Rodney lets the lifesigns detector guide him. He wouldn’t call the tunnel the bad-guy-turned-good-guy had told them to use as ‘the second’, he would call it ‘the first’, but there’s no accounting for a sense of direction with some people. The detectors’ showing him a handful of energy signatures sourcing from just before the end of the tunnel. About fifty yards ahead according to the detector’s map of the mountain. He leads the group up the tunnel with Teyla fast on his heels, followed by Kenmore and Daniel, and reared by Ronon with Sheppard only a step behind the Satedan. In no time at all Rodney can feel the floor of the tunnel starting to rise. Their elevation is increasing. That’s a good sign especially if they’re supposed to be heading towards dragons. From what he remembers of the myths about these things, dragons fly and thus, unless something really bizarre is going on in the Pegasus, which isn’t exactly out of the realm of possibility, it would mean that they need height, wouldn’t it? Granted not all birds nest at high altitudes, but a lot of them do, so he’s erring on the side of caution and precedence and taking increasing elevation as a good sign.
He continues leading their group uphill at a racing pace. Well, a racing pace for him. They haven’t seen any dragons so far and he’s never seen any in his life. Maybe the crazy, psycho, mad scientist sisters from Hell had the animals chained up here. Had taken them from villagers as a combative edge and, given their own genetically engineered flying monkey things, the advantage for the Fomorians. Turning the tide in their favor.
It’s up ahead. The end of the tunnel is a big gaping hole letting in bright light from God knows where because as far as Rodney can tell if the battle is still going on, then it sure as hell is still dark outside. And he doesn’t even want to think about the chance that it could possibly be over already… He eases off the accelerator as he nears the opening. Then stops with the literal hole in the wall five feet away from him.
Once again they all look around themselves. Rodney cannot believe this. He cannot believe this. Doctor Rodney McKay extends his arms out on either side of himself and turns to scoff at Sheppard.
“Oh come on! Seriously?! I mean seriously?! Nothing! Again!”
Sheppard starts nodding, he agrees. His gray eyes analyze their surroundings as much as they can. Even though the opening to the outside is lit up by bright white light all around its round edging, the great outdoors it should have been showing is dark. That was to be expected, but it’s the fact that the great indoors is also so pitch black that it looks like nothing’s out there that wasn’t. The tunnel was so adequately lit, John had been expecting to find up here as nicely and well lit. But instead they’ve run into a familiar situation again and a not all that long ago a familiar situation at that. It’s dark as hell in here except, oddly, there is enough light to see each other as clear as day. Instinctively Sheppard’s eyes dart upward to try and detect any rippling indicating yet another energy creature looming over them and trying to pass itself off cunningly as the ceiling or the walls; John’s beginning to think that this might actually be the energy creatures’ home planet.
They hear rustling from off to the left. All their heads snap to the direction. Their eyes scanning the dark. At least there isn’t rippling. It also sounded too big to be a Fomorian or even a dozen of them. Slowly Sheppard raises his P-90 to his sightline, the others following suit. Except Kenmore. She seems frozen again and John blatantly recognizes that sort of frozen-in-time from back standing beside a glass coffin containing an Ancient version of Snow White only a lot less Snow, judging by the sheerness of the outfit, and a lot less White, judging by the occupation and the monster-making and monster-controlling.
“Kenmore,” he asks her name.
“They’re here,” she breathes.
“The dragons,” McKay suddenly hisses, ducking and taking a step closer over to his nearby alert petite Athosian cover.
Kenmore nods, still searching for the source of the rustling. Remaining totally still except for her chest rising and dropping rapidly with heavy breathing.
The black squished-in snout comes out of the shadows first. Followed by the equally black and manipulated-looking face.
“Kenmore, get back now,” Sheppard shouts.
She doesn’t answer, doesn’t do as ordered.
John wants to hiss, but thinks better of it when he sees the mouth crack open and the long purplish-black tongue come slipping out. If he makes a sound now, that damn genetically engineered flying monkey thing is going to eat her. John’s eyes widen, to his shock and fascination, Kenmore’s hand, gauntleted by the Silver Arm, begins to lift up. She’s reaching out to this thing the same way she had reached out to the Worm God in the hallway. He can’t help it anymore. He hisses at her. For shit’s sake you stupid brat, stop that right now!
“That’s an order Lieutenant!” He yells out loud despite himself.
It’s like neither Kenmore nor the creature can hear him.
“Lieutenant!” John starts forward—
The creature licks the flexed palm of her outstretched hand. The power of the Silver Arm casts its magic spell again. Purple-black flees from the flaming power of the ruby tear, exposing healthy pink. The tongue yanks back from her. Back into its dark maw. The creature slowly leans closer to her… and touches its blunt nose against her still flexing palm. Ursula closes her eyes, bows her head, and lowers her fingers onto the slick black flesh.
The ruby cries golden lightning. The electric string surging over and coiling around the black form. Its power forcing the ebony away and revealing resplendent red like the color of a fresh, new fire engine. Dazzling. Layering rows upon layering rows of scales looking like hundreds of thousands of crescent moons lying on their rounded convex backsides.
The nose becomes angular, not sharply, but more blunted with ripples of scaled flesh that reminds Sheppard of the wrinkled, semi-smashed in nose of a bull mastiff, with large nostrils that seem to be permanently flaring. As more and more of the pitch skin recedes from the shore of smooth red scales, there’s revelations of a sharply angled jawline, an almost Cro-Magnon browline rising to a head with two cranial points reminiscent of horns that haven’t penetrated the skin over them, and a single-column ridge of dorsal cresting wave-shaped plates covered by red skin. As the revealing continues, deep lines of extremely ripped musculature as though the animal has been an intense bodybuilder all its life comes into view.
Some of them marvel at the short strong legs and their proportionately sized feet armed with two thick and mean looking claws for toes, all linked to a single footpad. Others marvel at the harshly bony knees of the two hind legs with similar two-clawed, one-padded feet with a third claw set about half a foot above the back feet’s heel. One of them can’t help but notice the tail that’s as long as Ronon Dex is tall and ends in a fleshy dart-shape so soft and fluid looking it’s like a fish fin. Another’s eyes are riveted by the exposing of the creature’s wings. They’re like a gargoyle’s. Spread and jointed like a bat’s, but with a toe-claw tip at the top of the main joint and steeply scalloped-bottom webbing in between the bones. The wings are also shorter than one might imagine when dreaming of coming face to face with a dragon; however, the sight of the wings are no less beautiful nor are they lacking in any way of giving the deep permeating sensation of being privileged enough to be in the presence of something far older than anything they’ve ever met so far and probably will ever meet again in their lives. More than a few of them fight the urge to bow to the ancient creature.
The lightning goes away. The glow dims. And the dragon opens its eyes.
Large, bulbously round, golden, multifaceted eyes stare at Ursula Kenmore. There’s a long silence. It slowly blinks with three eyelids, one transparent lid closing over the golden eye after the other than rising in some sort of strange choreographed fan dance of lizard-based anatomy. It is startling beautiful.
Ursula, riveted, keeps her hand out to the ancient beast. Sensing that the human Lieutenant isn’t going to make the first move, the red dragon turns its head to expose the side of its neck to her. She gapes at it. A small clump of the scales near the top of its neck are malformed. Instead of laying down crescent moons, they’re melding to form what looks like a hand severed at the wrist holding a short sword. The sign, the ‘birthmark’, is unmistakable to her… and Daniel.
“The Red Hand,” he breathes, “It’s Naill’s symbol. Your family’s symbol.”
Teyla’s eyes quirk and she leans forward to see what the Lieutenant and Doctor Jackson are seeing, she takes a step forward. Immediately the animal’s turned head snaps straight to her. Suddenly the beautiful eyes taking on a dark hostile edge. Without hesitation, Kenmore puts herself in between Emmagan and the dragon.
“Don’t do that again,” she orders the Athosian, “They are extremely territorial.”
Teyla breathes heavily as she stares at the hundreds of gold facets focused so intently on her. She dares not even nod her head or speak acknowledgement of the Lieutenant’s warning.
Slowly the Lieutenant backs up to Emmagan, reaches behind her, and takes the Athosian leader’s hand. Then, just as slowly, Kenmore walks Emmagan forward. Ronon starts to move but Sheppard catches his eye and makes the most subtle of movements to not do anything. Dex stares at Sheppard, not believing what he’s seeing, what he’s being told to do. This is getting out of hand. Now Sheppard is letting this spoiled brat Lieutenant literally hand feed Teyla to a monster that only a few nights ago had tried to kill them, had killed dozens of innocent people in attacks on the village. Had probably brought down Lorne’s jumper last night. He has to put a stop to this and soon or else Sheppard’s, McKay’s, this whole stupid Expedition’s trusting nature is going to get them all killed courtesy of this, this… Lieutenant Kenmore.
Kenmore slips her hand underneath Teyla Emmagan’s so that their palms meet and they interlace their fingers to clasp their two hands together. It’s an unlikely show of women united. Kenmore stops, Teyla stops. Ursula lifts their unified hands towards the creature. It waits. Blinks. Blinks again. Then graciously leans its blunt nose forward and touches it against the back of Teyla Emmagan’s hand. Cautiously, and relieved, Teyla lets go of the breath she’d been holding. The dragon pulls away from her hand, indifferent to her in lieu of the Lieutenant. John had picked up on the fact that the dragon had approached Kenmore, sniffed the gauntlet obviously to check in its own way that the Lieutenant is of the right bloodline, and then trusted her to free it from whatever being covered in darkness meant.
The big red turns its head away again, further this time, and snorts. Kicking up a puff of dust. What John is considering to be an impolite yet polite sneeze in front of everybody, impolite because by human standards that was friggin’ huge and polite because again by human standards the thing had turned its head away from everybody in order to do it, turns out to be a call. Other of the flying mutant monkeys come out of the darkness behind it. Big red returns its head to face Kenmore again, the others behind it looking to her as well. She looks back at the other mission members, looking to them for guidance.
“I think they need your help too,” Daniel speaks up.
She figured that, Kenmore looks back at the creatures and does an unceremonious mental ‘Eeny, Meany, Miney, Moe’.
After ten minutes, they are surrounded by a colorful spread. Blue dragons. Green dragons. Brown dragons. Orange dragons. Purple dragons. Gold dragons. Bronze dragons. And a single red dragon. The hues are dazzling like a child’s primary school classroom. Kindergarten would have been so much more kick-ass if dragons had been there. There is Bahamian seas blue, Kelly green, milk chocolate, Christmas tree light orange, iridescent purple, crown gold, jewelry bronze. It’s all so spectacular. Sheppard kind of—well not kind of, he really, really wants to jump up and down and hoot and holler like a fool to be standing here.
His eyes slide over to Kenmore, using the Silver Arm doesn’t seem to be draining her any. Apparently whatever it takes out of her to use the thing, her Ancient DNA’s healing properties is compensating for now. Another thing that’s good to know for future endeavors. And yet another thing he hopes he won’t have to put to use.
“Okay, well now that we’ve done whatever it is that that thing,” McKay gestures at Kenmore’s Silver Arm—
“’We’,” Daniel Jackson interjects.
Rodney continues, “does, what do we do next?”
“Ride the dragons,” Kenmore answers simply. Again her tone is as though this is a ‘duh’ moment.
Sheppard’s team stare at her while Jackson looks over the crayon box of dragons surrounding them and tries to figure out which one he wants to ride out of here if it will let him.
“What,” Kenmore asks. God, why do these people always act like the simplest things are the craziest suggestions?
The red nudges her elbow, she ignores its bid for attention.
“Are you crazy,” Rodney exclaims.
Yep. ‘Always’ it’s gonna be.
“How do you expect us to ride these things? It’s not like with the horses,” the irate scientist abruptly turns to Ronon, “and I definitely don’t think you had dragons on Sateda.” Before Ronon can answer, McKay turns back to Kenmore, “It’s not like any of us know ho—,” he stops himself, stares at her, “You do, don’t you? You talked about there still being dragons on Earth. You’ve seen them before, haven’t you? You’ve ridden them.”
Sheppard and his team wait for the answer, looking expectantly. Daniel flits his eyes back and forth from one blue to another standing right next to it. He has always liked the color blue… his eyes are blue…
“Seen, yes. Ridden, no.”
…their eyes are green, he likes green too…
“What do you mean ‘seen’?”
“Exactly what it sounds like, Doc McKay. When I was in middle school and we were playing outdoor volleyball, I saw a shadow, a dragon shadow. At first I didn’t believe what I was seeing, but I tracked the shadow for a good ten seconds. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but it’s more than enough for you to realize that you’re not crazy and to get riled up about what you’re seeing. I couldn’t see the wings flapping, but the tail was snaking from side to side like an eel going through water. And like an idiot I looked straight up at nothing but clear blue skies when I should have—”
“Looked at the sun because the sun shining over the dragon was what was creating its shadow,” Sheppard finishes for her in the same tone of voice.
Kenmore nods with a tight smile that says he is dead on target on that one.
“Do you have anything else for us,” Rodney snaps.
“Yes,” the red nudges its head up underneath Kenmore’s hand, making the limb rest on top of its head in between its horns, “it’s a Weyr.”
“Wait. What,” Sheppard’s brain tries to process. Atlantis’ flagship team stares at her. A single desperate thought running through their heads: Elizabeth.
The Lieutenant frowns at him, at them, “Sounds the same, spelled different. It’s not W-E-I-R, it’s W-E-Y-R…or W-Y-Y-R…or W-H-E-R. Actually there’s quite a lot of ways to spell it now that I think about it.”… And she really does start considering all the variations she hadn’t given a second thought to at the time. “Wow, there really is a lot of them. Huh.”
One of the golds shuffles, catching Daniel’s eye, by pawing the ground gently with the tips of its claws. He wonders at its slightly downturned golden-orange colored eyes; God, those are beautiful. A bronze shifts next with repositioning of its wings to a closer more comfortable position of the thin membrane against its thicker hide; its pale lavender eyes are absolutely stunning too. Daniel considers the bronze dragon heavily. It truly is a stunning being. Its coloring is so deeply richly autumnal that the light purple lends an air of a descending evening sky or a rising dawn sky presenting elegance. Sheer elegance. He’d love to see how it flies. To feel how it flies.
“And what do, do you know about these, um, these Weyr?” Sheppard has a hard time wrapping his mind around the name thing. It’s a hit far too close to home especially since after Elizabeth sacrificed herself to the Replicators in order to covers Atlantis’ ass, she became a disembodied life essence and roved the galaxy inhabiting technologies of all sorts, some organic, until she found herself back in Atlantis… and gave herself a Replicator body courtesy of Rodney’s Replicator-maker machine.
“A story my mother told me once about them,” Ursula looks down at the red beside her, “There was a girl, her village had been attacked and she hid in the Wyyr,” she looks up at the ceiling of their area.
Sheppard takes note that the name of the dragon’s den is also the same as the dragon breed itself.
“She hid in the Wyyr with a Weyr,” her eyes return to the red, Ursula’s face and demeanor softening.
Sheppard swallows hard, this is going to be a tough story to hear, isn’t it?
“Eventually she did have to leave it and she was captured, turned into a slave. But when she was sad and lonely, she would crawl back into the den and sleep with the Weyr that had protected her.
“The slavers kept the Weyr chained when they discovered them and they rode the larger dragons. You see, Weyr where we come from aren’t thought of as true dragons. They’re treated like lesser than because they aren’t as large are as aesthetically pleasing to look at as the bigger more ‘natural’ varieties of dragons. The Weyr are considered failed experiments, ugly, not of much use. Not pretty enough. But it was discovered that they are quick little buggers, so they were put to work like mules were in mines. Always kept in darkness, which suits their sensitivity to light well, but they weren’t kept in darkness out of any consideration for that.”
She kneels by the creature and goes on, a panged appearance creeping into her features as she continues gazing at the red. It turns its face to her and blinks its gold eyes slowly at her. She cups the creature’s cheek, rubbing softly like you would caress a beloved pet who somehow knows exactly what you’re feeling and is simply there for you, “One night when she was sleeping with the Weyr, a man came into the den. He was a Dragon Rider and had come to rescue the girl from the slavers, but like I said the Weyr are very territorial and they become very protective and adore their human companions greatly. The Weyr started to charge the Rider and the girl recognized him as a safe man and screamed for the Weyr to stop.”
A tear trickles out of Ursula’s eye, slips to the crest of her cheek, and falls from her face. John swallows hard again, remembering another Weir who had put herself in between the people she cared so incredibly deeply for and protected as fiercely even though there were many who considered her being a civilian and just a U.N. negotiator at that to be too weak, too lowly a global position to have any business being a leader. John fights back his own tears, swallowing hard again.
“The, the,” her voice falters, “he did stop himself like she asked. He turned quickly away from the Rider, but,” she loses it another moment then pushes on, “but he turned in the wrong direction… and accidentally snapped his own neck.”
Oh God, John bows his head amidst Teyla’s audible gasp. The deeply caring Athosian covers her gaped mouth and tears slip from her eyes as well, the handful of drips of salt water staining her tactical vest. Rodney looks down, sniffing, and Ronon’s gaze goes distant as his hands hold on to his belt, the same way they had when he watched the Replicator copy of Elizabeth Weir walk through the Stargate for the final time.
“The girl ran to him, cradled him in her arms. Heartbroken that she had… that she had told him to stop… and that his obeying her had killed him.
“There were other dragons with the Rider and they mourned with her. She asked the Rider why they were doing that and, um, and,” she bites her lower lip through the moment, “he told her that the dragons will honor who they will,” tears and so much more overwhelm her; she can’t see for a moment, her vision so water blurry, “That this Weyr…,” Ursula sniffs, “had shown himself to be… just as strong of heart and… courageous,” Teyla is sobbing so hard she squeaks, but Ursula keeps on going, having to get the story out the same way she had had to get out the story about her husband; it’s important, “as any of them. More so… because no one, not even the dragons expected much of him… and his kind… and yet this Weyr had shown that it too would make the ultimate sacrifice in defense… in defense of that which it loved most. They honor what deserves to be honored. They give credit where credit is due and honored the Weyr as they would one of their own.
“From that moment on, no one, man and dragon alike, ever belittled the Weyr. They had earned everyone’s respect. No one will ever take it from them again,” she finishes. Tears falling from her screwed-up face and desperately sniffing back the snot coming out of her nose onto her cupid’s bow. The Weyr curves its head into her hand and rubs its cheek gently against her palm, consoling her.
Teyla averts her eyes, sniffing wildly, and wiping her face and her own snotty nose with the sleeves of her jacket, fearing that if she’d gone for the small packet of tissue in her vest, the sound of the Velcro would set the dragons off.
John turns his face away too and discreetly wipes a tear trail on his cheek dry with the side of his index finger. He catches sight of Ronon as he does so.
The big Satedan’s staring distantly down at the dirt and stone ground. Ronon Dex remembers his medical bedside goodbye to Doctor Weir, he always called her Doctor Weir, even then. Never Doctor Elizabeth Weir or Elizabeth Weir or just Elizabeth, always Doctor Weir; he wonders why? Respect. On Sateda he was always taught that if you respected someone, then you used their title, you showed that respect with your words as much as your actions towards them, about them. He respected her, respects her so much. No one’s every going to take that away from him, away from her. He stood beside her bed and thanked her for giving him a new home. His mind jumps to when she’d taken on Oberoth alone in order to protect Sheppard and he, to protect all of them. And how Sheppard and he had had to leave her behind, leave her to her fate, in order to make good that sacrifice. Not many, especially the I.O.A., had thought very highly of her leading an Expedition that was becoming more and more militaristic, but in her final moments she had proven all of that wrong. She’d proven her meek self just as good if not better than all of them. His eyes come back to focus on the present and he looks up at Kenmore and the red Weyr. Maybe there is some merit to the Lieutenant. Ironically enough, it’s the good graces of the memory of a strong and courageous Doctor Elizabeth Weir that he’s extending to Lieutenant Kenmore here. He hopes that he isn’t being duped like Sheppard by her touching story. He hopes.
The red locks eyes with Ursula.
She blinks and tilts her head at the creature. Did she—
Go. The voice in her head repeats. She knew the creatures were telepathic, but to experience the communication between the dragon and the rider it chose to imprint upon itself… that is something incredibly different. It’s like the most calming, soothing vibe of a lullaby ever. Every muscle in her body relaxes, her mind didn’t clear, it eased. It’s a wonderful feeling. Ursula nods her head and the red turns its head towards the hole to the outdoors. They need to go to the village. Hurry.
Suddenly Ursula straightens up like a shot. Everyone’s eyes snap to her, but she isn’t looking at them, she’s looking at the dragons.
“Okay, pick one,” she orders loudly. Her voice echoing in the cavern.
Rodney’s about to say something when a handful of Weyrs start towards the mission members. Striking fear. Kenmore walks over to the nearest one, a blue that’s apparently chosen Daniel. She holds out her hand to her old friend, he obediently puts his hand in hers, and she presents the appendage to the dragon. It touches him. Ursula leaves Daniel to get better acquainted with his dragon cohort and moves on. Teyla uneasily stares eye to eye with the lavender-eyed bronze dragon. Again Kenmore repeats the hand to nose introduction then also abandons Teyla to her mythical companion. The Lieutenant repeats the process with Rodney and a gold dragon, Ronon, who actually doesn’t fight one bit her touching him or introducing him to the brown dragon with the pearl-like eyes that came forward to him, and Sheppard and the quintessential green dragon that is definitely the stuff a lot of the legends the Earth people have grown up with are made of. Then she returns to the red.
The dragon nonchalantly flattens its dorsal plates down against its back. Ursula gets on its back the same way she’d mount a horse. Not like the large draft horses here, but the smaller ones back on Earth. Thankfully the dragon is closer to the ground than an Earth horse, it’s the same ground to belly height as that of a small pony, so it doesn’t require any real effort to get up on. As soon as Ursula’s on the red dragon, a small section of four scales directly behind its head flip straight up and stay upright. Ursula stares at them, not entirely su—
Hold on to them. It is alright. It is part of how you will stay on.
Kenmore tilts her head while still staring down at her family’s dragon. But she slowly reaches out and put her hands on top of the line of scales. Their edges may have looked sharp, but they feel rounded beneath her palm. Handles, he’s given her handles. Unexpectedly the line of scales flattens down back into scales. Forming saucers nearly level with his back with the top half of her fingers pinned down by the upper edge created by the scales. Her jaw slackens and her head tilts even further to the left side; she works her mouth, not wanting to say anything actually, but in sheer wonderment at how handy that particular part of never before known dragon anatomy is. Wow. So that’s how it’s done, that’s how they did it. That’s, that’s, that’s really handy. Pretty… Wow.
“Uh, Urs, what do we do?”
She looks at the other SGC members and Daniel returning her gaze back at her over the upper rim of his glasses. He raises his eyebrows at her, begging his question of her again.
“Oh, uh, buh-uh, you just get on and they seem to handle the rest for you. Just trust them,” Kenmore answers.
Daniel looks over at his self-appointed blue. It’—her. Daniel blinks. Her, it distinctly said ‘her’ to him. No, no, not to him, in his mind. The dragon said ‘her’ to him in his mind. And it has—she has a beautiful voice. Soft and angelic and for some strange reason he’s reminded of the slow, controlled, yet incredibly reassuring, whispery voice of Cate Blanchett when she played the mythical Elven Queen Galadriel in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, one of Teal’c’s favorite movie trilogies. The Jaffa watched it and both STAR WARS trilogies over and over and over, he’s worn through three sets of each trilogy. All of them, he, Jack, Cam, and Sam and Vala with his help, each bought Teal’c a whole new set of each the sets on blu-ray last Christmas. Ironically enough it was the happiest Christmas Daniel’d ever seen the Jaffa have in all his years with them.
So this is how Frodo felt when she first talked to him while the Fellowship was going through her forest. Daniel cautiously approaches the beast. Beautiful, she really is beautiful. She must have sensed him watching her and admiring her. Utterly gorgeous.
Get on, comes the demand, low and regal sounding.
“Oh, right. Yes. Of course,” he rushes to get on her. It really is as easy as Urs’d made it look. The scale row rose, Daniel took hold of it, and the scales flattened. They’re built-in reigns. He smiles, getting comfortable, and looks over at the rest of their troop, “Anyone else coming along?”
Right away Sheppard dives for his dragon’s side to climb up on him. There’s a split second second-guess that almost stops him from making such a sudden movement, but he’s pretty sure he definitely caught sight of a smile on his dragon’s face out of the corner of his eye. Who knew they smiled? Well now he does. Eagerly John Sheppard mounts the green, sees the scale row rise just beneath the back of his dragon’s head, grabs it, and lets the scales flatten down to form reigns pinning his half of his fingers beneath their upper edge. God this is cool! A kid with a candy store has nothing on this.
Yes, this is cool. I believe your God would approve. The deep gravelly voice speaks to him in his mind. The voice is oddly comforting to hear. It makes every muscle in John’s body suddenly lax, every tension die away. It’s a great feeling. Like when he was daydreaming about his nice, hot showers in Atlantis in the village.
“Thanks. Nice to know that,” John says out loud and looks up at the rest of his team, Ronon’s jaw was dropped at the sight of his team leader. John puts the concept of an ‘Oops’ moment out of his mind because what better reason is there than he’s on a freakin’ dragon! Seriously, Ronon, get over Kenmore, we get to ride dragons! John can’t stop grinning and he gets the mysterious suspicion that his dragon is too. Awesome.
In answer, the green dragon bobs his head.
John feels his giddiness boil and rise from his gut. John Sheppard is having a conversation with a dragon… telepathically!
Rodney McKay bolted for his mythical steed too at the same time Sheppard had. The gold beast was unruffled by his child-at-play behavior and, honestly, Rodney got on the creature with just as much expertise as either Sheppard or Daniel. He was a little hesitant at first to touch the upright scales, but nothing seemed to have happened when anybody else did it, so… It’s a little frightening when the scales flatten to pin down the top half of his fingers to the dragon’s smooth, sturdy hide. However that seems to be what happened to everyone else who’s gotten on their dragon so he tries not to let it bug him… too much. Too too much.
It is only natural.
Rodney looks behind him.
It is only natural. The voice repeats.
Rodney’s eyes dart around while he keeps his head still. It’s, it is incredibly disturbing because the damn thing sounds exactly, exactly like the female voice of the computer in STAR TREK The Next Generation, STAR TREK Deep Space Nine, STAR TREK Voyager…Where the hell is it coming from? He highly doubts even if Teyla tried that she could sound like that and the same thoughts go for Lieutenant Kenmore too. He looks around, seriously where the hell did that come from?
Do not worry. This is how it is meant to be.
His looking becomes more frantic. Where the hell is the computer voice coming from?
“Relax, Rodney,” Sheppard’s irritated voice tells him, “The dragons are telepathic. He’s talking to you in your head.”
“She, this dragon is a ‘she’.”
Sheppard nods. Okay, cool.
The two men shrug it off and look at the other two members of their team. It’s hard to gauge which is the more stupefied expression greeting their faces: Teyla’s or Ronon’s. It isn’t hard though to figure out which one’s going to make the first move. Blatantly obvious.
Teyla hesitantly inches towards the bronze dragon in front of her. The creature turns its head towards her. The Athosian freezes. Their eyes lock… then the bronze head with pale-lavender multifaceted eyes tilts to the left. Teyla’s head tilts to her left in response. The dragon blinks.
You are unfamiliar with flying, child?
Teyla abruptly stiffens up. Her head still tilted. Had she actually—
Yes, the reply is female and sounds strikingly… like her mother. A soothing melodic voice that used to sing Athosian lullabies to help Teyla sleep, the same lullabies she now sings to Torren. After her father had been taken by the Wraith, she thought then, the Asgard she knows now, her mother Tagan would sing the sweet songs to her while holding Teyla in her arms and stroking her hair to help her try to sleep in safety and peace. Sometimes Teyla can still feel her mother’s petting touch as she drifts into sleep.
In those many weeks in which Kanaan was kept from Teyla and Torren, she would do the same thing for their son to try and get him to go to sleep. But Torren is extremely receptive to his parents’ feelings and had sleeping problems back then due to, Teyla believes, her own stress and anxiety about her partner. Teyla remembers visiting Jennifer Keller in the infirmary after walking many circuits of the city trying to get her son to sleep as a means to accompany her mother’s technique. When Teyla was alone in the outer parts of the city on those many, many circuits, she would sing those same lullabies as she bounced him in her arms. After Kanaan was returned to them, Teyla slyly convinced him that it was his anxieties that was preventing their son from going to sleep easily and not her own. In truth, it is both their anxieties. Poor child. Kanaan was so unfamiliar with Atlantis and the members of the Expedition then and she was, and still is, fighting her agitation over her choice to rejoin John’s team.
Do not fear. Everything will be alright, child, I will take care of you.
Teyla strains against the tears threatening her eyes once more. To hear her mother’s voice utter those words to her again is… silently Teyla nods with a heartwarmed smile then proceeds to the mighty beast’s side and mounts it. The female dragon lifts her scale row for the Athosian. Teyla puts her hands over the scales and they flatten to pin her fingers to its body. In truth she feels extraordinarily comfortable on this creature, far more than she had on the extremely large horse they had started their traveling to this mountain on. Yes, Teyla believes she will enjoy a flight upon this extraordinary traveling companion. She turns a beaming face to the others.
Ronon looks at each of them in turn. Starting with Rodney. Flatly refusing to look at Jackson or the brat. His black eyes go to Sheppard next. Finishing on Teyla. It’s hard not to feel a hint of betrayal or a while hell of a lot of it. Especially in regards to Teyla. In all of this he thought, really believed he could trust her to backup his hatred of the Lieutenant. After all it wasn’t Teyla who’s suddenly developed a friendship with Kenmore. That’s McKay and Sheppard. Ronon glowers at his team commander, but Sheppard isn’t looking at him. The Earthman is too busy looking really really eagerly at the hole out of this place. Figures, Ronon shrugs.
Yes it does.
Ronon’s first urge is to figure out what direction the voice is coming from and shoot, but Sheppard’d already said that these things talk to you in your head. So instead of shooting the brown animal he turns his glower towards it. Weirdly, he thinks it’s looking at him just as apprehensively as he is at it. His expression changes as the Satedan crosses his arms over his chest, taking on an ‘Oh really?’ attitude towards the animal. Daring it.
It shrugs. Are you coming or not?
The male voice is masculine and gruff and—Ronon’s dark eyebrows draw together.
“Are you telling me—”
That I do not have time for your ridiculous childish behavior, yes.
People are hurt, my kind is hurt. You are being petty. Now get on my back, this not the time.
This is not the time nor the place. I am telling you this one last time, get on my back or we will leave you here to sulk in darkness. What is your choice?
It isn’t even a heartbeat before Ronon uncrosses his arms from over his chest, walks over to the creature, gets on its back, and gets his fingers pinned underneath some of its scales. He looks over at the others. “Okay, so how do we get out of here?”
Teyla and Rodney exchange smiling looks between each other. Daniel smiles to himself and looks down at his dragon. Sheppard is still focused on the hole and eager to fly out through it, at least he hopes they’re going to fly out of it. He’s not sure he can do any trick flying maneuvers. He isn’t familiar enough with this sort of flying to feel confident enough to do anything like that.
“Lean down and tense your legs,” Kenmore orders, doing exactly as she’s told them to do.
They follow suit. The dragons start getting restless. John feels his giddiness lurch into his throat. This is it. He hasn’t felt like this since his first flight ever as a pilot. The sudden adrenaline releasing fear that doesn’t start in the pit of your stomach, it hollows out your entire body out of nowhere all at once. Your head feels light and flighty, but your attention is focused, zeroed in. Your entire body vibrates with the pounding rhythm of the machine around you gearing up its rotors. His grin now is just as big as it had been then even if there’s no machine around him but a creature under him and it’s not the pounding of winding up rotors but the animal’s powerful pulse thrumming against his inner legs.
Without further ceremony, the Naill red hunkers down, switching balance from foot to foot, shoulder to shoulder, then launching itself at the light surrounded hole. There’s the familiar, ghostly, windy sound of the forcefield of Atlantis’ brig shutting down as soon as the big red and Kenmore burst through the invisible but indicated barrier. Sheppard’s dragon immediately launches next. Rising with a lurching speed that makes him laugh, his first flight was never like this. Then Daniel’s, Teyla’s, Rodney’s, and Ronon’s. Along with all of the other dragons, riderless but no less eager to take flight.
John didn’t recall feeling anything other than exhilaration as he and his dragon broke through the barrier into the fresh open air. Perhaps that meant that Kenmore and the Silver Arm and her red had deactivated the forcefield, if there had been one there, for the rest of them by going first. Maybe, he doesn’t care. He’s flying. Not in a cockpit protected on all sides, no. He is genuinely flying. The cool night air tears at his already tousled hair. He’s probably going to look like he’d picked a fight with a lightning bolt and lost if he hadn’t looked like that before. His body, low and tight against the back of the green dragon, feels the air jet streaming over and around it. He raises himself up a little as the initial burst of barrier breaking speed fades taking on the graceful ease of gliding. The chill air ripples his hair. It’s crisp without being cold and invigorating. This is what it is to fly. The green dragon beneath him flaps his wings causing both of them to bob gently up and down in the air as they cruise on.
John inhales and is shocked to discover that the wind isn’t choking or stifling him the way it usually does when someone’s trying to fight their way against it like he’d experienced when he did his first parachute jump. The wind pulling at him, forcing his mouth open, and cramming its unadulterated power down his throat.
It is the effect of our wings and bodies. The flapping of our wings disrupts the air current slipstreaming over our bodies. This weakens the air flow substantially enough so as not to suffocate the rider.
“Cool,” John says.
The dragon nods, Yes, cool indeed.
John isn’t sure his grin is ever going to leave his face. And he doesn’t care one bit if it doesn’t, because he can always say that he got his even untidier hairstyle from riding a dragon.
Kenmore’s red dragon angles it head slightly to the side as though to look back at its comrades traveling single-file behind it and emits a series of three whistles that start out middle pitch and descend a few notes before it finishes, a call, that John and everybody else hears loudly and clearly then it turns its head to face back front again. The other dragons return their leader’s call with their each and individual series of hoots, clicks, or whistles and even out their flight pattern. Every single one of them forming a giant flying ‘V’ with Kenmore’s red in the lead, Sheppard’s green slipping into position as her left flank and Jackson’s blue gliding into her right flank position then Teyla’s bronze flanking John’s left side with Rodney’s gold flanking Daniel’s right side, and Ronon’s brown flanking Teyla’s left, and all the other dragons taking up the rest of the positions of the ‘V’.
Sheppard narrows his eyes at Kenmore, his brows knitting, did he—”Did they just talk…like dolphins?” And not the stupid sounding sound used for when Flipper did anything.
“Yes,” Kenmore yells back over the sound of the wind, “Dragons and dolphins go way back. They’re two of the oldest and wisest species on Earth. And it doesn’t hurt that they speak similar languages.” She turns her head to look over at him, “Haven’t you ever heard of other lizard species on Earth that talk like that?”
John thinks about it, but Jackson doesn’t have to for very long, “Geckos and chameleons.”
The dragons’ wings level out into a predominantly gliding posture, drafting off of the big red. Their wings straight out on either side of their bodies like the unbroken spread of a hang glider. When they feel the wind lessening, the beasts flap their wings to generate more air, get more pickup, and keep their flights as unfettered and elegant as it already is. Balance. This beautiful balance between air and life. Delicate, refined, age old skill.
Sheppard looks up at the sky. The stars are out, sharp pinpricks against the dark of night. He loves nightflying; whenever his flight commander told him that he would be on a nightflight, John kept his outward cool, while his insides went giddy, and he nodded at his CO. Sheppard looks back out ahead of their group. Despite how easy it is to see the mountain from the village, the lights of the village seem exactly like the stars above. Distant dots of light, actually a large cluster of yellow-orange dots of light. He can’t tell if there’s new smoke from anything. He can’t tell if there’s any further damage to the village. He knows it’s due to a combination of the night’s darkness and the distance thing, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting the new, good or bad, immediately. Movement catches his eye.
Kenmore is lifting herself up to sit up straighter on her dragon than John feels comfortable doing and looking back at their flight group. He’s close enough to her that he can see her eyes narrow as she views them; she’s analyzing them, perhaps gauging how they’re all handling the flight so far. Big red swings to the right then swings back to the left, casually drifting movements, nothing too elaborate. Each of the rest of the dragons mimics in unison. Everyone on board a dragon holds their seats nicely, even McKay. Lieutenant Kenmore keeps eyeing the group though. John’s not sure why, the thought that they’d all handled the initial launch through the barrier pretty well runs through his head. Apparently it had gone through the Lieutenant’s as well, she faces forward again. Then she leans forward and lifts her body up like a jockey on their horse before the gate is raised and the horse is let out of the shoot.
The call starts low then shoots up to a higher note almost like a bird caw followed by another long whistle that starts at an even higher note then equally slides down a few notes like a ‘woo’ with no ‘who’. Red dives down.
As it descends, Ursula flattens her raised body against the dragon’s back. The wind roars over its wings from the steep descent. The other dragons follow unerringly. The transition between altitudes is smooth. The wind rushes up, clouds rush by. Exactly like Sheppard’s dragon told him, the increase in wind velocity doesn’t stifle or suffocate the riders in the least. The dragons are breathing fine, the humans are breathing fine. John’s stomach bucks, his heart swells. Everything is great.
The flyers straighten out again over the tree tops. The Naill red taking the luxury of this moment in their flight to lower its farthest left wingtip to pet the evergreen tops. The trees it touches follow its petting motion, but none of them snap and nothing falls off of them. Not a needle, cone, or flake of bark. Nothing. None of the other dragons pet the treeline, but John’s eyes drift down to look at the forest below them. A forest that a day ago had held them sitting in those same trees and one of the dragons had tried to eat Kenmore’s throat until something rustled the boughs nearby them and called its attention off after it. The red eases off playing with the woodland and John’s dragon flies over the petted spot and a flock of ravens take off from said trees, flying through the ’V’ to a higher height. Sheppard notices that the birds seem totally unfazed, it’s kind of good to know that the birds aren’t afraid of dragons, even to fly so close past them, practically skimming the dragons’ hides. Another thing Sheppard’s thankfully for is that their flight is soundless except for going from one elevation to another and even then that was the wind making the noise not them or their dragons.
The village lights, relatively few of them as there turns out to be, are coming towards them fast. Stealth speed.
Yes, the green answers Sheppard’s thought. John nods.
The Colonel spots the finer details of the village in no time at all. The hillcrest had been breached again. Worse this time judging by the giant tracks gouged into it. Mostly likely the Fomorians had learned their lesson the last time and used their corrupted dragons’, a.k.a. the Flying Mutant Monkeys, tails to slam into the crest operating under the assumption that another cloaked jumper might be hidden there again. There shouldn’t have been, Atlantis doesn’t have that many of the little craft and they’re too incredibly important to the Expedition to squander like that, but that little tidbit of not exactly spread around the galaxy information doesn’t seem to have stopped the Fomorians from learning from their mistakes and anticipating their opponents next surprise move. There also looks like there’s been one hell of a fight down there. Building up on the nasty one from the night before. All but two of the ‘important’ buildings have been knocked down, their rubble strewn over the dirt roads and caving in the other nearby structures around their remains. Most of the what John was thinking were houses have scorch marks on them or are burnt to the ground. All the siege weapons have been obliterated and it looks like they were taken out the same night they downed the jumper.
What’s striking Sheppard the most is that no one is fighting… or at least they aren’t fighting now. There are a few small plumes of smoke here and there, those are new, but for the most part the rest of the damage simply looks older than tonight. John can gauge that well enough from his time in Afghanistan, its strange the things war teaches you. A second later the Fomorians and U’dana’s people come into view. They’re just standing around at the very center of the all but destroyed village. John can’t tell yet whether they’re confused or if it’s something else or what, he’s too far away to see, but he’s hedging his bet on confusion with his mission group’s previous encounter of the two Fomor in the mountain as case historical backup for that. Sheppard’s having trouble spotting the black flyers though. He peers, trying to look for them, when a part of the darkness, or at least what John thought was just another part of the night surrounding the village and leading out of it, moves. Then other shadows near it move too.
Heads don’t even bother to turn until after the stealth ‘V’ flies over them. Big red and Kenmore aim straight for the flyers. Sheppard’s okay with that. Air combat is okay with him—
It is not that.
Sheppard looks down at this dragon’s head, “What?”
Green stays silent.
The flight group’s approach is silent and swift despite the fact that more than a few of the people they caught off-guard gasp loud enough John can hear them when they noticed the ‘V’ after it passed over them. The Fomorian flyers weren’t paying attention to them either even after the gasps. So confusion it has to be, John knows those things hear good enough to have definitely caught that.
Suddenly Kenmore lets one hand loose from the anatomical reigns. Sheppard catches the glitter of the village’s torchlight bouncing off the Silver Arm as she slides almost totally off her red dragon. Perhaps it’s his dragon’s influence, but Sheppard doesn’t call Kenmore out. He doesn’t say anything. As they practically broadside the first of the gathered flyers, Kenmore’s fingertips touch the first of the black creatures. The teardrop ruby glows violently. Gold lightning leaps out and snakes around the animal’s body. The red moves on. Kenmore’s hand stays out. Gold lightning wraps around another flyer. Then another. And another. Another. It keeps going. The flight group’s circling around the flyers is smooth and graceful. A perfect curving glide. The Fomorian flyers take flight behind their ‘V’ as soon as the healing powers of the Silver Arm finished its work.
In no time at all there’s a rainbow of color circuiting the broken down village.
John was expecting the flyers yet to go to jump up and try to fight them, but they remain still, patiently waiting their turn with the mythical gauntlet. When all of them are in the air, arrayed like a child’s messy crayon drawer flying over and around the village, the Naill red brings the initial ‘V’ formation in for a landing. The rest of the dragons land as well.
The villagers gather around them, getting closer than John thought they would. It’s another good note to have in his mind, these people aren’t afraid of dragons. Suddenly the reigns trapping John’s fingertips rise up into a line of upturned scales again. John pulls his hands back and the scales row lowers back down to be part of the dragon’s hide again. Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard simply sits there on top of a Kelly green dragon with sea blue-green multifaceted eyes, waiting for what’s next.
Everyone is staring at them. Sheppard’s particularly glad to see Lorne and Keller shove their ways through a bunch of villagers to the front of the crowd. A drop-jawed, bug-eyed Major Evan Lorne is a priceless sight, absolutely priceless, and John is pretty sure that this is definitely going to be the mission gossip when they get back to Atlantis. And Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, the Atlantis Expedition’s Military Commander, is more than proud of that. He’s also pretty certain that he’ll be flashing everyone and anyone a smug-ass grin, like the one he has on his face right now, while not saying a single word to any of the other personnel in the city. His single thought being as it has been for last few minutes: I got to ride a dragon.
Yes, you did John.
He looks down at the green he’s on the back of then back up at their audience. Yep, he is still on a dragon.
Kenmore lifts and swings her leg over the head of her dragon and slides down to easily land feet first on the ground with barely a rumple of dirt kicked up by her combat boots. Sheppard doesn’t want to get off his dragon and the creature remains still beneath him so he figures that that means the dragon is just as happy with John staying where he is as John is. Sheppard crosses his arms over his chest like a seated hero preening for the enamored crowd.
Please tone that down. Your arrogance is starting to become irritating.
John’s smile falters. He stares down at the top of the green dragon’s head. His shoulders droop a little, deflated from the scolding.
I am deeply sorry to have had to put it that way, but it was becoming quite distracting.
“Sorry,” John mumbles. Even he can hear the pout in his voice.
The dragon shrugs, shifting John slightly to the left for a moment before returning him to his previous position. It is quite alright. You are extremely happy.
John shrugs off the slight misting of rain on his parade, passing it away, as U’dana and the rest of the Elders finally make their way through the dense crowd to the front. The women look disheveled, battle worn, but none the worse for wear and the ladies are a glad sight to him. Somehow, perhaps when he’d fought side by side with U’dana or when Boudica told Kenmore and he off as she passed them or at seeing the small and meek appearing Epona, he’s grown quite fond of these women and he didn’t want to see, to know if any of them had gotten hurt. The Colonel’s eyes scan the greater crowd. Quickly his cool grey-green eyes pick out the Expedition uniforms. Some tattered, some as clean as when the backup had originally arrived, and the smile comes back to Sheppard’s face. As far as he’s counting, he isn’t seeing any casualties belonging to them. Good. Really good. His eyes turn to the Fomorians. They look dazed and dazzled, a lot of them are leaning on the villagers nearest to them for help. Yep, all of this is a really good sight to see.
U’dana’s eyes light on the Silver Arm and she steps up to Kenmore with open arms and a proud smile.
“Welcome home my child.”
Ursula grns and walks straight into the embrace. A part of her is home. And it feels so good. It’s a part of home she hasn’t felt the warmth and kindness of in a long time, even before her husband’s death. Ursula senses strong emotions coming from U’dana as well. The old woman must have been worried about what had happened to the residents of Hy-Brasyl for all these thousands of years without letting on her deep worry to anyone around her. This hug, their hug is somehow a culmination of so many things that both of them thought was lost to them so long ago, that was so out of reach to them to try and help or fix. Now, it’s back. Here in their arms. Their long, tight hug ends and the to Tuatha Dé Danann women look at each other. True at peace smiles that haven’t seen the light of day coming forth once more.
A Fomorian, he looks to be about the same age and size as Elathan, steps towards them. Despite the extreme darkness of his skin, his features look forlorn and as though he’s finally found shelter and comfort all at once. He reaches out towards Lieutenant Ursula Kenmore the same way Sheppard had seen countless other oppressed people do to their incoming liberators: It’s the look of ‘Thank you for saving me’…
“Anna,” he says to her, “Anna.”
Kenmore looks over at him then back at U’dana. She smiles at the older woman then let’s go of her and walks over to the desperate man. She takes one of his hands in both of hers. The ruby teardrop begins glowing again.