Raised to be fierce dragon slayers, two sisters end up on opposite sides of the impending war when one sister forms an unlikely, magical bond with a dragon…
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Destiny Soria’s Fire With Fire, a standalone YA contemporary fantasy—publishing June 8th with HMH Books for Young Readers.
Dani and Eden Rivera were both born to kill dragons, but the sisters couldn’t be more different. For Dani, dragon slaying takes a back seat to normal high school life, while Eden prioritizes training above everything else. Yet they both agree on one thing: it’s kill or be killed where dragons are concerned.
Until Dani comes face-to-face with one and forges a rare and magical bond with him. As she gets to know Nox, she realizes that everything she thought she knew about dragons is wrong. With Dani lost to the dragons, Eden turns to mysterious and alluring sorcerers to help save her sister. Now on opposite sides of the conflict, each sister will do whatever it takes to save the other. But the two are playing with magic that is more dangerous than they know, and there is another, more powerful enemy waiting for them both in the shadows.
“If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather skip the ‘fate of the world’ lecture today. I have plans tonight. Normal teenager plans.” Dani said.
A pause. She heard the sounds of her sister, Eden, removing her own gloves.
“I’m sorry if our family’s responsibility gets in the way of your summer fun,” Eden said, her voice quieter now but no less angry. She came up beside Dani and set her gloves neatly back in their place. “Let me ask you something, though. Do you ever wonder why Mom and Dad hung that on the wall in here?”
She gestured toward the top of the door frame. Dani glanced up, even though she already knew what she would find. It was a bleached white skull, long and lizard-like, but the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. A pair of spiny ridges ran along the center of the head, flaring into two slightly curved horns. Double rows of teeth like a shark’s filled the grinning mouth. It was the pride and joy of the Rivera family. The constant sentinel over their training. The ever-present reminder of that distant enemy.
A dragon skull.
“Because mounting it over the fireplace might raise some suspicions when we have house guests?” Dani asked innocently.
“Because it could have just as easily been Mom’s or Dad’s skull rotting in that dragon’s cave somewhere, if they hadn’t taken their responsibilities seriously. If you come face to face with one of those in the flesh, your stupid YouTube stars aren’t going to be any help.”
“And you think any of this will be?” Dani gave a short, incredulous laugh as she cast a glance around the barn. “You think a dragon is going to wait for you to find a weapon and take up the proper stance? You think that a perfect right hook is going to be any use against those teeth? For Christ’s sake, Eden, all the technique in the world isn’t going to save you if a dragon decides to barbecue you for dinner.”
“And your devil-may-care, anything-goes attitude is?”
“I’m not like you,” Dani said. “I fight to win.”
“So do I!”
“No, you fight to be perfect. It’s not the same.”
Eden set her jaw and squared off to face her. For a second, Dani thought she might throw a punch, but then she shook her head.
“Fine. Let’s put your little theory to the test and see which of us would survive the longest.”
“You got a dragon chained up in your closet that I don’t know about?”
“No, but we have the next best thing.” Eden looked toward the opposite corner of the barn, where a tarp covered something large and lumpy.
Dani followed her gaze and smiled.
“Okay, but we have to do it for real. No safeguards.”
Eden hesitated, then nodded.
El Toro, which was an affectionate nickname bestowed by Analisa, was a home-built, custom-engineered contraption that most closely resembled a mechanical bull. Instead of a saddle and fake horns, it was equipped with retracting spikes the length of baseball bats, electrified whips meant to mimic the swinging of a dragon’s tail, rubber pellets the size of paintballs that shot much faster and hurt much worse, and of course, the constantly rotating nozzles that breathed fire at random intervals.
El Toro was a death trap that could only be shut down by a small red button on its underbelly — or, in case of emergency and utter failure, a kill switch on the wall. It was one of the only training tools in the barn that required strict parental supervision. Dani had only faced it once, Eden twice — every time on the easiest setting, and every time with the safeguards in place. Spraying water instead of fire, the spikes blunted with rubber tips, the lashes’ electric current shut off, and the pellets moving at a quarter-speed. Even then Dani hadn’t come close to besting it, and Eden had only managed it earlier that year, by the skin of her teeth.
But Dani had been fourteen the last time she tried it. She knew things would be different this time.
Together they dragged the contraption to the center of the barn. It took Eden nearly ten minutes of fiddling to get everything set up properly.
“I’m first,” Dani said when it was finally ready.
“Fine by me.” Eden sauntered over to the kill switch and snatched the stopwatch from where it hung on a peg. “Do you need a safe word?”
“Haven’t heard that one before.”
Dani took a second to collect herself, staring down the two giant bolts that served as El Toro’s eyes. Then she hit the green button on its head. The light blinked slowly, giving Dani ten seconds to back up and take her position before the machine roared to life. And “roar” was the first thing El Toro did, bellowing out a stream of flame in a complete 360-degree spin. Dani felt the heat of it on her chest as she leapt back. She used her momentum to drop into a backwards somersault, then rolled up into a crouch, ready for her next move.
She watched the ever-changing configuration of spikes and lashing whips, instinctively searching for a pattern, though she knew there wasn’t one.
“You know, waiting for the battery to run down doesn’t count as winning,” Eden shouted from her safe distance.
Dani shot her a dirty look, which was a mistake. In her split second of distraction, she missed the red pellet shooting from El Toro. It caught her in the collarbone. She swore, spotted an opening in the spikes, and bolted forward. Whips danced around her like demented jump ropes, and she ducked, skipped, and twisted to avoid them. She could have sworn she felt the buzz of electricity raise the hairs on her skin. Three more pellets shot out in quick succession. Two were wide, and the third she sidestepped. A spike shot out, lancing into the gap between her elbow and side. Dani stared down at it while her heart skipped a beat, then she had to lunge to miss another whip.
There was a faint wheezing sound, and Dani realized what it was just in time to hit the deck. Another jet of fire spewed above her. Dani blinked and saw a whip sailing toward her face. There was no time for swearing or even thinking now. She’d devolved into a creature of pure instinct. She reached up — only a split second after the fire had abated, judging by the sizzle of heat over her hands — and grabbed the spike above her. She swung her feet forward and off the ground like a gymnast mounting a high bar. She didn’t quite have the momentum to swing into a handstand on the spike, but she managed to climb atop it. Then she planted one foot between El Toro’s eyes and jumped across its back. She hit the ground in a crouch.
The mechanisms on El Toro were randomized, but their general placement was determined by the proximity sensors inset all over its body. When Dani landed on the opposite side, she took advantage of the brief delay as El Toro recalibrated to her sudden change in position and rolled underneath it. She jabbed upward, slamming her palm into the red button.
A loud whirring, and then silence. She closed her eyes, panting for breath, and grinned to herself. She rolled back out and climbed to her feet, dropping a theatrical bow. Eden clapped dutifully, though she looked less than impressed.
“Two minutes and six seconds,” she said. “Not bad.”
“Your turn,” Dani said, taking the stopwatch from her. “Safe word?”
“ ‘Screw you’ does have a nice ring to it.” She made her way to El Toro, giving it a companionable pat on the head before hitting the green button and moving back into position.
Dani couldn’t quash a swell of excitement in her chest. She liked to compete, and she loved to win, but more than anything — and this was a secret she intended to take to her grave — she loved to watch her sister kick ass. She had ever since she’d been seven years old, spying through a crack in the barn doors while nine-year-old Eden moved through fencing drills with the grace of a dancer, scaled the climbing wall with hardly any missteps, and hit eight out of ten targets with a Sig Sauer P238, all with the cool confidence of a cop in a crime drama. Those were the days when dragons were barely a fairy-tale concept to Dani, and training was a thrilling promise instead of a daily chore.
Her sister’s obsession with technique was a pain, but the truth was that Eden was good at what she did. Better than any of the other scattered dragon hunters Dani had met in her life. Probably even better than their parents. Dani couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of sisterly pride at that, even though she would never admit it out loud.
El Toro quaked to life with less panache than it had for Dani, but soon enough the whips and pellets were flying. True to form, Eden ducked, rolled, jumped, and dodged with elegant, military precision. Within the first thirty seconds, she had already gotten close enough to the machine to touch it twice, but was stymied both times before she could get underneath.
As the stopwatch ticked ever closer to two minutes and Dani was beginning to think she might actually best her sister on this one, a whip lashed Eden across the stomach. She yelped. Dani ran forward a couple steps without thinking, but forced herself to stop. The only thing Eden would hate more than losing was interference.
In the next moment El Toro bellowed out a column of flame. Eden was distracted by another whip flying toward her, and sidestepped — right into the line of fire. She cried out, a sickening sound of pain that reverberated through Dani’s own body. She took another involuntary step forward.
Eden twisted free from the flame — it looked like it had just gotten her shoulder — and stopped with her back to the machine, gasping loudly.
Then, mid-rage, El Toro died, its whips falling limp and spikes freezing in place. Dani blinked, wondering how Eden could have possibly reached the red button from where she stood.
“What the hell do you two think you’re doing?”
Dani spun around at the voice and found her father standing behind her, his hand lowering from the kill switch. He eyed Dani for a few seconds, and when she didn’t reply, turned his glare to Eden, who hadn’t moved. A muscle in his jaw twitched. Dani looked and saw, with a sinking feeling in her stomach, what he had seen: the tip of a spike, which had obviously been in the process of extending when he hit the switch. It was a couple inches from the back of Eden’s neck.
Ever since she was little, when her parents had first explained to her that the medieval myths of Tempus Dracones weren’t just fanciful cultural metaphors, as was widely accepted by modern scholars, Eden had felt like there was a shadow lurking at her back. A shadow that was somehow both ephemeral and weighty, both terrifying and comforting. She wasn’t sure if she believed in fate or chance or divine calling, but something had put her on earth in this time and place, the daughter of a legendary family of dragon slayers.
That shadow was her constant companion. A sense of dread. A reminder that she was one of the few bastions protecting humanity from dragonkind. A promise that every bruise and burn, every drop of sweat and blood, was leading her closer to her destiny.
And that was why on days like this, when nothing went right and her little sister was driving her up a wall, Eden wouldn’t let herself lose perspective. So what if Dani effortlessly achieved every benchmark that Eden had to fight tooth and nail for? So what if Dani could casually dismantle the importance of all their training? So what if Dani could waltz in at seventeen and conquer El Toro like it was no more dangerous than a toaster?
Eden straightened up and walked toward her father, determinedly maintaining her strict posture despite the agony in her shoulder and the sting where the whip had caught her across her abdomen. James Rivera was a Scottish expat who had married into the Rivera family (and, as per tradition, taken the name) when he was barely a year out of university. Though he looked more like an absent-minded professor with his messy blond hair, tortoise-shell eyeglasses, and perpetual ink stains, he’d proven a good match for Analisa, who had already distinguished herself in the limited dragon slayer circles by the time she was a teenager. While his fighting skills were middling at best, there was no one who could track a dragon faster and pinpoint its location more accurately than James Rivera. Not that there were very many dragons left to hunt these days.
Her father looked her over, his arms crossed, his brows furrowed. She knew that look, though it was usually directed at Dani, not her. That nebulous line between anger and worry.
“It was my idea,” she said, not bothering with excuses. “I told Dani it was okay.” She was going to be in trouble anyway, and there was no reason for Dani to miss her big bonfire. She hadn’t shut up about it for weeks.
Her sister shot her a surprised look, which Eden ignored. James watched her steadily, and she could practically see the gears turning in his head while he decided how to respond. Where her mother lived on impulse and instinct, her father was a thinker, weighing every decision with care. The balance was one of the reasons they worked so well together, both in dragon-hunting and in marriage.
“Dani, go back to the house,” he said finally. “Your mother wants you to do some chores before you leave for the party. Eden and I will clean up here.”
Dani looked like she wanted to argue, but Eden shot her a harsh look, and she shut her mouth. She scooped up her socks and shoes and headed for the door without even putting them on. When she reached the threshold James called after her, and she turned back.
“Did you go first?” he asked. Dani nodded warily. “What was your time?”
“Two minutes, six seconds.” She was smart enough not to sound smug about it.
He waved her off, and she left. Eden caught a glimpse of a suppressed smile as her dad turned back. She pushed down the hard knot that had formed in her chest and craned her neck to examine her shoulder for the first time. The skin was red and blistered but there wasn’t any muscle visible, and it hurt like hell so the nerves hadn’t been damaged.
“What were you thinking?” her father asked, after a long, uncomfortable silence. He grabbed her mostly full water bottle from the floor and wetted a clean gym towel.
“Is that a rhetorical question?” She caught the towel when he tossed it to her. Biting her lip against the pain, she draped it carefully over her shoulder to start cooling the burn.
“I suppose it is.” He still had a faint Scottish brogue, which became more pronounced when he was upset. He went to the cabinet where the first aid supplies were stored and pulled out a bottle of antibiotic ointment and a roll of gauze. He came back to her side and gently peeled back the corner of the towel to survey the damage. Eden bit her lip harder. This wasn’t her worst training injury, but it was definitely in the top five.
“I’m sorry,” she said when the continued silence became too hard to bear. “I know it was stupid.”
More silence. She clenched her hands into fists to stop them from fidgeting. Finally, her dad sighed.
“Your mother and I will be discussing supervision during training from now on,” he said, though not harshly. “And I have half a mind not to let you join us for dinner tonight.”
Her heart dropped. This dinner was too important. She’d been looking forward to it for months.
“But you’re not a kid anymore,” he went on. “I just hope you understand that in the real world, consequences are usually more severe — and permanent — than bed without supper.” He looked meaningfully down at her shoulder, and she nodded.
Excerpted from Fire With Fire, copyright © 2021 by Destiny Soria.