When I say ‘near vertical’ I might be exaggerating a little. It did feel like I might fall out if I didn’t hold on tightly, but our angle of ascent was probably more like forty-five degrees. Which is still pretty vertical when you don’t have any seat belts.
The dragon shot into the air in a single bound and the ground fell away rapidly. A cold wind blasted through the middle of the plates along its back, making my eyes stream and my nose run. Then the wings unfolded with a snap and we levelled out.
We weren’t super high, but you’d still end up splattered if you jumped.
The dragon mainly glided, occasionally swinging its wings forward then back, like it was swimming through the air. We didn’t go up or down, we just stayed at the same height. What was keeping the gigantic beast aloft, I had no idea.
“I’m thinking some kind of lighter than air gas in the dragon’s stomach,” called out Maurice. No one had asked him his theory on the flying affront to physics, but he was clearly racking his brains to come up with a plausible explanation.
Once it became apparent we weren’t going to be on an endless series of rollercoaster rides, we all stood up and peered over the sides. It was like looking out of a third or fourth storey window.
I know you can take a hot air balloon ride over an African wildlife reserve and I think this was probably similar, only, you know, on the back of a dragon.
Animals roamed the plains below us, most of them four-legged and covered in fur. Some of them not so much. A herd of spiders the size of small cars isn’t something you see very often on the Serengeti, I’m guessing.
The rush of air made it hard to hear anything without shouting so we watched the world drift by below.
The Draconic guard flew alongside, swooping under and over the dragon. I couldn’t tell how they were guiding the dragon or even if they were. There was no rider on the dragon itself and no one calling out commands.
Jenny stood beside me, eagerly taking in the sights. It was strange to feel the emotional attachment I had towards her. Every time she leaned over the plates on the dragon’s back, a flash of concern would shoot through me. Would she slip? Would she fall? Should I grab onto her?
Worrying about someone else was a new sensation for me. It was sort of annoying, especially when it was about something that might happen or a possible threat. Complete waste of energy as far as I could tell. Not that I could stop myself from feeling it.
In many ways it was a form of control. If she wanted to, she could use it to make me do things I wouldn’t normally do. Assuming she was aware of it. I think that was a fairly safe assumption.
It probably seems like I’m spending an inordinate amount of time pondering Jenny’s motives for hooking up with me. I should have just carried on as normal, doing things the way I had always done them and let Jenny do things the way she chose to. The fact we were now in some kind of relationship didn’t mean I had to become her guardian angel.
I could feel it though. My desire to protect her, to impress her, to make her happy. The whole thing made me feel disgusted with myself.
Of course, her only intent may have been to help me. Use her power over me to make me a better man. That would, of course, be very irritating—but not insurmountable.
If you’re going to have someone who can influence your actions to such a great degree, at least if they have your best interests at heart they could actually help you get to a place you might not otherwise be able to reach, right?
The dream of the benevolent dictator. It never works out like that in practice, though. When was the last time someone violently usurped their way to power and then forced the nation to eat healthily and exercise every day? No, it’s always rape rooms and extra tinsel on their uniforms.
But there was another way to handle Jenny. I was still expert in Colin-Fu. I had not forgotten the training of a lifetime, even if it wasn’t a particularly long lifetime.
If I put my mind to it and used her feelings for me (assuming she actually had some) against her, then perhaps I would be the one in control. I would decide where we would go and where we would not. I would dominate her.
“What?” said Jenny, probably wondering why I was staring into space with a stupid grin on my face.
“Nothing.” I kissed her on the forehead. Soon she would call me Master!
Jenny smiled at me as though she knew exactly what was going through my mind and found it amusing. I did not like it.
Hitokag landed on the dragon’s back and folded his wings. “If you have questions, now is the time to ask.” His deep voice cut through the constant whoosh of air around us. “We will soon reach the mountains and begin the ascent.”
“Is our destination at the top of a mountain?” I had to raise my voice just so I could hear myself.
“Yes. The Great Castle sits atop the highest peak. It is unreachable by any other means.”
This was good. He was actually answering in a clear and unenigmatic way. It was quite refreshing.
“What about the lizardmen you sent over the border? Why?”
“The Seven Spires are active. They cannot be allowed to be used.”
Fengarad had seven spires dotted around the city. They were huge and mysterious. I knew Laney’s Uncle was inside one doing some kind of research, but I had assumed it was some kind of giant library.
“Are you saying the Seven Spires are a weapon?”
“How do they work?”
“You will have to ask Cheng that. All I know is that they will cause devastation if they are not stopped.”
This also suggested they were only interested in Fengarad and not the other cities.
“How did the lizardmen get across the bridge? What happened to all the soldiers?”
Hitokag shrugged. “The soldiers disappeared. The fort was unmanned so it was decided to send across as many Vargau as possible while we had the chance.”
“There are three tribes of lizardmen. We, the Mezzik, are the elite nobility. The Vargau are the scum, wild and aggressive. Useful for mindless violence, much like your own people.”
“And the third tribe?”
Hitokag scowled. “The Intui. You would be wise to avoid them. They are as devious as they are untrustworthy.” He glowered at me, the heat radiating from his body increasing noticeably.
“One last question,” I said. I had plenty more things I wanted to know but I had the feeling I wouldn’t have time. “Are dragons any good at fighting?”
Hitokag looked confused by this question. Then he followed my gaze beyond him and turned around.
Coming towards us was what could only be described as a swarm. As they got closer—which they did very rapidly—they looked like large wasps, each about the size of a big dog, and riding on their backs were lizards.
“Intui,” spat out Hitokag.
They were smaller than the Mezzik and their glossy skin was white with yellow markings. They were soon all around us.
Personally, I found regular-sized wasps to be scary enough. Seeing these bastards flitting about, their movements hard to track they shifted back and forth through the air so quickly, made my heart shrink. They had huge stingers curved under their bodies, pointed at us like laser guns.
“Hitokag,” called out one of the yellow lizardmen from the back of his buzzing mount. “Nice to see you. How’s your wife? Does she ever mentions me, maybe when you’re thrusting inside her with one of your tiny little penises?”
It wasn’t a very warm greeting, plus I think it meant Hitokag had more than one penis.
Hitokag stared at the new arrival impassively. The dragon made some odd mewling noises and veered from side to side. The swarm hovered around the dragon to keep it surrounded.
“What do you want Meeth?” said Hitokag with a growl.
“So aggressive. I’m just here to see the one they call Colin. We have heard so many good things about him. Why don’t we escort him to Cheng for you?”
“No,” said Hitokag. “Why don’t you leave?”
There was an increase in the intensity of buzzing. They outnumbered us by a lot and the other Mezzik each had at least three wasps keeping them in check, their riders making leering faces (although that might have just been the kinds of faces they had). More wasps flitted around the dragon which was becoming agitated.
“In that case,” said the one called Meeth, “I suppose we will have to take him.”
Two wasps with yellow-faced riders darted out of the swarm and past Hitokag. They each grabbed one of Dudley’s shoulders and lifted him up into the air. He didn’t have time to make a sound before he was whisked off the dragon.
Flossie ran to the side of the dragon and looked out between two plates with her hands over her mouth.
“Tell Cheng we’ll send him back when we’re done.” Meeth leaned to the side and the wasp zoomed off after Dudley who was fast disappearing into the distance. The other wasps followed.
We were all a bit stunned. Me in particular since I thought I was Colin. I guess they assumed the biggest one was in charge.
I looked at the others but it was Flossie who took most of my focus. She was staring at me with giant watery eyes.
“I suppose if they’re taking him to Cheng, we can just meet them there?” So far no one had actually tried to harm us. I thought perhaps the Intui just wanted the credit for delivering me to Cheng.
“Cheng is that way.” Hitokag pointed in the direction the dragon was flying. “They are headed towards the Temple Under the Mountain. That’s where Keezy was taking you.”
“They want to take him back to Flatland?” That didn’t make much sense.
“They can go anywhere they want if they can activate the Temple. They just need to sacrifice a Visitor.”
The first thing that went through my mind was what exactly Keezy had planned when he decided to take us to this Temple. The second thing was the horrible realisation I was about to die as the dragon suddenly lurched to the side and glided in a wide circle to follow the wasps.
I grabbed onto the nearest thing, which was Hitokag and nearly burned my hands. Still, it was better than falling off and turning into a human puddle.
Jenny had grabbed onto my waist and Maurice and Claire fell against the dragon’s plates and held on as we banked hard.
As we pulled out of the turn I looked towards the dragon’s head to see a small, plump redhead astride the dragon’s neck holding onto its long thin ears.
I looked up at Hitokag expecting him to order the nearest Mezzik to grab her, but he just stared open-mouthed. “She is a Dragonrider.”
None of them made a move to stop her. The dragon increased speed and I sat down and wedged my feet in place. The Mezzik were in formation behind the dragon, trying to keep up.
All my concerns about where to lead the party turned out to be inconsequential. I wasn’t the one who was going to lead us anywhere.