Dragon Masters

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wrath of winter
http://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1299898

NEW SITE!!!  The Realm of Iceflame1019  I'll update both here and there when I put out new chapters!

DragonMasters, 4 chapters now :D

Can't post the whole thing on writing.com, though.  Free accounts have a 50 kb max filesize per item, 10 items max.  So there's a bit of Part 2 that kinda left off and is gonna be posted soon as I write a bit more.  Part 2's better than part 1, more action and stuff.  ;)

New update = Part 4.  Cliffhanger ending on part 4, I was hoping to get a good battle-scene in, but I still gotta work out some stuff :P  Also I need to find some other place I can post this in full.  No offense to RMRK but some people I want to show this to might not approve of this site...:( their loss, I know, but still.  Anyone got any ideas?  I'd do it on Writing.com but I'm not about to shell out money for a one-month upgrade to allow extra static items. 

Anyway, enjoy.  ;D  I'm probably just gonna put the whole thing up here, neglecting the 50kb 9-page limit I've been using, and then post it somewhere else (while still updating it here for those who read this) 

Spoiler for Part 1:
Taron yawned and rubbed his eyes, and rolled over on his bed with a smile.  Today was his fifteenth birthday, the day he’d finally receive his sword.  Today was the day he was to go off into the world and make a name for himself.  It was a big deal, especially for him, being from a poor family.  But, it was the law: all children on their fifteenth birthday were to receive a sword for their journey.  Some children went off and became great warriors or healers; others became great crafters, renowned for their works; and some just went off, completed the Age Trials, and returned home and never went back out with a weapon again.  But Taron, he wanted to be a Dragonmaster.  Not a tamer or breeder of domestic dragons that could only light cooking fires; their family was too poor to have a true domestic dragon.  The family dragon was always gone during the day, hunting. 
    No, thought Taron, as he lay on his bed, I want to find and bring back the Dragons, Dragons with a capital D.  Throughout his childhood his grandpa had told him of the days when Dragons flew the skies freely, bringing news, aiding people in their chores, and with their riders astride them, securing the peace of the land.  Long ago, Dragons and Humans had been inseparable, dependant on each other.  It all changed when the hearts of men discovered the earthly value of gold and precious metals and jewels.  Dragons loved jewels, and would share their shining wares with Humans, but when Humans became greedy the Dragons hoarded the treasures away, and a bloody, fiery age dawned.  Taron wanted to reverse the damage that had persisted throughout the centuries, though he knew he could never completely do it.  He slung his legs over the edge of the bed, rolled onto the floor, and sprang back up in front of the mirror he and his father had carved and decorated.  His brown hair was a mess at the top of his 6-foot height, but with a few runs of his hand it went to its typically spiky position.  He picked up his glasses and slipped them on, again ruffling his hair in the mirror.  He squinted through his glasses out the window, and took them off and looked closely at them.  They were getting weak, but he was sure that his skills could get him enough money for new ones. 
    He turned to the door and found his father’s combat suit hanging there.  Surprised, Taron gently took it off the hook and turned it over in his hands.  When had his dad fixed this up?  It had been worn and stained and a bit cut up…Taron ran his hands over the blue dragonhide suit, then with a sigh slipped it on, fastening the sword belt around his waist and adjusting the sling around his shoulder.  The shoulders had hooks for a cape, but his father’s cape had been shredded long ago in combat.  Taron slipped into his ice-gray pants and looked at himself again in the mirror.  With his silverscale gloves on, in his mind’s eye he looked like a true warrior.  He headed to the door, and rushed back to his bed.  He’d nearly forgotten the knife the local priest had given him.  Taron looked over its worn but sharp blue blade, and slipped it into its sheath and hooked that to his belt.  He was finally ready to head downstairs.  Chances were his friends and family had gathered while he was asleep and were planning to surprise him.  With an apprehensive smile, he finally headed out the door.  He walked silently down the stone steps to the underground first floor and edged around the stone-wall corner to the family room.  There were no sounds at all, other than the crackle of the fire in the fireplace and the quiet snoring of the family dragon.  He walked through the family room, and looked around the corner into the dining room.  There was no one in there, but there were two doorways on the sides that anyone could easily hide behind.  He took a step forward, and his foot snagged an unseen thread.  The fire on the table blazed up and Taron jumped back as at least twenty people jumped into the room with a loud “SURPRISE!”  They laughed with him as he stood back up and they greeted him with hugs and hand-shaking.
    “I knew you guys were gonna do that,” he said.
    “You were sneaky, but not enough,” his older cousin said with a laugh, and she plopped a conic hat on his head, which he promptly removed as soon as she turned away.
    “Hey, it’s the big man,” said his uncle, who came over and gave him a punch on the shoulder.  “Feelin’ any older?”
    “My shoulder does.”
    “Well, age brings pain,” his uncle said with a laugh.  Everyone sat down at the long table, and Taron took the seat at the head.  He’d been so jealous of his older brothers as they’d sat at the head of the table in this age-worn chair, but now that he was here, he felt a bit nervous, probably with all the excitement. 
    “How’d you get the fire to blaze like that?” he asked his uncle.
    “Took me a while but I finally put together a cheap, safely-combustible powder,” he said, and flicked the dust from his fingers at a nearby candle.  Some people jumped as the candle flame briefly jumped and flared with a hiss.
    Breakfast was loud, and in no time it was over, with everyone having had their fill.  Taron’s father cleared his throat and tapped his fork against his metal goblet.  Everyone quieted down almost immediately.
    “Well, I’m no one for speeches, but today is officially the day my youngest son becomes a man and goes off into the world.  He’s been a hard worker and a good son.  He’ll be missed every day he’s not here.”  Everyone nodded, and Taron felt a bit guilty that he was leaving his parents.  But then again, everyone helped everyone else in the neighborhood, so his workload would surely be taken up in his absence.
    “Throughout these years I’ve heard nothing but compliments on his skills and talents.  I’m sure he’ll grow to become the finest hero we’ll know in our lifetimes.”  And with this he reached down and produced a brilliant scabbard.  It was wrapped in leather, trimmed with steel, and adorned with small jewels and the family crest: a circle with a triangle inside, and within that triangle rested a small bird.  His father held up the scabbard for all to see, and then walked it down to Taron.  Taron stood, and bowed as he received it from his father.  The sword was very light, and Taron drew it slowly, holding it up high.  Its thin leaf-shaped blade shone in the firelight, its keen edges glittering brightly.  Down the flat of the blade, on both sides, ran a fuller set with small jewels, and at the junction of the blade and quillon there was a bright gold triangle engraved with his name.  The quillon resembled slim dragon wings, and in the center the carved claws of the dragon clasped a bright moonstone.  Its body and tail wrapped around the hilt, and the end of the tail wrapped around a brilliant light-blue sapphire.  Taron held it in his hands, feeling its weight and balance.  It felt very light, and he swung it a few time off to the side, away from his friends.  It sang through the air, and he sheathed it.
    “Let this be a sign to all who see it,” his father said, and Taron bent down as his father put a necklace around his neck.  On it hung a silver wire circle with a golden wire triangle set within.  His father then handed him a metal card decorated with battle runes and inscribed with the Age Trials insignia.
    “You are to leave at the stroke of three from this house and make your way to the Trial grounds,” his father said.  “You have three hours.  You’d best make sure you’re ready.”
    With a heavy sigh and a nod, Taron left his chair, bowed to the gathering, and left to gather his things.  He’d made a list of things he’d need for the road, and he headed back to his room to get it.  He looked on his dresser where he’d last put it.  Confused, he began sifting through the papers on his desk.  A bead of sweat appeared on his forehead.  He looked around the room, and decided that he should’ve cleaned his room yesterday like he’d been asked to.  He looked nervously at the dragon clock—he had three hours but this would take a while.

    Taron tore from his room, racing down the stairs with his pack still slipping off his back.  His family was waiting for him outside and it was just barely three.  They all cheered as he burst out of the house exactly at three, and he sighed with relief; he’d made it just barely in time.
    “Get going!” his cousin said with a shove, “you can’t be late!”  Taron ran off, waving, his family and friends all cheering and waving. 
    He knew the way but in his panic his mind had become a haze, and he stopped just outside the village gates, looking around.  The trail branched off in three directions: one to the east, towards the ocean; one to the north, to the mountains; and the last one to the forest, off to the west.  Reports had come in about recent dragon sightings in the woods but no proof had been found.  Taron sighed, racking his adrenaline-rushed mind for the directions.  Something was telling him to head for the mountains, but he really thought it was off towards the ocean.  He was about to flip a coin when he saw a bright flash in the mountains.
    “Oh geez!” he shouted, and ran as fast as he possibly could.  The trial had started.  He’d forgotten that he was supposed to wait at the village gate until the signal; later on he considered himself incredibly lucky.  He knew that, at all the other villages, other fifteen-year-olds were rushing off.  As he ran it came to his mind that he was alone…then it occurred to him: they were supposed to go in shifts—that’s why he had to leave at three and not immediately or when he felt like it.  They were being timed, and the timing was also factored in with the trails and distances from the mountains.  Taron checked himself and ran slower, pacing himself.  He’d done this run before; he didn’t need to cover it as fast as possible.  It was a three-day journey, but he’d done it in two at one point.  Now, as he ran down the straight dirt path to the stone hills, he tried to remember how he’d done the two-day run.  He jumped with a yell as a deer ran off in the tall grass, taking him by surprise.  He didn’t stop, though; he couldn’t afford any delays. 
    The day wore on and the sun began coloring the sky.  Taron was tired but he couldn’t stop—not yet, anyway.  He wiped the sweat from his forehead and kept running.  His right hand strayed to the hilt of his sword, strapped to his hip from his belt. 
    A few hours after nightfall he reached the small band of woods that ran around the base of the mountains.  He set out his sleeping stuff and fell asleep almost immediately, camped out under a tree, a waterproof tarp spread on the lower branches above him.  He knew the dangers of the forest, but he only had to worry about them when he was in the forest.
    He woke up just before the crack of dawn, rolled up his stuff, and with a yawn started off again.  The trails through the forest seemed to move, but there were a few landmark trees and rocks that he knew fairly well.  He picked his way carefully through the forest, knowing that the wrong trail or a mistaken landmark would cost him time in trying to get back on course.  At one point he almost freaked when he saw a landmark he’d thought was at least three hours to his left, but then he remembered that he was on the right track and was confusing landmarks.
    “Need to stay calm…” he told himself, and continued.  He found a grove of edible berries and had a few handfuls, but what he really wanted was water.  There was a creek between the mountains and the forest, but noting through the woods.  So, as this thought came to his mind, he sighed and continued.
    It was midday by the time Taron came through the forest, and he practically threw himself into the creek to drink.  After satisfying his thirst he continued a short distance to the sheer rock walls of the mountain.  There was a small, hazardous trail cut into the cliff that led to a gentler slope, and he swiftly located this pass and climbed it.  It was an easy hike up for a while, but the mountain again grew steeper as he climbed.  By nightfall he was exhausted again, but close to the top.  The checkpoint wasn’t far…he could still do it in two days if he pushed himself.
    “C’mon, you can do this,” he told himself, as he tried to pull himself up over one of the last few ledges before the checkpoint.  He heard a guard listening to him but knew the guy wouldn’t come to his aid unless he was injured—but if he was injured he was out.  Bracing his muscles and summoning all his energy, he pulled himself up the seven last ledges and flopped to the ground, then picked himself up and ran to the checkpoint.  The watcher smiled at him as he flopped into a cushioned chair.
    “Day and a half,” he said.  Taron smiled and almost fell asleep right there… “but the real checkpoint’s up there,” the guard said, pointing.  Taron followed his gaze with shock and dismay, and he choked.  The guard laughed.  “I’m joking.  That’s where the rest area is where you can stay for the night.”  He whistled and a huge horse came into view.  “He’ll take you up.”
    Taron wearily climbed into the saddle and at a word from the guard the horse took the boy up to the rest area.  Taron found a bed and some food waiting there for him, and in a sleep-walking daze he ate some food, then headed to his bed and fell immediately to sleep.  All that night he was deep in a strange dream:  He was riding on a white-scaled dragon over burning woods, hunting someone.  A burning rage was flaring inside him, and his sword seemed to be on fire from his rage.  His dragon, too, seemed angry.
    “There he is!” Taron called out, pointing with his sword.  All at once, out from the clouds around him, a dozen other white dragons sky-dived to the location, Taron following.  A huge fireball sailed at him from the ground, and his dragon steered around it as it fell.  The wind was stinging his face but he didn’t care.  A small speck of a person came flying up at him with the ground, and suddenly his dragon faltered and with a cry spun around.  Taron went flying from his dragon’s saddle and both he and his dragon screamed in dismay as they plummeted to the ground…
    Taron snapped up in his bed with a yell—it felt like he’d landed hard on his bed, which had taken place of the branch he’d almost wrapped around.  He looked around at the walls carved into the mountain, seeing a tiny bit of deep red sunlight coming in.  He fell back on his bed with a sigh of relief…He looked over at the wall and saw that one of the aides had taken his sword and pack off him and placed them by the door.  He wanted to fall back to sleep but knew he had to keep going…he’d made it to the checkpoint in plenty of time but he needed to get to the actual Age Trials.  He slung himself out of his bed with a yawn and headed out of his room into the main area.  There was some quick food ready for him, and he ate a bit and headed out.  The dull red morning light made the rocks seem drenched in blood…Taron shuddered and continued on his way.  In fifteen minutes he was at the top of the peak the trail led to, and in the distance, in the valley between the mountains, he saw the vast stadium.  But getting there was a test in itself.  The way was laid with traps and puzzles; it jumped into his mind that his brothers had once said that getting there was almost two-thirds of the whole Age Trials. 
    Taron felt the hilt of his blade, and with a sigh he drew it.  He loved the ringing metal sound as the blade emerged from its sheath, the gold and steel glinting beautifully in the rising light.  He moved it around in the light, then with another sigh he descended into the valley.

_____________________________

    Down here it was darker than it had looked from above—it seemed like Taron had fallen into a one-way mirror: he could see it from above in perfect light, but past the mirror it was dark.  The land was rent and torn from milennia of seismic activity, creating a natural maze all around the Age Trials arena.  To make matters worse, there were false bridges and causeways, and there were even clever traps that would give way to one’s weight and drop them into a pit.  Taron had to pick his way carefully.  He got an idea, and took out a thin rope from his pack.  Finding a decent-sized stone he tied the rope around it, and with it began hitting the ground in front of him.  Every step he took he beat the ground with this whip, and within the first five minutes discovered and avoided seven traps.  He paused and looked ahead, spying out the cracks and figuring a way through this maze.  Knowing his course he sped up, and came to a set of six bridges.  There was a sign nearby:
    “These bridges will collapse—some before being crossed, some after.  Choose wisely.”
    Taron breathed deeply and tested the bridges.  They all seemed sturdy, but he only set his foot on the first three feet of each bridge.  He studied them carefully.  As the light grew he could see that there were planks that were a slightly different color—they looked more worn than the others.  He looked out again, and off in the distance he thought he saw another teenager come over the range; but he couldn’t tell—the shape was too far off in the distance.  Taron spied out his intended path, and tested the bridge that led to it.  As he reached the other side, his foot broke through one of the odd-colored planks and he jumped to safety just as the bridge fell behind him. 
    “Whew, that was close,” he said to himself, and continued his path, beating the ground with the stone with every step. 
    By midday he was halfway there, but a new foe appeared: water.  Fast water—too fast for him to brave.  Taron was stopped dead in his tracks.  He couldn’t see a way around.  But as he’d come this way he’d noticed that there was no other path that led this way; surely this had been a wrong direction?  He sat down, staring at the water.  Then, after some thinking, he saw it: a small path lay under the water.  He couldn’t see it through the churning water but he could tell it was there—the water swirled differently in some areas, as if rushing over something.  He walked out to the water and took off his shoes.  It wasn’t far to the other side, but the current was vicious and was trying to sweep him off the tiny path.  He took a few steps forward and his foot sank into water.  He quickly pulled back and looked around.  With a sigh he took off his belt, pack, and his knife, put them all together, and flung them to the other bank, where they landed safely on a pile of rocks.  Feeling with his feet he slowly made his way along the path in the water.  He made it to the other side, picked up his gear, and continued.  Several more traps caved in under the sudden strike of the roped stone, and Taron sidestepped them.
    By nightfall Taron was almost to his goal, but would’ve been there already had it not been for a few mistaken turns.  He was about 800 feet away, and was faced with another bridge problem.  The sign read:
    “You will need a bridge once you have crossed.”
    “What the heck?” Taron asked himself.  He looked closely at the bridges in the fading light, and again saw those discolored planks.  He stepped on one, and it snapped and the bridge fell away to the other side.
    “That helps,” he said to himself.  “I can use that one when I get across.”  He tested a few more, and finally found a way across.  The bridge once again fell down behind him and he jumped to safety.  He walked over to the first bridge he’d felled and drew it up.  Dragging it along he came to another chasm.
    “Oh, boy…” he thought to himself  “How do I get this across?”  He was within sight of the doors of the arena.  A panic filled him as he saw someone in the corner of his eye, but he mastered it and took his time.  Thinking quickly, Taron took two lengths of rope from his pack and gauged the distance across the chasm.  It was about twice his maximum jumping distance, but he had another idea.  He took more than double the distance of the rope and tied one end of each length to one end of the bridge.  Bringing the bridge to the edge he secured the other end between two posts set there for this purpose.  Taking one length of rope, and making sure he held the other end securely, he spun the loop over his head and flung it.  He had to try several times, but finally got the loop over a tall post on the other side.  Securing his end of this rope to the bridge-posts nearby he went to the other loop.  After several failed tries, he took his knife from its sheath, looped the rope through the circular pommel, and then swung the now-weighted rope over his head and threw it.  The extra weight at the midpoint of the loop made his throw perfect—the loop landed around the other tall post at the far edge. 
    “YES!” he yelled in triumph.  Taking up the two ends of the ropes, and getting low to the ground, Taron pulled slowly, then faster as he realized his success.  As he pulled the ropes, they pulled around the posts, pulling the bridge closer to the other edge.  He stopped as his knife slipped over the edge onto the slack rope, and he slowly brought it off and, after sheathing it, returned to pulling the bridge.  It was heavy, but he managed to pull it all they way across the chasm.  Victory flowed through him as he securely tied the ropes to the nearby bridge-posts, and he carefully walked across the bridge, stepping over the odd-colored planks.  It was shaky but he somehow managed, and made it safely to the other side.  It was a clear shot to the doorway but he didn’t like it: it was way too open after all that.  Taking out his tied stone again he beat the ground, and not three feet in front of him a huge, long pit opened up as the false ground over it collapsed.  He found a way around it, and after several more close-calls, he was right at the door.  The guards, smiling at him, congratulated him as they opened the doors.  Taron was immediately greeted by cheers of a crowd of people in a bright, white-walled hallway with gold trim and bright yellow lights everywhere.  He grinned as people came up to him to congratulate him, and he sighed with happiness.  He’d made it this far successfully.  As one of the guards led him to his room, it suddenly hit him: He may have gotten here successfully, but what about the time?  He hoped his lost time had been made up for by his day-and-a-half trek from home to the checkpoint.
    As he sat there in the marble-walled room, looking over the golden trim, he thought he heard something at his window.  But that was impossible; the outside walls were smooth, and he was three floors up.  He opened his window and looked out.  There were more teenagers coming.
    “Was I the first one?” he asked himself out loud.  He jumped and hit his head on the window when he heard a voice below him say “Second.”
    “Who’s there?!” Taron asked, drawing his sword and rubbing his head. 
    “No one you’d know, but someone you should,” the voice replied.  “May I come in?  I have urgent news for you, Taron Dracostan.”
    “Dracostan?” Taron asked.  “Since when am I Dracostan?”
    “Our group has labelled you Dracostan.  We’ve watched you for many years, Taron.  But I must come inside or I shall slip off this wall and fall on the influx of kids below.”
    Taron sighed.  “C’mon, get in,” he said, and a lithe man draped in black slipped through the window like a fluid shadow.  As a sign of trust he immediately removed the black garb from his head and took off his black cloak.  He was only about five or six years older than Taron—he was still young, with some stubble of a beard beginning to appear on his jawline.  Compared to Taron’s bright blue eyes, fair complexion, and dark-brown hair, this man had deep-set, thoughtful brown eyes, a weathered face and blonde hair.  His face made him look much older than he actually was.
    “Thank you,” he said, bowing.  Taron hesitantly bowed back.  “I have come to warn you, Taron, warn you of a dreadful danger.”
    “Danger?”
    “I have said that my group has been watching you, have I not?”
    “Yes…”
    “We’re not the only ones.  For years now we’ve striven against other forces that either want you dead or want to watch you to see your weaknesses.  We’ve done what we can to protect you thus far, but tomorrow you shall be out in the open, in front of thousands upon thousands of people.  My message is this: stay silent unless bidden to speak, and only say what they ask for.  Do not speak openly to others, for other teenagers are among the conspiracy as well.”
    “Conspiracy?” Taron asked, confused.  The man realised what he’d said, and bowed to Taron.
    “I have spoken much in so little; much more than I should have.  Look for me in the crowds, but do not let anyone know you know me.  Remember these two words: shut up!”  And with that he slipped back out the window.  Taron rushed to the window to see him slink out of sight into the shadows of the building.
    “What the…” he asked himself, and sat down on his bed to think.  “Shut up?  What was that about?  I hardly ever talk at all…especially not to people outside my friends and family…”  He lay down on his bed, then got back up to get a drink.  There was a refreshment area across the hallway for teenagers to relax in and get food and drink before heading to bed.  He went in and found it empty.  The one who came before me must be on another floor, Taron decided, and got himself some water and a sandwich.  He headed back to his room with a small jug of water and a cup that had been set out for his use, and within five minutes he was asleep in his bed. 

    That night he was submerged in another dream…he was running through the woods at far more than his normal running speed, fleeing for his life.  He was cut up badly, and there were some splinters and bits of bark in the wounds that had come from the tree branches.  There was fire behind him, turning the sky around him a dull blood red and filling the air with the smell of smoke.  He was looking for someone or something…he called out for help and collapsed to the ground, gasping for air, his whole body stinging and in pain…instead of help, a tall, dark figure with an evil field around him stooped over him and laughed hideously, reaching for him…
Taron started out of his bed with a yell as the black hand went to his neck and he was suddenly back in his room.  His head hurt, and he was out of breath…probably from the adrenaline rush of the dream, he thought.  He poured some water from the jug nearby and downed it, coughing as some slipped down the wrong tube in his haste.  He looked out the window and saw the moon sinking as the night drew closer to its end.
    “What is going on?” he asked himself, half-expecting an answer.  “Two nights in a row now I’ve had these dreams…”  He told himself it was because he was nervous about the Age Trials.  Still gagging a bit on the water he went out into the hallway to find the bathroom.  There had obviously been some midnight party in the hallway: there was trash everywhere, mostly from the food.  Taron sighed and shook his head, walking down the hallway.  He suddenly realized he’d forgotten his glasses, and went back to get them.  He kicked himself mentally for leaving his door open, and after getting his glasses he looked at the number on his door.  12-3. 
He came back about five minutes later, and thought he heard a noise in his room.  Opening his door quickly he saw a shadowy shape flit out of his open window.
    “I forgot about the window,” he said to himself in a panicky voice, and quickly shut it.  He heard something snap off outside, but when he opened it again to look, there was no damage, so he paid it no mind and closed the window again.  He then searched his stuff, and found everything in order.  His clothes, however, had been strewn everywhere, and with a groan he stood back up and collected them.  He then flung himself into bed and fell asleep again.
    It seemed like just a few minutes, but one of the guards was knocking on his door several hours later.
    “Taron?  You’ll be late.”
    “Late for what?” Taron asked with a yawn.
    “The Age Trials are beginning shortly.  You should wash up and eat.”
    Taron shot from his bed to the shower room right next to his room.  He took a fast shower, found some food, and hurriedly ate as he followed the guard to the main Arena.  The place was absolutely huge; just getting to the arena took almost fifteen minutes.  All at once Taron stepped out onto a platform among at least three hundred teenagers in full view of a gigantic ring stadium seating almost two million people, with room for about 50,000 more in the upper “high-cost” rings.  There was a dull roaring of millions of voices.  It went on for several minutes before one of the girls next to Taron bent over and asked him “How long are they gonna make us stay here?”
    “No clue,” he replied, tilting his head but still looking out over the crowd, “I thought they were waiting for me.”
    “Oh, so you’re Taron?” she asked, and he looked at her and froze.  She was almost his height, maybe a few inches shorter, with silky brown hair and brilliant green eyes that drew his attention.  He didn’t have time to snap out of it, though, for someone on the platform above the group of teens apparently gave a signal, and in five seconds the murmur completely stopped and all eyes turned to them.
    “There is one left, but he still has time,” came a loud, clear voice from above Taron’s head.  “In the meantime, we shall begin the basics.  Our three hundred twenty-four young men and women have journeyed thus far, with only 10 disqualifications.  It gives me, and all of us, great pleasure to announce that today they choose their destiny.  Some here may not pass on to great heights of warriors, in fact, many may choose to stay home.  Everyone has a calling, and today these three hundred twenty—” he broke off as the last teenager rushed in and stood next to Taron.  He was thin and disheveled but an aura of determination caught Taron’s attention, “twenty-five shall listen to their calling as best they can.  Cheer on the future who now stands before you today!”
    A deafening roar came from the entire stadium.  Taron, and many others, covered their ears but grinned at the cheering.  Ten or twelve teens looked like they were going to throw up, they were so nervous.  The noise gradually died down, and when it had almost subsided the voice began again.
    “Our teenagers shall be instructed and guided today by our best counselors, and by the end of the day many of them shall have chosen their path.  Some may take a while to decide—to each his own; there is no rush.  The festivities shall begin in four hours.  May our future leaders, guardians, providers, and workers choose their paths wisely and to the will of the Almighty!”  Taron covered his ears in anticipation, and the crowd blasted them again with cheers.  After the din, the teens were ushered down a wide flight of stairs to the ground of the arena.  They were each assigned a counselor, and in an hour they were walking away to the designated rooms.  Taron stared at his instructor, trying to place him.  The blonde hair and the face looked familiar…after a few minutes it clicked but he didn’t say anything; a smile of recognition pulled at his lips.  He passed by the brown-haired girl in the hallway, and she waved at him.  He nodded back.
    “I must grab a few things from this room,” his counselor said, and Taron nodded, understanding the unsaid request.  Taron stood by the doorway and his counselor slipped through the door, closing it quickly.  The brown-haired girl and her instructor stopped nearby, and the counselor did likewise.  The thought came to the very back of Taron’s mind—this was a test.  That thought pushed forward the memory “Shut up”.  The two teens stood there for a while.
    “So, Taron, what kept you earlier?” she asked at length.  Taron thought of tons of things to say, but only one response he allowed to pass his lips.
    “Late night.”
    “Oh, couldn’t sleep?” she asked, and without waiting for an answer she leaned against the wall with a sigh.  “Yeah, a lot of us were nervous too.”  He wanted to tell her he hadn’t been nervous, but all he could hear in his mind was “Shut up”.
    “Wow, never thought it’d work,” he thought to himself.
    “So, what’s your plan?  Hmm?” she asked, turning to him.  “What do you wanna be?”
    He hesitated.  Dragonmaster, Dragonmaster, tell her Dragonmaster, his mind kept saying, impress her and say Dragonmaster.  But once again he heard “Shut up” and turned his hesitation into a feigned thoughtfulness with a shrug.
    “I really don’t know,” he said, a bit truthfully too.  Did he really want to be a Dragonmaster?  Now that he thought about it, he could just as easily have become a Weaponsmaster or a metalsmith.  He loved weapons and crafting them.  His hand fell to the hilt of his sword and he ran his fingers along it, feeling the cold touch of the hand-forged steel.
    “I hope to become a great warrior…maybe even to bring Dragons back,” she said, staring out into space.  He looked at her in pure shock, dumbfounded.  Not only was she pretty, but she had the same dream as he did!  She didn’t notice the look on his face, fortunately; her thoughts were with dragons.  As he stared at her he noticed that she carried an intricate steel staff, with thin, fair-flowing blades at one end, wrought in the shape of a curving H with a cross stemming from the center line.  The haft was studded with small, glittering gems, and at the end was a bright red ruby.  He hadn’t noticed before but she was dressed in white dragonhide armor, with knee-length gray shorts and hard leather shinguards.  The vambraces on her forearms were a pale yellow with her family crest on them: it looked like a triangle with a wheat-stalk growing from it.  She wore a shoulder-belt that stretched across her front, and on the back was a clip for her staff.  She also had a few small daggers and throwing-knives along her belt.
    She sighed at length, snapping back to reality.  He snapped back too, and coughed.
    “What could be taking so long?” she asked, looking towards the door.  “Hope nothing’s wrong…”  She turned to him, and he was turning his sword over in his hands.  “You’re not very talkative, are you?”
    “Hmm?” Taron said, stabbing the air with his sword.  “Not really…I never really have been…”
    Before she had a chance to reply the door opened silently, and they both stood up from the wall.  The two counselors came out and silently walked away with their students.  The two teens looked back at each other briefly.
    “Talk much?” Taron’s counselor asked.
    “Not really,” Taron replied, and out of the corner of his eye he saw his counselor half-smile.  They walked on in silence, the hallway emptying gradually as teens and their guides found the rooms.  Taron and his guide went all the way up to his room, still in silence.  They entered the room and Taron turned to his counselor.
    “I thought what you said last night was just random…”
    “Was it?” the man asked, smiling.
    “It was all I heard while I was out there, every time I thought of something.”
    “Good.  You follow instructions very well.  Seems that little random bits are the most memorable.  But I need to introduce myself formally.  I am often known as Laskor.”  He sat down in a chair and Taron sat on his bed.  “I’ve been assigned to you to help you determine what you what to become.  Under secrecy codes I am not allowed to repeat or give any hint at all about what is said in this room.  As you can see I have no writing implement.”  He spoke in a dry voice, as if reciting something he’d been saying a thousand times a day, yet to Taron it seemed that Laskor was a very recent addition to the faculty—if he even was faculty, given the strange occurrence the previous night.
    “Now…blah blah blah…” he muttered, going through papers, “why…do they make everything…so long…and so dull…and so unnecessary?”  He put the papers down, keeping a tiny packet in his hand.  “Well, skip over that.  Since I’m still young I can still see how long and hard it is to suffer through all that.  So, on to the important matters.”  Taron smiled at this.  “Tell me, what interests you most?  And now, ignore that little voice of mine that says ‘Shut up’.”
    Taron kicked the little voice to the side and said, “I like weapons and combat, but what I really like is…Dragons.  Dragons with a D, not the little domestic ones.  The ones of legend.”
    Taron’s mental guard suddenly kicked on when he saw a small, strange light in his counselor’s eyes at this news.  “Go on,” Laskor said.  “Have you won anything?  Any events or medals or prizes?  In what?”
    His guard still up, he chose his words carefully.  “My family’s always been a little hard-pressed, so the only prizes I’ve received are little home-rewards for good work.  And these,” he said, patting the hilt of his sword, and his father’s dragonleather armor, “I got as presents just a few days ago before setting off.”
    Laskor sat back, muttering to himself.  Taron thought his hearing sharpened and he heard Laskor talking as if he was whispering in his ear.
    “Likes dragons, aims high, very little physical recognition outside of family unit…” Laskor again leaned forward and asked “How good are you in combat?”
    “Ummm…well…good I guess,” Taron said, though he knew he was good.  Many of the town guards back home had commented on his skills and many had wanted him to be enrolled in the Guard by the time he was twelve.
    “How good?  This could determine your whole life.”
    “Well…the Guard Captain kinda wanted me to join about three years ago and be listed as a study to an Elite.”
    Laskor stared at him for a minute, then leaned back again, deep in thought.  He seemed to be calling up memories of something.  Finally he sighed and sat forward.  Taron leaned closer.
    “I believe you may be the one spoken of in legend, the leader of the rebellious Dragonmaster clan.”  Taron’s jaw dropped; he had least expected this to come from Laskor.  Then he remembered last night.
    “Is…is that why…”
    “Yes, why I came to warn you last night,” he replied.  “Five here already seem promising as future members of this league.  Your new friend—she is one of them, and my partner is probably telling her the same as I tell you now.  But the Dragonmaster league is not yet formed.  It must be shortly, though; evil is rising in the West.  Already the King is giving in to evil, and corruption daily contaminates the public offices of the Western kingdoms.  Already an army is being formed in secret, within vast underground caves in the volcanic regions of the West.  What’s worse, the King, a former Dragon Knight, has gathered to himself many powerful dragon artifacts, making himself almost invincible.  He is slowly but surely falling, and by the time any of you are ready to take him on, war will have been declared.  Dragonmasters will be needed, for they alone will have he power to fight against the powers the King and his mages have acquired through these dragon artifacts.  In fact, a few are already here, watching for you and the others.  You, however, are at the most risk.”
    “Why me?”
    “Many recovered ancient documents point to one who fits your description, although your friend also seems a likely candidate.  We can’t tell; only time can.”
    “Point to me—or her—about what?”
    “The legends and prophecies say that one will rise up against the tide of evil, leading a band of Dragons and their Riders against the evil.  ‘Tall the one shall be, hair earthen with bright eyes that see far and deep.  The Hero shall be great among warriors, fast with the weaponwork and sure of strike.’  There is one, though, that puzzles us.  It’s a later document, about two hundred years younger than the others, and it hints that there may be more than one Hero.”
Taron sat back on his bed, puzzled.  “So, what am I to do?”
    “Your choice,” Laskor said, sitting back on his chair.  “From what you’ve told me I can suggest to you the role of a Warrior.  What kind of Warrior is up to you.  Or you may choose to stay home and be with your family.  It’s all up to you.”
    Taron did not hesitate.  “I wish to become a Warrior.”
    “That is what I shall report to the council?”
    “Yes.”
 
Spoiler for Part 2:
Part 2

  Laskor stood up with a smile, and he and Taron shook hands and went out of the room.  Laskor led him down to one of the basement rooms, where many other teenagers were waiting.  There were a lot of boys, and a few girls, all with their weapons in their hands, all looking a bit nervous.  They sat around a circular table that still had many seats left.  There was a single bright light above the enter gap in the table, but the stone walls were almost completely shadowed.  Taron took a chair and sat down when Laskor left, drawing his sword and looking it over again.  Some teens looked at him and at his sword, but many were too busy with their own thoughts.  A few minutes later, as Taron was going through his memory and thinking about the many weapon designs he’d created, he door opened again and in walked the brown-haired girl.  She took the seat next to Taron but wasn’t really paying attention—she seemed lost in thought.  With a sigh half of frustration, half of wonder at what she’d learned, she looked at her staff and gently ran her hand along the rubies and emeralds.  Taron yawned, and his voice made her jump.
  “Oh!  I didn’t realize it was you!” she said, but in a low voice.  Taron shrugged but he smiled at her.  He knew, somehow, he could trust her, but he couldn’t talk about things just yet.  The others around them didn’t seem to notice their acquaintance. 
  “So, you chose to become a Warrior?” Taron asked.  She smiled and nodded, knowing he was really asking about the secret info they’d received.
  “Yep…always wanted to be one.  I just hope I picked the right thing.”
  “I’m sure you did,” Taron said, but he didn’t notice her side-glance; he was watching three boys at the far end of the table.  After a few moments Taron leaned to her and said, “Keep an eye on those guys there, across the table.  I don’t like the way they’re looking at us.”
  “Who?  Oh…” She glared at them and they laughed to themselves.  “Those idiots…they kept tripping me and taking my stuff on the way in.”  They pointed at her and she glared at them even worse.  They seemed a bit scared but covered it up with laughter.  Their eyes kept jumping to Taron, and it seemed that they were a little apprehensive of him.  He hardened his face at them and they looked away, chatting among themselves.
  After about fifteen minutes the door opened again, and the late boy came in and sat down on Taron’s other side.  He seemed really nervous but hid it very well.  He was almost immediately followed by a tall man in a flowing white robe, with a blue cloak over his shoulders.  He was very old, with a long white beard, but he was not bent with age, nor did his gait seem to suffer as he walked through an opening in the table to a small platform in the gap in the center.  He flung aside his cloak and they saw a strange, beautiful sword on his back.
  “Here you are, the protectors of our future,” he began, addressing them.  “Becoming a Warrior, it is true, brings fame and money, which is no doubt what some of you are after.  But the role of Warrior is not easy; in fact, in many areas, it is far more strenuous and perilous than any other profession.  To become a Warrior, you must have a keen sense of your surroundings.  At all times you must know what is going on around you.”  Taron thought he saw a movement behind several teens in the shadow against the walls.  The old man paused, and Taron swiftly turned around in his chair, his sword out at arm’s length, pointing to a man clocked in black.  He also saw his friend’s staff pointing at the man too.
  “Very good, you two!” the old man said, with a few claps of his hand.  The cloaked man took off the black mask around his face and stepped back.  The other teenagers were looking at them—some in awe; some in self-consciousness, feeling that they could’ve done the same; and some, like the boys across the room, looked at them with hatred.  Many of them looked around and saw, but didn’t really react to, other men cloaked in black.  “Awareness of surroundings, and keen reflexes, are your tickets to survival.  As shown here, an attempted ambush was foiled.  Weapons and strength alone are not the keys to your success; rather, they are the tools you are given.  You must also be able to read your opponent and know what to do for what he does.  A seasoned warrior can predict his foe’s plans by a mere glimpse at his enemy’s bodily movements.  This is critical, especially with the rise of wild animals about.  Many of you will be sent off to deal with reports of these creatures, and the training you shall receive tomorrow will aid you tremendously in these dealings.”  He paused again.  “If any of you are having second thoughts about your choice, feel free to leave at any time.  Some people make hasty decisions, or decisions based on fantasy or dreams, and later regret their decision.  If you do not think you are called to be Warriors, you may leave.  Those who stay through this discussion shall be recorded as Warriors.”  Five or six teens stood up, a bit self-consciously as everyone watched them, and they left.  The old man waited for them to leave, and continued.
  “The role of Warrior is not for the faint-of-heart.  There is bloodshed in combat with sharp weapons such as these,” he drew his sword as he spoke, “and those of you that don’t think you can handle the sight of blood and gore, or are uneasy about killing another living being, are advised to step out now.  For the role of Warrior comes at a price; indeed, many believe that it is underpaid and does not receive as much recognition as it should.  There is glory and fame, but often long after many toiling and bloody deeds against wild things.”  At this a few more stood up, more resolutely than the others had, and hurried out. 
  “Tomorrow those of you who decide to continue on your chosen path will be faced with serious and intensive training.  At any time you are free to drop out and consider another path.  You will be here for three days.  Make new friends, and try to avoid becoming enemies.”  At this Taron saw his friend glare again at the boys across the table.  “In the wilderness, every single second is a chance, and sometimes friends may come at chance, whether to aid or just as a passing.  Look out for each other, for in the wilderness, one is a lonely number.”  With that he dismissed them, and there was a lot of ringing and clanking as everyone picked up their weapons, some bumping against each other as they filed out.  Taron and the brown-haired girl walked out next to each other, and in the hallway they stopped at a wall to wait for their counselors.
  “I still don’t know your name,” Taron said, watching the others walk past, seeking out their instructors. 
  “Oh, I’m so sorry!  I thought I’d told you by now…my name’s Ali.” 
  “Ali…I think I can remember that,” he said, teasingly.  She laughed to herself and ran her hand through her hair.  As they stood there, waiting and watching, the late boy came up to them.  He was thin, as if he’d gone a while without much food, and his armor seemed a bit beaten up and scuffed, but he looked like someone who’d lash out fiercely and lethally if cornered. 
  “Uhhh…hey,” he said, avoiding eye contact.  “Umm…mind if…mind if I join you?”
  Taron tapped the wall next to him and the boy leaned against it.
  “That was…that was cool…what you did in there…”  He seemed really nervous.
  “Thanks,” they both said, and gave each other a side-glance, unsure who he was speaking to.  He was looking around, and seemed to be feeling the air.
  “You guys feel that?” he asked, stepping forward a little, looking around. 
  “Feel what?” Ali asked, watching him.
  “I guess you don’t…”  He seemed a little depressed at it.
  “What are you feeling?” Taron asked.
  “It feels like a storm’s coming…a really powerful thunderstorm…I think we may get a tornado.”
  “A tornado?  In the mountains?” Ali asked, confused.  “I can understand a storm, but a tornado?”
  “Well, something’s stirring, anyway,” he replied. 
  “Does it feel like a kind of pressure from the air?” Taron asked. 
  “Yes…kinda depressing and ominous…you feel it?”
  “A tiny bit, yeah,” Taron said.  Sometimes he was able to sense if a storm was coming, but something seemed to be blocking him now…he figured it was because he was underground underneath a huge building.
Their counselors came back and they separated.  Taron had a feeling that he’d made another friend, but he wasn’t sure.  As they walked back to his room, Taron staggered as something hit his head from behind.  He and Laskor turned around sharply and saw those three boys from the table.  On the ground was Taron’s sheathed knife.  The boy in front of the group smirked at him.
  “Dropped your knife,” he said smugly.  Taron, without taking his eyes off him, stooped and picked up his knife. 
  “Boys, get going,” Laskor said, motioning away.
  “Oh, what’re you gonna do?” the boy sneered.  Apparently he had a problem with authority.  His problem subsided in a flash when a whip lashed his armor from behind, along the sword-belt so as not to really hurt him.  The boys turned around and saw one of the Arena guards there.  His armor was white and gold, unlike the red and blue of the regular guards; obviously this was one of the Elites.
  “Boys, you should know better than to address your elders that way,” the guard said coolly.
  “I’ll have my parents on you for this,” the boy said angrily.
  “Your parents have no jurisdiction here,” the guard replied.  “You are responsible for your own actions as of two days ago.  If you don’t want me to report to your parents on your behavior I suggest you shape up and leave others alone.  And no throwing weapons, protected or not.  That right there is an offense punishable by cell time.  I’ll let you go for now, but if anything else happens, your parents will have to wait fifteen days until your cell time’s up.”  The boys slunk off, and the guard ducked through a door nearby after nodding to Laskor.  The one teen turned and gave Taron a sneer that never would really leave his mind.  Taron and Laskor continued until they came to his room.  Laskor had to leave, so Taron went into the refreshments area and got himself a snack.  There were a few others there but they paid him no mind; they were reading through paperwork.  Back in his room, Taron drew his sword and swung it around a bit.  The metal sang through the air with a sweet whistle.  Cut, stab, block, downstrike, backhand, punch, stab.  He practiced all the moves he knew, a mental image of an enemy taking every blow and getting blocked every time it swung.  If he had another sword he could pull off his dual-wield moves, but all he had was his sword and knife.  After a bit more self-training, Taron sheathed his sword and knife and went to the window.  Afternoon was drawing to an end, but the thunderstorm feeling was drawing ever closer.  Off to the right he though he saw the edge of a supercell, from the direction of the ocean. 
  “Hope it’s nothing major,” he said to himself, and breathed deeply.  The smell of the mountain brought back memories of when his parents would take him on small excursions through the mountains.  He remembered his dad chasing him to a huge waterfall…how he had longed to swim under that waterfall at the time…to find out if there was something behind it…His brothers had always told him that a vast Dragon stronghold lay behind the falls, but no one could ever get in because the water was so fierce.
  “Someday I’ll reach those falls and find the other side,” he told himself.  “Someday I’ll even find Dragons…”  He wandered out into the hallway and saw Laskor coming back, riffling through some papers.
  “Here,” he said, handing a packet to Taron.  He seemed a bit distressed.  “I’ll be back shortly.  Read this through.”  He quickly walked off, Taron staring after him.  Shaking his head Taron went back into his room and opened the packet.  In bright gold letters outlined in black ink for easier reading was the title “Weaponry and Protection: Legals Every Warrior Should Know”.  With a sigh of frustration Taron leafed through it, reading the titles of the various sections.  He’d always hated reading legal stuff…one page caught his eye and flipped back to it.
  “Human-on-Human Encounters in the Wilderness”, Taron read to himself.  “Odd…”  The pages went on and on about customs and tribal or village disputes, but one page especially caught his eye and he read it over carefully.
  “Under no circumstances should deaths occur, by way of magic, weapons or otherwise, unless it is a kill-or-be-killed situation as dictated and described by Combat Code 64-11.1.  Severe debilitation is allowed only if there is no way of calming the conflict short of death.  See Section 64-10.2, line 15.  In any and all conflicts between two people, one must find a way of either resolving the problem peacefully, or if the chance arises, a non-violent method of escape.  In some cases an attacker will not allow escape; in these cases, combat is allowed, but there is to be no or little bloodshed.  All cuts or injuries must be accidental as described in Section 65-1.5.  Failure to comply shall result in punishment of both parties (chapter 14 Section 10-12b.3).  If the attacker is beyond a doubt intent on death, seek the least destructive means of debilitation in order to end the conflict.  More shall be covered in the next chapter.”
  “Punishment?” Taron asked himself, “I’m gonna be out in the wild far from civilization!  How are they gonna find out if I’ve been in a fight?”  He flipped back to the front of the book and looked at the date.  The book was twenty years old.  “That explains it,” he said to himself.  “The rules have changed since then.”  He remembered his dad reading off legal notices to him.  He’d learned that death was still only a kill-or-be-killed situation, but the rules were not nearly so strict, now with the rise of dark forces.  There were far more robbers and evil people abroad now than there had been that long ago.  For all he knew the new laws and rules made combat fair game so long as he didn’t initiate it.
  Laskor came into the room silently; Taron didn’t notice until Laskor was right next to him.  He jumped with a startled yell when he turned his head and saw the blonde-haired man next to him.
  “I’m sorry, I gave you the wrong packet,” Laskor said, taking Taron’s and giving him another one.  “I realized when I went back that I had picked up the wrong copy.”
  “Is it just me or is a storm coming?” Taron asked.
  “Yes, an intense thunderstorm is headed our way, at a tremendous pace,” Laskor said, that distressed look coming into his eyes.  He closed the door, making sure no one was around, and whispered.
  “Our scouts have reported seeing Dark Mages walking at the front of the system, leading it towards us in an attempt to wipe out you and the others.”  By “others” Taron knew he meant the other future Dragonmasters.  “We’ve done what we can but we can only do so much before it raises suspicion.  The mages are headed straight for this arena.  The storm is predicted to do quite a bit of damage to this arena before it passes, if it does pass.  I pray that the mages don’t cause it to hover over us.”  Laskor sat back in his chair, his hand over his face.  “We have fine warriors here, and one of the best security units around, but melee fighters are no good against magic-wielding mages.  Pray for a miracle, that they do not find an easy way up here…actually, that they don’t find a way up.”  Laskor sat back in the chair with a sigh.  Taron knew somehow that Laskor knew how terrible mages were.  The blonde-haired man was staring off into the distance with a pained look, almost like a creature that knows it’s trapped and is trying to formulate a plan of escape. 

______________________________________________

  Half an hour later Taron looked out the window.  The sky was dark with clouds.  He hoped his prayers were heard.  Laskor had fallen asleep in the chair, sitting up unusually straight for being asleep.  Taron stood up, and the creak of the floorboards woke Laskor.  The man jumped up and in a flash had his dagger in hand, looking around.
  “Oh, geez, I’m really on edge,’ he said, slumping back into the chair.  The air seemed depressing and heavy, and Taron thought he heard thunder.  He opened his window just as a bolt of lightning seared through the sky above with a sharp crack.  When Taron uncovered his ears and opened his eyes he saw a small domestic dragon flying as fast as it could to the Arena.  In the distance, out by the edge of the valley ring, the clouds seemed to be swirling.  It might’ve been his imagination but Taron thought he heard foul voices in the air, as if the air itself were speaking in low, foul tones.
  A few minutes later a loud, clear gong sound echoed through all the walls of the arena.  Laskor jumped to his feet and Taron hurriedly followed him as he bolted out of the room.  They doubled back and grabbed their weapons and went out into the hallway.  All the guards and instructors were siphoning the teens and visitors down the stairs as fast as the line could go.  The walls sounded again.  At the base of the third flight of stairs Taron bumped into Ali.  Without a word they grasped
« Last Edit: November 14, 2007, 11:53:57 PM by iceflame1019 »

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Spoiler for:
Taron yawned and rubbed his eyes, and rolled over on his bed with a smile.  Today was his fifteenth birthday, the day he’d finally receive his sword.  Today was the day he was to go off into the world and make a name for himself.  It was a big deal, especially for him, being from a poor family.  But, it was the law: all children on their fifteenth birthday were to receive a sword for their journey.  Some children went off and became great warriors or healers; others became great crafters, renowned for their works; and some just went off, completed the Age Trials, and returned home and never went back out with a weapon again.  But Taron, he wanted to be a Dragonmaster.  Not a tamer or breeder of domestic dragons that could only light cooking fires; their family was too poor to have a true domestic dragon.  The family dragon was always gone during the day, hunting. 
    No, thought Taron, as he lay on his bed, I want to find and bring back the Dragons, Dragons with a capital D.  Throughout his childhood his grandpa had told him of the days when Dragons flew the skies freely, bringing news, aiding people in their chores, and with their riders astride them, securing the peace of the land.  Long ago, Dragons and Humans had been inseparable, dependant on each other.  It all changed when the hearts of men discovered the earthly value of gold and precious metals and jewels.  Dragons loved jewels, and would share their shining wares with Humans, but when Humans became greedy the Dragons hoarded the treasures away, and a bloody, fiery age dawned.  Taron wanted to reverse the damage that had persisted throughout the centuries, though he knew he could never completely do it.  He slung his legs over the edge of the bed, rolled onto the floor, and sprang back up in front of the mirror he and his father had carved and decorated.  His brown hair was a mess at the top of his 6-foot height, but with a few runs of his hand it went to its typically spiky position.  He picked up his glasses and slipped them on, again ruffling his hair in the mirror.  He squinted through his glasses out the window, and took them off and looked closely at them.  They were getting weak, but he was sure that his skills could get him enough money for new ones. 
    He turned to the door and found his father’s combat suit hanging there.  Surprised, Taron gently took it off the hook and turned it over in his hands.  When had his dad fixed this up?  It had been worn and stained and a bit cut up…Taron ran his hands over the blue dragonhide suit, then with a sigh slipped it on, fastening the sword belt around his waist and adjusting the sling around his shoulder.  The shoulders had hooks for a cape, but his father’s cape had been shredded long ago in combat.  Taron slipped into his ice-gray pants and looked at himself again in the mirror.  With his silverscale gloves on, in his mind’s eye he looked like a true warrior.  He headed to the door, and rushed back to his bed.  He’d nearly forgotten the knife the local priest had given him.  Taron looked over its worn but sharp blue blade, and slipped it into its sheath and hooked that to his belt.  He was finally ready to head downstairs.  Chances were his friends and family had gathered while he was asleep and were planning to surprise him.  With an apprehensive smile, he finally headed out the door.  He walked silently down the stone steps to the underground first floor and edged around the stone-wall corner to the family room.  There were no sounds at all, other than the crackle of the fire in the fireplace and the quiet snoring of the family dragon.  He walked through the family room, and looked around the corner into the dining room.  There was no one in there, but there were two doorways on the sides that anyone could easily hide behind.  He took a step forward, and his foot snagged an unseen thread.  The fire on the table blazed up and Taron jumped back as at least twenty people jumped into the room with a loud “SURPRISE!”  They laughed with him as he stood back up and they greeted him with hugs and hand-shaking.
    “I knew you guys were gonna do that,” he said.
    “You were sneaky, but not enough,” his older cousin said with a laugh, and she plopped a conic hat on his head, which he promptly removed as soon as she turned away.
    “Hey, it’s the big man,” said his uncle, who came over and gave him a punch on the shoulder.  “Feelin’ any older?”
    “My shoulder does.”
    “Well, age brings pain,” his uncle said with a laugh.  Everyone sat down at the long table, and Taron took the seat at the head.  He’d been so jealous of his older brothers as they’d sat at the head of the table in this age-worn chair, but now that he was here, he felt a bit nervous, probably with all the excitement. 
    “How’d you get the fire to blaze like that?” he asked his uncle.
    “Took me a while but I finally put together a cheap, safely-combustible powder,” he said, and flicked the dust from his fingers at a nearby candle.  Some people jumped as the candle flame briefly jumped and flared with a hiss.
    Breakfast was loud, and in no time it was over, with everyone having had their fill.  Taron’s father cleared his throat and tapped his fork against his metal goblet.  Everyone quieted down almost immediately.
    “Well, I’m no one for speeches, but today is officially the day my youngest son becomes a man and goes off into the world.  He’s been a hard worker and a good son.  He’ll be missed every day he’s not here.”  Everyone nodded, and Taron felt a bit guilty that he was leaving his parents.  But then again, everyone helped everyone else in the neighborhood, so his workload would surely be taken up in his absence.
    “Throughout these years I’ve heard nothing but compliments on his skills and talents.  I’m sure he’ll grow to become the finest hero we’ll know in our lifetimes.”  And with this he reached down and produced a brilliant scabbard.  It was wrapped in leather, trimmed with steel, and adorned with small jewels and the family crest: a circle with a triangle inside, and within that triangle rested a small bird.  His father held up the scabbard for all to see, and then walked it down to Taron.  Taron stood, and bowed as he received it from his father.  The sword was very light, and Taron drew it slowly, holding it up high.  Its thin leaf-shaped blade shone in the firelight, its keen edges glittering brightly.  Down the flat of the blade, on both sides, ran a fuller set with small jewels, and at the junction of the blade and quillon there was a bright gold triangle engraved with his name.  The quillon resembled slim dragon wings, and in the center the carved claws of the dragon clasped a bright moonstone.  Its body and tail wrapped around the hilt, and the end of the tail wrapped around a brilliant light-blue sapphire.  Taron held it in his hands, feeling its weight and balance.  It felt very light, and he swung it a few time off to the side, away from his friends.  It sang through the air, and he sheathed it.
    “Let this be a sign to all who see it,” his father said, and Taron bent down as his father put a necklace around his neck.  On it hung a silver wire circle with a golden wire triangle set within.  His father then handed him a metal card decorated with battle runes and inscribed with the Age Trials insignia.
    “You are to leave at the stroke of three from this house and make your way to the Trial grounds,” his father said.  “You have three hours.  You’d best make sure you’re ready.”
    With a heavy sigh and a nod, Taron left his chair, bowed to the gathering, and left to gather his things.  He’d made a list of things he’d need for the road, and he headed back to his room to get it.  He looked on his dresser where he’d last put it.  Confused, he began sifting through the papers on his desk.  A bead of sweat appeared on his forehead.  He looked around the room, and decided that he should’ve cleaned his room yesterday like he’d been asked to.  He looked nervously at the dragon clock—he had three hours but this would take a while.

    Taron tore from his room, racing down the stairs with his pack still slipping off his back.  His family was waiting for him outside and it was just barely three.  They all cheered as he burst out of the house exactly at three, and he sighed with relief; he’d made it just barely in time.
    “Get going!” his cousin said with a shove, “you can’t be late!”  Taron ran off, waving, his family and friends all cheering and waving. 
    He knew the way but in his panic his mind had become a haze, and he stopped just outside the village gates, looking around.  The trail branched off in three directions: one to the east, towards the ocean; one to the north, to the mountains; and the last one to the forest, off to the west.  Reports had come in about recent dragon sightings in the woods but no proof had been found.  Taron sighed, racking his adrenaline-rushed mind for the directions.  Something was telling him to head for the mountains, but he really thought it was off towards the ocean.  He was about to flip a coin when he saw a bright flash in the mountains.
    “Oh geez!” he shouted, and ran as fast as he possibly could.  The trial had started.  He’d forgotten that he was supposed to wait at the village gate until the signal; later on he considered himself incredibly lucky.  He knew that, at all the other villages, other fifteen-year-olds were rushing off.  As he ran it came to his mind that he was alone…then it occurred to him: they were supposed to go in shifts—that’s why he had to leave at three and not immediately or when he felt like it.  They were being timed, and the timing was also factored in with the trails and distances from the mountains.  Taron checked himself and ran slower, pacing himself.  He’d done this run before; he didn’t need to cover it as fast as possible.  It was a three-day journey, but he’d done it in two at one point.  Now, as he ran down the straight dirt path to the stone hills, he tried to remember how he’d done the two-day run.  He jumped with a yell as a deer ran off in the tall grass, taking him by surprise.  He didn’t stop, though; he couldn’t afford any delays. 
    The day wore on and the sun began coloring the sky.  Taron was tired but he couldn’t stop—not yet, anyway.  He wiped the sweat from his forehead and kept running.  His right hand strayed to the hilt of his sword, strapped to his hip from his belt. 
    A few hours after nightfall he reached the small band of woods that ran around the base of the mountains.  He set out his sleeping stuff and fell asleep almost immediately, camped out under a tree, a waterproof tarp spread on the lower branches above him.  He knew the dangers of the forest, but he only had to worry about them when he was in the forest.
    He woke up just before the crack of dawn, rolled up his stuff, and with a yawn started off again.  The trails through the forest seemed to move, but there were a few landmark trees and rocks that he knew fairly well.  He picked his way carefully through the forest, knowing that the wrong trail or a mistaken landmark would cost him time in trying to get back on course.  At one point he almost freaked when he saw a landmark he’d thought was at least three hours to his left, but then he remembered that he was on the right track and was confusing landmarks.
    “Need to stay calm…” he told himself, and continued.  He found a grove of edible berries and had a few handfuls, but what he really wanted was water.  There was a creek between the mountains and the forest, but noting through the woods.  So, as this thought came to his mind, he sighed and continued.
    It was midday by the time Taron came through the forest, and he practically threw himself into the creek to drink.  After satisfying his thirst he continued a short distance to the sheer rock walls of the mountain.  There was a small, hazardous trail cut into the cliff that led to a gentler slope, and he swiftly located this pass and climbed it.  It was an easy hike up for a while, but the mountain again grew steeper as he climbed.  By nightfall he was exhausted again, but close to the top.  The checkpoint wasn’t far…he could still do it in two days if he pushed himself.
    “C’mon, you can do this,” he told himself, as he tried to pull himself up over one of the last few ledges before the checkpoint.  He heard a guard listening to him but knew the guy wouldn’t come to his aid unless he was injured—but if he was injured he was out.  Bracing his muscles and summoning all his energy, he pulled himself up the seven last ledges and flopped to the ground, then picked himself up and ran to the checkpoint.  The watcher smiled at him as he flopped into a cushioned chair.
    “Day and a half,” he said.  Taron smiled and almost fell asleep right there… “but the real checkpoint’s up there,” the guard said, pointing.  Taron followed his gaze with shock and dismay, and he choked.  The guard laughed.  “I’m joking.  That’s where the rest area is where you can stay for the night.”  He whistled and a huge horse came into view.  “He’ll take you up.”
    Taron wearily climbed into the saddle and at a word from the guard the horse took the boy up to the rest area.  Taron found a bed and some food waiting there for him, and in a sleep-walking daze he ate some food, then headed to his bed and fell immediately to sleep.  All that night he was deep in a strange dream:  He was riding on a white-scaled dragon over burning woods, hunting someone.  A burning rage was flaring inside him, and his sword seemed to be on fire from his rage.  His dragon, too, seemed angry.
    “There he is!” Taron called out, pointing with his sword.  All at once, out from the clouds around him, a dozen other white dragons sky-dived to the location, Taron following.  A huge fireball sailed at him from the ground, and his dragon steered around it as it fell.  The wind was stinging his face but he didn’t care.  A small speck of a person came flying up at him with the ground, and suddenly his dragon faltered and with a cry spun around.  Taron went flying from his dragon’s saddle and both he and his dragon screamed in dismay as they plummeted to the ground…
    Taron snapped up in his bed with a yell—it felt like he’d landed hard on his bed, which had taken place of the branch he’d almost wrapped around.  He looked around at the walls carved into the mountain, seeing a tiny bit of deep red sunlight coming in.  He fell back on his bed with a sigh of relief…He looked over at the wall and saw that one of the aides had taken his sword and pack off him and placed them by the door.  He wanted to fall back to sleep but knew he had to keep going…he’d made it to the checkpoint in plenty of time but he needed to get to the actual Age Trials.  He slung himself out of his bed with a yawn and headed out of his room into the main area.  There was some quick food ready for him, and he ate a bit and headed out.  The dull red morning light made the rocks seem drenched in blood…Taron shuddered and continued on his way.  In fifteen minutes he was at the top of the peak the trail led to, and in the distance, in the valley between the mountains, he saw the vast stadium.  But getting there was a test in itself.  The way was laid with traps and puzzles; it jumped into his mind that his brothers had once said that getting there was almost two-thirds of the whole Age Trials. 
    Taron felt the hilt of his blade, and with a sigh he drew it.  He loved the ringing metal sound as the blade emerged from its sheath, the gold and steel glinting beautifully in the rising light.  He moved it around in the light, then with another sigh he descended into the valley.

_____________________________

    Down here it was darker than it had looked from above—it seemed like Taron had fallen into a one-way mirror: he could see it from above in perfect light, but past the mirror it was dark.  The land was rent and torn from milennia of seismic activity, creating a natural maze all around the Age Trials arena.  To make matters worse, there were false bridges and causeways, and there were even clever traps that would give way to one’s weight and drop them into a pit.  Taron had to pick his way carefully.  He got an idea, and took out a thin rope from his pack.  Finding a decent-sized stone he tied the rope around it, and with it began hitting the ground in front of him.  Every step he took he beat the ground with this whip, and within the first five minutes discovered and avoided seven traps.  He paused and looked ahead, spying out the cracks and figuring a way through this maze.  Knowing his course he sped up, and came to a set of six bridges.  There was a sign nearby:
    “These bridges will collapse—some before being crossed, some after.  Choose wisely.”
    Taron breathed deeply and tested the bridges.  They all seemed sturdy, but he only set his foot on the first three feet of each bridge.  He studied them carefully.  As the light grew he could see that there were planks that were a slightly different color—they looked more worn than the others.  He looked out again, and off in the distance he thought he saw another teenager come over the range; but he couldn’t tell—the shape was too far off in the distance.  Taron spied out his intended path, and tested the bridge that led to it.  As he reached the other side, his foot broke through one of the odd-colored planks and he jumped to safety just as the bridge fell behind him. 
    “Whew, that was close,” he said to himself, and continued his path, beating the ground with the stone with every step. 
    By midday he was halfway there, but a new foe appeared: water.  Fast water—too fast for him to brave.  Taron was stopped dead in his tracks.  He couldn’t see a way around.  But as he’d come this way he’d noticed that there was no other path that led this way; surely this had been a wrong direction?  He sat down, staring at the water.  Then, after some thinking, he saw it: a small path lay under the water.  He couldn’t see it through the churning water but he could tell it was there—the water swirled differently in some areas, as if rushing over something.  He walked out to the water and took off his shoes.  It wasn’t far to the other side, but the current was vicious and was trying to sweep him off the tiny path.  He took a few steps forward and his foot sank into water.  He quickly pulled back and looked around.  With a sigh he took off his belt, pack, and his knife, put them all together, and flung them to the other bank, where they landed safely on a pile of rocks.  Feeling with his feet he slowly made his way along the path in the water.  He made it to the other side, picked up his gear, and continued.  Several more traps caved in under the sudden strike of the roped stone, and Taron sidestepped them.
    By nightfall Taron was almost to his goal, but would’ve been there already had it not been for a few mistaken turns.  He was about 800 feet away, and was faced with another bridge problem.  The sign read:
    “You will need a bridge once you have crossed.”
    “What the heck?” Taron asked himself.  He looked closely at the bridges in the fading light, and again saw those discolored planks.  He stepped on one, and it snapped and the bridge fell away to the other side.
    “That helps,” he said to himself.  “I can use that one when I get across.”  He tested a few more, and finally found a way across.  The bridge once again fell down behind him and he jumped to safety.  He walked over to the first bridge he’d felled and drew it up.  Dragging it along he came to another chasm.
    “Oh, boy…” he thought to himself  “How do I get this across?”  He was within sight of the doors of the arena.  A panic filled him as he saw someone in the corner of his eye, but he mastered it and took his time.  Thinking quickly, Taron took two lengths of rope from his pack and gauged the distance across the chasm.  It was about twice his maximum jumping distance, but he had another idea.  He took more than double the distance of the rent  and tied one end of each length to one end of the bridge.  Bringing the bridge to the edge he secured the other end between two posts set there for this purpose.  Taking one length of rope, and making sure he held the other end securely, he spun the loop over his head and flung it.  He had to try several times, but finally got the loop over a tall post on the other side.  Securing his end of this rope to the bridge-posts nearby he went to the other loop.  After several failed tries, he took his knife from its sheath, looped the rope through the circular pommel, and then swung the now-weighted rope over his head and threw it.  The extra weight at the midpoint of the loop made his throw perfect—the loop landed around the other tall post at the far edge. 
    “YES!” he yelled in triumph.  Taking up the two ends of the ropes, and getting low to the ground, Taron pulled slowly, then faster as he realized his success.  As he pulled the ropes, they pulled around the posts, pulling the bridge closer to the other edge.  He stopped as his knife slipped over the edge onto the slack rope, and he slowly brought it off and, after sheathing it, returned to pulling the bridge.  It was heavy, but he managed to pull it all they way across the chasm.  Victory flowed through him as he securely tied the ropes to the nearby bridge-posts, and he carefully walked across the bridge, stepping over the odd-colored planks.  It was shaky but he somehow managed, and made it safely to the other side.  It was a clear shot to the doorway but he didn’t like it: it was way too open after all that.  Taking out his tied stone again he beat the ground, and not three feet in front of him a huge, long pit opened up as the false ground over it collapsed.  He found a way around it, and after several more close-calls, he was right at the door.  The guards, smiling at him, congratulated him as they opened the doors.  Taron was immediately greeted by cheers of a crowd of people in a bright, white-walled hallway with gold trim and bright yellow lights everywhere.  He grinned as people came up to him to congratulate him, and he sighed with happiness.  He’d made it this far successfully.  As one of the guards led him to his room, it suddenly hit him: He may have gotten here successfully, but what about the time?  He hoped his lost time had been made up for by his day-and-a-half trek from home to the checkpoint.
    As he sat there in the marble-walled room, looking over the golden trim, he thought he heard something at his window.  But that was impossible; the outside walls were smooth, and he was three floors up.  He opened his window and looked out.  There were more teenagers coming.
    “Was I the first one?” he asked himself out loud.  He jumped and hit his head on the window when he heard a voice below him say “Second.”
    “Who’s there?!” Taron asked, drawing his sword and rubbing his head. 
    “No one you’d know, but someone you should,” the voice replied.  “May I come in?  I have urgent news for you, Taron Dracostan.”
    “Dracostan?” Taron asked.  “Since when am I Dracostan?”
    “Our group has labelled you Dracostan.  We’ve watched you for many years, Taron.  But I must come inside or I shall slip off this wall and fall on the influx of kids below.”
    Taron sighed.  “C’mon, get in,” he said, and a lithe man draped in black slipped through the window like a fluid shadow.  As a sign of trust he immediately removed the black garb from his head and took off his black cloak.  He was only about five or six years older than Taron—he was still young, with some stubble of a beard beginning to appear on his jawline.  Compared to Taron’s bright blue eyes, fair complexion, and dark-brown hair, this man had deep-set, thoughtful brown eyes, a weathered face and blonde hair.  His face made him look much older than he actually was.
    “Thank you,” he said, bowing.  Taron hesitantly bowed back.  “I have come to warn you, Taron, warn you of a dreadful danger.”
    “Danger?”
    “I have said that my group has been watching you, have I not?”
    “Yes…”
    “We’re not the only ones.  For years now we’ve striven against other forces that either want you dead or want to watch you to see your weaknesses.  We’ve done what we can to protect you thus far, but tomorrow you shall be out in the open, in front of thousands upon thousands of people.  My message is this: stay silent unless bidden to speak, and only say what they ask for.  Do not speak openly to others, for other teenagers are among the conspiracy as well.”
    “Conspiracy?” Taron asked, confused.  The man realised what he’d said, and bowed to Taron.
    “I have spoken much in so little; much more than I should have.  Look for me in the crowds, but do not let anyone know you know me.  Remember these two words: shut up!”  And with that he slipped back out the window.  Taron rushed to the window to see him slink out of sight into the shadows of the building.
    “What the…” he asked himself, and sat down on his bed to think.  “Shut up?  What was that about?  I hardly ever talk at all…especially not to people outside my friends and family…”  He lay down on his bed, then got back up to get a drink.  There was a refreshment area across the hallway for teenagers to relax in and get food and drink before heading to bed.  He went in and found it empty.  The one who came before me must be on another floor, Taron decided, and got himself some water and a sandwich.  He headed back to his room with a small jug of water and a cup that had been set out for his use, and within five minutes he was asleep in his bed. 

    That night he was submerged in another dream…he was running through the woods at far more than his normal running speed, fleeing for his life.  He was cut up badly, and there were some splinters and bits of bark in the wounds that had come from the tree branches.  There was fire behind him, turning the sky around him a dull blood red and filling the air with the smell of smoke.  He was looking for someone or something…he called out for help and collapsed to the ground, gasping for air, his whole body stinging and in pain…instead of help, a tall, dark figure with an evil field around him stooped over him and laughed hideously, reaching for him…
Taron started out of his bed with a yell as the black hand went to his neck and he was suddenly back in his room.  His head hurt, and he was out of breath…probably from the adrenaline rush of the dream, he thought.  He poured some water from the jug nearby and downed it, coughing as some slipped down the wrong tube in his haste.  He looked out the window and saw the moon sinking as the night drew closer to its end.
    “What is going on?” he asked himself, half-expecting an answer.  “Two nights in a row now I’ve had these dreams…”  He told himself it was because he was nervous about the Age Trials.  Still gagging a bit on the water he went out into the hallway to find the bathroom.  There had obviously been some midnight party in the hallway: there was trash everywhere, mostly from the food.  Taron sighed and shook his head, walking down the hallway.  He suddenly realized he’d forgotten his glasses, and went back to get them.  He kicked himself mentally for leaving his door open, and after getting his glasses he looked at the number on his door.  12-3. 
He came back about five minutes later, and thought he heard a noise in his room.  Opening his door quickly he saw a shadowy shape flit out of his open window.
    “I forgot about the window,” he said to himself in a panicky voice, and quickly shut it.  He heard something snap off outside, but when he opened it again to look, there was no damage, so he paid it no mind and closed the window again.  He then searched his stuff, and found everything in order.  His clothes, however, had been strewn everywhere, and with a groan he stood back up and collected them.  He then flung himself into bed and fell asleep again.
    It seemed like just a few minutes, but one of the guards was knocking on his door several hours later.
    “Taron?  You’ll be late.”
    “Late for what?” Taron asked with a yawn.
    “The Age Trials are beginning shortly.  You should wash up and eat.”
    Taron shot from his bed to the shower room right next to his room.  He took a fast shower, found some food, and hurriedly ate as he followed the guard to the main Arena.  The place was absolutely huge; just getting to the arena took almost fifteen minutes.  All at once Taron stepped out onto a platform among at least three hundred teenagers in full view of a gigantic ring stadium seating almost two million people, with room for about 50,000 more in the upper “high-cost” rings.  There was a dull roaring of millions of voices.  It went on for several minutes before one of the girls next to Taron bent over and asked him “How long are they gonna make us stay here?”
    “No clue,” he replied, tilting his head but still looking out over the crowd, “I thought they were waiting for me.”
    “Oh, so you’re Taron?” she asked, and he looked at her and froze.  She was almost his height, maybe a few inches shorter, with silky brown hair and brilliant green eyes that drew his attention.  He didn’t have time to snap out of it, though, for someone on the platform above the group of teens apparently gave a signal, and in five seconds the murmur completely stopped and all eyes turned to them.
    “There is one left, but he still has time,” came a loud, clear voice from above Taron’s head.  “In the meantime, we shall begin the basics.  Our three hundred twenty-four young men and women have journeyed thus far, with only 10 disqualifications.  It gives me, and all of us, great pleasure to announce that today they choose their destiny.  Some here may not pass on to great heights of warriors, in fact, many may choose to stay home.  Everyone has a calling, and today these three hundred twenty—” he broke off as the last teenager rushed in and stood next to Taron.  He was thin and disheveled but an aura of determination caught Taron’s attention, “twenty-five shall listen to their calling as best they can.  Cheer on the future who now stands before you today!”
    A deafening roar came from the entire stadium.  Taron, and many others, covered their ears but grinned at the cheering.  Ten or twelve teens looked like they were going to throw up, they were so nervous.  The noise gradually died down, and when it had almost subsided the voice began again.
    “Our teenagers shall be instructed and guided today by our best counselors, and by the end of the day many of them shall have chosen their path.  Some may take a while to decide—to each his own; there is no rush.  The festivities shall begin in four hours.  May our future leaders, guardians, providers, and workers choose their paths wisely and to the will of the Almighty!”  Taron covered his ears in anticipation, and the crowd blasted them again with cheers.  After the din, the teens were ushered down a wide flight of stairs to the ground of the arena.  They were each assigned a counselor, and in an hour they were walking away to the designated rooms.  Taron stared at his instructor, trying to place him.  The blonde hair and the face looked familiar…after a few minutes it clicked but he didn’t say anything; a smile of recognition pulled at his lips.  He passed by the brown-haired girl in the hallway, and she waved at him.  He nodded back.
    “I must grab a few things from this room,” his counselor said, and Taron nodded, understanding the unsaid request.  Taron stood by the doorway and his counselor slipped through the door, closing it quickly.  The brown-haired girl and her instructor stopped nearby, and the counselor did likewise.  The thought came to the very back of Taron’s mind—this was a test.  That thought pushed forward the memory “Shut up”.  The two teens stood there for a while.
    “So, Taron, what kept you earlier?” she asked at length.  Taron thought of tons of things to say, but only one response he allowed to pass his lips.
    “Late night.”
    “Oh, couldn’t sleep?” she asked, and without waiting for an answer she leaned against the wall with a sigh.  “Yeah, a lot of us were nervous too.”  He wanted to tell her he hadn’t been nervous, but all he could hear in his mind was “Shut up”.
    “Wow, never thought it’d work,” he thought to himself.
    “So, what’s your plan?  Hmm?” she asked, turning to him.  “What do you wanna be?”
    He hesitated.  Dragonmaster, Dragonmaster, tell her Dragonmaster, his mind kept saying, impress her and say Dragonmaster.  But once again he heard “Shut up” and turned his hesitation into a feigned thoughtfulness with a shrug.
    “I really don’t know,” he said, a bit truthfully too.  Did he really want to be a Dragonmaster?  Now that he thought about it, he could just as easily have become a Weaponsmaster or a metalsmith.  He loved weapons and crafting them.  His hand fell to the hilt of his sword and he ran his fingers along it, feeling the cold touch of the hand-forged steel.
    “I hope to become a great warrior…maybe even to bring Dragons back,” she said, staring out into space.  He looked at her in pure shock, dumbfounded.  Not only was she pretty, but she had the same dream as he did!  She didn’t notice the look on his face, fortunately; her thoughts were with dragons.  As he stared at her he noticed that she carried an intricate steel staff, with thin, fair-flowing blades at one end, wrought in the shape of a curving H with a cross stemming from the center line.  The haft was studded with small, glittering gems, and at the end was a bright red ruby.  He hadn’t noticed before but she was dressed in white dragonhide armor, with knee-length gray shorts and hard leather shinguards.  The vambraces on her forearms were a pale yellow with her family crest on them: it looked like a triangle with a wheat-stalk growing from it.  She wore a shoulder-belt that stretched across her front, and on the back was a clip for her staff.  She also had a few small daggers and throwing-knives along her belt.
    She sighed at length, snapping back to reality.  He snapped back too, and coughed.
    “What could be taking so long?” she asked, looking towards the door.  “Hope nothing’s wrong…”  She turned to him, and he was turning his sword over in his hands.  “You’re not very talkative, are you?”
    “Hmm?” Taron said, stabbing the air with his sword.  “Not really…I never really have been…”
    Before she had a chance to reply the door opened silently, and they both stood up from the wall.  The two counselors came out and silently walked away with their students.  The two teens looked back at each other briefly.
    “Talk much?” Taron’s counselor asked.
    “Not really,” Taron replied, and out of the corner of his eye he saw his counselor half-smile.  They walked on in silence, the hallway emptying gradually as teens and their guides found the rooms.  Taron and his guide went all the way up to his room, still in silence.  They entered the room and Taron turned to his counselor.
    “I thought what you said last night was just random…”
    “Was it?” the man asked, smiling.
    “It was all I heard while I was out there, every time I thought of something.”
    “Good.  You follow instructions very well.  Seems that little random bits are the most memorable.  But I need to introduce myself formally.  I am often known as Laskor.”  He sat down in a chair and Taron sat on his bed.  “I’ve been assigned to you to help you determine what you what to become.  Under secrecy codes I am not allowed to repeat or give any hint at all about what is said in this room.  As you can see I have no writing implement.”  He spoke in a dry voice, as if reciting something he’d been saying a thousand times a day, yet to Taron it seemed that Laskor was a very recent addition to the faculty—if he even was faculty, given the strange occurrence the previous night.
    “Now…blah blah blah…” he muttered, going through papers, “why…do they make everything…so long…and so dull…and so unnecessary?”  He put the papers down, keeping a tiny packet in his hand.  “Well, skip over that.  Since I’m still young I can still see how long and hard it is to suffer through all that.  So, on to the important matters.”  Taron smiled at this.  “Tell me, what interests you most?  And now, ignore that little voice of mine that says ‘Shut up’.”
    Taron kicked the little voice to the side and said, “I like weapons and combat, but what I really like is…Dragons.  Dragons with a D, not the little domestic ones.  The ones of legend.”
    Taron’s mental guard suddenly kicked on when he saw a small, strange light in his counselor’s eyes at this news.  “Go on,” Laskor said.  “Have you won anything?  Any events or medals or prizes?  In what?”
    His guard still up, he chose his words carefully.  “My family’s always been a little hard-pressed, so the only prizes I’ve received are little home-rewards for good work.  And these,” he said, patting the hilt of his sword, and his father’s dragonleather armor, “I got as presents just a few days ago before setting off.”
    Laskor sat back, muttering to himself.  Taron thought his hearing sharpened and he heard Laskor talking as if he was whispering in his ear.
    “Likes dragons, aims high, very little physical recognition outside of family unit…” Laskor again leaned forward and asked “How good are you in combat?”
    “Ummm…well…good I guess,” Taron said, though he knew he was good.  Many of the town guards back home had commented on his skills and many had wanted him to be enrolled in the Guard by the time he was twelve.
    “How good?  This could determine your whole life.”
    “Well…the Guard Captain kinda wanted me to join about three years ago and be listed as a study to an Elite.”
    Laskor stared at him for a minute, then leaned back again, deep in thought.  He seemed to be calling up memories of something.  Finally he sighed and sat forward.  Taron leaned closer.
    “I believe you may be the one spoken of in legend, the leader of the rebellious Dragonmaster clan.”  Taron’s jaw dropped; he had least expected this to come from Laskor.  Then he remembered last night.
    “Is…is that why…”
    “Yes, why I came to warn you last night,” he replied.  “Five here already seem promising as future members of this league.  Your new friend—she is one of them, and my partner is probably telling her the same as I tell you now.  But the Dragonmaster league is not yet formed.  It must be shortly, though; evil is rising in the West.  Already the King is giving in to evil, and corruption daily contaminates the public offices of the Western kingdoms.  Already an army is being formed in secret, within vast underground caves in the volcanic regions of the West.  What’s worse, the King, a former Dragon Knight, has gathered to himself many powerful dragon artifacts, making himself almost invincible.  He is slowly but surely falling, and by the time any of you are ready to take him on, war will have been declared.  Dragonmasters will be needed, for they alone will have he power to fight against the powers the King and his mages have acquired through these dragon artifacts.  In fact, a few are already here, watching for you and the others.  You, however, are at the most risk.”
    “Why me?”
    “Many recovered ancient documents point to one who fits your description, although your friend also seems a likely candidate.  We can’t tell; only time can.”
    “Point to me—or her—about what?”
    “The legends and prophecies say that one will rise up against the tide of evil, leading a band of Dragons and their Riders against the evil.  ‘Tall the one shall be, hair earthen with bright eyes that see far and deep.  The Hero shall be great among warriors, fast with the weaponwork and sure of strike.’  There is one, though, that puzzles us.  It’s a later document, about two hundred years younger than the others, and it hints that there may be more than one Hero.”
Taron sat back on his bed, puzzled.  “So, what am I to do?”
    “Your choice,” Laskor said, sitting back on his chair.  “From what you’ve told me I can suggest to you the role of a Warrior.  What kind of Warrior is up to you.  Or you may choose to stay home and be with your family.  It’s all up to you.”
    Taron did not hesitate.  “I wish to become a Warrior.”
    “That is what I shall report to the council?”
    “Yes.”
 

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50 views and no comments?  ;9


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I'll just post the whole thing on here in piecemail...I have part 2 almost finished if anyone cares...

Seriously, any comments or observations?  Critiques?  Sugestions? (other than sex or drugs or blood/gore--I'm keeping it fairly E-rated) 

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8/10 Interesting...thou I know it could get better and better =3 I kinda read it fast, since it's night and me tired...


I'd read it with more pace tomorrow and give an opinion of it, ti'll then =X

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I'm having dificulty getting part 2 finished...dam writer's block as well as my flash drive not working.  I got the whole thing saved on my flash but it won't always copy to my computer correctly...

But...part 2's about four or five paragraphs from general completion.  So sion, (hopefully) it'll get better.

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I'll pretty much Wait ti'll you release it, I'd like to read it...

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3 paragraphs left...but I'm signing off for tonight...dam writer's block

but i'll definitely (hopefully) have it up tomorrow.

EDIT: well...I did say tomorrow...I couldn't sleep so I uploaded it on writing.com.  The second part is in the first post.
« Last Edit: August 26, 2007, 06:14:25 AM by iceflame1019 »

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btw sion, what made it an 8 out of 10?  (little feedback so I know what to revise/add/remove/whatever...reader input helps developing stories)

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:( ...anyone out there? :(

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Change that score to 9/10

Seen as both Alia And Taron are Bonded, makes  it interesting (Part of the dream along seem bit curious)

I could suggest to put it by Chapters, if your planning to publish it in Novel/etc.

Other than that really nice Story...at least it's not bloody. =D

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yeah I'm trying to keep it within Writing.com's E-AR rating (Everyone-Adult Supervision) but as there's only room for ten 50-kb items I might end up posting the whole thing here.  That's why it's not "Chapters" as of yet, I have to split it up in ~50-kb sections for writing.com. 

Part 3's about halfway done, been having computer issues.  But it's coming along pretty well.  Hopefully I can get part 3 up within the next week or so depending on how much time college gives me after homework.

btw thanks for the ratings =D

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thats some really nice writing....

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thnx :D

The third part only has three Microsoft Word pages left, maybe two and a half, and those fly by quickly when I get in the mood.  Hopefully I can get it up soon.

The way this is lookin', I'm probably gonna go past ten parts (screw writing.com, I ain't buyin' a membership per month) and continue this here, maybe get a website or something going and post it there as well. though I have no clue how to get a web page online...I can make one in Word but I can't get it online...

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part three is up  ;D

Part four is underway though with a roughdraft due for Eglish it's gonna be hard finding time...stupid homework, burn it all.

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well, part four is close to being finished...if I'm tired enough tonight it'll be done and posted either tomorrow or Sunday, depending on my wireless connection.  Because this thing's stretching out so long, I'm not gonna bother posting the parts on writing.com after I've hit chapter 7 or something, cuz I think this is gonna be longer than ten pieces.

Dark Angel, have you read part three yet? 

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i guess no one's reading these...the fourth part is almost done, been having a lot of schedule problems lately usually involving the tool of the devil called the essay.

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DM, don't expect replies in the Librarium. I wrote many, with no replies. Many people do.

Just see that you get good views, that means people ARE reading/seeing the topic.


I thought it was nice, as far as i read (first spoiler)

i'll read the rest slowly slowly.
Arlen is hot.

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okay thanks for the warning :)  I forgot about the view number, I don't make a point of looking at that seeing how not many topics revolve around view count.

and thanks for the comment.  I'm almost done with part 4 but I just can't seem to write...damn writer's block...it's affecting not only this but all my writing, especially my english assignments <_< but I'm just about two pages away from finishing part 4.  Should be done within the week, depends on how long it takes to crack writer's block.  So you've got time, Night. 

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well, for those who read this, Part 4 is now up.  The heat is on for them now...part 5 is underway in the form of scrap notes I take during college when I'm bored :P  can't wait til I can get a laptop

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supsup
Been Reading the inheritance series lately??
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the wha?

no...what is that?

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haven't been active on RMRK in a while...damn college crap...but Chapter 5 is up both here and on The Realm (my site, as I'm calling it).

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