The Life of a Sky Rider

For the last few blog posts I’ve been sharing some world-building and Sky Rider ‘behind the scenes’ with you, and I’d love to share some more. So, read on for a look at the Riders’ home and their training. I

 wonder, does this make you want to live up in the mountains?

(note: if you haven’t yet read The Sky Riders I’d suggest doing so before reading on because there may be spoilers below. Grab your copy here: UK / US)

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The Sky Riders live in a network of caves buried up amongst the peaks of the Ring Mountains and called Anteill. That sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it? A network of caves? There’s a mountain massif in Norway called Trollveggen (or Troll Wall in English) which when I first saw pics of it, gave me inspiration for the Ring Mountains. It looks pretty intimidating but the caves of Anteill are beautiful inside, and sparkly.

The walls are a grey stone, like the rest of the cliffs and mountains, but in Anteill the rock is shot through with bands of quartz in rich purple, milky-white and rose-pink. These rivers of quartz run along the walls, spread up over the ceilings and hang down in colourful stalactites. Did you know there is a real-life Cave of the Crystals? It’s in Naica, Chihuahua, Mexico and looks incredible. My favourite thing about the crystals in Anteill is that they sparkle, especially in the light from dragon’s breath orbs. (see previous blog to learn how dragon’s breath orbs are made)

The network of caves is a jumbled warren—it takes Aimee a while to learn her way around—but generally speaking, the smallest caves are used as cosy bedrooms for the Riders and the larger ones have become their kitchen, dinning hall, armoury, infirmary and workshops. But every Rider’s favourite cave is the Heart. It’s nestled deep within Anteill and is where the dragons live. Their wings are too large for them to fit down most of the tunnels of Anteill, but the vents (natural channels in the rock) in the Heart let them come and go.

We visit the Heart a lot in my books, but there’s another deeper level to the caves which Aimee doesn’t visit till the end of book 3. How do you keep clean if you live in a cave high above the city with no showers or big bathtubs? Well, deep within Anteill there are subterranean pools, naturally warmed by thermal activity. Imagine pools so clear you can see the crystals sparkling on the bottom, warm water that’s just above body temperature, in a small network of linked caves all lit by the soft glow from dragon’s breath orbs. I would like to have a bath there!

Training

Do you fancy being a Sky Rider? Could you hack their training? Recruits train every day from early morning till late evening when it’s too dark to see. They train outside, up in the mountains, in all weathers. And mountains get a lot of rain!

Their morning starts with strength training—they do two hours of this before they’re even allowed breakfast. (I’ve written in my notes here – it’s like extreme yoga!) This makes the recruits stronger, calmer and more focused, which are all essential skills they’ll require once bonded with a dragon. After strength training they are taught sword work, with heavy wooden training blades, practicing the same moves again and again until their arms ache. In the afternoons Lyrria is fond of sending the recruits for a run. She likes pitting the recruits against each other, making the runs competitive. But how do you run amongst jagged mountain peaks? Answer – it involves a lot of climbing and scrambling too!

I wanted the Sky Riders to fight with two scimitar blades, partly because they look awesome strapped across their backs, but also because they’re the best choice for fighting on dragonback. Traditionally cavalry soldiers would use sabres (similar to a scimitar – both are curved, single edged swords) because these are primarily slashing weapons and better suited to methods of fighting on horseback. The same applies to fighting from dragonback.

Sky Rider training is full-on and intense, and recruits are meant to go through an entire year of training before they’re allowed to attempt to steal a dragon hatchling. As we know, Aimee is only given three months before Jara rushes her (along with Nathine and Hayetta) to steal their dragons or die trying!

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