AN: Hi Everyone! Like the summary says, this project was started last November (2012) as a NaNoWriMo project. I fully blame TinySprite for planting the seeds, though (and recommend you definitely read her awesome stuff as well)! I got to almost 40,000 words by the end of November, but it took me almost six months to finish the rest! This is my first novel-length work as well, so that was exciting too.
Dragon Flyz has always been one of my favorite childhood cartoons, and I was even more amazed at how well its held up over the years. It's unfortunate that people don't seem to remember the show that much, but if you're reading I'm delighted you're here!
Prompt 1: Evidence
Old Earth smelled like death and decay as Thunder brought them out of the Wind Pits. Zarkan wrinkled his nose; somehow, the smell was something one never got used to. The lava pools simmered as Dragon Flyz Team Two finished emerging from the Wind Pit and began their flight toward the hulking form of Warnado in the distance.
Zarkan opened his Vox Box channel back to Skywatch and Airlandis, "This is DF Team Two, Dragonator Zarkan reporting in," he said.
The Vox Box crackled to life with Aaron, leader of the Dragon Flyz, voice, "Acknowledged, Zarkan. What do their defenses look like?"
Zarkan activated his visor's telescopic vision to get a better picture of the scene around Warnado. "I see at least two swarms of Gremwings surrounding Warnado. Fryte and several mutants I don't recognize seem to be out patrolling as well. I would say Dread Wing is expecting us."
"Would you like us to send backup, Dragonator One?" Aaron asked.
"Negative," Zarkan replied. "If we show up with an army of Dragonators, Dread is unlikely to tell us anything he knows about the Dragon Flyz. No, let's let Dread Wing think we're playing by the rules he's set forth. But once we enter Warnado, I'll leave a Vox channel open to Skywatch. Zarkan out."
Zarkan opened a short range channel to the rest of his team. "All right, Flyz. We're going in without Wind Jammers blazing."
"What?!" came Nora's reply, as her face appeared on the video monitor built into Thunder's saddle. "You can't expect us to fly into a swarm of Gremwings and not defend ourselves?"
Dram's grave face appeared in a quadrant of the screen, shaking his head. "Zarkan is right, Nora. If we engage the mutants and gremwings in a firefight, we may lose our opportunity to discover what has happened to Z'neth and the others."
Zarkan nodded. "Exactly. Though I never said we had to play Dread's game by his rules. Everyone, remove a Wind Slammer for quick access if necessary." He watched as each of the dragonators removed a small explosive device from their Wind Jammers. Though only as small as a finger, Orak had packed enough power into each Wind Slammer that it could create a towering wall of lava with ease if dropped into one of the lava pools.
As they neared Warnado, Zarkan could hear the screeching and chittering of the gremwings. They were base, nearly mindless creatures that the mutants could control, but with their sharp, needle-like teeth, three talons, and tendency to swarm, they could prove to be more than a minor problem for even the most experienced dragonators.
Suddenly, Fright and the new mutants seemed to catch sight of them, and flew at them with plasma cannons at the ready. When Fryte was within shouting distance, he bellowed, "What is your business, hu-man!" Zarkan could see the saliva dripping down the foul creature's jaws.
"I come to parley with Dread Wing, mutant!" Zarkan's voice rang out loud and clear across the foul landscape.
"Leave now, or you will burn in the lava pools, hu-man!" Fryte shouted, brandishing his lava gun, and shooting a fiery blast straight up into the air. The new mutants followed suit, all savage roars and brutality.
Out of the corner of his eye, Zarkan saw Amod and Nora preparing to launch their Wind Slammers at Fryte, but before they could, Nocturna flew from the mouth of Warnado. Of all the mutants who served as Dread's lieutenants, Zarkan knew Nocturna to be the most treacherous. She had openly defied Dread Wing on a number of occasions in bids for power that Airlandis knew about, and likely many that they had no knowledge of. Still, she remained Dread's second-in-command.
"Fryte, do put that plasma cannon away," she crooned, flying between Fryte and Zarkan. "You wouldn't want to face the price of hurting Lord Dread Wing's special…guests." Fryte growled, but lowered his weapon. Nocturna turned to Zarkan, "Now, leave your dragons out here and follow me."
"Dragon Flyz, maximize!" the four dragonators said in unison as their exo wings emerged from their flight suits and carried them into their air and off the backs of their dragons. They followed Nocturna into the bowels of Warnado, through twisting, hellish tunnels filled with indescribable horrors. Finally, they reached Dread Wing's throne room.
Zarkan had engaged the self-styled King of Old Earth in battle on many occasions, but rarely had the opportunity to observe the mutant warlord up close. He was close to seven feet tall, and his red skin and lurid yellow eyes gave him the fearsome appearance of a demon spawned from hell itself.
"Welcome, Dragon Flyz," Dread Wing said with a sickening smile, revealing rows of pointed teeth. He lounged on this throne, with was covered in amber crystals – the power source that he was well aware Airlandis needed to keep itself aloft above the Warp Winds.
"Why the sudden hospitality, Dread?" Nora spat.
Zarkan nodded. "We know you have something to do with our missing dragonators, Dread Wing. What do you want?"
Dread laughed, a deep and throaty chuckle that raised the flesh on the back of Zarkan's neck. "What I have long desired – the floating city of Airlandis."
Nora and Amod sputtered with rage, but Zarkan held a hand up to still them.
Dread continued, "But today I will settle for what the Mistress of the Endless Night demands – justice. For too long you have raided my kingdom for the Amber crystals, and none have been more a thorn to my flesh than the spawn of Aaron. But today, justice has been done, and the thieves have been punished."
From a side corridor, the four new mutants came in, each carrying a shrouded figure. They unceremoniously dumped the bodies at Zarkan's feet. Zarkan knelt down and slowly pulled back the rough cloth, only to have his throat catch at the sight of the face.
It was Z'neth. His face was battered and bruised; swollen purple lips no longer drew breath. Zarkan's eyes stung and the roar of water filled his ears. It was all he could do to stop himself from attempting to kill Dread Wing where he stood.
Dread appeared to take their shocked silence for submission. "And so ends the tale of the Dragon Flyz – wings forever clipped," he added with a gloating laugh. "Take their remains from my sight, and remember that this is now the fate that awaits all who try and steal my amber crystals."
Zarkan numbly pulled the shroud back over Z'neth before picking up his limp form. Amod, Nora, and Dram all picked up another of the bodies before all activated their exo-wings and flew from the room, Dread Wing's cackles haunting them all the way out of Warnado.
Time seemed to slow down and speed up in tandem on their flight back to Airlandis. None of them spoke, except to request docking clearance from Skywatch and request Aaron and a medical team's presence on their landing.
Z'neth had been Zarkan's boyhood crush, teenage mentor, and adult colleague and friend. Seeing his still form crushed Zarkan's spirit in a way he had never thought possible. Still, it was nothing compared to the anguish on Aaron's face when he saw the beaten bodies of his four children. Zarkan's tears finally flowed free as he embraced Aaron.
The medical team headed by Zarkan's sister Miriam arrived, and he saw her openly weeping at the sight of their dear friends. Zarkan helped her lay the bodies onto a hover-lift for transportation to the medical bay. As he was about to go make his report to Skywatch, Dram laid a hand on Zarkan's shoulder. "I would like to accompany Miriam and the medical team," he said gravely. Zarkan understood of course – Dram was the Dragon Flyz older brother in spirit if not in blood.
"Leave granted, of course," Zarkan said. Dram nodded before heading off after Miriam and Aaron. Zarkan turned to Nora and Amod. "Come with me – we have to make a report to the Council immediately."
The next few hours were a blur, going over the details of what had happened with the Council members and Skywatch officials. It had been a long time since a dragonator had been killed by an enemy force, and it stung all the more for it to be DF Team One. Zarkan swore he saw head councilman Joshua age more in a few minutes than he had in years. It was decided that they would not release the information to the general populace right away, but would give the family time to grieve in private.
Only by that evening were Zarkan, Amod, and Nora cleared to leave, though they were cleared from active duty for the remainder of the week. Amod and Nora bade their leave to turn in for the night, but Zarkan made his way through Airlandis' golden corridors to the medical bay and his sister's office.
The scene that greeted him was certainly not what he expected. Inside, he found his sister Miriam, Aaron, and Dram at work. "What's going on here?" he asked.
Miriam gave him a stern look over her glasses. "What does it look like? We're burning wing to try and save our friends!"
Zarkan raised an eyebrow. "I don't mean to be insensitive, but Z'neth and the others are gone Miri."
Aaron floated up from the sample he was viewing under the microscope. "Maybe not, Zarkan. Tell him what you told me, Dram."
"I have lived with these four almost my whole life, Zarkan, and the smell is wrong," Dram said.
"And it can't be accounted for by any decomposition?" Zarkan asked.
Miriam shook her head. "That's the funny thing. Dram's sense of smell gave us the first clue, but digging into the microscopic level revealed a whole host of issues." She gestured to the supine forms laid out on the examination tables. "These may look very much like our friends, but genetics don't lie, brother. We believe these are mutein-derived genetic constructs. Clones made to appear very similar to Z'neth, Summit, Peak, and Apex, but only on the surface."
Zarkan was getting excited now. "If these aren't them, then what happened to the real Dragon Flyz?"
"Dread Wing's four new lieutenants," Dram answered. Of course – Dread Wing didn't simply want to kill the Dragon Flyz. He wanted to subjugate and pull them into his nightmarish world.
Zarkan turned to Aaron. "What's our next move, sir?"
"I believe your sister has isolated the mutein/DNA hybrid that let these clones appear as my children. We're currently working on a reversal agent – if it brings the clone back to its natural state, it should reverse the effects of the mutein on the Dragon Flyz. Our next problem would be administration," Aaron finished.
"Leave that to me, sir." Zarkan replied, a look as cold as plasteel in his eyes.
Dram clasped his shoulder. "You mean leave it to us. I go with you to save my family."
It was a stealth mission to be sure. No flying orders were filed with Skywatch, and only Aaron, Miriam, Councilman Joshua, Dram, and Zarkan knew about their suspicions regarding the clones. Miriam and Aaron's work had extended through until the middle of the night, but when they injected the fake Z'neth with the test serum, his features seemed to run and blur until there was nothing but a smooth humanoid shell left.
So, armed with self-injecting darts containing a reversal agent genetically coded to each of the Dragon Flyz, Zarkan and Dram set off for Old Earth and Warnado under the cover of night.
"Activating Dragon Night Fight mode," Zarkan said, engaging his night vision visor. The two dragonators quickly reached the edge of Dread Wing's territory, where they left their dragon mounts and continued on via exo-wings in Zarkan's case, and graceful Dramen wings in Dram's.
Warnado was eerie at night, lit from below by the churning magma rivers surrounding it. Zarkan and Dram were easily able to avoid the night guard patrols and slip into the ship.
"Where do you think they are keeping them?" Dram whispered.
Zarkan thought for a moment. "Considering their mutation is very recent, I doubt Dread Wing would want to leave them unsupervised. Gangryn's laboratory seems like the best place to start our search."
Making their way to what Peak had once jokingly referred to as the "Hall of Horrors," Zarkan and Dram keep a close lookout for any unexpected trouble. Their Wind Jammers were loaded with tranquilizer darts to avoid setting off a firefight and alerting all of Warnado to their presence in the tunnels.
The metal door to Gangryn's laboratory was unguarded. Cracking it open just enough to squeeze through, Zarkan slipped inside, followed by Dram. Inside, the laboratory was filled with a lurid green light from four tanks set up along the far wall. And inside those tanks floated the Dragon Flyz.
Zarkan rushed to the workstation terminal as Dram got a closer look at their friends. Or what was recognizable anyway. Z'neth, Peak, Summit, and Apex all appeared to be in mid-transformation between human and mutant. Zarkan brought the computer terminal to life, looking for files that might help them. The last thing he wanted was to further harm his friends in a rush to get them out of Warnado. When the computer appeared loathe to relinquish its secrets, Zarkan swore and removed his helmet, placing it on the table. "The data appears to be heavily encrypted. Computer, access and download all pertinent files regarding the mutant Dragon Flyz project." The quantum chip came to life as the helmet's upgraded computer system began scanning and accessing the pertinent files.
"I recognize this substance," said Dram. "It appears similar to the mutein used by Dread Wing on Sky Fury's cub."
"That particular batch was designed to not only mutate, but also instill fierce loyalty to Dread Wing in the process," Zarkan said gravely. Their task could be more difficult than first believed.
The helmet's computer chirped as it finished its search. Placing it back on his head, Zarkan began accessing the data. "I can't make sense of half of this, but the first thing we should do is remove them from the mutein. The longer their expose, the more permanence the transformation appears to gain."
Dram had just begun scaling the side of the first tank when the sound of murmuring and footsteps approaching echoed from outside the laboratory. Zarkan and Dram ducked underneath a large workbench as the door swung open.
"Why are my new mutants not ready yet Gangryn?" Dread Wing bellowed at his chief scientist.
Gangryn cowered but replied, "It is a very delicate process, my lord! Too much mutein exposure early on could irreparably harm the subjects!"
Dread snarled. "Do you think I care if the Dragon Flyz suffer, Gangryn? No, I want them broken, their identity washed away. All that will remain is me."
"As you say, Lord Dread Wing," Gangryn replied in his most sycophant voice. Zarkan saw the mutant scientist push a level, and the mutein started to glow a brighter green. Apex contracted in pain, and Summit let out a gurgling scream. Zarkan could wait no longer – he couldn't risk it.
"Now, Dram!" he cried, launching a Wind Slammer at Dread Wing and Gangryn. It exploded, throwing Dread and Gangryn to the floor, knocking them out and decimating the laboratory. Dram aimed his Wind Jammers at the tanks and fired, shattering the glass and releasing mutein all over the laboratory. Zarkan rapidly loaded the anti-mutein vial coded to Apex and shot her with it, following suit with Z'neth, while Dram did the same for Summit and Peak.
The Dragon Flyz features seemed to stabilize before beginning to morph back into their human form. Teeth shortened and eyes turned from yellow to white as the siblings regained their true forms. Zarkan breathed a sigh of relief as pulled four emergency exo-wings from his pouch. Not as strong as their regular counterparts, these would at least get the four unconscious dragonators back to Thunder and Shockfire. Dram threaded a towing cable between the exo-wings
Maybe that sigh had come too soon. Zarkan heard Dread Wing growl with rage as he awoke on the floor of the laboratory covered in mutein.
"Let's burn some wing, Dram!" Zarkan said, activating the exo wings and towing the dragonators between him and Dram.
Suddenly, Warnado was all sirens and flashing lights as the alarm system was activated.
"You will never leave this fortress alive, human scum!" the lord of Warnado screamed, releasing a plasma blast over their heads. His monstrous wings unfurled, and Dread Wing launched himself after the escaping group.
"I will try and slow him down!" Dram yelled, tossing his end of the tow-cable to Zarkan, who caught it and put his exo-wings into overdrive.
Zarkan caught snatches of the vicious fight that ensued – cracking bone and claws tearing flesh. But he didn't have much time to pay it attention as gremwings began pouring out of every foul crevice, screeching and shrieking. Zarkan activated his vox box and yelled, "Thunder, I could use a little air support!"
Within moments, his dragon's head crested over the lip of Warnado before diving in straight after Zarkan and the Dragon Flyz. They met in the middle, and Zarkan lashed the unconscious siblings to Thunder's saddle while letting off volley after volley of wind jammer fire into the horde of gremwings.
"Listen, Thunder – you get them to safety. Go straight for the Wind Pits and don't stop until you reach Airlandis!" Zarkan said, patting his dragon's nose. "But tell Shockfire to stay put – Dram and I will need to get away quickly." Thunder roared in response, and Zarkan could feel that he would follow the plan.
Zarkan fired off another round into the gremwings before chucking a Wind Slammer into them, which blew a path for Thunder's escape. Turning around, he flew back toward Dram and Dread Wing, barreling into Dread and knocking him against the wall. Picking up the injured Dram, Zarkan use the remaining bit of power left in his exo-wings to propel them out the top of Warnado's mouth and into the dark night. Zarkan seemed to hang there for an extended moment before Shockfire appeared beneath him and carried them far away from Dread Wing's carnal howls.
Emerging from the Wind Pit and tasting to cool, fresh air above the Wind Pits was just about the most wonderful thing Zarkan had ever experienced. He had used some of the dragonators' standard burn salve on Dram's wounds, but would feel much better once the Dramen dragonator was under proper medical supervision.
"Thank you for coming with me, Dram," Zarkan said. "Your strength is what allowed this mission to succeed."
Dram coughed, then shook his head. "You volunteered to save my family. I should be thanking you."
Zarkan clasped him on the shoulder before opening a channel to Skywatch. "Airlandis, this is dragonator Zarkan reporting in. Did the package arrive safely?"
"Affirmative, Zarkan," Aaron's voice came across the Vox Box. "Thunder brought them home."
"Good. I'll give him an extra treat later." Shockfire made a grumbling noise, and Zarkan laughed. "All right, girl, you too!" He scratched her neck affectionately.
Aaron came back on the line. "Do you require a medical team, Zarkan?"
"Yes. Dram got in a bit of a scrape with Dread Wing, which you'll be proud to know went rather badly for the old mutie."
Aaron's chuckle resounded as Airlandis golden dome came into view. It was a heartwarming sight. Emergency landing procedures went smoothly, and a medical team was on hand to take Dram into immediate surgery to repair several broken bones. Zarkan took Shockfire and bedded both her and Thunder (who greeted them both with many cheerful snorts and licks).
"You look terrible, brother," came Miriam's voice as she strode across the dragon habitat, a medical kit in her hands. "Aaron expresses his sincere gratitude by the way."
"How are Z'neth and the others?" he asked.
Miriam shrugged. "As well as can be expected, considering the amount of mutein they were exposed to. They'll be off duty for at least several weeks; probably more if Aaron has his way. And I get the true pleasure of cleaning out any rogue strands still hiding in their DNA," she added with a chuckle. "Oh, and Joshua wants to decorate both you and Dram for bravery as soon and Dram's recovered enough to stand." She pulled out a dermal regenerator and began working on Zarkan's arm, sterilizing and healing the multitude of cuts left by the gremwings.
Zarkan rolled his eyes and snorted. "Oh goody, a chance for Joshua to soak up a little glory without putting his life on the line."
"Don't be too hard on him, Zar," Miriam said. "He actually let you and Dram leave Airlandis and infiltrate Warnado based on some pretty circumspect evidence." She worked on him a few more minutes in companionable silence. "Well, it's the best I'm going to do without my proper equipment. I'm slotting you in my schedule first thing tomorrow morning, so I expect you to be there. Otherwise I know you'd let whatever vulgar pathogens you picked up in Warnado just fester."
Miriam began packing up her case. "Thanks Miri – I owe you one," Zarkan added before giving his sister a hug.
"Oh, and be sure you see Amod and Nora as well," Miriam added as she was about to go through the door. "They were ready to march out after you as soon as they found out you and Dram had left."
Zarkan smiled. He couldn't complain too much about that – after all, he had done the same for his friends under the circumstances. Still, he wasn't in the mood to be chastised by his lover and protégé tonight. Maybe tomorrow they could get in line behind Miri.