3,275 words, rating PG. This story takes place a few weeks after 'Not Fade Away', and also a few weeks after 'Dragonflight'.
Angel and the Dragon
F'lar, bronze Mnementh's rider, gripped his flying straps tightly as the great dragon under him surged up towards a tumbling clump of Thread. The alien parasite shrivelled in the gout of flame that Mnementh breathed forth, and F'lar reached to pass his dragon more firestone as the bronze turned back his head. The sacks were nearly empty, but by F'lar's calculations this Fall should be almost over now. Good timing. In fact, the wings were becoming more competent all around, as their experience and confidence grew. Even the Oldtimers had had to acknowledge that.
Taking advantage of a gap in the Threadfall, he asked Mnementh to hover while he gazed around at his wingmen. All around him, the dragons of Benden Weyr dove, soared, and flamed, searing Thread from the skies of Pern. As their Weyrleader he took a quiet pride in their efficiency; they might even get through this Fall without a single injury, which would be the first -
His thoughts faltered as a green dragon burst abruptly out of between straight into the path of Thread. She screamed piteously as the deadly filaments laced her wing, belching out fire that almost caught a blue rider as he swerved his beast desperately out of the way. The new arrival's rider seemed overcome by panic; he cowered on the back of his dragon, flinging up his arms to shield himself as if that could possibly protect him.
F'lar's lip curled in contempt and anger. This cowardly, untutored fledgling was a danger to himself and - far more seriously - to his dragon and to the rest of the Weyr. He didn't recognise either beast or rider; the man must be an Oldtimer. Small mercy, that at least Benden wasn't shamed by his incompetence. Furiously, F'lar told Mnementh to order the newcomer to join formation and stay out of trouble until the Threadfall was over, when F'lar would deal with him.
Mnementh informed him that the green couldn't hear him at all; her mind seemed closed to the bronze's thoughts. In fact, Mnementh wasn't even sure that the green dragon was a 'she' in the first place.
"That's impossible." F'lar thought back at his scaled companion. "All greens are female. Take another look."
Mnementh informed him haughtily that he, a mighty bronze dragon and mate of the queen, had no interest in taking a closer look at a silly green.
Besides, the strange dragon, perhaps overawed by the sight of the eighty or more beasts around her (or him), had obediently shifted into a steady glide that practically screamed "I'm harmless, don't hurt me." On her (or his) back, the cowardly rider seemed to have overcome his fear. Indeed, he seemed to have gone to the opposite extreme - to F'lar's eyes he seemed to be practically preening on the back of his mount, turning his face to Pern's golden sun and letting the rays fall on first one side then the other, all the time grinning hugely.
F'lar shook his head, uncertain what to make of such strange behaviour. Perhaps the man was a lunatic of some sort? But then he wouldn't be a dragonrider, surely, even if this dragon seemed as peculiar as its rider. Still, there was time enough to sort things out when they got back to the Weyr... or perhaps he should give the man over to Lessa's tender mercies? He'd wish he'd been threadscored once the Weyrwoman finished lecturing him about proper flight discipline...
"Not that the girl ever pays attention to discipline herself - but at least she sees its value for other people!" he thought with a grin. Mnementh informed him that Lessa always had a good reason for everything she did, and wasn't it about time F'lar went back to see her? Threadfall was over, and he'd quite like to rejoin his own mate too now.
F'lar patted the warm hide of his bronze cheerfully, reassuring him that he'd see Ramoth soon, and took a look around. Threadfall was indeed over, and down on the ground he could see the teams of groundsmen emerging from their Holds with flamethrowers and agenothree tanks to sweep the fields for any burrows that had got past his wings. Time to return home. He asked Mnementh to pass along the order, then waved at the newcomer on the green to attract his attention, and indicated through signs that he was to follow. Then taking a deep breath, he took his bronze between.
The wings emerged over the bowl of Benden Weyr in perfect order, all dragons present and correct, bugling in triumph and welcome to their fellows below. F'lar signalled the wingmen to take their beasts to the Feeding Grounds while he directed Mnementh towards the queen's weyr. He'd made up his mind that Lessa should indeed get to deal with the stranger - if only because she'd never forgive him if he left her out of this. He looked around to make sure the green was following... and blinked in astonishment. The sky was empty.
His anger now was mixed with contempt. Surely the idiot hadn't got himself lost between? Or had he just refused to come? Or perhaps the peculiar green had been injured in some way more serious than it appeared, and was unable to follow? That thought calmed him a little, and he began to wonder if he should send help.
Mnementh informed him that Lessa had already thought of that, and had matters well in hand. Of course, he had told her what happened as soon as they arrived at Benden. Slightly nettled, F'lar asked snappishly why Mnementh was more interested in chatting to Lessa than to his own rider. The bronze replied that of course Lessa was only concerned about their safety. She wanted to know they were healthy and unharmed when they arrived back from fighting Thread. His tone was soothing, but F'lar could feel the deep rumbling in his belly that was the draconic equivalent of laughter.
The dragonrider thought of several choice things to say to his companion - and to Lessa too - but forgot them all as the great bronze landed delicately in the lip of the weyr and a diminutive figure shot out of the cave entrance and wrapped herself around him as he dismounted. The Weyrwoman's welcome was as demonstrative as he could have wished for, but then she stepped back and was all business as she awaited his report. Her eyes glowed as triumphantly as his own as he told her they had suffered zero casualties for the first time this Pass, then turned thoughtful as he described the strange intruder and his actions.
"I sent Ramoth and two of the older browns to bring them back," she said, then paused, her eyes distant and unfocussed. "Ah. Ramoth says the stranger is none of her brood, but listens to her all the same." She giggled. Few dragons or humans could ignore the great golden queen who was the largest and most powerful creature on Pern. "They're bringing them back through between now." F'lar looked up, just as the shapes of four dragons erupted into the air above the Bowl in tight formation, wings interweaving and the terrified-looking green dragon held firmly in the claws of the other three. The browns forced the stranger down towards the ground, as Ramoth stretched her huge wings and glided over towards her own weyr.
Lessa looked up fondly as the immense dragon settled gracefully onto the stone ledge, dipping her golden wedge-shaped head - larger than a horse and with a mouth lined with ferocious teeth - towards her youthful rider. The Weyrwoman stretched up to scratch Ramoth's eyeridges tenderly, then swung herself up onto the dragon's back and grinned over at F'lar. "Let's go and talk to this stray you found for us, then."
Angel was having a bad day. Of course, ever since Los Angeles was sucked into a hell dimension it was hard to tell days from nights, but whatever. They were all bad. And this one was worse.
The dimensional portal had been supposed to take him back to Earth. He had a list of contacts salvaged from the ruins of the Wolfram and Hart offices: powerful magicians, shamans, people who might be able to help enlarge the portal so he could bring the other survivors back through. They were his responsibility; of course he had to help them. The sorcerers he would have to deal with weren't necessarily good guys, but Angel had a trump card. A huge, scaly, fire-breathing trump card. If normal methods of persuasion failed, he'd never yet met anyone who wasn't overawed by his friend the dragon.
So of course he had to end up in a dimension where, it seemed, everybody and his dog had their own personal dragon. It was just plain unfair.
At least there was one small mercy - the sun on this plane of existence didn't burn him. Pylea had been like that too; it seemed to be one of the benefits of dimensional travel. He felt himself grinning again, and fought it back. He had to be serious, focussed on the mission. These strangers had kidnapped him, forced him to accompany them back to their base, but they hadn't tried to harm him directly yet. Perhaps they could be negotiated with, always assuming they spoke a language he could understand; perhaps he could find a way to get back to Earth. Or failing that, back to LA.
He climbed off the back of his dragon onto the rocky ground. Around him encircling cliffs towered up into the sky. He seemed to be in the crater of an extinct volcano, its walls pockmarked with dozens of cave entrances; and everywhere dragons crawled, flew or lazed in the sun. His sensitive nostrils caught a faint tang of blood from the distance, and he guessed that some of the dragons were feeding. He tried not to speculate on what, and fought down a sudden hunger pang of his own.
Thankfully, he was distracted by the thunder of wings as two huge dragons landed next to him. One of them was the golden monster that had somehow teleported him - dragon and all - to this secret volcano base. After a moment he recognised the metallic-brown creature beside it from when he first arrived in this dimension. Its rider had seemed to be the leader of the other dragonriders back then, so presumably he was in charge here. Angel folded his arms and waited to see what he had to say.
F'lar strode across the Bowl, anger rekindling in his amber eyes as the stranger stood complacently waiting for them. He opened his mouth to tear strips off the fledgling for his incompetence, but Lessa touched his elbow and addressed the newcomer in her sweetest voice. "Did you have some trouble with your dragon back there? I should speak to your Weyrleader; perhaps you need some extra training before you're allowed out on your own."
The stranger seemed taken aback, not to mention baffled and angry, and F'lar grinned cruelly. Lessa often had that effect on people. It was surprising how much strength of character and force of will could fit into such a slight female form, not to mention one that was fewer than twenty-three Turns old. If people weren't used to women like her - well, they tended to underestimate her until about ten seconds after she turned her attention their way. He stepped back to enjoy the scene.
Only to be surprised when the stranger's first words were a complete nonsequitur: "So, at least you speak English here."
"Well, of course we do. Doesn't everybody? Which Weyr do you claim? Who was your Harper, for you to be so ignorant?"
The stranger clenched his fists in anger at that, and Ramoth bugled suddenly in challenge above them. F'lar stepped hastily between Lessa and the newcomer, as much to protect him from the anger of an over-protective dragon as to defend his weyrmate.
"Curb your temper and answer the Weyrwoman's questions!" he snapped.
"Don't order me around, boy." growled the stranger in reply.
The two men locked eyes, staring each other down. 'Boy'? At first glance the stranger had seemed younger than F'lar, but there was an odd weight of experience in his eyes. Even so, the patronising tone infuriated F'lar. His hand reached instinctively towards his belt knife.
"You will mind your manners when addressing me, green rider."
"I didn't come here to fight you. But if you think you can hurt me with that little sticker, think again."
"I've killed stronger men than you with it. Are you challenging me?"
The stranger grinned sardonically. "Take your best shot."
Stung, F'lar whipped out the knife. He had no intention of killing this stranger, but perhaps he needed to be taught some humility. He adopted a fighting stance, waiting for his opponent to draw a weapon of his own.
Then gasped in astonishment as the knife was simply grabbed from his hand. How did he do that? Nothing human could move so fast, exert such strength. He staggered back, looking cautiously at his knife which now rested in the stranger's hand. The newcomer grinned evilly.
"Now, perhaps we can talk properly? I - awwk!"
His words were cruelly interrupted as Mnementh's sword-like talons closed around him, and the dragon plucked him high into the air. Hot phosphine-laden breath puffed into the stranger's face as the bronze dangled him upside down, thirty feet above the ground, and peered at him curiously.
Lessa laughed. "No, Mnementh, you can't eat him. Even if he did threaten your rider." She turned to grin at F'lar, her eyes sparkling with glee. "If you boys have quite finished your display of masculine chest-puffery, impressive though it was, perhaps we can find out exactly what's going on here?"
Angel was starting to feel slightly better about things. He still disliked that arrogant, jumped-up little man with the amber eyes, but at least he'd learned a valuable life lesson today: never piss off a man with his own dragon. The woman was easier to deal with. Her direct approach, the sly sense of humour that sparked off an inner passion that was as quick to anger as to enthusiasm; even her mannerisms had an aching familiarity. He was only glad she was black-haired instead of blonde. Still, he'd explained how he came to be there, and the two of them - F'lar and Lessa, their names were - hadn't outright disbelieved him.
Well, he wasn't sure they believed him either, but at least they weren't laughing at him.
They'd sent a messenger for someone called 'the Masterharper', whom they believed might be able to help him. Lessa had added, grinning, that Master Robinton would never forgive her if he missed this opportunity to talk to someone claiming to be from another world. She'd then started talking to her companion about 'going between' - between what, Angel wasn't sure: dimensions, hopefully - and visualisations and timing and all sorts of other technical jargon that he understood about as well as he used to when Fred started talking physics. After a while he left them to it.
At least they'd had the courtesy to offer him the hospitality of their base. After some wandering he'd found his way to a giant communal kitchen, where a freshly-slaughtered herdbeast of some kind was being prepared for roasting. He'd worried that they might have just poured the blood away down the drain, but a bit of sniffing around turned up a sealed earthenware jar that he quietly liberated. Then he retired to an empty corridor and enjoyed his first meal for over a day.
His own hunger satiated, Angel began to worry about his dragon's appetite. Fortunately the giant creature didn't need to eat every day; but when it did get hungry, it took a lot to satisfy it. Would these people mind? He shrugged. Considering how many hundreds of dragons they had here, they must have plenty of food available for them. He returned to his reluctant hosts to ask about feeding arrangements.
Said arrangements turned out to be a vast herd of mixed animals - and some flightless birds too, and things that looked like big reptiles - that milled around the grass-covered bottom of the crater next to a big lake. F'lar and Lessa brought their own mounts to feed too, joining a crowd of other dragons and their riders. The smaller beasts stood back as the giant gold and bronze dragons took their pick of the herd, then retired to an overhanging rock to consume their prey. With the path clear, the other dragons now pounced; sending the terrified herd fleeing this way and that in panic as the predators seized their prey.
The smell of blood, the squeals of dying animals as their throats were ripped out; they were overwhelming, all-consuming. Angel felt himself recoil, repulsed by this terrible hunger that awoke inside him. He didn't normally feel like this, even in the middle of a battle. The scent of death filled his nostrils, coppery taste on his tongue, and he turned away from the others in desperation, struggling to keep himself from letting the beast show in his features.
In the centre of the herd, a green dragon sucked greedily at the neck of a fat buck, draining its blood. Around her was a circle of blues and browns - and Angel's own dragon - staring at her with curious intensity. She stared around at them, bugling her defiance, then suddenly leaped and pounced on another herdbeast. Angel saw the dragons' riders standing beside the field in a tight little clump, watching their mounts intently. One of them saw him, regarded him curiously for a moment then beckoned him over.
He shrugged, uncertain what was going on, but approached the group of men cautiously. He could hear their heartbeats thudding; there was sweat on their faces despite the coolness of the mountain air. He could sense a hunger in them that matched his own peculiar feeling - but why? They were only humans...
Before he could ask what was happening, the green dragon suddenly sprang into the air and flew away, faster than any dragon he'd yet seen. The others - including his own - were instantly in the air behind her, and in seconds the grounds were empty of dragons. Well, except for the two on the clifftop. The bronze seemed to look up wistfully for a moment, but the gold nipped at his neck, and he turned his face back to his food obediently.
One of the other dragonriders suddenly pointed at Angel accusingly. "He's a green rider too! What's he doing here?"
One of the others laughed. "His green's chasing yours, L'bet."
The others chimed in with various comments that only baffled Angel more. "Never seen that happen before." "What happens if she catches her?" "What do you think will happen?" "Isn't that kinda gay?" "Look who's talking!" He looked round in confusion, unfamiliar heat flooding his body; and suddenly his consciousness seemed to divide. Half of him was here, standing in the centre of a circle of men, their faces flushed and eyes dilated; the other half was with his dragon, soaring high over the mountains as he pursued the fleeing green, effortlessly outpacing his rivals. As Angel's dragon suddenly folded his wings and plummeted down to entangle the other green with entwined neck and tail, he looked plaintively around at the other men.
So, guys, uh, what happens next?"