Author's Note: Oopsie. I swear to the Powers That Be that I re-read the rules at the Twisting the Hellmouth fanfic site at least once a year, but the prohibition against Anne McCaffrey fanfic completely slipped my mind. So, wishing to respect the site's guidelines but not wanting to sacrifice the work I did, I have pulled that section and published it here.
Ms. McCaffrey had some strict guidelines for writing Dragonriders of Pern(TM) fan fiction. I believe I have met all the criteria. Just so you know, all elements of the Dragonriders of Pern are the property of the estate of Anne McCaffrey, her son Todd McCaffrey, and the editors, publishers, and distributors of those books. I do not intend any copyright or trademark infringement, and I will not make any profit from this.
If you wish to read the story this is taken from or any of my other fanfic works, click here.
She sprinted across the rough turf as fast as she could, not daring to look back. In the last world, a kind of Wild West populated almost entirely by women, she'd at least had a chance to eat something, so she hadn't been as worried about her immediate environment. Which would have been funny if, five minutes after she arrived on a wide, empty plain, it hadn't gone completely still and silent except for the wind. She'd done a slow scan of the world around her and seen a smudge of silver on the horizon. That smudge was moving much, much too fast, like a storm boiling over a ridge, getting bigger and bigger until it covered almost all of the (probably) eastern half of the sky. Dotted in the silver were tiny gouts of flame that burst into being and disappeared just as quickly.
It may have been instinct and instinct alone that made her start running, but Dawn listened to it, and the closer that line of silver threads falling like weighted streamers came, the faster she ran. Panicked, she poured as much as she could into her run. She needed cover, and there was nothing taller than her knee out there. Wherever the phouka was and however long it took him to catch up to her, that was all secondary to not letting those threads fall on her.
A shadow passed across her, much too fast and too close to be a cloud, much too large to be anything good. She heard the air whoosh and groan with beating wings as large as spinnaker sails. It circled once and a sudden wash of hot, sulfurous wind beat down on her. She turned, looking over her shoulder, and for a moment, her brain refused to process what she saw.
A bright sapphire blue larger than a school bus, wings that could have spanned five cars on either side, a graceful tail held under its body as a balance to the sudden braking of wings, a head bigger than her entire body, and a pair of sparkling, whirling, faceted eyes trained on her.
She didn't even know when she tripped or started to fall, only that a peculiar black halo pulled in around her vision, and that she had stopped breathing at some point.
A set of talons, each longer than her arm, closed gently around her chest and picked her up. She was held where it could inspect her more closely. The smell of sulfur was very strong.
My name is Dalanth. I will not drop you.
The voice in her head was cheerful, curious, and determined.
"D-Dawn," she stammered.
Hello, Dawn. Hold on.
The wings beat again in fast rhythm, and each beat was accompanied by a sudden multi-G acceleration as Dalanth took to the air again. Dawn couldn't hold her head up against it and just clutched at the blue dragon's foot as it lifted her into the sky. After several long moments of climbing, Dalanth shifted and began to glide.
We are going between. Do not be afraid.
"Between?" Dawn shouted. "What's be-"
The world disappeared like a light switch turned off. Nothing. No sound. No light. No air. No sensation of anything against her skin. She tried to scream, and she couldn't feel anything that told her whether she'd managed or not.
The sky, gravity, air, and the rest of the universe came roaring back. A ring of cliffs rose precipitously around them, and Dalanth angled his glide into a steep bank. Sky, air, and stone, rushed past her eyes, and her hair whipped around her face. After a moment of terror, she realized she was safe. The blue dragon had rescued her from whatever was falling from the sky. He wasn't about to drop her or crash into the side of a mountain after that. She managed to open her eyes and look around.
It was unbelievable, utterly and impossibly thrilling. There was no sound other than Dalanth's enormous wings beating the air and the huff and chuff of his breathing. His front left claws were wrapped firmly around her from just under her shoulders to just above her knees. They flew into a dormant volcano. The floor of the great cauldron was patchy sand and grass, and -
The ground came towards them with sudden speed. Several rows of cave mouths whizzed past them, fast enough that she realized they had to be going at better than highway speeds. Just as abruptly, Dalanth pulled himself into a vertical figure and flapped his wings hard and fast, lifting a cloud of debris from the ground and sending a small herd of cattle into panicked flight.
Light as a ballerina stepping into a pirouette, Dalanth touched down on his hind legs, dropped to his front right leg, and furled his wings. Once he was settled, he brought his left front leg down, set Dawn carefully on her feet and gently released her. His great head angled down so he could see her clearly, and his eyes whirled in a tight focus on her.
"That was . . . that was . . ."
Something hit the ground with a thud, and a young man came around the side of the dragon, his hand on the dragon's neck.
"Sorry for the dramatic landing," he apologized. "Dalanth was just showing off. Are you all right?"
Dawn looked over at him, still too winded and overwhelmed to manage a sentence. He was wearing a fur lined leather jacket and pants, a thick scarf, and goggles. That and his curly brown hair gave him the look of a World War I aviator.
"Are you all right?" he asked again, raising his eyebrows.
She managed to nod, and then pointed a finger up.
"We were . . . we were flying."
He grinned and nodded.
"Yes, we were," he agreed. "Never been on dragonback before? Well, in dragon claws, that is? They don't like carrying people like that because it usually scares the people so much. You must be from a small hold if you haven't been around a dragon before."
Dawn pointed her shaky finger at Dalanth.
"He's . . . he's a dragon," she said.
"Yeeeessss," the man agreed, looking a little concerned at how she was taking it.
"He's a nice dragon," she added.
"I certainly think so," he responded. "Dalanth's the biggest blue in Ista Weyr, from Ramoth's third clutch. We've been together for ten years now. Oh, my name's T’dor."
“Dawn,” she managed. “My name’s Dawn.”
“Oh,” he replied, nodding uncertainly. “Well, that’s an . . . interesting name.”
She sat down abruptly, and Dalanth made a querying trill that reverberated in deep bass.
“Shoes,” she explained, pulling her bag around and opening it. “I need to change my shoes.”
T’dor knelt beside her while she reached in and took out her running shoes and a fresh pair of socks.
“What were you doing out on the plains of Telgar?” he asked. “You were miles away from any of the holds, even the footpaths.”
“Just dumb luck,” Dawn replied, pulling her shoes off. She wouldn’t be wearing them again. “You haven’t seen a big black dog anywhere around, have you?”
Fresh socks on her feet felt blissfully good.
“Big, black . . . you mean a hound?” T’dor asked, mystified.
“Yeah,” she agreed. “A hound.”
“No,” he told her. “No one keeps hounds on Ista Island. There’s nothing to hunt.”
“This wouldn’t be a hound anyone owns,” she said, tying her shoes.
“You’re in a dormant volcano,” he said. “There’s no way for a hound to get in here.”
She wouldn’t count on it. This was her third try. First it was the world with the werewolves, then it was an Industrial Age Amazonland where men apparently did exist but were so rare they were kept cloistered under armed guard. Now it was friendly, telepathic dragons, deadly rain, and some sort of teleportation. Plus, they spoke some distant derivative of English that she picked it up almost the same instant that Dalanth had spoken to her.
No rest nor sleep the maiden know . . .
She’d had less than ten minutes in wereworld world, and she’d been in Amazonland for nearly twenty before the phouka had caught up to her. She hadn’t been able to meditate and control her jump from world to world, and she could feel it taking its toll. Doctor McCoy had warned her that each jump destroyed anywhere from one to five percent of her red blood cells. Not a terribly big deal if she rested a few days between each jump, and the more she used Herr Shang’s guidance - not, for instance, forcing the universe she stepped into to rearrange itself so that she came in right side up - the lighter the toll was on her.
But she’d been in a terrible rush the last three jumps, and she could feel fatigue dragging at her bones. She couldn’t go back, because that required that she finish whatever task awaited her in this world, and none of them had been right there. The problem - one of the problems - was that the further away she got, the less she could feel the direction home. She hadn’t even known that was possible. It scared her.
“Are you all right?” T’dor asked. “Why don’t I take you down to the kitchens. We’ll get some food in you, and then, after this Threadfall is over, Dalanth and I can take you home.”
“That would be nice,” she said, wishing it were possible. “Thank you, Dalanth.”
The blue dragon brought his head down again and snorted a gust of air, plastering her skirt to her legs. His eyes whirled and sparkled with blues and purples.
“He likes you,” T’dor said, and then slapped his mount affectionately on the neck. “Go on, you. Take a quick dip in the lake, but no eating. We’ll have to go right back out once I’ve delivered Dawn to Sanada.”
They passed several other dragons - green, blue, brown, bronze, and one exquisite gold dragon the size of a cargo plane - and people running one way and the other, all of them with purpose. It was like being in the middle of a military exercise. She watched one green dragon, laden with heavy canvas bags filled with some sort of rock, launch itself into the air, its rider holding on to the straps of his saddle, and just above the rim of the volcano, they winked out of sight. T’dor had to tug gently on her arm to get her to come along.
He led her to a wide tunnel opening lined with nets filled with luminous lumps of something. She didn’t ask. So far, he seemed to be under the impression that she was a pretty but not very bright girl from a rural village of some sort, and she was content to leave it that way. It was when they came to a turn in the tunnel that she paused. The lights had faded until they could only be seen by their yellowish glow and didn’t illuminate anything.
Something was growling.
“That’s odd,” T’dor said. “Those glows should have been replaced hours ago, and what is that sound?”
She could barely see his outline, and the growl was coming from just beyond him. In the darkness, she heard the phouka’s claws scrape on the stone floor. Dalanth roared from somewhere far beyond the tunnel just as a large, heavy shape knocked T’dor down and gathered itself to leap at her.
She turned, stepped into a run, reaching for the next nearest world, trying to keep the calm, quiet center Shang had taught her and feeling it slip through her fingers. The world she was in parted around her, and she slipped through, landing badly on her ankle, stumbling, almost falling, stumbling again, and finally catching herself and standing up.