The sky had long since darkened on a moonless winter evening. Hardly nine in the evening and only the glow from nearby Apex City lit the sky, drowning out the defenseless stars.
Splattercone parked his motorcycle at the gate and stopped the engine. The feline stood from the small vehicle, matched to the color scheme of his full leather suit. He took off his helmet, revealing his face, if partially.
Only the presence of a domino mask of a vibrant orange, matching the accents on his suit and bike made it clear that he was something other than a motorcyclist who wore a protective suit. With the helmet gone just his grey tabby fur on his head and tail were exposed. Not bothering to remove any more layers, the super-cat strode up to the closed gate he parked next to.
He glanced up at the security camera placed at the top of one of the two pillars flanking the gates, before looking back and forth in the faint light. The camera seemed trained on him, but he was standing right where one might set a security camera to stare at. The pillars were well covered in ivy off onto their connected walls nearly as far as they went before turning to hug the property line.
"I've come to speak with the Marquis." He spoke in an even voice. He hadn't seen the microphone casing for an intercom anywhere, but it was polite to announce such things.
Splattercone waited for any kind of response, looking up at the camera. Frowning, the feline held a hand out to one side. From his palm spontaneously appeared a dollop of white hot molten material. It formed into a sphere about the size of a golf ball, and he deftly lobbed it at the camera.
The ball splattered out on impact, the sound of the lens cracking from the sudden change in temperature making it through the insulating liquid glow. The cat snapped his fingers and the substance instantly stopped glowing, hardening up into dull, unpolished iron. "Guess I'm letting myself in."
He grasped the gate, and began to climb. Getting his feet two footholds each off the ground was met with the sound of alarms on the property finally sounding out. The masked cat easily made it to the top of the ornate barrier, and dropped on the other side, landing in a crouch to dissipate the impact.
Standing up straight, Splattercone strode confidently along the path, forming up a baseball sized orb of molten metal in his hand. The glowing substance provided ample light to continue by. He kept it glowing as he confidently, openly trespassed.
When the cat reached the roundabout that made up the grand entrance leading up steps to the manor proper, he met his first proper resistance.
A high pitched voice called out. "You, Hero, are trespassing on the Master's ground! Leave now." The source of the voice became apparent as a short figure wearing a grey Kevlar bodysuit that covered its thick tail came into view, face obscured in a specially made helmet. It was clearly no off-the-shelf design judging from the filigree and the vents for breathing incorporated into the design. Practicality was clearly second to the intent to intimidate.
Two dozen identically dressed, equally short figures stepped out from behind various parts of the topiary and structure of the space between the masked cat and his destination.
The first who spoke pulled a pair of metal cylinders off their belt. With a spinning flick, they extended into riot batons, sparking at the tip for a moment before they locked in place.
Splattercone didn't wait for the rest to copy their leader. The orb in his hand went dark abruptly, and he wound back and threw it. With the force of a shotput, the solid iron sphere crashed into the leader's helmet, sending them toppling backwards with a shower of broken facemask.
All around the feline sparking tips of batons gave him glimpses of the opponents he faced. He chuckled to himself, and formed a glowing sphere of metal in each outstretched hand, before tossing each.
One guard yelped as their feet were suddenly engulfed, the light fading immediately. Another was struck bare in the chest, toppled. A snap of fingers solidified that splatter, affixing the armored figure to the ground.
As Splattercone recovered from that attack, he found sparking batons rushing him. Throwing a quickly created ball at the ground in front of him, he leapt past where he knew the white-hot metal had spread out from impact and bounded up onto the fountain at the center of the roundabout. As he passed guards, he could hear the grunts of exertion and whiffs of the stun rods missing him just enough to prevent their dangerous arcs from jumping to his body, especially through the insulated leathers.
The cat's gambit proved to be worth it as the fountain had been left to go dry since the first frost had struck the region just the week before. Splattercone found solid footing and continued his momentum, tossing a pair of balls back over his shoulder before he leapt from the bowl nearly to the bottom of the stairs on the far side of the roundabout. He snapped his fingers and bound up the stairs, creating new masses of molten iron moments after he'd force-cooled the previous pair.
Due to the strategic positions of the guards, only two were left on the stairs besides the one he'd taken out first. Both he easily coated the boots of with a toss and a snap, affixing them in place, useless with only melee weapons.
As the guards swung futilely at him, the super cat glanced down and perked in surprise at the face he saw under the broken mask. The knocked out guard was reptilian, but more than that, the horns on the helmet seemed to contain actual biological horns, the type that weren't seen on mundane lizards. "Huh. His guards really are Kobolds. Thought it was just the suits." He heard the rest of the unstuck guards approaching from behind and clambered up the last flight of stairs to the doors.
The masked feline grasped the doors and pulled them open, stepping through and looking around. First he was struck with the opulence of the décor. Reds and greys, gold leaf and gold fixtures, and a broad solid marble slab defined the space. Large tapestries that must have been historical artifacts or at least very good recreations adorned the walls, with sconces between. The electric light was diffused with a grey glass cover atop, giving a subdued sense of illumination to the chamber at night.
And of course, there were the twenty three more guards to deal with standing around the hallway, arms drawn and ready to engage.
Splattercone started to gather iron into his palms, but froze as a rich bass voice resonated throughout the whole hall.
"Hold." The regal voice sent a quiver through the guards visibly, before each in unison collapsed their batons and stowed them on their belts. "Do go and see about your comrades, squad Uruz."
Half of the guards immediately filed past the masked cat, making no move towards him as they went to help the recovery effort.
The bearer of the authoritative voice came into view shortly after the most recent order was given. The tall dragon stood in a more dressed down smoking jacket of red silk and golden embroidery. He wore plain trousers rather than anything martial, and his feet were adorned with well shined leather shoes. "So, young hero, what is it you so wanted to say to me that you couldn't wait?"
Marquis Starkland was a rarity in modern times, a full-blooded dragon, crown of horns gleaming with careful polishing as they extended from the back and sides of his head. His smoking jacket must have been made specially, as the garment did nothing to impede his large membranous wings from being fully exposed at his back.
Splattercone strode as confidently as ever across the wide hall, flanked by the kobold guards who hadn't been sent away yet. The feline's tail flicking belied his agitation, but it was hard to read if it was directed inward or outward. When he reached the base of the staircase that the Marquis stood at the top of, he took two steps up, then dropped to one knee. He reached up to his face, and peeled the orange domino mask off, tossing it onto the step beside him.
The dragon perked in surprise at this bold action, taking a few steps down the stairs towards his guest.
The cat exhaled slowly. "I'm fed up. With people, with the League. Every day I just see more corruption and chaos spread while we just go beat up someone once they've done something 'wrong' enough for us to care." He spat his words, disgust rising like gorge in his voice. "But... I've been studying how you operate, Marquis. You pick your targets, surgically. If anything you leave neighborhoods, regions, industries..." He exhaled again. "Stable. Until one of us damn masks comes along and stirs the mud back up."
"You come to me freely." Starkland spoke after a long moment of silence. Any banter or antagonism, playful or otherwise, had dropped from his voice. "What is it that you want?"
"I wish to defect. But not to the Guild either. They're just as garbage as the League." Splattercone spoke firmly. "I want to join you."
"Stand up, come here." The Marquis offered rather than ordered. The tone in his voice had grown warmer. "I have been looking for someone worthy, someone above just another kobold for my rank and file."
The cat stood, leaving his mask where it lied on the step, and strode towards the regal villain at the top of the stairs, stopping three risers down from his host of a sort. "You accept my request so readily... What's the catch?" The feline studied the dragon's face.
Starkland chuckled. "It will not be easy, leaving the League behind. But you have committed to do so. You have already placed such trust in me by throwing aside your protection for your private identity." He crossed his arms with a smile. "But you won't need it anymore. To protect you from your former colleagues, I will change your appearance. This will also come with some..." He scratched his chin with a claw, before continuing. "Enhancements to your abilities."
Splattercone pondered. At this point, the dragon was correct, he had already compromised himself dramatically, and to turn back now was foolish. And the logic of changing his identity entirely was hard to dispute. "Alright. I'll do it."
"What I will do cannot be undone." The dragon warned, gesturing to the former hero's form. "From this day forward, the body you have now will be as foreign to you as a stranger's."
The cat swallowed, before nodding his assent.
"Then, my new lieutenant, my first order:" The Marquis spoke with a burgeoning rumble, inhaling deeply as he paused. His jaws opened once more, but now an ethereal golden mist was seeping from between his teeth. "Breathe deep." As he spoke, the translucent flow of near-luminous gasses gushed and billowed, striking the feline directly in the face.
The leather clad mammal gasped, his initial instinct to cover his face getting overridden as the intense warmth of the substance poured into his nostrils and mouth like it were a liquid. Splattercone's eyes unfocused as the billowing cloud moved against fluid dynamics, all of it seeking out his throat through his slack jaw and spread nostrils. The heat turned to a burning, a powerful kiln in his chest, but he was beyond pain, having skipped over it entirely for an intense euphoria.
The cat dropped to his knees as the last of the golden flow vanished into his body, doubled over and supporting his upper body with his hands on the step just below the Marquis' leather shoes. He coughed, a tickle in his throat contracting his diaphragm. Instead of any of the mist he'd inhaled coming forth, however, white hot metal splattered out of his muzzle, cooling slowly where it had landed on the marble.
The dragon watched silently as the changes rapidly spread from the former hero's center, first causing the blunt feline snout to extend into something far more reptilian, gaining length as the white hot metal began to run like drool between his sharpening teeth.
As the feline felt at his face, his pads felt smooth, cool scales where he'd once only ever had fur, the intense burning in his chest travelling backwards, feeling as though it were about to burst from his back. At the same time, his motorcycle jacket grew taut across his chest, uncomfortably so. Pushing himself back from the steps to rest his hips on his heels, the changing cat unzipped and tossed off his jacket to one side. His undershirt audibly ripped as the pressure continued.
Finally, fully formed membranous wings burst forth, spreading out as they left the shirt in smoldering tatters. The new appendages quivered asymmetrically as their use was integrated into the former hero's nervous system.
Beneath the flexing, twitching limbs, another was gaining new strength. The slender feline tail was rapidly gaining mass, thickening quickly at the base, while the swelling drove the tip out further and further from the leather-clad hips. The fur that had covered the caudal appendage was growing more and sparser as the space it had to cover expanded further and further, graphite-grey scales appearing in between the follicles.
While the thickening base of the tail put strain on the motorcycle suit's bottom half, his thighs were starting to strain the stitching from within. New cords of muscle were developing there, but also across the increasingly exposed chest of the changing male. The places that the torn shirt still clung to his arms and front strained, as not only did his formerly merely fit musculature gained mass, but his shoulders were visibly broadening out.
As draconic features worked to overtake the former hero, his proportions trended towards a match for the aristocratic drake overseeing the changes. Said supposed villain watched, smiling broadly. Starkland stood his ground, even when the occasional gout of white hot metal splattered from the changing male's jaws again. A pair of elegant horns had begun to press forth from the cat's brow, lengthening with every moment.
The increasingly less feline creature on the steps growled out, not in pain or anger, but release, feeling the seams burst on his leather pants to make way for his new, more powerful frame. His claws no longer hid in their fuzzy sheathing against his pads, now extending outward from the tips of each finger, making up more and more of the distal phalanges as hardened, sharp curves.
With a newly sharpened grasp, the former hero grasped firmly on his shirt at his chest and tore outward; removing the last of the lingering coverings from his chest, revealing his torso had already been fully converted to glistening dark grey scales, mammalian features fully supplanted. The last of his fur was vanishing from his body, either shedding off or being converted to new scales directly. The back of his throat glowed brightly, no longer uncontrollably gushing, but still showing that burning supply within.
As the changes slowed to a halt, Marquis Starkland held out his claw, gesturing to the prostrate male in front of him and then up towards the rest of the hall. "Rise, brother Smeltercore. Your new life begins."
The new dragon's eyes swam back into focus as he was addressed and the intense feelings of his body undergoing so many changes faded. With the certainty of years of practice, he pressed himself up onto his clawed feet without using his hands, folding his wings against his back as his tail flicked, the tip whipping through the air audibly. He assumed an upright posture, which only accentuated his enhanced musculature, hugged tight by near-metallic grey scales.
The Marquis gestured down the hall again. "Why don't you test your new strength...?"
Turning elegantly, the former feline looked out at the hall and the dozen kobold guards still standing at attention spread throughout. He spread his wings abruptly and just as sharply brought them down, forcing himself off the ground. Before gravity could do much more than slow his ascent he had beaten his wings again, rising up towards the high ceiling, and the ornate chandelier hanging there.
Spinning in midair, the new dragon whipped his powerful tail outward. The narrow tip shattered a link in the chain holding the chandelier in place. It hung for a moment, before gravity took over. The shirtless male was faster than the fundamental force, grasping the broken end of the chain in one powerful claw. His wings beat powerfully, maintaining the hover as he swung the ornate decoration around experimentally, corded muscles in his arm swelling with the power he commanded.
Following the circular swing he had begun, the former hero spread his wings into a spiral dive, the large chandelier acting as a counterweight to keep the motion constrained within the chamber. When he neared the ground, however, he spun in midair, claiming the rotational inertia of his pendulum and countering the rest of the swing with his other claw grasped lower on the chain. It ended up lightly swaying mere inches from the marble floor.
It was no effort at all to gently set it down and drop the chain without landing. Bringing his hands up in front of his chest, he inhaled deeply, before parting his jaws. Unlike the metal that had escaped his throat before, it was now a constant, high pressure flow, barely arcing due to the force behind it. He rotated with each beat of his wings, painting a circle of liquid iron on the marble, nearly wide enough to strike nearby guards.
Grinning broadly, Starkland clapped his claws together, applauding his creation's natural prowess. "Yes, yes, you have full control of your enhanced abilities! Wonderful."
The new dragon licked his jaws and snapped his fingers, the molten ring cooling fast enough for the metal to pop up off the heatsink that was the marble slab, leaving it unaffected. He beat his wings again and flew back to the stairs, alighting where he'd left from, powerful claws spreading to support his weight as his wings folded along his back again.
Smeltercore panted, and looked down at his clawed hand, flexing his fingers experimentally, before back to the elder dragon, expectantly.
"Clearly, your suit won't fit you anymore." The Marquis chuckled. "I'll have my personal tailor work on suitable replacements. "
In the dark of the night, a tall figure led a squad of shorter armored figures across a rooftop in the city. The overcast night made it hard to make much out, apart from the shape of wings on his back. As the group neared a piqued skylight, the light from within revealed the leader. A graphite grey dragon in an elegant suit reminiscent of dress uniform for the military looked down through the glass, slit pupils narrowing.
The smuggling operation inside the warehouse below was causing too much tension to the already volatile industrial neighborhood, according to the Marquis. Smeltercore was taking his first surgical strike. He gestured outward towards his followers, the kobolds following suit and taking positions around the glass.
The dragon inhaled deeply, glow at the back of his throat practically becoming a spotlight out of his jaws, before he let go, proving the meaning of his name.