The Multiverse Chronicles
Season One: Episode One
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Four pterosaurs glided over the cliff-lined coast of Britannia in fingertip formation. Their tawny green backs glistened in the spotty sunlight filtering through the clouds. The lead pterosaur dipped its wings, following the mental call of its master, and landed on an outcrop of rock just offshore. The other three riderless pterosaurs dropped through the warm, misty air and perched behind the lead. Waves crashed against the edge of the cliff, mingling with the booming voice of a drill sergeant and his squad of future riders.
“Listen up, soldiers. I bet most of you think that just because you can communicate with beasts, you have what it takes to become a drake rider and pilot one of Her Majesty’s pterosaurs. Well, you’re wrong.” He rested his hands behind the flat of his back as he inspected the new recruits. Beastmasters, all of them. Some of them were born with the gift, and some of them used alchemically-enchanted artifacts, but the result was the same—the ability to command animals. They had to be if they were going to communicate with pterosaurs. Especially if they hoped to graduate to dragons.
Most would not.
“Pterosaurs are free spirited. They will only follow your commands if you have earned their respect. Before you can gain their respect, you must understand them and show pride in your position.” He eyed the bronze nametag of a scrawny male private in his early twenties with pale blond hair and a thin jaw, and eyes the color of the stormy sea behind them. “Private Franklin, what is the tactical anatomy of the pterosaur?”
The young private stood to attention. “A pterosaur’s primary offensive is its elongated jaw. Evolved for catching fish from the ocean at high speeds, its jaw is sturdy, strong, and armed with hook-like teeth. Defensively, a pterosaur is agile and able to recover from steep dives, sir.”
Someone’s done his homework. He’ll go far if he’s got any talent with his power. “Very good.” The sergeant picked through the squad, choosing his next victim.
A young woman at the back of the group rolled her eyes, and despite her strong stance, the sergeant suspected that she would be his troublemaker. Her nametag— “Private Ivers, what is the primary role of the pterosaur in Her Majesty’s royal army?”
Trish Ivers stood to attention, but remained relaxed. She was slightly shorter than the other women in the group, her small size an advantage if a pterosaur allowed her to ride. Her auburn hair had been tied back in a curt ponytail, and it complimented her brown eyes, freckles, and twenty-one-year-old complexion.
She raised her chin. She had long known she could get into the ranks of the riders, given her abilities to make birds fly in fancy formations and the usual military maneuvers, but her enlistment officer had informed her with no lack of superiority that she would have to enlist in the pterosaur brigade before she’d even be allowed near a dragon. She scoffed at the memory.
Pterosaurs were hardly important to Her Majesty’s army. They weren’t dragons, after all.
She cleared her throat. “Despite being associated with dragon riders and having the fancy title of ‘drake,’ pterosaurs are primarily used for parade demonstrations and the occasional reconnaissance mission. Unlike dragons, which can fight, pterosaurs are glorified pigeons.”
The sergeant narrowed his eyes. So she is the troublemaker. So sure of herself and so condescending of others. A disappointment. “What did I say about earning the respect of the pterosaurs before being able to command them? You must have pride in your position before you will be able to control a pterosaur. And pigeons are important messengers, able to fly fast and out of enemy fire.”
“With all due respect, sir,” Trish interjected, careful to keep her stance formal, “pterosaurs are primitive beasts. They’ve been around for thousands of years, and they haven’t evolved. Controlling one of them can’t be nearly as complicated as controlling a bird.” Or multiple birds, she thought privately. I’d like to see these other recruits try that!
The sergeant raised his head and flicked his hand to the pterosaurs on the outcrop of rock. “Okay, Private. If you think you’re suited to command a primitive beast, please demonstrate your abilities.” He forced a smile.
The attention of the other privates turned to Trish. She took a deep breath. Maybe she shouldn’t have mouthed off so quickly. If she failed to take control of the “drake,” she’d lose the respect of her peers, or worse, her spot on the ranking board. And she hadn’t even started flying. Only the best got to move on to become dragon riders.
But a pterosaur was a primitive beast, wasn’t it?
Sweat beaded on her forehead as she stepped forward. Please be a simple maneuver. “What are your commands, sir?”
“Have the lead pterosaur perform an aileron roll,” the sergeant commanded. He raised an eyebrow, as if he thought she couldn’t do such a simple command. But Trish sighed in relief. All she needed to do was get the pterosaur flying, and once it was in the air, it would close its wings, flip over on its back, then reopen its wings in a smooth maneuver. A simple trick she enjoyed having skylarks perform for her friends. She examined the lead pterosaur. It was a little larger than the others, with pale brown streaks running across its dark green wings. Though the pterosaurs of the Queen’s Army were bred to be large enough for a rider—unlike wild pterosaurs—they were only doing a drill, so she wouldn’t even be mounted.
“Yes sir.” She smiled and reached her mind to the pterosaur.
If she pulled this off, she might move ahead on the ranking board, and her position in the dragon riders was that much closer. Maybe they’d even let her skip the whole pterosaur brigade and go straight to dragons.
But that hope faded as soon as she was in the pterosaur’s mind.
It was unlike any bird she had ever controlled, with their flighty searches for food and familiarity with the city streets. The pterosaur’s thoughts were foreign, and worse, its mind was resistant to her influence.
Without understanding its thoughts, she had no way of knowing what would motivate it.
But she couldn’t give up.
Thinking back to what Franklin said about the pterosaur’s elongated jaw being used for fishing, she tried something very basic. Food. She mentally communicated to the pterosaur a picture of a flying fish performing barrel rolls in the sky, but the pterosaur merely stared at Trish as if she was an idiot.
She needed another option. According to the sergeant, these beasts were free-spirited and prideful. She quickly gave a telepathic implication to the pterosaur that it was too simple to do the maneuver. The pterosaur ruffled its wings and flexed its clawed hands. Then it stretched its beak to the cloudy sky and took flight, leaving a mental feeling of what was most likely resentment in Trish’s thoughts. This obviously wasn’t the most effective way to control the beast, but it performed the move.
Cannon fire exploded in the distance.
Trish jumped. Where did that come from? She searched the ground, but there was no sign of the cannon.
Meanwhile, the pterosaur shrieked, backpedaling against the wind. Trish forced her way through the pterosaur’s mind and into its sight. A rustic zeppelin held firm in the distant fog, the ship’s bow enclosed by a skull figurehead.
“Sir… there’s pirates out there,” she whispered, trying to hold the struggling pterosaur in her command.
“Private Ivers, release control.” The sergeant eyed the sky, concerned.
“Sir, I can guide it back to safety,” Trish protested. The ship was coming close, and even if the creature was a stupid pterosaur, she didn’t want to see it killed by the pirates, or worse, captured.
The airship fired another shot at the hindered pterosaur.
“Ivers release the drake!” the sergeant snapped.
“I can do this!” She tried to force her way into the beast’s mind, but it struggled, caught between trying to understand her commands and trying to flee.
I’m trying to help you, stupid bird! Trish clenched her fists and dug deeper into the beast’s mind. But she couldn’t make heads or tails of its psyche, and the pterosaur tried once more to push her out—
“Private, I order you to release control of the pterosaur at once!”
The airship rotated ever so slightly, and a burst of fire erupted from its side. The pterosaur shrieked. Trish tried to pull it down to safety, but the metal ball slammed into her—no, the pterosaur’s—chest. Spikes of pain jolted her body through their link. The pterosaur writhed, striving to breathe. The sky rushed around them. They crashed into the sea, a mess of broken bones. Her mind reeled, her body on fire, but the connection snapped as the pterosaur died.
Trish collapsed to her knees, screaming.
“Bloody hell!” the sergeant exploded. He spun around.“Jenkins, Smith—get Ivers to the medic. She’s going to need a telepath.” He narrowed his eyes as he looked down upon her. “If you had followed my orders, that pterosaur would have been able to perform basic trained maneuvers and fly to safety. When the doctors clear you, pack your things and go home. You’re done.”
Dazed and still feeling the pterosaur’s dying pain, Trish could barely comprehend what the drill sergeant had said.
The two privates hooked their arms under Trish’s shoulders and hauled her up the path leading to the cliff. Trish stared at the sky, numb, as two large, dark red dragons lifted into the clouds, flying with their masters to engage the pirates. It wouldn’t take them long to push back the single dirigible…
But she would never get to be one of the dragon riders. Not anymore.
Tears formed in her eyes.
Like the pterosaur, her dream was dead.
On board the dirigible, Der Geist Des Eisengeier, Captain Wolfric Tillens stared out a porthole window that overlooked the bright, open skies. The top of his skull was covered with an iron cap that had been secured with several small bolts. The cap was an accessory he had earned when he chose to go down with his last vessel, Der Eisengeier, following an attack from the Industrial Union of Prussia several years prior.
Tillens let out a measured breath.
He had survived the first wreck thanks to an alchemist, a spirit healer, and a far-too-determined medical surgeon. Their experiments had left him with the iron cap on his skull and a solid gold orb for an eye—enchanted to allow him to alter the light that entered. His other eye remained a pale, depthless blue, and whatever else they had done, he did not know.
Regardless, he intended to prevent this ship from meeting the same fate as the first.
The two Britannian dragons and their riders had pursued the pirates’ dirigible several kilometers out to sea before ceasing their pursuit, but he had little doubt that they would return with reinforcements.
He needed a cloud large enough to conceal his vessel.
Fluffy cumulus clouds dotted the skyscape, and after spotting a good candidate, Tillens turned from the window. “Cravens?” he called to his first mate.
A woman with dirty blond hair and sharp green eyes looked up from her papers.
“Take us into that cloud on the port side, and hold position until I return. I have business to attend to in my cabin,” Tillens said.
Cravens nodded. “Ja, Kapitan.” She took command of the helm and Tillens headed back to his cabin. Hanna Cravens was one of his original crew members, another defector from Prussia, and they spoke like tongues. But the rest of his crew was varied, comprised of men and women from across the continents. They mostly spoke Latin, even when he and his first mate exchanged private conversations in their native German.
Once in his cabin, Tillens picked up a small, golden pocket watch from his desk. Inside the watch was a piece of enchanted apatite, a blue, cat’s eye gemstone which allowed the captain to open communications with his contractor.
After pressing a little brass button on the side of the alchemically-charged contraption, the light above the glass face of the watch bended until it formed a hollow image of a short, but stout, Frank.
“Captain Tillens?” an airy voice rasped from the watch. “How are the preparations proceeding?”
“Our informant was incorrect about the skies being clear today, Mr. Hardy,” Tillens replied casually. “We were pushed back by a couple of dragons. You will have to inform your superior that we need to try our objective another time.”
Mr. Hardy’s face transformed into a worried frown. “My employer will not accept this—you must be there to take the package!”
“Sorry, Mr. Hardy. But if the redcoats around here are using dragons, there is no possible way for us to accomplish our task.” Tillens forced a smile and brought the pocket watch man to eye level. “Tell your superior I suggest we act when their party is in Berlin. The security there won’t be so tight.”
Mr. Hardy scoffed. “I’ll inform him of your suggestion, but don’t expect the full payment, if any.”
“If your Hooded Man wants us involved in his little maneuver, he’ll pay up. That is— if he wants his share of the profits. Good day, Mr. Hardy.” Tillens clicked the button on the pocket watch, thus severing communications, then sat the watch gently beside a set of investment papers that his contractor had proposed.
Tillens wouldn’t risk dragons, not when the Hooded Man’s investments hinged on the actions of his ship.
Besides, there was something pleasant about watching Mr. Hardy squirm. The man was just too gullible.
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The adventure continues in the next episode, when a Prussian bodyguard faces the engagement of her childhood best friend to the self-righteous Britannian princess…