabric, trying not to be repulsed by the way it sucked at my bare skin. “So, if I’m wearing this thing when I Shift, I won’t have to worry about running home naked?”

She pointed out the door. “Go try it on,” she ordered. “Make certain it fits, then report back here. Go.”

I retreated to the bathroom and slipped into the suit, holding my breath as the fabric sucked and oozed over my skin, almost like paint.

At first, it was warm and disgustingly slick, but after a few moments it smoothed out, molding to my body until I could barely feel it.

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