Chapter Ten - To Fly
Rhiannas leaned sideways and allowed himself to fall off the veranda into space. I almost screamed as we plummeted and I grabbed at his crenels. They felt reassuringly secure.
After what felt like forever, his long leathery wings unfolded, as if by magic, from the scales on his back and, as they caught the air, he turned the headlong plunge into a swooping dive.
Beneath me, I could feel his muscles rippling under his scaly skin as, with a few powerful beats of his wings, he drove us up towards the opening in the roof of the edifice. I had a bit of a panic as his crenels started to twitch in my hand but then I worked out that it was probably normal as he turned round to look at me.
“Come into my mind, Rhianadoc,” he told me. “If you are to serve me, we must fly as one.”
I reached cautiously across to his brilliant presence but of course he wasn’t anything like satisfied with that. He sort of slapped me aside then grabbed my cloud and pulled it into his own.
The link was so intense… so profound… that I found myself experiencing the world through his senses. I could feel our surge of muscles and the wind under our wings. I was flying!
And, with the excitement, I found myself being pulled even deeper into the experience. I was reaching out with my own wings to drive myself through the air… stretching out my own neck to shape and guide the wind over my wings… flexing my own tail to give perfect balance and control.
And I gradually worked out that it wasn’t just muscle power driving us upwards. Somehow, with every beat of the wings, there came a surge of mind-power to drive us higher. I was drawn into the stroke and, without really thinking about it, I found myself adding my own mind-power to his.
But I got another little slap for that. “Desist!” he told me. “Gratifying though it is that you appreciate your future purpose, I cannot tolerate your clumsy contributions at this time.”
I guessed that was because we were getting close to the mouth of the Edifice. The air was growing thick with dragons… though none of them were getting too close to us. A number greeted him in this really formal tone and a couple of them failed to completely hide their curiosity about the creature on his shoulders.
The border of the main opening was decorated with astonishingly fancy stonework. It looked as if someone had taken an enormous lace collar and turned it into stone. It was surrounded by a dozen little tunnels through which daylight was filtering.
But then I gave a bit of a scream thing when I realised he was heading straight towards one of the little tunnels. “It’s too small,” I kind of squeaked.
But he thought my worry was funny. “I have been transitioning through the Rhian flute all my life with no mishap,” he assured me and, without slackening his pace, he drove on into the tunnel. It was a little bit wider than it had looked from below and Rhiannas could get through, though his wingtips were pretty much skimming the walls.
In the middle of the tunnel, he had to do this crazy rolling twist thing and I had to duck as my head flashed dangerously close to the stonework. Then we exploded out of the opening into sunshine and I was just staggered by the brilliance of the scene. The green and brown speckled island lay spread out below me, almost circular, with the brilliant blue sea crashing onto its rocky coast. On one side, I could just about make out the mainland, far-away and hazy, whilst, on the other, the sea stretched out forever.
With a couple of casual beats of his wings, Rhiannas took us off, away from the island, out over the sea. Then he stretched out into a glide.
“We are to take a single wing stroke in which you are to work with me,” he said. “You are to apply no power at this time but will focus exclusively on timing and control.”
I wasn’t quite ready when his stroke began and I jumped to follow him… but I soon worked out that I was much too late. Rhiannas was thrown to one side and I had to grab at his crenels to stop myself from being thrown off.
He gave me a stinging mental slap as he sorted out our balance with a flick of one wing. “You will be ready when the stroke begins and move with me,” he explained with very little in the way of patience, “And, furthermore, until your control is perfect, you are to apply no power whatsoever.”
He steadied himself. “Ready yourself. We repeat the endeavour.”
This time, I felt the thought of the stroke rising within him and moved with that, rather than his wings.
“Marginally better,” he acknowledged as he sorted out our balance with a flick of his tail. “However you finished the stroke early and you continue to apply too much power. Once more!”
We did a couple more of the single stroke things together. I mean… I could tell I was getting better but Rhiannas had next to nothing in the way of patience and I got another couple of his mental slaps!
“Now desist,” he told me. “More height is required for safe practice.”
I looked down and saw we were skimming just above the sea – if I hadn’t been so wrapped up in the whole flying thing, I’d have heard the waves and tasted the salt on my lips.
With a natural grace, he took us back up in a comfortable spiral. Then he told me to get ready again.
“We will now attempt an uninterrupted series of strokes during which you will continue to concentrate exclusively on timing and control. You will constrain, most assiduously, your urge to apply power.”
We made our way across the sky in a series of wobbly strokes but after a couple of juddering minutes he simply slapped me aside. “This is beyond tolerance!” he snapped. “Whilst you evidently possess more talent than some of the fumbling incompetents with whom I have been burdened in the past, I have neither the time nor the patience to provide the training you so evidently require. I must consider alternative recourses.”
And, without my clumsy help, he relaxed by enjoying a bit of virtuoso flying. He seemed to have forgotten that our minds were still linked together and I shared his satisfaction as he turned and twisted; stooped and climbed. I could feel the wind over his wings and around his body. He drove into a tight spiraling descent and I looked round to see the sea on one side and the sky on my other… but by some crazy sort of flight magic, I was still sitting securely on his back.
Then he tucked his wings into his side and dived downwards until I was sure we were going to crash… but, at the last possible moment, he unfolded them and we flashed over the sea. I couldn’t contain a little whoop of excitement as the water flicked up off his wing tips.
He spotted a school of dolphins, dancing on the waves, and came up silently behind them. He hovered, stationary for a moment, as if sitting on the wind, then he stooped down and used his talons to pluck one from the air at the height of its leap.
And, because our minds were still tied so tightly together, I shared his anticipation as he climbed. When he’d got the height we needed, he casually let the miserable creature fall. I watched through his eyes as it slowly tumbled downwards, end over end, and I kind of shared his hunger as he dived down after it.
And, as he dived, I felt the wild passions building up inside him… overwhelming pride, power and majesty. He was Rhiannas… the mightiest dragon in the Edifice… supreme creature in the world. There was nothing… no one… who could stand against him.
And when this feeling had risen to a peak, he released it as a vast billowing surge of flame that roared from his throat.
And, as his flames destroyed the dolphin’s puny body, I shared in the unimaginable surge of power as he consumed the pitiful creature’s life force.
For a few moments, Rhiannas was still, as if overwhelmed by the gratification of annihilation, then, tucking in his wings once more, he dived down, following the tumbling, smouldering carcass. Just before it hit the sea, he plucked the plummeting remains out of the air and swallowed them whole.
As we returned to the island, skimming low over the waves, I felt completely numb, totally overwhelmed by the intensity of the passions I’d just shared. I mean… I tried to keep my outer cloud self calm but, inside, my feelings were churning as I realised that this was the world I’d been looking for… a much more primitive world with its simple, brutal rules: claw and flame; dominance or servitude; life or death.
This was where I was going to make my mark…
Or where I’d die.
I was puzzled as Rhiannas swung round to approach the island from the south west but, once we hit land, his reasons were obvious.
The wind, which was coming from that direction, was being forced to rise by the mountain so, by skimming up just a few feet above the rough moorland, the updraught carried us up to the peak with just a couple of casual flicks of our wings.
As we approached the summit opening, Rhiannas ordered me to ‘Hold fast!’ So I dug my spurs even tighter into his scales and grabbed at his crenels.
But I still almost screamed again when, just above the mouth, he tucked in his wings and let himself stall. We seemed to be tumbling straight towards the elaborate stonework round the entrance.
But once I got a grip on my shock, I relaxed a bit and I could tell that he had the whole thing totally under control. As we plummeted into the narrow stone tunnel, the ‘Rhian Flute’, I could feel him steering with precise flicks of his tail… and of his will
Then we exploded out into the Edifice and again I was shocked by the overwhelming scale of the place. He casually spread his wings and glided back towards his lair.
As he approached, he leaned right back in the air, shedding speed. I was a bit confused when he cruised in a bit too low… it felt as if we were heading straight for the wall. But I was starting to trust his flying now so I wasn’t surprised when he swooped up at the last minute, losing the last of our speed so he could step out of the air onto the veranda.
“That was quite incredible,” I told him in genuine awe. “I hope that, one day, I’ll be good enough to fly with you properly.”
“Your appreciation and enthusiasm bode well,” he replied, but I could tell that this was just on the surface. The mind link that we’d shared when we were flying was still sort of in place and I could sense a much more complicated jumble of emotions, swirling around inside his cloud.
I caught the image of a girl, not much older than me, as it flashed across his mind. There was a hint of loss there… maybe, even, some alien kind of affection. There was even a slight trace of something that might be regret… or possibly even guilt… linked with the image. And a name shone out, ‘Rhian-Ceridwen’.
After a bit, he chucked me firmly out of his head so I climbed unsteadily down… my legs were still pretty wobbly from the flying… and I moved to stand in front of him. He was still perched on the lip of the veranda and looked as if he was still deep in thought.
I took the spurs off and tried to stuff them back into their pouch but it was really tricky and he pretty soon got fed up with my fumbling efforts. He snatched the things out of my hands by the force of his will. Then, using nothing but the power of his mind, he folded them up neatly and popped them into the pouch.
And I felt a bit of a sigh type thing coming from him as he pushed them back into my hands.