Sprite woke him in the morning, pulling on Jona’s ear clicking and chirping, a new sound for the little one.
“Oww, what?” Jona moaned and brushed his hair out of his eyes and got dressed. Sprite flitted around excitedly as they climbed together up the stairs in the pre-dawn light.
Kolo stood outside and Jona gasped at the chill air that filled his lungs. She looked beautiful, even bundled in a heavy overcoat and a headband.
“You didn’t tell him to dress warm, Sprite?” Kola laughed like violins being played. Jona’s heart skipped beats in the moment she did that.
“What is it? My classes start in a little while, Dragon Lore and Law is my next class.” Jona yawned.
“DLL is not every day, today you get a late morning, your next class is flight , and that is what you were said to be a natural at.” Kolo said, ” So we are going to increase on that, team races are later this year, you and a dragon.”
“Who do I ride? You?” Jona grinned.
“You wish, but no.” Kolo walked in front of him swaying her hips slightly as she giggled softly. “You will be riding a larger athlete this time, you and a dragon together and race among the mountains, the racer, Wivern, said you had a natural sit on the saddle. Better than most humans.”
Kolo laughed softly as Jona looked up and nearly screamed. He drew breath sharply as he looked up at the dark-colored dragon with orange eyes.
“This is one of the best dragons on the race team at the school.” Kolo said as Sprite hid in Jona’s hair, then flitted over to Kolo.
“Hello baby, your mama will be trying out for the racing team.” Kolo said, indicating that she was talking about Jona.
“I remember you, you scream like a baby-cat that gets stepped on.” The big dragon leaned over and spoke softly like distant thunder. ‟I am Eva and I would like to win the Tour of the Mountains race later this year.”
Kolo laughed as she climbed up Eva’s back.
“First we need to get you settled on the saddle, come on up, get comfortable. I will teach you how to fly as a team. Eva is fast, but she suffered injuries last year when she collided with another racer.” Kolo said as she stroked Eva’s wing-root.
Jona climbed up and settled himself in.
“Are there organized teams? I mean, is there a leader of some kind?”
“Yes, but you have to show your ability, most fresh faces here don’t even get a chance, Sprite here has told me you’re in a line of human Dragon Masters?” Eva said. The heat that rose from her scales was comfortable, without burning his skin as he gently stroked her neck.
Sprite clicked and chirped excitedly, his breath puffing out in steam, a hint of what he was going to be able to do as an adult.
“Yeah, my parents both, my grandfather on my paternal side. might have had more.” Jona said as he looked down while getting himself positioned in the saddle, a soft breeze tickled at his hair.
“Eva, your saddle is a different shape, it is a tighter fit than the one on Wivern.
Eva growled slightly. That alone was terrifying.
“That show off, he was the idiot with who I collided last year, I fell into the trees, my rider had gotten torn up and spent a long time in the school hospital. She was a good rider, but now is afraid to get in the saddle. So, I need a new rider— if you are the one, we can win.”
“The problem now is, Eva, you are bigger, the corners are going to give you troubles.” Leaning into Jona where her breath tickled his ear and made the ends of his lips turn into a smile “The race is more for small to medium dragons, large ones have speed on the straight and can even get altitude, but the turns around a mountain? Or on a lake? You have to bank or you have to go slow.”
“I heard that,” Eva humphed, “I have practiced, if I can get enough speed, I can pull the wings in and bank just using the outer quarter of my wingtips, when I level out I can extend and gain speed and altitude.” Eva sighed. “I just have to make sure not to lose too much speed or height. Banking like that takes me closer to the ground. We could hit at speeds faster than sound.”
“I would think that is a bad thing to happen?” Jona blinked.
“Very bad, indeed. It could kill both dragon and rider.” Kolo nodded.
“We would be disqualified then, they don’t allow dead racers to accept trophies.” Eva said with black humor.
“All set?” Eva asked as she turned towards the edge of the lighter part of the sky. “We fly until sunrise and back before you need class.”
“Wait!” Kolo said as she slip in behind Jona, “Okay, now ready. Sprite? You good to go?”
The little dragon shook his head and flitted over to the branch of a tree and settled down. Watching with brilliant blue eyes as Eva grinned. “Smart little dragon, hate to get your scales blown off.”
With that, Eva took a mighty leap into the air and with strokes of the wings that did not seem so big since his recent days at the Dragon Master’s University, they moved ever higher and faster.
Kolo slid her arms around his waist and held close, the warmth of her body soaked through his leather armor as her breath warmed down his neck. Onward they flew, first south around a second lake then banked hard just above the lake surface. Turning due east into the gathering light.
Down they flew, trees the likes of which Jona had never seen, taller than the tallest dragon or even any of the spires of the school flashed by as they gained speed on the down slope of the mountain range. The air grew warmer as the trees became smaller and then finally the numbers of the great trees gave way to bushes and sand, faster she flew, across a desert, banking low over some mountains that had an updraft she could feel.
“Hang on! We are about to cover a lot of ground very fast.” Kolo whispered warmly in his ear. “This is where big wings work best.” Then raising her voice “Eva! Clear air above and behind, give it all you have!”
The wings did the impossible, they began to stroke the air faster than Jona’s heart beat, Kolo’s fingers dug into his chest as she pressed her body against his back. For the first time he began to think she was not doing it just to hang on, Kolo was enjoying having her arms around Jona.
Speed began make the wind hurt. Faster they went still, the wings nearly blurring in the speed they flew, Eva was creating her own heat that was making a warm bubble of air from around her scales as Jona followed Kolo’s instructions and stretched down behind the scales that covered the wing roots. Here the wind was not even buffeting, a small eddy of warm air came from behind and he could smell Kolo’s scent.
She smelled like flowers and spice.
A flat area, bright white in the near sunrise, shallow pools of water far below as they crossed the area with such speed that Jona thought impossible.
“Faster, riders! Hold on, one last burst before we turn.” Eva roared into the wind.
Jona felt as if he would slide off the back of his ride, Eva did such speed that the eddy that was warming them stopped, it was still and warm, the sound of rushing wind changed to a steady hiss while Jona watched through transparent parts of the scales and membranes of wings.
Covering the distances with a blur, a large line of mountains, up and around the first one. They banked hard and up, the sun was blinding-bright when they cleared the top of the mountain, trailing a shock-wave that knocked pine cones from trees.
“Back into the dark! Now we race the sun!” Eva yelled.
Jona had thought she was fast before, the speed Eva achieved in the dive back towards the clouds below was a whole new experience.
The sun seemed to set in the wrong way as they streaked across the sky towards the west. A line of clouds that Jona had not noticed before looked as if it was rushing towards them.
“This is the best ride I have had in a long time, ” Kolo yelled as she nipped the base of his neck playfully. “You don’t scream.”
Jona laughed, “I forgot to do that!”
Faster still they moved, the sound of the wind over the scales of the dragon was nearly too high of a pitch for him to hear.
The scales on the edges began to buzz slightly and began to get hot to the touch where he kept his hands. Jona looked back, the sun was down below the horizon again to the east.
Jona moved his left hand down to check the part he sat on, the part everyone called the saddle that grew naturally on the large dragon and put his hand on Kolo’s leg. Her riding pants were skin-tight— or scale-tight as he reminded himself— and he was surprised as she pressed to his body so tightly. Slipping his hand along her leg she laughed lightly, but said nothing.
“Pay attention!” Eva yelled. “I need a spotter when we get into the mountains with the trees again. Tell me when I am getting too close or where other trees might be.”
Diving low along the ground, the speeding dragon caused an updraft of dust and debris behind them.
She began to climb, faster than before.
Higher and higher, into the mountains they had left only a half-hour before.
In reverse of the first part of the trip, the shrubs and bushes gave way to trees, then finally back into the giants of the land. Up and over the crest of the range of mountains and down a valley with a glacier still holding on from the ancient days.
A cleaned monolith of rock, curved on one side and vertical on the other down to the valley floor flashed by as they flew down the valley and out into a flat landed area, and banked hard over while Eva flew on.
“That was the second leg of the race.” The big dragon yelled.
“How many legs are there?” Jona yelled back.
“Eight legs in all, in each of six races.” Kolo said loudly just far enough from his ear to not hurt. “I looked it up, Eva. “
“SIX races this year? I have a lot more practice to get in!” and with that, the dragon flapped even harder as they streaked back to school.
Circling the mountain, Eva set down in the meadow that they had started from. Jona and Kolo climbed off, Jona noted that a slight amount of vapor came from some of her scales.
“I have been worse, at least I know I have some speed.” Eva said, “Next time, we have to practice communications, you just had the basic flight. I had to find out how well I did with a rider– two in this case and we did great speed. Kolo you need to ride with him more often. I need the exercise and he needs to have training.”
Jona laughed. “Absolutely! How do I make sure my name is in the Racer’s Team? Who do we race?” he asked.
Kolo laughed, “There are other schools. DragonLords College of Wisdom is one, DrakesBerg University is another.”
“We will meet again in a few days, Jona.” The large dragon said, “We need to get you on the team, you have courage and don’t try to dominate while flying.”
“I could send him to Professor Vale, ” Kolo offered. “The Professor knows from both sides of the experience as rider and as ride.”
“Excellent,” Eva nodded, “He will give this new boy a chance.”
Turning to her chosen rider, she addressed him directly.
‟Jona, know this, there have been those hurt and even killed during these races. Dragon and rider both, so be sure if you want to do this, you would be one of the lowest-caste riders, a student that has been here only a month. But, Kolo seems to think highly of you.”
“It was Sprite, his adoptive dragon.” Kolo smiled. “That is what got me interested.”
Jona held up his hand, “Do I get a vote in this at all? Other than if I have courage or not?”
Both females looked at him as if he spoke in a strange language and said “No!” in unison. Laughing as they did so.
“You have a great spirit, Jona, I felt it in you.” Kolo said looking Jona directly into the eye without laughing. “Sprite would not have chosen you, the fates would not have put you in the spot at that time to have a baby dragon looking for its mother and saw you first.”
Jona blushed at his ears. The only thing on his body that he could never seem to control, looking down he kicked at a rock for a moment.
“I will do the best I can.”
“Only if your grades are good enough, ” Eva said grimly, her orange eyes going dark red “You WILL not have poor test grades and you will get your homework done— on time and turned in— correct?”
Kolo nodded, “He will, or he will not like me anymore.” She grinned and socked Jona in the shoulder firmly.
‟He will make the grade. Or else.”
‟Or else what?” Jona said, half-joking.
Then it got serious, and downright scary when Eva leaned down and nearly touched her nose to his.
Smoke came from her scales, some from her nose.
‟Human boy, you will keep your grades up or you will find out how unpleasant life can be.” The big dragon’s eyes focused on him and he felt she could see down inside him.
‟Do not fail me or Kolo, keep us happy, and your life will be happy.”
Jona agreed with this turn of events.
He would not fail them. Ever. Jona had learned about respect, then he shook his head at himself.
Those two scared him!