Some of you — cough Eamon J. Cole cough — asked about this novel To The Dragons that I’ll hopefully be writing in the later half of NanoWrimo. It’s actually a trilogy To The Dragons, With The Dragons, For the Dragons. I am not proposing to write those three in two weeks, but maybe I can finish it over the holidays?
Anyway, for the subscribers, yes, I’ll be posting more on it, as I finish it, you get first peek. But so everyone else doesn’t think I’m even crazier than usual (or perhaps has his/her suspicions confirmed, who knows?) here’s the first chapter:
To The Dragons
Sarah A. Hoyt
I always get scared before a flight.
Up in the saddle, with my pulse racing, I check the extra magazines for the Lewis, in the saddle bag, and hope that I’ll have time to reload. Then I check the bombs in their container and hope we won’t have the rare kind of defective that will blow us both out of the air before we even come near objective.
My dragon’s wings spread, and I feel the shifting of his muscles, and that’s when I start shaking, in a mix of nervousness and memory. It is never sure, when we take off like this that we’ll come back alive. In fact, the odds are greatly against it.
Suddenly my uniform is too tight, the wool prickly against my skin at wrist and collar. I count the bombs on the saddle bag, afraid of one of them will be a dud, afraid we’ll miss the one chance at fulfilling our mission.
He stretches his wings and I feel, even beneath the saddle, the movement, as the great muscles of his thighs coil, then push, lifting us into the sky, his wings flapping madly, biting into the air for purchase, until he can find the thermals and coast.
The sound of the giant wings against the sky reminds me of the first time I ever heard them consciously, flapping above my childhood home.
For just a moment, I’m a three year old standing before the ruins of her home, thrown out of a window by the initial explosion, the only survivor of her entire family. A war orphan.
The trembling gets worse, and then I hear the dragon’s voice in my mind: “You’re all right.”
It’s not a question, but an affirmation. I’m all right, and he’s there with me, there in all my memories, there as we head for what might be a no return flight. There.
It makes a difference. I am in peril. But not alone.
From the age of three to twenty two I was alone, another orphan in the war with the dragons, a young waif evacuated in one of the last convoys from Great Britain to make it safely to the United States, raised in an orphanage in Chicago, trained to be an elementary school teacher to the other legions of orphans this war had made.
And then at my first job I was faced with the talent tracker.
It was a box, square, pale. Looked like it was made of painted metal, nothing much special about it.
I’d balked at it, but I’d been told everyone had to go through it when they got their first job. It was the needed thing to do, the important thing to do. Only one person in a thousand could bond with a dragon, and even then half of those who could didn’t, for some reason. Everyone must be tested. The Katharos dragons had numbers we couldn’t match, and we must use all our dragons. All of them. Humanity had no hope of winning a battle against the Katharos, unless we could field all of those dragons who stood with us.
I’d balked at it because I did not want to bond with a dragon, not even with a dragon on our side. We heard things, after all. How much on our side were the dragons? How much did they identify with the Katharos, the pure, the dragons who wanted to purge humanity from the world? Dragons had killed my family.
But it was the law and at least if rumor was true to have the type of mind that could bond with a dragon’s, you needed to have dragon blood yourself.
Dragon riders were needed because transformed dragons couldn’t drop bombs and fly or keep their minds and sight clear enough to battle in midair, so even the Katharos had one dragon in human form riding the other, in dragon form. And the dragon and rider had to communicate telepathically, which might be easier for dragons, but for humans it meant you had to be bonded to a specific dragon.
And we certainly didn’t have enough dragons in our midst to be able to afford dragon flying teams.
I knew all this. I still didn’t wish to be tested for it.
On the other hand, they said you needed to have dragon blood to be able to bond with one of them. And I very much doubted I had any, unless my ancestors were far more interesting than I’d been led to believe. Less than one person in a thousand had the ability.
Which is why I’d stood in that small office, transfixed, staring at the small white box as it hissed.
I can still remember it perfectly, the expression of the matron and the principal frozen in shock, and then the principal’s smile and “Well, well, that’s never happened before. That’s quite an honor, Miss Winter, that is. Now, if you would wait here, I shall go put a call through to the search headquarters. I’m sure they’ll send a car.”
He shook my hand, effusive and congratulatory, his hands dry and very warm, his face grinning. I wondered if there was a finder’s fee going to the school, then chided myself. After all, anyone who wanted for humans to survive would be glad to have found a potential dragon rider, right?
But I didn’t feel glad. I made a muffled excuse, something about using the ladies’.
I went out and kept walking, with only the money in my purse. I didn’t dare return to my lodgings.
In my mind, I had the vague idea that I could take a train across the country to California, that I could find some place to get lost there. We always heard that California, being subjected to attacks by the Katharos was far more chaotic and tests weren’t being properly made and all.
This was not so much a clear thought as a mindless drive to get out of Chicago, to escape, to escape the search office and their car, to escape the search itself and bonding with a dragon.
I couldn’t do it. I approved of it for others, mind, but I just couldn’t.
Twenty eight hours later, I got out of the train in Denver, to take another long-distance train to California.
And stopped as I saw a line forming, in between platforms. There was a desk and a search machine set up. There were military police all around. I could have run, I could. But if I had run, I’d have found myself caught very quickly. I could earn nothing by it but bruises.
And two hours later, I was winding my way along mountain roads, in the back seat of a car, with a military police next to me, telling me how glad they were to have found me, how difficult it was to find dragon riders, and particularly young women dragon riders.
Turned out the search wasn’t for me, but just a general search. Apparently people who were discovered weren’t always willing. Some had history like mine, but more were already married and set in their ways.
“I suppose you had no idea you were a dragon rider,” the young man said, as he dropped me at a base outside some caverns which I understood had once been used as a touristic attraction. “I mean, a potential one.”
The people who received me, men in uniform whose insignia I couldn’t understand, were all smiles. “There is a bonding going on right now, and there are far too few riders. Come on along. You’re just in time. No, I’m afraid there is no time to change.”
There was also no time to escape. As panicky as I felt, I could not run in the face of this. They weren’t doing anything to make me run. And besides, where I would I go.
They escorted me down what might once have been natural corridors, now provided with smooth floors and electric light.
The bonding cavern, as I’d learn it was called, was a huge room. You could have dropped three or four Cathedrals in there and not have noticed.
There were half a dozen people there who were not military personnel and who looked as out of place as I was. Or at least, they wore what looked like jumpsuits. I suspected it was the same uniform they’d have given me had I had the time. But I wore my grey skirt suit, and clutched onto my purse, as the uniformed men escorted me to join the group.
Past the group were… I smelled them, the slightly reptilian, dry smell. It smelled like… like hot leather. I didn’t have any associations with the smell. I’d never smelled those who’d destroyed my home.
There were at least a dozen dragons, in colors ranging from bright red to green to a strange silvery one with a shimmer to him that made him look like he was made of glass. I knew this type of dragon. At least I knew him from reading. They were called Pures by the Katharos and considered the most desirable of all types of dragons.
I found myself blinking at him, as he turned his triangular head to look me in the eye. He had dark grey eyes and somehow I got the impression he was there as reluctantly as I was. He looked away quickly.
“Ah, here, if you just put your hand on their muzzle. If you bond, you’ll hear the dragon in your mind.”
My hope was that I would be one of fifty percent potentials who wouldn’t bond. Bonding with a dragon is like a marriage. In fact, to preserve decency, the bonded pair is strongly encouraged to marry. The flip side is that you might have all the ability in the world, but if you didn’t find the right one, you might never bond.
With a military gentleman next to me, I patted desultorily at the nose of a brown dragon who leered at me, and a green one who rolled his eyes. There was nothing.
I took a deep breath of relief as the military gentleman took me to stand right in front of the silvery-glass one, and waited. I lifted my hand and set it on his muzzle. I knew he was male, though I hadn’t been sure about the other two. Don’t ask me how. Something to the structure of the face, or the expression.
I set my hand on his muzzle. Like the others, it was soft and warm, which surprised me, since I expected dragons to have cold skin.
And then something happened, like a tingle in my back brain. The dark grey eyes focused on me and widened and I heard an unmistakably masculine, faintly accented voice in my mind saying, “Damn.”