Authors: Ava Richardson
Return of the Darkening
High-born Agathea Flamma intends to bring honor to her family by following in her brothers’ footsteps and taking her rightful place as a Dragon Rider. With her only other option being marriage, Thea will not accept failure. She’s not thrilled at her awkward, scruffy partner, Seb, but their dragon has chosen, and now the unlikely duo must learn to work as a team.
Seventeen-year-old Sebastian has long been ashamed of his drunken father and poor upbringing, but then he’s chosen to train as a Dragon Rider at the prestigious academy. Thrust into a world where he doesn’t fit in, Seb finds a connection with his dragon that is even more powerful than he imagined. Soon, he’s doing all he can to succeed and not embarrass his new partner, Thea.
When Seb hears rumors that an old danger is reemerging, he and Thea begin to investigate. Armed only with their determination and the dragon they both ride, Thea and Seb may be the only defense against the Darkening that threatens to sweep the land. Together, they will have to learn to work together to save their kingdom…or die trying.
Dragon Trials is © 2015 by Ava Richardson
This digital edition published 2015.
Cover Art by Joemel Requeza
This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to organizations, places and people alive, dead or otherwise still shambling are coincidence.
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Every fifth year, the skies over the city of Torvald darken as large shadows swoop over the city, dark wingbeats blowing open window shutters and their bird-like cries disturbing babes and sleeping animals alike.
The city folk of Torvald are prepared for this ritual however, as the great Dragon Horns—the long brass instruments stationed along the top towers of the dragon enclosure—are blown on those mornings. Farmers and market folk rush to guide their skittish cattle out of sight, whilst children flock to the narrow cobbled streets or crowd atop the flat rooftops.
Choosing Day is a time of great celebration, excitement and anticipation for Torvald. It is the time that the great enclosure is unbarred and the young dragonets are released into the sky to choose their riders from amongst the humans below. It is a day that could forever change your fortunes; if you are brave and lucky enough. It is a day that heroes are made, and the future of the realm is secured.
“Dobbett, no! Get down from there right now.” Dobbett was a land-pig, although she looked somewhere between a short-snouted dog and a white fluffy cushion. She grunted nervously as she turned around and around atop the table, whimpering and grunting.
She always got like this. I wasn’t very old the last time that Choosing Day came around; I must have been about thirteen or fourteen or so, but I remember how my little pet ran around my rooms, knocking everything off stands or dismantling shelves. I couldn’t blame her: land-pigs are the natural food of dragons, and if she even caught a whiff of one, she went into a panic.
“No one’s going to eat you, silly,” I said to her in a stern voice, making sure I picked her up gently and set her down on the floor where her tiny claws immediately clacked on the tiles as she scampered under my bed.
I found myself smiling at her antics, despite myself. Dobbett was a welcome relief to the butterflies I was feeling in my stomach.
Today was Choosing Day, and that meant that today would be my last chance. If I wasn’t picked now, then by the time another five years rolled by, Father would probably have married me off to some annoying terribly fat merchant or nobleman.
Memories of the prince’s last Winter Ball flashed through my mind, filling me at once with the most curious mixture of disgust and hopelessness. The prince, and all the royal family, had been there of course, and my older brothers too—Reynalt and Ryan—looking splendid in their dragonscale jerkins.
They managed to do it,
They got their own dragon.
My two older brothers were chosen almost as soon as they were old enough to sit on the saddle—even though it is always the dragon itself that does the choosing.
As close as egg and mother, is a Flamma to a dragon
,” I mouthed the well-known Torvald saying desperately hoping it would prove true. I wanted to declare: I am Agathea Flamma, or more properly,
Agathea Flamma. Our household had sired Dragon Riders for the last hundred years, and the rooms of Flamma Hall were filled with the statues, busts and paintings of my great-uncles and grandfathers and great-great grandfathers who rode the mighty drakes into battle in defense of the city and the realm.
My brothers were chosen, why not me?
Everyone had expected them to be chosen. No one expected me to be.
I am a girl. They say I am better suited to marrying well, running an estate, raising little Dragon Riders all of my own…
“Ugh!” I snorted in disgust, throwing open the patio doors to the balcony of the tower and walking out into the fresh morning air.
The last of the Dragon Horns just finished their mournful cry. I could already hear cries and screams of excitement as the shapes flew out of Hammal, the dragon enclosure far over the mountain from here. They looked so beautiful. Long, sinuous necks, powerful, each one a different color. Today there are green, blue, black—even a red.
They swooped and soared over the city, skimming over its rooftops and around the many terraces to the cheers and cries of the people below. I saw some people trying to entice the dragons to choose them by waving colorful flags or roasting land-pigs right on their rooftops.
Not for these beasts, however. These great ones were reveling in their freedom: performing barrel rolls and turns in the air, one after another. Then some smell would catch their nose and they followed the scent like a lightning flash to their chosen rider.
No one really knows why or how the great wyrms chose their two riders. Some say it’s magic, others say that dragons can read your soul, so they choose the ones that they know they can live and work with the best. You have to have two riders for every dragon though: a navigator and a protector. The navigator is like the pilot and the guide; some say they can almost sense their dragon’s emotions. The protector is the one who gets to fire arrows, throw lances and use swords to defend both dragon and the navigator when they are on patrols.
Not that Torvald had gotten into any wars over the last hundred years. The fact that we had the dragons—or should that be the other way around?—meant our enemies rapidly sued for peace. We still have trouble with bandits and cattle rustlers of course—last summer all it took for my brothers to scare them off was one low fly-by. There has always been one threat, however—that of the Darkening returning.
My father swore the old stories were true, but my mother did not like to hear him speak of those tales. I have only heard the old legends once. My father’s stories left me with such nightmares—where I dreamed of being claimed by darkness, where I was lost in a deep blackness—that it left me unable to do more than curl into a shivering ball and cry
I have forgotten most of the old tales, but I still remember the fear they left in my bones. My brothers told me they are just stories to make children behave, but I wonder at times if they are right, for we still have Dragon Riders patrolling against the return of the Darkening.
What would Father think if I was actually chosen to be a rider?
I scanned the horizon, searching for the dragons.
Where are they? Have all the riders already been chosen? Is my chance over?
It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t. I imagined the look on my father’s face if he heard the news. He would be delighted, surely, that all his children had been chosen. It would make the Flamma House a force really to be reckoned with.
And I just want to make my father proud of me.
I realize this, running to the balcony and turning around, hearing the telltale caw of the giant lizards; not being able to see them yet.
He wants me to get married,
another part of my mind kept thinking.
He wants me to ‘do the right thing’ and bring some respectability to our family.
“I can’t do it,” I whisper, shutting my eyes tight against tears threatening to spill over my lashes.
There was a breath of fresh air against my face and my hair lifted. A round of cheers and shouts rose up from the city below. I felt heartbroken. The last dragon must have made its choice—and it wasn’t me.
Suddenly, it went dark. I opened my eyes—and almost fainted.
A red wyrm slowly descended to our tower. It was young, its forehead horns barely as big as my hand at the moment, but in fine shape. And a red, too. I knew they were fierce and rare.
The wyrm made a twittering noise in the back of its throat. I could see its throat expanding and contracting like a bellows as it raised its wings to catch the thermals and hang in the air. Its eyes were a brilliant green-gold, a color I had never seen before. It was holding me in its steady gaze. Now I could really understand why everyone thought they had the power to hypnotize.
Its great head with an elongated snout was still, almost calm, as it lowered its claws to grab onto the side of the tower, splintering rock and the wooden windowsill as it did so. Half of its bulk was atop the tower and the other half gently lowered onto the wide, semi-circular balcony beside me.
“Uh…h-hi?” I said, feeling a rush of panic as the beast slipped a forked tongue into the air, tasting its choice. All thought of the correct etiquette went out of my head as I stared into its great, golden-green eyes.
I got the incredible sensation this young beast was smirking at me as it tasted the air again and
gently into the space above my head. Breath smelling like wood-smoke mixed with something aromatic, like basil or pepper.
“Dear…dear dragon, my name is Agathea Flamma, of the H-House Flamma, and I th-thank you…” I tried to stammer through the traditional greeting that every child in Torvald learned by the time they were ten.
The beast nudged its head forward, slowly inclining it until it was just a foot away from me. I stretched out my hand, feeling a curious heat radiating from its scales. It was so shiny and new. The only other dragons I had seen were the ones that my brothers or the prince rode; they were much older, with scales that had lost some of their luster or become cracked, scratched and broken with time.
Incredibly, and I could hardly breathe, the creature bumped its head against my hand. Despite the heat radiating from its breath, the scales felt cool and smooth to my touch. Not cold, but not blistering hot either. Like a cool lake on a hot summer day.
“I-I,” I tried to speak, finding myself unable to gather my thoughts or articulate just what I was feeling.
Me. A Dragon Rider. I’ll be one of the very few women riders in the whole service.
Before I could concentrate my thoughts, there was a buffet of strong air almost knocking me off of my feet and the dragon was in the air.
Am I wrong?
I thought for a moment the dragon must have made a mistake—maybe it had been sensing my older brothers and became confused.
But then the tower dropped away. I was yanked upward with a wail. The dragon had lightly clasped me in its two, warm-and-cool talons and I was being carried through the air like a precious prize, back to Hammal and the dragon enclosure.