Eon Dragoneye Reborn

By: Alison Goodman

DRAGON’S CHOICE

They say it takes a lot of physical and mental toughness to bargain with the energy dragons and manipulate the earth forces. It is even whispered among the candidates that a Dragoneye slowly gives up his own life-force to a Dragon in return for the ability to work the energies, and that the pact ages him beyond his years. My Master was the Tiger Dragoneye during the last cycle and, by my reckoning, would only be a few years over forty. Yet, he had the looks and bearing of an old man. Perhaps it was true—a Dragoneye did give up his own life-force—or perhaps my Master had aged under the strain of poverty and ill luck. He was risking everything for the chance of my success.

I stopped walking and reached out further with my mind, pressing my energy-self against the Rat Dragon, trying to touch the mind of the great beast. I felt his power spark through my body. Talk to me, I begged. Talk to me. Choose me tomorrow. Please, choose me tomorrow.

There was no response.




From the Primer Scrolls of Jion Tzu


NO ONE KNOWS how the first Dragoneyes made their dangerous bargain with the twelve energy dragons of good fortune. The few scrolls and poems that have survived the centuries start the story well after the deal was struck between man and spirit-beast to protect our land. It is rumored, however, that a black folio still exists that tells of the violent beginning and predicts a catastrophic end to the ancient alliance.

The dragons are elemental beings, able to manipulate Hua—the natural energy that exists in all things. Each dragon is aligned with one of the heavenly animals in the twelve-year cycle of power that has run in the same sequence since the beginning of time: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Each dragon is also the guardian of one of the twelve celestial directions, and a keeper of one of the Greater Virtues.

Every New Year’s Day the cycle turns, the next animal year begins, and its dragon becomes ascendant, his power doubling for that twelve months. The ascending dragon also unites with a new apprentice to be trained in the dragon magic, and as this boy steps up to his new life, the prior apprentice is promoted to Dragoneye and into his full power. He replaces his master, the old Dragoneye, who retires exhausted and fatally debilitated by his twenty-four-year union   with the dragon. It is a brutal bargain that gives a Dragoneye enormous power—enough to move monsoons, redirect rivers, and stop earthshakes. In return for such control over nature, the Dragoneye slowly gives up his Hua to his dragon.

Only those boys who can see an energy dragon can hope to be a Dragoneye candidate. It is a rare gift to be able to see the dragon of your birth year, and even rarer to be able to see any of the other energy dragons. Every New Year, twelve boys, born twelve years before, face the ascending dragon and pray that their gift is enough for the beast. One of them is chosen and in that moment of union  —and only for that moment—all men can see the dragon in all his glory.

Women have no place in the world of the dragon magic. It is said they bring corruption to the art and do not have the physical strength or depth of character needed to commune with an energy dragon. It is also thought that the female eye, too practiced in gazing at itself, cannot see the truth of the energy world.





CHAPTER ONE


I LET THE TIPS of both my swords dig into the sandy arena floor. It was the wrong move, but the dragging pain in my gut was pulling me into a crouch. I watched Swordmaster Ranne’s bare feet shuffle forward, rebalancing his weight for a sweep cut. Training with him always made my innards cramp with fear, but this was different. This was the bleeding pain. Had I miscounted the moon days?

“What are you doing, boy?” he said.

I looked up. Ranne was standing poised, both of his swords ready for the elegant cross cut that could have taken my head. His hands tightened around the hilts. I knew he wanted to follow through and rid the school of the cripple. But he didn’t dare.

“Are you spent already?” he demanded. “That third form was even worse than usual.”

I shook my head, gritting my teeth against another clamping pain.

“It is nothing, Swordmaster.” I carefully straightened, keeping my swords down.

Ranne relaxed his stance and stepped back. “You’re not ready for the ceremony tomorrow,” he said. “You’ll never be ready. You can’t even finish the approach sequence.”

He turned in a circle, glaring at the other candidates kneeling around the edge of the practice sand. “This sequence must be flawless if you are to approach the mirrors. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Swordmaster,” eleven voices yelled.

“Please, if you allow, I’ll try again,” I said. Another cramp twisted through my body but I didn’t move.

“No, Eon-jah. Get back in the circle.”

I saw a riffle of unease run through the other eleven candidates. Ranne had added jah, the old ward against evil, to my name. I bowed and crossed my swords in salute, imagining the feel of driving both blades through his chest. Behind Ranne, the huge opaque form of the Tiger Dragon uncoiled and stared at me. He always seemed to rouse with my anger. I concentrated on the Rabbit Dragon, bringing him into shimmering outline, hoping the Keeper of Peace would help calm my rage.

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