Palan floated in a sea of white light. There was no ground or sky, his body suspended in nothing. He tried to speak but found that he couldn’t move his mouth—or any part of his body at all. Palan would’ve frowned if he could. There were no sounds or smells; his body was unable to feel anything. The white light burrowed into his body, dissolving it piece by piece. His skin fell away, revealing the red muscles and tendons underneath. His muscles eroded strand by strand until only his bones remained. His eyes melted into a gooey mush, causing his vision to turn black. Holes perforated his bones, creating a structure similar to a termite mound before his bones dissolved completely. The only thing that remained was his brain which floated around aimlessly in the whiteness.
Although Palan couldn’t see, billions of images flashed through his mind. A humanoid figure with hunched shoulders pounded on its chest and shrieked before tearing apart a tree with its bare hands; its frame reminded Palan of Igor. An oversized lizard with two gigantic hind legs and laughably tiny arms roared, revealing rows of razor-sharp teeth. A four-winged bird flew through the air above an endless expanse of blue. A shark charged through black waters and sank its teeth into a seal. A praying mantis crept up on a fly and impaled it with its scythes. A black lizard crawled out of a volcano and belched out a fountain of magma.
The images flashed through Palan’s mind, hundreds at a time and never lasting for longer than a second. His attention was drawn towards certain images, and gradually the images changed to only reveal ones similar to those. A crocodile’s back deflected a blade. A pangolin crawled out from a collapsed cave. A snake constricted a lion until blood poured out of the feline’s mouth. A shark narrowed in on a wounded creature from hundreds of miles away. The scenes started to last longer until there were only a handful playing in his mind. And then he became the animals in the scenes, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and hunting with their bodies.
The body of the shark felt completely natural to him: the sense of smell, the enhanced hearing, the electricity sensing organ in the center of his head, even the loss and growth of teeth. He was the undefeated ruler of the sea. No creature dared to fight him, only flee, that is, until a black and white creature came and flipped him over. It laughed as his chest burned and his vision turned spotty before fading away into darkness.
Next, he entered the body of a crocodile. He swam around lakes, mostly sleeping and waiting around until a creature got close to drink water, then he would strike. Ambushing was nothing new to him and he excelled at it. One day, he ate a baby angel who was wandering around the lake, picking up sticks. A group of angels came after him and stabbed at him with their lances. His scales deflected the blows, but the angels persisted, refusing to let him flee. Eventually, his skin cracked and shattered into pieces under the relentless strikes. He let out a wail before he died, a spear embedded in his head.
He entered the body of a newly matured bird. He jumped out of the nest and flapped his wings before falling to the ground and cracking his head open. He died on impact.
Palan felt a vague feeling of annoyance as he entered the body of an anaconda. The last death had been too embarrassing, and he wiggled in frustration. The anaconda was another ambush hunter, and Palan thrived. He sank his teeth into prey and coiled his body around them, crushing their organs and compressing their frames before swallowing them whole. The jungle was his undisputed territory until it froze over one day, causing him to freeze to death.
He didn’t know how much time passed or how many different lives he went through, but one day, his body started to reform. His bones materialized in the expanse of white, the skeletal frame humanoid. They were about ten percent larger than before, thicker all around and longer. His skull retained its teeth-filled jaws while his coccyx began to elongate, forming a fifteen-foot long tail bone that began to grow ribs and a serpentine skull at the end. Then, a layer of red began to grow from the bones, creating his muscles and tendons. His body was greater than six feet tall but less than seven with a tail that was nearly three times his height.
The skin followed after the muscles, retaining its purple color. A layer of black scales with red stripes began to grow on his tail, covering it completely before extending a bit up his lower back and spine. Bumps began to form on his upper back in between his shoulder blades, creating a pattern similar to crocodile skin. The pattern spread outwards, encompassing his shoulder blades, upper arms, lower back, and the back of his thighs. The last thing to reform was his eyes. They were bright-red with slit pupils. The nictitating membrane reformed over them.
The white light around his body disappeared, and Palan found that he could move again. Even though it was pitch black, he could still see a black layer surrounding him shaped like a deformed egg. He reached forward and touched the black surface. It crumbled underneath his touch and turned into a black powder. His touch caused a chain reaction, causing the egg to collapse, revealing his naked and hairless body. His leather pouch containing his pride orb, and his dagger were gone. The red stripes on his tail looked suspiciously similar to the color of his dagger.
“Somehow you became even more hideous,” a crisp voice said. Palan’s body shivered from the clarity of the noise. The sounds of crunching grass entered his ears, and he turned his head. Madison was frowning at him while waddling in circles around his body. “Where are your feathers? Your beak? Everything about you screams ugly.” She sighed and shook her head. “I guess it can’t be—helped?!” She shouted and flew into the air as a black and red blur lunged at her.
“Your tail has a head? Seriously?” Madison asked as she stared at the snake head watching her. She perched in a tree. Its tongue flickered as its head swayed above the ground before retreating. It coiled around Palan’s waist and torso, making five rotations before it was fully wrapped around him with its head resting on his chest.
Palan opened and closed his mouth, causing a cracking sound to echo through the forest. He licked his lips. “I feel good,” he said and stood up. The ground sank slightly beneath his feet. “How long was I gone for?” He hopped up and down a few times and shook his head side to side. Colors seemed to overlap with objects, marking them from red to blue. He recognized it as the anaconda’s heat vision.
“I don’t know,” Madison said. “Like three days?”
Palan nodded as his tail uncoiled. “This thing is really heavy,” he said. It began to crawl silently along the ground, pulling his body backwards. He lifted his feet off the ground and twisted his body to face the same way as his tail.
“Are you in control of both your heads?” Madison asked and tilted her head as Palan approached the tree she was sitting in.
“Yes,” Palan said as his tail coiled around the tree. It began to constrict the massive tree, shattering the trunk, causing it to wobble and fall over.
“Hey! What was that for?” Madison asked and flew to a different tree.
“No reason,” Palan said, recalling his extremely short-lived life as a bird. His tail wrapped back around his body. He turned around and broke out into a sprint, heading back towards the outpost. The fact that he wasn’t dead meant Raea was still alive, but something was gnawing at him near the pit of his stomach.
“Bye, Piano!” Madison shouted as Palan’s figure disappeared from her view. Her expression was strange as she flew down towards the pile of dust that Palan’s egg had left behind. She smiled as she gathered it and rubbed it into her feathers, turning her wings black.