Echo's Training

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
The beginning of a short story about training dragons.

Submitted: February 07, 2011

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Submitted: February 07, 2011

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The year I turned sixteen was a huge disappointment. When a kid turns sixteen, they’re supposed to go to camp. That’s the way it should be. That’s the way it has been for centuries. My parents, though, decided to use the money they had saved to take themselves on a vacation instead. I woke up in the morning to find that stupid baby sitter who calls herself a nanny making breakfast. Mom and Dad had already left. They hadn’t even remembered to wish me a happy birthday. I wish I could have been surprised enough to cry.
The next year finally paid off, though. I was seventeen, a year older than most kids were when they went the first time, and they had that nanny lady drive me, but none of that mattered. I had nagged my parents enough that they finally sent me to camp. The high iron gates read “Echo’s Training Facility”. As I walked through them, I saw a boy standing on the inside. He looked about my age, and he had a sneer on his face. He seemed to be looking at the entire camp with disdain.
When he turned around and saw me, he looked me up and down and said, “Is this your second year, too?” I had seen guys check me out a few times before, sleazy guys that I wouldn’t look at twice. This was different, though. He was sizing me up, as a person, not as just a girl or a piece of meat. I think that, to him, I was either an ally or a foe. I looked at him as well. Tall, dark hair, a smirk hiding in his eyes, ready to spring onto his face at any moment. He was a leader, I could see that, and not entirely a pleasant person. But he interested me, and I thought that perhaps we could be useful to each other.
 
“It’s my first, thanks.”
“Oh.” We started walking together toward the main office, where we would be signing in. “What’s your name?”
“Nadia Knopp, from Irington. You?”
“Tanis Tithe, from Ladin.”
“And this is your second year, then?”
“Yeah. My first year didn’t go so well, you see. I was… unprepared. But this year I’ll make it.” We were at the office now, standing in line to sign in.
I nodded, then hesitated. “What are they like, dragons?”
He looked at me, and I could see something burning in his eyes. It was somewhere between greed and love, and it was as fierce as a dragon itself. “Dragons,” he said, and I could hear the longing in his voice. It was so powerful it scared me. “Dragons are…. Well, you’ll see.” After that, we stood in silence.
I had heard tales, of course, and seen pictures. Sometimes they even showed dragons, real ones, on the television. I had wanted to see them ever since I was a little girl. But nothing had ever made me so excited to see them as the look in Tanis’ eyes. I could tell that he was not easily impressed, and it seemed that nothing had impressed him like dragons had. I could hardly breathe at the thought of them.
 
I had been warned, by those who had come before me, of the dangers of the training camp. There were traps and trials that were almost too dangerous to imagine, trainers who were mad, and dragons who were untamed. People had lost blood, limbs, and lives up on the mountains where the training centers are, and there were no guarantees of safety. In order to be trained, there are certain possibilities that one must understand and accept. I knew what could happen to me, and I had accepted the dangers. But what no one had ever told me was that before the danger even began, before we would see a single dragon, we would have to sit in classrooms and study.
Training lasted for three months, and the first month was spent entirely in desks, listening to lectures about dragon lifecycles, the physics of flying, and the like. I ached to get out of the classroom and actually do something, but it was forbidden to get near the dragons until we passed the written exam. I was so desperate, though, that one night I snuck out to go into the forest to see where they were kept. There was a path that lead to them, and the only guards were in front of the fence that closed the dragons off. The dragons were chained to the ground by their legs, but would sometimes fly up over the fence, and even blow fire. If I could see just one dragon that night, I would be satisfied. At midnight I snuck out of my dorm room toward the path. I saw something move in the shadows, and I slipped behind a tree.
“What are you doing?” I heard a familiar voice hiss. The voice sounded both scolding and partially amused, and I could hear the smirk that the words were spoken through.
“Tanis, leave me alone! I’m going to see a dragon.”
Tanis was in front of me now, still smirking. “You’ll get yourself expelled.”
“I don’t care. I came here to see dragons, and you’re not going to stop me.”
“You’re right, I’m not. I couldn’t if I tried. But there’s a better way, and you’re too smart not to take it.”
“Where?”
“Follow me.”
I followed him through the forest, way off of the path. I would have gotten lost if I had been alone, but Tanis knew where he was going. He moved quickly, and low to the ground. I trotted after him. We came to a large clearing, and in front of us was the dragon gate. There were no guards to be seen. “How do you know-” I started, but he shushed me. From within the gate we heard a great roar. We watched as a massive green dragon flapped up above the walls that surrounded it and blew a fireball into the air. I was too stunned to speak. Finally, a dragon.
When the dragon sank back down, I looked at Tanis, but his mind was far away. He had that look in his eyes, the one I had seen the first day I met him. I couldn’t reach through to him until we were out of the forest again. “Thank you,” I said, “That was incredible. When can I see them again?”
“I’ll take you tomorrow night, okay? But you need to get some sleep. There’s a test tomorrow in dragon anatomy.”
“Goodnight, then.”
“Goodnight.”
 
We made a habit of going, nearly every night. It was all that got me through the studying, which wouldn’t have been a problem anywhere else. I had always been a good student, and learning about dragons was interesting enough. The only reason the classes were so difficult to get through was the anticipation of actually getting to work with the dragons. It was something I couldn’t wait for, especially as the first month drew to an end.
The next month was certainly an improvement, but there were still no dragons to be seen. Not officially anyway, not yet. As the first month was about learning facts and proving our knowledge, this month was about learning survival and proving our skill. We were to split up into groups of four, groups that would last for the rest of the training. Tanis and I formed a group with Belladonna and Fleet. Belladonna and Fleet were an interesting pair. They both lived in Urlen, and had been a couple for years. Not even they knew exactly how long they had been together. Fleet was a troll of a boy; wide, slow, and violent. Belladonna was given to twirling in her ever-dark dresses, and flitting about people like a butterfly. The two scared most people, and were perfectly set to be by themselves for the duration of their training. However, when we were picking groups, I told Tanis he should snatch them up if he could, as they would make powerful allies, and worrying enemies.
The first challenge that was given to us was to survive on our own in the forest, for two weeks. “Dragons,” they told us, “are not creatures that can be trained. If you want to get close to them, it will have to be on their territory. So you kids better get used to camping.” They had medical assistance posted throughout the forest in case of an emergency, but any other outside help was prohibited. The first five days went very well for our group. Fleet collected plenty of firewood, and caught rabbits and squirrels; Tanis pitched the tents and gathered water; Belladonna found roots, berries, and nuts, which she used to make our meals practically gourmet under the circumstances, and I fished and found eggs for breakfast. We were doing fine, until I crossed the paths with Aveline.
Aveline Kidrum was from my home town, Irington. I had never liked Aveline. She was a little too smart for my taste. I like people to either be smart and on my side, or dumb enough for me to manipulate. Aveline was neither. She and I had never really spoken, but I saw the way she looked at me. She was wary of me, always watching to see what I might do, and if it could harm the people she was close to. I hadn’t crossed her yet, and I hadn’t planned to. So when I saw her down by the river where I was fishing, I decided to ignore her.
The others in her group were her brother, Aspen, Lin, and Talon. Aveline and Aspen were twins. Aspen was quiet, and I didn’t have a very good read on him. I thought he was smart, like his sister, but I could never really tell. Lin was quiet too, but her I could figure out. She was shy and book-smart, and wouldn’t hurt a fly. She was pretty in a mousy way, and knew a lot about the forest. I’m sure Aveline was using the girl’s brain to ensure her group’s success. Talon had uses too. He was fearless, and had a good pair of hands to do work with. He would generally do what he was asked, especially if Aveline was asking. He was also Tanis’ little brother. Tanis and Talon were not on good terms with each other. It had something to do with what had happened during Tanis’ first year of camp, although I could never tell what.
I was set to stand there fishing for as long as I might need to, not even glancing in Aveline’s direction. That was the plan, anyway. She called out my name, though, and when I tried to ignore her, she did it again. So I sighed, gave in, and turned to face her. “What is it, Aveline?” I asked.
“My group collected a lot of firewood today, and I was wondering if you wanted to join us for dinner. I’ve already invited a few other groups, and we’re going to share supplies for the night. It’ll be a feast, and I’m sure everyone would enjoy some of Belladonna’s cooking.”
I might not have liked Aveline, but I didn’t want to get on her bad side if I could help it. I was already close enough that I could tell it wasn’t pretty. “Um, I don’t know. I’ll talk it over with my group, okay?”
She stared at me hard for a second. Then she shrugged and said, “Okay. Let us know when you decide. Just follow the river east, and you’ll find us.”
“Alright, then.” She walked back down the river side. Just then, I felt a tug at my fishing line. I focused my attention on that, and forgot about Aveline for a while.
I came back to our camp with one large fish for each of us. I handed them over to Belladonna and smiled, pleased with myself. Tanis was leaning against a tree stump with his eyes closed. If it had been anyone else, I would have said he was asleep. “Tanis,” I called, quietly.
He opened his eyes and sat up abruptly. He even pretended to yawn as he stood up. I laughed at him. He knew he wasn’t fooling me. He wasn’t even trying. He looked at me as he had when we met, and said, “You want to tell me something. What is it?”
“Aveline. She wants us to join her for dinner.” I saw a flash in his eyes, and knew had nothing to do with Aveline. “It’s ridiculous. Should I tell her we won’t go?”
“No. We should go, if you don’t mind too much.”
I cocked my head and looked at him, but he was distracted. “Okay. I’ll go tell her, then.” I headed back to the river, and followed it to the east. I found Aveline’s camp. Aveline was standing in front of a huge pile of firewood. She saw me, and looked expectant. “We’re coming.”
“Excellent.” She turned to her brother, who was behind her, securing one of the tents. “Aspen, tell the others, please.” Aspen looked at me, nodded, and then ran off. “You guys can come over whenever you’re ready.”
“Thanks.” I left.
 
I returned an hour later with the others. By the time we reached Aveline’s camp, the fire was roaring. We brought the food we had spent the day catching, and Belladonna immediately set off to join in with the others that were preparing the night’s meal. Fleet sat down by the fire. Only Tanis and I stayed to greet Aveline. When she saw us, she looked at Tanis closely for a long time. She seemed suspicious. I thought that maybe Talon had been talking about him, and that made me angry. I was about to say something when she said, “Nice to have you guys here. There are three other teams here, so far, besides yours and ours. A couple more might be coming. You two should sit down.”
We did, and we spent the entire night eating and commiserating about the training experience. The word to describe that night, without a doubt, would be pleasant. A pleasant meal, pleasant company, a pleasant fire. It made me a little bit sick. Aveline was so friendly, and she managed to get a group of teenagers, alone in the woods with the sole intention of surviving, have a genuinely nice time. She had most likely won the favor of nearly every group in the camp. She had allies everywhere, and precious few enemies. After that night, I decided that I would make sure that she had at least four enemies that she truly had to contend with. I wasn’t going to let her take the easy path and win over all of her competition. If she was going to train with dragons, she was going to have to beat my team first.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who thought that. After the camping was over, the true competition began. Each of our groups was assigned a trainer, who would guide us through the next two weeks. We would be practicing all of the skills we needed to handle dragons, and we would spend the third month in a multi-round competition. There were seven teams, and five spots open in the next level of training. The five top teams got to continue on the advanced training, where each member would raise their own dragon. Only two teams wouldn’t make the cut. I had two goals during the competition; to make my team first place, and to make Aveline’s last.
Our trainer was named Zira. She taught us tricks and secrets, ways to handle dragons that few people had ever heard. She had dark hair, and darker eyes. She spoke to us in whispers and in riddles. She showed us that things are not as they seemed, and never told us anything directly. She let us figure things out by ourselves. She was brilliant, the best teacher I’ve ever had. Belladonna was enthralled by her, and she fascinated Fleet. When Tanis looked at her, it was with the type of respect I saw when he was looking at the dragons. It was a good two weeks.
Finally, the competition began. We were called into the main building, where a woman was standing on the lecturing platform. She had white hair, the kind that you’re born with, and eyes the color of a storm cloud. She wore a long, sweeping dress that on anyone else would have looked completely out of place in modern times. When everyone had been seated and settled down, she said to the room, “Hello, students. I am Echo.”
There were a few murmurs from the crowd, but they were silenced as she continued. “You have reached your last month of training. Congratulations. I am sure each of you is excited to begin the competition. I am glad, but know this: This competition is dangerous, and serious. We do not take things lightly here. If you wish to work with dragons, you must be willing to follow directions, to the letter. It will not do to cut corners. No cheating will be tolerated.” Tanis looked away from Echo. “Also, regarding your teams, you must think of them as families.” It was my turn to look away. “Each team is responsible for the safety and success of its own members. All members of a team must pass a challenge for the team to pass. However, there may come a time when another team needs your assistance. It is always wise to help those in need, and you will receive no penalties for doing so, so long as the assistance doesn’t violate the challenge rules. Do all you understand?” There were nods from the crowd, and a few people mumbled. “Good. Because any violation of the rules will result in expulsion from my training facility. You are dismissed.”


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