"Mordryd, do you remember the legend of the dragon booster?"
And there it was. No 'how are you's, no 'good afternoon, son.' Just this. This business relationship between patriarch and heir. A part of Mordryd was proud to bear the title, proud of how his father treated him, like he was capable of accomplishing things. Like an adult. But, there would always be part of him, he would admit only in times of great loneliness, that wished it wasn't so. He wished he could go back to the pure, caring relationship of a father and his young son. But Mordryd wasn't young anymore. And he didn't think his father remembered how to just be a father anymore.
Mordryd met his father's eyes evenly as he answered, "Yes, father. Why do you ask?"
Word Paynn smiled, and part of Mordryd preens, pleased to witness one of his father's rare good moods and know that he is part of it somehow. "I'm not sure you're as familiar with the tale as you might think. Care to recount it to me?"
Mordryd blinked, wondering why his father wanted him to recite a child's bed time story. Maybe he was on one of his mythology stints again?
Mordryd nevertheless began, "The Dragon Booster was a powerful dragon and rider during the Great Dragon War in the Pre Ruling State Era. The war was between dragons and humans as they fought for supremacy, each vying to be the dominant race. According to the bedtime stories, the dragon booster was a representative of harmony between dragons and humans, able to breach the gap and offer friendship instead of vice.
"The dragon itself was a powerful golden dragon, born of power and nobility. They say the power of the stars is written upon its brow. Much less is known of the rider. The only reoccurring trait in any of the old stories is that the rider is nondescript and average, 'could be any human' one account describes so blatantly. Supposedly, the duo were able to end the war by 'turning all the dragons to gold.' Directly after the war, there is no mention of any such dragon. It's as if the beast vanished without a trace."
Word's smile grew sharper, and Mordryd had a dizzying moment of uncertainty. Sometimes that smile was good, but definitely not always. Not most of the time either. He relaxed as Word Paynn continued speaking.
"That is the common rendition. Technically the truest one, according to online sources. It's not your fault it's wrong."
Mordryd's eyebrows came together in confusion. What did he get wrong in a story he had heard since his infancy?
He father continued on, "The war was ended by the dragon booster, that much is true. And the quotes are true, if misunderstood. See, the dragon booster human could have been anyone. Was, in fact, a different human each tale in the story. The only character that remains the same is the dragon. The rider did indeed change for each of these accounts. Apparently, in each time of need, the dragon of legend chose a common human to accompany it. This was so much the case that, we have many varied accounts of who the dragon booster was."
"But, the most misconstrued part of this lovely tale was that there was a dragon at all. Well, in a sense, I suppose there was. How can a beast mascarading in human skin be considered human, after all? The truth of the matter is this: The dragon of legend is truly a creature in between. Neither beast, nor man. The dragon is able to shift between the two forms like water, drifting through both worlds with none the wiser to the power slipping past their grasp. Until today, that is."
Mordryd felt himself hard to pressed not to stare bug eyed at his sire. This was definitely the first time he had heard this spin on the old wives' tale.
"I've gotten word," Mordryd's father is still speaking and Mordryd makes himself zero in on what is being said- he can sort out the information later-, "that a new dragon booster has been born. Penn stables is currently hosting a summit for up and coming professional grade racers. According to my source, the dragon booster will be at the summit, lying undercover as a human. According to the legend, today is the day when, for a limited amount of time, the gold dragon will be forced to shift and maintain a dragon form. You will attend the summit and bring me that dragon."
Mordryd really had to struggle now to keep his consternation off his face. How was that possible? A dragon in human skin? What monster was this? It was only through years of ingrained response that Mordryd was able to manage a token, "Yes, sir."
Now, Word's laser focus had settled on the form of his 16 year old son. He addressed him sharply. "Mordryd, it is of the highest importance that you do not fail me. The forced shift only happens under the right alignment of stars, which will not happen again for many months. If you fail to capture the dragon booster, it will return to human form and will become much more difficult to track. You understand, don't you? Kidnapping a 'human' raises much more attention than simply grabbing a beast off the streets."
Mordryd nods, rather than verbally replying, as he turned walked with smooth confident steps back out of the room. He had a dragon to wrangle.
Artha frowned from where he stood at the side of the compound. He had forgotten that today was the beginning of his father's training summit. A dozen riders, each top of their game stood gathered around his father while Connor Penn droned on about some kind of racing trick. There would be no asking the man anything today, or any other racing summit day. He would be much too busy.
He turned to walk away, but found himself suddenly very familiar with the dusty ground via his face. Even as he rolled back up to his feet, Artha could hear a wheezing, rasping cackle. It was Beaucephalis, the dragon his father kept trying to get Artha to work with. Tough luck for Connor, Beau had even less love for Artha as Artha did for dragons in general.
It was the dragon's tail that Artha tripped over. Artha glared at the massive blue and red dragon. Future champ Artha's foot. That dragon was trouble. Just as Artha was drawing his foot back to return the favor, he heard the his father calling to him.
"Ahh, Artha. What great timing. Bring Beau over, would you? I'm going to use him in a demonstration."
"Uhh, yeah, sure, Dad," Artha called over, while looking up at Beau with dread growing in his chest.
According to Beaucephalis's pedigree, he was a hybrid of a red draconium magma class and a turquoise draconium sonic class. This should mean that he is fierce, aggressive, yet loyal once you earned his loyalty. Personally, Artha though he must have some black draconium psi dragon mixed in there, darn what his pedigree says. He was too crafty not to be. And the way he knew what was going on in a human's brain was just uncanny.
Artha might be able to guide Beau over, but only if Beau wanted to go. Most days, Beau just wanted to act like a like a ten ton hellion and drive Artha nuts. There was one memorable moment when Artha was twelve that Beau had simply sat on Artha, not allowing him to get up for over an hour. The hybrid had it out for Artha, he knew it.
Thankfully, today was not one of those days, as Beau proved quite amenable to Artha's guidance, though he seemed amused by Artha's timidity when it came to the guiding part. Probably only behaving because Connor was nearby. Sadistic scale butt.
Just as Artha arrived, another rider walked up, slipping unnoticed into to crowd of riders already standing around. Artha wouldn't have noticed him, except Beau perked an eye at him curiously. The dragon had amazing senses. More proof that the evil snake was part psi.
As Artha arrived with Beau, he took in the faces of the elite racers in the crowd. A lot of them weren't much older than he was. He wondered how young they had been when they started riding. The newly arrived one, Artha noted, had a surprising shock of white hair.
Beau and Artha both startled as a sudden alarm went off nearby. In surprise, Artha's Dad hurriedly pulled out what looked like some kind of electronic timer. An image of star constellations popped across the screen, but Artha couldn't see what it said. Beau, over his startlement, craned his head over Artha's shoulder to try and get a closer look.
Connor stared at the device in shock. He hadn't realized that today was today. The day of the Golden Star. And Artha had no idea. And Artha was in the open. And he had to deal with the elite racers still. Snag dag-it! Connor could mag bolt himself for his stupidity. How could he completely forget to check when Artha's awakening is?
Well, there was no helping it now.
"Ahh, excuse me for a moment, there's something I need to do, real quick. Work on that tacking exercise for a few minutes. When I come back, you need to tell me what gear Beau can mag and to what levels and why this is important. Artha, come with me for a minute."
Connor turned, ignoring Beau's abandoned look, and grabbed Artha by the arm, leading him gently over to the stable overhang some feet away and around the corner to the other side. As the racers behind them congregated around Beau, who is definitely looking very betrayed, Connor turned his attention back to Artha. Artha his sixteen year old son, who had no idea what was going on or what he was. Artha was going to panic and it was Connor's fault.
Guilt pooled in the pit of Connor's stomach as he said, "Artha, there's something I need to tell you. Something I probably should have told you a long time ago. Certainly before today."
Artha tilted his head curiously. What couldn't wait until after the summit? "Umm, okay, what is it?"
Connor looked pained. A part of him had wished this day would never come, that Artha could just stay a stable boy, stay his son. "Today is the day of the Golden Star. On this day the dragon booster, the golden booster of legend is revealed. The truth is.. The truth is that you are the dragon booster."
For a moment Artha couldn't help but just stare at his day. What. What?
Artha tried to laugh, despite the uneasy feeling growing in his chest. "Haha, Dad! That's a good one. So what did you need me for?"
Connor felt his heart break as he looked into the innocent eyes of his son. His son. He didn't want Artha to have to go through what was coming next. It made his heart shatter. Connor could remember when Artha said his first human words. Started toddling around on chubby, unsteady legs. Learned how to read. Went to school. Suddenly, more than anything, Connor wanted to hide Artha away. Keep him safe from the world around. The world that would hurt him, judge him, and expect him to do impossible things. All this to his little boy. Connor wanted more than anything to be joking in that moment, regardless of the war that was coming. If only it would keep his little boy safe.
But, the stars waited for no one and they were losing time. Artha would transform whether Connor wanted him to or not. There was a war coming and nothing Connor could do would stop it. Even for his son. His precious son.
Connor kept eye contact even as he reached into his shirt collar and pulled out a golden amulet shaped like a spinning star. It glimmered in the bright afternoon sun, light dancing across its curves and points.
"This," Connor said, "is the amulet of the golden dragon. It was given to me when I was your age, sixteen years old, in the temple of the dragon priests. This amulet empowers the golden dragon and allows it to shift between two forms, that of dragon and that of a human. Artha, this amulet is very important, you must never misplace, misuse, or allow it to be taken from you. If a human is able to keep hold of it, they can force the golden dragon of legend to stay with them and remain in one form, as the amulet is needed for a successful shift."
Artha tried to argue with his dad, he didn't believe in this hocus pocus and he didn't want anything to do with dragons besides. "But, Dad-"
"No 'but's, Artha." Connor's gaze hardened as he tried to impress the importance of the amulet on his son. "This is of the utmost importance. You must never lose the amulet. Am I clear?"
Artha held out his hands, startled by his father's sudden serious tone. Connor rarely had to resort to such stoicism with his kids. He was usually a fun but strong father. Artha blinked as he felt the weight of the golden amulet settle into his palm. Despite being made of metal, the star felt warm against Artha's skin.
As Artha lifted his gaze back up to his father, he felt a current run through him. Suddenly, Artha's legs gave out beneath him as his whole body lost strength. It felt like his bones were being scorched yet frozen at once. The pain was so intense that Artha couldn't make a sound, his lungs frozen by agony. The world whited out for a second as Artha lost all sensation.
When he came back to himself, Artha was being carried by his father. If he wasn't so dazed, Artha would have been surprised at his father's strength. Connor wasn't young anymore and it had been a long time since Artha had been small enough to scoop up and carry.
As it was, sparks of pain were still zipping across Artha's body, and he found himself hard pressed to croak out, "Dad?"
Connor glanced down into the eyes of his son. Once again, he felt his heart break. Golden Star days, now that Artha was of age, were not going to be pleasant.
All the more reason to get Artha to the safe room. There wasn't much time before the stars aligned totally, where they would stay for around eight hours. Connor quickened his pace, carrying Artha further into the Penn compound, to a particular set of buildings.
To Artha, Connor said, "I'm here. It's okay. You're fine."
Artha didn't seem so sure as his brows furrowed and he asked, "What?"
Connor took the time to glance down to Artha's face. He was still pretty out of it, but quickly gaining mental faculties. "Artha, you know I've always told you that you were special growing up right? Artha, you are the dragon booster. A human capable of transforming into a dragon or vice versa. You're going through your first awakening, where you will complete the shift for the first time."
By now, Connor had reached the safe room. It was an out of the way, renovated stable room. The room was large, a little larger than average for a dragon stall. Rather than be left completely open, the room was enclosed by thick metal walls, which were proofed to allow no one to listen of see into the room. There were no windows and the only door was the one from which Connor was entering with Artha. The door, once keyed to do so, would slide shut and be almost impossible to open.
The floor on one corner was covered in a thick foam mat. It was here that Connor deposited Artha, his son immediately curling into a ball. He was obviously still in pain. Connor grabbed a soft fuzzy throw and tucked Artha in, hoping it would help. How does on aid an awakening gold dragon? There weren't exactly guidebooks on this stuff.
"Dad..." The croak that Artha made was pitiful, but with the golden sparks currently dancing across the boy's form, it was understandable.
Connor knelt by Artha's side, scooting a cushion under Artha's head and smoothing his hair. "Shh, shh, shh," hushed Connor as he comforted his son. "It's okay, this'll all be over soon. Don't worry."
Connor looked up at the ceiling, knowing that beyond it there were celestial bodies moving into the exact alignment over earth to form what was called the Star Wing constellation. It was this constellation that gave the golden dragons power, but it was also this constellation that, when in the right arrangement, left the dragon booster at its weakest and reverted it to its draconic form. Like what was happening now.
"It's going to be alright," said Connor, unsure who he was reassuring. "You're just going through your transformation. You're going to turn into a dragon, but you'll be fine. It's part of who you are. A walker in two worlds."
Even as he spoke, Connor felt guilt churning in his gut. He was going to have to leave Artha on his own. Artha was helpless and barely conscious, his head listing and eyes glassy with pain.
The elite racers wouldn't be satisfied with just tacking Beau for their summit. And, soon, they would notice that Connor had been gone too long. Yes, the room was safe. Yes, Artha was going to be fine, as had every golden dragon in existence. But, no, Connor didn't want to leave his son.
Again, he cursed himself for being careless. He'd thought he had more time. He hadn't checked the stars in a while, so he's forgotten on the steadily creeping behemoth now literally hanging over their heads. Dragons feast on him, he should've kept track.
So, Connor patted his son's head one more time, wincing as Artha tried to grab onto his hand to hold him there, and left the room, closing and locking the door behind him.