Katina's feet felt as if there were lead shoes on her feet; instead of sandals. She had only left the city limits five minutes before, and although it hurt her pride she had to admit that she was already wishing she was sitting down.
All night she had steadily been feeling worse and worse. At first, her night had started to go sideways when her nose had started to clog up and run. A symptom that was easy to ignore, with a few snorts; but then her throat had started to ache. The pain had then crept up to her ears; building a painful pressure in her temples that she had not been able to bring relief to no matter how much she tugged on her earlobe to crack the ear wax.
It had been around this time that she had slumped forward onto her desk, and closed her eyes. Whether it was pity or frustration she wasn't sure but her teacher had nevertheless sent her home.
She had been quick to gather her belongings but for all the speed she took she did not even pass the elementary dome before the fever chills had set in, and that was what was really causing her to slog back to Moonlit Mountain.
Her head was throbbing with each jarring step she took, and although her legs made the trek to and from school countless times her body was so lethargic, it was giving off a tempting whisper that wouldn't she enjoy a quick lay down in that field for a while? Coming to a rock, she let herself sink down.
The walk between Moonlit Mountain, and her schooling was a 20 minutes most days, but right now it seemed to her a task of draconic proportions in her condition, and more like 50 minutes at the paceI'm she was setting.
Although it was a stretch of her telepathic range; she focused on the symbiotic bond between herself and Zephyr. When she felt as centered as she could get, she sent a plea to her dragon. "*Zephyr, I don't feel well. Please come get me."* Attached to this she gave an image of where she was sitting. Although she kept herself open for a reply; all she got was silence in return.
She was flooded with a sense of failure, and disappointment. If she had reached Zephyr, he would have responded, having a much larger telepathic range than herself.
No ride was coming, so all she could do was suck it up and keep going.
Sitting here on this lumpy rock was getting nothing done, and the day's scorching heat would soon be coming, and walking with a headache in full sunlight was why she had been so thankful when her teacher had sent her home early. But it didn't look like she would make it, as the blue on the horizon was creeping farther into the sky. She reached into her backpack and pulled out her tinted glass goggles.
She allowed herself a few more minutes of rest as her eyes adjusted to the dark, and then got up to tackle the walk in stages.
She picked a stubby tree as her mark and started to walk. She put her whole resolve into walking toward it. She studied every knob and twisting branch to distract her mind from the misery of itself. When she had dragged herself halfway to the stubby tree- it and everything else- disappeared.
The loss of her vision was an unpleasant manifestation of a callus telepathic intrusion.
The invasion was a razor edge, cutting its way in. Her mind had no choice but to let go of every sensory input as it struggled in the torment of information flooding into her mind.
Her mind was befuddled by wave on wave of experiences overlapping as their telepathic minds brushed together. It left her unable to distinguish herself from his experiences.
What eventually freed her was finding the feeling of overwhelming unfairness at this intrusion, and knew this thought must be hers alone, so she grabbed it mentally and hanged on to this one thought. With her nural net tethered to a single thought. It was easy to ignore the others until his mind had eto let the other thoughts running around started to settle.
With only one thought she was able to focus her mind on sensing what was around her. Finding the outside world was a task and a half, but she had to do it to escape the confusion in her mind.
It was telepathic knowhow 101. It was something she had learned at the age of 6 during her first days as a rider. Zephyr had to guide her back again and again as she got overwhelmed during her first telepathic experiences. Those had been mishaps, and not an attack, but the principles were the same, focus on the here and now and your mind can't take you back to another experience.. The mind can not be overwhelmed when it is focused on the present.
She started to bring her mind into the moment by identifying the smells around her; There was the smell of ash, maple and oak, the dusky smell that wafts in the air when a rock is bone dry and round it all the sharp pungent smell of leaf rot.
As she unfolded what her nose was telling her, she was able to claw her way back to the present.
Turning her gaze skyward, she willed her eyes back open, and was finally able to focus on the image of an incoming dragon blocking out the moonlit sky. Taking control of the moment finally allowed her to force him into a little corner of herself. And that was when her mind was able to comprehend the message that he had sent with his intrusion.
"*You have got spunk, I will give you that. I find most of you kids at the springs. I have no time to coddle or congratulate you; I need you to back up so I can land. You are blossoming and that must be partaken together so I got to get you there pronto."*
As she shuffled into the trees he retreated from her mind, leaving blessed nothingness in her throbbing head.
Although a part of her wanted nothing to do with him she had not let him retreat without keeping a non-reactive link, a link he would have no choice but to follow when he spoke again. A telepathic channel of her own devices that would open instantly that would allow him to talk and not do much else. She might be young but she was not stupid in the art of telepathic warring.
As she moved into the brush she could not believe what he had just done, how could he have just invaded her? Broken her bearer for no reason? As a telepath, she kept herself wrapped up in the awareness of herself; a way of keeping drifting thoughts and feelings from creeping in. No human mind could tolerate the endless chatter of drifting thoughts and emotion flooding their mind all the time.
The invasion of another Rider shoved this barrier away. Now it wasn't a punishable crime, but mostly this invasion was only seen when one was trying to gain information from another rider. When a rider broke another's shield that mind was an open book. The invader might be open as well but the aggressor had the upper hand of not being confused in the moment of breaching. It was as close as a human telepath could get to a mind meld, but it was far less caring.
All telepaths needed to do was to give a gentle brush against another's walls, and the other party would open a telepathic communication channel. That's the way riders talked to each other, because it allowed each party to build a bubble around their minds' inner workings, like emotions, and past memories, it was not much more intimate than having a voice to voice conversation, except that you felt the intent behind the words.
An invasion like this was like a razor edge, cutting its way in. As Ajax forced himself into her mind he would have been exposed to every memory and ingrained belief she held. If he was after something specific she'd never know, it was impossible to tell what he stole from her in their first moments of shared consciousness.
Katrina gained secrets of her own, the most disturbing she experienced a snippet of him masturbating, lucky for her the process did not allow for her to think too deeply about this, as more information had kept on coming, and at the time it had been in first person so she was only experiencing this sense of weirdness now as she her mind found and identified this memory as creepy. The wave of experiences overlapping was too intense at the moment to make sense of but for the next few days her mind would be sorting through them and that was something she was not looking forward to. The inevitable bonding was why one usually did not attack, as riders we shared so much of ourselves already. Mostly with our partners, but even telepathic communications that followed the rules was intense. And people were always approaching us when they saw the riders' earring, and that left her feeling that people just saw her as a figurehead without personality. She felt she was trying to find herself without her occupation all the time. It is sometimes hard to feel just herself being so connected to Zephyr. And now for the next few days she would be dealing with the echo of Ajax in her head.
She hoped he felt a little bit chastened while having to feel all her hurt as she had built up her wall between them.
Her anger popped like a bubble when his words finally sank in. He had said she was blossoming. Katina felt like a tidal wave had knocked into her knees from the shock of it. She knew it was coming, but she hadn't even thought about it when the symptoms hit. Zephyr was so young to be going through his blossoming. She had been warned of the symptoms and occurrences that this discomfort was only temporary and would pass as soon as Zephyr won his struggle against his body and he was able to regulate her velisostion production for her.
Even in the shelter of the trees the proceeding onslaught of wind grew to uncomfortable levels as Eleanor's wings swept downward with her landing. Katrina closed her eyes and braced herself against an ash and was able to withstand the first gusts of wind that tore into her, but she was given a nice collection of scratches as she slid sideways as Eleanor's touchdown threw a gust of air and dust straight at her from a meter away. She was no means at her best right now; she just did not have enough stamina to keep herself from sliding along the tree. She greeted Ajax by glaring the second she opened her eyes.
"There was no need to barge in; I would have let you in. By the dark side of the moons, I was in enough pain already." she groaned, as she scrambled back onto the path. She found it hard to stay mad though. This was no virus attack, she was blossoming. The news was happy enough for the intrusion to have little effect on her gleeful mood. Knowing she was blossoming gave her the happy tingles all over. She and Zephyr would finally come into their own.
"*Don't give me sass little lady, at my age I have earned the right to speak whatever way I please."* She was doubly thankful now that she had created that link, because without it her mind would once again be sliced in pain, though the second attack would have been far less crippling having been merged a short time ago.
Eleanor, a beautiful pink dragon gracefully lowered herself down laid down to become smaller, and Katrina felt a wave of sympathy from Eleanor as she bypassed Ajax's link, "*He is just cranky today, his arthritis is really flaring up lately. Try not to take his invasion to heart, his ruff attitude, his vagrant disregard, all of it is because he is hoping if he is despicable enough, he will get his wish of retirement, I am sure you caught a glimpse of his pain. It hurts knowing that it's outside prejudice against dragons is the reason that he is denied again and again his request for retirement. I have the selfish wish that you and Zephyr are wind control and can take over as messenger of Draco."* Eleanor's secret whisper took some of the edge out of her anger toward Ajax, it is hard to be cheerful when one is in pain, she could attest to that right now. Blossoming might be exciting but it was also painful.
Although it was hard to keep her sympathy at Ajax's next words "*Why are you still on the ground brat."* Her rage at Ajax and the promise of home fueled her, and she used it to spring herself onto Eleanor's foreleg.
As she set her hands upon Eleanor's spine to lift herself up, she found help from an unexpected source, and was flooded with relief and appreciation for Ajax's hand fisting in her shirt, pulling her upwards. It was what she needed to completely lift herself upward and settle onto Eleanor's back. She did not know if she could have pulled herself up all the way by herself if she was honest. Eleanor's back was further away than Zephyr was, and when she climbed onto him, she usually used her springy bed as a launching post.
As Katrina felt Eleanor's body tighten and bunch beneath her, she knew Eleanor was readying herself for take-off, and Katrina felt her nether parts clenching as they responded to the thrill and a slight fear she had of going skyward.
Katrina had only flown 14 times in her whole life; she only got to ride during the yearly migrations so the thrill of flight was still relatively new, even living in the Moonlit Mountains where dragons at flight teased her all night and morning long. Riding dragon back was exhilarating, but it was still a terrifying experience to know that all that kept you from falling was a knot that you tied to the scale, and the weight of a dragons scale as it flared down pinching the rider's leg. She felt no shame at allowing herself the comfort of leaning back into Ajax, for the feeling of stability in the face of all the movement underneath her.
As Eleanor reached height and started to glide, she let herself lean out over her wing to take in the view of the quickly moving earth. Sky travel was so awe inspiring. It had a way of opening one's mind to their own tiny part in the world. While working at school and studying for exams only made you look inward. At school you worry and stress about how you are not good enough. In the sky, you saw the enormity of the world slowly sweep by. You couldn't help but think about everyone's place in the flow of life.
Eleanor swooped down and perched on the entrance that led to her room. "Thank you so much for coming." Katina said, brushing her hand along the spins of Eleanor's frill on her way down.
"*You are welcome young lady."* Katrina heard Eleanor respond as she and Ajax took off into the skies as she dashed into their room, and saw Zephyr lying in his bedding, tongue hanging out. As she rushed towards him a giant spasm twitched along his body. His mother Andromeda was mashed against the wall so she could curl herself around Zephyr to give support and comfort as spasms shook him. She threw her arms around him, "It's going to be ok, I am here, your pain is only temporary, and think of how soon you and I will be ruling the skies. I am here now, and we will get through this together, take as much as you need." She spoke against his neck to give him the comfort of her voice as well as the warm glow of love she sent him through their bond. If felt as her fever broke as with her touch Zephyr was able to draw all her excess velisostion that had flooded her system, without it trying to find a way out, her body almost instantly felt better, though she still felt sick, she was in no danger of dying from burning up now that she was with Zephyr, and Zephyr had all the energy he needed to transform his sea lungs into wings.
"*Love, I am glad you are here, I was worried this might kill us both. It seemed a cruel twist of fate that you ignited, during the time when school life takes you away from me."* Zephyr cooed, as he gave her ear a lick.
"*Our link made sure that your wings would emerge before I was overwhelmed, and so the council would know to send for me. I will be with you through this, and all the hard times that come after."*
The musical mental voice of Andromeda, spoke in her head, "*Katrina I can take care of him, now that you have given him a boost of velisostion. Go and get some menstrual padding underwear, I asked Titas to get some for you when Zephyr started blossoming, it should be in the bathroom by now. No need for you to stain an outfit. You can grab some extra water while you are out too."* Andromeda told her in a stern, mothering order. Katrina stroked Zephyr's nose before leaving and doing as she was told.
She exited her room and went to the bathrooms to get the ordered supplies. She had put out of her mind the bothersome fact that the blossoming was triggered by her puberty and she would start to bleed, while her symptoms of fever were temporary, this was the horrid new life she had from now on.
She worried her scale earring in aggravation as she walked down the caves to the northernmost side of her level where the shared bathroom was. Now, once a month, she would have to spend loads of time cleaning blood smeared underwear. It was so unfair. Why, by the dark side of the moons, didn't the goddess make a more efficient way to make babies? Eggs seemed to work well for dragons, why not for humans as well? They could store them until they were fertilized and then bam no more problems for another 3 years. Menstrual leakage every month, kind of excessive if you asked her.
Returning to her rooms, she gave her bed a longing look as she took off her clothes and snuggled into her jammies. She wished she could curl up there and sleep for an age, but she stiffened her resolve and went to Zephyr and Andromeda instead. She set the fresh water bowl down next to Zepher's front claws, and uncapped the lid to the antiliako ointment to rub onto his newly formed wings. While dragons could fly day and night without problems, when new scales came in, they were semi transparent and so sunscreen in the antiliako was necessary so the tissues underneath did not get damaged by the sun. She had applied it so many times before her hands were paler than any other part of her. That was something she was excited about getting rid of personally, now that Zephyr was getting his wings his growth would plummet, and so the need for the cream became much less. She just hoped she had enough left in the container to cover the length of his wings and shoulders, but she was sure Andromeda would call for more if they did run out.
Then she nestled herself into Andromeda's warmth, sitting on her back leg and resting her back on the rear of Andromeda tail. She was thankful that Andromeda had come to snuggle with Zephyr as her heat and bulk comforted her as well. Today was a day that she wouldn't mind the extra heat, even during the hottest part of the day, because it would combat the cramps that were sure to come sometime during the afternoon. And because she was able to crawl into the natural chair of Andromeda's leg, it allowed her to be high enough to reach both sides of Zephyr without her crawling on top of him. If she had to do that she would have had to sit up straight all night, and she was sure her back would have protested, as she was horrible for slouching and got a pain between her shoulder blades whenever she sat without a backrest. She would take as much comfort as she could, to fortify herself for the long uncomfortable morning ahead.
It was about an hour before she saw Zephyr wings start to push through. She pulled open the pocket of her jammies and put the dangling scales she pulled off of Zephyr into her pocket for safe keeping. She would need them to make her councils pauldron. She then dug her fingers into the sunscreen and used her agile fingers to work the cream deep into Zephyr's splitting back, coating both his new scales and the tips of his wings. This was something she was used to doing, if on a much larger scale then she was used to.
This was part of the service riders provided to dragons for all their support they gave to the people of Draco. Since the partnership between riders and dragons 400 years ago, life has gotten a lot safer for all of us. Although both dragons and humans had magic, it was more beneficial for the dragons to be in charge of the heavy lifting. Magic killed more than gifted humans resonators while dragons died from not enough magic.
She had no regrets that as a rider she was essentially a magical container that did not actively resonate with anything besides her dragon. Riders like her chose to turn their overproduced velisostion as a gift to their dragon, and in turn their magical potential allowed them to power telepathic communication.
Seemed fair enough trade morphing her magical potential into telepathy instead of a practicing resonator. Who knew how corrupt she might become being a resonator. She was grateful for all the work the dragons did to improve the human towns around Moonlit Mountains, they gifted the Draco long after their riders retired, and telepathy had the added bonus of giving understanding and togetherness instead of isolation and a superiority complex that most resonators showed in other countries. That is if the resonators even survived their puberty, a lot did not. Most resonators were found dead in their beds before they gained control of their flow.
And while she hated to think about her telepathic gift as a weapon it did work well as a dire warning to the people of Draco. Without the threat of having one's mind laid bare, one could fool themselves into thinking they could get away with causing the most heinous of crimes like murder. So men and women let themselves be swayed into destroying each other with their dark sides outside of Draco. Human courts were malleable, and people did get away with it, but in Draco court was conducted through a dragon purge of the accused, reaching into their minds and finding the truth. In the early days the dragons had scoured the mind of a whole town, when the most major of crimes was committed. It led to a very peaceful state with crime being almost nil.
She had heard of the hardships of other towns outside the borders of Draco. The horrible hunger when a drought, or flood ravaged the crops. Almost every resonator in Mareve charged outrageous prices for their magical help. Which left the desperate hundreds that went to them for help being forced to live on the brink financially, while the resonators lived in the lap of luxury, supported not only by their magic but by their king.
Tales came from green fields of Chloris that they have suffered great losses, of Ova wiping out whole family groups, leaving nothing but scrap to mark their passing. What was the point of Farce Shepherds if there was no way to stop an Ova's attack? Mass running only attracted them more, having a swift large predator on your side to kill other large predators, a defendant plus when living close to the Ova Badlands.
It was a scary world out there. One she was sure would have become tainted in if she had grown up without Zephyr. She most likely would be just as money hungry as other resonators out there trying to fill their shorter lives up with financial gain.
She was distracted from her morbid thoughts when Zephyr's second wave came onto him. She watched with ghastly intrigue as the first protruding wingtips seemed to burst out like the tongue of a frog catching flies. After the slow creep upwards the wings had been making, it was a shocking and unnatural sight to see them shoot upwards. The speed came because the pressure of his body's fight against itself broke free as more of his scales lost their attachment to his body. She felt waves of pain rocking off Zephyr before he withdrew from her mind as he huddled into himself, weathering the pain he must be in by himself. Katrina felt her empathy for her dragon overwhelmed her. To know that he was suffering so much and yet he shielded her from the worst of it.
She could not even imagine how bad it must hurt to have your own skeleton pushing its way through your skin. It must be equivalent to childbirth, and she vowed she would never suffer that indignity. She quickly gathered the torn away scales and rubbed the cream into the scales that cover the outer layers of his wings but left the smooth expanse of the wing alone, it did not need the extra protection. After her task was done she sent her hands out to run soothing fingers along Zephyr to distract as best she could while he dealt with the newest assault of pain from his scales displacement. He had one more upheaval ahead of him before his wings were done coming in but she was sure he would let her back in after his pain dimmed.
It was going to be a long time as his wings started their slow slide upwards, before the spear-like tip of the second wing joint caused enough pressure to rip itself out. It was up to her to make Zephyr as comfortable as she could as his wings forced their way out of his back. While the 3 great rips hurt the most, the muscle strain to force them out caused a pain all in itself.
Slowly night slipped into day as she rubbed, watered, and stroked the most important part of life. As the sun streamed in from outside the ends of his wing forced themselves out, and Zephyr wings were able to rest on his sides comfortably, and she felt the pain fade into a faint echo. Her exhaustion took over and she snuggled into Cassiopeia and fell asleep where she sat, thankful the long morning was over.