Check out our episode here! Fireborne by Rosaria Munda
Several years ago, there was a month long battle, a Resistance, to end the Dragonlord's regime. Before the resistance, the only leaders were the dragonriders and their families. Those born to rule. No one else was allowed to ride a dragon. Leo was the son of the Dragonlord and was taken away by Atreus, the leader of the resistance, and dumped in an orphanage before his father was killed. Now, years later, Lee is training with his friends, Annie, Crissa, Cor and Duck, for a competition to determine who will be in the Fourth Order to perhaps one day become the First Guardian. The first First Guardian since the resistance. The dragons are big enough now to fly, but not to breathe fire… yet, and anyone who is chosen by a dragon can become a dragonrider, not only those born to power. That's the main difference between this new regime and the old one. Everyone has a chance, even Lee and Annie, who grew up in the orphanage together. They are the best in their year. After the tournament order is chosen, they both receive letters. Lee's is a letter of good luck from the First Rider; Annie's is a letter from the ministry of propaganda reminding her of the challenges she'll face as a former serf orphan if she wins.
Annie watches the trials. When her friend Duck is beaten mercilessly by Power, she gets angry. She thinks about her letter hinting she should throw the match, but she's so angry, she decides not to. She is nervous and anxious around people but around dragons, she is not. She, Cor, Power and Lee are the winners and join the Fourth Order. Was that a good idea? Did she just go against the ministry of propaganda, or was that letter just a reminder of what she'll have to face going forward? As she's walking through the arena after her flight, she is approached by a dragon rider from a nearby area that maybe isn't supposed to have dragon riders anymore? This mysterious rider is very curious about Annie and "the other talented one," Lee obviously, especially where they came from, but after finding out they are both orphans, she congratulates Annie and leaves.
Annie gets braver and practices public speaking now that she's in the Fourth Order. Lee walks in on her practicing one day, gets embarrassed, maybe for her, and leaves her to it. She's really struggling with the whole public speaking thing. Perhaps to gain more confidence, Annie decides they should eat lunch with the Golds, after all, they're guardians, they're allowed to. The Golds are the highest class citizens, the philosophical class, followed by Silvers, the spirited military class, then the Bronze, the skilled laborers and finally the Irons, the unskilled laborers. Before the resistance, your class was determined by your family, but now, another difference in the new regime, you are tested into your class. Annie used to be a serf but she tested to be a mix between Silver and Gold. At lunch, the Golds are mostly speaking dragontongue, which Annie understands, but can't bring herself to speak in reply. As such, she's mocked and bullied for being a peasant.
They have new classes now that they're in the Fourth Order. In their Poetry class, the professor is shocked to see Lee and refers to him as Leo, whoops. He asks him to hang back after lessons. The professor, Tyndale, told Lee that he was in love with his sister before she was killed on Palace Day, the final day of the resistance. He is surprised to see that Lee survived and tells him there are others who would be glad to meet him and know that he's still alive. It seems that this professor is not happy with the current regime, although he pretends to be.
After a flying drill later, Lee sees a fleet of unknown dragonriders flying their way. He's excited! It's his family, or it could be. The New Pythians. They're not all dead. They've been biding their time, according to Tyndale. Annie takes control of their group while Lee is dumbstruck and sends their friends and the other students away. She and Lee go to the First Protector and General Holmes to tell them what they saw. Will Annie turn Lee in? He's still dealing with spillover emotions from his connection to his dragon after seeing the fleet. Annie doesn't turn him in and then gives him all the credit for getting their group to safety. What! Why? Lee is thinking about how this new group is coming, probably to fight, but what if he was fighting with them, on their side? The general and Atreus are dismissive about this group, saying that they should have killed all of them and their dragons when they began hearing rumors that there were still dragons left outside of Callipolis.
In between each character's segments, there are flashbacks to when Lee and Annie were little after just arriving at the orphanage. Up until now, the story has been about a boy defending a girl from being bullied and how they grew to be friends and how they were planning on running away together, even having gone so far as to pack provisions. Now however, there is a part of the story where Lee's father's dragon was poisoned and killed in front of everyone in town. He was terribly sad, but Annie was happy. This is the dragon that killed her family as she was forced to watch. Lee doesn't believe it, doesn't believe that his father would punish a small girl like that, making her watch as her family was burned up for missing a quota on food delivery during the famine. Lee doesn't even believe there was a famine! His father was great, he would never let anything like that happen ... Would he?
Now Annie is struggling with not having told on Lee. Should she have? She just gave up on receiving praise from the First Protector and General Holmes by giving Lee all the credit for what she did. He calls to her after their meeting is over, but she doesn't turn back. Instead she goes to talk to Duck who's about to leave to take a message to an outlying area to see what they know about those other dragonlords. Because of their arrival, the Fourth Order are taken out of their regular classes and made to train more for battle. Annie is still furious at Lee and chooses a different sparring partner during training, but they get paired up after Lee seems to be throwing every match. He throws theirs, too, and when they land, she yells at him, telling him she should have turned him in! But then she realizes that he's not going to defect, that he's struggling with the fact that he's going to stay.
History again! After the dragon slaying argument, Lee finds Annie hidden away with their supplies. She's crying. Lee comforts her, then shortly starts forgetting about his family, thinking only of taking care of Annie instead. But now, things are weird with Annie. They have a discussion in class about the regimes. Is the new regime really better than the old? Inherited power versus earned power? Both come with corruption. It will only be better now if the students and future leaders deserve the power they've been given and do good with it. After class, Lee talks with Tyndale and tells him he's not interested in joining the New Pythians, he's sticking with Callipolis. He's not defecting. Duck and Crissa return from their trip to the outskirts with a message that the Pythians are tired of their exile and are coming for revenge. A couple weeks after that, Tyndale sneaks a message to Lee from his cousin, Julia, who is still alive and wants to meet during the midsummer holiday.
Lee remembers the Julia he knew when he was younger, feisty and proud and ready to be a dragon rider even though girls weren't allowed. But then he thought she was dead after Palace Day. Until now. Should he meet her? Normally he spends midsummer with Annie since they're both orphans and can't celebrate with family. But when Duck invited her to spend the holiday with his family, and asked her to ask Lee, she said she would go but Lee said no... Even though he definitely didn't say that. Duck and Cor are worried because their little sister didn't test well in her metals test and is an iron, which means she's only suited for unskilled labor. Crissa meets up with Lee to do patrols on the holiday and they are pretty flirty. She asks about Lee and Annie and apparently they aren't anything, so then she asks him to a dinner party. This would have been an excellent opportunity for him to go see Julia though... Just see her, definitely not join up with her...
At the dinner party, things start out well. They talk about Lee probably becoming firstrider and how he'll lead the armies when New Pythians attack. They talk about New Pythian dragons, if they have sparked yet and are able to breathe fire. Is there a way to make their own dragons spark? Then all of Crissa's friends talk about Palace Day being glorious which makes Lee angry, but he asks to hear their stories anyway, fueling him and preparing him for his visit with Julia. The visit with Julia is mainly a family reunion, they don't spend too much time trying to convince each other to switch sides. Meanwhile, Annie is enjoying her time spent with Duck and his family. They snuggle on the couch reading stories to his siblings and she quite likes it, but then thinks of Lee again and decides to leave early the next day. She and Lee spar to prepare for the upcoming semifinals for firstrider. Even though it would be weird for Lee to want to be firstrider, meaning he has to lead the battle against Julia, who is firstrider for the New Pythians, he doesn't want it any less.
We see Annie's part of the semifinal tournament against Power. He's pegged to win by just about everyone, but Annie is clever. She knows that Power will push his dragon to spew all its ash out in an attempt to win quickly, but Annie and her dragon are fast and avoid being defeated long enough for the ash to be gone. She follows Power up into the clouds away from the view of the judges where they can't be penalized, and soundly defeats him. She's hurt in the tournament, but it doesn't matter because she won! Lee also won his round, so it will be the two of them competing for firstrider. But not yet! They still have time to train and, more importantly, celebrate. Annie's friends from her new classes take her to a bar and celebrate her victory. She was a serf, not destined to make it this far, but now she's the hero! Hooray! The only thing we see from Lee at this time is that Julia has sent him a letter congratulating him on his semifinal victory and asking to meet again. He is determined to go, but just to get information on the opposing army. Sure...
Annie is called to the ministry of propaganda to talk to Miranda Hane, the minister, thinking she's finally going to get in trouble for basically doing the opposite of everything they've suggested she do, but she's surprised to learn that she's finally being given a morale visit, something that Lee and the other male riders get often. Power offers to train with her in preparation for her battle with Lee, mostly because he hates Lee, but also because he thinks Annie would make a better leader, if she could just get over her peasant ideals that she should be subservient to her betters, and Crissa helps her practice her speeches.
Before Annie can go out on her own, she has to go to one morale visit with Lee first, to see how it's done. He's not pleased but it's because he has to be a complete fake while he's out chatting up the crowds. When it's finally her time to go, against propaganda's suggestions again, she takes Duck with her instead of Lee. Things don't go very well in her hometown. They spit at her and Duck's rage spills over into his dragon. She forces calm and continues to get spat on. Afterward, she is told she did nothing wrong, but that sometimes old wounds do not heal easily. Lee arrives when Annie leaves and is asked by his professors what should be done, what he would do if he were leader. He says he wouldn't return to that village and let them see what life and war is like without them.
Lee goes to meet Julia again but this time she's completely different. She's a violent firstrider now and her dragon, and maybe others, has sparked. She tries to convince Lee to turn traitor, but he won't. She threatens to burn villages. He can't believe she'd take this war so far as to kill innocents. She jeers at Annie being a serf and rising to power. Clearly Julia believes that her name is what gives her power and hates that someone like Annie, an orphan, could potentially become firstrider. Julia is pretty awful here. Is Lee the same?
Up next is the Lyceum Ball. Annie, Lee, Cor and Power are instructed on how to interact with golds because at the ball, they'll be judged by them, which is another thing Annie struggles with. They laugh at her when she curtsies like a peasant, but the propaganda minister just teaches her the proper way and continues her lessons. They learn dances and have clothing made in preparation for the night. When it arrives, the girls get Annie dressed and ready and build her confidence. She's escorted to the ball by Lee and feels fluttery about it. Lee meanwhile is only mostly thinking of when Julia and her sparked dragons will attack, fearing it will come during the ball, though he does notice that Annie is beautiful and becoming something new, something better than the small frightened girl she used to be. He warned General Holmes that the New Pythians were likely to attack, but surely the general knows better, right? Go and have fun, Lee!
At dinner, the Fourth Order is seated at the head table. They have pleasant conversation until a hoity-toity lady, Dora Mithrides, starts speaking in dragontongue, which is frowned upon at public events. She acts like the uncle no one likes at the holiday family dinner. Lee responds to her, in perfect dragontongue, quoting the Aurelian Cycle against her and attempting to put her in her place. How could he, a peasant, speak in such a way to her? Little does she know that he is who he is. But now he's afraid he's going to be found out. Good thing it is time for the first dance.
Lee and Annie dance well together. She keeps his anger in check, and after the first dance is over, they go sit with Duck and some others and overhear a table of gold graduates talking about who they'd pick to be leader from the Fourth Order. Not Power, he's an ass. Not Cor. Maybe Lee, but he's an orphan. Most definitely not Annie. She's a serf with a sob story. Ughhhhhhhhhh. Duck takes her away to dance. Lee is sad to see her go because he was feeling ways about her again, but when they started talking badly about Annie, she remembered who Lee was and is and got upset. Then Crissa and Cor come over and offer to train with Lee. Annie and Duck walk back to their rooms and there's an almost kiss, but then the alarm bells go off. At the same time that Annie and Duck aren't kissing, Lee and Crissa are.
After the alarm bells, Lee, Crissa and Cor burst into action. When they arrive at the keep, everyone looks to Lee for direction. Then Annie and Duck arrive. Lee directs Annie to a defensive position, which is what she would do if he were the actual real firstrider and she his second. Power calls him out on this, which really? Is this really the time? and then Annie speaks up, saying she wants to go after the attackers, to go to the island they burned, but it could be too late for that. Annie is pissed that she's been made to stay behind, especially since she knows that Lee is anxious about his family possibly leading that attack. She should be there in case something happens. But she also needs to train to overtake him in the final tournament and asks Power to help her prepare.
Lee arrives at the burn site to find that Julia just set an island on fire and left. He's partially angry and partially relieved. He sees Crissa, Duck and others helping those trapped on the island. Annie is worried because she has no idea what is happening and which of her friends will come back, but then Duck arrives and lets her know that there was no combat and they're helping survivors. One of which was taken aside by Julia to give a message to Lee as firstrider and to the First Protector. The survivor tells Lee that this burning island was the work of three sparked dragons but Julia said there will be more. They're not going to stop until they take back what is theirs. Do you really want to make more orphaned Callipolans? Yikes. Lee talks to his superiors about what they plan to do and their plan is to wait. They were given three weeks, until Palace Day, before the next planned attack and hopefully, by that time, their own dragons will have sparked.
Annie trains with Power and he teaches her to channel her rage to spill over and connect with her dragon. He convinces her that she would be a good and worthy firstrider. Lee trains with Cor and Crissa and spends a lot of extra time with Crissa, too. Cor threatens him about it, about using Crissa as a fall back, but she knows what she's doing as well as he does. Annie finds them during one of their make out sessions one day and feels intensely about it, but when Crissa finds her afterward and pretty much asks her for her permission to do whatever it is that she and Lee are doing together, she acts indifferent about it. Hmm.
In poetry class later, Tyndale reveals that the Aurelian Cycle has been banned. This is something done in this new regime. Sometimes works are banned for certain metal classes or sometimes they're banned altogether if they are found to be troublesome for one reason or another. But the Aurelian Cycle? That's practically their bible! The conversation Lee had over dinner, throwing quotes from the Aurelian Cycle back at Dora Mithrides has clearly caused an uproar. Tyndale asks Lee to stay after class, which Power thinks is suspicious. Annie hangs back, but is worried about what she's going to overhear. Tyndale and Lee discuss Julia and her war and how Lee's going to have to fight his own family, but he won't budge. As he's walking out, and right into Annie, Tyndale says they're awaiting his next letter and Lee, in dragontongue, angrily refuses him. Annie doesn't understand dragontongue so well, so she probably definitely thinks Lee is a traitor.
The firstrider battle is intense. Lee and Annie are even at two shots each, the next will determine who is firstrider. Lee struggles with his dragon, aching to spillover and he finally does, sparking dragonfire… right into Annie who was coming in for the win. Lee leapt from his dragon to Annie's and releases her coolant valves in an attempt to save her. Her dragon is still conscious, which means Annie is still fine, but her dragon is freaking out. Once Lee's dragon sparks, it sets off a chain reaction and Annie's dragon is not far behind, but she needs her rider to help. Annie awakens just long enough for her dragon to spark, too. When they land, Lee is named firstrider, though he wants a rematch, but that's not how things are done. He checks on Annie in the hospital then pens a note to Julia. They have a sparked fleet now and they are ready for war.
Annie comes to in the hospital and realizes what she heard Lee say as he was leaving Tyndale, was that he didn't want anything to do with them anymore. She reported Tyndale without mentioning Lee, so he should be safe. They are getting along again now and Annie, though she was actually supported by the propaganda minister this time and encouraged to win the tournament, gladly accepts being Lee's second. And that's good because things are about to get bad.
In class before Palace Day, the Fourth Order are made to read a non-trivialized account of what actually happened on Palace Day. Of course this is terrible for Lee as his entire family was murdered that day. The text shows a picture of his family and only because Annie knows his story can she recognize his tiny blurry five year old image. They have a parade and celebrate the day, then Duck goes toward the dragon nest where Lee and Crissa had most recently been making out, but Annie stops him just in time. They hear something she wasn't expecting, though. Lee vomiting. He's clearly struggling with Palace Day, having to pretend to be proud of the day instead of angry. As Lee is looking at the now-banned Aurelian Cycle book, Annie alerts him to an attack that happened at a far off town on the trade route. They've been called to a council meeting.
At the meeting, they learn that all their trade products have been destroyed. To be able to provide sustenance for everyone now that all supplies have been burned, the commander institutes Collections again, something that hasn't been done since before the rebellion, by the side that the commander destroyed. People will be forced to supply food and other goods for everyone to share. If they don't, they'll be punished by dragonfire. This is exactly what happened to Annie's family. They didn't make quota and were burned to death. Annie volunteers to take the first Collections round as she is the only rider who has experienced it. Yikes. Lee goes to talk to Crissa. Apparently her father was a trader and it seems that he didn't make it.
Annie's first Collections trip is awful. The townsfolk don't believe that there was an attack and they think that they're just having their food taken away and that it won't be redistributed for everyone. So... Annie has to make an example of one of the men. She has her dragon burn him, but not long enough to kill him. Everyone gives all their supplies after that. Then the rest of the Fourth Order also goes out on Collections and it is not good. Duck pleads for Lee to let Annie have fewer trips, but she made her decision to take on these trips and she's good at it, so she'll keep doing them. Duck goes to comfort her because even though she's strong, even though she's good at it, Collections is killing Annie. He assures her that they don't have much more to do, it's almost over, but she knows she'll always be seen as a monster. Duck is a good friend.
Now that Collections are over, it's time to distribute. Different metals will get different rations. Golds will get full rations, irons will only get a small percentage. Lee and Annie try to convince the council that golds do not need full rations, but they just decide to ration but lie about it and make sure the low metals will only think their getting less is just a rumor. After struggling with this and also setting up schedules and dealing with other first rider duties, Lee realizes that things under this new regime are just as bad if not worse than they were before. He gets a final letter from Julia giving him one more chance to come home. Even if he doesn't betray anyone, he is still welcome to avoid the upcoming devastation. He immediately goes to talk to Annie.
They go to Annie's hometown. She tells the story of her family and how they starved, ate things that weren't meant to be eaten, like their dog and worms. She also talks about when she knew her father was withholding supplies and how she had to watch her home set on fire with her family inside. She mentions how Lee's father was the one to burn her family and how he comforted her after it was over. Lee tells Annie about the letters, the meetings, and the offer in the last letter. He tells her his full story, too. About how the leader of the regime did exactly what his father did to Annie. They talk about how when they were first chosen by dragons that they'd decided they were going to be better, do good, but here they are, doing the exact same things as before. She tells him that even though he misses his family, at least the side they are on now is less terrible. Lee was going to show Annie the last letter from Julia but realized he didn't have it on him. Then he realizes that it is in his office, undestroyed like the others, sitting out in the open, and that his office is unlocked.
And yikes. When they get back, Lee and Annie are met by Power and his cronies who have read Julia's letter and who beat Lee up. Annie calls her dragon who arrives in time to keep Power from hurting Lee too badly. She gives Lee the chance to run, but he asks to be taken to the commander instead. He comes clean, tells Atreus everything, who he is, about Julia's letters and meeting her and how he would never betray them. Then the commander talks to Annie who tells the exact same story and how Lee has taken care of her since they were both orphans, how he's helped each and every student, how he's just a really good guy. Atreus doesn't know what to do so he puts Lee in the stockade and puts Annie in charge as interim firstrider.
Annie struggles with this, but convinces Cor, Crissa and a couple others that even though Lee is Leo Stormscourge and his father was terrible, that he's still the good guy that they know and love. Power is awful still and treats Annie badly, but she's used it to and, with Crissa's advice to basically fake it till you make it, Annie does just fine. She visits Lee and brings him some comforts then talks to the commander who has a plan and asks Annie about it. She says he should do whatever it is, then apologizes to Lee even though he's still locked up. The plan is for Lee to meet Julia and return with two heads in a bag, or don't come back at all. Annie goes to meet Lee before he is set to depart and they finally kiss.
After a walk around a lake with his cousin where they both forget briefly that they clearly believe in two different things, Lee and Julia launch into the air. The battle is short and heart wrenching but Lee is victorious. Meanwhile, back with Annie, she is given a letter by Power telling her that her presence when Lee returns is not required. Power hints that that's because the commander will use Lee to get what he wants, the firstrider of the opposing side dead, and then he'll kill Lee because he's a Stormscourge, the son of his former enemy. Annie instead calls every person of name or power and all the dragonriders to be there when Lee returns, pretending to have done so on the Atreus's orders. She is acting firstrider, so her orders stand.
When Lee returns with his cousin's body, he denounces his former name and house and all ties to it and pledges himself to Callipolis. The commander makes him renew his dragonrider vows and gives him back his mantle of firstrider. Lee however declines and gives that honor to Annie and promises himself to her as her second.