Chapter Thirty Two - Breaking Liberty
I’d been looking forward to working with the new, wild dragon but I almost changed my mind when I saw him arriving. He was a huge beast, nearly as long as Rhiannas, though a fair bit skinnier. He was almost black but flashes of red sparkled off his scales in the sunlight. There were four nonda flying in formation around him, holding him in a tight mind lock, but he was still struggling against their control.
“He’s a big lad,” Zalibar said as I climbed onto Lippit behind him. “Come on, let’s get on up to him. I don’t want him coming down here and panicking the nags.”
Once up to height, we cruised over to the mighty beast and, as Zalibar held Lippit just above the new dragon, I dropped onto his broad shoulders. “Easy there, boy,” I whispered gently to him, even though I could feel the waves of fury and resentment crashing against me when he noticed me in his mind. “Easy boy,” I reassured him, “soon you’re going to fly.”
I checked my spurs were firmly lodged then gave the others a mental shout, telling them to back off. “Get behind and above us!” I told them. “Then dive down behind us as soon as you let him go. I don’t want him coming round and attacking you.”
“Strangely enough, I can live without that pleasure, too,” one of the fliers murmured, but he was silenced by a ferocious glance from Zalibar.
“Okay! Give me five seconds then let him go!”
I flipped into the cloud world and watched as the locks were released from his jagged, pulsing cloud. It took the wild dragon a few more moments to realise that they’d let him go. I hovered on the edge of his cloud and, when I saw that he was about to unleash his frustration, I encouraged him with a shout of, “Let’s go!”
He exploded in a wild paroxysm of rage, swinging furiously around, looking for someone… anyone… to attack. He saw the retreating fliers and charged after them, spilling flame as he went.
But, by now, they were far enough away so I had time to bring him round, giving him tiny little nudges that he didn’t even notice. Before long, I’d steered him away from them and we were tearing out to sea at an astonishing speed.
It was only then he noticed that he had me on his shoulders.
And, of course, he just exploded.
He bucked and twisted in mid-air while thrashing around with his shoulders. He simply had to shift this unbearable insult to his dignity. Of course I needed to keep my will wrapped solidly round his crux. But I still had to risk a couple of blink-transitions back into the base domain to check that my spurs were holding true and that my grip on his crenels was still solid. If he did manage to throw me, he was never going to let me hit the sea!
Throughout that first mad paroxysm, I didn’t try to control his rage. Instead, I used our mind link to talk to him… to encourage him… to urge him on to try even harder. I didn’t want him to forget I was there. I just wanted to confuse him and gradually plant the seed of an idea that he was doing it all for me.
Then he tried to attack me. He strained his neck round to bite me and then rolled in mid-air to hammer me away with his tail. But of course nothing worked. With me sitting astride his neck like that, there was no way he could reach me. He tried bucking and stalling and even rolling in mid-air, in an attempt to throw me loose. But my spurs held true and I stayed glued to his neck.
I kept feeding the praise and encouragement straight into his ragged, pulsating mind. I wanted to build up the idea that he was working for me, not against me. And his savage passions were being fed back to me across our link, coming out as a wild excitement that my implanted node couldn’t completely muffle. “Go on,” I found myself screaming out loud to him. “Show me you’re the best!”
“How about a dive?” I suggested as I felt the idea churning to the surface of his mind. He tucked in his wings and let himself fall out of the sky, shaping his body to head towards the rocky cliffs. As they loomed over us, he spotted a particularly jagged headland and unfolded his wings to steer us towards it. He rolled in mid-air, trying to skim it with his back to rid himself of this infuriating parasite.
But I was deep in his mind and looking through his eyes. I knew what he was thinking and eased him away from the cliff with the most subtle of nudges. I mean… when I flipped back into the base domain, I could have reached out and touched the rocks. But he didn’t quite manage to wipe me out on them.
Then he started climbing in slow, easy circles and, for the first time, I could feel the uncertainty washing through his mind. “Easy boy. It doesn’t have to be so hard,” I whispered to him while massaging his upper vertebrae. We both knew that doing that had an uncomfortable double meaning for him. In a way it was soothing and intimate. I mean… no dragon was ever going to let anyone but the most trusted partner get that close.
But still… I had my hands on that most vulnerable spot. A simple stab of my dagger and I could take his life.
He tried to throw a primitive mind blast at me but I swatted it away as easily as a fly. “That’s quite enough of that!” I scolded him firmly. “It doesn’t have to be hard, but it can be very hard; very hard indeed.”
His mind convulsed again but, by now, most of the fire had gone out of his fight. He was confused and frustrated and, for a creature who had never known fear in his life, he was starting to feel something a bit like it.
“You’ve shown me what you can do on your own,” I told him without stopping my massaging thing. “Now let me show you what we can do together!”
For a moment, I lowered my shields, giving him a glimpse of my own rage that was being kept, bottled up, by that hateful implanted node. And, at the same time, I started to feed my own will across to him. “Come on!” I screamed. “Let’s fly!”
Of course I didn’t need to say it twice! He sprang into another frenzy of wild flying but, this time, I gently melded my own power in with his. “See how much more we are together,” I whispered to him as we performed a graceful pirouette with one wing stretching straight down towards the crashing sea.
“You see, my great big, powerful, beautiful boy!” I yelled at him in encouragement as we went flitting in and out of the cliffs.
Then I had an idea. In one of Jenko’s Battle Sagas, he’d said something about a ‘Sheer Climb’ - none of the normal, boring circling stuff, just straight up. I mean… when I’d first heard it, I’d assumed it was just a story but this felt like the moment to see if it was really possible. “There’s something I want to try,” I told him, almost in a whisper. I let a hint of what I was planning slip out into his mind. “The other, second-rate dragons around here just aren’t up to it.”
“Are you set?” I gave him a moment to get himself ready. ’Come on then! Let’s go!”
Flipping back into the base domain, I threw him into the vertical climb, adding my own mind power to his straining muscles. It was beyond excitement… beyond words… and I just had to let out this wild scream as we broke out of the climb at the top of the mountain. I mean… I don’t really know how I managed it because my breathing was so ragged and broken. We wheeled in slow, lazy circles, looking down at the mouth of the Edifice yawning below us.
“I knew you could do it!” I told him, feeding my excitement straight across into him. “I bet there aren’t many who could manage that!”
We wheeled around the mouth of the Edifice, sharing our oneness as I massaged his vertebrae once more. Flipping back into the cloud world, I reached across into his jagged mind as if I were whispering in his ear. “What do you think, my great big, powerful lad?” I asked him. “I know as well as you what you’re going to have to give up… but I promise I’ll fly with you as often as I can.”
I let him wheel on, drifting out towards the sea, before slipping into his mind again. “You know you’re going to have to submit sooner or later, don’t you?” I told him. “If you don’t, others will come and they won’t be as gentle as me… they won’t be as understanding as me… they won’t be as powerful as me. You’ve already met Zalibar with his iron barbed whip and iron barbed mind.”
I let him carry on with his circling for a bit longer as he started to understand how hopeless it all was.
“And if you don’t give in, they’re just going to crush you down until you’re nothing more than a nag… and we both know you’re too proud to let that happen to you. Wouldn’t it be better to let me take your surrender? At least I’m worthy of it.”
I sensed his resistance collapsing and knew I had him. “Come on, my big boy!” I whispered to him. “You’re going to take a last flight as a wild, free dragon and then, like me, you’re going to accept it. You know you can’t fight it forever.”
I gently guided him a little way out, until we were over the sea, then I let go of his mind. He turned and let himself fall out of the sky into an all-out, wing-tucked dive.
I looked through his eyes to see we were heading almost vertically down towards the cliffs, far below. As they drew closer, I reached down into his mind. “I won’t stop you,” I promised him. “It’s up to you. It’s time for you to make your mind up.”
The cliffs drew even closer but he showed no signs of breaking out of our dive. For a moment, I wondered whether I’d be able to survive a jump but quickly worked out it was too late. As the cliffs loomed above us, I felt the terror rising even though it was being smoothed away by my implanted node. But I was still holding my breath as the rocks flashed up towards us. He really was going to do it… he was about to end it all.
By the time he unfolded his wings, I’d already resigned myself to dying. But somehow he managed to throw us into this savage turn which had wingtips skimming both stone and sea.
And, as he turned, he let out a wild, despairing cry. It was one of the few times I’d ever heard a dragon make a noise.
And, with that, I knew for certain he was broken.
We skimmed back towards the compound at wave-top level. As the tower came into view, I reached down and whispered into his mind. “Sometimes others will ride you. You’ll have to tolerate it for my sake as well as for your own. But never forget that you’re specially mine.” With that I eased back my grip and left him alone with his churning thoughts
Zalibar was standing in the middle of the quad when I brought the new dragon down. “Young Lady,” he said with a look of respect that he’d never given me before. “That was truly exceptional dragon work. You didn’t so much break him as seduce him. If Rhiannas doesn’t want you, you have a great future ahead of you as a breaker.”
I nodded my thanks but kept my mind locked on the dragon’s as I went to stand in front of him. He lowered himself, uneasily and a bit unsteadily, into the dragon bow.
“No foot yet!” Zalibar told me quietly. “He’s not quite ready yet. But you could give him a name.”
“He shall be called Liberty,” I announced formally, “to remind everybody that he was once wild and free.”
‘Like me,’ I added, but only to myself. ‘And, like me, he’s going to be free again, one day.’
As the dragon raised himself off the ground, Quaro-Deryn came stalking menacingly across the quad, seething with rage. “I would fly this beast,” he said in a commanding tone.
“It would, perhaps, be better, Sir…” I began but I was cut across by Zalibar.
“Not today you don’t. Look at him. He’s already exhausted.” He turned to me. “Put him away.”
“But, Sir!” Quaro-Deryn said, his anger rising, “it’s not fitting that this…” he cast a contemptuous glance towards me and only just managed to contain his language… “this transitor tyro rides him before me.”
Zalibar turned sharply to Quaro-Deryn. “Amendraig or not,” he said, “if you ever speak to me in that tone again, you’ll feel the weight of my fists. You may fly him next week, if you wish, but I will be riding a shield for you when you do. Is that clear?”
Quaro-Deryn nodded but his mind was sending out waves of unbridled malice towards me. I didn’t say anything as I led Liberty away, across the quad to the mews.
But I had to work hard to bottle up a laugh when Jenko winked at me.