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A Shadow of Devastation

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Skittering across the ashen surface of the Underground Volcano, Haze Greentongue could barely contain his excitement. The annual Shadowcaster's Royale was just days away, and the sulphur skink had finally mastered enough magic to qualify for entry.

There was just one last challenge he had to overcome. Before the competition, every Caster was required to summon their Shadow Form, to both make themselves an official Shadowcaster and ensure they would be able to safely participate in battle.

A Caster without a Shadow Form was little more than a sitting duck in the field.

Haze climbed and bolted over the blistering rocks and streams of lava that ran like veins through his homeland. Not many creatures could survive here, but sulphur skins were special. Their charcoal skin was covered in thousands upon thousands of iron plated scales which protected them from the worst of the heat. Their tongues, however, varied in colors and produced a neon glow thanks to the enchanted mushrooms that were part of their diet.

When he reached the safety of his favorite crater, Haze finally stopped and set his pack in front of him, giggling to himself.

"Hehehehe… oh yes! It took days, but I found it," He dug through the pack, pushing aside jars of preserved mushrooms and fireflies, until he pulled the three purple gems from their pouch. "Finally! I can summon it!"

It was well-known that to summon a Shadow Form, a Caster needed three Shadow Fragments to bring about the transformation. Although numerous, the Fragments notoriously difficult to find as they were small and scattered about the landscape, often times buried. Casters had to find them without aid if they wanted to compete, and Haze had finally found his last one while gathering in the Mushroom Cave.

The skink worked quickly, using his tail to draw the summoning circle exactly as Iris showed him. The circle would only be used once for the first summon. It helped to channel the shadow magic from the Fragments into the vessel and unlock the potential within. Once satisfied with his work, Haze placed the Fragments on the designated runes around the circle.

"Perfect, perfect!" He clapped his hands excitedly, his tail wagging and ridding the tip of the dirt clinging to it. "Now, I will be a Shadowcaster."

Closing his eyes, Haze started the ritual by grounding himself, planting his feet into the ash and reaching out. The magma flowing beneath the Underground Volcano was an excellent source of energy to draw upon, and Haze welcomed the familiar warmth that slowly crawled throughout his body until his very core burned brightly.

Haze breathed out evenly and held out his hands, releasing the energy back into the circle at his feet and reciting the spell Kit Gale taught him.

"Vessels fragmented,
And magic torn
Come forth from shadow,
And grant yourself form!"

He had to admit that the first time he heard the spell, he laughed. It sounded ridiculous, and it made no sense. He'd been younger then, and when Kit taught him the spell, he'd offered this bit of wisdom: "It doesn't matter how silly it may sound. It's about intent. The Shadows won't give you anything unless you're true in your actions and your words."

Haze dared to open his eyes once the brief memory passed, and he was greeted by the sight of the Fragments floating around him as the circle glowed. He watched in amazement as the Fragments began to shine with the given energy.

Magic crackled between and their glow intensifed until the Fragments shattered, and Haze was blinded by the blazing light. He felt rather than saw as the newly released magic wrapped around him like a second skin and settled into his very bones.

Haze didn't dare to watch as he felt his body changing, screwing his eyes shut again as he transformed into a new creature that would have the power it needed to survive the battles ahead. His arms and neck stretched, his head and body grew larger, that much he could tell.

When he finally found the courage to see what had become of him, Haze never could have imagined what he saw. Wings. He had wings. Reaching up to his head, he felt of his snout, the fangs in his maw, and… horns?!

"I'm… I'm a dragon!" His voice boomed throughout the cave. Dragons were nothing but myth and legend, stories told over campfires. He didn't know Shadow Forms could turn them into creatures like this. He could fly now! Absolutely giddy, Haze let a deafening roar, green flames licking at the corners of his mouth.

Haze the Devastator had been born.

First summons were never meant to last more than a few moments. They were, if nothing else, a display of the power a Caster would be able to weild for rest of their life. The Forms weren't permanent even after a repeated summoning.

In a flash of light, the Shadow was gone, and tiny Haze Greentongue sat among the rubble and dust left behind after his transformation. Bright green eyes blinked, first one then the other then finally both. He swiveled his head around and caught sight of the scorch marks left along the crater wall from the flames he'd breathed.

"I did that…" Even his whispered voice seemed to echo off the rock. A moment later, he was up and cackling with joy, "Haha! I'm a fire-breather. I did it!"

Alone in his favorite place, Haze Greentongue danced and jumped, his little brown hood flopping against his head. He would celebrate until he collapsed or someone came to look for him which they would soon with the commotion his Shadow Form had caused.

This was a tremendous day! Every year prior, Haze had never been able to meet the final requirement. His circles had been incorrect or he'd gotten the spell wrong or he'd been unable to properly direct his energy. Desperately, he sought help from Kit and Iris, well-known Shadowcasters who competed every year, to tutor him and show him where he needed to improve.

Months of hard work though had finally paid off, and he couldn't wait to tell them. No! He'd show them. They'd be so proud!

His energy spent, Haze sat down in the dust, smiling widely while his tail thumped into the ground behind him.

"I'm a Shadowcaster…"