By Alicia Steen
“Welcome to day 2 of the Magic Games! All fifty qualifying dragon riders are assembled on the field, waiting for the Master of Riders to start the first race. Most have their dragons with them, but it looks like fifteen are standing alone.” That was Huff, as Mystery calls him. He announces every dragon race. He is also the best at voice amplification spells.
“Those riders must be attempting a flying mount. In a race about speed, the flying mount gives a big advantage.” Huff’s partner, Puff. The second best. Puff couldn’t ride, but knows more about riding dragons than most who could. “Looks like Prince Parkr will use a flying mount this year.”
“What a surprise! If Prince Parkr is aiming for first, this promises to be a race for history!”
I struggle not to laugh. The dragons spotted around the field aren’t so thoughtful. A flying mount is only a surprise to any who hadn’t watched me practice for the past year. The ground shakes with a noise only fifty laughing dragons can make.
“Here’s the Master of Riders. When his dragon roars, the race is on!” Most of us riders ignore Huff to focus on the starting roar. All falls silent. Then the ground rumbles.
The deep threat that immobilizes enemies sounds across the field, springing riders into action. Many dragons answer with roars of their own as they push off, so many that a deafening, swirling quietness penetrates the field. It rises with the first wave of dragons, leaving behind stillness.
For a heartbeat. Then last fifteen dragons speed in. Mystery is flying higher than the rest, just as we practiced. In perfect timing I backflip high into the air, linking with Mystery far above the field. As soon as we touch she zips straight up. We dodge the first wave of dragons on our way toward the first checkpoint.
“Did you see that? I didn’t! But Parkr’s in the lead by a tail’s length!”
The race is just beginning, Huff. Mystery and I have so much more.
“Mystery was flying in a little high for a mount, but Parkr used a skill I’ve never seen before to reach her. Brilliant strategy, but he’ll need more than tricks to stay ahead of the Ten.”
Puff, way to state the obvious. I focus on the rapidly closer first checkpoint and ready myself to jump again.
“He’ll miss the turn if he doesn’t slow down soon.”
As if. At a dragon’s length away, Mystery spins, catapulting me at the checkpoint. As I touch the glow, she bends her head and wings toward the next. In an instant I shift our momentum in that direction. I aim for Mystery’s back, leaving riders who slowed down far behind.
No time to relax. The second checkpoint practically touches the ground and is coming fast.
“Parkr is still speeding up!”
“If he tries the same trick here, Mystery could end up slamming into the ground.”
True, Puff, but Mystery has no intention of slowing down. Not when she’s sure she doesn’t have to.
There it is. I jump off Mystery, changing her momentum as I leave her back. I absorb the impact as I fall through the checkpoint to the ground; then I leave gravity behind. Mystery catches me on the way up. I can’t help but grin. Perfection.
“Whoa, I didn’t see that either! A twitch of movement and Parkr is well on his way to the third checkpoint, leaving all other riders in his dust!”
I can feel the cheers as we speed past the field, but the crowd and Huff have nothing on me. This is faster than I’d ever flown in my life. Mystery’s excitement mirrors my own, fueling our speed as we turn into the third checkpoint toward the last and hardest.
“If the Ten are going to catch up, they’d better do it fast. Parkr has only the Flying Rocks left!”
The ultimate test for a dragon rider: the Flying Rocks. Jagged boulders hang in the air, always in the same spot, never moving or being moved. They can’t be cut, melted, or broken; you have to dodge them. The fastest route is Crashdown, but hardly no one can pull off the speed and reflexes needed to successfully navigate it.
Maybe next time.
Mystery banks for the left curve; then dives for Crashdown.
“You have the skill.”
This is why I hate dragons on occasion. I have no time or words to argue with her. It’s all or nothing.
“He’s diving for Crashdown!” Huff yells from far away.
“What?!” Puff’s surprise sounds muffled.
“Will they even survive at that speed? What is he thinking?”
“He let the race go to his head.”
Awareness returns. Where’s Mystery? What am I holding?
First place. We did it! We flew Crashdown! Mystery catches me on her back; then circles triumphantly to the field.
“No one has completed a run like that since Kyrsn was riding.”
White hair nodded at the awestruck bystander’s statement. “Parkr matched his time, if I am not mistaken.”
The bystander checked the time record. “He did! No rider has ever even come close in my lifetime.”
“Nor in mine.”
“Do you think Parkr will bring back the days when Kyrsn was alive?”
“He will exceed him.”