02

Saya, the first female rider

 

 

I pushed more power into my legs to increase my speed as I stalked toward the riders’ bar. My heart raced as I caught sight of the violet neon sign that sat on top of the one single story glass building.

My eyes narrowed as I scanned the place from the outside until I saw Kasim, the only rider who controls three magical beasts. He was sitting at a table at the far corner showing off his long blond hair and large muscular body, but I wasn’t going to let his build intimidate me.

I channeled my adrenaline into my clenched fists and headed straight for him with complete focus.

At six-feet-five-inches Kasim stands almost an entire foot above me, but that didn’t stop me from grabbing the collar of his shirt as I pulled him forward and locked my eyes with his. “If you ever go near Afakan again, I will—”

“You will what?” he asked, pushing my arm away.

“I will kill you.”

He took a step closer with his chest jutting out. “Such an empty threat from someone who doesn’t belong here.”

I didn’t bother to respond to his taunt. He pulled out a stool and sat facing the bar. Pointing a finger in my face he said, “Here’s the reason why we don’t like it when women ride magical beasts. They follow their emotions and attack their superiors. Just because you ride—”

I kicked his feet off the chair before he could finish. As he fell, I pulled out my knife and put my knee on his chest to keep him on the floor as I brought the edge of my blade to his neck.

I brought my face closer to his, and my lips to his ear to be sure he heard every word. “I am Saya, daughter of Tamon, the greatest rider Wotaf has ever seen. I was the one who defeated Afakan, a beast I know you tried to ride for years but failed because you’re weak. I’m a rider whether you like it or not and being a man doesn’t make you my superior. And I won’t say it again; if you go near Afakan, I will rip your heart out and feed it to him.”

I pushed his head to the ground with a thump and walked out of the bar with steady steps. Curses escaped from under my breath as I roamed the empty streets of the capital. I thought I would feel better after confronting Kasim, but my rage only increased.

I have been dealing with their discrimination for five years now. Ever since I claimed Afakan, other riders have been trying to snatch him out from under me, just because I am a woman. Ordinarily, not one of them would even think about attacking another rider’s beast, but they like to treat me as if I don’t exist. Even the king and his court think of me as a weak rider, giving me section nineteen to protect because they know that no attacks ever come from the dark ocean.

***

I didn’t realize how far my thoughts had taken me until I heard the midnight cannon. Afakan’s nest is near, but I still had to run to make it there in time. I am the only one whose magical beast is not allowed to live inside the city. They claim the reason is that Afakan is too large, but I know the truth; the truth is that they don’t want anyone to see me riding him. But I don’t care because I know my magical loves the freedom.

For centuries, nighttime in Wotaf has been dangerous. Wild magicals descend from the mountains to eat our cattle, destroying everything they come across. But one day our king’s ancestor managed to bring one of the beasts down with a silver spear. Only then did we learn that whoever defeated a beast became its master. It isn’t easy, though, and only the best of us manage to become riders as magicals bond only when it is one on one combat. Even today, there are only twenty-seven riders, but that is enough to defend the kingdom against the night attacks.

As I approached the nest, I saw Afakan on the ground, waiting for me to climb on his black rigid back. I ran atop his wings until I reached his spikes, strapped myself in and slid a hand down his rough skin before he took to the sky.

We flew atop Wotaf’s four southern cities within an hour and landed when we reached the ocean. It looked like it was going to be another calm night for Afakan and me as most attacks come from the northern and eastern mountains.

When my feet touched the ground, Afakan brought his face to mine. He closed his eyes and gently brushed against my body. I was as high as his nose and could feel the heat of his breath, but I didn’t care. I spread my arms and hugged his face, resting my head on his nose. I knew he could feel my anger and wanted to console me. Magicals can somehow read our thoughts. Even though we have never understood how it works, we quickly learned that if we think about something magicals can do, they will immediately do it, but I have always felt it was different for me. I have never been able to read Afakan’s thoughts, but I do believe I can feel everything he feels and that has brought us closer to one another.

The beginning of the night passed as usual; I sat on the beach while Afakan played in the ocean. I liked to watch him tackle the water and breath fire into it. I took a deep breath and tried to put the rest of the world behind me, hoping I could channel some of Afakan’s happiness, but it seemed the world had other plans.

Halfway into the night, I heard several cannons fire one after the other. After midnight cannons are used only when a section is attacked by too many magicals, and the rider needs help. The moment I heard them, I called for Afakan and climbed his body, then we quickly flew up to see which section required assistance, searching for the red smoke that follows the cannons to mark the section.

My jaw dropped when I saw there were three sections that needed help. Section seventeen, my hometown and where my family lives. Section twenty-one, which is under Kasim’s protection and lastly, the capital.

I can’t be everywhere at once and have to decide, but it isn’t easy because I know each had a risk and an advantage. I can either help Kasim and hope it will inspire my peers to accept me, defend the capital to show the king my loyalty lies with him, or go to section seventeen to protect my family.

I can also see that this night is different from any I have seen during my riding years. There is a possibility that some magicals could slip into my section to attack, and if that happens while I am not here it could ruin any chance I have of ever earning the respect of the other riders.

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