The black, roiling clouds of the plains were like sea scum to Theran. It was a strange, misplaced nostalgia, often brought on by mixing brew with healing salve, which he had done recently. He scratched absently at the armored plates covering his right thigh, the wound not having healed quite yet.
He went out to the edge of old Ihanuanma, or Ihanu, like he called it for short. His steed, and ally, Arun, waited patiently as he walked through the gates, through the dust swarm that hardly bothered the dragon.
Theran’s heavy gloved mitt smashed into the door, rattling the wooden thing like a battering ram. The extra blood had done the trick. The people behind the door yelped, and one finally opened it.
“Yes, Dragon Rider?” One of them said through the door.
“Dragon Knight.” The south-eastman responded, grasping the handle of the door. He rattled it. “You would close your doors and put out your torches upon seeing the silhouette of a dragon rider in the sky? Surely, you must have reason to fear such an image.” His deep-set eyes narrowed, looking in through the crack in the door. “Legal, or otherwise.”
“Oh sir, we, erm…” A larger man in an apron, obviously an owner of the inn or a cook, looked befuddled, with a longspear in his hand.
Theran felt his muscles tense, but he shrugged off the urge to aggression. “Stand down. If I meant harm, my ally Arun and I would be long overhead, lobbing down streams of acid, not down here with YOU.” He growled the last word, as the man hesitated to lower his weapon. It seemed that he had come through on reasoning, but Thean could not completely acknowledge that the intimidation had had a hand in it. “Now, my angry men, what ails you?”
One of the larger men steps fowards. “A number of ’em.”
“Eh?” Theran looked back at the door, his lengthy features stretched into an expression of shrewd disbelief. “Dragon Riders? In a Circle?”
“No!” The large man shouts, not intimidated by the dragon knight’s uncaring demeanor. “In a wing! They flew in formation, attacked at night! One red, one… acid spitter.” He says, struggling for a moment.
“Oh joy. I do so love these little confrontations.” Theran sighed. “Especially where I have a high chance of injury.”
“And two who spit lightning.” The large man finished.
“How big were they?” Theran asked, knowing the description he would get back before the thoughts even formed in this man’s head.
“You know, a bit bigger than a horse, with great wings.” The man responded.
“Bat, or sail, wings?” Theran asked, preemptively frowning.
“Hey, I don’t know, OK?” The man responded, fussily. “It was a time of great turmoil-”
“Yes, yes I’m sure.” Theran waved him off, looking back at the owner. “Surely you remember these beasts who were destroying your livelihood.”
The bartender froze, his head staying in one place. “Yes, I do. One was splotchy in color.”
“A mix-blood.” Theran said, to the tavern. He looked around to either side of him. “Anyone found housing such a beast would certainly be met with emnity by the draconic council. It would be the only place someone breeding them illegally for the military could hide, a hole-in-the-ground town like this.” He turned, looking towards the bar, his spear’s leather-wrapped hilt visible on his belt as he eyed the remainder of the tavern. One face amongst them flinched, and he moved with predatory grace to wrap his left hand’s fingers through a collar attached to a retreating man.
The man yowled in terror, and struggled. Theran put his front foot around behind the man, shoving him harshly with his left hand into the wooden wall of the dusty building.
“So, who’s selling ’em?” Theran shook the man as he spoke.
“A… A mandran about five miles from here.” He pointed south. “He sells to various ones, they say.”
The breeder fell to the ground as Theran set him down, and the tall man left the building shortly thereafter.
“The last was sorta bronzy.” The bartender calls out as he leaves.
“Theran, four dragons is more than enough for us.” Arun rasped at him, the dragon’s mouth trailing a small amount of black chemical smoke.
“Yes.” Theran said back, swinging himself up into the dragon’s saddle.
“We can’t take them, especially with your-”
“We can, and we will.” Theran grins, slapping his partner in the side, by his neck. “Your wings, your legs are what carry me, Arun. The condition of mine is of little consequence.”
The black dragon’s head turned back for a moment, the finned crests near its forwards-bent horns lowering like the ears of a dog, to indicate a sort of wincing expression. “I am afraid the blood loss concerns me the most. You lost a lot for one of your kind.”
“And the magic of the healers replaced it.” Theran coughed, lightly tapping his heels into the dragon’s back as he leaned forwards in his seat. “They are children who will only do these people harm.”
The bat-like wings spread as the pair rose into the air, heading out to the south.
If he was smart, the breeder would have set the mottled dragons free.
Theran’s keen eyes spotted the shack in the sunset, and Arun’s eyes followed soon after.
Theran motioned to Arun to hover with a quick pat on each wing, and the dragon spun to let his body hang down, powerful wings keeping him aloft. The dragon knight calmly unrolled a sheaf of paper covered in blocky runes, and shaped it into a cone.
“This is Theran Lashad,” Theran shouted, his voice booming over the flapping of the dragon’s wings. “You are under arrest. Under the Mandran / Draconic articles, myself and my ally Arun have-”
He ducked, a rifleshot glancing off of the front of his metal-clad collarbone, and rocking him in his seat. The dragon knight grinned, seeing that he was uninjured, and banked, Arun following his body’s motion to dive off to one side, and spraying a blast of acid that cut through most of the top layer of the building.
After a few more sprays, Theran had Arun land just outside of the building, walking in calmly.
He saw a scared-looking man clad in the bright yellows and greens of the far-west merchants. His dark brown skin and curly mustache made him look comical with the foreign rifle in his hand.
“Not a bad shot.” Theran said to him, walking closer. The man trembled in his corner, leveling the gun at him. Theran stuck up his nose, glaring at the man as he advanced. “Oh, come now. You modern criminals all think your love of these new firearms will save you from the wrath of the law.” Theran stepped closer, his metal boots clacking against the wooden floor.
Theron’s hand moved as though to swat the man’s gun from his hand, and the man fired, the muzzle-flare illuminating the scene in a bright flash of reddish-orange.
Theron’s hand drifted next to the weapon, grabbing the man’s wrist, who began to jerk away as something hot made contact with his skin. The rifle clattered to the ground, just as Theron’s left gauntlet connected with the man’s jaw. The man struggled to get away, but soon Theron had beaten that through out of him. The man’s body went limp, and Theron opened his right hand to release the man’s wrist, as well as a still-smoking bullet.
“Damn slaver.” Theron muttered, taking out his manacles and locking the man to the back of his bed. He tore through the house, leaving it in a shambles. He snorted, throwing a drawer separated from its former housing to the ground. No records. He’d have to get some made, or hopefully bring in some evidence.
He heard a loud screech, and Arun’s uncertainty and fear in his head drove home what it was.
He was on the dragon’s back not two steps out of the door, and the two swept into the air, dodging an arc of lightning that blew up the ground close enough for him to feel the air rush through his armor.
Arun spoke quickly, between wingbeats. “Up, used the sun as cover.”
“Got it.” Theron answered, reaching to pull out his spear with his right hand. “Let’s go to him, then.”
Arun gave out a flap that nearly pinned Theron to him, and the two were soon above cloud cover, then dipping back below it to let the clouds absorb some of the lightning blast. The dragon’s bronze scales glittered in the light, it and its rider still mostly obscured by sunlight.
“Alone. We have ’em.” Theron said, flicking his wrist and the spear held in it. The weapon extended and made itself more conical, the silver of the steel twisting as it silently realigned. “What say you give them a bit of a wash, Arun?”
The dragon flew upwards, craning his neck to spray a blast of acid at the dragon as he passed nearly beneath it. The dragon’s screams of pain answered Theron’s question of the attack’s effectiveness.
The dragon tore through the skies, on smoking wings as the acid cleaved through its flesh. The man on the dragon’s back was clad in a suit of shining plate.
“Missed the rider.” Theron said to Arun. “Not to worry, I’m on him.” He crouched low, his hand slipping into a shield on Arun’s side and raising it up to protect his upper body where he lay, near prone, on the dragon’s back.
The dragon’s wingbeats matched his foe’s for a moment, the lance bobbing in the wind as each wingbeat went by. Theron’s heart was still, and Arun heard nothing through the mindlink, his own mind dedicated to ensuring the bit of steel connected.
Theron watched the dragon drift closer, its mouth opening as it neared. He swung the lance down at its nose as it did so, the dragon turning and leaving the rider wide open as the lance rebounded off of its head, the rider on the dragon’s back being caught on the arm by the tip, and flung free of the saddle with a sicking crack as his hip shattered against the back of the high-sided saddle he wore.
The dragon dove, as the rider spun off into the distance, the silent plains punctuated by a smashing sound as the rider impacted, and the wounded dragon began to fly off.
“Do we pursue?” Arun asked, breathlessly.
“I think we had best let it go.” Theron said to his ally. “Though, only to follow it.”
“She appears to be heading for one of the jungles near here.” Arun added.
“Ah, any problems flying there, then?” Theron asked, sarcastically.
“If there were, I would have mentioned them.” Arun answered, gliding down low to the ground.
Rainbow: Tarot Woman, Stargazer, Run With the Wolf, Light in the Black, Most of Album Rising, and Johnny Cash Song Ghost Riders in the Sky.