Chriseya Argone sat on the top of a fence, watching the enormous truck back in to the loading pen. She could hear the yells and growls of the dragons squished inside. It was hard to believe the Dragon Master had enough money to buy them all!
Gears whirred as the door to the truck slid open and the dragons pushed out. Chriseya checked out the pack. She saw several females and a few males, but it looked like an ordinary shipment. She hopped off the fence. Most workers weren't allowed to see any new dragons until they had cared for the older ones, but Chriseya always managed to sneak away to see the newbies first. She glanced at the dragons one last time before heading back and her jaw dropped. Her eyes locked on a silver dragon. It was beautiful. She turned around and began to follow the dragon, but another worker stopped her. He coughed loudly and jerked back his head. A keeper was coming. Chriseya thanked the worker. It was his job to watch the newbies, and he was always really nice to Chriseya. Chriseya dragged her eyes away and forced her feet to move. She needed to get back to her job.
Chriseya stroked her hand gently along a big male's back, checking to see if he was in a good mood. When he didn't object, she bent down and lifted his front, right foot. She pulled the foot toward her and placed it on her knee. Any normal human would have run in terror at the sight of the dragons monstrous claws, but Chriseya had grown up around dragons, and felt right at home.
The male had injured his foot in a battle for dominance, and had lost because of it. The workers had to intervene with chains and fire hoses to keep the other dragon from killing him. Chriseya ran her finger along the remains of his foot-pad. It seemed to have healed well. She rubbed some ointment on it and stood up. He nosed her arm and she scratched behind his ear. He would be ready to challenge the leader again soon. Chriseya loaded some meat and grass into his trough and closed the gate. She ran towards the pen for new dragons. She wanted to see the silver one again.
Several workers lounged around the gate, waiting to be let in. Chriseya peeked in through the latch. The pen was filled with dragons bickering or napping. Chriseya had never seen such a large shipment. She wondered what the dragons were meant for. Suddenly, an alarm sounded and gears whirred. The latch popped and Chriseya backed away. The workers were about to be let in!
Chriseya carefully approached the silver dragon and checked its teeth and
claws; all quite dull. On closer inspection, Chriseya noticed that the dragon was female, and wasn’t silver, but a shade of iridescent blue. Every scale glistened a soft ocean color with silver rimming and streaks running through. Sunshine yellows and sea greens danced and swirled their way through the dragon’s wings: swept back and pinned in place with barbed iron clips. Chriseya brushed gently against them and the dragon winced. It looked like she had strained against her clips until they ripped into her wing membrane. No one had cleaned the cut or the metal and her wing was beginning to get infected. The dragon looked up at her with dimly curious eyes. Chriseya felt bad for the dragon. She obviously wanted to be free. Chriseya stroked the dragon's ear and slipped her a piece of raw beef. The dragon examined it briefly before daintily snapping it up. Chriseya patted the dragon's scales and went to check out the other dragons.
Chriseya lay in her assigned bunk, pondering how to keep Rivermoon (as she had named the dragon) safe. She had found out from some of the other workers that the entire shipment of dragons was supposed to be sold to an arena where they would fight to the death for people's amusement. Chriseya felt sad that such a beautiful dragon had to live such a life. She stared into the dark.
"Shantaa, are you asleep?" she whispered to her sister, who was in the higher bed.
Shantaa's feet appeared, dangling off her bunk and a soft thump echoed as she swung onto Chriseya's. "No, what is it?"
Chriseya smiled. Her sister was always eager to talk. "Do you know of any way to free a dragon?"
Shantaa shrugged. "Just let her go."
"I can't. Every dragon has an electric chip under their scales that will paralyze them if they cross the border, and I can't turn it off."
"You can't, but other people can." The two sisters jumped as another voice joined the conversation. The boy in the bunk next to Chriseya's had spoken. She had seen him working before, but never actually spoken to him. "There's a power check coming up," he said. "Someone could sneak out after roll-call and let the dragons out."
Chriseya bit her lip. "The gates can't be unlocked during a power check, and we would get whipped to death if we were caught."
"You could get the herders to leave the gates unlocked before the power check starts." The boy coughed, implying hidden meaning, "And they can't whip us if they can't find us."
Chriseya grew quiet as the boy's idea formed a plan in her head.
"Do you know when the next power check is?"
"It's a week from yesterday."
"Hmm... ok... Thanks for your help, ___?"
"Imp. It's Imp."
The next day Chriseya was a little depressed. She was sure her plan would never work. Besides, she couldn't risk the safety of all the other workers for one pretty dragon. She didn't think she should even attempt to free Rivermoon. At the same time, she felt selfish for not trying. She finished up her jobs quickly and decided she would go see her.
When Chriseya stepped through the gate, she was confronted by a worker keeper.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded. Chriseya stuttered for a few seconds, then remember the first aid kit she brought with her for the male with the healing foot pad. She silently thanked him for getting hurt.
"I am here to check on the health of the arrivals."
The keeper narrowed his eyes.
"Why didn't you show up when they first arrived?"
Chriseya shrugged. "I was busy."
The keeper frowned. "Make it quick."
Chriseya nodded. She hurried through the pack of dragons until she found Rivermoon. She was down on the ground, rolling and playing like a kitten. When she noticed Chriseya, she jumped up and bounded over, looking for more snacks. Chriseya smiled and gave her a piece of chicken. She bent down and began inspecting her to satisfy the watching Keeper. She put some medicine on the dragon's infection, but every time Chriseya poked her, Rivermoon would whip around and nibble Chriseya's finger. She bounced away and squealed when Chriseya chased her. Chriseya gave up quickly and stopped chasing the dragon. It looked like she had adjusted to her new pen well. Chriseya nodded. She didn't need to be free. Suddenly, Chriseya imagined Rivermoon being mauled and mutilated in an arena, watched by cheering people. Chriseya almost gagged at how disturbing and wrong the image felt. She shook her head. Rivermoon did need to be free. She had to give her plan a try.
The next morning, Chriseya looked for anything that might help her bring her plan to life. She had four days, according to Imp. This would be hard. She climbed up a struggling tree and surveyed the dragon packs. There were definitely enough dragons. She climbed down and headed to Rivermoon's pen. She couldn't wait to see her again.
Chriseya sat on top of her sister's bunk. She knew many pairs of eyes were watching. She cleared her throat.
"This Wednesday, a power check is planned. During a power check, the Master turns off all electricity, locks the home-space door, and changes the password to the power box. I have a plan that will allow all of us to escape during the power check. Does anyone in here have access to the adult's home-space?"
Three preteen boys raised their hands.
"Good," she continued. "You three need to pay close attention so you can relay this to the adults. Who in here is a herder?"
Several of the older kid's hands went up. Chriseya and Imp rose their hands, too.
"Everyone needs to rip a piece of their clothing off and give it to a herder." She looked at the boys who had access to the adults home-space. " Tomorrow, you need to collect pieces from the adults and give them to a herder." She looked at all the kids staring at her. "Go on. Rip!" The kids looked down, ripped off a strip of their clothes, and gave it to one of the herders. Chriseya collected several strips. "Herders, choose the best dragons from your packs. Let them sniff the cloth, and if they accept it, bring one of their discarded scales to the person whose clothes it is. This should happen tomorrow. I will give you more of the plan tomorrow night. Any questions?"
Chriseya could tell the kids were amazed and confused with her boldness, but no one questioned her. "Good." Chriseya nodded, "Let's get to sleep." The kids quietly returned to their bunks. Chriseya was excited. This might work!
The next day, she carried cloths through her pack of dragons. All of them were accepted by good dragons, except Shantaa's cloth. Hers was accepted by an old, yellow dragon with one horn. Chriseya was worried. She collected a discarded scale of his and slipped it into her pocket. She had hoped Shantaa would be accepted by a young, healthy dragon, but none wanted her. Chriseya rubbed his head.
"Be good to my sister, ok?"
He hummed happily. She smiled. He would do just fine. She kissed him on his big, sun-tanned nose and slipped quietly away to see Rivermoon. She needed to figure out how to get the wing-barbs off.
That night, she sat on her sister's bunk again to check progress and deliver more of the plan. By this time, the other kids were excited. Everyone was cradling a dragon's scale-including the herders. Chriseya took a breath and nodded at the three preteen boys.
"Did you give the adult's strips to a herder?"
The boys nodded back. "All of them were accepted," the oldest boy said.
"Good. Tomorrow, I need all the tailors to make as many saddles as you can. Don't let any worker keepers know what you're doing. Also, if you get time, try to meet the dragon that belongs to the scale you're holding. Every dragon has its own special designs in its scales, so look close. That's it, let's go to bed." Everyone obediently crawled into their beds. Chriseya smiled. She was getting good at this. She pulled her covers over her head and closed her eyes. Suddenly, the door to the home-space was thrown open and the lights zinged on. Chriseya blinked in confusion. The head Worker Keeper stormed in, followed by several other keepers. They looked angry. "Get up!" The head keeper ordered. Chriseya jumped out of bed and squeezed in between Imp and Shantaa.
"We received word that one of you have been planning an escape."
Chriseya inhaled sharply.
"As head keeper, it is my job to figure out who is planning this and stop them."
Chriseya glanced at Shantaa. She had terror in her eyes. The head keeper stopped his pacing in front of an older girl. He pulled out a pistol and pressed it against her head.
"Is it you?" He asked quietly. She closed her eyes and didn't respond.
The head keeper moved on. He pressed the pistol against a little boy who couldn't have been older then seven.
"Is it you?"
The little boy had tears running down his face. He didn't respond either. Chriseya took a deep breath, preparing to admit, if he started accusing someone. The head keeper moved on. He pressed the pistol against Imp's head.
"Is it you?"
Imp stared defiantly into the head keeper's eyes, but did not respond.
Chriseya closed her eyes .The head keeper pulled the pistol away and placed it against Chriseya's head.
"Is it you?" he whispered. His breath stank. Chriseya struggled to get control of her own breathing. She kept her eyes sealed shut. The head keeper kept his pistol pressed against her head. The metal felt cold. Chriseya opened her eyes a tiny crack, then shut them immediately when they met the head keepers'. He straightened up and pulled his pistol away.
The home-space erupted into chaos. Chriseya's eyes flew open and she tried to run, but was grabbed by several keepers. The head keeper fired his pistol into the air.
Everyone obeyed. The keepers escorted Chriseya out of the room. Just before she left, she met Shantaa's eyes. They looked even more terrified.
Chriseya was taken to an isolation chamber where she spent the next few days. Soon there would be an interrogation, where the head keeper would try to find out who else was involved. It was scheduled for the day after the power check. Obviously, the keepers didn't know the plan yet. Chriseya hoped Imp and Shantaa would be able to complete it without her. She stared out between the bars in her window. She had a decent view of whatever happened in the territory. She might be able to watch her plan unfold, if she knew where to look. Luckily, she did.
She woke up late on the day of the power check. She could already hear roll-calls happening in each of the home-spaces. Hurriedly, she tidied up her cell. Isolation roll-call happened last. When she finished, she peered out her window. She could see keepers posted at the doors to all of the home-spaces. She could also see a little bit of rustling in the bushes by the back windows of several spaces. The plan was in progress. She heard gears turning and jumped away from the window. She didn't want to draw any attention to what was happening out there. A keeper came in with a clipboard. He glanced at Chriseya and the condition of her cell and scribbled some things on his paper. Then he turned around and left.
Chriseya glanced out her window again. The rustlings had moved closer to the groups of dragon pens. She hoped she was the only one who noticed. A few kids and one or two adults stepped out of the bushes and hurried over to the pen gates. They slipped inside. A second later, another group of kids and adults hurried to the gates and slipped inside. Chriseya silently cheered them on. Finally, the rustling in the bushes stopped and what she assumed was the last group slipped inside the gates. Chriseya realized she was holding her breath and quickly let it out. All they had to do now was unclip the dragons and saddle them up. She thought about how excited Shantaa would be when she saw her dragon. She decided to name him "Pirate" when Chriseya told her about the scar he had across one eye.
Suddenly, Chriseya heard something thump against her wall. She stepped away from the window to investigate. Curiously, she put her ear against it. She heard a deep snuffling, like a big animal was sniffing at the base. Chriseya frowned and listened harder. The snuffling was moving toward her window. Chriseya backed away. If it was one of the keepers hunting animals, that could ruin everything. She took a deep breath and looked out her window. She didn't see anything. Confused, she tried to see if it was underneath her window, but the window sill was blocking her view. All of a sudden, a big, blue dragon head appeared and licked Chriseya's nose.
"Rivermoon?" Chriseya gasped. "What are you doing here?"
Imp's head popped up beside Rivermoon's.
"We couldn't leave without you." He smiled. Chriseya felt touched. She scratched Rivermoon's nose.
"You're risking the whole plan." She scolded Imp. "Where's your dragon?"
"I left him with Shantaa and Pirate." He tapped the bars in Chriseya's window and made a stretching motion with his hands. "Bend." He told Rivermoon. She obediently placed a paw on the metal bars and pushed them aside. Chriseya stared at Imp in awe.
"How did you do that?"
He grinned secretively. "I might show you some day. Maybe."
Chriseya raised her eyebrows. "You'd better." She began to climb the wall and stuck her head out the window. It would be a tight fit. Imp grabbed her arms and helped pull her through. For the first time in her life, Chriseya was glad she wasn't fed much. If she'd been any bigger, she wouldn't have made it. As soon as she was out of the cell, Imp, Rivermoon, and Chriseya took off. Imp led them to the group of waiting workers and dragons. Shantaa ran up to Chriseya and gave her a big hug. Imp climbed onto his dragon, a dark green male. Shantaa and Chriseya climbed onto their dragons too. While they waited for the border to shut off, Chriseya glanced at Rivermoon's wing. The medicine had helped a lot. She'd be ready to fly. As soon as they heard the border's buzzing cut off, Imp gave the signal. Everyone took off. Chriseya heard the worker keepers yelling below them. She laughed. They couldn't stop the dragons or their riders.
They were free!