Dragons killed their riders. Every Astrean rider prepared for that day when her own beast would turn against her, when those teeth and claws turned against her instead her enemies, with fear and no mercy. The riders prepared for inevitable attacks, building for themselves a bevy of tricks so that when the time came, the rider would escape her fate. In the end, no matter how hard the rider worked, those dragons always prepared better, for they were old and cunning, well practiced in watching their prey and unwilling to attack before they knew that their outcome was certain death. When they killed, their attacks were premeditated and lethal.
Kargen died when the East Wind dragon group arrived back to the floating city of Astrea. Targa landed first, safely dismounting as her dwarven deck team secured Orchid. Lhasa landed net with Peony. Last in was Kargen, the eldest of their dragon group and their leader, the Elder Sister. Kargen slipped down the neck when Lotus jostled forward, knocking the rider down. With a predator's speed, the beast stepped on Kargen, pinning her with her taloned foot, then biting, cracking the woman's neck with a quick twist.
Kargen died without screaming.
What Lotus did next stunned all the deck teams, Kalt dwarves, whose job it was to know those dragons better than they know themselves. Lotus picked up Kargen like a prize, arms dangling down, then dashed into her pen. The heavily armored Kalts did their best to intercept her, rushing forward with their hooked dragon spears, but they couldn't stop her before she reached her cell.
From there, Lotus kept her hindquarters in the cell gate, blocking the entrance as she devoured Kargen. By the time that the Kurmeister could get in there, there was nothing left but blood. The dragon had even eaten Kargen's coat of chain.
Targa Tik watched helplessly along with everyone else. This day came, she told herself. This day always came. You accept the consequences and move on. Any feeling, you sank them down until they stopped bubbling up.
When the Kurmeister finished her inspection of Lotus's bay, she limped out with small pieces of chain in her bad arm, holding out the remains to Targa.
The Senior dwarf looked up to Targa. "I'm sorry, Elder Sister. This is all that we could recover."
Elder Sister. Targa had never really expected to hear that, but that was true now. Targa was now the Elder Sister.
Having secured herself, Targa responded calmly. "Thank you, Kurmeister. Clean up as best as you can. I saw the whole things. The crews did the best that they could considering the situation."
"Thank you, ma'am," the Kurmeister saluted, then hobbled her way back to the Kalt crews, wiping away tears. The Kalts always hated losing a rider, taking it as a personal point of pride that everything proceeded correctly and orderly. Those dwarves were going to be drinking heavy tonight.
In the rider quarters, there were traditions to complete. Targa pulled out the bottle of rum that Kargen had set aside for the occasion of her own death. They were all aware that this this end would come, and even with all that danger, life on a dragon was better than the alternatives. Putting yourself on the back of the world's most powerful killers was less lethal than being exiled to to the ground.