Decepshun's Shadow
by KC

Disclaimer: I don't own none of this.
Other Info:
Takes place after season three.
An accident on the race track brings a little darkness to Penn stables. Artha/Moordryd.

Part 1

As happened sometimes in long races, Moordryd found his mind wandering, and once again he replayed the battle he fought with Dragon Booster against the ancient dragon warrior. The loss of his mentor's voice both relieved and bothered him. Free of Armegaddon's influence, he was beyond the ancient warrior's manipulation, but now he also lacked a teacher. The ancient techniques he'd mastered were useful, but he knew no one who could teach him anything else. He'd briefly considered sneaking into his father's private library to search for academy texts or even ancient history books, but his relationship with his father was already strained. He didn't want to risk being caught and facing Word's ire.

He felt Decepshun tense for the next jump and tightened his grip, leaning forward in the saddle as they cleared the wide gap in the track and landed on the next part of the course. Several seconds passed before he heard the heavy thud of dragons landing behind him, so he knew they were still comfortably ahead. Instead of the usual swinging weights and sudden obstacles, this course was designed solely for speed and agility. With no targets to hit and nothing more difficult than long jumps and loops, he was free to put Decepshun's energy into her red thrusters, and while the other riders lost precious seconds guiding their dragons around hairpin turns, Decepshun ran the way she wanted to and cut such tight corners that she steadily pulled away from the pack.

Finally they came to the last curve, which leveled out into a long straightaway before ending at the finish line. The crowd roared as he came into sight, and he spared a glance at the huge monitor near Vociferous to see where everyone else was. He grinned. Even the stable brat was several lengths behind. Still, he knew Artha was capable of last minute surprises--

The track exploded. Huge pieces of asphalt hurled in all directions as thick black smoke billowed up between him and the finish line. He heard screams from the crowd and then the announcer's confused voice, sabotage and Moordryd Paynn's too close to stop.

Decepshun didn't try to stop. Lowering her head in determination, she plowed into the smoke and leaped blind over the gap of which neither of them could guess the beginning or end. It could have been a few meters, it could have been half a mile.

Moordryd ignited his red thruster gear, but after one quick burst, the engines clogged and sputtered in the smoke. Wishing he had Armeggadon's guidance, he extended his gliders and hoped Decepshun with her keen sight would spot the track sooner than he would.

He sighed in relief when she angled her body for a quick descent, but as he breathed in again, he choked and coughed. He'd assumed the smoke was thick because of burning asphalt, but it tasted like oil and clung to his skin, creeping down his throat.

The explosion wasn't the main attack, he realized. This smoke is.

"Don't breathe in!" he yelled. "Decepshun, don't--"

They burst from the black cloud into clear air again, but something was wrong. They were coming in too fast. Decepshun tossed her head back and forth, blinking the poison out of her eyes, but he knew she couldn't see where she was going anymore and they were up so high that he didn't think either of them would survive a clumsy fall.

Leaning back, Moordryd summoned a rush of black energy through his body, letting it envelop both him and Decepshun before he fired a mag-inversion against the ground, bringing them down as slow as he could. He knew something else was wrong when he didn't feel her stand beneath him. Instead she lay down as if asleep and he slid out of the saddle before she rolled sideways. He collapsed next to her, trying to hear her breathing over his own rasping, but the announcer's voice made it hard to hear anything.

"Moordryd Paynn makes the leap, but his dragon is down!" Vociferous' voice echoed through the suddenly quiet stands as everyone stood or leaned forward in their seats, trying to get a good view. "The rest of the riders are blocked off."

At the center of everyone's attention, Moordryd had never felt so alone. Wisps of smoke drifted up from Decepshun's tightly clenched teeth as she gave several barking coughs.

"Scales, scales, scales," he whispered, trying to get his hands between her teeth to pull her mouth open. "You have to breathe it out! Open up!"

His hands slipped off and he held them up to his face. His gloves were coated in the black soot that covered her skin. If this was what was in her, he didn't know how he could get it out. Her breathing started to slow down as she grew exhausted. Knowing that she was slipping away, he squeezed his eyes shut and put his arms around her neck as if he could save her just by holding her. All he heard was his sick wheezing and her weakening heartbeat as she suffocated.

Something warm passed over him like a breeze and when he opened his eyes again, the entire world had turned gold. He sat straight and looked up into the face of the black and gold dragon as golden energy flowed over him and through Decepshun, covering her entire body. The oily soot slid off her skin and, with renewed vitality, she managed to cough wet black clumps onto the track. After several seconds, she sighed and lay down again, her breathing still labored but no longer life threatening.

"Are you all right?" Artha asked, jumping off of Beau's back.

Moordryd fought the familiar urge to fight and shook his head. "It still hurts to breathe."

"Let me take you and Decepshun back to my father," Artha said. "I'm sure he'll know what to do."

Although Moordryd tried to hide it, something of his fear showed on his face. Let them take Decepshun back to Penn stables? They were enemies. There was no way they'd let this kind of opportunity slip by. Grunting in pain, he got to his feet, stumbling when he tried to stand upright.

"You're both hurt," Artha said, coming closer and raising his hand. "You need--"

"I don't need anything!" Moordryd snapped, smacking away Artha's hand. The sudden move sent him off balance and he fell back on his butt. To the rest of the stadium, it looked like he'd tried to take Artha's hand and missed.

"Why should I trust you?" he growled, coughing black flecks onto his gloves. "We're enemies."

Artha didn't lower his hand. "I'll promise not to fight if you won't."

Moordryd glared at him out of the corner of his eye and didn't move.

"Oh, come on!" Artha cried exasperatedly. "Your dragon's sick, and you're not looking too good, either. Are you gonna sit there and let her die just 'cause you're afraid to trust me?"

Why did the stable brat have such a way of making his fears seem so trivial? "You'll hurt her. You'll take my gauntlet. You'll--"

"I swear on my honor," Artha said. "I won't betray your trust. And if I'm right, I think we're gonna need you to be the shadow booster before this war is over."

Moordryd bowed his head. His lungs constricted as if someone clenched a fist around them. No doubt Decepshun felt just as bad. It wasn't even a choice.

"How?" he asked. "She's too big to carry--" Another coughing fit nearly sent him to his knees.

Artha reached out and grabbed his hand, slinging his arm over his shoulders to support him.

"Beau can mag her over his back," he said. "And you can ride up front with me."

Squeezing his eyes shut in pain, Moordryd felt the dragon mag them up into Beau's saddle with Artha in front, and then felt Beau's stance shift as Decepshun settled across his back. A second later, they were moving quickly through the streets and out of view. He groaned and let himself rest against Artha's shoulder, the gold armor warm and almost comfortable. Was he leaving black streaks across the hard plating? He didn't care.

"Great," he mumbled. "Rescued by the dragon loser in front of everyone."

"Don't worry," Artha said, a smile coloring his voice. "The blast took out the monitors and cameras. The only people who saw you are in the stands, and they don't know you hate me."

"Right," Moordryd murmured. "Hate."