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Leena let out a whoop of exhilaration as she swooped down and overtook Jelikos. Tali cawed his own goad at Jelikos' mount as he beat his azure and sunset wings to put more distance between them and the competition. Leena spared a look over her shoulder at the older rider, his stern glower made her laugh with glee.
The Draken Classic was the largest race of its kind and the pot was over a thousand gold scales. With less than a full lap around the aerobatic course Tali could almost feel the weight of all that coin. It would be more money than she had ever had in her entire life, cumulatively. All she had to do was over take Raxaz Freeg and his tan draken Holik.
Leena scowled, and urged Tali forward with all the speed the young draken could muster. Freeg was less than a hundred paces ahead, but that could have been a league considering that Freeg was the eight time champion. Tali had not raced in any of those races however, and neither had Leena.
The pair had stumbled into a lesser circuit race this season when they had been desperate for money. A hasty loan for entrance fees, and enough to place a bet on themselves and Leena had ridden her wild draken to a commanding victory. With both the winnings from the race and those from the bet she'd placed Leena had had more than enough to pay off the loan and enter in another race.
After four months of steady victories or places Leena had been invited to join the champion circuit of races, culminating with the Draken Classic. Unlike the lesser circuits and informal one-off races that allowed draken to compete with other creatures like dactyls and gryfins, the champion circuit was draken only. All of her competition were bred beasts. Creatures who had bloodlines that could be traced back generations. By comparison, Leena had found Tali's egg quite by accident in the wild, and quite by further accident had she been present as Tali had hatched.
The bond formed that day was deeper than words, and Tali put everything he had into his wings. They banked hard right and caught a weak thermal that allowed Tali to gain a few dozen paces of elevation on Freeg even as the draken continued to pull closer to the champ. The finish was a series of large golden rings, each an arms breadth across. They need only grab one before Freeg and his draken and Leena and Tali would be rich beyond her capacity to imagine.
Leena pulled herself low in the saddle and pressed herself tightly to Tali's back as the draken banked sharply around the final turn. The Whipping turn was a sharp right around a large tree whose branches had been stripped away and replaced with long thin ribbons of tough hide. Too close a turn and the ribbons would whip at rider and mount like a great cat-o-nine-tails, too far and a race team would lose precious moments to the finish.
Below them Freeg was expertly riding the turn, the whips barely a foot from beast and rider. Leena hunched forward more and held on for dear life as Tali corkscrewed into the tight turn, snapping tightly around the pole. The snapping sounds of the whips raking Tali's underside were like little cracks of thunder but the draken hardly noticed, his hide was was the tough and armored hide of a wild draken, not the lighter and more supple hide of a bred racing beast.
The maneuver worked and Leena and Tali pulled alongside the current champion as they both strove with every last effort for the golden rings. Both racers tucked in low, streamlining as much as they could and trusting their mounts to grab the victory rings. Leena spared a look to her left and saw Freeg's mount had its mouth shut and was extending a clawed foot. She smiled as she saw Tali open his mouth as they passed the final few spans.