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Omega follows Dameon Miles as circumstances beyond his control throw him into an emerging war in this fantasy series of magic and real human introspection. The Elderana Saga is one of magic, technology and dragons, told from diverse perspectives as flawed, everyday people such as Dameon are given godlike power to combat an ancient evil threatening their world.Share Tweet LinkedIn Embed pszr.co/QLbes 2002 views
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Dameon Miles’ dreams are all coming true. Not only has he been chosen to become a Dragon Rider – a position of great power and prestige within Elderana – but his best friend Brody Russel is coming along for the ride! Although the timing could’ve been better; one of their greatest leaders, the Omega Rider Carma, has just declared war against her own nation by using a dark power to enslave the minds of Elderana’s greatest heroes.
Dameon and Brody leave the ancient forests of the Garde faction and join the new Rider recruits within Alretha, the ancient City of Riders. Instructed by Master Almon, an old elf with an ageless face and cyan eyes, Dameon and recruits from Elderana’s six diverse factions train diligently to earn the sought-after privilege of bonding with a dragon, unwittingly training to become soldiers on the front lines of an emerging war. Dameon falls in love with Aria Hansen, an intelligent and powerful farm girl from Solace, forges lasting friendships with other recruits and works tirelessly to achieve his dream of making the world a better place for his family back home.
The day finally arrives for Dameon to bond with a dragon from one of the six unique dragon races. In an unexpected twist, the entire world comes crashing upon Dameon’s shoulders as he learns that not only is Master Almon an Omega Rider himself, but Dameon has been chosen to take up the mantle of the third and final Omega. They must unite in order to stop Carma from using her newly-discovered dark magic to enslave the entire nation: her twisted solution for mass harmony.
Armed with godlike power and his dragon by his side, the flawed, unqualified and unsure Dameon Miles must mend the six factions of Elderana to stand united against Carma and her army of enslaved Riders.
Dameon leaves the City of Riders to adventure through Elderana’s factions, such as the volcanic mountain ranges of Renda, where his fireteam aids a city under siege. The war is now spreading beyond Pernar, Carma’s home faction, and into the technologically advanced faction of Bytan, where their bioluminescent forest and spiraling cities are trapped under an eternal night sky. Dameon’s mission leads him to the border of Bytan and the faction of Solace, the agriculturally-focused community blessed and burdened under an eternal sun.
It was during a battle at the Twilight Border where Dameon encounters a youth wielding a dark, twisted power of unprecedented strength, fighting at the behest of Carma herself. Nathan Gates is a Dragon Hunter, a morose title neither Dameon nor his comrades had even heard of before. During the ensuing battle, Dameon realizes he’s in way over his head when his sixteen year-old rival uses his overwhelming strength to almost kill the novice Omega.
Licking his wounds during the flight back home, Dameon begins to question himself and his competency as the hero he believed he was becoming. Reuniting with his friends back at the base, Dameon barely had time to rest his weary eyes before Almon demanded his assistance once more. This time, Aria accompanies him as they travel to the tropical region of Aquamaine, a faction of eighteen islands scattered across the Sapphire Sea.
Their mission was one of momentous importance for Elderana’s freedom; to convince the powerhouse faction of Aquamaine to stand united with the Dragon Riders against the war on Carma’s tyranny. Their mission, unfortunately, fell apart almost as soon as they arrived. To Dameon’s dismay, Carma and Nathan Gates had already seeped their dark influence into the Aquamaine senate, and after a traitorous coup and yet another assassination attempt on Dameon’s life, he and Aria are forced to retreat to avoid being enslaved or killed.
After receiving an ominous warning that Carma’s forces were amassing to kill Brody Russell, Dameon and Aria rush back to Renda, where they find Brody just before Nathan Gates ambushes them with a squad of Carma’s Riders. They had fallen into a trap, one that would’ve succeeded if the entirety of Dameon’s fireteam hadn’t arrived just in time to save the day! Dameon Miles and Nathan Gates face off once more, battling atop a volcano summit, where Dameon utilizes the same weapon that had almost ended his own life in Aquamaine to drive Gates back, forcing the murderous youth into a desperate retreat.
Dameon’s victory was short-lived, however, when the Riders of Carma release their hidden weapon. The enemy turns the tide as the corrupted Riders succeed in capturing Aria and her dragon, slaying one of Dameon’s friends during their escape.
After suffering great loss and facing a world without Aria, Dameon and his surviving fireteam members limp back to their base to share the news with Almon through a scry call. Dameon then admits to everyone that he has absolutely no clue how to proceed, just before an explosion erupts on Almon’s end of the call, prompting the old elf to demand their assistance in Garde.
When Dameon returns to the forests of Garde, he finds that Garde has devolved into a war torn battlefield. The lush, green land of his old home is now a wasteland. Almon and his warriors are holding the line as best they can, but are slowly pushed back by the sheer, overwhelming power of Carma’s corrupted forces. And from the chaos above, a surprise guest appears that will change the life of Dameon Miles forever.
For lovers of magic and adventure, celestials and mythology, real human insights and cliffhangers that leave readers reeling in shock!
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In his dream, Dameon was flying.
This wasn’t anything out of the ordinary; Dameon often found that he could fly in many of his dreams if he focused hard enough. The sensation of soaring through the air, feeling the wind whip at his clothes as he flew over the simmering summits of Renda’s volcanos was unmatched.
There were some nights when Dameon found himself banking around the skyscrapers of Bytan under the faction’s eternal night sky, while other nights preferring to traverse the Sapphire Sea, skimming just over the waves as an orange glow perforated through every pore in his body and casted a fiery hue across the water.
There were even some nights when his dreams it didn’t feel like dreams at all, and on those nights he prayed that he would never wake up. But it always ended the same way: with a bird pecking at his forehead with its sharp beak, painfully waking him from his slumber.
Chirp-chirp! Chirp-chirp! Chirp-chirp!
“Nooooo!” Dameon groaned, dragging a pillow over his head to protect himself. Patting around blindly with one hand, he relished in his drowsiness while trying to find the damn bird that started his day off with a literal headache. The bird, an orange and black oriole who served as the Miles’ family alarm clock, ceased its barrage and fluttered back as Dameon sat up and sighed.
The village of Amonda resided within the faction of Garde, and was often referred to as the Green Faction for its ancient forests and its refusal to assimilate any modern-day technology into its society. In small villages such as Amonda, the villagers—Dameon’s family included—were taught to coexist with the forest and its animals, finding environmentally friendly substitutes to replace modern-day appliances.
In the spirit of green living, the Miles family had adopted a bird they had named Ray, who served as both a messenger and alarm clock. Needless to say, Ray took his job rather seriously. His wake-up practices weren’t normally this aggressive, unless someone managed to sleep through his first alarm.
“Good morning Ray,” Dameon yawned, pulling himself out of bed before his drowsiness could convince him to lie back down.
Ray chirped pleasantly as Dameon shuffled to his wardrobe and dressed himself for the last day of school. While slipping on his black windbreaker over a cotton shirt and jeans, Dameon glanced back and noticed Ray was still perched upon the nightstand, staring at him as he undressed.
“Hey bud? Can I get a little privacy please?”
The bird leaped from the desk and flew across the room in a flurry of orange feathers, departing through the open window to wake up the twins.
Before joining his family for breakfast, Dameon stood before his mirror and smoothed back his black hair, which was long along the top. He had caramel skin and slightly pointed ears, as did most humans in Garde. He wasn’t an elf, but one of his ancestors must’ve been, for he was mistaken for one quite often.
Dameon followed the aroma of fresh coffee wafting through the treehouse as he hustled downstairs. Many of the ancient trees in Garde also served as residential homes and businesses, grown and shaped by Garde’s mages in order for Garde citizens to truly coexist with the forest. Those with the capability to wield magic in Garde were often argomancers, which was a discipline focused strictly on manipulating plants and growing vegetation.
When he entered the dining room, Dameon realized just how late he had overslept when he found his younger siblings, Marcus and Fayth, clearing the table of breakfast and carrying their plates to the kitchen.
“Morning, Dameon,” Marcus mumbled as he walked past. He and Fayth were fraternal twins, and although they claim to annoy each other, the two have proven to be almost inseparable while at home. Marcus also had caramel skin with slightly pointed ears, but he kept his black hair shorter than his brother.
“Good morning,” Dameon sighed, swiping a piece of uneaten toast off his brother’s plate and sat down. “Sorry I’m late. I must’ve slept through my alarm again.”
“What else is new?” Fayth asked as she wrapped him in a quick hug, of which he gladly returned. Dameon and Fayth had always been close, but their bond had grown even stronger after their mother died. The older Fayth grew, the more she looked like their mother, with curly brown hair adorned with natural highlights and bright hazel eyes.
“So, the chosen one finally awakes,” Fayth greeted sarcastically. “Better grab some coffee before Aunt Kass drinks it all.”
“Cut it out, alright?” Dameon muttered drowsily. “The idea of a chosen one is so played out that the nickname isn’t even funny anymore. Can’t I enjoy my dry toast in peace?”
“Can’t see how that’s possible, but sure,” Fayth grinned as she poured him a draft of espresso, which Dameon downed just in time before Aunt Kass emerged from the kitchen.
“Oh my dear, you look exhausted!” Kass said, giving Dameon a kiss on the cheek and rubbing his shoulder. “Why don’t you have a shot of espresso to fuel you through your exams? Just one though: I don’t want you growing dependent on caffeine at your age.”
“I was actually about to pour myself one,” Dameon lied, pouring another shot and downing it before he could be questioned further. “I’m really not looking forward to these final exams.”
Aunt Kass was dressed for work, wearing a long white coat over a pair of teal scrubs. Cassandra Miles was Amonda’s head veterinarian, a lucrative yet demanding career within the Green Faction. Kass assumed custody of Dameon and the twins when her sister died, and between her wards and her work, it was no wonder why a bag of coffee never lasted long in their house.
Marcus returned from the kitchen, chuckling as he watched Dameon sneak in another shot. “Bro, what are you complaining about? This is your last day of school for like, ever! If anything, it should be me complaining!”
“Hey man, I paid my dues,” Dameon said between mouthfuls of toast. “Besides, if Emerald University accepts me into their program, I’ll be right back in a classroom suffering along with everyone else. If they even accept me, that is.”
“Dameon, please,” Kass scoffed. “You have the highest score average in your class! The university would be foolish not to accept you.” She leaned back and drained the last of her espresso, then glanced at the clock. “You kids should get ready to leave. The Russells will be here soon.”
“Right on schedule,” Aunt Kass yawned, giving each of her kids a warm hug before they left.
Dameon gathered his belongings and opened the door, where he was greeted by the sight of his best friend Brody Russel and his little brother, Jimmy. They both sported a lanky physique and scruffy brown hair, but only Brody had the mischievous grin that often labeled him a troublemaker. Rightly so, as it turned out. Brody and Dameon were childhood best friends, and in a small village like Amonda, those sort of friendships tended to last.
“Hey man!” Brody greeted as they clasped hands. “Are you ready for our final exams? I hope you studied as hard as I did.”
“As hard as nothing still amounts to nothing,” Dameon laughed. “You’ve never studied a day in your life!”
“And that is why I always sit next to you in class,” Brody agreed, slinging his arm over Dameon’s shoulders as they led their siblings along the path to school.
Traveling through Amonda was just like walking through a nature trail, because that’s exactly what it was. The forest canopy seemed to stretch higher than the sky itself, the ancient trunks as tall and large as any skyscraper in the Bytan faction. Messenger birds flew overhead, carrying parchment or envelopes within their talons as the kids encountered a family of curious rabbits by the main road. There were other factions in Elderana, such as Renda or Pernar, that weren’t exactly known for their beautiful environments, but while in Garde even the walk to school was serene.
Reaching the school campus, Dameon and Brody bid their siblings farewell as they joined their friends in the courtyard, then walked to their first class. Another benefit of Garde living was that classes were always held outside. The forest canopy—with a little helping of argomancy—protected students and staff from the elements and provided a cool breeze while they studied.
A melodic laugh from across the clearing caught Dameon’s attention and he froze. Standing among her group of friends was a petite girl with stunning red hair and emerald green eyes. Before Dameon could avert his gaze, the girl locked eyes with him and flashed a smile, knowing she had just caught him staring. She turned her attention back to her girlfriends and Dameon felt his face grow red. A cold shiver rattled through his spine as his hands began to shake, and before he knew it, he found himself taking a few steps towards her.
Before he could get far, Dameon felt a hand rest against his shoulder.
“Hey man,” Brody warned, “we talked about this, remember? You don’t need that negativity in your life. Come on, let’s head to class.”
Biting his lip, Dameon unclenched his fists and nodded. “Yeah, you’re probably right. Thanks for looking out for me.”
“It’s what I do,” Brody shrugged as they entered their first period.
History class was taught by Mr. Flannery, who was an old man perpetually behind schedule wherever he went. A large bell rang throughout the campus, but as always, Mr. Flannery was running late.
The boys took their usual seats beside Romero, one of their closest friends in the village. Romero sported a close shave and a trimmed black beard, wearing his white tank top and black shorts in an obvious effort to show off his physique.
“What’s going on, fellas?” Romero asked as he drew in his notebook, barely looking up when his friends sat down.
“Same as always,” Brody sighed as he took a seat behind Romero. “Dameon spotted Rita hanging out in the courtyard and almost confronted her. Again.”
Romero looked up and sucked his teeth. “Bro, how many times do we have to tell you? Don’t pay that girl any attention, she’s rotten through and through. Besides, there are a few benefits to not being tied down to anyone, ay Chosen One?”
Dameon rolled his eyes at the nickname and chuckled. “I’ll be sure to tell Becca that the next time I see her.”
Mr. Flannery ran into the classroom a few minutes later, clutching his briefcase and sweating profusely. He wore a tweed jacket with wrinkled pants and a tie that could definitely use a straightening. His curly, grey hair was in its usual state of disarray as he hustled awkwardly through the aisle.
“Sorry I'm late, class! It won't happen again,” he flustered as he reached his desk.
“It's the last day of school, you old bat!” somebody in the back yelled, and laughter rippled across the forest.
The old man adjusted his glasses as he sat down. “Quite right, quite right,” he mumbled. “It's time for our final presentations. Which student of mine yelled from the back of the class? Was it Kyler? You can present first, Mr. Branson, since you’re so eager to address the class.”
Another wave of laughter washed over the class as Kyler shuffled to the front, cursing under his breath as he retrieved his project from his bag.
Sensing an opportunity, Brody ripped a piece of synthetic paper from his notebook, balled it up and threw it at Kyler. The ball of paper hit Kyler in the back of his head, much to the amusement of the class.
When the paper bounced onto Flannery’s desk, the teacher didn’t even glance up from his notes before passing judgment.
“Mr. Russell!” he called out. “You can present your project after Mr. Branson.”
Fidgeting in place, Brody sunk back in his seat. “How does he always know when it’s me?”
“Dude, when is it not you?” Dameon chuckled as he shook his head. “Who else would it be?”
Setting up his presentation, Kyler pulled a glass cube from his bag and placed it upon the center table. He tapped the cube twice and a beam of light shone through one of its faces, projecting a detailed map of the nation of Elderana onto a whiteboard. Their faction, Garde, was highlighted in green.
“My assignment is a brief overview of the Green Faction, Garde,” Kyler presented in an unenthusiastic tone. “Garde is home to the largest and most ancient forest in all of Elderana, which spans across the entirety of our borders, from Aquamaine to Pernar. Our forests are home to many unique creatures, such as elk, dryads, naiads and wild dragons. Garde is famous for our commitment to preserving the environment, our almost-zero crime rate and of course, our Garde Dragon Riders…”
After Kyler finished his presentation, the class gave a respectful applause as he returned to his seat.
His project in hand and a smile on his lips, Brody sauntered up to the front of the class and began setting up his own presentation. Cracking his fingers in anticipation, Brody Russell tapped his holo-cube twice and flashed a smile at his audience.
“For my final presentation, I was assigned the coolest faction in Elderana, and by far the easiest to write about. I present to you; Aquamaine, the Blue Faction.”
Behind him, another map was projected onto the whiteboard. Using the analog controls on the projection table, Brody zoomed the image in on the faction just south from their own, which consisted of a large gulf that overlooked more than a dozen islands that ranged in size.
“Even though Aquamaine occupies the least amount of land on Elderana’s continent,” Brody was saying, “the faction is also comprised of eighteen tropical islands scattered across the Sapphire Sea. Although they belong to the same faction, the islanders seldom get along with the mainland natives, for their cultural differences are vast indeed. Life on the mainland is a melting pot of cultures from all six factions in Elderana, whereas the islanders have created a unique and proud society of their own.
“The reason why this assignment was so easy to write about is due to Aquamaine’s dedication to secrecy. The islanders of Aquamaine keep strictly to themselves, never divulging any information they deem to be a conflict of factional security. Only three of their islands are regularly open to tourism, and even Garde, Aquamaine’s closest ally, is not privy to the Blue Faction’s operations. Nevertheless, both factions are united under the flag of the Cerulean Alliance and of course, under the Cerulean Omega.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Russell,” Mr. Flannery interrupted, adjusting his glasses as he stared disapprovingly at Brody. “Are you attempting to make a joke during your final presentation?”
“Not at all!” Brody defended, losing all traces of his trademark grin. “In our dragon studies class, Mr. Thon showed us evidence that proves the Omegas’ existed—”
“That’s ten points off your presentation, Mr. Russell,” the old man croaked, clearly not amused, “for making a fool of yourself during a final exam. Return to your seat and be grateful I’m still giving you a passing grade.”
Hiding his frustration behind a fake smirk, Brody retrieved his holo-cube and walked back to his desk. He mumbled under his breath as the next student fired up her own final presentation of the history of Elderana’s Neutral Zone.
“Dude, I told you,” Dameon whispered to his friend. “Omegas are just a legend, they don’t actually exist.”
“Again, it doesn’t matter what you say,” Brody countered defensively. “If Dragon Riders exist, why can’t—”
“MR. MILES!” Mr. Flannery yelled, interrupting their conversation. “If you’re quite finished disrupting my class, will you please join me at the front? It’s time for your presentation.”
Dameon drew in a breath to shake off his anxiety, then approached the front of the class and placed his holo-cube upon the projection table. A wave of heat flushed through his body as he faced the class. Logically there wasn’t any reason for him to feel anxious, Dameon knew, but logic never seemed to help when he could feel everyone’s eyes trained on him.
Come on man, get it together! he berated himself. You’ll be fine, just power through!
“My final presentation is on the three alliances that structure the Elderana nation,” Dameon began, unwittingly adjusting his shirt as he spoke. “Faction alliances were created in an effort to bring a lasting peace in the wake of the faction wars centuries ago.” Feeling a little more at ease, he tapped his fingers twice upon his holo-cube, projecting another map onto the whiteboard. This map, however, displayed a rather outdated layout of Elderana. The six current factions were instead replaced by three vast territories.
“During the Faction Wars, the original three territories, Garde, Soltan and Renda, were each locked in an internal conflict that raged within their borders,” Dameon continued, now on a roll. “Even our sworn protectors, the Dragon Riders, had joined the front lines of these battles, creating considerable bloodshed in their wake. Massive environmental devastation was razed across the land, threatening to destroy the entire nation of Elderana. When the environment of each territory had reached the point of catastrophic transformation, it was said that Drako himself called upon the generals of each army to meet under the flag of truce in a neutral location, which is now referred to as Elderana’s Neutral Zone. Using his considerable influence, the Great White Dragon brokered a peace treaty between the six generals, which in turn created the six factions we are familiar with today: Garde, Aquamaine, Renda, Solace, Bytan and Pernar.
“Realizing that a new governing structure was needed in order to foster a lasting peace, Drako created the Cerulean, Eminence, and Vermillion Alliances,” Dameon carried on. “The alliance system was designed to keep each faction in check. Historically, this concept has proven to be effective; aside from Elderana’s Civil War, our nation has enjoyed a relative peace that has lasted for centuries.”
The boys attended two more classes before their lunch period. The first exam, magic studies with Mr. Reis, seemed less of a test and more about Mr. Reis wanting to leave early.
“Marcel!” Mr. Reis yelled, pointing at his student. “What are the primary magical disciplines practiced in Garde?”
“Argomancy and elemental!” Romero yelled back, started by his teacher’s intensity.
“Good!” Reis applauded, then turned to his next student. “Branson! What is the primary difference between argomancers and elementals?”
“Erm, what?” Kyler stammered, pulling himself out of his daydream.
Mr. Reis rolled his eyes, then turned to Dameon. “Miles, can you save him?”
“Argos focus primarily on nature, while elementals practice two or more disciplines at once.”
“Excellent, you all get an A!” Mr. Reis exclaimed as he packed up his briefcase. He threw on a pair of sunglasses as he sprinted down the isle of desks. “I’m off to Aquamaine, see you all next year!”
Dameon and Brody shared a puzzled look.
“Doesn’t he know it’s our last year?” Brody asked.
Dameon shrugged. “I honestly don’t think he cares.”
After their next class, the boys compared their exam results as they walked to lunch.
“Man, that test was brutal!” Brody moaned, rubbing his temples as they left their third period. “Ugh, my head is pounding after that last essay question.”
Dameon rolled his eyes. “You mean the only question you couldn’t copy off me?”
“You’re damn right!”
“Come on, let’s head to lunch,” Romero suggested. “Becca said she would save us a seat by the river.”
The hum of the cafeteria roared even before they reached the large clearing, which was adorned with rows of stone tables and benches. A churning river ran alongside the cafeteria’s produce aisle, which also traveled across the entire village and was primarily used to wash food.
“Hand it over, Marsh! I won’t ask you again!”
A harsh voice pulled Dameon’s attention away from his growling stomach. Beside the river was a group of four students wrestling over a backpack. Growing concerned, Dameon gestured for his friends to follow and led them over to the scuffle.
He recognized the largest student; It was Michael Vasquez, a spoiled senior from one of Amonda’s wealthiest families. His father ran the village’s animal breeding farm, which is a very lucrative career in Garde. Due to his family’s wealth, Vasquez grew up to be a self-entitled narcissist and the company he kept didn’t fare any better.
“That’s Brandon Marsh,” Brody realized, referring to the younger student. Brandon was clinging onto to his backpack with everything he had as Vasquez’s thugs swung him around, trying their hardest to pull the bag from his grasp. “I don’t know him all that well, but he’s pretty good friends with Jimmy.”
“If you don’t give me those notes, I’m going to fail my final exams!” Vasquez growled as he balled his fists. “Hand it over, now!”
“Let go of my bag!” Brandon cried. “Those are my notes and I need to study too! You’re not the only one who has exams!”
Dameon knew Brandon was in trouble when Vasquez’s face grew red. With a nasty sneer, Michael yanked the bag back and cocked his fist.
Dameon thrusted his hands before him, his fingertips brimming with energy. Vines clinging to the ancient trees suddenly shot through the air and wrapped around Vasquez’s arm, pulling him back as he crashed to the ground. As the vines dragged Michael away, he looked around for the source of the magic and sneered once he saw who the culprit was.
“What the hell is your problem, Miles?” Vasquez yelled, struggling against the vines as his friends, Ramirez and Parson, tried to pry the vines off his arm.
“My problem?” Dameon retaliated, feeling his anger build. “I don’t know, maybe I have a problem with you constantly picking on those you think are beneath you! Leave the kid alone; he’s not bothering anyone.”
With the older boys distracted, Brandon snatched his backpack and ran to safety, shooting Dameon a thankful glance as he departed. Once he was free, Vasquez brushed the dirt off his clothes and stormed over to Dameon, his friends in tow.
Vasquez stepped in close, his fists bawled tight. “Stay out of my business, Chosen One,” he growled, “before I lay you out right here, in front of the entire school.”
“I told you never to call me that,” Dameon warned, his rage getting the better of him. “Don’t make me remind you again.”
The clearing suddenly grew quiet. The entire cafeteria was staring at the commotion. Vasquez’s face was so red, Dameon swore he had popped a blood vessel. Before either of them could make a move, Ramirez placed a hand on Vasquez’s shoulder.
“Hey man,” Ramirez warned. “Save this for later. The principle just walked in.”
He was right; the large crowd gathering around them was enough for the principle to take notice, who often patrolled the cafeteria during lunch. Mrs. Adams was shooting them both a steely glare, as if to say, don’t even think about it.
Eyeing the principle, Vasquez took a step back and unclenched his fists.
“Watch yourself, Miles,” he threatened, his gaze unwavering as he and his crew departed. “This is far from over.”
Realizing that there wasn’t going to be a fight, the crowd of onlookers sighed and returned to their seats. Regaining his composure, Dameon turned back to his friends, who had thankfully not left his side.
“Are you trying to get yourself killed?” Brody asked. “Why do you always have to push his buttons like that? You know the guy is unstable!”
“No doubt about that,” Dameon agreed, “but what Vasquez was doing wasn’t right. I couldn’t let him torture that poor kid. Besides, it’s not like I asked you guys to help.”
“Maybe so,” Brody replied, “but you know we’ll always have your back. Even when you’re sure to get us killed.”
“Damn right,” Romero added, and Dameon smiled.
The lunch line started beside the kitchen, one of the only concrete structures in the school. They brought their trays to the kitchen window, where they were serving…
“You guys made ravioli on the last day of school?” Brody exclaimed to the serving staff. “You guys are way too good to me!”
The school’s ‘produce aisle’ consisted of trees full of fruit and small rows of farming squares for vegetables. The boys picked out what they wanted and washed the produce in the river. Naturally, farm growth of this size couldn’t sustain an entire school every day, but with a little help from nature magic, the produce regrew within a matter of hours, fresh and ready to eat.
“Hey boys! Over here!”
They spotted Becca waving at them from a table near the river. Rebecca Wilson was a forest dryad, one of three that attended Amonda’s school. She had dark brown skin, pointed ears, and since it was approaching the fall season, her hair was a striking yellow this time of year. Her hair was braided with flowers and leaves and she wore a gold blouse with long, black pants.
Traditionally, dryads and naiads didn’t attend mortal schools, for their life cycles are vastly different than humans or even elves. In recent years, however, a few dryad families had allowed their offspring to experience life outside of their respective biomes, Becca’s family included.
“How are my boys doing?” Rebecca asked, smiling when Romero planted a kiss on her cheek. “I saw the argument with Vasquez. Is everything alright?”
“Yeah, everything’s fine,” Romero replied over the sound of Brody inhaling ravioli down his bottomless gullet. “Dameon was busy being a hero again, that’s all. How have the exams been so far?”
Becca rolled her eyes, laying her head on Romero’s shoulder. “Pointless, really. When am I ever going to use math in the forest? To count how many leaves are on my branches? I mean, I’m thankful for this experience, but I don’t see how…”
She trailed off, her eyes growing wide as she stared at Brody’s tray of food. Or rather, the sauce-covered plate that once held food on it only moments ago.
“What?” Brody said defensively, a bit of sauce still upon his lips.
“After all these years, it still blows my mind how your lanky ass can stay so thin when you can eat your body weight in pasta,” Dameon chuckled, shaking his head as Becca slid her plate away from Brody.
“It’s all thanks to my morning runs, dude!” he replied, trying to sneak a ravioli off Dameon’s plate, for which he slapped his hand away. “I’ve offered all of you to join me, but you apparently care more about sleep than staying fit.”
Romero sucked his teeth again. “We already work out after school, so why would we… Bro! Step off my ravioli!” he snapped, slapping Brody’s fork away. “Plus, after we suffer through selection day tomorrow, we’ll have a lot of time on our hands to stay fit.”
“Speaking of which, I’m really not looking forward to tomorrow,” Becca sighed.
“Me either,” Dameon replied. “The last time anyone was selected in Amonda was over a hundred years ago. The entire holiday is just a waste of time.”
“Hey, you never know,” Romero shrugged as he finished his meal. “This year might play out differently. Let’s be honest; who wouldn’t want to become a Dragon Rider?”
Dameon’s final class of the day was dragon studies, taught by Mr. Thon. The middle-aged teacher was already waiting by the time they arrived, his blond hair combed back and his cardigan pristine. Whenever his students entered the classroom, their eyes were immediately drawn to the enormous skeleton of a wild dragon, which was held together by vines behind his desk.
“Welcome to our final class of the school year,” Mr. Thon greeted as his students took their seats. “We have a long exam ahead of us, but first, I would like to remind you all of the assembly being held in the auditorium this afternoon. We will be going over what will be expected of you during the upcoming Selection Day ceremony. I expect you all to be seated by four o’clock, and yes, Mr. Russell, this assembly is mandatory.”
The class laughed as Brody held his arms up, as if to say, what did I do this time? A smile crept over Mr. Thon’s lips as he handed out the exam packets.
“Keep passing the packets back and do not open the exam until I tell you to do so. This test will measure your grasp on the hierarchy between Alpha Riders and the Riders who serve under them, as well as their relationships with the three Omegas…”
Unable to curb his curiosity, Romero peeked through the packet on his desk. Upon inspection, Romero hung his head back and sighed.
“This exam is ridiculous,” he whispered. “How am I supposed to know what the governing structure of Renda’s Riders are? We never went over that in class!”
“Yes, we did,” Becca corrected. “You were probably sleeping through his lecture again.”
Romero scoffed, then leaned forward to tap Brody on the shoulder. “Russell, you gotta pull the Trigger. It’s my only hope!”
“Yeah right,” Dameon scoffed. “There’s no way, not during a final exam! It’s way too big of a test.”
Brody turned to his friends, his mischievous grin in full effect. “Ye of little faith, Miles. Trust me, I live for moments like this.” Winding up his pitch, Brody put on a stoic face and raised his hand until Mr. Thon took notice.
“Yes, Mr. Russell?” the teacher asked.
“Well, Mr. Thon,” Brody began, “during my final presentation in Mr. Flannery’s class, I referenced a lesson that you had taught us earlier this year, and in doing so, Mr. Flannery actually dropped my grade! If I’m being honest, he made me question your knowledge of Elderana, and now I’m not sure which one of you is correct.”
Thon scowled, crossing his arms defensively. “Question my knowledge? That stuttering old fool doesn’t even know where his classroom is. Which lesson of mine did you reference?”
“I explained how the Garde and Aquamaine factions are united by the Cerulean Alliance, and in turn our Omega. Flannery took ten points off my assignment because he claimed that the Omegas never existed! I thought this was a little harsh, but…” Brody trailed off, wincing while he rubbed his neck. “He basically called your teachings a joke.”
The class watched as Mr. Thon grew deathly still.
“There’s no way,” Dameon whispered.
Thon’s mouth began to twitch.
“I don’t believe it,” Becca said.
Dameon’s jaw dropped as Thon slammed his mug against his desk.
“A joke? That man called my knowledge a JOKE?” Thon spat, now enraged beyond reason. “I have indisputable proof to back up my claims!” He continued his rant as he pulled diagrams and files out of his desk, determined to prove his colleague wrong.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Brody leaned back in his chair, “Mr. Thon has just been Triggered.”
His friends patted Brody’s back as he fired a finger gun at his victim. The man in question spewed profanity about the other teacher until his whiteboard was filled to the brim with old news clippings.
“Every faction in Elderana is home to their own race of dragon,” Thon began. “For example, Garde dragons are green, ranked second largest race on average and are known for their incredible strength. Our rival faction’s dragons, Pernar, are shades of purple, ranked smallest race of the six but make up for their size with enhanced speed and aerial agility. While each faction has their own race of dragon, there is one dragon within each faction that stands out from the rest. Can anyone tell me who they are?”
Becca raised her hand. “The Alpha Riders and their dragons, who rule over each faction and their Riders. Whenever an Alpha dragon dies, it’s successor will grow to be the largest and strongest dragon in the faction and their scales will glow.”
“Thank you, Ms. Wilson. Yes, the Alpha Riders are the highest law in each faction, but if there are two Alphas in each alliance, who would be in charge of the alliances if not the Omegas? The three Omega Riders are the most powerful leaders in Elderana and are a mixture of the two races their factions represent.”
Brody raised his hand. “If the Omegas really do exist, then why did Mr. Flannery say you were wrong?” he asked, stoking the flames of his teacher’s ego.
“Your civics teacher is embarrassingly ill-informed, that’s why,” Mr. Thon replied, his rage renewed. “These articles date back centuries, all the way back to Elderana’s civil war! It portrays the last known sighting of the Cerulean Omega before their unfortunate demise by the hands of…”
Mr. Thon continued his rant for what felt like an eternity. Every time the teacher ran out of steam, Brody would ask another question, egging him on again and again, until…
BONG! BONG! BONG!
Thon stopped dead in his tracks, papers in hand and a flustered look upon his face. His eyes slowly shifted to the sundial, then to his whiteboard, and finally to Brody. Realizing what had happened, Mr. Thon sighed and closed his eyes.
The entire class cheered! As everyone stood to leave, their classmates praised Brody’s work and patted him on the back.
“That was amazing!” Romero exclaimed, pulling Brody into a hug. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Thon rant for that long—”
The four students froze, then turned to see Mr. Thon staring daggers at their little group.
“Mr. Russell,” he repeated through clenched teeth. “Your deceit will not go unpunished. I may no longer be able to send you to detention, but I shall see to it that you will be assisting the selection official during tomorrow’s ceremony. Is that understood?”
“Yes sir, I understand,” Brody replied, struggling to keep his voice level.
Satisfied, Mr. Thon dismissed his students with a wave of his hand. They walked out of his class, trying to hide their laughter as they entered the courtyard.
“Hey man, thanks for taking one for the team,” Romero said, looking a little guilty. “I’m sorry it got you into trouble.”
“Who cares?” Brody dismissed with a wave. “Dude, that was our last class! After all these years, we’re finally free!”
Dameon glanced at the large sundial that stood in the courtyard. “Well, for the next two hours, at least. Then we have to return for the assembly. Until then, do you guys feel like heading to the gym?”
After signing themselves out in the school’s office, the boys and Becca began the long walk to the gym. As always, Brody wanted to run the whole way over, but he was unanimously outvoted. Their gym was halfway across the village, and not everyone wanted to tire themselves out before they even arrived.
“Well, if you guys want to be lazy, that’s on you,” Brody rumbled. “I’m going to run ahead and get my blood pumping.”
“And hopefully burn some of that extra energy,” Romero muttered.
Dameon leaned over and whispered, “If only that was possible.”
In order to avoid the main street traffic, they decided to take the less traveled road to the gym. Dameon loved walking down this trail; not many people traveled down this road and the trees were older than the ones on the main trail. They all watched in amusement as Brody ran suicides ahead of them, but as his friend turned a corner, Dameon felt the hair rise on the nape of his neck.
Something felt seriously wrong.
Dameon turned to Romero and Becca, wanting to ask if they felt the same, but they seemed preoccupied with each other and he didn’t want to interrupt. Instead, Dameon let them walk ahead while he began searching around the path, trying to find the source of the malevolent energy he was feeling.
When he found the source, he couldn’t understand what he was looking at. A dark substance, almost like a tangible shadow, was covering a small expanse of the forest. The darkness covered the grass, ferns, and part of the trees in the clearing. When he knelt beside the corruption, the negative energy intensified. Dameon wasn’t the only one who felt it; even the forest animals were keeping a healthy distance away from the area.
Whatever this corruption was, it was growing, its borders spreading ever so slowly across the ground.
“Hey, Dameon!” he heard Becca call from further down the trail. Taking one last look at the corruption, Dameon backed away and returned to his friends.
Rebecca looked rather concerned by the time he arrived. She bit her lip anxiously as her eyes darted around the forest.
“Hey, is everything alright?” Dameon asked.
“I’m not sure,” Becca replied, releasing Romero’s arm. “It’s like the wind is trying to tell me something. Stay here for a moment; I’m going to scout ahead.”
Taking one last look around, Becca approached the nearest tree, merged into its trunk and disappeared.
“She is so cool,” Romero said, unable to hide his smile. They watched the branches above shift and rumble as her essence traveled from tree to tree. “Sometimes I wish I was a dryad. Could you imagine being that close to the forest?”
“The only downside would be your tethering range,” Dameon reminded him. “You would only be able to travel a few miles away from your tree before your essence would snap you back to Amonda.”
Romero tilted his head as he thought about it. “Yeah, I guess that’s true. Still, it would be pretty cool to live as long as the Riders do. What do you think she’s looking for?”
“You know, it might be this growth I found down the trail,” Dameon speculated, receiving an inquisitive look from Romero. “I’ve never seen anything like it…”
Romero and Dameon jumped to the sound of splintering wood as Rebecca burst out of a nearby tree, carrying something in her arms as she landed hard on the dirt road. They rushed to her aid to see what she had found.
Michael Vasquez was pinned against the ground, spitting dirt from his mouth as Becca held him down. Her forearms had shifted into thick roots, which coiled around Vasquez as he struggled within her grasp.
“Did you really think you could ambush us in my forest?” Becca taunted, placing a knee upon his back.
A rustling from a nearby bush caught their attention as Parson and Ramirez emerged from their hiding place. Rebecca released her hold on Vasquez as her arms reverted to normal, raising her hands as a spell formed on her lips—
“Lignum Petrefactum!” Parson cried, shooting a green light from his outstretched hand and hitting Becca square in the chest. Becca was blasted back, tumbling across the ground until she landed a few feet away.
“BECCA!” they cried in unison, rushing to her aid. At first, Dameon thought Parson had knocked her unconscious, for she wasn’t moving when they reached her, but it was far worse than that. The color of Becca’s skin had drained away, and her body was as immovable as a rock.
Rebecca had been turned into petrified wood.
“I’ll kill you for this!” Romero screamed, running and tackling Parson to the ground. He laid into Parson without remorse, punching him with all his might as blood sprayed from the brute’s broken nose.
Ramirez pulled Romero off of Parson, struggling to hold him back as Romero thrashed about. Dameon rushed over to help, but he had been so worried about Becca that he hadn’t noticed Vasquez recovering.
Dameon was suddenly airborne, flying back before slamming against a thick tree. His head rocked against the trunk and knocked him into a daze, but he still felt the vines wrapping around his wrists and ankles, pinning his body upright against the trunk. The irony of Vasquez using the same spell Dameon had used earlier was not lost on him.
“I told you this wasn’t over, Miles!” Vasquez yelled, throwing an uppercut into his stomach.
“AGH!” Dameon gasped, losing his breath but unable to keel over. “You son of a…”
Vasquez threw his fist into Dameon’s jaw, laughing harshly as Dameon’s mouth filled with blood. “Not so special now, are you, chosen one?” He punched Dameon twice more before stopping to shake his hands from the pain.
When he finally managed to catch his breath, Dameon spat a glob of blood and wheezed, “Why all the anger, Michael? Is it because your mother didn’t love you enough to stick around?”
Vasquez’s face grew visibly red; his absent mother was a sore subject.
“You just don’t know when to shut up, Miles!” he screamed, winding up his fist for another punch.
Both of them looked up to the sound of crazed screaming. Brody Russell, who had somehow snuck his way across the thick tree branches, had lost his footing and was now falling right above them.
Brody’s heel connected with the bridge of Vasquez’s nose as they crashed to the ground, Vasquez holding his gushing nose and Brody dazed from the fall.
The sudden appearance of Brody gave Dameon the distraction he needed. Spitting the blood from his mouth, he gathered his energy and poured it into his wrists and ankles. The vines holding him sliced apart, freeing Dameon from his bonds. He sent a swift kick into Vasquez’s stomach before rushing over to Romero, who was still brawling with Parson and Ramirez.
While Parson’s back was turned, Dameon wrapped his arm around Parson’s throat and pulled back. The bully gasped for air and tried throwing him off, even running backwards to slam him against the tree, but there was no way in hell Dameon was letting go. Not after what he did to Becca.
As Parson slipped into unconsciousness, something heavy slammed into Dameon’s back and he stumbled. Vasquez had picked up a thick branch and swung his next attack against Dameon’s knee.
“DAMEON!” Brody screamed and yelled an incantation as Vasquez swung again.
The branch rapidly decayed as he swung, breaking apart as it hit Dameon’s arm. Taking advantage of Vasquez’s confusion, Dameon spun and swept his knee against Michael’s legs, tackling him as he fell. His vision still blurred, Dameon swung a punch into the bully’s broken nose. Vasquez screamed, curling up on the ground as he held his nose and moaned.
Even though his body was screaming in pain, Dameon forced himself to stand. Before he could throw another punch, he felt a hand rest against his shoulder.
“Hey man,” Romero grunted. “Take a breath. It’s over.”
He was right; Vasquez and his crew were down for the count, all three of them sprawled across the grass. Romero wasn’t looking well, although Dameon wasn’t faring any better. Both of them were bleeding, bruised and completely exhausted.
“You guys did great,” Dameon praised his friends, then knelt beside Becca and scowled. “We need to get her over to my aunt. If anyone can get Becca back to normal, it’ll be her.”
Romero looked upon Parson with disgust. “That asshole used an illegal curse called Petrification; it only works on forest dryads. They took Becca out first because they knew she was the strongest.”
“What should we do with them?” Brody asked as he kicked Ramirez, who moaned in agony.
An idea popped into Dameon’s head that was so ridiculous, he couldn’t help but laugh. He turned to his friends and said, “I think we should pull a Kyler Branson.”
They both laughed, knowing full well what he meant.
Lying below, still holding his bloody nose, Vasquez looked up at them and moaned, “What the hell does that mean?”
“Oh, you’ll see,” Brody chuckled.
Before Vasquez could respond, Dameon, Brody and Romero knelt around the thugs, pressed their glowing hands against the grass and sent a green pulse across the ground. The dirt road rumbled beneath Vasquez and his friends as poison ivy erupted from the earth, growing rapidly and encompassing them inside a bubble that spanned for yards in every direction.
“This isn’t over, Miles!” Vasquez’s muffled voice roared from beneath the poison ivy. “I’ll get you back for this, I swear!”
“Man, he is just itching for a rematch,” Brody remarked, then yelped when Romero smacked the back of his head.
To avoid attracting attention, they kept off the main roads as the boys carried Becca over to the veterinarian’s office. Aunt Kass worked in a large barn made of reclaimed wood and was responsible for the health of Amonda’s animals. She had three vet techs who assisted her every day, but it was still a very demanding responsibility.
Kass was in the middle of a check up with a brown colt when her nephew and his friends arrived. Hearing them approach, she turned and flashed a welcoming smile. Upon seeing them, however, her expression immediately changed.
“Oh, what fresh hell is this?” she moaned in annoyance. “Just how many times are you boys going to show up at my doorstep covered in blood? Brody, did you try running across the tree branches again? I thought you would’ve learned your lesson after the last time.”
“No, I swear I wasn’t…” Brody trailed off. “Well… I did, but it was for a good reason this time!”
“Aunt Kass, this is serious,” Dameon cut in, turning his body so that Kass could see who they were carrying. “Michael Vasquez and his friends tried to jump us on the way to the gym, and they hit Becca with a curse.”
Kass’s expression shifted when she saw Becca. “Oh, the poor dear! Quickly now, carry her over to the spring,” she said, leading them outside while disrobing her white coat.
The hot springs of Amonda were located beside the veterinarian’s office, some standing alone while others cascaded into each other. They all stood waist deep within the largest spring as they carefully submerged Becca’s body underwater. Romero held her gently in his arms, keeping her body just beneath the surface.
“Alright kids,” Kass directed as Dameon and Brody took hold of her outstretched hands. Aunt Kass was an elemental, a master of both nature and hydromancy. Elemental mages often used water manipulation to heal themselves and others, making it the perfect discipline for healers such as Kass. “We need to focus our energies together and pour them into the spring. Are you ready?”
“Sana per aquam!” Kass cried, her eyes glowing blue.
The water began to shine blue around them, feeling cool to the touch despite it being scorching hot only moments ago. Their spell brightened the entire spring as their combined energy spread across the water. Even though the spell was taxing, Dameon couldn’t help but smile as he felt his own wounds slowly begin to heal.
Beneath the surface, Becca’s body began to twitch. Her hair and limbs swayed with the current as her body softened, until…
“GAAAH!” Rebecca gasped, sucking in air as she bursted through the surface. She looked around frantically, giving them an inquisitive look behind a mane of wet hair. “You wouldn’t believe the dream I was having,” she said, then looked down at the spring. “What are we doing in here?”
Romero laughed in relief as he wrapped his arms around her. “It’s a long story,” he said. “I’m just glad you’re okay!”
Aunt Kass glanced at her watch, which Dameon really hoped was waterproof. “You may have to tell your story going. Don’t you kids have an assembly to attend?”
“Holy Ilium!” Dameon cried, giving his aunt a quick hug before they waded out of the spring. “We’re going to be so late! Thanks for your help, Aunt Kass!”
“Be safe out there!” Kass yelled as they ran back to campus.
Out of breath and wheezing, they hightailed it towards the auditorium. Their destination had just come into view when Dameon spotted Mrs. Stinson roping off the main entrance.
“WAIT!” he called ahead, trying to grab her attention. Mrs. Stinson looked upon the four of them, soaking wet and completely out of breath as they hustled over.
“Names?” the teacher asked, clipboard in hand. After they signed in and entered the auditorium, Dameon heard her mutter, “At least you kid showed up. I’m still missing three more…”
The auditorium was bustling with students by the time they arrived. Well, it was crowded by Amonda’s standards; for their small village, a crowded auditorium consisted of forty or so students, and the entire year was graduating tomorrow.
Dameon couldn’t help himself: he scanned the crowd, searching for that tell-tale mane of red hair, but Brody sniffed out his intentions right away.
“No, Miles,” Brody said, steering him toward the opposite side of the auditorium. “We’re not doing this today.”
An enormous slab of polished granite served as the stage. The four sat together as Mr. Thon and Mrs. Stinson walked onstage, wheeling a large projector between them.
“Good evening, graduates,” Thon boomed. “I am told we are still missing a few students, but it’s time for our presentation to begin.”
Mrs. Stinson raised her hands high and clapped them together. Overhead, the branches and leaves shifted closer together, blocking the sunlight and casting the auditorium into darkness. Mr. Thon fired up the projector, where it displayed an image of an emerald, pointed slightly on each end and decorated with polished silver.
“This is a selection crystal,” Thon began. “Crafted by the first Omegas centuries ago, these crystals have the ability to determine who in Elderana are worthy enough to become a Dragon Rider. It’s said that they are psychically linked to the Hatchery, the dragon egg repository located in Alretha, the City of the Riders.”
“Tomorrow during the ceremony, each of you will take turns holding the crystal,” Mrs. Stinson continued. “The unborn dragons inside the Hatchery will sense your consciousness through this crystal. If one of the dragons feel that you are compatible with them, they will send you a signal.”
The image of the crystal grew brighter, filling the dark auditorium with a green haze. A faint sound of a dragon’s roar washed over the crowd, growing louder as the crystal glowed brighter.
“This event has only occurred twice in Amonda’s recorded history,” Thon informed. “If one of you is selected, you will immediately be sent to Alretha to begin your training. Now, are there any questions?”
Kyler was the first to raise his hand. “How long does Rider training usually take?”
“Initiate training takes about six months to complete,” he replied. “If you prove yourself worthy during that time, you will then bond with your dragon and continue your training alongside it. Yes, Robin?”
“If we are selected, will we have time to say goodbye to our family?”
“I’m sure the government official will allow you time to say goodbye to your loved ones before you leave. Does anyone else have a question?”
A pale hand rose from the middle of the crowd, the small movement catching everyone’s attention. None more so than Dameon’s.
“If you are born in Garde, does that mean you will return to the Green Faction after training is over?” Rita asked in her light, melodic voice.
Mr. Thon shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. If you bond with another faction’s dragon, then by law you will have to live in and protect that faction for the remainder of your days. Even if that faction is Pernar.”
That won a collective gasp from the crowd. The Purple Faction was Garde’s worst enemy, stretching all the way back to the faction wars. If they had to live there…
“If that is the last of your questions, then this concludes the end of our presentation,” Thon announced, dismissing the graduating class. “I will see you all at nine a.m. AND MR. RUSSELL! You will be arriving ten minutes early to assist Mr. Humphrey.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Brody called over his shoulder as they departed.
“Are you kids excited for the big day?” Aunt Kass asked, cooking breakfast in the kitchen while Dameon set the table.
“I wouldn’t exactly call this a big day,” he remarked. “Selection day is just an hour-long ceremony, sweating under the sun as Mr. Humphrey drones on and on about Elderana’s history for an eternity. It’s not like any of us will actually be selected. It just doesn’t happen in Amonda.”
They carried the breakfast to the table and served the twins their meal. The whole family was dressed formally for the occasion; Dameon and Marcus wore a white button-down with black pants, while Fayth and Aunt Kass wore semi-formal dresses.
“But this is such a big day!” Kass said as she poured herself a draft of caffeine. “This isn’t just a selection day ceremony, it’s also your graduation! Besides, you never know what life has in store for you. There’s always a chance that someone might be selected this year.”
They heard someone rapping at the door as they were clearing the table. Throwing on his blazer, Dameon walked to the foyer and opened the door, where he came across a truly remarkable sight.
“Dude!” Dameon laughed hysterically. “What the hell are you wearing?”
Brody’s face grew red as he pulled on the collar of his dark green suit. The jacket and pants were a forest green, the collared shirt was white and the ensemble was accompanied by a dark green tie.
“Shut up!” Brody grumbled defensively. “I didn’t choose this! Mr. Thon stopped by my house last night and said I had to wear this monstrosity for the ceremony.”
“Man, he is really out to get you,” Dameon chuckled as the two families took the path to Main Square. Dameon greeted Brody’s family as they traveled, which took some time; Mandy and Rex Russell had six sons and three daughters, including Brody. It almost felt like half the village was accompanying Dameon to the ceremony.
They spotted Romero and Becca standing alongside their families in Main Square. Romero had spotted them as well. Or, more accurately…
“Dude, what the hell are you wearing?” Romero laughed as they approached.
“The hellish nightmare that is the wrath of Mr. Thon,” Brody replied, pulling on his collar once again. “Come on, let’s ditch the families. I want you guys sitting in the front, so I can whisper to you while I’m onstage.”
The four entered the Main Square, which was Amonda’s largest clearing without any trees. Most of the village’s shops and services were located here, but today the vendors had closed their shops to attend the ceremony. The entire village had gathered around the stage. Even though Selection Day was the most tedious holiday of the year, it was still considered a highlight for the small village. The only available space left was in front of the stage, where a few rows of chairs had been reserved for the graduates.
Brody leaned against the stage as Dameon, Becca and Romero settled into the front row. At first they passed the time with playful conversation, but as the rest of the seats began to fill, the conversation shifted as their eyes wandered to the podium stand, where the selection crystal sat.
“That crystal must be centuries old,” Becca said, her eyes shining with excitement. “That’s hard to imagine, seeing something so ancient.”
“Well, so is your mother,” Romero said without thinking, then laughed as Becca started punching his arm. “Wait, that wasn’t an insult! Isn’t your mother like a few hundred years old? I was just making a comparison!”
Dameon laughed and shook his head. “Just think, as soon as we touch that crystal, our minds will be connected to all of those dragons inside the Hatchery. I can’t even imagine what that would feel like.”
Mr. Thon was standing onstage, looking down at Brody. “You look ridiculous, Russell. We’re about to start, so hop onstage. Humphrey should be here any minute.”
The graduating class settled into their seats as Brody sauntered onstage. As he ascended the stairs, his suit won a few laughs from the audience. To Brody’s credit, he played it off with a smile and a bow.
“Is this the volunteer?” a raspy voice called. An old, obese man approached the stage, struggling against the railing as he climbed the stairs.
Ernest Humphrey was a sixty-year-old man with a large stomach, liver spots and the worst comb over anyone had ever seen. He wasn’t the most charming man, yet he had served as Amonda’s selection official for the past thirty years. As he approached Brody, he pulled a handkerchief from his suit and wiped his brow.
“Your suit looks ridiculous. Alright kid, you’re going to read off the candidate list after I give my speech.” He fell into a violent coughing fit before continuing. “I don’t want you touching that crystal until your name has been called, you hear me?”
Brody flashed a winning smile and nodded. “I’m your man, Mr. Humphrey!”
“Mr. Thon!” Humphrey craned his neck and called. “We are ready to begin. It’s time to call everyone to their seats.”
Once the village had settled down, Mr. Humphrey tapped on the microphone and cleared his throat.
“Good morning, and welcome to our annual Selection Day ceremony!” Humphrey rasped, a layer of sweat already beading on his brow. “Today, we celebrate the graduation of these young adults, and bestow upon them the honor of participating in Elderana’s selection process. This tradition dates back to the creation of the first Riders, over…”
Sitting behind the podium, Brody had to stifle a yawn. Dameon couldn’t blame him; Humphrey rambled the exact same speech every year, repeating words like ‘honor’ and ‘tradition’ so many times that the words themselves began to lose their meaning. Dameon grew concerned about falling asleep in his chair and had to punch his leg a few times to stay awake.
"Don't get too excited today, Dameon," a soft voice jarred him back to reality. He turned around to see who it was and almost jumped out of his seat!
Rita was sitting right behind him and he hadn't even noticed.
"What are you talking about?" Dameon asked her.
"You’re not going to get picked,” Rita replied with her arms crossed. “You do realize that, don’t you?"
Romero and Becca turned to see who was talking. Their faces immediately soured when they recognized Dameon’s ex-girlfriend.
“Stop talking to him, Rita,” Becca sneered. “Haven’t you done enough to him already? Just ignore her, Dameon. She’s not worth your time.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” Dameon said to Rita, ignoring Becca’s advice. “Nobody is ever selected in Amonda.”
Rita flashed a less than sincere smile, but it still made his heart lurch. “You can’t fool me, Dameon. I know you all too well. You’ve always denied the title of the chosen one, always saying how cliché and untrue it is, and maybe you’ve convinced yourself that you don’t deserve it. But deep down, there’s a part of you that actually believes it, and it’s the same part of you that expects to be chosen today.”
“Lay off him, Rita,” Romero interrupted harshly, holding up a glowing green hand. “I’m serious.”
“Let me do you a quick favor, for old times’ sake,” Rita continued on despite Romero’s threat. “I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. You’re not that special, you never have been. After three years of being together, you and I both know that there’s nothing special about being saved by a Garde dragon that was just doing its job—”
“Rita!” Romero snapped in a hushed tone. “If you don’t stop messing with Dameon’s head, I swear to Drako that I will sneak into your house tonight and ‘Kyler Branson’ you while you sleep! If you don’t believe me, just ask Vasquez.”
Her eyes darted to the back row of the graduating class, where Vasquez and his friends sat uncomfortably. They were scratching their bumpy red skin during the entire ceremony, their eyes screaming with pain. Vasquez noticed them all staring at him and sneered.
Not wanting to risk the same treatment, Rita crossed her arms and stared straight ahead with an annoyed expression. Romero snapped his fingers to grab Dameon’s attention, then pointed back to the stage. From the sound of things, Humphrey’s speech was finally coming to a close.
"Now, for the moment we've all been waiting for," Humphrey announced. The portly man walked over to the green crystal and raised it for everyone to see. "The selection crystal! If my volunteer can please step forward, he will start us off by calling out the names of our graduating class. Graduates, I will hand you the crystal as you arrive onstage. Who’s up first, Mr. Russell?"
Mr. Thon shoved his elbow into a dozing Brody’s side, waking him from his slumber. Snorting as he woke, Brody jumped from his seat and stumbled over to the mic stand. As he stood behind the podium, a few people in the crowd started to laugh.
“Hello Amonda!” Brody smiled, always eager to entertain. “Trust me, this outfit was not my choice! Mr. Thon wanted me to wear this for the ceremony, although why he had this suit in his closet is beyond me—”
Brody’s moment was interrupted by Thon clearing his throat, which generated more laughter from the crowd.
“Alright then, first on the list is… Kyler Branson!”
Humphrey lifted the crystal from the podium and handed it to Kyler as he walked onstage. Kyler carefully accepted the ancient crystal and held it close, waiting for a sign… but as to be expected in their village, the crystal remained dormant. With a trace of disappointment, Kyler returned the crystal as Brody called the next name on the list.
This went on for a while; graduates walked across the stage, taking the crystal from Humphrey as they waited for the sign that would change their lives forever. Yet the crystal did not shine.
“Romero Marcel,” Brody called aloud, then smiled as Romero stood. “Good luck, man. If anyone deserves the honor…”
Brody was cut short as Humphrey doubled over, succumbing to a violent coughing fit. Seeing the crystal slipping from Humphrey’s grasp, Brody rushed across the stage to save the ancient relic.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got it!” Brody assured, taking hold of the crystal before it fell. He gestured for Romero to approach, who had stopped midway during the coughing fit.
A glint caught Dameon’s eye as Brody carried the crystal over to Romero. Shocked, he realized that the crystal was faintly starting to glow! The light grew brighter the closer Romero’s hands came to the crystal, and as he grasped it, Romero’s face grew into an expression of pure joy. With a triumphant smile, Romero presented the crystal to the crowd, which showed it…
Dormant. The crystal was completely lifeless. Romero’s expression turned to one of dismay. He shook the crystal as if it was broken, then held it in the sunlight to see if it was just a trick of the light. In that moment, Dameon saw Romero tear up.
Behind him, Mr. Thon stood up in a mixture of disbelief and anger. “No…” he said. “This can’t be! The dragons would be smarter than that!”
Dameon didn’t understand why he was in such a state of denial, but before he could piece it together, Romero had handed the crystal back to Brody.
The crystal exploded to life in Brody’s hands, shining like a brilliant green star! The roar of a dragon rumbled across the square as the crystal vibrated in his grasp. Brody just stood there in disbelief. For the first time in his life, he had nothing to say as the crystal ebbed softly in his hands, for he knew his life had just changed forever.
Mr. Humphrey, who was so astonished that he had stopped coughing mid-fit, slowly walked over to Brody.
“Brody Russell has been selected! Amonda, let’s hear it for Elderana’s newest Dragon Rider!”
The audience cheered! Mr. Thon stormed off the stage, his face red and his eyes furious. Brody’s siblings were jumping around in a state of hysteria, imagining Brody bringing home a dragon to play with, while his parents’ faces went pale, imagining Brody bringing home a dragon for their children to play with.
Dameon barely noticed any of this. He was too busy spiraling in his own thoughts as white noise roared in his ears. Dameon was happy for his best friend, of course he was, for he was about to leave on an incredible, life changing adventure. But one voice kept circling through his head, Rita’s, repeating, you’re not special.
Did he actually expect to be chosen?
He hadn’t thought about it much growing up. It’s something every child dreams of but never really expects to happen, for the likelihood was next to impossible, but was Rita right? Was it true that after so many years of Dameon being told he was special, there was some part of him that started to believe it? But it turns out, after all this time, it was really Brody who was chosen all along? And soon, it’ll be Dameon’s turn to hold the crystal, and what will happen? Will it stay dormant? He couldn’t stand not knowing.
I have no choice! he thought. I need to know now!
Before he realized what he was doing, Dameon had leapt from his seat and was running to the stage. Not bothering with the stairs, he vaulted onto the stage and ran for Brody, who was still frozen in astonishment. As he snatched the crystal from Brody’s hands, Dameon hoped, he prayed, he PLEADED for the crystal to glow…
There was nothing. The crystal’s light disappeared as soon as Dameon took it away from Brody. As the light sunk back into the crystal, Dameon’s heart sank deep into his stomach.
Dameon turned to the crowd, which had grown deathly silent during the commotion. He looked around, his face growing red as he read their expressions. Aunt Kass looked concerned, as did the twins. Vasquez was downright laughing at him, as were his friends.
The worst one to see was Rita. She sat in her seat, her arms crossed in a victorious way, shaking her head as she mouthed, I told you so.
The crystal suddenly roared to life in Dameon’s hands! The green crystal shined so bright that it shone white and a chorus of dragons roared from within the crystal. It was vibrating so violently that the ancient crystal began to crack apart in his hands. Dameon was so shocked that that he panicked and dropped the crystal, where it rolled across the stage until it rested against the podium and waned.
The village was frozen in astonishment for a long time. Eventually it was Mr. Humphrey who broke the silence by clambering back onto the stage. Apparently, he had been so surprised by the second selection, he had tripped and fallen off.
Humphrey approached Dameon and Brody slowly, looking back and forth between the cracked crystal on the ground, the list of names in his hands, and the two boys. He picked up the crystal, placed it carefully upon the podium and cleared his throat.
“Dameon Miles and Brody Russell, your new Dragon Riders of Elderana!”
The audience’s cheering renewed! Aunt Kass jumped for joy as the twins waved their arms frantically, trying to catch Dameon’s attention.
Brody grinned, slapping Dameon’s back and throwing an arm around his shoulders. “We’re going to be Dragon Riders, dude!”
Dameon and Brody remained onstage until the ceremony had concluded, grinning from ear to ear all the while. Dameon still couldn’t believe they had actually been selected, and he knew Brody felt the same, for he saw Brody pinch his arm to confirm that he wasn’t dreaming.
Once Humphrey had finished the ceremony, he grabbed the boys by the arm and rushed them away from the rest of the village. Dameon didn’t understand his sense of urgency until he glanced behind them; almost half the village was following them out of Main Street.
Finding refuge in Amonda’s town hall, Humphrey led them inside the largest hollow tree in the entire village and shut the massive doors behind them. The interior was well furnished, as if someone important once lived here. Dameon vaguely remembered that this building hadn’t always served as their town hall, but as he tried to recall what it used to be, he kept drawing a blank.
The three of them settled in the empty lobby, sitting on the pleather chairs near the fireplace. Humphrey sat across from the boys, a sense of renewed youth rejuvenating his enthusiasm.
“Gentlemen, congratulations on becoming Elderana’s next potential Dragon Riders!” Humphrey exclaimed. “I can’t believe I was finally able to witness an actual selection after all these years, let alone two in the same year! Now listen closely, for we only have a few hours until our train departs for Alretha. Your families are currently being instructed by my assistants to pack your bags for your upcoming trip.”
A pounding on the double doors caused them to turn around. The crowd outside was growing impatient.
“That would be the village,” Humphrey surmised. “You’ll have the opportunity to say goodbye to your friends and family before you leave. Those who wish to will sign up for a private meeting, but you will only have a few minutes each to say goodbye before we must depart for the Neutral Zone. Are there any questions?”
“Can I change out of this suit?” Brody asked, completely serious for once.
“You can burn it for all I care,” he replied. “As long as we’re on time for the train. Now, both of you head upstairs and wait in one of the available rooms, and I will send in the first visitors in just a few minutes.”
Brody loosened his tie as they climbed the grand staircase. “I can’t believe we’re going to be Riders! I mean, when I was chosen first, I was happy and everything, but getting to do this with my best friend? That makes this a thousand times better! We’re going to run this village!”
“Absolutely,” Dameon grinned as they reached their private rooms. “Well, only if we’re bonded to Garde dragons. Actually, we could even end up protecting rival factions! If that happens, we may never be able to hang out again!”
“Come on,” Brody scoffed as he reached his door. “You know me! Even if we do end up in separate factions, I’d still fly over and hang out with you, even if it was against the law. There’s no way we’re going through this without each other.”
“I hope so,” Dameon replied as he opened his door. “I’ll see you in a bit. I’m sure you have a lot of people to say goodbye to.”
Dameon settled in the room, which had a small bed and a table beside the window. Two chairs stood beside the desk and a pitcher of ice water with a few glass cups. He sat in a chair and poured himself a glass while staring out the window. From up here, he could see the construction crew dismantling the stage in Main Square.
The door creaked behind him and he turned to see Fayth rush inside, followed by Marcus and Aunt Kass. Fayth almost knocked Dameon out of his seat before he had the chance to stand, hugging him tight with tears streaming down her face.
“Hey kiddo, what’s the matter?” Dameon asked, returning the hug. “Why are you crying?”
“You’re going to leave us!” Fayth cried, burying her face in his shoulder. “That’s what Marcus said! I don’t want you to leave forever!”
“Well, it’s true!” Marcus said as he sat on the edge of the bed. “What are the odds that you’ll end up bonding with a Garde dragon? Even if you’re bonded to an Aquamaine dragon, you’ll be too busy saving people to come visit us.”
Dameon walked over and sat beside Marcus. “You seriously think I wouldn’t come back to visit my family? I’m going to miss you guys so much, I swear I’ll make the time!”
“No, Dameon, you won’t,” Marcus said, turning away from him. “I’m not as well versed in dragon studies as you are, but even I know that once you’re bonded with your dragon, you won’t be the same. Your souls will become a blend of each other, and who’s to say what kind of person you’ll become after something like that?”
“Marcus, how could you even say that?” Aunt Kass scolded. “If there is one thing that won’t change, it’s that your brother will always make the time to see his family. Just please, promise me you’ll be safe. I don’t know what I would do if…” Kass trailed off as her eyes teared up.
Dameon ran over and wrapped her in a big hug. “I’ll write home as fast as Ray can fly, I promise,” he said, trying to regain his composure but failing. Dameon and Kass were suddenly rocked back as the twins snuck behind them and joined in the hug.
“Alright, cut it out! You guys are cutting off my circulation!” Dameon cried, prying himself away from the hug. “I’ll see you guys at the train station, okay?”
After his family departed, Humphrey sent in the next well-wisher. This went on for a while; Dameon said goodbye to many of his friends and neighbors as they wished him luck on the journey ahead. Even people he wasn’t really close with came by to wish him well, like the mayor and village blacksmith.
It was late into the next hour when Dameon’s closest friends finally walked in.
“Romero, Becca! I’m so glad to see you!” Dameon greeted warmly. When he gestured for them to enter however, Romero remained silent as he stormed inside, his eyes bloodshot and furious as he sat beside the window.
“Hey Dameon,” Becca greeted, kissing him on the cheek as she followed Romero in. She didn’t seem angry, but she shot Dameon a concerned look before sitting on the bed.
“Is everything alright?” Dameon asked, pouring them each a glass of water.
Romero clenched his jaw, accepting the water but refusing to drink. All he did was swirl the ice around in his glass. Dameon looked to Becca for answers, but she adverted her gaze.
“Do you know what it’s like,” Romero spoke through clenched teeth, “to see an opportunity for greatness in your hands, then have it suddenly snatched away from you?”
“Oh man,” Dameon replied, piecing it all together. “You thought you were going to be a Rider. I’m really sorry, that must’ve been awful. But please, try not to take it to heart; the odds for someone to be chosen is like, less than one percent—”
“It wasn’t just that!” Romero snapped, slamming the glass down on the table. “It’s one thing to hold the crystal and not be chosen, that I could understand. But it was glowing right in front of me! For a second, I thought, ‘I can’t believe it! I’m going to be a Rider!’ But the whole time, it was glowing for Brody? For BRODY? He’s not a bad person, but the guy is a born troublemaker! How can he be more worthy than me?”
“Romero, it doesn’t work like that!” Dameon reminded him. “You can be a great person and still not be a Rider. The selection process is completely dependent on compatibility with one of the dragons within the Hatchery.”
“That’s what I told him,” Becca said, wrapping her arms around her boyfriend. “All of my boys are amazing and goodhearted people; I wouldn’t be friends with you guys if you weren’t. It’s probably just a matter of a dragon believing they would work well with him, that’s all.”
“That’s not the point!” Romero yelled, standing and pacing around the room. “This is all Brody’s fault! He raised my hopes when he handed me that glowing crystal, and he smashed them when the crystal’s light faded away. Brody Russell is responsible for the worst moment in my life, and I will NEVER forgive him for that.”
“Babe, this is the last time we’re going to see Dameon for a long time,” Becca reminded him. “We should spend these last moments wishing him well.”
“It’s okay,” Dameon assured her. “Romero, you know Brody would never intentionally hurt you. After everything has cooled down, I hope you’ll see that.”
Romero exhaled, letting loose some of his tension, then surprised Dameon with a hug. “I don’t think I’m going to forgive Brody for this, but I’m really going to miss hanging out with you guys. You guys are my best friends.”
“Aww,” Becca said, her eyes shining over the display of affection. Dameon and Romero quickly released, their faces red. Becca laughed as she pulled Dameon in for a hug. “Good luck, Dameon. You’re going to do great things out there, I know it.”
On their way out the door, Romero turned and said, “By the way, I saw Rita waiting for you in the lobby. We tried to make her leave, but she refused to go.”
Dameon felt his heart drop as his body grew cold, and he had to force himself to breathe. “Thanks for the heads up.”
Romero nodded. “Any time, dude. Listen, I’m sure she’s only here to get into your head, so don’t fall for anything she says. If she does end up causing trouble, just remember that I was serious on my threat back at the ceremony. Just give me the word and I’ll do it, okay?”
Dameon smiled as he closed the door, then sat down to prepare himself for Rita’s visit.
Does she want to get back together? he found himself wondering. If so, is it because I’m going to be a Rider? Or is she just trying to get one last shot in before I leave? Should I even let Humphrey send her in?
He debated refusing to talk to her for a while, but before he could make up his mind, there was a knock on the door.
Alright then, Dameon decided. Better to air this out now.
“Dameon, are you in here?” Rita asked as she opened the door. Seeing him now standing by the table, she brushed her hair behind her ear, sat down and poured herself a drink.
“So, you were chosen after all,” she said. “Are you excited or nervous?”
He wasn’t sure what to expect, but Dameon sat across from her and sipped his water. “I mean, a little of both. Or rather, a lot of both. This wasn’t something I had planned on. I thought I was going home tonight, or to the gym with my friends. Instead, my whole life has been turned upside down.”
Rita smiled, setting her glass down. “Didn’t you expect it though?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, deep down, didn’t you expect to be chosen?”
Growing frustrated, Dameon set his drink down and glared at her. “Why are you here, Rita? Talking to me twice in one day? That’s twice more than you’ve wanted to do in the past five months.”
“I’m just saying,” Rita replied, her smile growing less sincere. “There’s always been a part of you that believed you are special. You can try to deny it, but why else would you run onstage the way you did? Was it because of what I said? Or was it because seeing your best friend selected, being hailed as the chosen one, was too much for your ego to bear? There is nothing I could’ve said that could’ve caused you to make such an ass of yourself. In that moment, your nice guy act fell away and your true colors were shown for the whole village to see. And even though he can’t see it yet, Brody will realize what kind of egotistical person you truly are. You snatched that crystal out of his hand during one of the biggest moments in his life! Once his euphoria dies down, he’ll realize who you really are and drop you as a friend.”
“So that’s why you’re here?” Dameon snapped. “You waited all day in that lobby just so you could tear me down? Get to the point or get out!”
Rita stood and glared down at him. “The only reason why you were selected was because of me! We’ve both known for a long time that you’re not in the least bit special. I realized that after the first year of being with you. You had no ambitions, no drive and nothing that made you special until I pushed you into becoming the person you are today. Everything those dragons saw in you when you held that crystal, everything that was special about you? They were seeing the best parts of me through you. Without those parts, you are nothing.”
Dameon felt his heart drop into the darkest pit of his stomach. Emotions thrashed and swirled within his chest: anger, depression, and the all too familiar feeling of heartbreak. But as he rose from his chair, one thought flashed into Dameon’s head that was so profound, he was able to keep a calm face as he met her gaze.
“So why didn’t they pick you?”
Rita stood in place for what felt like an eternity, trying her hardest to formulate a response. All she could do in the end was smile and head for the door.
“Goodbye Dameon. Don’t try to write me. I hope Brody realizes who you really are before it’s too late.”
Rita walked out the door, her destructive aura following her as she went. Even after she left, all Dameon could do was stand there. Try as he might, he couldn’t keep Rita’s voice out of his head. He couldn’t help but wonder if what she said was right.
Is Brody going to drop me as a friend?
“Dameon?” Brody asked, looking concerned as he poked his head through the doorway. “I just saw Rita leaving your room. Are you okay? You look a little rattled.”
Dameon flashed him what he hoped was a convincing smile and stepped into the hall. “I’m fine man, thanks.” As they walked downstairs, Dameon noticed his best friend was missing his trademark smile. “How about you, are you doing alright?”
“Yeah, it was just a little hard saying goodbye to everyone, that’s all,” Brody replied, putting on a smile as they reached the lobby. Dameon could tell the smile was forced, but he didn’t want to pry.
“Are you two finished?” Humphrey interrupted as they approached. “Our train leaves in twenty minutes! You want to say goodbye to your loved ones, don’t you? We need to hurry!”
Humphrey’s train was waiting for them at the station. The sleek locomotive came directly from Emerald City and was one of the fastest ways to travel across the faction. It was completely silver, aside from the green stripe that adorned its sides.
The entire village had gathered by the station to see them off. Humphrey led the boys through the cheering crowd as Dameon and Brody waved goodbye to their neighbors. Their close friends and family were waiting for them on the platform. Aunt Kass and the twins held Dameon’s luggage in their hands, smiling while tears glistened in their eyes.
Dameon wrapped all three of them in a group hug and held them tight. “I’m going to miss you guys so much,” he said, trying to hold back tears. “I swear, I’m going to write home every chance I get.”
Aunt Kass started crying and pulled him in for one last hug. “Your parents would be so proud of you,” she said, holding him out in front of her.
Someone tapped Dameon’s shoulder, and he turned to see Fayth holding up a small envelope.
“Take this with you,” she insisted. “Don’t read it until you get to Alretha, okay?”
“Of course,” Dameon smiled, then pulled her in for one last embrace.
“Good luck on your travels, Dameon,” Becca said, giving him a kiss on the cheek while Romero shared a fist bump. “Make sure to write often; I want to hear about how different the nature is in the Neutral Zone.”
“I will,” Dameon replied, gathering his luggage as the conductor announced last call. “Hey, Romero?” he called as Romero turned. “Go for it.”
“Consider it done,” Romero smiled, understanding what he meant.
Once Brody had finished saying goodbye to his family, he joined Dameon by the train door.
“That got pretty emotional, not gonna lie,” Brody admitted. “How about you, dude? Are you ready to become a Dragon Rider?”
Dameon took one last look at his family, who was waiting on the platform, then gazed longingly at the forest. He took a deep breath and bid farewell to his childhood home.
“I’m ready. Let’s do this.”
They boarded the train and found seats by the window. The train rocked in place as it prepared to take off, and Dameon immediately felt homesick. The boys waved goodbye to their loved ones as the train departed. Then they were gone, blocked from view as the train traveled through the forest.
Brody and Dameon sat down, sad about leaving but exhilarated for the journey ahead.
“Next stop, the Neutral Zone!” Humphrey said.
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