5. Beauty and the Obese

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Berla watched in awe as the two-story bakery shrunk to the size of a birdhouse beneath her. Small figures darted about as flames leaped from several rooftops. From her new perspective, they appeared harmless as cook fires, diminishing to candles. Soon the town was nothing more than an anthill, and the forest swallowed it up. Still she rose and rose.

The ground took on the appearance of a tacky green fleece. It seemed strangely close, as if she could reach out and run her fingers over it. But the ground wasn't nearly so interesting as the sky. It was blue and depthless with flat-bellied clouds scudding along like hill-sized globs of cream. She held her breath as they soared up into one. Ephemeral wings reached out to envelop her, but the next instant she was immersed in a murky fog. When she emerged damp and shivering from the other side, she realized the bitter truth about clouds; for all their bright puffiness, they were quite dismal and empty on the inside. It was all very disappointing really.

Suddenly, Berla wasn't enjoying this very much at all. Though she figured they must have flown halfway to the sun by now, it was surprisingly cold up there among the clouds. She watched with growing discomfort as the forest's fleece gave way to a paler, pricklier surface, like a chicken skin that had been poorly plucked. Mountains loomed darkly on the horizon. Wherever they were going, she hoped they got there soon. A hot pressure was building in her nether region, and the dragon's crushing grip wasn't helping matters any.

On and on the journey went. The cold air scalded Berla's cheeks and set her teeth to chattering. Tears gathered in the corners of her eyes only to be ripped away by the wind. One of her legs was starting to ache, but she dared not squirm for fear of being dropped. Meanwhile, the pressure in her groin was unrelenting. Unable to hold it in any longer, she finally gave in. The sense of release followed by the sensation of warm liquid running down her goose-pimpled legs filled her with something akin to ecstasy. But then she got even colder.

* * * * *

More than once during the long flight to his lair, Morg considered jettisoning the breeder. Now that he knew where the colony was, he could always go back later for a smaller one. But he had not become the mightiest of dragons by shirking difficult tasks. Besides, he was curious to see what success he would have with this jumbo-sized specimen. Would it draw soldier manlings in even greater numbers?

The final descent demanded his full attention. The winds were gusty on the heights, and the extra weight skewed his balance. Over the centuries, he had squashed more than a few manlings on the floor of the holding pit while he perfected the maneuver. But this time he executed it flawlessly, alighting with the grace of a gargantuan butterfly.

He was still congratulating himself when he noticed the amber liquid dribbling down his claw. Rotting ice! The odious creature had gone and peed itself! Holding out the soiled claw, he bounded from the pit and scoured it raw against the nearest boulder. He followed that up with a spray of fire for good measure. Still, he could not rid himself of the feeling of taint. What he really needed was a long soak in a hot sulfur bath. But that would have to wait. The first few moments of captivity were crucial to a breeder's survival.

He filled a large tortoise shell from a nearby pool and lowered it into the pit. Next, he uprooted a small pine, placed it against the wall opposite the breeder and set it aflame with a targeted blast. He didn't bother giving it food. Either manlings didn't like to eat in captivity or he had yet to stumble upon their particular brand of diet.

If the breeder's size was exceptional, its behavior was even more so. It didn't do any of the usual things: run in circles, claw at the walls, go berserk, or just curl up in a ball and play dead. It didn't even sing. Most breeders, like that colorful pair in the colony, broke into shrill song the moment they laid eyes on a dragon. Singing, he surmised, was their natural response to fear and danger. It was this song that attracted shelled manlings by the droves.

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