Warnings: Changed universe. Sidekick!Artha. Feminist!Word. Male!Wyldfyr. Physical transformations. Ancient amulets. Sex. Shipping. Antishipping. Spies. Secret identities. Strange revelations. Battles. Dragons.
Disclaimer: Characters not mine, universe not mine, any dialogue that sounds familiar not mine
A/N: Conceived and written as a birthday present for Nemi the Nen; as such uses some concepts found in her version of the Dragon Booster Universe, particularly the fics From The Stars and Her Cunning Plan. Also uses a concept utilized by Kay Yasha, but I think it was my idea in the first place (I heartily apologise and will change this if not!). Rated M, but content is mostly K+ to T.
The alleyway is deserted; you look around one last time to make sure as you lay the backpack on the ground, shielded by the warmth of the dragon's body in front of you.
First comes the padding, withdrawn from the front of your suit. It's easier this way; you're used to the breastbindings, now. Next, the mouthplate; it's spared you from biting through your tongue on more than one occasion, and has become habit as well as reminder. The lined jacket padded at shoulders and waist, for extra bulk and insulation. Belts around your thighs buckled, to give them shape. Thick boots, then equally thick gloves replacing your normal bright pair. It's become a quick and familiar routine of preparation, an almost comforting ritual. The rolled woollen cloth, tucked between your legs.
"Release the Dragon," you mutter through the mouthguard, and you know it's the last thing you'll say for some time.
My notsire (he might as well have been, though we do not look like pack together) commands a row of Humans, lined up waiting. Talking about me, I think from their curious glances.
Can I really claim all gear types? I show them. Silly scaleless ones; it's fun to see their looks on their faces. My notsire bids one of them to leave; I growl at him, for the tone of his voice and the pose of his body are malevolent against my family and myself.
The human must have worried him; he reveals the Star he keeps for me.
And then comes the first one on top of me. His feeling is strange, prideful; he would be willing to hurt me if I did not obey, and think nothing of it. It takes no more than a blink of an eyelid to sense, and I don't want to bother with more; I throw him off, snickering.
The next one more nervous, not nearly so certain after his fellow's experience; I let him have a little more time (not quite the one I seek, a trifle too hesitant for my liking) before another mag-burst.
And another. It's getting a little boring; I put a little more effort into this throw, scraping him across the image of my notsire, which elicits some amusement from him and my littermates (humans too, but the relation is similar).
"It looks like Beau won't choose anybody."
Then a cloud of smoke, sudden. A strong red dragon, skidding to a halt, atop it one of the brightest humans I have ever seen, electromag blue and pink and yellow.
She alights with all the grace and confidence of a Pack-leader.
"Okay, the rest of you can all go home." She holds her head high as she advances past the line of others; they seem even plainer now, deferent.
"Oh, great. Kitt Wann. She thinks she's the best dragon racer anywhere," one of them says.
"I beat most of you last week in the Fire Cave, didn't I?" she says, and that silences them. Not empty air, this one.
She strides towards me, watching me as I watch her. "Now pay attention." She's swift to mount, but far from clumsy; I feel her studying me, admiring my power.
She is...bright, fiery, determined; she knows dragons from the way she sits, attuning herself to me. Confident in herself; but there are calluses I can feel through her gloves, and her actions equally show she labours for and proves her ability.
Bright one. My older littermate is still gazing at her like a Drakkus-struck dragonet, his eyes wide; I decide to trust his judgment and my own.
"Yeah, that's—" She pauses, considering me; the decision has been made, and I can already feel her self within mine, racing and fighting and never once giving up—
She reminds me of the other, the barrier within me I am not so sure I want to access. Her experiences, far greater than mine; but her brightness has won through it all, and I feel I can do the same. The Star begins to glow from inside me.
And then my notsire claps, and I look up to see him; he makes a gesture he taught me. Throw her off, boy. Come back to me.
I don't want to. She's Bright One, not-me and me; I will learn from her, and we will runfight together.
But notsire says I must, and I fling her from me, directed to please my littermate at least. It makes me feel smaller, though I have not had to change myself for some time.
"So, that's how it's done," my littermate says, looking up at her.
She pushes herself from him, angry. "What about your son, Connor, the stableboy? Let him try!"
I understand her feeling for sharing it, and she continues to be a bright force in her fire; still, I resolve to allow my littermate to sit, for my Pack has always been close to me.
The resolve does not last when I smell the delectable substance my other littermate holds. I take it from him with my customary skill, and consume it with delight, barely noticing my littermate-friend on the ground behind me.
"I guess that's all for today," my notsire says. He turns to Bright One. "Miss Wann, I heard about your victory in the Fire Caves; congratulations. My son's a fan. Would you care to join us for dinner?" There's a subtlety to the way he positions himself in front of her, pack leader; it's easy to obey him.
"Sure, I guess," she says, frowning as she turns back to me, and then turns quickly away.
"Artha, you can stable Beau and Miss Wann's dragon. Lance will help me with the meal," my notsire commands, and then I am returned to my room.
Miss Wann's dragon.
Bright One's dragon
A tall male, Red-boned. I growl at him as he is stabled beside me. Memorypictures flood my mind: the two of them, racing what feels like every track in the city, heart-companions requiring each other for survival.
Why had I not seen this in her mind?!
"She is Mine," the Red one hisses.
I want to leap at him and tear out his throat; I am rarely confined, and moments like these make me grateful for it.
But he is Dragon, like me. A noble dragon at that, which only makes me want further to kill him. I have to make him understand.
"Bright One is...special." My tail twitches, fans out. "She is needed, mine in a way she was never yours."
He does not understand me; I roar, trying to teach him the Ways of old. He is almost forced to subservience, but still stands tall (taller than me), defiant.
"I will show you!"
My foot is placed across his, another ancient gesture of dominance; I let the hidden other show through.
A terrible war has come, a war between dragons and humans as red welts open on scale and skin...must choose the human hero to release the powers, to fight to end this, for the sake of the planet—you must help, for we both have much to learn!
He growls again, showing teeth this time (so confident, so aware of his skill and power), and I know it's a lost cause. For now.
What will Bright One do?
A newcomer to the stall as we both attempt to rest, very carefully not looking at each other.
The same human my notsire earlier drove away. I mag him away, but it does not seem to deter him.
"Using your mag-burst to repel the draconium in my suit! Let's see what you do with this!"
My red acquaintance grows as we prepare to fight, but my notsire arrives to help us.
"Get away from my dragon!"
"Stay out of this, old man!"
The human attacks him, but I have no doubt in my protector's skills; he easily knocks him away, and I allow them to fight by themselves.
"This isn't over!" the human yells, departing. "You don't know what you just started!"
My notsire speaks to me. "So, Word. My old friend."
The tone of his voice suggests something entirely other than friend.
"You will stop at nothing to get this dragon."
I growl, indicating that I will defend both him and myself, and notsire runs a hand under my chin to soothe me. "You've made your choice, Beau. I thought it would be—" He shakes his head. "Kitt Wann seems trustworthy enough. I just hope she can be the one."
Crossing back towards the human quarters, he yells through a window. "It's okay, boys. Just some gear that wasn't hung up properly and fell. You kids can look after yourselves now; I've got some stable accounts to draw up. Lance, you're washing up tonight."
"I'm busy entertaining our guest. Right, Kitt?"
So he still likes Bright One; that is good.
"It's not fair! I always have to wash up!"
"You're my little brother, and brothers always help each other out—"
They're at it again; I smile to myself, wishing I could join in rather than stay here with this annoying dragon.
My notsire returns to me, going past me to enter the downwards conveyance; I often accompany him to train and see other wise humans, but evidently not for the time being.
"Take her with you when she comes," my notsire says, and I nod. I will certainly take Bright One to learn about who and what I am.
She comes, at long last, not looking very happy.
"Stupid little boys and their stupid pathetic VIDD-games..." she mutters. She looks at me, and then turns her gaze to the stupid (she is clever; it's a good word for him) Red. "Hey, Wyldfyr. Let's go home." She glances again at me, quickly, and then turns back. "I know you're a great dragon. That one just felt...special?"
He growls yet again; I'm starting to feel very irritated by his lack of the same cleverness as I.
"You're special too, 'Fyr," she says, stroking him gently as she leads him from the stall. "I guess it just didn't...work out."
She cares for him.
I growl, and she looks up. "What's up, big boy?" She takes some feed from the bag my notsire placed next to her dragon, and offers it to me.
She cares for...dragons. I sniff her hand; she has raced with Us for long years, no fear or distaste but respect, comradeship.
I have made the right choice.
She gasps in surprise as I mag her to my back, and then automatically settles into a seat most comfortable for both of us.
"What's happening?" she asks, though I know that I at least can feel it. I dash away, to the conveyance, and she must be able to feel it too, for she allows me to leap down the secret passage with her.
"Woah. Magna Draconis. What kind of stables is this?"
The golden lights flare around us, and I feel the gold growing inside me as well, from the activated star-mark to all around. It's pure joy, delight. It glows.
I've found her.
We advance, down the narrow ramp to the star-centre; someone is there waiting for us, and I smile secretly as we pass him among the statues.
Bright One is not so much more experienced than me that I cannot surprise her.
I sense her delight as we pass through the gold, her wonder at the strange place; we're fortunate to both appreciate this, a comfortable shelter from the cares of everyday life. I take her to the very centre of the star-shaped rock, and wait. Not for long.
She starts in surprise as she sees him, and seems about to go on the attack.
"Do not be afraid," he says. "I knew you would come here. Your dragon is the one, Kitt Wann. The Dragon of Legend."
She is happy to hear me referred to as hers, as she is (should be, if not for the Red) mine; then she feels less content. "He's—Connor Penn's. I think. He threw me off just like the others."
"No," he says, and hope seems to flare within her. "Connor Penn did not raise him to be owned. The Dragon of Legend has chosen you, Kitt."
She looks down at me, astonishment and joy rising within her. "But—how do you know my name? Who are you, anyway?"
She seems to cover her emotions with speech designed to prove her strength; I will teach her that friends can show their feelings in front of each other.
"I am Mortis, a Dragon Priest," he says. "The One has brought you to us, Dragon Booster."
Confusion ripples within her; Mortis shows her, hitting his staff on the ground and allowing the gold to appear around us, through me. The star dances on the ground, the gauntlet within it.
"We are an ancient order. Our purpose is to help you prevent another dragon-human war," he says. "The ancient gold draconium armour will be yours to command, if you and Beau claim the amulet from Artha Penn."
I guide her to it; she's uncertain. "It looks like an armband," she says. "What does it do?"
Mortis is strange to her, and she does not trust him yet; I mag it to her, and she relaxes as we feel it merging to us.
"What's this dragon-human war thing about anyway?" she asks cautiously, and I settle with her to hear Mortis' rendering of the tale.
"Artha's got a girlfriend, Artha's got a girlfriend..."
"Shut up, Lance! Anyway, she's long gone now. And it's my turn for the VIDDgame."
"No, it's not—I washed up for you."
"C'mon, you little thief-dragon!"
A sudden shadow; Artha stopped his wrestling with his brother to look up.
"What's wrong, Artha?"
"Don't worry." He pushed Lance away from him. "It's probably nothing. I'll just go check."
"We still haven't seen so much as a gold-and-black scale, Moordryd. Just some red one in here."
Moordryd Paynn, leader of the Dragon Eyes, rolled his eyes. "That's no ordinary red one, Cain, are you blind? It's Kitt Wann's dragon, one of the fastest on the street."
"So are we getting him instead, boss?" Rancydd asked.
"I'll get him," Moordryd said. "You two split up and look for the gold-and-black one. He's more important; call me as soon as you find him."
Wann's dragon, unsecured. She'd beaten him too many times on the race track; he'd take this chance for revenge even if he got nothing else out of the night. With black control gear in hand, he advanced meaningfully upon the dragon—
—who saw him creeping up, evidently, because he suddenly lashed out with his tail, sending Moordryd into the opposite wall.
He'd taken far worse hits than this and still gotten up, he thought as he hit the side of the stable, a metal thing sticking into his side, but then the wall opened—why, Magna Draconis, why?—and he was plummeting down as an elevator slammed its doors behind him.
It came to a halt in an underground cave glowing gold.
So Penn had a little secret down here. He wondered if his father had known about this; as one of the wealthiest men in the city, Word Paynn wouldn't normally be expected to refer to an average Mid-City dragon breeder as "old friend". There wasn't much of a choice but to walk onwards; maybe this was where the black-and-gold dragon had been hidden, and even if not he would be guaranteed of something he could use for his report to his father.
He glanced nervously at the statues lining his way; shining brightly, they could almost be mistaken for real people. Which of course suited him very well; Moordryd Paynn knew a good deal about remaining hidden, and crept among them as though he was nothing more than one of the dark shadows they cast.
Voices at the other end; as soon as he was close enough, he carefully looked from behind a particularly large statue.
Kitt Wann, riding the black-and-gold dragon; so she'd been the one to actually do it. Typical. Being talked to by a man in a strange costume.
"And so, you must learn to release the secret powers of both you and Beau," the man said. "Release the dragon."
The dragon should have been his, damnit. He needed to show his father that he could be the chosen one for once, not an accidental byproduct of a long-ago relationship who barely succeeded in gaining his father's attention, let alone appreciation. Kitt Wann already won enough, she had everything—
—but the black-and-gold dragon. He flung out the trapping gear from his wrist to bind the dragon to the ground and knock Wann off; he could have called his fellow Dragon Eyes, but he could handle one street racer and old guy in a Dragoween outfit on his own. And get all the glory for himself while he was at it.
The man turned around, looking for the source of the attack, but Moordryd didn't give him a chance to find out; he threw himself from behind a statue, knocking the old man down with his mag-staff, and ran over to finish off Wann.
She jumped to her feet, facing him. "How'd you get down here, Paynn?" she asked as she attacked, leaping neatly over his head. "No, don't tell me. Stinking cockroaches like you always find lower ground."
"Takes one to know one, Wann. Why do they call you Street Kitt again?"
"Because I street-race, Sun City boy." She darted away from him then; as she jumped over the dragon she cut it free from the trapping gear, and it rose to stand in front of her. "Don't make me release the dragon on you!"
Moordryd brandished his mag-staff in front of the creature, but its huge muzzle loomed in front of him.
He hit it; it roared (how could he have thought to make an impact on that thing, really bad idea really bad idea!), and then Kitt leaped at him, pushing him down with her mag-staff across his neck.
"You all right, Beau?" she said to the dragon, who seemed to nod his head as he threateningly lowered it towards Moordryd.
The green-clad man approached, tapping the ground with his oddly-designed staff. "Well done, Dragon Booster," he said. "But we must act quickly."
He laid a hand on the black-and-gold dragon; a glow surrounded his thick gauntlet.
"This will hurt, Moordryd. I'm sorry, but it's necessary to prevent another dragon-human war."
Moordryd barely had time to think How does he know my name? before he heard himself screaming as the mag-energy took hold of him, ushering him into darkness.
The fallen human beside us, Bright One quickly returns to my saddle. "We've got to get up there!" she cries, urging me forward. "Moordryd's a Crew-leader. He might've brought his friends with him!"
The one calling himself Mortis (the scent familiar, but he has trained me to refer to him as such while the gold and green energies of his priestly garb swirl around him as pungently as the flavours of a spice-and-vanilla dragon treat) holds up a hand. "You must not go as yourself. It's too dangerous for you to be known as the chosen one."
"There's a ten-year-old kid up there! I'm going!"
Righteous anger spikes within her; she wants to save my littermates, and I entirely agree. I advance towards Mortis with her.
"I did not say you could not go. Only that you must hide yourself. Beau, mag me; I'll show you the best way out to surprise them."
I follow Mortis' directions through a path I know well; we stop for a little, and I mag one of Mortis' surplus outfits from a storeroom cupboard, for Bright One to use as a disguise until she has her armour.
"I will remain here and deal with Moordryd," Mortis says, dismounting. "The exit is just along this path. Take care, Dragon Booster!"
"Worry about the Dragon Eyes!" Bright One yells, and again I'm in perfect agreement with her as we run to save my friends.
Three hostile humans with their dragons menace the Red (not so hostile, perhaps?) as well as my littermates (all right then, they're hostile); admittedly the Red's roaring seems to be keeping them back, and then Artha activates the Red's thruster gear.
The hostiles are distracted by the wall of flame, and that's when we leap down to them; Bright One strikes out at them with skill and coordination, and I use my own abilities to mag the last of them some distance away.
"Who are you?" Lance asks as Bright One reaches down to grab him; she doesn't reply, scanning the area for signs of further foes. "Get on Wyldfyr, stableboy!" she yells, and Artha obeys her. "Let's make tracks to Down City!"
She is the one leading us, but I have powers I have yet to show her; I concentrate on speed, and alongside us the Red attempts to compete.
I'll show him what a Dragon of Legend can do.
We race through narrowing and darkening alleyways; though I have never been out of the stables before, with Bright One's knowledge I'm not afraid. She sees that I can race well with her, for all my lack of experience, and lets me have my head.
It's exhilarating, running through the cold air as dawn starts to beckon. We've lost our pursuers a long time ago; I all but lose track of time until I catch sight of Artha trapped atop the Red, looking rather troubled.
I slow then; Bright One's signals indicate we're nearly there, in any case. A dark and potentially dangerous area of town, but not one the Dragon of Legend will find difficulty with.
Artha's almost white-faced; I snort at him to prompt him to cheer up.
"Good...dragon," he says, petting the dragon's neck. "Good...slowing down. Nice dragon."
I pity him, having to cater to that red creature's whims in order to gain some peace at last.
"Cheer up, stableboy," Bright One says. "Home sweet home."
Artha slides off thankfully. "You're the Dragon Booster," he says, looking up at her in wonder, and slides the amulet from his shirt. "My father said to give this to you."
She studies it, and then I feel her slip it over her neck; we're ready to transform now.
"Thanks for saving us after Artha got me out," Lance says admiringly. "That was so drac how you handled those Dragon Eyes!"
"Yeah. You were great back there," Artha agrees. His face suddenly tightens. "Did you see what happened to our dad? I went back in there to find him, and he wasn't anywhere—"
"I didn't see him," she says. "I don't think he was there; I'm sorry, Artha."
He looks back to the red one. "This is Kitt Wann's dragon!" he exclaims. "I thought she'd left. What happened to her?"
A pause, and then they both nod in revelation; Bright One has chosen to show herself to my littermates. I approve.
"Wow," Artha says, gazing at her with the same dragonet-struck look.
"Drac," Lance agrees.
Connor Penn, in a heavy cloak covering most of his features. Carrying his son as though he was a toddler.
Word Paynn tried not to hasten down the steps of his Citadel (too many, perhaps foolish after all of him to extend it from Work Town all the way up to Sun City) towards the vision he had seen on his security camera. There would be nothing he could do; Connor would have already purchased his son appropriate medical care if it had been necessary. The good always had such weaknesses.
Still, his blood was circulating slightly faster than normal as he finally reached the door.
"Penn. What have you done with my son?"
"Your son," Connor said mildly, "tried to steal my dragons."
"That doesn't answer my question!" Word yelled, and then attempted to regain a semblance of control. Moordryd was still breathing, and evidently healthy. The incompetent fool of a son he'd been cursed with.
Connor shrugged. "He's merely unconscious. I suspect he'll have a headache when he wakes up, but that's most likely all the ill he'll suffer from this adventure." He handed Moordryd over, and Word quickly placed his son on a nearby sofa. "He's too angry. Too reckless. You should have taught him better, Word. It might kill him someday."
"Is that a threat?" Word asked.
Connor shook his head. "You can be assured that I don't wish to see him dead. But there is one thing with which I will threaten you."
Word frowned. "Spit it out, before I tire of your games, old friend."
"I have proof of him trying to steal my dragons," Connor said. "The Crews take a dim view of that—as does Dragon City Security. If you don't want them to get involved, don't mention my presence here today to anyone. Consider it a favour in return for bringing Moordryd home."
"My son knows his way home," Word said through gritted teeth. He could buy Dragon Security, but he needed his son's Crew for the time being; assuming Connor wasn't bluffing, he had banned the Crews from his stables, which meant that he was likely to keep the agreement. And it could do no harm for him to refuse to be the only witness that Connor Penn had visited Word Paynn one late evening.
Connor shrugged. "Then consider it a negotiated agreement, Word. Let your son battle my champion—and we will see which one proves the victor."
"You live here?" Artha asks.
It's not the sort of place I would have preferred to envision myself living with Bright One in. Something gold, perhaps, with blue highlights. But at least we will be safe in this dark place.
"Yeah, it's an independents' collective," she says. "We stick together, we pay the rent, and we keep free from the Crews. Stables are on the bottom floor, I'm on the fifth."
"But someone's going to see Beau!" Artha says. "Those people who set off the explosion. They had the black eye symbol on their clothes!"
"The Dragon Eyes," Bright One explains. "Yeah, I know. But we independents help each other out here in Down City. Beau's safer here than anywhere else."
It's time to show her one of my powers; under her, I start to change to a more appropriate colour, bright like her in red and blue, with a streak of purple along my side. She watches in awe.
"Nice one, Beau," she says, grinning. "Down to the stables now, right?"
Artha takes the red one; she lends him a spare brush, and both of us are groomed.
"Your dragon saved my life," he says to her.
My lip curls. The red saved him? I will not owe him that debt!
"I was trapped in the house with the fire. Wyldfyr just broke free from the stables and broke down the house. I thought I was dead for sure until that dragon put a hole in the floor!"
In other words, he was bungling around like the stupid speedhead he is until my clever and brave littermate figured out how to save himself through it.
Bright One, however, does not agree.
"Thanks, Wyldfyr. Well done!" The red seems to smirk as she strokes his head.
"I didn't even think I liked dragons," Artha continues, polishing the red scales with care. "But I think I've just changed my mind..."
The Red lets out a low purr; at least Bright One has returned to me, though, and I allow her to continue grooming my scales with skilled hands.
"And I've been thinking," Artha says after a while.
"Don't strain yourself, stableboy—ow, Beau!" Bright One startles as I give her a gentle hit with my tail.
"My father. I don't know where he is—" he glances down at Lance, who's looking very nervous. "But Penn Stables has been destroyed. I don't know if we have anywhere to go. You saved us, but I don't want to just take from you. And things have changed." He raises his head, looking us both in the eye. "Bad people will come looking for us. Like the Dragon Eyes. So I want to race dragons with you."
"Hmm," Bright One says thoughtfully. "We still need to ask that Dragon Priest about your father. You're not bad with dragons, are you?"
Artha shrugs. "I've been around them all my life. And I've, uh...played VIDD games..."
She frowns. "Maybe you can ride Wyldfyr, if he'll let you. But it's late, and I think all of us need some rest. And this priest outfit chafes like hell."
I let out a dragon-sized yawn; both Wyldfyr and Lance follow suit, and Artha and Bright One laugh together.
"'Night, Beau, 'night, Wyldfyr," she says, patting us both on the nose one after the other.
"You have failed me, Moordryd," his father said.
The room was blurry; his head ached. "Wuggle?"
"You failed to capture the Dragon of Legened and were carried home like an infant," Word Paynn continued, a white and orange blur to Moordryd's sight, and his voice like a neverending mag-drill into his head. "Now tell me, Moordryd. Did you gain any useful information?"
He put a hand to his head. "I...don't remember."
"Think, Moordryd!" Word Paynn yelled. "What is the last thing you can remember?"
"There was the Fire Cave race. Wann got first place again—" he stopped, years of long practice enabling him to sense that Word Paynn was not happy with him. "No, that wasn't today. Earlier. I tried to ride the dragon. Penn threw me out. We came back again." He paused, trying to make sense of the confusion capturing his brain. "Rancydd, Swayy. With me as we searched. Then I remember the explosion we'd set earlier. And after that—" He paused. Had he been so stupid as to mistime the explosion so that it went off on top of him? Or was it—a red dragon, he remembered, Wann's damned red dragon. "An explosion," he said. "And a dragon hit me. And then I don't remember anything."
Wann's dragon, in Penn Stables. She must've made friends with the stable brats, the bitch, and then her dragon knocks him out as he's distracted for a moment. Scales, scales, scales...
"Useless," Word said. "Sleep it off, Moordryd. I'll attempt to give you a task that you cannot fail once I am sure you are worthy of it."
He swept from the room, leaving Moordryd with his headache and lingering anger at himself.
The Red swishes his tail complacently as the humans depart from us.
"I guess you think you're so great for saving Artha? I'll bet that was an accident!" I hiss at him.
"You take him too?" He smirks again. "Tired. Sleep now."
Without further ado, he closes his eyes and begins to drowse; I reluctantly admit that he has a point after the night's activities, and eventually join him in slumber.
Damn that red dragon!
"Dad's still not answering my calls," Artha says as we depart next morning.
Bright One reaches past her saddle to pat his hand as he rides the wilful Red. "We're gonna find out what happened to him. It'll be okay, Artha."
"And we can find some drac racing gear!" Lance chimes in determinedly. "Dad'll lend it to us and the Dragon Booster and we can win!"
Sadness seems to sweep through her, but she and Artha attempt to maintain a cheerful facade as we ride.
They'd return to Penn Stables; Moordryd was sure of it. He'd left them Connor Penn's goods and gear, a perfectly baited trap; the Penn brats would return to their little hole.
They had to.
"Moordryd? They're not here, and the Crew's starting to get bored," Cain said. "Can't we take a break?"
"We maintain constant observation until we see them," Moordryd snapped. "Let's not screw this one up, right Cain? They'll lead us to the Dragon Booster!"
"At least let me go home and pick up something to eat for the rest of the guys while they're here..."
"That's a no, Cain." He switched off Cain's connection for a while, and then jumped as he heard a noise. Carefully, he looked over the still-intact upper floor he was carefully balanced in, and saw the riders, Kitt Wann on a new dragon and Penn on hers.
Stablebrat has a girlfriend? he wondered. Wann had stayed over last night, too.
He reactivated the comm quickly. "Black alert, Cain. They're here. Observe their positions and move into formation behind."
A blue dragon he'd ordered left alone rushed out from the wreckage, joining up with the mini-stablebrat; he watched as they arrived, heading for the stables.
"Blarre, Rancydd, Swayy? Get to the main sector. Cain, you're posted on observation. Make sure they don't get out the back door. Throw in fire grenades once they're all in, then go for trapping gear on their dragons."
"Sure, boss," said Swayy. "So what're you gonna do?"
"I'll back you up."
My family looks shocked at the extent of damage left by the fire, and I share their feelings; the stables in which I once carelessly played have been ruined, blackened with ash with their walls falling down. But some gear remains in the storeroom; I mag myself some Red thruster (oh horrid reminder of colour), to show them what I can do here.
Bright One laughs. "C'mon, dragon of legend. Let's see how much you can mag."
A photograph of the humans in my family on the table, its edges slightly charred; I see Artha look at it, then lay it carefully back down; I try to tell him in my low whine that it will be all right, but he does not seem to understand me.
"Aero gear, trapping gear pack—Artha, can you mag that penning gear to Wyldfyr?" Bright One asks. "We'd better take as much as we can with us before some scavenger grabs it."
"All right. Uh—good dragon? Mag the gear?"
It flies to them rather too quickly, and I snort in appreciation at the spectacle.
"Beau!" Artha complains, and Bright One laughs. "You need to moderate the mag-pull, stableboy. Like this!"
I take some brown battle armour, outfitting myself for the upcoming battles, as the Red no doubt watches in envy.
And that is when the explosion occurs.
I cough in the dark smoke that suddenly fills the stables, and I hear a scream of pain from the Red.
"Wyldfyr!" cries Bright One, and then I feel trapping gear pinning me to the ground despite my struggles.
"It must be the Dragon Eyes!" Artha yells.
"Dragon Booster!" Lance cries. "What do we do?"
I hear Bright One take a deep breath as we struggle to free ourselves of the trap. "The amulet!" she says to me. "But how do we do this, Beau?"
I wish I could tell her, but this is something she will know for herself.
"I guess this is it, huh? Time to fight together." She pauses, recalling. "Let's go get 'em, Beau. Release—release the dragon!"
I become myself again, and feel her change also, alight with gold; I tear away the trapping gear, and we charge outside to fight.
The Dragon Booster! Moordryd thought, horrified, as he saw the golden-armoured figure moving almost too quickly to track, magged from the dragon's back to attack his Crew while the dragon roared. He's chosen someone already! Just like Father said.
Rancydd fell to the ground just in front of him; Moordryd looked up to see his dragon Retenshun running too. The roar was deafening this time.
"Back off!" he yelled into the comm. "We can't fight the Dragon Booster! Cain, keep on observation!"
Blarre and Swayy were scattered on the ground; he activated Decepshun's ramming gear, and prepared to fight as the Dragon Booster came towards him.
He fired; the dragon was advancing too quickly, and his aim was off, but he saw the iron ball hit one of the railings, ricochet off the sign, and hit them from behind just as Moordryd had the sense to duck out of the way.
They fell forward, and plummeted over the railing to the city below.
The Dragon of Legend was this easy to defeat?
That was when penning gear appeared from the still-smoky stable, wrapping itself around Decepshun to hold her in place. Moordryd swore. Blarre was getting up, though, ready to deal with those stablebrats once and for all; the Dragon Booster defeated and them rounded up would make for a rather successful mission.
"Father," he began, activating his comm as best he could while still tangled in the gear, "the dragon you wanted just fell over the Penn stables ledge..."
An odd metallic noise behind him; he paid no attention to it.
And then he was on the ground unconscious as the black-and-gold dragon mag-blasted him after clawing his way back up to Penn Stables.
His lieutenant sitting over him, looking rather worried.
"The dragon knocked you right out, Moordryd! We were all running away after he hit you. Blarre made me grab you, you know how bossy she and Swayy get." Cain shuddered. "So I grabbed you and then started burning claw, and we got away."
"And the dragon of legend, Cain?"
Cain shuddered. "Are you kidding? We were lucky just to escape!"
He really didn't want to face his father after this.
Bright One quickly runs to the dragon, deactivating her armour; I can admit that he is badly hurt, his bone visible through his right knee. And that he received it during a valiant battle.
"Get some bandages!" she commands. "Lance, we need hot water too. Did your father keep Quickbrand scalestitches?"
At least the Red seems to bear it with reasonable courage, only whining slightly.
"It'll be okay, Wyldfyr," she says, her expert hands soothing him. "Hold on, boy.."
Her feelings belie her words. I decide to do something for her, and approach. The Red only growls at me, but I nudge Bright One's thigh with my head, recalling what connects me to her—and what connects her to him, loath as I am to admit it.
I must work the same gold power that restores me to my true form, and as well act to prevent these people from making further attempts on those around me. I concentrate, bringing the tip of my tail to touch the Red's—and he is transformed, gradually, healed and altered into a purple-and-white combination (a definite improvement, as it no longer reminds me of his obnoxious nature).
He growls. Save-me-you-did, he says. But.
You still wish my Chosen rider, yes, I reply. Let us truce. For now.
I emphasise this with a possessive growl, and Bright One turns back to me. "Thanks, Beau." She flings her arms around my neck, rubbing it nicely.
She returns to the former red when he growls, though. "Feeling better now, 'Fyr?"
"He'll be fine now," Artha says, with something like wonder in his voice—at my efforts, I initially assume. "That's the second time your dragon's helped save me."
Grr. Such a frustrating dragon!
A sudden cough, from behind us.
Mortis steps from the lift.
"Dragon Booster. Did you plan to attend your secret rendezvous with me eventually, or should we hold it up here instead?"
"I have not heard anything of Connor Penn," Mortis says, shaking his head to indicate sadness; Lance's face falls. "My elevator down here will always be open for you, I promise."
"We'll stay at Penn Stables," Artha says. "We can't let the Dragon Eyes drive us off like that. And we'll race—won't we?" he asks Bright One, glancing at her.
"Yes. You will all need to train yourselves, to prepare for the trials you must face," Mortis says. "Word Paynn will stop at nothing to seize the black and gold dragon of legend."
"We'll race," says Bright One. "We can make a difference in the city. What about it, Beau?"
I roar in assent, and then we all laugh.
"This is going to be so drac!" Lance says as the humans lay out the spare mattresses, preparing the more spacious Penn Stables to be our home. "We're going to help the Dragon Booster save the world!"
"Pipe down, pup," Artha says, grabbing his little brother and rubbing his forehead. "You're still only ten."
Lance pouts. "But Mortis said we'd have to work together! Right, Kitt?"
"Yeah, I guess," she says. "But listen to your big brother, okay? He doesn't want you getting hurt."
Artha grins proudly. "Hey, Kitt. I've been thinking."
"What?" she asks him.
"The armour. It was made for a guy, right? The original Dragon Booster?" he says.
"Yeah. I should've asked Mortis about that," she says, walking over to me to groom me. "It's too tight some places, and way too loose others."
Artha blushes slightly. "The Dragon Eyes you trampled barely got a glimpse of you," he continues. "And I don't think you said anything, either. So since you've got to keep your identity as the Dragon Booster a secret..."
"I'll be the guy Dragon Booster," she finishes. "Pretty good thinking, stableboy. The mute guy Dragon Booster. They'll probably think I'm Sarjo or something."
"How're you going to be able to say anything to the bad guys when you're beating them up, then?" Lance asks. He punches the air, quoting a VIDDshow I've often seen with him. "Kapow! The Silver Racer says, stealing is bad!"
"You guys," Bright One says. "And me when I'm not transformed."
I nod. Clever thinking.
"I guess this makes us a team," Artha says. "So what do we call ourselves? Penn Racing?"
"I've never been in a team before," says Bright One. "But if I was..."
"I'd call it Sharp Edge Racing, after a group of four who all made it to the Academy in their own right," she says. "But I've still gotta see you race first, stableboy."
We learn to race as new dragons, telling all that the Red was too badly wounded and the secret of the black and gold dragon is unknown.
The ex-Red is fast, I must admit; Artha is made highly nervous at first, but is able to conquer his fears, and uses a new draconium controller to excellent effect.
His friend Parmon is a frequent spectator to our races, and gave my littermate the device; Bright One has decided not to confide in him, though, which is a source of tension between my Human and my friend.
The other dragons are most insipid, bar the malevolence of Decepshun and the ex-Red's boorish tempers. Their human riders are more interesting, but it is easy for us to defeat them; the experience of Bright One and my abilities keep us victorious in races, and we grow accustomed to each other.
More challenging, however, are the events of the nights, where we leap silent and strong upon malefactors, tapping out quick clawcoded signals to our friends as needed. Bright One knows her city, and her expertise allows us to triumph.
We protect Lance when he is taken into the Fire Cave, and our bond enables us to break Word Paynn's mind control gear; we duel Moordryd Paynn for control of the Down City Council and fight away wraith dragons with Parmon's assistance; we overcome the power of the Furox; we save the Red when he is turned into a wraith (a strong will, that irritating dragon); and, perhaps especially, work together to balance Libris' energies.
And we become friends.
Another day, another battle. I mag-blast two Dragon Eyes into the air, letting them fall as we stop the theft.
The other two are running from us; silly humans.
"They're getting away!" Lance calls to us.
We'll get them, Bright One claw-taps back, and we follow through the maze of streets at full speed. Routine, for us; I look forward to dealing the final moves.
A dead end. We skid to a stop, confused; and that's when the explosion hits.
Wraith dragons suddenly surround us, roaring. I prepare to fight them back, all four of them, for with Bright One I have always been successful.
And then, the ground gives way below us, and we fall to the depths.
It is very dark around here, as we pick ourselves up from the ground. Bright One looks around to see that we appear to be alone, and turns to me.
"Something tells me it's gonna be a long way up," she says, switching on her comm-unit. "Artha? Lance? Come in!"
She sighs when no reply seems forthcoming. "Scales, out of range. Might as well get started climbing—oh!"
A dark footprint on the ground before us.
And then another, and another.
I quickly mag her to my back; we stand battle-ready. The wraith dragons shimmer into existence, and Bright One easily fends off their projectiles with her blocking staff; we run back across a bridge, leaving them behind. Bright One gives a slight sigh in relief.
I look around the landscape, and see a huge silhouette atop a hill; she must have followed my gaze, for I feel her freeze atop me as she sees its size.
She directs me to run, her hands on the saddle urging me to flee quickly; I do so, but, surprised, note that we travel in a circle.
We're gonna get close from behind. See what that thing is, she taps in claw-code.
I nod, and we carefully travel between the wreckage of ancient buildings, coming to the giant dragon, ridden by an orange-clad rider.
Word Paynn, I realise, seeing the distinctive silhouette that has appeared on various VIDD-broadcasts; she shares my surprise.
And then the giant turns around, both it and its master looking straight down at us.
"The Dragon Booster. We meet at last," Word Paynn says. "My, my, you're early. You were careless to not cloak your mag-signature."
Bright One makes no reply.
"Dragon got your tongue?" he continues. "Or is it true that you cannot speak a word? It must be hard, attempting to stop a war while relying on mere spokespeople—"
We'll speak action!, she tells me, and with her staff raised I mag her at Word to knock him from his dragon.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall!, I roar to the dragon, using one of Bright One's catchphrases.
A glowing purple shield materialises between Word's hands; Bright One slams her staff into it.
I can sense the mag-energy as I turn her around in the air, preparing her for another attack.
Word's laugh is vicious as his dragon hurtles towards me, and he too is magged off to fight.
I cannot withstand a dragon that size; I dodge between two pillars, concentrating on maintaining the mag-field for Bright One.
I feel a burst of sudden shock from her. Up in the sky, Word fires a barrage of mag-projectiles at her as she dodges; I move her, helping her to escape it.
"Run away, little Dragon Booster," he taunts. "Run until you can run no more!"
She falls to my back, and we run as he predicted, avoiding the deadly mag-bursts as they chase us through the landscape.
He leads us!, she communicates to me, and I realise this is true.
A mag-bolt crashes to our left; I mag her in that direction over it rather than dodge the way Paynn appears to want us, and he follows up with another flurry from that direction. In the air, Bright One dodges as I struggle through; it's a drain on our energy levels, but at last we make it to the shelter of a cave, and take stock of our surroundings.
Let's rest, Bright One tells me, powering down once we are sure of evading the pursuit; and we settle to an uneasy sleep, curled around each other.
As we walk through the caves upon waking, our VIDDcomm finally activates.
"Drag—" someone says, through the static. "Lance...help..."
Bad signal! she taps out.
"Can't...answer please...Word Pay...help..."
She guides me to run forward for a while, and then we attempt to send a return signal.
Try going back, see if that works, she says, and pauses. Of course, I'm so stupid! They said Paynn did it! That way, like he wanted us to go! Hurry!
The comm finally explodes into life. "Word Paynn has captured Lance and myself with his wraith dragons!"
I recognize the voice.
Parmon? she taps out bemusedly. Why are you here?
"I was observing you from a distance, and calculated your approximate trajectory down the pipe allowing for your combined weight, the pipes and water pressure, gravitational forces coupled with fluid velocity..."
"Shut up, Parm!" Lance's voice. "He showed us where you went. Artha escaped, but we need your help!"
"I will send approximate coordinates promptly," Parmon says, and Bright One taps them out to me in response. "The wraiths—" He gives a sudden shriek. "Got to go!"
74, 42, 54, head nor-nor-west. We're coming.
They are still some distance away, and it chills my blood to see Lance surrounded by wraiths, standing next to a dark cave along with Artha's friend Parmon.
But worse is yet to occur. A tendril reaches out from that cave, grasping a wraith dragon; and is followed by another, wrapping around Lance and Frachsun.
We run faster, desperate to arrive in time. As soon as I can, I mag my littermate and his dragon out of danger; and then I see Word Paynn again.
"Welcome back, Dragon Booster. Welcome—to my trap."
He grabs us in his mag-stream, and then we're skidding out of control towards that cave, two wraiths breaking away from the prisoners to stalk us.
"Dragon Booster, no!" we hear Parmon cry, but the tendril wraps around us. I hear a grim roar from the depths of the cave, and groan at the energy drain.
We need to get out!, Bright One signals to me, but even her strength is not enough to prompt an escape from this.
"Feel the Muhorta steal your energy, Dragon Booster. Feel yourself weakening—as you watch my wraiths finish off your friends."
Horror seeps through her as she sees the wraiths advancing on Lance and Parmon. We continue to struggle, but there is nothing we can do; I close my eyes as my head is forced down, afraid of seeing.
And then Artha comes, riding on the ex-Red and driving the wraiths away from Parmon and Lance. He turns to us; I roar, warning him away.
"Artha, it'll get you too!" Lance screams.
Away! Bright One signals frantically as we struggle. They are doomed to watching us as the wraiths regroup to attack them, all of us in desperate need.
Yield to it!, Bright One commands.
What? I growl.
Back up!, she taps out hurriedly, and reaches down to activate her disruptor mine. We can get in there and take it down!
I groan as I allow it to pull us back, my energy levels dropping ever lower.
Bright One's idea is all we have. We must escape this!
Another roar from the enemy dragon, while Word Paynn watches avidly.
"Finish him off, my hungry vampire dragon. Leave what's left for me." He laughs. "You are mine now!"
The Muhorta gives a final pull, and there is nothing below my feet as I fall into the cave, hearing Word's shout of surprise and our friends' screams. I feel Bright One, attempting to grant me her support from the armour. I hope only that it will be enough.
It's dark. There's nothing below us as we fall, and then another tentacle snatches the mine from Bright One and throws it above us.
I hear the explosion, and see nothing as our escape route is cut off.
I feel Bright One's despair, echoing it with my own.
"I'm sorry, Beau," she says to me, speaking now in the darkness. "I'm so sorry I got you into this. I—"
You were the rider I chose, Bright One. I am also sorry we did not have enough time.
"We have no energy left," she whispers, collapsed across my saddle; I feel her weak lifeforce. "Nothing we can do. At least...we didn't let Word Paynn win..."
She collapses then, left completely exhausted, and I know I am not far behind.
The Dragon of Legend, defeated by the Muhorta.
Bright One absent, her mind no longer telling me of her expertise. I am lost.
Release the dragon, Mortis told her. She must release my power. We must join inside ourselves, to win...
I reach into her on the strength of our bond, ignoring the pain as I push myself. She is Mine; I touch her heart and take her mind, screaming inside as I force the joining.
Release the dragon!, I drag from her throat, and then it is the Muhorta's turn to scream.
Bright One! Wake!, I signal to her, pushing at her with the spikes on my face as she lies where she slipped from my saddle, unconscious in the cave's depths. You must wake!
She gasps as she feels me, and I sense nothing but fear from her, radiating in quick, sharp waves like the pounding of my blood.
Chart us a path out of here!
The forced connection between us still lingers; she reaches automatically for her comm.
"Just like for races," she mutters, typing in the required figures. "The way out...the way to the surface..."
I mag her onto my back and grab her calculations straight from her mind, and then we race out to save our friends.
We burst through the ground; I mag her from the saddle for her to battle the wraiths, and roar to compel them to abandon the fight. Artha helps, and our foes are beaten back.
Word Paynn looks to be startled at our appearance.
"The...Dragon Booster? You defeated the Muhorta? But how...?"
I send a mag-pulse to him, refusing to think how much it will cost me, and his dragon falls back several paces.
To my surprise, he laughs again.
"You are stronger than I expected, Dragon Booster," he says. "Until next time."
I watch him leave; I can feel nothing from Bright One, which does not trouble me in my state. I feel as though I have passed beyond exhaustion into a strange world beyond, grey and tireless.
She falls off the saddle, her armour disappearing, and buries her face in my neck.
"Beau, you saved me—I don't know how but you saved me—I'm sorry I nearly got us killed—I'm sorry I didn't trust you—"
Her tears spatter my scales, and I find it in me to regret my control of her.
"I saw—you listened to me—my name is Kitt, and you thought you had to obey me and you nearly died and I'm sorry—I'm sorry."
I collapse to the ground, as well. A short figure, oddly dressed, approaches us, but I cannot care anything for it.
Kitt, I think as I close my eyes.
The name will do.