Dragomeir Series - Book 5

  • The Emerald Dragon

    Chapter 1
    No armor, no weapons, no explosives, no darts...sheesh! I haven't fought without all the accoutrements of war in a long time. When a dragon calls you it is supposed to be a bonding of spirits, and to a small degree a pissing contest. It's been centuries since a candidate was actually killed in the effort. So...Why am I worried? Well, when you're aligned with one of the most powerful women in the world, a woman who deals with the dragons every day, ask yourself what it would look like if you biffed it? The Ariella, aka, Queen Mother has been through this not once, but twice. She's rider to Basiliskos and Invectum, the black and white dragons respectively, the two Kings of their species. No pressure, right? I have lived in an expanded world with different dimensions since I was ten years old. My inauguration to this phenomenon was on my birthday, and I haven't regretted even so much as a moment of my extra life or the responsibilities that came with it. Everyone knows about Mundania; the everyday world that grinds around us and requires the normal stuff we each have grown up with like eating, sleeping, working a job, paying taxes, loans, toothpaste, sisters, brothers, moms, dads, pets and lousy neighbors. The world of Drago is just like that too, but it has dragons. I guess paying penance and remembering prior crimes has to be offset with something positive. Now that this happened, I'm not complaining, just explaining.

    My life has not been an easy one, but I know a lot of people who have had it much worse. Like my Mentor once said, "I complained that I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet". At the appropriate time, I used the mirror device given to me by a group called the Wizards (Much more on that later), and stepped into the area where the Arizona side of the dimension meets with Mt. Drago. A few moments later...presto-bingo, there was the mountain, getting bigger with every passing second. Queen Mother laid the last bomb on me right as I was leaving, when she told me she would not be there for the grand debut. I have to tell you, I was actually relieved. This was so average for her and not a factor of ten on the stress-o-meter. But for me, well, my meter had already buried up till it had broken and I hadn't even left yet. At touch down, I wandered around quite aimlessly for a few minutes practicing my introduction statements. I had been here many times when I would deliver The Ariella for her nightly doings. It's just that I would always wait for her outside. I never went in. From the dimension where Phoenix is found, the South Entrance would just look like a small cave, but one blink away lies a whole new world that they call, Drago. Right about the time I had decided to make my entrance, a man strolled out, called me by name and invited me in. Not possible right? I mean there was a small unadorned cave in front of me, and then out of nowhere, poof there's a man casually exiting from a place where a few seconds before there was nothing. He introduced himself as Thomas Arden, a Blue Rider who flew the dragon named Caseil. I looked around one last time and tried to soak in the native local beauty of the surroundings, you know, just in case. Southwestern sunsets are some of the most spectacular in the world, and the one that was just finishing was the most dramatic I had ever seen. I guess it's not a bad thing to have as your last moment. Yeah, here lies Tanis...killed by a dragon September 9th, 2009...perfect. Thomas looked at me with a quizzical expression on his face. No telling what was going on between his ears, but I was about to find out. Thomas told me to take his hand so that we might pass through the barrier that surrounds Mt. Drago.

    The barrier totally encompasses the mountain and binds part of the earth I know to the dragon's world inside. One step, then two, then three and vertigo passed over me like a wave. The air temperature dropped a good ten degrees and actually felt crisp, especially if you compared it to the environment outside. The lighting was rather low and seemed to be coming from the walls, although there were torches approximately every thirty feet. The entrance was more like a tunnel that went back over one hundred yards. There were no other people in the tunnel and Thomas didn't say a word until we were approaching the opening at the far end. "When we get to the first set of ramps, stop until I tell you to continue". I nodded my consent and we kept walking. At the first set of ramps I stopped alright, but it was mainly to try and catch my breath. It is still impressive to me to this day, but that first time totally took my breath away. One ramp led off to the right and angled up, following the wall and then led around until it quite literally went out of sight. The left ramp angled down and also followed the wall, then led to what I learned later was an area called the Commons. It was the size that boggled my brain. Hundreds of feet down the left ramp were people that from this vantage point were the size of ants. The Commons was large enough to land an airplane without coming close to anything. The ceiling was so far above my head that I couldn't even see it. I stood there with my mouth open as a dragon every bit of fifty feet, with a wing span half again longer than its body, flew past the wall where I was standing and screeched as it sailed beyond me. Its head turned and we got eye contact. I swallowed hard and looked around to find Thomas. He was speaking with what I took to be a security guard, who was looking at me while they spoke. Thomas nodded, and he walked back over to where I waited. "If you'll follow me down the left ramp, I'll take you to the Wheel." OK, I knew what the Wheel meant. My association with Queen Mother was not totally without its perks. The Wheel was an area dead center of the location known as The Commons, and had been etched or painted into the rock floor.

    I estimated it to be almost one hundred feet in diameter, with simulated sections where dragons and riders could stand during ceremonies. It actually looked like a wheel that lay over on its side, and could be seen clearly from the ramp I was in progress of descending. I'm sure it can also be seen from the air if you're riding a dragon as well. Interesting thought…considering what I was about to attempt. The ramp didn't look as big from the South Entrance, which is where I started. It is the only entrance, other than an upper terrace on the north face near the summit. However, once you start down, it quickly becomes evident that the ramp has to be one to two miles down. The ramp curves away from the wall, on its last leg to the floor. The surface is rough hewn rock that has been ground down for this express purpose; to get you to the Commons floor where everything else in the entire mountain becomes accessible. This place is huge! About halfway down, it also occurred to me how many people were milling around the Wheel. I wondered how many of these folks were waiting to watch me fail. That made me mad, and all the fear and trepidation I was feeling dissipated. "Feels like walking into a lion's den." Thomas grinned, but the smile didn't work its way to his eyes, and I had my first inkling of dissention in the ranks. "Wrong species, Emerald Warrior, but I understand the sentiment." Was he talking about me, or the dragons? Thomas looked away, and I guess the intensity and sarcasm in his voice was audible even to him. I'm also pretty sure that the whole “E W” thing was meant in a derogatory way as well. I made a mental note...Just deal with him later. That thought loomed much larger than I expected, and it didn't take long to manifest itself, as everyone found out only minutes into my visit. As we made the last leg of the ramp and we had traversed the gentle curve that led to the floor, we were flanked by what I took to be security guards. They were armed and had serious looks on their faces. They wouldn't look at me, even when I asked about the guns they had strapped to their sides. No answer, just silence. There again, not a good sign. At the bottom of the ramp it started becoming clear that somebody was expecting trouble.

    I lost count concerning the number of firearms, and the people, even though they began moving back out of the way, were numerous and looked unfriendly. Most of the women were wearing beige dresses and they numbered in the dozens. The men were attired in jumpsuits in several different colors, matching the grottos that they came from. I already knew this because The Queen had told me about them some weeks earlier. Thomas was wearing a blue suit that came from the Blue Grotto. The others were decked out in red, gold, brown, green, grey and a multi-colored brown and tan that they called harlequin. Two more security guards moved into position in front of us as we began making our way toward the center of Commons, and the wheel itself. Off in the distance I could see dozens of dragons, but from where I was, they were several hundred yards away and still looked gigantic. Two men stood on the far side of the wheel at a kind of “at ease” stance and neither of them looked happy. It was the size of these men that put me off immediately. The one on the left was wearing solid black from top to bottom, and it looked like leather. At roughly eight feet tall he was, to say the least, a tad intimidating. The man standing next to him stood probably seven and a half feet tall, wearing all white, including a cape. That took me back. I knew these guys, although I had never met them. I recognized their descriptions as Basiliskos and Invectum. To kind of remove any misunderstandings, some of the dragons here at Drago can alter their form and appear as humans…Really big humans! OK, I am what you would call a small man, especially if you compare me to these two giants. Most of the men within my line of sight were probably around six foot "ish," and that put all of them at a minimum of four inches taller than me. I kept thinking, "Man, I sure wish I had my armor on!” The Queen says no, and there must be a reason other than making it easier for them to hand me my ass back. Basiliskos, the big one in black, stepped forward onto the wheel proper and motioned for me to join him there. "You do realize that impressing with a Dragon is a lifelong commitment." I nodded my head. Invectum, the big one in white, stepped onto the wheel proper and stood next to Basiliskos.

    "Do you have the strictest of minds, the deepest respect, and the need to fulfill this dragon’s life?" I nodded my head again, but then put up my hand to indicate a time out. "If I thought my intentions were suspect, then I wouldn't dishonor you or the dragon with a… " That's when the poop hit the fan, so to speak. Thomas, the blue rider and a very large, red-headed man with a scraggly red beard, stepped onto the wheel. Too much input coupled with a very long day didn't dampen my instincts, and my instincts were telling me that this whole situation was about to become awkward. "It's my right to challenge this impression." The big, red-headed man looked like he was about to blow a gasket, and Thomas stepped in front of him, waving his arm to push him back and make him stop. "What Elfred is trying to say and botching it badly is that none of us here are particularly fond of Wizards, and that's what you are, isn't it? The Wizards rely on technology for way too much, and it doesn't fit here in the mountain." That's when Basiliskos stepped in front of both, and with a wave of his arms told everyone to shut up. I wondered briefly what had gotten the red-headed man, Elfred, so fired up and why he and Thomas hated the Wizards so much. The brethren Thomas alluded to were part of a larger group of people who call themselves Travelers. These Travelers are broken down into Clans that perform various functions and in theory work together. Thomas' remark was an indication of how that theory was suspect at best. He probably had more respect for some of the other Clans like the Warriors, Scouts, and maybe even the Dancers. Each Clan was named after what they do, except for the Dancers. They were technically the rejects from the other Clans, having not fit into any of the other groups once they finished their training. They are powerful, don't get me wrong, but usually act as if they are one screw short of a hardware bin.

    The rest of the Clans consisted of Harpers, Traditionalists, Priests, and Watchers. Apparently Thomas has had problems with the technically based group known as the Wizards, and brought that prejudice here to the mountain. He was easier for me to take seriously than Elfred, as I glanced from man to man, and the situation was anything but comical. In any other setting, Elfred would have solicited laughter. I was trying not to chuckle, but that in itself was difficult due to his incredibly thick Scottish accent. The Scottish accent has always made me smile, and Elfred added to the effect with his blustery attitude and flushed red face. A rumbling noise came into existence somewhere off to my right. It was emanating from a gigantic red dragon that I assumed was Elfred's impressed partner. The Queen had told me about this, so I knew it was Big Red. I think my fatigue was also beginning to show. Basiliskos turned slowly to where he could look at everyone and took a deep breath. "According to Dragon Law, it states that any potential rider can be challenged if there be sufficient reason, and two or more riders who agree with it. These two riders, since the challenge was and is made by them, forfeit the right to choose weapons, which then in turn is passed to the potential rider to make that selection. You could also choose to turn down the challenge and just leave. What say you, Tanis?" Quite a few things occurred to me, like first, Queen Mother knew this was going to happen. The Queen’s relationship with me is in direct conflict with the other riders, the guys that she's had dinner with, trained with, laughed and cried with. If she sides with me it makes her look like a traitor, and if she sides with them well, it doesn't do our relationship much good now does it? Next, it became painfully obvious that these goons had no idea who I really was. Oh sure, they knew I had brought the dragons here, but that rang like a stigma no one had a true grasp on; it was really my ancestors that had actually done it and all that blame got passed on to me. Even worse, bringing them here never happened and I'm like the biggest liar that has ever walked the earth. I looked at the two combatants a little closer and I thought hmmm, Queen Mother is not going to take well to the outcome of this little brawl. It's time to explain a few things. Things that only a handful of people know, and that doesn't include these two.

    I have walked this earth for a very long time, during which a small modicum of technology has been enjoyed. Coming from the Wizard Clan, our techno base surpassed industry standards over five hundred years ago and has developed entirely new sciences that this world hasn't even dreamed of yet. It also changed the way we fight. I'm sure that Basiliskos knew, but he wasn't talking. I sure as hell wasn't going to clue them in either. Neither of these men were wearing armor and the flight suits they had on offered little to no protection against any weapon, all the way down to and including the average pocket knife. What they had was two against one odds and size, neither of which meant anything to me. What I had was a Magna AES (Advanced Encounter Suit) series 3, which included an onboard artificial intelligence life form, reticulated armor plating, darts, rockets, disrupters and a host of other add-ons; all inside of a hermetically sealed environment capable of dealing with entire armies if the need should arise. I accepted their challenge and chose the Magna as my weapon. They wanted to know how long it would take me to procure said item, and I laughed. Pointing to the leather harness that I was wearing, I reached into the side pouch and pulled out a cloth shroud and pulled it over my head. Getting the moving plates caught in my hair is painful and embarrassing at best, and as you may have guessed, has already happened in a previous encounter. It was not going to happen again, especially not tonight. Show boating just a tad, I stepped back a couple of paces and pressed the switch on the front of the harness. The plates started emerging from the center disc where the AI was housed with a loud metallic “chung-chung-chung" noise, and began tracing across my chest and down my arms. The bottom of the disc produced plates that moved downward and out until they moved in the direction of my legs. When the plates had reached my feet, I raised them one at a time to allow the armor to advance to my soles. The entire morph took just a squeak over four seconds, during which everyone close had moved away. I guess they thought it might explode. By this time the helmet had closed around my face, sealing me off from the outside world.

    The AI, Walter, flushed the interior gases and reset the back plates up and down the back side of the suit, complete with metal on metal sounds and a whooshing noise that I happen to like very much. Tends to frighten away the faint at heart. Battle ready, battle hardened, I could not help but notice that the two men I was supposed to fight didn't look quite as eager as they had before. Queen Mother had expressly told me not to impress with the armor on, but she had said nothing about fighting that way and I had a keen urge to win. Instructing Walter to increase the weight of the suit to twenty five hundred pounds, I stepped back onto the wheel and advised Elfred and Thomas to arm themselves so that we might engage in battle. Image is everything, and mine had taken a turn for the better and theirs had taken a hike. A high pitched bell sound rang three times and the heads up display slid into place inside the helmet, showing that Elfred's heart rate had just risen to dangerous proportions. I almost felt bad for him. I asked Walter to give a read-out on the power levels, and as he brought up my request he said, "All systems ready, power ratios at full and may I say...Wizards Rule." I couldn't agree with him more. The artificial life form known as Walter was originally built by the Wizards and when he achieved sentience, chose to partner with me. I have no idea why he would do that, but in retrospect, I'm certainly glad he did. We've been together ever since. The AES has been anodized to the color of my Altar and in my case that Altar is Chaos, and as such the color is green. The offsetting color where the plates meet is silver and the dragon I came to impress with is emerald green, so it couldn't have been more perfect if I had orchestrated it myself. A little word here on Altars. There are thirteen forces, i.e. Altars, in the universe and everyone is moved by, bumped, and influenced by one of them (different for each person). That's not to say that the others don't have influence, but one will dominate the others. The one that dominates me is Chaos, and I thought it only befitting that I portray that during times of combat to unnerve my enemies. It was doing a bang up job tonight.

    Little did they know that I had no intentions of actually dealing out violence, not because I couldn't, but because I didn't want to face off to Queen Mother and try to explain why I beat the crap out of, and injured two of her riders on my first night at the mountain. Two swords were brought out by men that I found out later were from the Drago Clan. The Drago Clan dated back as far as anyone could remember and were the original stewards for the dragons. I am told they even precede Scartaris, which was a former base in Iceland. Neither of the two combatants hails from this clan, so I took that as a reasonably good sign. At least I won't piss off the Stewards as my first real act at Mt. Drago. Thomas accepted his weapon stoically, not so much with Elfred, and I gave them time to advance to the wheel and take up positions close to where I was standing. Basiliskos and Invectum apparently had disappeared, until it dawned on me that they had changed back into dragon form and had moved to a modest distance away from the wheel. I looked at Elfred and Thomas in turn, slowly for effect, and said "Do you believe the act of challenging me constitutes first blood?" Elfred looked puzzled and responded "I guess it could look that way." (Heavy Scottish accent) "Glad to hear you see it the same as me." Thomas took a step forward and pointed at the suit. "So, do you run around much acting like a super hero?" Damn, I get tired of hearing that. "The guy you're thinking about wears red and gold, although I know how confusing that can be." That having been said, I raised both of my gauntlets and fired two darts that impacted with Elfred and Thomas' necks with a thwip-thwip noise. The darts moved so quickly that they were almost invisible during flight. At the point of impact, Elfred flinched and blurted out the "S" word while Thomas took two steps back and formed the unspoken,”OW” with his lips. Both men clutched at the darts unsuccessfully, and barely a second later the electromagnets on my suit pulsed and brought them spinning in the air, making a metallic clink sound when they arrived. A compartment opened as they slid inexorably toward the lip underneath the area on the suit where the darts landed.

    Not more than a second later, both dragons that belonged to the downed riders bellowed and began moving toward the wheel. I could see the readout move into position within my helmet’s display, and a small red light started to blink. Walter's voice came through the interior speakers as he said, "Should I load the larger darts? It would seem that the dragons are going to join in and I do not think the smaller darts will have much effect." Yes, by all means and as soon as they're loaded, please feel free to fire immediately." A fraction of a second later, two more darts fired themselves, this time from my chest plate, and streaked over, striking both dragons simultaneously. It took another three seconds and they slowed, stopped and collapsed to the floor. Just for a very short period of time, you could have heard a pin drop. Then a veritable cacophony of noise erupted in and around the Commons area that I knew was the people’s reaction to the four of them supposedly being killed so easily. The only problem with that was...they weren't actually dead. As a matter of fact, they would sleep for about fifteen minutes and then get up feeling refreshed and alert. Basiliskos covered the distance from where he had been standing to the now, downed, Caseil. She was a stunning blue dragon who lay unconscious. He made it to her in a blur that would have paled an Olympic runner. He morphed into human form on his way and placed his hand on the downed dragon. Invectum had motioned for silence, which slowly overtook the crowd. I had instructed Walter to load an entire bank of darts just in case. The silence was more eerie to me than the cacophony it replaced, and another five seconds went by at a snail's pace. Basiliskos stood and turned toward the bulk of the crowd and announced... "They are asleep and apparently unharmed." Little by little the people there in Commons began talking, and I took a couple of steps back as they started to move toward Caseil, Big Red, Elfred and Thomas. They didn't look friendly. The Emerald Dragon I had come to impress with had sat in the same position, never moving so much as a muscle during the entire interchange with the riders and the dragons.

    She just sat there looking at me with a puzzled look on her face - well, that's assuming dragons can have that look on their face, and it wasn't just me reading it into the situation that here and now was at a standoff, figuratively speaking. "Everyone will move away from the Wheel,” Basiliskos intoned. I agreed with him. So did they. When everyone had moved to what I assumed was a safe distance, the Emerald Dragon stood up and I took my armor down. The dragon was large enough to ride, but only just barely. Emerald green in color, slim and fairly long, she stood about seven feet high and I estimated her weight at about six hundred pounds. With a low rumbling sound, she spread her wings to about three quarters open, where they stayed and quivered with every breath taken. Yellow green eyes stared at me with a look that I could not read. Her tail was long and slender and sloped down to an end point that was unremarkable to what I thought dragon tails required. No barbs, ridges or any other adornment that one envisions on every dragon tail. Just smooth reptilian scales from stem to stern. Her head had the typical western dragon shape, if maybe not just a bit toward the triangular wedge look. The ears looked like triple paneled accordion fan blades, but at the moment were fully extended and held back along her skull in the opened position. The underbelly was also green but several shades lighter than along her back. Her feet had the same number of toes that we have fingers on our hands, just longer, obviously reptilian and equipped with talons on the end of each toe. She was thin, elongated and muscled but in a more athletic way. She was young and powerful, and I was speechless and in awe. Smoke began to trickle out of her nostrils and I took that as a bad sign. She turned her head and I could clearly see upraised cheek bones that ran diagonally from her jaw, a jaw that had more teeth than any creature had the right to own. You would think a creature this big would have a difficult time moving quickly, but trust me; there was only a hint of movement; perhaps a hint of decision from her prior to the actual movement itself. Then her bulk was shifting sideways at an incredible speed and had I not detected that hint, well, things would have worked out differently.

    At that first inclination, I was already moving at a forty-five degree angle and I guessed correctly as to which side she was going to head for. As she began the attack, her head undulated backward and a rumbling emanated from her that sounded like distant thunder. Then with unbelievable speed, her head shot forward and a gout of flame billowed out, moving in the direction her head was facing, which should have been tracking my movement, but instead just slammed into the floor scorching the stone as she turned. While she was trying to reorient her flames, a thought popped into my head that I hadn't remembered for a long time. It was something The Ariella had told me when we had first gotten together. It concerned a particularly naughty youngling she was dealing with at the time, culminating with a smack on the nose with her bare hand. OK, mental note...when you impress, neither party should actually attempt to kill the other. Kinda defeats the purpose of the exercise. Well, while she turned to attempt the fire hosing again, I had turned my angle of approach and was almost in position for my reprisal. The noise stopped abruptly, and she looked down right at the same time that I looked up. I had closed the gap between us and I jumped high and at an angle that would have me cross in front of her. She was inhaling when my hand came up and over her snout. I struck down as hard as I could right on the tip of her nose. If you strike the end of a Dragon's face with your open hand, oh my God, the level of pain is excruciating. No, not to her; don't be ridiculous, they're completely covered in armor. I thought I had broken my hand, and the pain swelled up my arm and shot into my brain like a heat seeking missile. She made this noise that turned up at the end, making it sound like a question and sat down like she had been hit with a train sized hammer. Without any hesitation, almost like I knew what I was doing, I ran up her right forearm, turned and sat down on her upper shoulders. She stood up and just like that, presto bingo, I was a Dragon Rider. My hand was throbbing and I knew it would have to be looked at, although not just yet. There are knobs or bone ridge endings at the top of a dragons shoulders and albeit somewhat tough to hang onto, there you have it, that's all there is. She raised herself up onto her back legs, snapped her wings completely to the outer position and roared her name for all to hear.

    "Demios Reptillus Stag has a rider!" "Demi..." I didn't even finish her name and it was too late to do anything but hold on for dear life as she squatted for a split second and then lunged into the air. The Gee force as she left the ground was mind numbing followed by the rapid beating of her wings as she fought to gain altitude. Fifty feet, seventy-five, one hundred and climbing, her neck was straight out and I could sense her concentration as we hurtled for the far cave wall. She veered slightly to the right and I saw a large corridor opening, looming closer by the second. Our altitude was too great to make the entrance and I, just for a moment, envisioned the two of us splattering against the wall just over the door. Then I heard bells in my head and realized it was Demios laughing at my lack of faith. I'm glad dragons have a sense of humor but hey, this after all was my first sojourn in the air. She pointed her nose down and we started to lose altitude quickly. At the last second, she dipped the remaining feet and shot through the carved out corridor at what felt like a hundred miles an hour. The walls, once we had entered, weren't that close and if we had met another dragon, we both would have fit as we passed. Only seconds before, our speed had been insanely fast but if anything, it now seemed to have doubled. At around two hundred yards in, she suddenly veered toward the right wall and I tensed as we shot down an even larger corridor that veered not only right, but also down at a fairly steep angle. This corridor was positively huge, and if the truth was to be known, you could drive three or four semi trucks down it side by side. Five hundred yards later we popped out into a cavern that would have rivaled the common area where we had started. This area, as I was to learn, was called the "Down Below," and was used as a holding spot for just about everything from food supplies to building materials. Without realizing it, I had pressed my knees together and had been squeezing them throughout the entire flight, and my muscles were beginning to ache from the strain. This little chunk of information was just given not to complain, but to explain in part my panic, as I witnessed the far wall approaching at a speed greater than my mind would admit.

    Demios did not appear to be slowing, veering, dipping or anything else for that matter to avoid the back end of the cavern, and I could feel her excitement as we sped head long toward the impending crash. As you have probably guessed, the bells manifested themselves in my brain again and it occurred to me that this was her method of flying. No, not just because it was our first flight, oh no...She flew like this all the time. She was right on the edge of disaster, just a heartbeat away from a crash and burn with every beat of her wings. How lucky can a guy get, right? Our altitude had been steadily dropping as we made our way across the cavern, which now was little more than twenty five feet above the rock floor, and less if you count the boxes we were whizzing past. The irony was not lost on me; it takes around four seconds to deploy my armored suit and about three seconds to activate the rockets in the boots, neither of which I had time to do at this altitude. Just a two second drop to the floor and a one second splat at the end. Then, when there was virtually no room left, without warning she threw her head back and made a noise that came from sheer exhilaration. Demios' flight path was now following her head which was straight up. I felt her feet bumping against the wall as we climbed, and the bells when she laughed were constant now as we approached the ceiling. Then weightlessness, and a sagging feeling as she drifted sideways, wings extended, and her head listed in the same direction. It was quiet and we were falling. The dragon's wings somewhere in the drop had been pulled back flat against the side of her body, and we were picking up speed at an alarming rate. At the last possible moment, she threw her wings out in a cupped position and they made a cracking noise that startled me for a second. I realized that she was using the power dive to gain sufficient air speed to achieve flight back over the boxes and crates. Our trip back over the Down Below went by even faster than our entry flight. The initial fright seemed to peel off me as we hurtled toward the corridor which led back up to Commons. Something in me had changed, like a weight lifted - as if some sort of freedom in my mind had been achieved. No, that wasn't it. I wasn't sure. Whatever it was, I liked it and the feeling of being.

    Just being at the edge of all songs was something I thought I'd mastered, when in reality, I had just scratched the surface of what it meant. Demios lived in that spot; I mean she had been born in that spot and carried it with her as the means of her existence. She shared that now with her rider, and wanted me to live in the fullest at the edge with laughter and death at its core. I never dreamed anything like her could exist, let alone exist for me. We shot back around into the main corridor and I could smell dragons. Oh, I know what you're thinking; the dragons were all over the mountain so that's not much of a revelation, but the smell had changed; changed from the scent of brimstone and acidic stench, to the aroma of home…a smell that gave meaning to attraction and the sense of companionship. It meant something, just because. The look and feel of the walls, even the atmosphere was different, and it dawned on me that nothing around me had changed at all. It was me. This was something to fight for, to be relentless without undue violence to keep. This was a somewhat new concept for me. The distance was chewed up while I pondered, and before I knew it, we had emerged back into the Commons where, from a quick estimate, at least twice the number of people were waiting as opposed to when we left. I braced myself, or tried to brace myself for anything once we landed. I wondered on the approach how the landing was to be accomplished. I'd never done this before, so thoughts of two point touchdowns flitted across my brain. Coming in low and running to slow the impetus was probably not the better of the two ideas. In the end I realized Demios was not the flyer yet that I took her for. Our landing consisted of getting close to the ground, a four point touchdown at a speed too fast to land, losing her footing, collapsing forward against her right front leg, spinning slowly in a clockwise direction and then ultimately crashing into the far wall at around twenty miles per hour. I had slid down her side as she rolled over during the…landing, and I say that somewhat loosely. Right before she impacted with the wall I had lost hold and was sliding in behind her. Consequently, she hit the wall and I hit her. I had bunched up in a tight ball just before I slammed into her, and bounced off like a basketball bounces off a back board.

    It was ungainly to say the least. Awkward, awkward, awkward...I try to portray myself to these dragon riders and their dragons as some sort of ultimate warrior and end up rolling around on the floor of the mountain, with the only comparison to that of a basketball. I was mortified. Demios was laughing while she scrambled to get up. "Wow! That time wasn't so bad." I turned around to face her with my mouth open and I'm sure the look on my face was incredulous. "You mean to tell me that was one of your better landings?" "I didn't roll completely over or anything. I think I'm finally getting the hang of it." Humble beginnings. Definitely less than mighty. I was a joke and she was proud of herself. This was going to be a long night. Apparently this kind of landing was common for her, as no one ran over and inquired as to our physical health. They didn't seem concerned about possible broken bones, hers or mine. The white dragon, Invectum did, however, wander over after several minutes to congratulate Demios for a better landing and to give tips for next time. I was concerned about the next time part, as I was fairly shaken up by the crash landing - heavy emphasis on the crash. Most of the looks on people's faces were what I had dreaded, either mirth or the more predictable..."He got what he deserved." Everyone there at Commons milled about seemingly aimless for a few minutes before dissipating off to where they were probably going in the first place. The show was over, business as usual. The new guy didn't die after all. I was eventually told by Basiliskos that I could bunk down in the Nursery, which was along the far East wall fairly close to the opening where I had originally entered, although far below it in altitude. I'm not sure what I expected, but it wasn't the Nursery that's for sure. Ok, here's the skinny on Elfred and Thomas. Both were awake when Demios and I flew back into Commons. Neither came over to speak with us, although if the situation had been reversed, I'm not sure I would have reacted differently.

    As the time seemed to stretch toward awkward, I noticed a man, tall and dark, somewhere around thirty years old making his way toward where Demios and I still stood. I think we were supposed to land on the wheel, but that didn't happen and as a result, the people who should have talked to us had to make the trek to where we stood at the south wall, somewhere about dead center. No one seemed overly thrilled with our present location. So anyway, tall, dark and irritable stops in front of us and hands me a pair of boots that had been worn by several riders before me (worn out) and a flight suit that was almost too big for a human (would have fit three of me). He turns to walk away, stops, turns back around and says, "Welcome to the mountain." Not even so much as kiss my foot or have an apple. My popularity was absolutely underwhelming, but I didn't care and was pretty sure Demi didn't either.