This story is by Larissa Jones and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“I never wanted to be a dragon rider! You chose me!”
The memory of those words echoed in Elan’s head as he stood in the center of a circle of dragon masters. Every day since his young dragon partner had chosen him, they had commanded them both here in an attempt to break their bond. Elan didn’t have the skill to be a rider, especially for a silver dragon. Silvers weren’t common and ones that were born willing to tie themselves to a human were even rarer.
Ari, the silver dragon with whom he now shared a strong mental and emotional bond, wasn’t there this morning. The dragon masters appeared to take as a good sign. In his own way, Elan was glad too. Maybe this time, the bond would break because of the rift he had created between them. He could go back to the working in the hatchery where he belonged.
Ari had taken her first true flight. She was still only a few months old and it was meant to be a celebration. And her flight had gone very well, until her crash landing as she came in too fast.
Her teacher tried to tell her that she flew very well for one so young and that she would be landing with ease before long. But all Ari heard was Elan’s laughter. He had been thinking that finally, there was someone who struggled to succeed as much as he did.
He saw the hurt look she gave him. “It wasn’t funny, Elan! It hurt!” He laughed at her again and asked, “If that’s all the pain you can take, how will you survive a battle? That is what we’re training for, isn’t it?” Her face fell. “I know, but we’re partners. We should help each other.”
And then he had said those words that sent her running.
The hairs on the back of his neck rose as magic swirled around him, as if carried on the breeze. Then suddenly he felt a searing pain down his mental bond with Ari and the sound of someone screaming. When the feeling of magic pressed down on him harder, he realized it was his own voice. But…not his own pain.
Elan gritted his teeth to keep from screaming again. The bond breaking ritual had never caused a reaction like that before and he could see looks of surprise on the faces of some of the dragon masters. Which meant only one thing.
Before anyone could react, Elan took off running, feeling a single tether line between his location and Ari’s. He knew he shouldn’t care what happened to her, not when he wanted out of this bond so much. And yet he couldn’t stand by when he knew she was hurt.
He stopped once, just to borrow a horse from a neighbor. They specifically bred horses that wouldn’t shy away from danger or dragons. Riders in training used them often to train before their dragon was big enough to ride. It was exactly what he needed now.
With promises to return the horse as soon as he was able, Elan was off again, moving quickly toward his target. She was on the far side of the hills north of town, an area well known for its dangers to those unprepared for a fight. When he arrived, two demons had backed Ari into a circle of trees too tightly woven for her to squeeze through. Blood dripped from the joint of one of her hind legs, and she made a small whimpering sound every time she put weight on it.
The two demons had long, scaly bodies and sharp claws on all four feet. They prowled around her, nipping at her and trying to keep her moving to weaken her even further.
Elan left the horse a safe distance away and drew his practice sword as he ran the last few yards. It was dull, but it was the best he had. And anything was better than letting them hurt Ari. When he reached the trees, he slipped between the trunks and charged directly at the demons, hoping to at least surprise them into turning their focus away from the young dragon.
One snarled and lunged forward. He lifted his sword just in time to impale the creature as it charged. It snarled again as it died. He shoved it off his sword with a foot, relief flooding him as he faced the second creature. That blow had been sheer luck and the look in this one’s eyes said that he would not be so lucky again.
Instead of attacking him, the demon turned and snapped again at Ari, going for her neck. Elan ran for her and as he did, the demon made a lightning fast turn, raking claws down his side.
Elan cried out and Ari let out a roar of pain and fury. The demon’s claws were sharp and cut deep and he was already losing too much blood. He landed on his knees just as Ari leaped on the demon’s back, twisting around to tear at its neck, the adrenaline-fueled attack taking out the creature in a way she shouldn’t have been able to manage with an injured hind leg.
The last thing he heard was the thud of the dead demon hitting the ground and Ari calling his name. Then he blacked out.
Elan woke with a start, breathing hard and fast. He felt for his side, where the demon’s claws had raked those bloody gashes. What he felt instead were three long scars. I remember now. That was almost a year ago. Ari carried me to safety, even though she was injured.
When his breathing slowed, he got dressed and headed to the practice field to meet Ari and their two instructors, an older rider pair who had been kind enough to help them when Elan had wanted to regain his strength. They had enjoyed working with the younger pair so much that they often met with them for extra training sessions when they were in the area.
Another man was with them today and he could feel Ari’s anger down their bond before he got close enough to hear the armored man declaring that the dragon masters wanted to see them. Again.
“It’s been over a year! Why can’t they just let our bond stand?” Ari practically growled out the words. The man looked entirely unimpressed. “Until your bond meets with their approval, you will report for the ritual.”
The word had come from Elan’s mouth before he had a chance to think. Ari swung her head around to stare at him, surprise in her eyes. But he knew why he had spoken. That memory had surfaced into a dream for a reason. It was finally time that he made his choice.
When he reached the group, he stood firm, arms crossed. “If they can’t break us apart by now, it won’t happen. I learned to accept it, now so should they.” Sheer happiness coming across his bond with Ari nearly overwhelmed him, but he managed to keep the determination on his face. “You can tell the dragon masters that Ari chose me. She chose me and I am her rider.”
As Ari let out a roar of triumph, Elan laughed. A genuine, happy laugh.