COPYRIGHT (c) 2019 Daniel J. Heck
Clinging tightly to the reins on the mottled purple dragon you’re riding, you soar under and around low-hanging clouds as the forceful breeze whips your hair about. You glance around you, where several competitors have already gotten the jump on you, ahead slightly in the obstacle course.
You hear a barker shout below, “And they’re off! What an illustrious start to the first annual Ambrosinian dragon regatta!”
You spur your carrier forward, and it beats its wings feverishly. Mere yards ahead, a familiar face comes into view.
“Better keep up, Titania!” taunts the bleached-blonde elf over her shoulder. Smiling mischievously, she rides a slender green dragon that cuts through the air like a scaled knife.
“You know I can, Celestine! Just watch me…” you shout back.
The entire pack of fliers, about ten in all, approach the first obstacle, a narrow passthrough between two cliffsides, as the barker explains to onlookers on the ground, “Judges shall evaluate our contestants’ performances, combining points for style and overall order of finish with the number of magical tokens collected to determine a final score. Which strategy will each rider choose to focus on? Trying to be fancy could cost time!”
Approaching the squeeze point as your mount tips by ninety degrees, you overtake a competitor just in time to reach outward and touch a golden coin suspended in mid-air. Rather than hopping into your belt pouch, it simply disappears with a clank, counting that much more towards your final score.
“Hey, that was mine!” Celestine shouts.
You laugh and raspberry in her direction.
Two riders hang back, choosing to fly over the cliffs rather than between, and the leading pack thins accordingly. Ahead, a waterfall rumbles, deafening you, and you steer your mount toward the tunnel mouth just behind it. Frowning hard, Celestine pulls on her reins, forcing her dragon to climb, then pushes up with her legs.
“Oh ho!” shouts the barker. “What’s this? A standing double-grab!”
Barely maintaining her balance but managing to stay ahead of you by a few lengths, Celestine claims two tokens in one swipe, just before you both get drenched by the blue currents.
“Impressive, my friend!” you shout. Your words echo off the walls of the dark tunnel through which you fly. And you mean them, you realize, even as you are now behind in the count.