Written by Lakota of Splynter
Bryn-saru crouched in her cave, patiently allowing Lakota and Kilara to brush and fluff her long fur. "They won't care if my fur gleams," the dragon rumbled good-naturedly at the two anthros.
"Maybe not," Kilara said, giving the dragon's green-and-orange fur an especially enthusiastic swipe with the metal comb. "But we care."
"What do you think," Lakota said, rummaging through a small box nearby and coming up with a double fistful of ribbons. "the purple, or the red?"
Bryn-saru leaped to her feet so swiftly that she whapped Kilara in the chest with one wing-spike and knocked the collie over. "Oh, no," the Schattarnek said. "Oh, no, no, no."
Several minutes later, Bryn-saru stood scowling, her ears and tail bedecked with purple ribbons. "They look so nice with the orange in your fur," Lakota said, patting the dragon's soft-fuzzed nose. Kilara had left after the ribbons had been installed, leaving the dragon alone with the closest thing she had to a bond.
Bryn grumped a wordless reply. Then, she began to stretch each of her legs, methodically arching her neck over her forelegs and wiggling her toes. Her furred, split-tipped tail flicked through the air, curling around her hind legs. "What are you doing, Bryn?" Lakota asked, leaning against one of the cave's walls.
"Stretching," Bryn-saru replied, hiding a smile from the wolf.
"This isn't a sports event," Lakota said.
"It's a race of sorts," Bryn-saru said, her voice suddenly somber.
Lakota was quiet for a moment. Bryn was, essentially, the first Schattarneki to fly since the destruction of Splintyr. Although a male Schattarnek named Niji-taki had produced a clutch with a female mixed-breed dragon named Zebeyth, no female Schattarneki had lifted her wings to the skies of Sitheil Tirean with males in pursuit. It was a sobering point for most of the female Schattarneki, but none had come into season yet. It wasn't until Bryn-saru had accompanied Lakota to the Lodge on Kilandaia that the dragoness had felt the first stirrings of something within her body Ė something completely unfamiliar to her.
The pair had only been visiting the Lodge, with the innocent purpose of scouting out a nice vacation spot for some of the Schattarneki that missed the snows of their homeworld. But the Lodge also functioned as a place for dragons to fly and clutch their eggs, and the clean mountain air had awakened Bryn-saru's biological clock, so to speak.
But she was nervous. It was understandable, Lakota thought, watching the green-and-orange-furred dragon as the two prepared to return to Kilandaia. There was a lot of pressure on Bryn-saru. The unvoiced thoughts of the other Schattarneki lay on the young female like another coat of fur. You have to produce viable offspring to show that we won't become extinct. You have to fly far and long to prove that we aren't just a commonplace dragon breed. You have to make a name for us amongst the other species in the Nexus. And, perhaps most importantly, Don't fail us. "It will be all right, Bryn-saru," Lakota murmured, putting a reassuring hand on the dragon's broad shoulder. "Your children will be beautiful."
The dragon grinned without showing any teeth, her beribboned ears tilting back in a wry expression. "That's only if the males aren't hideously ugly," she replied.
Lakota packed the few things she'd need during the trip to Kilandaia. She would only be staying for Bryn-saru's flight, not through her pregnancy and eventual clutching, although she would return to support Bryn when the eggs were ready to hatch. This had been Bryn's decision. The Schattarneki had no bond or rider, and she felt that the locals at the Lodge would be able to help her through everything.
Bryn-saru was waiting for Lakota in the Gate building, where one of the blue-green portals had been tuned to take them to the Hanaisa Mountains of Kilandaia. Lakota's longtime mate, Zehklos, had been adjusting the dragon's shoulder-pack, and he straightened up and smiled as Lakota approached. She's ready to go, he sent to Lakota in a closed thread of Mindspeak so the dragon wouldn't hear. She's nervous, but she'll do fine. Are you sure you're okay?
Lakota almost laughed out loud. I'm not the one about to be chased through the air by five strange males, she replied.
Zehklos raised one gray-furred eyebrow. And a good thing that is, too, he said, mock-possessively. He gave Lakota a quick hug and stood there waving until she and Bryn-saru stepped into the Gate portal.
They had gotten settled in the Lodge quickly, and now Bryn-saru stood outside in the crisp mountain air, her wing-spikes quivering faintly. There were many other dragons and beings gathered there, not just the males that were participating in the flight itself. The flight had drawn a great many observers.
Bryn-saru tilted her head as she observed the five males that paraded before her. They puffed up their chests and flexed their wings as if she was going to choose one of them to mate with right now on the basis of their looks alone.
There was a green-and-white scaled male with deep blue eyes who introduced himself as Gyardanou.
There was a member of the Selamputo line named Auhato who looked infinitely comfortable with himself, as if he had quite a bit of experience with flights.
A rather large green male marked with black and white flicked his crimson-sailed wings and gazed at her with what appeared to be mild disdain, stating his name as Night's Storm.
Another of the males, mottled green and black, had two heads; one had a normal dragon's face, the other an almost birdlike muzzle. His name was Wo'fei, and Bryn-saru wasnít sure which head to look at while she interacted with him.
The last male was a triple-tailed green and brown fellow with curling ramlike horns, who smirked slightly and said his name was Segaardu.
Bryn-saru gazed at them all one-by-one, letting her eidetic memory turn their names and images into pictures that she would store in her brain for her entire life, able to remember them in infinite detail even if she never met them again. Lakota was walking amongst the other dragons' bonds, compantions, and representatives, introducing herself and making small talk while the female Schattarnek made her last mental preparations for the flight. The dragoness had only had a light meal that day, not blooding her kill as Pernese and a few other dragon species did, instead picking out only the choicest bits to lend her strength and stamina.
Finally a sort of impatience stole over Bryn-saru, making her skin itch under her hollow-haired pelt and making her wings strain to snap open. "It's time," she said, twisting her head towards Lakota, her yellow eyes wide and nearly panicked. "Now. Right now."
"All right," Lakota said, trying to soothe the large dragoness. "All right, thatís fine, just go to the cliff edge. You're fine, it'll all be fine."
Bryn-saru nodded, not even looking at the anthropomorphic wolf any longer. "I'm off," she cried to the gathered dragons and other beings, gathering her legs beneath her and leaping from the cliff.
Her gray wing-spikes folded close to her body for one long heartbeat before they swept open, allowing her wingsails to cup the cold mountain air and lift her furred body. She barely heard the collective roar behind her as the males, surprised, leaped into pursuit.
There was a brief snarling struggle as Night's Storm and Segaardu nearly collided in their initial dive from the cliff edge. Watch it, the Mardusionian Earth dragon growled at Night's Storm.
Watch your own self, clumsy fool, the larger Eastern Nazo dragon snarled back.
Bryn-saru dared one glance over her shoulder at the sound of the squabble. Segaardu and Night's Storm were still eyeing each other even as they pursued her, their long fangs exposed and gleaming. Right behind them flew Auhato, his strong chest muscles in plain (and perhaps purposeful) view. He locked eyes with her and nodded almost imperceptibly. We fly well together, don't you think? he said.
Startled, blushing, she snapped her head forward again and focused on the stroke of her wings and the movement of the wind around her. Instants later, she heard the rustle of wings behind her, too close behind her and slightly above her, and she craned her neck around again. Wo'fei was mere yards behind her, his dual necks curled side-by-side and his silver whiskers fluttering. Now-- he began, folding his wings and diving towards her. One clawed green paw reached out as if to grasp her tail, but instead it got tangled in one of the many ridiculously purple ribbons tied to the forked appendage. An odd emotion rose to the front of Bryn-saru's brain, one that was not quite mischieviousness but certainly had decidedly roguish overtones. She suddenly folded her wings entirely, allowing her body to fall through the air. Her tail-ribbon tightened on Wo'fei's paw, dragging him down after her. What are you doing?! the Whorling yelped, trying to free his paw and flap his wings at the same time to regain their lost altitude.
Bryn-saru flicked her wings open, tucking her forelegs against her body, and curved her spine backwards. She somersaulted in midair, pulling the hapless Wo'fei behind her, and at the pinnacle of her somersault she whipped her tail forward. The ribbon, strained to its breaking point, snapped and sent the Whorling spiraling out-of-control and out of the flight. When he finally regained control of his flightpath, he sent one more hurt glance towards the rapidly receeding dragoness, identical expressions on his two faces, and banked in midair to return to the Lodge.
Auhato was still stolidly in pursuit, outpacing Night's Storm and Segaardu. His pace never varied, not even when Segaardu put on an extra burst of speed and nearly sideswiped the Selamputo. Suddenly Gyardanou, who had been silent until now, swooped down between Segaardu and Auhato, flicking his wings. The wake from the white-green dragon's wide wings caused the Mardusionian to falter in midair. Segaardu squawked, his three tails flailing, and one of them struck Night's Storm full in the muzzle. The Eastern Nazo dragon bellowed a protest. What are you trying to pull? Night's Storm hissed, shoving at the other dragon.
What are YOU doing? Segaardu snapped back, fending off the larger dragon's claws.
However, the blood in the veins of both dragons was running too hot by now for either to back down and refocus upon their actual prize. Night's Storm took another swipe at Segaardu, and the Earth dragon twisted in midair, avoiding the strike. Nryn-saru gave them one more glance before folding her wings and plummeting away. If they regained their senses and rejoined the pursuit, then fine. If they didn't, they were no longer her concern. There were still two males right behind her that she had a duty to avoid. Well, at least for a while, anyway, she thought wryly to herself.
As she dove through a bank of wispy, sparkling white clouds, Gyardanou and Auhato both folded their wings, diving after her. Auhato shifted to his right a little, crowding Gyardanou. The other dragon looked surprised, and his wingbeats faltered. Auhato pressed over a little more, and Gyardanou abruptly dropped from sight, into the thicker clouds below the flying dragons.
Auhato lifted his head triumphantly, meeting Bryn-saru's gaze. She momentarily entertained the notion of letting herself be caught now, but she could remember, word for word, the old stories about legendary past flights by dragonesses both Schattarneki and otherwise. She would not disappoint.
She led Auhato on a merry chase, allowing herself to fall back slightly, and putting on an extra snippet of speed if the male came within the distance that Bryn-saru deemed "too close". Neither she nor Auhato seemed to be tiring, although her wingsails felt a bit cold from the nippy high-altitude air. Bryn-saru had been using the flight as a semi-excuse to explore the higher mountain areas, swooping down occasionally until she could almost touch the tips of some with her claws. Auhato did seem to be getting a little bored, however - perhaps she ought to end the flight before he decided to go and do something more interesting, like take a nap.
That was when the cloudbank in front of her exploded.
A twisting white-green shape lunged out of the wispy tatters of cloud, wings flapping, blue eyes glittering. Gyardanou grinned, and it was hard to say whether Bryn-saru or Auhato was more startled. Bryn-saru spread her wings, attempting to brake in midair, and she narrowly avoided a collision with the green-white mutt. Found you, Gyardanou announced.
How? Bryn said, knowing she sounded like an idiot, but she was honestly astonished.
You've been travelling in a circle, Gyardanou replied. I just circled you, up above, and then swooped down in front of you. His chest puffed up, just a bit.
Bryn-saru gaped at him for one whole heartbeat before remembering Auhato, flapping in place just a few yards behind her. Well, the flight's not over yet, she said, dipping her wings into the air and flying straight up, where the air was even thinner.
The two males pursued her for perhaps half a mile before Auhato began to puff a bit, worn out from the flight up until now. However, Gyardanou appeared fresh and ready to fly for miles. This isn't worth it anymore, Auhato said with disgust, turning back towards the Lodge. You two have fun.
We will, Gyardanou called, not even sparing the Selamputo a glance. His eyes were on Bryn-saru now - after all, he still had to catch her, even if he was the last dragon chasing her. By the way her muscles were tensing, causing her fur to raise, he could see that she was preparing to launch another aerial avoidance course, twists and dives and feints and the like. Growing up the way that he had had lent him a deeper understanding of body language than most dragons possessed, and he could almost tell what she was going to do and where she was going to fly to before she did it.
She banked her wings, starting into a wide, slow curve, and then flicked her wings in a manner that gave her a few extra feet of altitude. Gyardanou had seen it coming, and even as she began her turn, he was swooping below her, wings locked to his sides. At the last second he opened his wings and flapped as strongly as he could, rising into the air in front of her, for one moment being the pursued instead of the pursuer.
Bryn-saru veered to one side, but it was too late. Gyardanou was there as well, reaching out with one paw to touch the tip of Bryn-saru's muzzle, somehow managing to hover while doing so. Impressed at his aerialbatics and feeling a little giddy, Bryn-saru grinned at him and allowed him to wrap one wing around her. For one brief instant, he nuzzled her fur. You like to explore new, unfamiliar things, he said. What do you say we explore them a little longer - together, this time?
There was no need to reply - he knew her answer already.