It was at that moment that Clawfire exploded. That had been his plan all along: pretend to go along with their scheme but startle them with a violent reaction when Chase actually mounted. He jumped up a fraction of a second before Chase had gotten a good seat and flapped his wings, gaining altitude. Had his intent been to enrage Tanner, he would have succeeded.
Tanner was still holding the lungeline when Clawfire took off and Clawfire had flown so steeply, so quickly, that even as he was shouting in surprise he was hauled up by the rope that he was still holding. Not smart enough to realize that he should let go to protect himself, he hung onto the rope for dear life as well out of rage. “You . . . imbecile . . . of a beast!” he screamed, gasping. “Get down here!” He yanked on the rope but since he had no leverage, it did nothing except make him swing like a pendulum.
Chase, on Clawfire’s back, had overcome his initial shock and managed to regain his seat. He had his knees firmly clamped around the base of Clawfire’s wings and his hands wrapped around a chunk of the white steed’s mane. He looked on, suppressing a laugh, at the sight of his cruel crewmate swinging around under the two of them. He turned to Clawfire, a delighted smile lighting up his face at the sheer joy of flying.
Clawfire caught his eye and whinnied to him, surprised with himself that he was okay with a Landwalker being on his back. Then Clawfire started moving his head around to tell Chase he was going to do some stunts. The movement also made Tanner start swinging more erratically. That amount of swinging was minor to what was about to come, however.
Clawfire flapped his wings to go higher and soon was almost at the level of the clouds, level with the top of the Freedom Tribute. Tanner whimpered in terror as he started swinging closer to the colossal tower of stones, then shrieked as Clawfire went into his stunt. Clawfire nosedived, angling both wings inward. Chase tucked himself down like a jockey and clung on for dear life, but was laughing at the same time. Then Clawfire untucked one wing and he started to spiral. Miraculously, neither of the Landwalkers fell off, but Tanner was close to doing so, sobbing from terror and flailing around on the end of the lead rope. Through his squinted eyes to shield the wind, Chase could see they were almost at ground level again, barreling toward the bay. He shouted a warning to Clawfire, but since it was almost inaudible because they were going so fast, Chase tugged on the stallion’s mane to get his attention instead. Clawfire felt the tug and responded instantaneously. The stallion judged the right moment and spread his wings to harness the wind and glide over the bay. They were still moving at breakneck speed and Clawfire was afraid they were going to hit something, but he managed to maneuver the three of them around the bay.
The very moment Clawfire had pulled out of the spiral toward the water had sent Tanner swinging in a long arc, circling the area under Clawfire’s muzzle but still hanging onto the rope. Then the crazy stunts took their toll on the rope. It snapped, sending Tanner sailing towards the Freedom Tribute and skidding on the wet sand just before hitting his head on the rock.
Dewberry, who had somehow managed to watch the whole thing with a straight face, snorted.