The princess stood in front of the mirror and combed her hair. Vylie stepped behind her.
- Close your eyes - she said.
The princess closed her eyes.
- Don’t peep.
The princess covered her face. It was like she was flying somewhere. The gentle feeling passed in a moment.
- You can open it.
They stood in a fog. The sky was white in all directions. She saw no shadows. The ground was breathing.
A swirling dark cloud floated over them. Bright dots sparkled inside.
- Two dragons - someone said. Or maybe he thought.
- Yeah - Vylie's voice replied in the princess's head.
The cloud rose and flew away.
- Am I not a bat? - the princess asked.
- Not now.
The princess stared at her hands. She saw long, curved ruby nails.
- Be careful with them.
Her legs were more frightening than her hands.
Her body was covered with white scales, with black stripes here and there.
- I wish we had brought my mirror with us.
Vylie turned white with black scales on her body.
She changed back to glittering black and gold. Her eyes glowed red.
- Can we go? - Vylie asked. - It's time to introduce yourself.
The next moment they stood in a field, between humanoid and non-humanoid reptiles. The tentacles of a black octopus swirled on the ground as if they wanted to grope the Universe all the way. Their body and head were not visible.
Further afield were two cube-shaped crystals. Inside them, geometric shapes flashed and disappeared as light trickled through them.
Next to the crystals, a praying mantis-spider-alien robot was waiting. It was much taller than the others. There was a deep, penetrating roar coming from it.
Three female figures wore the robes of Egyptian gods. They stood motionless and their faces looked human. The princess could not decide whether they were statues or living things.
A woman stared into her face. Her body was covered in black chitin armor with buttery, elongated spots. Her face was covered with a scarf. Her eyes and her vagina gleamed dark purple. Her arms and legs were bendable blades. Her body looked like thorns.
- Is she jealous?
- I don’t know. She always looks at me like that too.
The others watched the princess. No one stepped closer. No one greeted her.
She saw a huge pink amoeba in the sky, an amoeba who was also a naked snail. It smiled at her, and looked like a child's play, except that it consisted of pixels.
- It’s hungry - Vylie said. - Avoid it from afar, and never, under any circumstances, interfere with it. It’s faster than you think.
For a flash, she saw themselves from the outside. They were perched on a colorful plant that might have been a mixture of the venus’ fly trap, a rose, and a butterfly. The ends of her tendrils were covered with mouths, her body with female eyes.
- Did you observe them? Vylie asked.
The princess looked at her. Her consciousness crashed into the woman’s shoulder. Vylie grew to be a giant.
Her body consisted of cubes that were sometimes black, sometimes bronze, or purple. They fell flat. The flat cards fell, then turned back into cubes.
The vibration of the cubes transmitted waves in Vylie's body. The air was made up of the same cubes and waves passing through them just like her body and everyone else's.
- Is it really like that? - she asked.
- In some aspects, yes, just add a few dimensions.
The world has darkened. Everything and everyone was gone.
There was a single wall on which neon lights ran. Sometimes circles, sometimes squares, sometimes hexagonal shapes flashed and darkened. The space curved, and with it the princess.
A human-like figure emerged from the wall. Neon light pulsated on its black body. The waves started in a circle from the direction of its head.
There was something distorted in it. Beautiful, yet distorted, in a way that the princess did not understand and could not articulate. She knew it from somewhere.
She saw symbols in the figure's head. Some moved. It was as if tiny white creatures were fighting inside.
She woke up on the field. She was dizzy.
Vylie's face radiated with pride.
- You're going in the right direction.
The princess could not and did not want to speak. With her consciousness shattered, she wondered if she herself existed or not.
- Did you memorize everyone? - Vylie asked.
- Maybe. Why?
Vylie ran her face across the princess's chest, shoulders, and neck. She breathed in her scent.
- They're with us. Mostly. There may be unexpected twists.
- What will we do?
- Fight a war.
- Against who?
- Against anyone who is not with us. Initially. Then we see how it evolves and we improvise. The only thing you need not fear is me. This doesn’t apply to shape-shifters who might imitate me.
- How do I know who is a shapeshifter?
- Simply. Everyone here is.
- Everyone you see and those who you cannot see yet. Including you, except the amoeba.
- How do I fight?
- The way dragons fight is similar to meditation. The basis is conscious breathing. Then let go of your thoughts.
- What thoughts?
Vylie spread her arms.
- If you don't know, how do I know? - the princess asked.
Vylie raised her arms outstretched. By the time she reached above her head, there were twelve of them, stretched out in a semicircle.
A silver wall appeared behind her and flashed dazzling white. It switched back to silver. It flashed red. It was silver again.
The three colors pulsated faster and brighter each moment.
The princess's mind froze. She couldn't think of anything. She closed his eyes, put her hands in front of her face, and turned away.
It didn't help. The flicker filled her consciousness. Everything that existed was Vylie. She radiated infinite force from herself and forced the princess to her knees.
The flicker stopped. Her thoughts returned. She opened his eyes.
- Was that the demo?
- I activated a program inside you. You are ready.
- Should I do what you did?
- Do whatever seems like a good idea. Anything that comes to mind and makes you stronger, more powerful and scarier than the others. Convince your opponent that they have no chance against you. Make them fall to the ground and surrender. If they do not surrender, make them cease to exist for a while. The clouds will then scrape together their remains.
- How can I convince anyone here that I'm stronger than them? Who knows how long this has been played.
- What I showed you, I figured out the last time. Almost no one has seen it yet. They will be defenseless against it. Feel free to use it.
- How many times?
- Until you think of something better. Blow black smoke that will take on a terrifying demon face and run over your opponents. Whoever touches it will see everything through a kaleidoscope. For them, the world turns into colored crystals. Before they think of anything, freeze the crystals and then heat them up. Make them explode into shards, and dust into nothingness. Let there be nothing left of the world but dark and infinite space. Let the terrifying face of a clown appear who has been waiting for this moment since the beginning of time. Do it fast and never freeze.
- I'm starting to understand.
- I haven't shown the latter to anyone yet. Reserve it for critical moments.
- When you realize that everyone around you is a shapeshifter and everyone is against you. The point is, it’s a much greater pleasure to implement your own ideas than mine. Use your imagination. I gave it to you for that.
The princess did not speak. She stared into Vylie's eyes.
- One more thing. You are a dragon now. If you can’t think of anything at all, go back to basics.
- Inhale. Exhale.
- I think I'm in love with you more than what’s possible.
The plant they were standing on started walking.