"Don't go. You don't even want a dragon!" He said, voice cracking, tears threatening to spill out of the dark eyes that I had loved since the first day that I had seen and held him. What he had said was true, though. I didn't want one. "Just because you're sixteen doesn't mean you have to. You'll die- you will die."
"No, I won't." I replied quietly, voice not wavering. "I promise." The Dragon Races happened every five years on the planet Mykris, taking place usually in the kingdom of Sinistra. You had to be sixteen to enter- I was finally old enough, and determined to win. The prize? Well, the prize was what everyone wanted. One of the dragons from the lord or lady on the High Throne, the person that ruled over the five kingdoms- Alderon, Alcator, Riverdeen, Sinistra, and Forane. The dragons given were some of the most dangerous creatures on the entire planet- some argue the most- especially combined with the person who claims them, who is able to magnify their magic through the majestic beast. I, myself, have never ridden one, nor seen one. But I have a gift that few possess. Sure, it is common to know the tongue of wild creatures, it is a skill that many are born with. Sure, it is common to be able to speak to those wild creatures with the mind. But it is not everyone who can communicate with, and feel the emotions of, beings around them. It is why I want to compete.
The dragons used in the races have no choice- many people don't know that, and believe that they are well fed and able to soar freely through the skies. They know nothing of the chains that hold the creatures fast, and of the dark, cramped spaces where they are kept. I want to- and will- set them free. That is why I am so determined to race.
The day has come when they will ask everyone to assemble, then ask who will volunteer to put their life on the line. At least two people from each kingdom must.
My parents, younger brother, and I walk towards the large building, sunlight glinting off the windows. everyone around us seems scared- terrified- of who will volunteer. If no one does, the people sixteen to twenty one will all be taken forward, two of us chosen randomly. Last year, it was one of my friends, Nepthys. She survived, but only just. She is paralyzed for the rest of her life waist down. She had fallen off her dragon as they were shot out of the air by one of the other competitors, legs crushed under the fallen creature. She was unconscious for days before she woke up.
Everyone had arrived a few minutes later, and someone from the palace came up to the podium to speak. It was the usual history of the races, and how they had evolved over time to become more of a fight to the death than a race, where the people who did not win gave up their precious lives. "Sixteen to twenty- one, stand." I stood, along with my friends. I did not look at them, but rather straight forward at the official. "Volunteers, come forward." No one moved for a long, still moment. I took another step forward, and my brother grabbed my arm.
"Please..." he whispered, tears streaking his face. Everyone that I knew- even people that I ought to know but didn't- looked alarmed. I gently shook off his arm, walked silently towards the center, and climbed the five steps up to the circular center stage. I glanced over at Nepthys, who was sitting, unable to stand, and gave me the slightest of smiles. She knew what I was to do.
"Eirene Pyralis." I said, even before they asked my name, hoping that my voice didn't waver. I took the small, silver knife from it's sheath on the podium, turning it over and looking at the engravings on the handle before cutting an "x" into my palm, biting the inside of my cheek to keep from flinching as it cut through my skin. My chest and shoulders tightened as one, two, three drops of blood dripped into a small vial that the official held out, closing it as it mixed with the glimmering liquid contents, swirling into a dark, almost glowing, ruby red.
Now for the second person. "Second person?" The official asked, his voice loud and naturally authoritative, the question sounding more like a statement. No one stepped forward, no to my surprise. Everyone was still in shock that I, Eiriene, who was usually quiet, for the most part, when I wasn't helping the younger children or elderly, would volunteer to fight on a dragon.
That's what they assumed. What they assumed- as most is, when not assured- was false.
It wasn't rare for no one to step forward. It was rather common, on the contrary. It happened every year at least once.
It turns out I was wrong as someone around my age- probably a year or two older- walked up to the podium, gasps and murmurs of astonishment echoing through the room.
It was him- Alaric. His face was blank, and he looked over at me with a gaze sharp and cold like a sword. Or like the knife. He took it next, cutting an "x" into his palm, the official collecting the three drops of blood and setting the vial beside mine.
"Alaric Emrys." He, too, did not wait for the official to ask his name. His voice was sharp and emotionless, as were his eyes at first glance, though I could sense fear on the other side of the blade's edge.
We were given a short time to say goodbye to our families. My parents were crying the entire time as I told them I loved them, but my brother was quiet, surprisingly, for he was the one that was usually ebullient and high- spirited. He was confused, and so were my parents, at why I had volunteered to fight when there was almost no chance I would come back. Maybe I did would a chance if the dragons were on my side.
My brother didn't want to leave. I kept telling him it was okay, but he would't listen, refusing to go with my parents when the allotted time had come to an end. This was the most I'd ever sen him cry. His round face was wet with tears, eyes blurred. He looked so helpless and broken, I almost wanted to take back my decision and let an innocent girl with no chance of winning take my place. For a split second, I allowed that though to drift in the back of my mind before it vanished. I was helping him by doing this. If I succeeded, there would be no need for anyone to ever again do what Alaric and I chose.
The guards had to drag him out; and even then, when the door was shut, I could still hear him.
Alaric glanced at me again, this time from the other side of the lavish room, silvery blue gaze flashing back to the official to was walking toward us a quick second later. I saw curiosity in those eyes. It was more dangerous than the usual kind- it was twisting it's way around him, and he would soon be consumed if he didn't find the answers he desired.
Why had I volunteered? Why had he?
What was my motive? What was his?
Would we be allies? Or would one of us kill the other?