It loomed over the Earth like a god. The dragon’s wings extended from its heavy center, cutting through the sky like two scale covered blankets large enough to snuff out my entire neighborhood. Like the world was its birthright, it soared over everything my eyes could see. A single pump of its wings carried it from one side of the horizon to the other. When it disappeared behind the curvature of the Earth, only to burst from an opaque cloud of grey tens of miles away a second later, my heart did cartwheels. Clusters of cloud and entire portions of sky surged and roiled as the dragon flew through them. Water vapor gathered on its deep red scales, causing the beast to glisten as it emerged.
Ben climbed into the cockpit of the crystal cannon after ensuring everyone else made it to the lower levels. He instructed them to stay by an exit, just in case the dragon brought the entire three-story mall down.
“Get out,” I said, looking down to the seated Master Builder. His eyes shot to mine, but he did not move. He regarded me as if finally considering standing up for himself. He might have gathered the courage to say something if the rest of his party hadn’t already fled to safety, but as it was, he was staring up at me, flanked by a squad of demons, and the even more damned, Nikko. He had logic on his side, after all, he was more experienced with the crystal cannon, but he got out all the same. Part of me wished he didn’t. Part of me wished he put me and my equally crazed companions in our place once and for all, but he didn’t. I climbed into the cockpit and familiarized myself with the controls.
“Okay,” Ben said, refusing to take anything personally and adapting to his new reality with a familiar forced ignorance, “the dragon is just stretching its wings right now, but when it is fully awake, it is going to start patrolling for food. When it finds someone, it will-”
The builder’s words were cut short by a loud crack.
“- it will flap its wings, shooting a gale of wind so powerful at its prey that its wings break the sound barrier. That was the crack you just heard. It is already hunting. If it gets close to us wait. Sometimes they fly right over, but if it looks at us, that is when you fire. Once it spots us it will circle higher and then pause in the air. You have a small window to kill it before it kills us with a gust of hurricane force winds. You do not want to let it shoot that air at us like that. If we don’t get crushed under it then we will be thrown to who knows were.”
I nodded, thankful that it didn’t shoot fire from its long mouth. My hands gripped the warm metal levers. I could feel moisture grow between my fingers, but I held on, unwilling to let go even for a second.
I ignored my brain playing tricks on me and kept my eyes on the mammoth in the sky. Nikko and the other demons were on the guard platform. I used the direction of their gazes to determine where my target was in the brief moments where it flew out of sight. Finally, it flew over us. The sound was that of a jet, mixed with the whistle of a mortar flying overhead. My ears rang, and my Fedora flew away as I watched the creature slowly circle us from above. Then it forced its wings down violently and curled them into its side as it shot a mile higher in the sky. It turned mid-air and looked directly at me. It didn’t have any eyes, but I still felt it size me up. I felt it in my gut, just as I did when other bullies did the same.
“Milton,” my Grandma’s voice softly broke into my reality, “are you okay?”
I shook my head, not to answer her but to instead get her voice out. It didn’t work. She rattled on about nonsense and grocery shopping. Ben and Nikko yelled at me from somewhere out of reach. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. Her voice disappeared, but I didn’t feel lonely like I usually did when she left. I felt prepared. Well-adapted.
“AVALANCHE!” I yelled, climbing out of the cockpit and running toward my companions ramp. I felt the dragon’s attention on my back, but I didn’t dare waste a second to confirm. I climbed the stairs, the purple flecks in the metal becoming streaks in my vision as my legs pumped tirelessly.
“Ah fuck,” Nikko swore, a soul breaking afraidness in his voice. I yelled again, just in time to see my companion’s dark hood rise over the ledge of the mall. Time slowed. My semi-intelligent pet stepped onto the roof, regarding the larger creature in the sky with a curious tilt of his cowl. Then he understood. With a single step, Avalanche scooped me, Nikko, and Ben into his arms. I caught a glimpse of the red in the sky, then darkness. My world was nothing, other than the heavy breathing of the bodies next to me and the un-breathing and slimy chest of my companion. We were a ball of life, protected by the body of an undead creature. When the dragon gusted his gale at us, I thought I was going to explode under the pressure. The immovable avalanche slid closer against the foot high concrete barrier of the edge of the mall roof. The pressure built and built until my eyes bulged, but I couldn’t even scream for fear of losing the internal pressure in my chest. A second later, it was stolen from me anyway. My body expelled everything it could spare as I was crushed between Avalanche, my companions, and concrete. Then, a breath of air. The concrete barrier cracked and fell apart. My slight moment of relief was snatched away as I realized we would be squeezed in the gap the concrete left. Our bodies would become play doe pushed between the floor and black metal.
Then it ended. The pressure fully released and Avalanche rolled away from the wall. I felt Nikko’s healing light wash over me, but I saved my breath of relief for later. Instead, I used it to yell a command. Avalanche stood up, and with a flick of his wrist, his lead balls shot into the air. I scrambled onto his shoulders, my hands and feet finding familiar foot holes between the ribs of his back.
“Now!” I yelled over the air rushing by my ears. Rusted chains blotted out glistening scales. Then they wrapped around them. My mount jerked, and I put all my strength into staying put. Seconds later, I was flying above the city.
Constitution Check Failed.
I emptied my stomach, doing my best to turn my head. Whatever exited my mouth dissipated in the wind, no doubt spreading apart and become nothing but moisture long before it hit the ground miles below me. Avalanche held onto his chains with both hands, me on his shoulders gripping his head. We swung below the dragon, practically behind it, as it cut through the sky. I couldn’t tell how fast we were going, but even if I could open my eyes against the wind, it wouldn’t matter - only one thing did.
I let one hand release its death grip on Avalanche’s head and used it to pat around. I could feel his shoulder, then his arm. I awkwardly shuffled my hands over inch by inch, until all of my limbs were wrapped around his arm. This was the first time I ever felt my abs activate, hell it was the first time I felt all my muscles activate all at once. I clung onto my companion’s arm like a sucker fish on the fastest shark in the ocean. Wind billowed past me. It was so harsh it almost felt like a persistent slap. I re-clenched my jaw, then shuffled up. Sweat poured from my body, only to be whisked away into the wind as soon as it left my pores. My muscles screamed as if every fiber was burning from the inside out. I squeezed my thigh muscles with enough force to vaporize Grandma’s thigh master, but it was barely enough to keep me attached. Inch by inch I climbed the un-dead arm. Avalanche’s meager clothing had long since ripped away, and his normally wet tissue was dried out and porous. If it had been slick, I wouldn’t have made it to the chains he held onto.
I made it up the chains and to the dragon in ten minutes that felt like twenty, all with my eyes forceful shut by the wind. Something in the air smashed into me along the way. It felt like a bullet shooting through me, but I knew it was nothing more than a small bug. I wanted to close my mouth, but I couldn’t get enough breath through my nose - the air was just too thin. My hands explored the scaled creature. It was just one hard, undulating mass, like if one hundred tons of metal suddenly became sentient. I couldn’t make heads or tails of the beast, so I opened my eyes. It was a mistake. The pain consumed me for seconds afterward, as did the panic over being blinded. Then I heard something that scared me even more. It was the sound of chains snapping. I figured that they weren’t rated to handle the tension of towing a large creature and a fat ass behind a dragon. Either that or the creature was finally using his two claws to break his bindings. I had no other option than to open my eyes and find a spot to climb. The pain was unbearable. It was as if my eyeballs were being turned into beef jerky while simultaneously being pushed into the back of my head. My eyelids opened like tiny parachutes. I felt the bottom portions fold over unnaturally; the top portions simply tore right off. Now I couldn’t close my eyes if I wanted to, but it was all worth it.
Congratulations! You have received a pet - Crimson Drade!
Our flight path leveled out as the Drade relaxed, my influence no longer an annoyance. I wrapped my arms and legs around the chain on his neck and tucked my head to hedge against the wind that relentlessly worked to shrivel my unprotected eyes.
“Down,” I tried to say, but the words barely escaped my head, never mind my mouth. Someone how it didn’t matter. I felt my body lurched forward as my new mount descended. We landed on a farm, which was jarring since there wasn’t a farm within a hundred mile radius from my neighborhood. I had Avalanche climb on top of my second pet and I tore a strip of cloth from my shirt to wrap around my eyes. Then I gave the order to return to home base. The force of my dragon leaving the Earth pressed me against him like a pancake. I called upon the rainbow letters, which didn’t seem to care if my eyes worked or not, and confirmed that becoming a pancake, even temporarily, did a great deal of damage. The ride home was quick as far as time went, but long as far as pain did. Actually riding a dragon wasn’t anything like my dreams. It was agonizing and arduous, as distressing as it was excruciating. I held out for as long as I could and even asked the beast to slow down if at all possible, but I couldn’t manage to make it back home conscious.