Chapter 16 Mock Dragon
Construction on the mock dragon began immediately, with all talents participating. Jen, Ayla and the other healers had to use their skills when the speed of the project created casualties, usually from someone not moving their hands out of the way fast enough. They used sticks, twigs, and straw which were grown to size by Bucspat and a few others, then matter morphs and they created the works. There were many articulations, or pivot points in the beast, to simulate the spine from the head to the end of the tail. They created a fearsome head with great jaws that opened and closed, and Mr. Anderson used some engineering skill to help them design the gears for the legs. It took several hours to put the beast together, joining the massive skeleton together, so that it looked as realistic as possible. They created the massive wings, which through the use of levers and pulleys they could fold in or stretch out to catch the wind, as they saw fit.
Using fallen leaves from several trees, they created the skin of the beast, and stretched it out over the frame. They used rubies for eyes, and made it large enough to fit most of the army inside. Only a few hundred were left to march on foot, and they worked through the night. In the end, it was the length of two football fields, and was four stories tall at the head and shoulders.
The legs were operated by treadmills that turned the gears that moved the legs up and down in a forward walking motion. Here is where Bleat the faun was to be stationed, since they assumed that he could operate a treadmill without fainting. There was a small port underneath through which the army could enter and exit, and it was closed by a simple rope so when the time was right, they could simply cut the rope to exit the beast.
It was almost daybreak when it was finished, and they occupied the mighty dragon. True to plan, Jen was in the chest with her dragon scale shield to deflect any projectiles the enemy might hurl at them. Lefty and Mr. Anderson were in the mouth, and Mowbry and Princess Nallah were in the head of the beast, looking out through the ruby eyes. They could give orders to the rest of the body, the wings and the legs and tail, through a series of voice tubes running the length of the vehicle.
When all was secure, the marching army climbed atop the giant machine and sprinkled it liberally with dust, and Bucsprat being part of that force, kicked the dragon in the head a few times to let them know that the dust was deployed and they should start moving. Slowly and ponderously the machine made it first steps, and deployed its mighty wings. The wingspan was close to ten football fields from wingtip to wingtip, and they could not fully extend them until they had reached an altitude above the trees, unlike a real dragon that was nowhere near that size, and could see and think for itself. With the dust on it, they managed to move it about enough to clear the trees, and then when the wings were fully deployed, they could soar on the lightest breeze.
They could see the ground moving beneath them as they flew around, the tail acting as a rudder to guide the nose, while minor adjustments to the wings helped them stay on course. They could only imagine what the people on the ground thought as they saw them coming.
“More left rudder,” Mowbry called into the tubes to keep them on course.
“More elevation,” Princess Nallah instructed the wings.
“Quit moving the legs, we look silly,” Mowbry instructed the treadmills.
They circled the castle, and came to the canal, where they could see that a few of the smaller boats were scuttled and burnt all the way to the waterline. They saw the imperial army and four dragons that had engaged the navy turn and run inside the castle gates. Archers and those with talent for flinging missiles were on the catwalks and ramparts of the castle. They had also built ballistas, which are giant crossbows that fire massive arrows call bolts, and catapults to launch large rocks. They started launching bolts and rocks at them now, but only one bolt reached them at their elevation, and Jen was thrown violently backward when it hit directly on her shield.
“Are you okay?” Julie said, a little panicked.
Jen climbed back to her feet and took inventory of her body parts, and realized she was all there. “I’ve never felt better,” she said. “Where is Gina?”
“Down by the legs,” Julie explained. “Without her, Bleat would not be able to understand the orders to operate his treadmill.”
“That makes sense,” Jen said, resuming her position in the chest, with Julie right behind her.
“I just hope Budrick is okay,” Julie said. “He’s in charge of the wings, you know.”
“Yes,” Jen replied. “I gathered that from the meeting we had.”
“I sure hope he’s okay,” Julie repeated.
“I think you are sweet on him,” Jen said, with a teasing tone to her voice.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Julie said. “I’m not ready for a boyfriend.”
“I think he’s sweet on you,” Jen replied.
“You really think so?”
“I’ve seen the way he glances at you when you aren’t looking. He likes you.”
“He likes everybody. He’s a nice guy.”
“He doesn’t like everybody the way he likes you.”
Julie’s face turned red and she started to stammer. “I-I t-tell you, we we’re j-just friends!”
Jen felt a little guilty about embarrassing Julie like that, so she dropped it and focused on the battle, with a twinkle in her eye and a smile dimpling her cheeks.
One of the rocks from the catapults punched a hole in the right wing, and the dragon started to list to the right. Mowbry shouted a series of commands to try to correct the problem, and the dragon circled around the castle clockwise, but it was losing altitude. There was no time or means to send people up to sprinkle more dust on the beast, so they had to rely on the airworthiness of their gliding machine.
“Lefty, fire now!” Mr. Anderson put his hand on Lefty’s right stub. An impressive jet of flame shot out half a length of a football field, singeing the enemy on the catwalks and making several on the ramparts run for cover.
“Why’d we do that, Sir Dave?” Lefty asked, immediately afterwards.
“Because I have to go to the head,” Mr. Anderson shouted his explanation as he took his leave, and quickly ducked out of the mouth, turned around and pulled himself up a short ladder until he was with Mowbry and Princess Nallah in the cranium of their machine. “Princess, you have a talent for making things dance in the air. Could you make us dance in the air?”
“I do not know, Sir Dave,” Nallah replied. “I have never tried to lift myself, nor have I ever tried to lift anything as large as us.”
“Try it now,” he said, putting his hand on her shoulder. She focused her energy on the dragon, and it caught a little bit, but they continued to spiral downward, their trajectory bringing them toward a crash with the central tower of the royal castle.
“Why don’t you just try the right wing?” Mowbry asked.
She refocused on the right wing, and it suddenly caught up with left wing. They got lift again and narrowly missed hitting the tall central tower, swooping over it just in time.
“How do we land this thing?” Mr. Anderson asked.
“Where do we land this thing?” Mowbry replied.
“The field of flowers just outside the village,” Princess Nallah suggested.
“Won’t that damage the flowers?” Mowbry asked.
“We can grow new flowers, we need to save our people!” the Princess urged.
Mowbry started shouting commands down the tubes to guide the wings and the legs and tail. The tail, acting as a rudder, and the wings canted at a certain angle allowed them to touch down, somewhat roughly, into the flower patch where the village grew most of their foodstuffs.
Shaken, but otherwise undamaged, the army emerged from the belly of the beast, and found themselves under fire from the armada in the canal. Jen used her shield to protect Julie and Gina, as above them the water vapors in the air congealed to mist, which started to swirl above the castle, turning to clouds, darkening and flashing with electricity. Rain started to come down as if it were being released from a fire hose.
The sailors came ashore, and formed a fighting front, spread broadly along the canal with as much wand power as they could muster facing the dragon. The dragon riders did not have time to defend themselves as large rocks flew from the earth at them, and broken tree branches sailed at them like arrows.
Lightening struck the earth between the two lines violently as the wind whipped up. The straight rods that were being launched as arrows, doubled back against the navy, and they found themselves unable to fight effectively. Another bolt of lightening dropped a tree in their way, and another knocked over an ancient monument that came crashing down on them, effectively disrupting the attack. Nobody was injured when the obelisk fell, as they were all agile enough to leap out of the way.
General Mowbry waved at Admiral Tock, and removed his acorn helmet so the sailor might recognize him. The admiral threw sparks in an impressive fireworks display, signaling the navy to cease fire. The navy stood and fought the storm to get over to the army and welcome them into the fight. The lightening and thunder ceased, and the storm clouds boiled away to vapor and dissipated, the warm light of the sun started to dry everyone out.
They expected resistance from the village, but found none. All of the villagers apparently had fled into the safety of the castle. They looked upon the ramparts and found the ballistas and catapults abandoned.
The ruddy faced sailor, Admiral Tock and his younger brother, Admiral Dock, approached the army warily, their wand hands up, as their fellow sailors followed close at hand. In the distance, the rest of the army approached the village at a marching pace. Upon seeing that Princess Nallah, Sir Dave, and Dame Jennifer were indeed with the dragon flyers, Tock lowered his wand.
“Impressive canal,” General Mowbry said, embracing the ruddy faced sailor.
“Impressive dragon,” Admiral Tock replied, embracing the general back. “It looks quite real.”
“We saw your fleet taking a pounding by dragons yesterday, and that gave us the idea. I think Dame Jennifer suggested it.”
“We lost some sails, but no sailors, thank you.”
“We will catch you up on our adventures after we take care of this fiend of an emperor,” Mowbry replied.
They waited for the marching army to catch up, and left them outside the castle as the rest moved in. They found the castle abandoned. There was not a soul in sight, no defenses left whatsoever. “We didn’t kill them all,” Princess Nallah said, looking around. “Where have they got to?”
“I don’t care, just as long as my son is still alive,” Mr. Anderson snapped, taking the opportunity to go down to the dungeon. The girls accompanied him at a run, and they looked in each and every cell, freeing what prisoners they found, but Eric was not in any of the cells.
“Where are the über cars?” Jen asked.
“The oubliettes will be in the floor. They will look like large drains,” Mr. Anderson replied.
“Eric, are you down there?” Gina asked when she spotted one. It was dark, pitch black, and she could not see down, but it sounded very large and very hollow as her voice echoed when she spoke.
“I’m down here!” Eric’s voice came faintly, even though they could tell it was a shout.
“Where are you, bro?” Jen called out, trying to locate the source of his voice.
“Down here!” Eric’s voice came again.
Julie found one, and called down. “Eric?” She put her head into the oubliette, and her head started to glow. Fairy lights danced off her hair, and she could see Eric crouched in the bottom of the hole.
“You are Julie, Gina’s sister, right?” Eric smiled. “Help me out. My legs don’t work anymore.”
“What’s wrong with them?” Julie asked.
“There’s no place to sit or lay, and I couldn’t stand forever. I squatted down, and it has been weeks or months without moving. I quit feeling them a long time ago.”
“We’ll get you out,” she said. She put her head back up and called, “Over here! He’s over here!”