This is part of a story about a dragonrider named Nysandra Tapling and her constant scaled companion Grakoth. This is actually taken from somewhere in the middle…apparently my muse did not want me to start from the beginning. It’s a little unpolished so if it’s a wee bit confusing, that’s why.
So it seemed that Nys’s duties, as she was first told by the recruiter, were to be that of a messenger. She was secretly relieved at this fact, for she knew that just as her short and roundish figure would earn her no glances from men, it was equally troublesome when it came to hand-to-hand combat. What swordsmanship she had learned in the scant few weeks of her military training were scarcely competent; she knew just enough to keep herself alive for a few minutes against a single enemy. And she was not even able to handle a standard longsword, instead using a short sword that was more to her stature. Apparently growing up on a horse farm doesn’t help when it comes to fighting, she said one day to her wild-dragon Grakoth as they were flying high in the clouds on yet another errand.
Grakoth’s deep chuckle echoed pleasantly in her mind and for the umpteenth time since she had met him, she was very eternally grateful for his companionship. In the end it did not matter if her melee skills were less than stellar, only that Grakoth could out-fly and outmaneuver the enemy’s dragons. There was only one that ever seemed to be able to keep up paces with them, another wild-dragon with blue scales so dark they were almost black. The Desari rider of that dragon donned black and other darkly-coloured clothing during the night and wore vividly white cloth when the hot sun was at its brightest. Always was his face hidden under a full face mask, but so were all the other enemy dragonriders. Nys’s head too was shrouded in cloth when she flew with Grakoth, partly because she enjoyed the anonymity that she had grown familiar with when they had flown in the Races. However, mostly it was to help keep the harsh mountain wind, and any debris it carried with it, out of her mouth and eyes.
On this particular run, she was to bring documents to a flight captain who was camped further into the mountains. This trip caused both of them to be edgy, although Grakoth in his own merry way showed it much less than Nys. They were to be flying in sky that was very often filled with Desari dragons. When the pair reached the encampment without having been harassed once, the fine hairs stood on the back of Nys’s neck. The entire way there she had been certain that unfriendly eyes had been watching them from the numerous caves and crevices that dotted the slate-coloured mountains, yet they had not even seen the flutter of a single leathery dragon wing.
Something is wrong, Grakoth stated simply in her mind as he back-winged to land on the edge of the camp, his usual edge of laughter gone from his voice. She did not have to form any words to send back to him; he already knew she was thinking the very same thing. Beneath her she felt the tightness of his shoulder muscles and wondered if he would break apart like a dropped stone when his clawed forearms touched the ground. But he landed with his usual stylish grace, causing Nys only the slightest of bumps.
A sentry strode towards her, his long face grim but sharp eyes betraying the same wariness that all of Nys’s countrymen held for Grakoth. She could not blame him; she had once looked up at the wild-dragon’s slitted yellow eyes and had shivered down to her bones. Certainly they were used to other species of dragons such as hawk-dragons, bull-dragons, orb-dragons, and flight-dragons. But before Grakoth, the only wild-dragons any Fanlarian had ever seen were the dangerous ones that the Desari flew.
She wanted to remain mounted on her friend’s strong back, for then she could look down on someone rather than have to tilt her head back. Reluctantly she slid down to the ground and grimaced behind her mask to see that at her full height, she came to only midway up the sentry’s chest. He blinked back surprise to suddenly see her face glowering up at him, not staring him down from her high seat on her mount.
That look flared up Nys’s seldom stirred anger and in a voice that was rough from breathing in the thin air up high, she barked, “I have a message for Flight Captain Corlick.” The sentry’s face now a hard mask of no expression, he turned on his heel to stand sideways and indicate the direction in which Corlick was. Nys all but stomped passed him but his attention was back on Grakoth, who followed with his noble head hovering over his friend’s shoulder.
Nys’s anger did not last for long, for it never could when Grakoth was joking and laughing his low rumbling laugh as they walked through the camp. The corners of her lips edged up into a smirk as his eternal amusement at the title Flight Captain. She shared his amusement for the flight that this man supposedly commanded was made up of bull-dragons and their handlers. It was true that bull-dragons were much more formidable in appearance than wild-dragons like Grakoth. They were taller and bulkier by about a half of a wild-dragon with thick short talons that carved out chunks of stone as easily as one cuts through softened butter. Their entire bodies were covered in bone-hard blunted spikes and natural plate-armor that was various shades of brown and gray. A predator’s forward facing eyes with small round pupils were set deeply into wide wedge-shaped heads that sported a crown of longer spikes. Their teeth were short and serrated but like a shark, they filled the dragons’ mouths in a countless supply. All in all, they appeared extremely uncomfortable to ride. And indeed Fanlarians tried their best to change that, either by grinding down the spikes where a rider would be seated (much to the bull-dragon’s displeasure) or they would construct elaborate cumbersome saddles that fitted perfectly only over the bull-dragon they were made for.
What it was the Nys and Grakoth chuckled over the most were the bull-dragons’ wings. To put it simply, they were stunted and big-boned, wrapped in large flattish scales that were certainly hard but also very heavy. Bull-dragons could fly short distances at most, being more suited to be bulky crashing war machines than any creature that takes to the air. Wild-dragons could effortlessly fly circles around their bulkier cousins, so Grakoth’s very presense mocked their idea of a “flight”. But as fast as he could fly, and he was fast even for a wild-dragon, him alone was no match against a regiment of Desari wild-dragons. So the commandment thought it best for him and his rider to serve as messengers. So far they had not failed a delivery.
Presently Nys was comforted by her dragon’s hot breath flowing over neck and shoulder, having brough his face closer to her after raising it to glance around the camp. Nys was not tall enough to look over the mass of sunlit off-white tents but Grakoth sure was. Picking out the commander’s tent was easy, it being the largest and sporting a flapping red and gold flag of Fanlar. With his direction they weaved their way confidently between the tents, Nys avoiding the gazes of the soliders that surely watched their passage. She did her best to step lightly but still managed to kick up the fine grey dust that this ledge mostly comprised of, save a stunted evergreen that clung hopefully to an outcrop of boulders.
Seeing the pair approach, a guard stationed outside the flight captain’s tent ducked his head into the flap and said some muffled words. Nys watched his expression sidelong when his helmeted head reappeared, sure that he had said more than just who was coming. She parted her lips to announce herself, hopeful that her voice had softened during her walk, but was cut short when Corlick suddenly pushed his way out of the tent and looked down at her with his hand outstretched.
“Your report, Messenger Tapling,” he commanded, and Nys drew the rolled-up parchment from her shoulder pack to hand it to him with a gruff “Sir”. She frowned at her still hoarse voice as she gave him the obligatory salute. Corlick gave her a single nod and waved his hand dismissively in one direction. “The cook’s tent is over there. Eat something while I give this a look.” With that, he took a step back into his tent and was gone.
Nys stared after him for an instant before the guard threw her a scowl that told her to move on her way. So…our reputation seems to be preceding us now, she sighed to Grakoth as she patted his shoulder softly. It does mean much less chatter and explanations from you. Because I know how much you enjoy that, his low voice friendly as always as he nuzzled her cloth covered cheek. Nys smiled and reached a hand up to stroke the soft scale-skin around his nostrils.
They had only taken a few strides towards the cook tent when many simultaneous roars shook the very air around them. Nys grimly congratulated herself when her first action was to pull her short sword from its sheath. Only then she was nearly knocked to the ground by a strong beat of wings, managing to stay upright only because Grakoth had slipped his leathery wing smoothly behind her to break her fall. Sky that moments before had been wide open and blue was now thick with Desari dragons coloured in too many hues for one to count. A bright flash blinded Nys so she pitched herself forward to cling to her dragon.
Mirrors on their hides, Grakoth murmured, a hint of respect in his tone. We need to get out of sight, came Nys’s sober reply. The mirrors were indeed a clever idea; she was just not happy with the fact that the tact was being used against them. So…we shall go down then. The flapping of rapidly beating bull-dragon wings and their accompanying roars of challenge only added to the chaos and Nys was glad that the two of them could talk mind to mind.
Vaulting up smoothly onto Grakoth’s back, she saw that there was no suitable hiding spot for a horse-sized dragon. Certainly his green and bronze hide would meld well in the forests back home but open grey space did not lend itself to stealth here. The quickest way to escape was to leap off the ledge and follow the slope of the mountain down to a more suitable valley populated with trees. Having no saddle to speak of, as she had learned to ride her dragon bareback, Nys positioned her knees into the notches where Grakoth’s wings met his shoulders. He had already taken his first leap forward when she clenched her leg muscles, her hands already having found a tight grip on the small bony protusions just above his wings.
Grakoth’s wings were folded close to his body as he made a mad dash between the disorderly placement of the tents. A dark brown bull-dragon crashed into their path, struggling with a wild-dragon the same colour as the cloudless noon sky above. Long thick lines of deep red blood clashed with the brilliant blue of the wild-dragon’s elegant neck as the bull-dragon raked its claws over the opponent’s more fragile hide. The wild-dragon had its lips curled back and its long knife-like teeth implanted firmly around the vulnerable area where the underside of the bull-dragon’s chin where it met the neck. Grakoth cleared them in one powerful leap, wings snapping open for an instant and then he touched the ground and was running full-steam again. Behind her, Nys heard the familiar rush that was a wild-dragon’s breath of flame and on its heels was the scream that all dragons made when they died. Her hazel eyes shut tight for only a second as old memories, somehow still as raw and as painfully as fresh wounds, surfaced unbidding in her mind. Her teeth clenched so tightly that her jaw ached as she held back a shriek of her own that would rival the bull-dragon’s death cry. Instead Grakoth let out a pained roar of anger and vengeance as he too was recalling the same memory. Nys’s bottled up emotions all channeled into her friend’s outcry.
The Desari dragonriders must have thought of the same plan Grakoth had because just as he was about to leap off the edge and plummet downward, a line of wild-dragons shot up from beneath the ledge and blocked his exit. Muscles still seething with wounded memories, he thrust his wings open wide and angled them sharply to face the Desari dragons. As she was flung forward and her arms instinctively wrapped around Grakoth’s neck, Nys caught a glimpse of surprised grey eyes widening beneath a Desari mask as they peered over a dragon’s head that was as dark blue as the night sky. Then Grakoth gave a mighty flap and the pair were shot back and up while grit was flung to filled the enemies’ eyes.
Two more strenuous wing pumps and they were high in the air with the other battling dragons, a hot wind cresting over the mountain tops from the deserts that lay east in Desar. Nys’s head felt light from the sudden change in altitude and she giddily thought that in the very least, she would not be cold on this flight. Grakoth swerved neatly to the left, aiming for a hole between the dragons that would take them out of danger. So intent he was on that opening that he did not notice the burnt orange wild-dragon that had slipped up behind him from the right. With a deft snap, it seized a good length of his tail in his jaws and he screeched in response. The angle of their combined momentum sent them all spinning wildly and the Desari dragon could not keep its hold on Grakoth’s tail. Nys let out a yelp of horror as the corner of her eye caught a huge mass speeding toward them. Her dragon would have been able to right himself and dive to safety had a nearby bull-dragon not threw itself to the side to avoid dragonfire. Dulled spikes collided with Grakoth’s hard leathery scales and Nys heard the sickening crunch of bone. Her last thoughts were only that her right leg had been caught between the two draconic bodies and that she felt Grakoth slipping from underneath her. Then a ferocious flood of pain seized up her leg into her mind and there was only blackness.
She awoke again to deep rumbles of growling and a mind-clouding pain in her right leg. It squeezed a cry out of her lungs; at this point her pride did not care who heard. The growl ended and nearby a voice said desperately, “You cannot heal all of her by yourself.” It paused as she took in a raking breath that hurt her throat and lungs.
“Grakoth,” she managed to sob, arms reaching blindly out into the darkness before her. She attempted to call him with her mind but it would not cooperate, instead pounding against her skull with such fervor that she thought it would break through. Warm scaly skin met her calloused fingertips and she hugged her dear friend’s head tightly to her chest.
“She already has a fever and almost certainly an infection. Protect her as you must but she will not survive alone in this cave,” the voice pleaded softly. “I have healers who can save her.”
Grakoth’s mixture of emotions washed over Nys and her head screamed in protest, causing her to whimper once more before the blackness engulfed her again.
Nys’s dreams mingled and splashed into one another with no rhyme or reason. She would see her mother lying asleep in her bed, her high-boned cheeks ashened and thin lips blue. Nys would reach out to touch her, to make sure she would not slip away in her sleep but then her mother’s bed would vanish before her outstretched arms and disembodied hands would grasp hers from out of the darkness. Grakoth would call to her from the highest cliff near her home and while she was scrambling to gain a foothold on the ever-heightening rocks, his voice would come from further and further away until he was gone from her mind. Her two friends, Tirdel and Aleta, would smile at her from across their dinner table and attempt to speak with her in a language she did not know. One instant she would be in Neina’s burning building, the flames searing away her clothing and licking at her skin as she scrambled over fallen wooden beams to reach all the screaming dragons. The next something would seize her by her right leg and she would be pulled struggling and drowning into the black depths of the lake.
The first thing her fevered mind was finally able to grasp on firmly was a soft humming. Nys’s eyelids felt hot, swollen, and very heavy. When she finally managed the strength to pull them open, the light that flooded them seared her brain and she moaned as they fell shut once more. The humming stopped abruptly and the soft swishing of fabric moved closer to her ears.
“Do not open your eyes so soon. Your fever was the worst I have seen in year and it strained your body and senses,” a female voice said so quietly it was almost a whisper.
Nys tried to nod her head but found her neck stiff and sore and was only able to tilt it up and down ever so slightly.
“Try not to do anything at all actually.” This time the voice carried a hint of humor that reminded her of Grakoth.
“Grakoth!” she shouted, almost leaping up despite her muscles’ protests at such sudden movement. Only a dazzling pain from her right leg that sent stars fluttering over the inside of her eyelids made her stop in a sitting position. “Grakoth,” she breathed harshly, “where is my dragon?”
Immediately there was the sounds of someone moving and the pressure of kind but firm hands encouraging her to lay back down. “He is unharmed and not far from this tent. You must rest now.”
You are awake. Her friend’s voice came so soft into her mind yet she could still hear the relief in it. She was thankful that he was being so quiet; her temples only pulsed slightly. Hearing your voice is the most wonderful thing in the world. She heard him laugh gently and that in itself strengthened her. No more talking at the moment, you should rest.
With that, she let her body slowly lay down and as she did, she swore that her muscles creaked out loud, they were so stiff. A cool damp cloth was placed gently on her forehead, instantly relieving some of her headache. She felt the urge to open her eyes once again, only this time much more slowly and carefully. As her lids cracked open and her eyes watered and blurred, the woman’s voice asked in a professional tone, “Can you drink?”
Nys nodded again, finding her neck a little less stiff. She was helped to lean forward and she could feel pillows being slid behind her back for support. Then a cup was pressed to her lips and she took a deep gulp. The liquid burned down her throat and she gasped, her watering eyes now letting loose tears to roll down her cheeks. As it settled in her empty stomach, a warm wave flooded her from head to toe and some of the soreness in her muscle ebbed. She drank some more, which had the same effect but now she knew what was to be expected. She gingerly took the cloth from her head and pressed it onto her hot eyelids. After a few minutes of rubbing and wiping, she blinked a few more times and then was able to keep her eyes open, albeit her sight was still a little blurred. What she saw froze her in place like a statue and seized the breath in her lungs.
She had expected to find herself lying on a bed inside a tent with a healer looking at her. And indeed that was the gist of where she was. But in this large tent, the floor was not grass or stone but layers of elaborate and bright-threaded rugs. Its walls were not blank but were instead adorned with tapestries and metal shields she had not seen the like of before. The bed she was laying on was not a bed so much as a very large pillow surrounded by a crowd of smaller pillows with dragons and birds and antelope leaping across them. The healer’s skin should have been pale like Nys’s and she should have been wearing the dun uniform that all the soldiers wore. Instead her skin was a rich brown much like the colour of chocolate, her hair was thick and black and lay flat down to the small of her back. She wore a soft green robe over a long white tunic and laced soft-heeled boots.
Nys felt the healer’s black eyes remain on her face as her gaze wandered unbiddingly to the figure standing in the far corner of the tent. This was a man, his skin a shade lighter than the healer’s, eyes grey and unmoving. His hair was the same black as hers but cropped short around his ears. His chest was bare, his lower half clothed in billowing white pants that were secured at the ankle right above his open-toed sandles. Strapped to his red leather belt was a shortsword, blade glinting dangerously in the lantern light.
These people, this place…none of it was Fanlarian; it all hissed Desari in Nys’s pounding eardrums. She had been captured by the enemy. She was now a prisoner of war.