Disclaimer: I do not own Dinotopia or the characters mentioned from Dinotopia. All other characters are purely fictional and any possible resemblances are purely coincidental. This is simply fan fiction.
The Shadow Rider
Tristan tossed and turned, but sleep refused to come. Even though it had been several weeks already since he'd arrived at Canyon City for Beginner skybax rider training, he was still unaccustomed to the feel of sleeping in a bed carved into the side of a stone wall. The thin mattress beneath him, which was supposed to offer some cushion against the stone frame, seemed more like a joke than anything else. Supposedly the rougher living conditions were part of the toughening up experience for the Beginner rider cadets. They were told that comfy beds would not always be available during flight missions and they needed to get used to sleeping under harsher conditions. Tristan decided that he'd rather just face that hardship as it arose rather than spend so much time prepping for it. He rubbed his sore shoulders and sighed despairingly. He really was a soft city boy, though he wasn't ready to admit that in front of the other cadets.
So far each day of training had been so new and interesting that he'd been able to overlook most of the cons and inconveniences of a cadet's training world, but the newness was wearing off and reality was settling in. Tristan found himself thinking more and more about his home far away in Sauropolis, the capitol city of Dinotopia. His family was there. His school friends were there. The house he grew up in was there. His comfy bed and homemade quilt was there. He even found himself missing his old job in the well known restaurant called The Sauropolis Starr, the title being a pun on words since his family's last name was Starr and it was his parents who were in charge of running the place. He'd practically grown up in that restaurant, terrorizing it as a small child, then put to work in it as soon as he was old enough to carry dishes without breaking them. He'd never appreciated the simplicity of that job until now. Tristan groaned lightly and punched at the cotton stuffed pillow, trying to reshape it, but the well used and lumpy pillow could no longer offer anymore fluff.
For all the seventeen year of his life, the idea of coming to Canyon City to become a skybax rider had been a blown up fairytale in his mind, stemming from the awesome stories that his skybax rider Uncle Drake, seemed to have an endless supply of. But now that Tristan was finally here and living out his childhood dream, he realized that Uncle Drake somehow left out the unpleasant parts in his glorious tales.
The sleeping sounds of the other three cadets seemed to fill the room. Jamin was snoring, Taddeo was talking in his sleep again, and Mathias was coughing and wheezing, having breathed in too much dust in the air that day.
Tristan pulled the blanket over his head, but it did nothing to muffle the sounds. He put the pillow over his head too, but then he just felt suffocated. He pulled it all off again and the moonlight filtering in from the window shone right into his eyes. He squinted in the light, staring over at the window. A paper shade was pulled down over it, fastened securely at the bottom edge to the stone windowsill, but Tristan could still see a faint outline of a perfectly round moon through the thin shade. The light of the moon set the window aglow, transforming it into a mystical arched beacon. Beams of silver streaked out sideways from the gaps in the sides of the window where the paper shade pulled away from the edges as the night breeze breathed against it.
"No wonder I can't sleep." Tristan murmured as he rolled out of bed. "It's the night of the full moon." Back home it was traditional for the Sauropolis citizens to gather by the bay on the night of the full moon and watch it rise. Tristan and his family had always been faithful in attending the event, unless, of course, it was raining, and then the event was cancelled anyway.
Tristan quickly prepared himself to go outside, exchanging his soft night shirt for a tunic, pants, a belt, hiking boots, and a light jacket. With one hand he snatched up his backpack, always packed and ready, which sat on a woven mat near the doorway, lined up with the other cadet's packs, and with his other hand he grabbed his hiking staff, which was leaned up against the wall next to his pack. He'd learned quickly that a packed and ready hiking bag and a good staff were two of the most important things to have in the canyon environment, those and a sturdy pair of boots and a good sense of direction.
Tristan slipped outside the guy cadets' dormitory and closed the wooden door very quietly, hoping none of the other cadets would awaken to the shuffling sounds of his movement and the clicking sound of the door knob that he'd never noticed up until now.
He looked up to the sky, sent a smile and a thumbs up to the moon, then set out through Canyon City. Aided by the light of the moon and the occasional city night lamps lit along the paths, he quickly skimmed through the beautiful settlement. Most of the dwellings were literally carved into the canyon walls, adorned in terraced gardens, and connected with a labyrinth of stone and rope bridges. Having been there nearly a month now, Tristan skillfully traveled through narrow passages lined with wooden railings, crossed over rope bridges, scampered up steps and down steps, and avoided the paths dotted with the occasional bobbing lanterns, telltale signs of other folks on nighttime excursions, most of which were merely returning home after attending late night activities, or from working late shifts at their jobs. Tristan did not carry a lantern. He didn't want anyone spotting him, merely a Beginner Rider, heading in the direction of the paths that led outside of the city. There was a curfew, after all, for Beginner Rider cadets. No activities outside of the city limits after dark.
Ever since that first day when the curfew was brought to the attention of the new batch of cadets, Tristan struggled to conform to it. All the rules, for that matter, he struggled to conform to, but this one seemed the hardest. He understood that discipline and the capability to discipline one's self was an important asset to training, and the Master Pilot made it a point to stress this to each of the cadets, but Tristan struggled to see how the curfew aided in this. Yes, they'd been told that the curfew was also designed for safety reasons. The canyons were dangerous enough during the day due to the massive heights, narrow trails, and buffeting winds, but at night the dangers heightened because of the darkness.
At least that's what they were told. Tristan suspected there might be something else, some other kind of unspoken danger, but when he asked about it, his questions were simply brushed off and he quickly figured out that pressing the matter only gained him the title of being a 'difficult' cadet.
As Tristan glanced about while crossing through the village, it was apparent that this custom of watching the full moon was not known here. There were no clusters of moon gazers to be seen anywhere. Perhaps it was because the wondrous views from the stone towers and rock formations belonging to their city were enough to satisfy the urge for awe and speculation among the Canyon City citizens.
Even so, Tristan couldn't seem to see the extraordinary scenery of Canyon City. His mind was clouded with pictures of home in Sauropolis. Tonight there would be a nice crowd gathered by the bay to watch the moon rise. Astronomers with their binoculars and telescopes and papers would be watching the night sky, charting astronomical patterns and activity. Sometimes a choir was scheduled to put on a short performance, selecting songs with constellation themes for the occasion. Sometimes his parents liked to dance beneath the moonlight. His youngest sister, Celesta, who was typically shy and quiet, would find some solitary place to watch the moon by herself while his other sister, Tiana, would be off somewhere with her friends playing games or getting into mischief of some sort, accompanied by the family's adopted deinonychus companion, Sekani.
Tristan swallowed hard, not wanting to face the truth. He was homesick, very homesick, so much that it caused a lump to rise in his throat. He never thought this would happen, but here he was roaming this strange place of wind and stones known as Canyon City, (though compared to Sauropolis, it was more like a village, despite the 'city,' attached to its title), and longing to hear the noisy clamor of Sauropolis instead of the lonely crying of the wind.
Finally, Tristan reached the head of the path which marked the end of the city limits and the beginning of the canyon trails. He paused. The moonlight was so bright that he could easily read the sign chiseled into the stone: "Red Rim Trail." Of course, by now he had the name memorized. The cadets used this trail often during training activities. The end of it opened up on a wide ledge known as "Gideon's Watch."
He glanced up at the moon again. He could watch it right here and not break any rules. But the path beyond the sign stretched out before him with swirling wisps of dust beckoning in the moonlight. What an adventure it would be to explore the path beneath the light of the moon! Maybe the sheer excitement of breaking rules would drive away these exasperating emotions of homesickness. Besides, if he returned on time, no one would ever know he'd broken the curfew rule.
Tristan threw his shoulders back, lifted up his chin, and marched past the sign. A wide grin spread across his face and a fresh bout of energy washed over him. What stories he would have to tell his sisters someday when he returned home! With that thought in mind, he turned his back to Canyon City and sauntered down the moonlit path.