As he helped to carry the long poles used for practice to the center of the room, Duo’s mind was racing to accept what he’d heard. Howard had been a dragon rider. His dragon had died. He wondered why the older man, who had been like a father to him, never mentioned either fact. He stopped and carefully set down the smooth wooden poles where Quatre indicated with only half a mind as to what was going on while thinking. He could only come up with one reason why the former rider, turned hermit of Ha’ber, had resided in that village, unknown to anyone else for so many years after tragic events had befallen him. He’d been running away.
As the other boys gathered round to select their mock weapons, Ze’an, Quatre and Duo huddled together with an eye on the out-of-sorts Zechs who was ordering another group of young riders around. Duo noticed a visible change come over the ill-tempered blond when his sight fixed on Heero. Zechs paused, pushed back his long blond hair, wearing a look of appreciation on his face while he watched the dark haired boy try out the balance of the pole he’d picked up from those on the floor.
Quatre leaned over and whispered to the both of them, "Poor Heero, it appears that Zechs has turned his attention to him. Just because Heero is the rider of a female dragon doesn’t mean he’s going to be Zechs’ mate. From what I’ve seen Relena doesn’t appear to be overly fond of Zechs’ silver."
Ze’an nodded in agreement, then got a mischievous gleam in his eyes. "If Heero keeps resisting his advances, Zechs might decide to turn his attention to Trowa. His green seems to be friendly enough with Epyon."
Quatre’s eyes widened and a look of horror crossed his face at the idea. "Midia is kind to all the dragons," he stated emphatically. "She much prefers Sandrock’s company to Zechs’ silver."
The dark skinned boy laughed at the blond’s reply to his strong statement. "You shouldn’t wear your heart so plainly on your sleeve, my friend," he snickered.
Duo’s attention turned from the banter going on between the two other boys and briefly looked over the other riders assembled there, absently rubbing at his aching belly. It appeared that everyone was waiting for something to happen. He was fully aware that all of the eyes in the room had at one time or another turned towards him, and he shifted from foot to foot, uncomfortable with their scrutinizing gazes. He braved glancing over at Heero, twirling the long, smooth pole in his hand, and found that the dark haired boy was no different from the rest, for his deep blue eyes were watching him in return. Duo blushed and quickly looked away, finding the other rider’s unwavering gaze disconcerting.
There was a shift in the gathering and through the opening came a man dressed all in black . Duo knew by the air of respect that had fallen upon the room, and by the newcomer’s older appearance, self-assured posture and confident stride that he was one of the more experienced riders. "Good morning," the man’s deep voice spoke his greeting to the group surrounding him. Duo noted that the man was short, had a stocky build and his pointy black mustache matched the color of the thinning hair on his head. He wasn’t what some would call attractive, with small features on a broad face. Yet in his eyes there was a definite look of intelligence, and wisdom etched in the fine lines at the corner of his dark beady eyes. As Duo contemplated the man, the rider’s attention turned to him and he offered the newcomer a warm smile.
"We have a new fledgling in our midst. Welcome, Duo of Ha’ber, rider of the black dragon Wu Fei. My name is Sims and I’m your weapons trainer." Duo felt his cheeks and ears heat up when everyone’s eyes turned to study him once more. "Come," the man gestured for him to come forward and into the center of the circling riders. Duo felt somewhat trapped and intimidated, surrounded by so many, especially with all the other riders holding their poles in front of them. His stomach hurt.
"As with all new arrivals, we need to assess your abilities." Sims bent over and picked up a long staff from the floor and motioned for Ze’an to clear away the few that remained. After the young rider carried them away, the older rider then brought the staff forward and presented it to Duo with both hands. "Have you ever fought with a sword?" he asked the boy.
Duo shook his head.
"With a staff similar to this?"
Again, the same silent answer.
"How about a knife? Have you ever held one?"
The older rider’s face lit up with amusement. "He speaks!" he announced with feigned surprise, drawing laughter from his students and making Duo feel even more wary and insecure.
"Have you ever fought with a knife?" Sims continued after the laughter died down.
"Have you ever had to defend yourself?"
"Yes," Duo answered, focusing his eyes on the staff in Sims’ hands, trying to ignore the boys surrounding him and the incessant ache in his belly.
"How did you fight?"
"With my fists or feet."
"Really?" The man seemed amused by his answer and Duo couldn’t understand why. "I think a demonstration might be in order." The rider then scanned the group of boys surrounding them then stopped on one particular young rider. "Heero."
The dark haired boy who had unsettled Duo earlier stepped out of the group and stood next to Sims, and the older rider addressed the newest fledgling once again. "Duo, I want you to begin fighting Heero. I’d like to see how you would attack an enemy as well as how you might defend yourself."
The braided boy swallowed down the bile that rose in his throat, grimacing at the vile taste it left behind. Confused, he looked from the man in black to the boy at his side, wearing little to no expression on his face. Again swallowing nervously, he looked back to Sims. "I don’t start fights," he timidly told the man. He only fought when he couldn’t avoid it or he ran and hid until those who wanted to beat him up gave up the search. He could always tell by the look in his persecutors’ eyes that they meant him bodily harm and, unless he was mistaken, the same look seemed to be present in the eyes of the boy named Heero.
"Here," Sims tossed the long staff to Duo and he fumbled to catch it. "If it makes you feel better, I’ll have Heero be the aggressor. He’ll use only his hands and feet." He reached out and took possession of Heero’s staff. "I want you to concentrate on defending yourself. Just use the staff however it feels comfortable."
Duo didn’t find anything comfortable about the smooth wooden pole or the situation. There were snickers coming from the other boys surrounding them as Heero moved away from Sims and cautiously approached Duo, who held the unfamiliar stick in both hands in what he hoped was a defensive posture.
Heero suddenly sprang forward and Duo dodged to the side, his staff unused. A scary, leering grin formed on the other boy’s face, an indication to Duo that Heero was determined to fulfill his assignment. Without a doubt, he knew he was in serious trouble.
Heero leapt at him again, and Duo jumped once more in an effort to dodge his attack, but this time he didn’t escape and the darker haired boy’s fist connected with his left shoulder. He swung the stick around but missed as Heero dropped down and swung his left leg out as he spun on this right foot, catching Duo in the calf and tripping him.
Instinctively, Duo’s staff came down and hit Heero’s thigh as the other boy finished the spin on the floor. But such an insignificant blow didn’t stop Heero from jumping up and lunging towards Duo as the braided boy struggled to right himself. The staff seemed to be more of a hindrance than a help at this point, and that thought proved true a moment later when in a flash Heero was before him once again, and his fist connected with the braided boy’s stomach. The hit was controlled, obviously not meant to cause harm, but it hurt nonetheless and brought about an unforeseeable result. The braided boy gasped as he bent over, dropping his own staff as the air whooshed out of his lungs and his large breakfast came hurtling up from of his abused stomach, out of his mouth and onto the straw strewn floor. Water leaked from Duo’s eyes as he struggled to control his body and catch his breath after he finished vomiting. He was further embarrassed after realizing that some of the other riders were laughing at his sorry plight.
Still gasping for breath after his stomach stopped heaving, he took one of his hands from around his aching belly and wiped any traces of vomit from his mouth with his fingertips. He jumped slightly, startled, as a hand settled on his shoulder.
"That was unexpected," Sims said with amusement lighting his eyes. Duo wondered what the man thought was so funny about him being humiliated. He managed to straighten up a bit and was mortified beyond words after viewing the large puddle of half digested breakfast on the floor.
"How can such a scrawny runt eat so much?" someone behind him asked, laughing at his expense.
"Serves him right for being greedy," commented another, a hint of disgust in his voice.
"That was pathetic," said another.
Looking up, Duo could see through the hair over his eyes the disdain and disgust reflected on the faces of the other boys."
"Look, the fledgling’s crying like a little girl," someone else jeered.
"We should have had Hilde or Sylvia test him."
"Shut up!" an unhappy sounding female snapped.
"That’s enough!" Sims barked, but Duo didn’t wait to see if the man would get the situation under control. Despite the ache of his stomach, he bolted, pushing through the group of riders surrounding him and dashed to the door he’d entered through not so long ago.
"Duo!" Sims shouted after him, but he paid no heed to the call. He reached the large wooden door in a flash, flung it open and ran in the direction of his room.
//Wu Fei!// he cried out for his dragon as he ran blindly though the hall with his tears of humiliation staining his cheeks, seeking the only source of comfort he knew.
//I’m coming,// was his dragon’s immediate reply.
"Duo!" This time it was Quatre’s urgent voice calling after him. But not even the boy who had shown him kindness could offer him the comfort that his dragon could, and so he ran on. Running, after all, had proven to be his best defense against bullies. Having the three bullies of Ha’ber after him for most of his life, Duo had learned to run, and he was fast, faster than anyone in the village. So it came as no surprise to him that he outdistanced the boy chasing after him. . He burst into his room, grateful that he’d actually found it by himself, then ran to Wu Fei’s outer lair. To his disappointment, he found that his dragon had not yet returned.
//Wu Fei!// Even as he cried out in desperation for his dragon, he could hear the sound of large, leathery wings flapping in the air. He looked above him to see his dragon descending from the top of the mountain. //Take me away from here.//
//Stand on the ledge,// his dragon told him, and Duo did as he was told, a little nervous about balancing on the wide ledge with the valley so far below him. He waited a moment, wiping the tears from his eyes, then looked up in time to see Wu Fei approaching, his large finger-like talons widening as he swooped down from a side angle. The initial contact was jarring, taking the rider’s breath away as he was snatched from the perch. He instinctively clung to the rough scaled talons as his dragon flew over the city below and began to climb higher into the sky.
"Duo!" Quatre’s astonished voice called out as the blond ran out of Duo’s room and onto Wu Fei’s lair.
Duo ignored the other boy. //Take me far away from here, Wu Fei.// Trusting his dragon to do as he asked, Duo closed his eyes against the dizzying distance between the ground far below and from where he dangled in his dragon’s talons. //And whatever you do, don’t drop me.//
//Never!// his dragon replied firmly as he carried his rider high above the Halls of Dornan, the gleaming white royal palace and over the top of the mountain range known as the Dragon’s Spine.
As they flew, Duo eventually told Wu Fei of the events that had led to his humiliation and their hasty flight. //It seems I left Ha’ber and its bullies only to be put into a whole new group of people who want to hurt and belittle me. I don’t want to go back there, Wu Fei. I want to go back to Howard.//
Surprisingly, Wu Fei remained silent, listening with patience to his rider as he spoke with an anguished heart of his hurt and embarrassment.
The morning chill and shadows diminished as boy and dragon flew together over lush green meadows and rolling hills that seemed devoid of farms, villages or dwellings. After calming a bit more, Duo was able to focus on the unfamiliar land passing quickly beneath them. Relaxing at last, he rested his head against the leathery tallon surrounding his body and his thoughts soon turned to what he’d learned earlier from the other boys.
//Did you know that Howard was a rider, Wu Fei? That his dragon died?//
//And you didn’t tell me?// He was hurt that his dragon would keep such a secret from him.
//He asked me not to,// was his dragon’s simple reply. Then he added, //Aravell was a green dragon and died during a battle. His heart gave out. Howard still carries his grief in being parted from his dragon.//
//I don’t think I could go on living if that happened to you, Wu Fei.// Even the thought of his dragon’s death made the boy feel empty and sorrowful. //I can’t imagine how Howard has survived.//
//He told me that he had thought many times of joining his green,// Wu Fei said. //But he forced himself to move forward. He had parents, a sister and her children who begged him to live.//
//Howard told me once that some dragons carry the memory of their origins. Do you remember anything of the place you came from, of your mother or father?//
//Dragons don’t use those words in regard to our progenitors, of which I have no recollection. We bond only to our riders and mates and not to those dragons who created us nor to our offspring. My first memory is that of being in my shell, content yet ofttimes yearning and restless for something more. I only felt the strong desire to break out of its confines after you laid your hands on its surface and I sensed you, that I belonged with you and could no longer remain in my place of safety.//
//My life changed in that moment,// Duo sighed with a smile that lingered on his lips after Wu Fei replied, //And mine began.//
When at last a large mountain rose up out of the land of rolling hills, jutting rocks and grassy plains, Wu Fei turned towards it, stating that he needed to rest. Once he reached a place he deemed safe, he carefully released his rider to drop a few feet to the ground before he moved slightly and setting himself several feet away, folding his tired wings to give them a much needed rest. Crouching down next to the boy watching him, he lowered his head so Duo could embrace his face, as he always did when showing his love and affection for his dragon.
With his slender body pressed against the bridge of Wu Fei’s long snout, Duo sighed. //Did you have a chance to eat yet?//
//No. Sandrock and I were demonstrating our skills by playing with the herd of wolderbeasts when you called out for me.//
//Then go and hunt. You must be starving. I’ll wait here until you’ve eaten your fill.//
Duo suddenly felt a wave of concern filter through his mind and knew he needed to reassure his dragon or Wu Fei would go without food in order to remain a comforting presence. //I’ll be fine, Wu Fei. We haven’t seen anyone since leaving the Halls. I’ll be safe here.//
//I’ll rest for a short while before I begin,// the dragon replied. Settling his large body and then his head down, the black dragon waited until he felt his rider nesting in the crook of his front leg before he was truly able to relax.
The sun shone down from the center of the sky when at last the black dragon left Duo alone on the top of the mountain, certain that his lingering scent would frighten away any aggressive animal that might pose a danger to his small rider. Duo scouted the area in his dragon’s absence, making sure not to wander too far. It felt odd and almost frightening to be so far away from other people and all alone in a completely unfamiliar and distant place. He climbed one of the nearby trees, and immediately found a long thin branch that looked about the size and width as the training poles he’s seen that morning. He broke the branch off with one stomp of his foot, then sat on another branch to snap off the smaller twigs and greenery to fashion a crude imitation of the training poles.
Jumping down from the tree, he practiced twirling the stick in his clumsy hands, just as he’d seen Heero do. The memory of the other boy made him angry and wanting to strike out at someone or something. He made a sudden jab at an imagined opponent, who just so happened to look like the boy he’d sparred so poorly with hours ago. The Heero he conjured up in his mind wore a jeering, scornful smirk on his face that made his empty stomach twist in knots. He swung at a helpless bush, stabbing and beating it until his arms were sore. Panting slightly and brushing the sweat from his brow, Duo felt a bit better after the exercise.
So intent was he on his task that he didn’t glimpse the approaching dragon, flying high in the sky as it drew near his position. When the unmistakable sound of flapping wings was heard, he turned and covered his eyes against the bright sunlight, expecting to see Wu Fei. Instead, he was surprised and slightly dismayed at seeing Rayer descending from the sky with an unhappy looking Garron on his back.
Duo sighed, knowing the rider was there to bring him back to the last place he wanted to go. He stood in place and watched as the silver dragon landed softly on the mountain top. An expression of relief was clearly seen on the older man’s face, it was quickly replaced by one of disappointment, but Duo didn’t care. He was happy to be away from the cruelty of the other young riders. He waited and watched as Garron unfastened the straps around his thighs and then gracefully dismounted. The older rider turned from his dragon and walked to the boy, coming to a stop in front of him. With hands on his hips he looked down at Duo with a look of disapproval.
"Running away doesn’t solve anything, Duo," the rider began, a frown on his face. "I understand you had a rough beginning, but you have to face the others sooner or later. It would have been better to deal with the difficult situation and then move on with your training."
Duo shrugged. "I know my leaving didn’t make what happened go away, but I needed to leave." He turned and walked over to a boulder that was larger than his humble height and climbed up its rough sides to sit on top.
"Where is Wu Fei?" Garron asked, following him to the rock and squinting as he looked up at the boy.
"Hunting," Duo answered, bringing his legs up and folding his arms around them before resting his chin on his knees. Garron moved closer and leaned casually against the rough stone, all the while keeping his eye on the boy, now sitting above him.
After a few silent moments had passed, the older rider asked the pensive boy, "What are you thinking, Duo?"
"That I traded one set of bullies for another. I want to go back to Howard, Garron. I can’t face those boys again."
"Are you brought down so easily?" Garron asked, a dubious look on his face.
Duo’s eyes narrowed with anger as he replied, "I thought you told me I’d be with people different from those I left in Ha’ber. At least there I knew what to expect. You’ve dropped me into a place I know nothing about, where I’m laughed at when I’ve been humiliated. I’m not going back there." With that stated, the boy folded his arms and stuck his stubborn chin in the air, indicating he’d made up his mind.
Garron sighed deeply. "I’m afraid you have little choice in the matter."
"I’m not going back!" Duo said defiantly through gritted teeth.
"Yes, you are. And you will return for Wu Fei’s sake if not your own."
Now Duo was puzzled. "What do you mean for Wu Fei’s sake?"
"Though your dragon seems wise to you, he is young and needs the guidance of the more mature dragons, just as you need training under the care and guidance of the more seasoned riders. We can’t afford for our dragons to become wild and misguided. Rogue dragons have proven to be a danger to our people and kingdom. Our greatest enemies have been those dragons who had little or no guidance. Their power-hungry riders influence them for their own selfish purposes and little else."
"But I don’t crave power," Duo insisted, wide eyed at Garron’s insinuation. "I just want to live my life with Wu Fei."
The older rider shook his head. "I’m afraid it’s not that simple, Duo. With the privilege of being a dragon rider comes a great many responsibilities. One of which is to accept the offered training and guidance from experienced riders for yourself and Wu Fei. As his rider, you want to be armed with the knowledge of how to guide and protect him, just as he wants to become wise enough to do the same for you. You are in a partnership together and yet you’re both young, vulnerable and impressionable. You need training, Duo, and the leadership the Halls of Dornan is the only place that can provide you with such."
Unbidden tears of frustration filled the boy’s large, expressive eyes. He knew he had to go back to that place... for Wu Fei’s sake.
"They’ll laugh at me again," he said in a subdued voice. "And make fun of me. They thought it was funny that I humiliated myself in front of all of them."
"You’ll get over it," Garron said in a matter-of-fact tone of voice. "If you laugh with them, it takes the sting out of their teasing and gives them one less thing to hold over your head. They may be riders, Duo, but they’re still boys and girls, and like you they’re trying to find their way to adulthood. They’ll make mistakes and they’ll act inappropriately at times, as will you. Take this morning’s debacle and use it as a lesson to learn from, perhaps resolving not to act in a like manner to any fledgling that will come after you."
Impulsively, the man reached up and pulled the unhappy boy down from the rock and embraced him, patting his back in a comforting manner. "It was a rough beginning, and Sims feels badly that you were embarrassed."
Duo remained still as Garron held him against his shoulder. He was suddenly filled with a deep longing for the familiar, for Howard and the dwelling the villagers had built for them and for the faces of the people he’d known his entire life. "I miss Howard," he managed to say in a strangled voice. "I want to go back to Ha’ber."
"I know," Garron said with sympathy, still stroking the boy’s back. "That longing is quite common for fledglings after they first arrive. It will pass with time."
Duo took in a deep shuddering breath, knowing that there was no hope for his return to Ha’ber. He would have to go back to the Halls and face the mocking and jeering faces of the other boys. It seemed more true than ever that he’d traded his former misery in Ha’ber, before Garron came with the dragon’s egg, for a new kind of wretchedness. No one had ever called him a quitter or a pity-pot, and he wasn’t about to become either now. He’d go back to the Halls and hold his head up while ignoring the bunch of them, just as he’d done with his tormentors in the village before and after he’d gained the elevated status as Wu Fei’s rider.
Garron sensed a change in the boy and pulled back to study Duo’s face. Gone was the former look of defeat, it had been replaced with an expression of determination. He smiled at the boy’s spunk, not knowing the boy was forming plans in his head on how to deal with his return.
Garron stepped away and looked around the area from their high vantage point. "It’s nice here," he said, his eyes taking in the countryside. "But it’s not safe, not for a fledgling. You’ve left the borders of Amulah and have gone into Grennal’s Plains."
Duo recognized the name from some of Howard’s stories and his eyes widened with fear. They were in the enemy’s territory, on a former bloody field of battle.
//Wu Fei!// he called out frantically, suddenly fearing for his dragon.
//I’m coming,// his dragon answered, and the feeling Duo got from him was a feeling of satisfaction.
//Yes. I am content.//
"Wu Fei’s returning," Duo told the other man. "I’m sorry to have brought you here. I just told Wu Fei to get me away from the Halls. We didn’t know where we were going."
Garron nodded with understanding. "Which is why it’s essential that you continue your training. There are many, many things for a young dragon and his fledgling rider to learn in order to remain safe."
Off in the distance and coming from the East was a black dot on the horizon that from one moment to the next grew larger in size. Duo looked aside to the older man and ventured to ask a personal question. "Garron?"
"Hum?" The other man seemed distracted.
"It is true you and Howard were lovers, that Howard was a dragon rider and that his dragon died?"
Garron didn’t look surprised at his questions, but he sounded rather sad and regretful as he answered. "Yes. Howard and I were very close friends while we trained in the Halls with our dragons. We made the mistake of taking our friendship further than we should have, considering we both had male dragons. I hurt him deeply when I accepted Raven’s offer of being a lifemate to her and Rayer to Lilith. My dragon desperately wanted to be mated to Lilith and I couldn’t deny him. Raven had been one of our close friends and I knew in time that I could come to deeply care for her. I also wanted a family, which I couldn’t have had with Howard, so I selfishly made a choice and lost my best friend because of it."
Duo felt an ache in his heart for his mentor. "What happened to his dragon?"
"It happened sixteen summers ago," Garron began with a look of great sadness on his face. "There was an attack from the Northern raiders in the bordering hills of Shinda. The dragons from Cordith were trying to claim the land and inhabitants of that area for their own along with their plentiful food supply. We were sent to defend the farmers and woodsmen. A heated battle ensued and Howard’s Aravell was in the thick of it. Then suddenly Aravell disengaged from the battle and awkwardly glided down to the ground. The battle came to an instant halt as the silver dragon gave out a pained, mournful cry of farewell. When Rayer and I landed, Aravell’s eyes were closing for the last time. There was no apparent wound on the silver dragon’s body, but Rayer told me that his heart had given out. We had suspected there might be something wrong with Aravell for he seemed to tire more easily than the other dragons, but we never suspected it was as bad as it must have been. We concluded that it was a weakness he had since his hatching, proof yet again that the blood lines of our dragons had grown weak.
"A good part of Howard died the day his Aravell’s heart stopped beating. For a year he wandered the Halls like a man who had lost all purpose in life. We all tried to help him, but our presence only seemed to bring him more pain. After all, we still had our dragons and he was left feeling alone and incomplete, even though he had us and his family wanting and needing him. He disappeared a year after Aravell’s death without a word to anyone and we supposed that he’d gone off to kill himself with the hope of reuniting with his dragon in the afterlife."
Duo looked up at Garron with tears in his eyes and said in a trembling voice, "It must have hurt him to see me with Wu Fei."
Garron put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. "On the contrary, Duo. I think you and Wu Fei gave Howard a reason to go on living. He told me several times how much happiness you had brought into his life."
"I hope so," the boy said, looking worried.
The sound caused by the flapping of a dragon’s wings approaching brought the two out of their thoughts of the man they both cared for. As Wufei began his descent, his mighty wings stretched out, the deep red leather between the phalanges made an impressive show while his taloned hind legs moved forward, readying for his landing. "He truly is a magnificent creature," Garron said, his voice holding a touch of awe.
Duo looked with great affection to his black dragon. "He’s the best of them all."
A bark of laughter came from the older man. "Ah... I remember being that besotted with Rayer."
"And you’re not anymore?" Duo had a hard time believing he could ever love anyone or anything as much as he loved his dragon.
A smile formed on the older man’s lips. "Not so much besotted, but it’s a deeper love born of the trials, battles and growing old together. Rayer has been a constant in my life. Even the strong bond I share with my wife and children can’t be compared to the one I have with my dragon; it’s just different. We are fortunate men indeed to have the privilege of being chosen by our dragons to be their riders.
Wu Fei landed gently and went to Rayer to give him his welcome by brushing their muzzles together and then their necks. The two humans watched and silently acknowledged their good fortune.
//Ready to return?// Wu Fei asked.
Duo shook his head. During their flight, he hadn’t intended to go back to the Halls, but it seemed his dragon had known that they must return. //If you’re not too tired, we can go now.//
//I like flying with Rayer. His tales of battles and of dragons living and dead are most enjoyable.//
//One day we’ll have our own tales to tell,// Duo assured him.
//Yes. One day great tales will be told of the rider with the long mane and his black dragon,// Wu Fei said with confidence, and a rumbling of pleasure came from his throat from having the boy he was devoted to wrap his arms around his snout and press his body up against his face.
Though Garron insisted that Duo ride back to the Halls with him on Rayer’s back, seeing the lack of a harness on the black dragon, the boy refused. He firmly stated that he preferred going back the way he’d come. The older rider had not seen a rider carried in the clutches of his dragon unless the circumstances were dire. From in the air on his dragon’s back, Garron watched as Wu Fei gracefully swooped down from above and effortlessly snatched up his small rider up from off the rock he stood upon, arms stretched skyward. The pleased smile on Duo’s face put Garron’s mind further at ease, seeing that the boy was very comfortable in his dragon’s grasp. Once they were high in the air together, both dragons turned south, heading back to the Dragon’s Spine.